Throughout the offseason, no matter who had just retired or who had just been traded, the Texas Rangers were clear about third base: Joey Gallo wasn’t going to play there.
General manager Jon Daniels repeated that refrain after Adrian Beltre retired and after Jurickson Profar was dealt to the Oakland A’s. Gallo, who played third base in the minors and made his big-league debut as a third baseman, wasn’t going to fill that hole for the 2019 Rangers.
But putting him there would create enough flexibility in the outfield for Willie Calhoun to receive regular at-bats. It would save the Rangers from spending money on a free agent who probably wouldn’t be a long-term fit in the rebuilding phase.
Gallo at third, in other words, made a lot of sense.
Instead, veteran Asdrubal Cabrera will replace Beltre and Profar in 2019 on a one-year deal, and Gallo will play all three outfield spots but probably be stationed mostly in left field.
The Rangers are happy, and so is Gallo even though he heard the cries from the fan base for him to slide back to third.
“I didn’t play third base one time last year,” said Gallo, who opened 2018 at first base. “People are like, ‘Aw, he needs to play third.’ I don’t play third anymore. That’s over. It would have been bad for both sides. That’s the thing.”
Allow him to explain how he has gone from infielder to outfielder. Ever since he was drafted in 2012, he had heard from critics that he was too big to play third base and that he was going to have to switch positions.
Call Gallo stubborn. He was determined to prove the naysayers wrong, and he made his MLB debut June 2, 2015, at third base while Beltre was out with a torn-up thumb. When Beltre’s calf didn’t cooperate to open 2017, Gallo was there to plug the hole.
But he also started playing left field, where he started to realize that his tools, surprising, perhaps, for a 6-foot-5 250-pounder, were better suited for the outfield. Gallo can run, and he has a big arm that plays at any outfield spot.
And, somehow, the outfield is easier on his body than third base.
“Physically it would have been a lot tougher for me,” Gallo said. “For the team I wouldn’t have been able to supply the defensive capabilities at third base that other guys can. The outfield is my true position. I’m kind of finding that out now, that my tools play way better in the outfield than they do at third base.”
Gallo, early last season, infamously said that he hated third base and didn’t want to play there again. Perhaps there was a thought that Gallo was disgruntled or trying to throw his weight around.
Not so, he said.
“I had a chance to move to the outfield in the minor leagues, but for me it was more pride,” he said. “I was always told I can’t play third. “You’re too big, you’re too slow, whatever.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to play third.’ And once I got up here, I did it and I played the outfield, and I think the outfield fits me more and fits our team became I can help out defensive.
“That’s the reason behind it. It’s not, ‘I’m not playing third, JD.’ That’s not it at all. They were telling me, ‘You’re not playing third.’ And I agree. I think it’s a good decision. I wouldn’t be able to be the defender I could be at third that I could be in the outfield.”
So, Cabrera and maybe Patrick Wisdom, a rookie acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals during the winter meetings, will play third. Cabrera can also play second base and shortstop, so he might spell Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus and create time for Wisdom.
Cabrera has only 52 career starts at third base, but 12 of them came last season for the Philadelphia Phillies. Wisdom has only 50 career at-bats, but the Rangers have been impressed with his athleticism and ability to perhaps play other positions.
But when it comes to third base, Gallo isn’t part of the Rangers’ plan.
“I just play wherever they put me,” he said. “I think the plan is to play the outfield full time and not really play infield at all.”