The Rangers Will Eat Rougned Odor’s Contract

Four years ago, the Rangers viewed Rougned Odor as a foundational piece, signing him to a six-year, $49.5 million extension. By the time he arrived at spring training this year, he’d lost his starting second base job, the result of a string of bad seasons and adjustments that simply hadn’t taken. The 27-year-old instead competed for the third base job, but on Monday, the team — which is in the midst of a multiyear rebuild after going 22–38 last season — told him and the rest of the baseball world that he would not make their Opening Day roster and will be designated for assignment, effectively ending a 10-year run with the organization that signed him out of Venezuela in 2011.

Odor hit just .167/.209/.413 with 10 homers — but just nine singles — in 148 PA last year; his .157 BABIP was the majors’ third-lowest mark among hitters with at least 120 PA. His 60 wRC+ wasn’t a career low, but it was the third year out of the past four that he was below 80, and his -0.3 WAR marked his second season in that span that he was below replacement level, though his 0.3 WAR in 581 PA in 2019 was hardly more acceptable. His 1.6 WAR while playing second is the lowest among the 19 players who have received at least 1,000 PA at the position over the past four seasons.

President of baseball operations Jon Daniels sounded a note of finality in announcing the move:

“All these decisions are challenging, in particular, with somebody like [Odor], who has been with the organization since he was 16 years old. We didn’t think it was in his best interest or our best interest to kind of force the issue into a bench role.

“So we made the decision to make the move now. A ton of respect for him as a man, first and foremost, as a person, as a teammate. He was never an issue. We want to make that very clear. This is a baseball decision.

…“Projecting out for performance, and while he was making every effort there, ultimately, we had to make a call whether we felt that would turn into production at the plate. I’m hopeful that it will in time, and then hopefully, he gets another opportunity with a team. We weren’t prepared to play it out.”

Hailing from a baseball-rich family in Maracaibo, Venezuela — father Rougned Odor played at the University of New Orleans, while uncle Rouglas Odor now manages the Double-A Akron Rubber Ducks after playing and coaching in the minors, and brother Rougned José Odor spent a few seasons in the Rangers’ chain — Odor was signed by the Rangers before his 17th birthday. He climbed the ladder quickly on the strength of his hit tool, his feel for the game, and his intensity. He was just three months past his 20th birthday when he jumped from Double-A to the majors in May 2014, and despite having to make a month-long detour back to Triple-A the following season, he helped the Rangers to back-to-back AL West titles in his age-21 and -22 seasons.

Though his game was far from refined, Odor batted a combined .267/.305/.487 (105 wRC+) with 49 homers and 5.0 WAR in 2015–16. He also earned cult status and an eight-game suspension by decking José Bautista, who had pretty much bat-flipped the Rangers out of the playoffs and into ignominy the previous October. His play helped to fill the void left by the injuries to Jurickson Profar, who was the game’s top prospect entering the 2013 season but fell off the map due to right shoulder injuries.

The Rangers signed Odor to his six-year deal in February 2017, famously throwing in a pair of quarter horses to be named later so as to sweeten the pot. Unfortunately, the weaknesses in Odor’s game that had already become apparent — an overly aggressive approach that yielded too many strikeouts and too few walks, shaky defense at second base — soon overwhelmed the positives. He hit 30 homers in 2017, just three fewer than the year before, but batted .204/.252/.397 and played iffy defense (-4.8 UZR but +2 DRS), setting records for the lowest OBP, SLG, and wRC+ (56) for any 30-homer hitter in major league history. His -1.4 WAR that year was the second-lowest among 30-homer hitters, surpassed by Dante Bichette’s -2.1 in 1999.

Odor rebounded for a solid showing in 2018 (.253/.326/.424, 95 wRC+, 2.4 WAR) thanks in part to an 8.0% walk rate, but regressed to .205/.283/.439 (77 wRC+) the following season even while setting a new career high with a 9.0% walk rate. His production crashed through the floor in the pandemic-shortened campaign, as he flailed away with a 4.7% walk rate and 31.8% strikeout rate.

It’s not as though Odor hasn’t hit the ball hard or in the air. Pulling from our recently-upgraded Statcast offerings:

Rougned Odor by Statcast, 2015-20
Season EV maxEV LA Barrel% HardHit% xBA xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2015 88.3 111.1 12.3 5.1% 33.1% .230 .373 .334 .299
2016 89.7 112.1 14.1 7.4% 38.0% .246 .446 .336 .311
2017 89.1 112.4 15.9 5.1% 37.2% .228 .401 .272 .290
2018 90.7 112.6 13.9 6.8% 38.1% .234 .397 .325 .310
2019 91.1 113.1 17.9 13.6% 45.4% .218 .458 .302 .318
2020 86.0 110.6 20.7 11.8% 32.3% .192 .417 .259 .278
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Yellow = 75th percentile or higher.

Odor’s Statcast numbers were pretty solid in 2019, yet even the expected numbers he fell short of were pretty crummy in context. A .458 slugging percentage is fine if you’re getting on base, but he wasn’t, mainly because he was either failing to make contact or getting smothered by the shift. A pronounced pull hitter with a 48.2% pull rate over the past four seasons, he put the ball in play against the shift 985 times in that span, the majors’ ninth-highest total among lefties, and produced a 40 wRC+ (.250 AVG, .329 SLG) on those occasions, the eighth-lowest mark within that same group.

Shift or no, the other thing that stands out about Odor’s offensive woes was his consistent failure to do damage to fastballs. By our pitch splits, he’s managed a mid-90s wRC+against four-seamers three years out of the past four, maxing out at 104. By Statcast, his .285 wOBA against four-seamers in that span is second-percentile stuff.

Lowest wOBA vs. Four-Seam Fastballs, 2017-20
Player # AB H AVG SLG wOBA
Jeff Mathis 1074 241 43 .178 .311 .248
Sandy León 1252 242 41 .169 .293 .260
Adam Engel 1609 359 74 .206 .326 .269
Matt Davidson 1401 249 44 .177 .341 .273
Keon Broxton 1146 227 38 .167 .392 .278
Lewis Brinson 1004 230 49 .213 .391 .283
Austin Hedges 1580 353 71 .201 .411 .284
Rougned Odor 2268 476 94 .197 .378 .285
Byron Buxton 1309 307 65 .212 .381 .286
Orlando Arcia 1940 446 99 .222 .386 .288
Jose Pirela 1035 199 42 .211 .317 .288
Jarrod Dyson 1680 352 76 .216 .301 .290
Dee Strange-Gordon 2441 598 167 .279 .349 .290
Gorkys Hernández 1414 297 69 .232 .364 .291
Adalberto Mondesi 1249 311 72 .232 .437 .294
Mike Zunino 2052 365 67 .184 .375 .294
Manuel Margot 2245 447 99 .221 .360 .296
Didi Gregorius 2254 531 126 .237 .407 .296
Chris Davis 2222 409 83 .203 .384 .298
Victor Robles 1151 259 62 .239 .332 .299
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Minimum 1,000 four-seam fastballs faced.

It’s not as though Odor hasn’t worked to improve or reeled off a hot month here or there, but nothing has stuck for long, and well, too much has stunk. Manager Chris Woodward was vocal about Odor’s need to improve while understanding that the mechanical and mental adjustments he was being asked to make didn’t come easily, particularly given his previous success.

Given last year’s struggles, the Rangers told Odor that they would explore other options at second base but give him a chance to earn a job at third base, a position he had never played professionally; last year’s third baseman, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, is now the regular shortstop, replacing Elvis Andrus, who was traded to the A’s. Odor took to the new position, though Kiner-Falefa may have said the quiet part loudly when he told’s Chris Halicke, “I think second base and shortstop are more thinking positions… When he’s standing out there at third base, he’s not thinking much. He’s just having a good time.”

The Rangers didn’t see enough improvement in Odor’s offense to go with the position change and so will likely wind up eating the $27 million remaining on his contract ($12 million apiece this year and next, with a $3 million buyout on a $13.5 million club option for 2023). The Dallas Morning News‘ Evan Grant suggested Baltimore as a potential destination given that the Orioles have no clear second baseman; they DFA’d Yolmer Sánchez, who was projected to provide 0.4 of the team’s 0.5 WAR at the position, earlier this week. The Orioles would likely wait until Odor is released so as to pay him the minimum salary while Texas picks up the rest of the tab.

As for the Rangers, they’ll enter the season with a pair of non-roster invitees, lefty Brock Holt and righty Charlie Culberson, in a loose platoon at third base, with 23-year-old Josh Jung, the team’s top prospect, hopefully arriving later this summer. Earlier this month, Jung underwent surgery to insert a screw in his left ankle to help heal a stress fracture, a procedure expected to sideline him for six to eight weeks. At second base, 26-year-old Nick Solak will be the starter, though he’s not exactly coming off a tremendous campaign. Though regarded as an offense-first player with an above-average hit tool and average raw power, he hit just .268/.326/.344 (86 wRC+) in 233 PA last year. His defense was even shakier, albeit in a sample of just 17 games at second (-1.8 UZR and -5 DRS, still better than his work in less time in center field). Holt and Culberson both have experience at the keystone as well.

With the Rangers likely headed for their fifth consecutive losing season — we’ve projected them for 92 losses and a last-place finish in the AL West — they’ll have all season to sift through their options at both second and third, which also include minor leaguers Yonny Hernandez, Andy Ibáñez, and Anderson Tejeda. Odor’s run with the Rangers was nothing if not memorable, but he’ll have to fare better in a change of scenery if his career is to continue.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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3 years ago

Kudos to the Rangers I guess for realizing it’s time to cut bait rather than keep it around four years too late (cough…Orioles)

Joe Joemember
3 years ago

Cough [Pujols] cough

3 years ago

To be fair, as sad as it is, it’s not like the Orioles have recently had any 1B options who could hit that much better than Chris Davis, anyway.

3 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Indeed, given the Orioles’ complete lack of contention and complete lack of guys to play at the position, seeing if Davis would bounce back and recoup any value at all has been a reasonable proposition. You could say the same with Odor, but given the differences in contract, if you assume both are basically sunk-cost, lost-causes with a very small chance to bounce back enough to recoup any value, Davis has significantly more ‘upside’ there because you could potentially save a lot more money if you moved the contract. Even for a very narrow probability, you stand to gain more from getting Davis back than Odor, specifically because the cost that’s no-longer-sunk is so much larger.