The last calendar year may not have been kind to Carlos Gomez, but the past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for him. The Astros released him and he was picked up over the weekend by their first-place, division rival Rangers, who will only be on the hook for the prorated league minimum of approximately $125,000. Of course, players get released all the time, but we don’t often see players who were as good as Gomez was as recently as he was getting released in late August by teams that aren’t out of the playoff picture yet, even if the player has been struggling mightily, so all this bears a little deep thinking.
Starting with the obvious, you certainly can’t argue with the reasoning on the Astros’ part in their decision to release Gomez. He’s been absolutely awful this year, hitting .210/.272/.322. That’s good for a 60 wRC+ and a 64 OPS+. Amongst centerfielders with at least 300 plate appearances (Gomez has 323), Gomez’s AVG is the worst in MLB, he has the 3rd worst OBP, the 2nd worst K% (31.0%) and the 3rd worst bWAR (-0.3). The Astros gave up a pretty sizable package to get Gomez (and Mike Fiers) in the first place and, while his numbers after arriving in Houston last season weren’t great, his performance this year has been such that it’s not terribly difficult to understand the Astros’ decision to cut bait.
Of course, however bad Gomez was for the Astros, that begs the question of who will be replacing him and whether they will perform more admirably. Until recently, Jake Marisnick would have been the fallback candidate, but he’s had plenty of contact issues and other question marks of his own and offensively might not even be an upgrade over Gomez, although he likely grades out better defensively. Obviously, the real hope for Houston is that the 23-year old Teoscar Hernandez continues to improve and cut down on his daunting minor league strikeout numbers. His .281/.378/.594 line so far since he was called up certainly looks like an improvement, but we’re only 37 plate appearances into his major league career, so we probably shouldn’t declare the decision to release Gomez a resounding success just yet.
After all, there was a reason the Rangers are taking a flier on Gomez and it bears recalling just how good Gomez was in his prime. In his two All-Star seasons in Milwaukee in 2013 and 2014, Gomez was unquestionably one of the best players in the game. His 13.1 fWAR was enough for 4th in MLB over that time period and in 2013, Gomez lead all of MLB with 8.5 bWAR. Of course, a large amount of Gomez’s ridiculous 2013 came from his defensive value, and that’s the only season in which his defense has been anywhere in that range apart from his 2008 season with the Twins.
When Shin-Soo Choo was hit by a pitch and suffered a fractured forearm last week, quite likely ending his season, the Rangers decided that they could take a chance on Gomez at the major league minimum. According to manager Jeff Banister, Gomez will be the Rangers’ everyday left fielder. Some of that might be just to keep Gomez happy, since it seems unlikely that Gomez will have that much rope if he hovers around the Mendoza line and strikes out around a third of the time. It probably translates more to “Gomez is our everyday left fielder until we decide that this experiment isn’t working out, which can happen whenever we feel like out.” But it’s hard to be too down on the Rangers’ decision to add some veteran depth with a lot of upside in the event that it doesn’t work out, since they didn’t really spend a lot to make this happen. Hopefully, all Gomez needs is a change of surgery and it doesn’t involve any under-the-radar injuries like the ones that supposedly caused the Mets to cancel their trade last year or a problem with his vision.
There are a lot of ways to look at roster moves and, to be honest, this one is a sort of a glass half-full or half-empty scenario. The move makes sense for the Astros. After all, at this point Gomez is a sunk cost. The move also makes sense for the Rangers, though. They could use some depth in the outfield and Gomez has a history of being one of the best players in baseball for a couple of years and it wasn’t long ago. The Rangers currently have an eight game lead on the Astros, and there’s a decent, if not likely, chance that this plays out in a way where it ends up an afterthought, but it’s still an intriguing move nonetheless. The teams have two more three-game series to play against each other, so there could certainly be some chances for Gomez to either embarrass his former team or his new one and maybe make this release and signing a bit more interesting.