The Texas Rangers were a better team in 2017 with Delino DeShields in the starting lineup.
The club that finished six games below .500 (78-84) was six games above .500 (54-48) when DeShields was a starter. They were 19 games above .500 (35-16) when he scored at least once, either as a starter or off the bench.
The runs-per-game stat with him/without him is a wash, though entering September the numbers showed the offense was better when the speedster was a starter.
The Rangers are well-aware of the effect DeShields had on their offense in 2017 and in 2015, and he will be a regular in 2018.
They know he helps them win, no matter the knocks against the way he plays defense.
But that’s the sticking point, the defense, and the reason the Rangers say that if they are going to add a position player this off-season, it would be a defensive-minded center fielder who would push DeShields to left field.
Based on general manager Jon Daniels’ latest answers, including Wednesday as the general manager meetings came to an end, DeShields might be the Opening Day center fielder.
“We’re approaching it that Delino is our center fielder unless we find a fit that makes sense,” Daniels said. “A lot of the ways we evaluate him and a lot of the metrics, Delino stacks up pretty well and better with some guys who have a better reputation defensively.
“He’s really improved, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. We’re not looking to move him off center field. If he ends up playing left field, it’s because we acquired a center fielder that makes us better as a club.”
There was always room for DeShields to improve after the Rangers grabbed him in the 2014 Rule 5 draft — because he was drafted as a second baseman and had only started the transition to center field.
His speed covers up some of his blemishes on route running, though that has improved steadily since 2015. He is also using his speed to get to hits sooner, which helps make up for a below-average arm that has gotten stronger through long-toss programs.
DeShields has a quicker release on his throws, another way he is making his arm more effective, and the thought echoed by the decision-makers is that DeShields is going to continue to get better.
The two main areas where he can improve are going back on balls and fielding grounders.
“One thing that gets lost in it is the guy was a second baseman three years ago,” Daniels said. “Then, he made a jump from Double A to the big leagues and has basically learned two new positions in left field and center field.
“So, I think he’s made big strides, especially considering he hasn’t played every day in those two years, and he’s still young. I expect he’ll have an opportunity to continue to get better.”
The center field market isn’t deep. Lorenzo Cain, a Gold Glover for Kansas City, is the clear top choice, and Carlos Gomez could be next. The Rangers have interest in bringing him back, but Gomez is seeking a multi-year deal that would put a dent into a Rangers budget geared toward pitching.
Jarrod Dyson, who spent last season with Seattle, is another speedster who is known for his glove, but he has never had everyday at-bats in the majors as a left-handed hitter who has struggled against lefties.
The Rangers, though, have defensive issues across the outfield.
They aren’t overly concerned that Willie Calhoun will be limited to designated hitter should he make the team out of spring training. The Rangers would prefer to keep Nomar Mazara strictly in right field, which would keep Shin-Soo Choo at designated hitter with occasional time in right field and, possibly, at first base.
There are many options, including committing to DeShields in center field. He has the job now three months before spring training and with adding a position player low on the Rangers’ list of off-season priorities.
“We’re going to be focused on the pitching side,” Daniels said. “But if we can improve our defense and help with run prevention, we’re going to go down that path.”