A little over two weeks ago, Shin-Soo Choo went to the disabled list with a calf injury. The Texas Rangers surprised some people -- myself included -- when they made the decision to call up top prospect Nomar Mazara.
My thought at the time was that Texas would try to squeeze by with some combination of Ryan Rua and perhaps Justin Ruggiano, and with Josh Hamilton's return somewhere on the horizon, that would be that. After all, not only had Texas seemingly made the decision to stick with the plan of keeping Mazara at Triple-A Round Rock even when he had a strong Spring Training. With service time considerations, it didn't seem to me that Mazara would really be an option, no matter how badly I wanted him to be.
Alas, I was wrong, and Mazara got the call. And if he's proven anything during his brief stint in the bigs thus far, it's that he is no longer a prospect. He's put up the highest wOBA of any Rangers player, and that includes Adrian Beltre. He hasn't looked overmatched, and there are times in which, if I didn't know better, I'd swear I was watching a ten-year veteran, not a rookie. He's been that impressive, and that's to say nothing of how well he's seemingly handled his duties in right field.
As we move forward over the course of the next few weeks, this now presents Texas with an interesting dilemma. What do you do with Nomar Mazara?
For starters, Shin-Soo Choo is apparently recovering a bit more quickly than the initial timetable suggested, and at worst will be ready to go on the short end of that 4-6 week prognosis. That immediately forces some sort of decision by the Rangers. And no, Choo isn't getting benched or platooned. I just can't see it happening.
Choo is making $20 million this season, and if the second half of 2015 is any indication, he's very valuable to the Rangers. His wOBA of .365 helped drive the Rangers in a push for the AL West, and when we look at the corresponding wRC+ of 127, he was 27 percent better offensively than the league average. And that's after a terrible start to the season that saw his wOBA at .219 after the month of May.
Beyond Choo, Josh Hamilton is set to return at some point in May. Of course, we don't know how much production Josh can provide, but if the answer is "something better than Prince Fielder", then Texas likely has to at least consider giving him some time at DH. How much? Again, that's multi-faceted, because we don't know how healthy he will be, and we don't know how well he'll hit. And if Texas still expects him to play some left field, that further complicates matters.
In some ways, Delino DeShields is making part of this equation a bit easier. DeShields provides above-average on-base abilities from the leadoff spot, but provides virtually no pop in his bat. For him to be valuable, he not only needs to have an elite on-base percentage, but his defense in center field needs to be better than it's been. However, with a wOBA of .317 in 2015 and .315 thus far in 2016, I'm not overly convinced he'll end up being much better than he is right now, if at all.
Before the Mazara call-up, I had the thought that Texas could experiment with moving Ian Desmond to center field and sliding DeShields over to left field, then perhaps platooning him with Hamilton. Now that Mazara has done what he's done, I'm not so sure the best option for Texas isn't to send DeShields down. That's not likely to be a popular opinion, but it's my thought process.
The problem with demoting DeShields and having an outfield of Mazara in left, Desmond in center, and Choo in right? It leaves the Rangers without a real backup center fielder. Somehow, the Rangers would have to make another move to bring up someone like James Jones, Jared Hoying, or Ryan Strausborger to be the backup/fourth outfielder. If that's the case, maybe DeShields keeps a spot after all, but then we're back to square one in determining how to create two roster spots -- for Hamilton and Choo -- while not eliminating the one Mazara currently holds.
I've seen the concern raised that Joey Gallo had a hot start himself when called up last season. What if Mazara is due for some of the same struggles? To that, I would say that the two aren't even comparable.
Gallo put up a strikeout rate of 46.3 percent in his first foray into big league action. Mazara's rate of 16.7 percent seems to fall in line with the type of plate appearances he's been having. Furthermore, consider this: Gallo, in 123 plate appearances in 2015, produced 22 hits. Mazara has produced 16 in 52 plate appearances here in 2016. Again, different players with different skill sets.
Make no mistake, Jon Daniels and the Texas front office are usually fairly prescient when it comes to these kinds of things. They were well-aware of the potential service time considerations when they made the decision to call up Nomar Mazara. Keeping him down for about another two weeks would have given the organization another year of team control before Mazara hits free agency. They likely thought of the possibility that Mazara would perform pretty well once given the opportunity.
So, if service time considerations had been in the discussion, I really believe that the front office would have handled it at the time instead of gambling that Mazara just wouldn't succeed.
It's hard for me to think of any similar example by other Major League front offices in recent memory. Players like Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant were called up later in order to give the team an extra year of control. Since they hadn't shown success at the big league level yet, the organizations were able to do so under the guise of, "This guy needs a little more seasoning." Sure, most of us -- and the players -- knew what the deal was, but that's just the business of baseball.
Now, however, the Texas Rangers are in a position in which Nomar Mazara is performing better than anyone could have expected. He's showing signs of sustaining a high level of production. For an organization that, by all indications, wants to win now, how do you justify sending Mazara back down? Outwardly, there could be no justification other than admitting it's for service time considerations, and I can't imagine the public and media response to such an admission would be overly positive.
In instances like this, I'm glad I don't have to make the kinds of decisions that the Texas front office does. Other than outright cutting some key under-performing players -- which, let's be honest, just isn't going to happen -- there's not an easy solution to this one. Nomar Mazara is absolutely playing at a level that makes him deserving of being in the big leagues for good. However, without some very careful maneuvering and/or some trade action, I don't see too many options that don't involve sending him back to Triple-A Round Rock. And I hate myself for typing that.