A little over a week ago, I talked about the upcoming outfield logjam facing the Texas Rangers. At the time, there was still a question remaining about Nomar Mazara's status with the big league club once Shin-Soo Choo returns from the disabled list.
With all due respect to those with the decision-making power in the Texas front office, this decision isn't all that difficult: Nomar Mazara needs to stay.
Look, I get the business side of all of this. That, barring a contract extension, keeping Mazara up rather than sending him back down to the minor leagues for another cup of coffee could eventually cost the team a year of of Mazara's services. That ship sailed long ago. The question no longer remains, "Should Nomar Mazara remain with the Rangers?" It's, "How do we facilitate that happening?"
By virtue of posting a wOBA of .375 on the season, Mazara's offense alone has made him worth the roster spot. And nearing 100 plate appearances, it's beginning to look safe to say that he's not phased by big league pitching. After all, it isn't just the results that are impressive, it's the approach that, if one didn't know better, would have one thinking they were watching a ten-year veteran of the game. And yet, Mazara just turned 21.
None of that considers the fantastic defense he's provided in right field during his brief stint, as well. Prior to Monday night's game, on the basis of UZR/150, Mazara ranked as the 2nd-best right fielder in the American League behind Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox. He only then went on to make a game-saving play in the bottom of the 8th inning, catching a Troy Tulowitzki fly ball and promptly delivering a laser to home plate to nail Michael Saunders for the double play and keeping the Rangers ahead 2-1.
So yes, I believe Nomar Mazara has earned the right to stay up in the major leagues. To heck with service time considerations at this point. So we're left to answer the question: How does Texas keep Mazara in the lineup once Shin-Soo Choo returns?
Make no mistake, Choo will be an everyday regular upon his return. Even after a horrid start to the 2015 season, Choo had a wOBA of .365. Texas has every reason to have him in the lineup on a consistent basis, so benching or platooning him isn't an option. Any trade scenario involving him likely won't materialize until the offseason. Take that off of the table.
And while Mazara is probably the better right fielder, the net effect of sliding Mazara over to left field and putting Choo back in right is probably more positive than the other way around. That leaves Ian Desmond potentially as the everyday center fielder, which I would be fine with at this point.
Even despite a horrid start, Desmond now finds himself the possessor of a .310 wOBA. He'll be streaky at times, but both offensively and defensively, he appears to be the best option to roll with consistently.
Of course, that leaves Delino DeShields as the odd man out. DeShields, a fan favorite because of his sometimes flashy play, simply doesn't pack enough punch offensively. Both Desmond and DeShields sport similar walk and strikeout rates, but DeShields has a wOBA of .296, and it took a two-hit night on Monday to raise it up that high. Add in the bad reads he's been getting in center field and the lackluster baserunning, and DeShields would seem to be a prime candidate to have a reduced role for the Rangers.
From there, things begin to get a bit murky. Josh Hamilton appears to already be suffering a setback with his knee after only 4 innings of a rehab assignment with Double-A Frisco. At this point, I can't imagine Hamilton can be counted on for much, if anything, going forward.
My initial thought would be to option DeShields and make Ryan Rua the fourth outfielder. The problem with that scenario is not having a backup center fielder, a situation I'm not sure Texas should test. I don't want to see Rua as the odd man out, but that may end up being the case. The only other solution would be if Texas felt good enough about Rua and Desmond both serving in utility roles at various times. Rua, of course, can play 1B, 2B, 3B, and corner outfield slots. Desmond, previously a shortstop during his time with the Washington Nationals, could potentially still play the position in a pinch, thus allowing DeShields to get the occasional start in center field while also serving as a fourth outfield and pinch-run option.
While that scenario doesn't immediately seem all that feasible, it's certainly one workaround. Whatever the case, it's a situation that the front office will be figuring out in the coming weeks as Choo prepares to return from the disabled list. When that time comes, the best option for the Rangers is to continue seeing Nomar Mazara in the lineup on an everyday basis.