Jurickson Profar produced the kind of the season in 2018 that the Texas Rangers thought he was capable of back in 2014, if not earlier.
The road to his breakout MLB season is well-chronicled, but even all those years after the top-prospect hype and injury-wrecked seasons, Profar was still only 25 and still came with two years of club contractual control.
He is the kind of player a rebuilding team covets. Profar looked to be a part of the future, and was the immediate replacement for the retired Adrian Beltre, though he could head to free agency after the 2020 season.
But by then, conventional thinking has been and continues to be, the Rangers’ rebuild will be complete. Everything would be in place to contend for the inaugural season at Globe Life Field, and what wasn’t in place could be purchased on the free-agent market.
Profar would be a big part of that.
Profar, though, is gone, traded Friday to the Oakland A’s for four prospects, three of them from the Tampa Bay Rays, and a $750,000 international bonus chunk to use before mid-June.
It’s the kind of deal a rebuilding team makes, though it would seem to fit more at the beginning of a rebuild than in one that is about to wrap up. The Rangers could still contend in 2020 to break in their new ballpark, but the Profar trade is another indication the Rangers aren’t sure about that.
“I’m not going to put a schedule on it,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I think getting our culture right, getting all of our systems and processes and our coaches and people right, and continuing to develop these players and adding talent to the system, you keep your head down and do those things, it happens faster than people expect.
“I absolutely think we’re going to be in a better spot walking into the new park a year from now. Where that goes, we’ll see.”
The Rangers sent Profar to their American League West rival for the slot money and infielder Eli White, and the Rays sent the Rangers left-handers Brock Burke and Kyle Bird and right-hander Yoel Espinal for righty Rollie Lacy.
Lacy was acquired in July from the Chicago Cubs in the Cole Hamels trade.
Daniels said that the Rangers are undecided about third base, though they won’t be moving Joey Gallo back to the position he played in the minors and his first two seasons in the majors. The Rangers have the recently acquired Patrick Wisdom and will look outside the organization.
Burke and Bird landed on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, and White and Espinal will join them in spring training as internal non-roster invites. They will become prominent prospects at the thinned-out upper levels of the Rangers’ system.
Bird and Espinal will have the chance to win spots in the Opening Day bullpen.
Profar becomes the A’s second baseman, replacing Jed Lowrie, after connecting for 20 home runs in 514 at-bats and 146 games for the Rangers in 2018. All three numbers, plus a score of others, were career-highs.
He was penciled in as the Rangers’ third baseman, despite his throwing difficulties there, and the belief was he would be better. Daniels said that the Rangers discussed a contract extension with Profar’s agent, Scott Boras, but the talks didn’t produce a deal.
That’s when it became more of a priority to get a haul for Profar with his value as high as it was in 2012 and 2013 when he was regarded as baseball’s No. 1 prospect.
“It wasn’t lining up,” Daniels said. “We had meaningful discussions about it.”
Burke is the star of the package, though Daniels also is high on White. Burke, who was the Rays’ 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, has developed into a projectable lefty whose fastball can reach 96 mph.
The Rangers’ starters continued to have problems striking hitters out in 2018, but Burke didn’t. The 22-year-old struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings overall and 11.5 per nine in nine starts after a promotion to Double A.
He is likely to start the season at Double A Frisco in the Texas League, where White spent 2018 with Midland. He’s versatile defensively, having logged time at second base, shortstop and third base as well as some time in the outfield.
White, who Daniels said has double-plus speed, had his best offensive season in 2018, batting .306 with nine homers among his 47 extra-base hits and a .838 OPS.
He sounds very similar to Profar, who played all four infield spots and had his best offensive season in 2018. He looked like he’d be one of the players to bring the Rangers out of rebuild mode.
Instead, he now plays for the A’s and the rebuild goes on, perhaps beyond 2020.
“Who’s to say what happens two years from now?” Daniels said. “We’re going to have different revenue streams that will maybe allow us to do some different things. I think this young pitching group with be either here or knocking on the door. That young outfield group will be close. We’ll know more about our guys in the big leagues. I’m confident that if we keep doing the right things, good things will follow.”