It is early July and the Texas Rangers are relevant for the right reasons in part because Jon Daniels did what he does best during the off-season.
The all-powerful GM of the Rangers looked for, and found, the old guy who wanted one more shot to be great again.
Few GMs squeeze more out of the aging bat, or arm, any better than JD. His willingness to look at ex-San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, via a minor league deal, is a major reason why the Rangers are a wild card contender.
Pence is an All-Star again, and a great story of a guy whose career was thought to be dead but is alive.
Here is the hard part: If in three weeks this season has gone sideways, which considering this pitching staff that is a possibility, JD should deal Pence to a contending team.
Actually ... JD should deal him anyway. The 2019 Texas Rangers are all about the 2020 Texas Rangers, and dealing Pence will do more for the future team than the present team.
The Rangers are hardly a finished product that can win a World Series; they have greater aspirations than losing in the wild card round.
Nonetheless, the Rangers are a contending team and it is because JD was willing to go back to the “Washed Up” section of free agency.
THE HUNTER PENCE MODEL
Long before JD was named GM of the Rangers he liked the idea of finding an older guy who might have one good season of ball remaining in his body.
“The Indians and Yankees I thought always did that really well,” JD said in a recent interview. “If you look at the ‘90s or the early 2000s, it was Ellis Burks. Or Chili Davis. Or David Justice. Or Eddie Murray late in his career with the Indians. The veteran hitter who may be a finishing piece.”
Other than a veteran-sized contract, there is minimal risk. The guy may have some pop remaining to provide production for a good team, or he can be flipped in late July for a prospect or two.
JD has repeatedly used this model, and most of the time the results are positive.
He added players such as Milton Bradley, Kenny Lofton, Eric Gagne, Omar Vizquel, A.J. Pierzynski, Wandy Rodriguez with varying degrees of success. JD’s addition of future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero was a “finishing piece” for their team that reached the World Series in 2010.
JD flipped Gagne in a trade that brought in outfielder David Murphy, who became a big contributor to the franchise’s best team in 2011.
It is not a coincidence that the Rangers are contending since Pence made the team.
“Our pro scouts liked the idea a lot of him coming; there was a lot of talk that he needed to change his swing,” JD said. “We didn’t think that, but we could not have predicted he was going to perform at an All-Star caliber offensive level. When our scouts saw him play in winter ball, they just said how well he was moving. Physically.
“He had had a back issue and a thumb issue and he’s 36, but he was in great shape. And he was running all over the field. He had great energy. The other big factor was (manager Chris Woodward). He wanted to create a culture and he felt Pence could reinforce what he wanted to be about.”
THE FUTURE OF HUNTER PENCE WITH THE RANGERS
Predictably, Pence made his way to the disabled list. He suffered a strained groin and was placed on the 10-day DL on June 17. He is 36, the way he plays lends itself to a trip to the DL.
“Logic stands that if you are mid 30s you are more susceptible to injuries; guys who get hurt typically do get hurt,” JD said. “We have to be aware of that. You don’t count on it, but he’s in good shape.”
JD has a handful of decisions to make in the next month, most of which he did not expect because the Rangers are exceeding expectations.
One is what to do with Hunter Pence, which will depend on the following:
Is he the same player before the injury; are the Rangers still a viable contending wild card team that Pence will only bolster; are the Rangers trending south?
At a minimum, Pence is now a commodity that can attract a prospect or two in return.
He’s been a wonderful addition because Jon Daniels did what he does best, and that is to shop in the Washed Up section.