Sunday, September 26, 2010

Baseball is a Funny Game

The Texas Rangers claimed the American League West title today with a win over the Oakland Athletics. The game had been tied going into the eighth inning when Jorge Cantu hit a two-run homer to give the Rangers the deciding runs. The irony is delicious. It was Cantu's first RBIs in a Rangers' uniform.

Cantu was one of those trade deadline deals. Cantu had played most of his seven years prior to his joining the Rangers as a member of Florida teams. He was drafted by the then Devil Rays as a sixteen year old out of Mexico in 1998. Cantu broke into the majors in 2004 with those Devil Rays (back when they were bad) and got into 50 games and finished with a 111 OPS+. He had a big year in 2005 when he hit 28 homers to go along with 40 doubles and drove in 117. He finished that season with a 112 OPS+ (primarily because he hardly ever walked).

But Cantu struggled in 2006 and 2007 and the Devil Rays traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for the immortal Calvin Medlock and Brian Shackelford. He did okay for the Reds (121 OPS+ in 27 games). But the Reds released him after the season. The Marlins signed him as a free agent.and that first year was a steal. For his $500,000 salary, Cantu hit 29 homers and drove in 95 runs.and played 155 games and he finished with a 108 OPS+ in 2008.

The following season, he caught up to his first arbitration case and his salary ballooned up to three and a half million dollars  His power numbers fell, but he still drove in 100 runs. But his OPS+ sunk slightly to 105. He wasn't as much of a bargain then. But his salary went up again in 2010 to six million which was definitely too much for the Florida Marlins. To make matters worse, his numbers fell off again this year but he still managed to drive in 54 runs in 97 games with the Marlins.

Meanwhile, the Rangers were desperate for a first baseman that could add something to their offense. They had tried Chris Davis. He didn't hit and had a 67 OPS+. They tried Justin Smoak and he didn't hit, though Smoak did hit a few dingers and showed some patience at the plate. But Smoak hit .209. But the Rangers wanted Cliff Lee from Seattle and the Mariners demanded Smoak. So although he was the Rangers' best prospect, he hadn't showed much at the plate and they pulled the trigger. That led them to ask the Marlins for Cantu. They were more than willing to part with him.

So Cantu went to the Rangers. He was a proven RBI guy right? He had three seasons with 117, 95 and 100 RBIs. But then Cantu...did nothing. Literally. Nothing. His line in August was .212./.268/.269. He was even worse in September. His line this month had been, .176/.263/.294. The Rangers barely played him after a while. He has played all of six games in September.

But the real kicker was that despite four extra base hits (three doubles and a triple), Cantu had not driven in a single run. That's right, Nada. Zilch. In 81 plate appearances, he had failed to drive in a single run. And it's not like there are any other value added aspects to Cantu's game. He's not a good fielder and never has been whether it's been second base, third base, shortstop or first base. He's just not a good fielder. So the Rangers had this guy they hoped to give them some production at first base and in the line up and he gave them nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, he gave them less than nothing. His WAR for Texas going into Saturday night was -0.2.

So after all season with all its ups and downs and hard fought battles. After trying several guys at first base and coming up empty, the winning runs for the game that clinched the season were driven in by Jorge Cantu. He hit his first homer as a Ranger and drove in his first two runs in a Texas uniform. Yes, baseball is a funny game.

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