TODAY: Guzman has been officially activated, as per Rangers executive VP of communications John Blake (Twitter link). In another move, Texas has placed reliever Shawn Kelley on the 10-day IL due to an infection. Right-hander Wei-Chieh Huang has been recalled from Triple-A to take Kelley’s roster spot.
YESTERDAY: The Rangers announced following today’s game that they’ve optioned center fielder Delino DeShields Jr. to Triple-A Nashville. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets that first baseman Ronald Guzman will be returning from the injured list in place of DeShields, though the Rangers won’t officially announce anything until tomorrow.
The decision to option DeShields to Triple-A likely means more playing time in the outfield for the revitalized Hunter Pence, who is hitting .344/.411/.656 with five homers, but it does leave Texas without a true center fielder on its roster. Joey Gallo has some experience there, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets that today’s move could push Gallo to the position “pretty regularly.” Journeyman infielder/outfielder Danny Santana has 916 career innings in center field, but Texas has used him exclusively in the infield since bringing him to the Majors.
DeShields’ demotion to Nashville is just the latest downturn in a Rangers tenure that has been perpetuated by peaks and valleys. Selected from the Astros in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, the former No. 8 overall pick and top prospect made Texas look wise in 2015 with a .261/.344/.374 batting line as a rookie. He then flopped at the plate in 2016 before enjoying a rebound campaign in 2017. While the organizational hope was that DeShields had begun to solidify himself with that effort, he once again struggled in 2018 and will now head back to Triple-A to try to sort things out.
To this point, the Rangers have spent nearly a half decade trying to harness DeShields’ considerable athleticism and turn him into a consistent, everyday player. However, the resulting .241/.327/.337 batting line (76 OPS+, 78 wRC+) in 1635 plate appearances hasn’t exactly given them much to show for those efforts. DeShields still has an option year remaining beyond 2019, so the Rangers can continue to exhibit patience with him. On the other hand, DeShields will turn 27 in August, so it’s not as if he’s particularly young anymore.
President of baseball operations Jon Daniels made clear following today’s demotion, though, that he still views DeShields as a viable long-term option in Arlington (Twitter link via Grant). “Delino is a valuable player,” said Daniels. “He’s a big leaguer. At this point, we are choosing to keep a deeper bullpen and didn’t want to cut ties permanently with anyone. Delino will play every day in Nashville, get himself going, and be ready to help us again this year.”
Any move that affords more playing time to a veteran like Pence at the expense of a younger option such as DeShields may at first seem counter-intuitive, given that they’re in a fairly transitional state. That said, DeShields’ poor play so far hasn’t left them with much of an alternative. He’s hitting just .182/.321/.284 through his first 108 trips to the plate. Beyond that, there’s an argument to be made that giving DeShields regular playing time in a lower-pressure environment is what’s best for him from a long-term standpoint. And while Texas isn’t in a pure rebuilding/tanking mode, they’re clearly taking a longer-term look at things rather than striving for a postseason berth in 2019.
For the time being, Gallo will get another opportunity to convince the organization that he can at least be a passable option in center field. He’s logged 158 innings there dating back to Opening Day 2018, and even being able to serve as an occasional option there in the coming years would be a valuable trait to have in his back pocket.
The aforementioned Santana could plausibly factor in there as well, though he’s unlikely to be a long-term piece for the Rangers. While he can technically be controlled through 2021, Santana’s .311/.358/.541 output doesn’t appear sustainable. That line is a close approximation of his excellent rookie season with the Twins, but like that 2014 campaign, his output to this point has been buoyed by a roughly .400 average on balls in play. Santana’s hard-hit rate, remarkably, checked in at 51.9 percent entering play Wednesday, so he’s definitely squaring up the ball well. However, that type of contact is the type expected from the league’s top sluggers — not a player who hit .219/.256/.319 in 735 PAs from 2015-18.