For the first six months of last season, if spring training is included and in this case it has to be, Carlos Gomez was one of the worst players — and arguably the worst — in the American League.
The former All-Star was so bad and such a poor fit, beginning with the spring reporting date, that the Houston Astros decided the best thing for them to do was to cut Gomez and eat the remainder of his $9 million contract.
Out of a job in his walk year before free agency, Gomez was rescued by the Texas Rangers, who needed an outfielder for the stretch run after Shin-Soo Choo found the disabled list for a fourth time.
Then, suddenly, for the final six weeks of last season Gomez was one of the best players — and arguably the best —for the AL West-champion Rangers.
So enamored with Gomez were the Rangers that they signed him to a one-year deal worth $11.5 million, not a payday for six weeks of good work. But the Rangers are confident in Gomez, who flourished in a clubhouse that embraced him and with hitting coaches who turned him back into an impact player.
.330 Carlos Gomez’s batting average from Aug. 30 to the end of the 2016 season
“You don’t just turn it on if it wasn’t on,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I think it was already there. I just think he was in a spot mentally that was very challenging for him. Our job now as a coaching staff is that when we see those types of situations, we help get him out of those spots.
“This guy physically is still as talented as I’ve seen in the past. The things that he was able to do defensively, what he was able to do at the plate, he still has that skill set. When he plays on the edge, he’s a dynamic player. Our challenge is we’ve got to not let him get caught up in the challenges and keep him moving forward.”
Gomez batted .284 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .905 in 33 games. After starting his Rangers career 1 for 19, he batted .330 with a 1.023 OPS. That came after he batted only .210 in 85 games with the Astros, who released him Aug. 18.
He was unemployed for two days before the Rangers signed him, and out of the majors until only Aug. 25. Gomez found in the Rangers’ clubhouse veterans who pushed him and held him accountable. In Houston, he was the veteran and didn’t have anyone to keep him on the right path.
Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce and assistant hitting coach Justin Mashore went to work quickly on Gomez’s swing and helped him see the ball better than ever while maintaining bat speed. The question is would he be able to repeat his new swing during the off-season and into spring training.
This guy physically is still as talented as I’ve seen in the past. The things that he was able to do defensively, what he was able to do at the plate, he still has that skill set.
Jeff Banister on Carlos Gomez
Not to worry, Gomez said. He’s had some off-season tutoring at his home in the Dominican Republic from Mashore.
“We spent a week working to make it stronger and make it perfect,” Gomez said. “I know we’re going to have two months in the spring and start the season in the right shape. We had a really good time.”
Gomez is so confident that he chose to sign only a one-year contract with the Rangers, leaving guaranteed money on the table in the hopes that a solid season will translate into a bigger contract next off-season.
The chemistry he needs and the swing he needs are in place. He will return to his natural position, center field, where he won a Gold Glove in 2013.
It could be a one-year win-win for Gomez and the Rangers.
“I experienced something that I never had,” he said. “Everybody here pushes you. Everybody is like family. When you have a job that you can’t wait to go to the ballpark, you’re in the right place.
“I like it here. I want to enjoy the team for a full season. When you get to be around veteran players, I’m in the right place to be part of something special.”