Carlos Gomez a deft pickup for Rangers

On August 8th, Houston Astros RHP Collin McHugh surrendered a relatively routine fly ball to center field, and rhetorically asked the universe a question:

Four days later, but not specifically due to this one play, the Astros released the center fielder who absorbed the brunt of said rhetorical question.

That player is Carlos Gomez.

On Saturday, Gomez agreed to terms on a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers. He will report to Round Rock — Texas’s Triple-A affiliate — where he is expected to “play a few games in the minors before being called up,” per MLB dot com’s T.R. Sullivan.

Carlos Gomez has experienced a godawful 2016 campaign; this season with the Astros he slashed just .210/.272/.322 (57 wRC+, 43 percent below league average) with 5 HRs in a little over 300 plate appearances. Even his historically strong defensive skills have eroded back to league average (+0.4) according to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

However, still only 30, in the four years leading up to this one Gomez was one of baseball’s most productive all-around players. Between 2012-’15 he slashed a composite .272/.331/.467 (117 wRC+), averaging about 20 HRs per year and ranking 4th in UZR among all outfielders in Major League Baseball.

In that four-year frame he ranked 12th in all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs, and 5th among outfielders. Below is that kind of okay, maybe decent, perhaps tepid list of outfielders:

1 Mike Trout (+37.8 fWAR)
2 Andrew McCutchen (+27.9 fWAR)
3 Jason Heyward (+21.1 fWAR)
4 Bryce Harper (+19.4 fWAR)
5 Gomez (+18.7 fWAR)

If you are keeping track at home, that group includes three recent MVP Award recipients and a guy who signed a 8-year, $184 million contract last offseason.

Without overstating the fact, Carlos Gomez has been one of baseball’s best three-way players over the last half-decade — a guy who plays elite defense at a premium position, steals a ton of bases, and hits for power at a scarce offensive position.

Secretly, I was kind of hoping the Rangers made a run at him once he was released last Friday. Admittedly it was because he was released by Houston — the Rangers chief rival in the American League West — but it was also due to the idea that he isn’t, in reality, the player he has performed as for so much of 2016.

For the Astros, a club that is currently in a hole trying to make a run at one of the two Wild Cards, they simply couldn’t afford to keep playing a sub-replacement-level player in the outfield everyday. For the Rangers Gomez acts more as a lottery ticket: If he doesn’t perform to his postseason-caliber capabilities, they can simply discard him once the playoffs come around. They are paying him the league minimum over the season’s final six weeks.

It’s extra sweet in the sense that, if he does perform, and does make it on the postseason roster, the Astros are still on the hook for the remaining portion of the $9 million contract Carlos Gomez is signed to this year.

Since Rangers right fielder Shin-Soo Choo went on the disabled list with a broken arm last week, they are carrying Jurickson Profar, Delino DeShields, Ryan Rua and Drew Stubbs as their primary corner outfielders at the moment. Given a few games to get back in the mix, as well as a little small sample size luck, Gomez presents a clear upgrade over that collection. Provided, of course, that he isn’t as helpless as he has looked in Houston all year.

This isn’t really a gamble on the Rangers end, because like I said: If he can’t hack it down the stretch, Texas still has options to replace him with. But if he proves that he’s even a shred of his former self over the last 35 or so games of the regular season, the Rangers could very well have struck gold here.

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