Rangers should keep Olt and call him up

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
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Buster Olney's Insider blog this morning was headlined: Why the Rangers can't trade Profar, Olt .

As the Cliff Lee rumors heat up, I have to agree with Buster. I'd keep Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. While Profar is surely off-limits, Olt would undoubtedly be the main prospect the Phillies would demand in a Lee trade.

I don't think it's worth it for Texas and I say this as someone who believes prospects get overhyped this time of year. Three reasons to avoid the Lee trade and keep Olt:

1. First off, the Rangers aren't as desperate for pitching as everyone seems to believe. Look at the AL leaders in runs allowed per game:

A's: 3.69
Rays: 3.97
Angels: 3.98
Yankees: 4.00
Mariners: 4.03
Rangers: 4.13
White Sox: 4.16
Tigers: 4.36

OK, the Rangers are four-tenths of a run per game worse than the A's, but right in line with the rest of the top AL playoff contenders. But the Rangers play in the best hitter's park in the American League. The Rangers actually lead the AL in road ERA, which doesn't necessarily paint the whole picture since they do get to play in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. And, yes, the Angels upgraded with Zack Greinke and the Rangers are without Colby Lewis the rest of the season, but away from home the Rangers have allowed 3.90 runs per game and the Angels 4.54. Scott Feldman has been pitching well of late, Neftali Feliz may return soon and there's a good chance Derek Holland will pitch better. You can win with this staff.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezCliff Lee has struggled this season and is 1-6 with a 3.95 ERA.
2. Cliff Lee doesn't guarantee anything.

This is maybe the most important point of all: Anything can happen in the playoffs. How much does Lee increase your odds of winning the World Series? Sure, if he pitches like he did in his first eight career postseason starts (7-0, 1.26 ERA) he helps a lot. Of course, neither the 2009 Phillies nor 2010 Rangers won it all, despite Lee's artistry. But in his last three postseason starts he went 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA and 26 hits in 15 innings. There's also the issue that Lee just hasn't been that effective of late, with a 5.20 ERA over his past eight starts. Lee supporters will point to a .348 BABIP over that span as a sign of bad luck, while others will point to the four home runs he allowed his last start. Lee has also strugged against AL teams; in four starts, he's 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA with a corresponding dip in batting average allowed and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He doesn't get to beat up lineups like the Astros or Dodgers in the AL.

So Lee is enough of a wild card that you would have to hesitate about giving up six years of Mike Olt's potential for a guy with a huge contract (more than $100 million remaining if his final years vests) who improves your World Series chances, what, 2 percent? 5 percent? Zero percent? Is Lee an upgrade over Feldman or Feliz? Probably. Is he a huge upgrade? Not necessarily.

3. Mike Olt can help the Rangers.

Olt is hitting .291/.405/.592 in Double-A. Yes, those numbers would likely decline at the major league level, but I believe he'd easily outproduce Michael Young right now. Young is hitting .268/.298/.347. He hasn't homered in nearly 300 plate appearances, doesn't walk and has hit .245 since May 8. Among players with 250 PAs, Young has the 11th-worst OPS+ in the majors. Other than Justin Smoak, everyone worse than him is a middle-of-the-diamond player. Young plays first base and DH.

With Olt, the Rangers' best lineups would look like something like this:

versus left-hander
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mike Olt
DH Michael Young
CF Craig Gentry

Versus right-hander
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
DH Mike Olt

Additionally, as Buster writes, Olt would be vital to the Rangers' future. Hamilton is a free agent and may not be worth a huge contract, especially in light of his recent struggles and Nolan Ryan's frustration with Hamilton's swing-at-everything approach. Cruz has one more season until free agency and isn't the type of player you want to gamble on with a long-term contract. Young has one more season but may be done. So while Beltre (signed potentially through 2016) blocks Olt's path at third base, that doesn't mean the Rangers can't slide him to first base where Moreland is a platoon guy at best, or maybe a corner outfield position. With Profar, you could easily slide him to second base and move Kinsler to left field. Keeping Profar and Olt gives the Rangers two Grade A prospects to build around for the future, keeping money in the bank as needed for other additions.

And I don't believe it hurts their chances at winning the World Series this year.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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