Here’s an Unpopular Idea: Trade Rougned Odor this Winter

Rougned Odor hit a two-run walk-off homer a few nights ago, turning a 7-6 Seattle lead into an 8-7 Rangers victory in the bottom of the 9th. It was his 25th HR of the year, and possibly at the top of the mantle for his most badass moment of the 2016 campaign:

(I could’ve included the actual HR clip, but this felt more authentic.)

So there you have it: Rougned is just 22 years old, won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season — meaning he has four years of team control after this one — and seems like a safe bet to keep getting better.

And in this post I will argue that this coming offseason is the best time to trade the young star

The arrogance of high expectations

Listen, I think Rougned Odor is awesome. When he was still a teenager, and it hasn’t be very long since he was, I aggressively rated him as one of the best prospects in the farm system and got into a few stupid message board arguments defending my reasoning. I was, of course, leaching off of scouting reports from people who knew way more about the game than I do, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Good writers borrow; great writers steal.

By the time Odor reached the big leagues, Rangers fans on message boards cared a lot less about me being right than this little 2nd baseman prospect who inevitably “made it”. But I didn’t forget. And from his amazing offensive display in 2015 to the exceptional right hook he landed on Jose Bautista earlier this year, you could say Rangers fans had themselves an all-timer. A folk hero who wouldn’t look “right” in another uniform.

And somewhere along the line, what I realized was that I liked Rougned Odor more when he felt more like my secret, rather than everyone else’s buddy.

Justifying the impractical

It would be blasphemy for the Rangers to trade him anytime soon, and for the above reasons I mentioned. The fan base would hate it. But would it really hurt their chances for another championship run in 2017 — or beyond — to replace him with Jurickson Profar at second base? Is Rougned Odor even that valuable in the first place?

Let’s answer these questions in reverse, beginning with the easier of the two. Yes, of course Odor is valuable in the first place. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote his 2016 top-50 trade value players a couple months ago, and Rougie checked in at #48 with this tidbit:

Not many 22-year-olds can match Odor’s present value, and so even as he marches towards his arbitration years, Odor is one of the game’s most valuable combinations of short-term and long-term value.

But at what point do we stop forgiving the many home runs he hits (25 with tonight’s game-winner*) despite such a meager on-base percentage (.294)? There’s a breakeven threshold a player reaches where it does matter how much power he hits for if he’s only reaching base 30% of the time; just as it’s easier to justify a power hitter who strikes out a lot — so long as he takes his share of walks — it’s proportionately disarming for a hitter that doesn’t walk enough.

*Update: The Rangers played an afternoon game on Wednesday, beating the Mariners 14-1 to give them the series sweep. Rougned Odor hit his 26th and 27th home runs, further adding to the mountain of evidence that shows how talented he is.

Odor strikes out at roughly a league average rate (21.2%), neither good nor bad, but his walk rate doesn’t do nearly enough to to offset such an average K%. That breakeven threshold I mentioned in the last paragraph? Rougie is teetering on the very edge.

Home runs are something of a prized commodity and always will be, but OBP is the real name of the game. Not batting average. Not runs batted in. Not even HRs (which are obviously important). OBP is the most critical offensive skill, and it’s the department Roogie struggles with (.297) the most.

Now to the second question: would it significantly (or adversely) affect the Rangers 2017 postseason chances if Profar was the team’s regular second baseman instead of Odor?

This is where I don’t agree, I would imagine, with most Rangers fans. Or the opposite — where most Rangers fans don’t agree with me. Jurickson Profar batted .337/.375/.490 (130 wRC+) in his first 104 plate appearances in 2016. But since then he’s ran into an absolute brick fucking wall.

Since July 1st Profar is slashing .195/.282/.271 (49 wRC+) with just 6 extra-base hits in 150 PAs. This can at least partly be blamed by the fact that Jurickson Profar has missed two full years of baseball, and his body was bound to fatigue at some point. They say the baseball season is a marathon and not… you know how it goes.

Overall, Jurickson is batting .255/.320/.364 (82 wRC+) on the year, which to the apologist (such as I am) wouldn’t seem so bad, all things considered. Especially by applying some intuition into the idea that this is probably the bottom-level of his production going forward. I think if you talked to credible scouts — which I haven’t, I’ve only read — they would say his bat speed is intact and he should hit for more contact/power moving forward.

It’s hard to get an accurate assessment of Profar since he plays both (a) sparingly and (b) out of position.

Of more relevance: if anything is to be learned from Jurickson Profar’s slash line stats, it’s that he generally carries a decent OBP. (And in the case of the slump he’s in, his on-base percentage is still 87 points higher than his batting average.) He has severely more plate discipline than Rougned Odor, though compared to Odor in the walks department every major league hitter is basically Barry Bonds.

Here’s a huge surprise: Odor has the lowest walk rate (2.5%) of all qualified major league hitters.

The reality of On Base Percentage

On the whole, Rougie is hitting .276/.297/.504 (106 wRC+), an almost unheard of slugging percentage for a high-average, low-OBP middle infielder. In this, with what seems like a max-out Odor season — with a gang of home runs — he is hitting six percent better than league average.

Factor in a position bump for being a second baseman and you are looking at a net-gain offensively, but not nearly to the point most fans or media members would lead you to believe. Odor ranks 18th in wRC+ among all MLB second baseman with at least 200 plate appearances, and has the 4th-worst OBP of hitters on the same list.

Again, homers are cool. But OBP is where it’s at.

Profar, even during this putrid offensive stretch, still has a .320 OBP for the season, about 25 points higher than Rougned. Jurickson draws walks (7.5% BB rate) at three times the rate of Odor, and he has 20 HR power himself, or in terms of SLG probably somewhere in the .430-.450 range. It doesn’t matter at the moment, since we’re basically seeing the worst Profar has to offer and the upper-end of Odor’s theoretical production. Odor is the better player right now.

If you are giving me the choice between Jurickson, who could reasonably be expected to produce something in the neighborhood of a .270/.340/.430 slash line in the future, or Odor who might be somewhere in the .275/.300/.500 range, I’m rolling with the on-base ability every time.

40 points of OBP is more valuable than the additional 10-15 HRs, or the 50- to 60-point bump in slugging percentage.

If Odor made a substantial difference running the bases or playing defense, that might sway me a bit. But Profar can handle his own in both departments, possessing a little less foot speed than Rougie on the bases, but acting as a marginally better defensive second baseman. Overall it’s probably a wash.

Cash rules everything

There’s also a business angle to this: It would be dumb to trade Jurickson this winter for pennies on the dollar. Particularly if he doesn’t start hitting again before the regular season ends.

Rougned Odor, meanwhile, might never be more valuable than he is in this exact moment. Or after the season, since that’s when any of this theory would make sense. I mean, he’s 22. He’s likely going to hit 30 HRs this season. He still has four years of team control.

It’s also going to cost less money to extend Jurickson Profar than Rougie, whose agent already turned down a 6-year, $35 million extension in July. Profar will be a free agent after 2019 — a year before Rougned — but he’s also proved a lot less at the major league level. Rougned is going to cost more because he is the surer investment.

And it’s since he’s such a sure bet that would make him extremely valuable on the trade market. It’s no secret that the Rangers’ pitching situation gets murky after 2017, and there isn’t a better chip Texas could use in trade talks than Rougie. Combined with a guy like Joey Gallo, there is no reason why Jon Daniels couldn’t get a young, controllable starter with those two at the top of the ticket. I’m not going to begin to put a list together, but there aren’t that many pitchers Odor would be worth trading for, so it goes without saying it would need to be a top-20 pitcher in the game.

That would help fade the likely departure of Yu Darvish after the 2017 season, which coincides with the end of the Rangers championship window if they choose to do nothing at all. (Of course, to be fair they do have something like 18 months before spring training 2018 rolls around.)

Odor would help fetch a monster starting pitcher, Profar would have an everyday position, and the Rangers will keep the World Series window open for 2018 and then some, even beyond the too suddenly fading Yu Darvish Era.

What probably happens

Jurickson Profar has stated as recently as July 19th that “[Next] year, I think I am going to play shortstop… somewhere,” and I think most Profar fans (such as myself) are resigned to him getting traded this winter. I don’t necessarily agree with it, because the Rangers would be selling him for less than he’s worth.

But it might be a situation where, simultaneously, the Rangers will be able to alleviate their middle infield logjam and do what’s best for the player, who is better off starting somewhere than staying in super-utility-player limbo with Texas.

For all I know, finding a way to keep Profar — and trade Odor — is magical thinking to the highest degree. It’s a solution to making my favorite position player a starter, and trading away a playing in Odor who is both extremely good at baseball and moderately overrated at the same time.

While Profar will presumably be traded on the cheap this winter, or involved in some 5- or 6-player swap where the Rangers net a #2 starter, Odor has probably cemented himself into Texas’s starting second baseman for the next decade. For 2017 I think Odor outproduces Profar. But over the next five years, let’s say, I would absolutely take Jurickson pound-for-pound.

I think if all other skills — defense, arm, base running — are something of a draw, I’d still prefer Jurickson Profar’s bat over Rougned Odor’s. OBP has to mean something. And the difference in OBP is more significant than the difference in SLG, where Odor has the clear advantage.

The main argument for Odor, who is certainly young, is the logical fallacy that “his plate discipline will only improve with age.” With every other aspect of his game, his defense, his awareness, even his power, I would accept that argument. But drawing walks is a skill that’s really hard to get better at. Like pitchers and strike outs, you kind of either have it or you don’t.

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