The gates that opened for Chris Davis once Justin Smoak arrived in Seattle are once more closed today as the Texas Rangers have acquire Jorge Cantu for two minor league arms. Davis himself really can’t complain. He hit .188/.265/.267 in his 113 plate appearances this season. Nobody believes that represents his true talent level, but the Rangers are in the midst of a division chase. One that just saw Dan Haren join the other side of the fray.
So, the Rangers turn to Cantu. He’s hitting .259/.308/.408 this season and his projected line is .265/.320/.420. He’s not Adrian Gonzalez or even Travis Hafner, but in the short-run – which in this case is the next two months – he should be an improvement over what they had. Now given that we have about 40% of the season left and some wild things can happen in smaller sample sizes, there’s a chance Cantu has an abysmal period and misses that projected mean entirely.
The good – well, sort of good – news for the Rangers is that he would have to be pretty awful to match their first base production to date. Smoak, Davis, and the occasional appearance by Joaquin Arias and Ryan Garko have combined to hit .197/.296/.315 this season. OPS is hardly the best statistic for judging offensive production, but you could knock .100 points off Cantu’s current OPS and he’d still out produce the Rangers’ first base group.
The other good news is that the Ballpark in Arlington is as hitter friendly as they come. Cantu has a limited history of big first seasons with teams which is probably just a coincidence but could be construed as a sign that he might struggle with focus. He’s got the chance to reach the playoffs for the first time in his professional career and he will also reach free agency after this season. Motivation should be no thing; instead, it should be everything within him.
Don’t make the mistake of crowning Cantu as a savant, though. He is not mystically aware or knowing. He will not be reciting epics on playoff plane trips because of his own doings. The Rangers will continue to ride and die with their pitching, defense, and more relevant batters. He is simply a moderate upgrade for a probable playoff team. Nothing more or less.
(And please note that I am assuming Cantu will not play second base in Ian Kinsler’s absence. He has not played that position since 2007.)