Let’s assume the Brewers get above-average defense and an infusion of OBP atop the order from Lorenzo Cain. They will come away happy, even at $80 million over the next five years.
There is another immediate winner following Cain’s decision to sign with Milwaukee.
In early January, the Rangers were linked to Cain.
The move made sense as a great potential landing spot for the free-agent outfielder, as Texas seemingly needed a solution in center field after squeezing 2.3 WAR out of Carlos Gomez in 105 games on a one-year deal last season.
Perhaps they already had their solution on the roster.
If the Rangers had signed Cain, Delino DeShields Jr. would have likely moved back into a platoon in left field with Willie Calhoun. With that, the plan might have been regular starts against left-handed pitching, and occasional starts against righties when one of Cain, Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, or Shin-Soo Choo needed a breather. A path to another 350-400 plate appearances, but a pretty firm ceiling barring a major injury to one of the four outfielders ahead of him in the pecking order for playing time.
During the final two months of 2017, DeShields led off for the Rangers in all but one of his starts, with the exception occurring on the last day of the regular season when Elvis Andrus took the spot and DeShields hit second. The playing time increased down the stretch as he started all but two games in September, splitting time between center field and left field.
Unless the Rangers are planning on bringing back Gomez, center field now appears to belong to DeShields on a full-time basis.
As splits go, DeShields was still better against lefties than he was against righties last season, but a .277/.348/.348 line against righties works when the job is to get on base and put pressure on opposing batteries with speed, leaving the likes of Andrus, Mazara, Adrian Beltre, Joey Gallo, Choo, Calhoun, and Rougned Odor to drive in runs.
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It’s worth noting that his OBP is actually solid, backed by a double-digit walk rate (10.0% BB% in 2017) rather than a surprisingly high number of HBPs. As deep as the Rangers’ lineup is, the list of viable replacements for the leadoff role is short.
Just 25 years old, DeShields has enough power to occasionally drive an inside pitch into the bleachers (think 8-10 homers), but the calling card is his speed, which has frequently placed him near the top of the Statcast Sprint Speed Leaderboard. Perhaps more importantly, he’s already demonstrated the ability to use his speed as an efficient basestealer, going 62-for-81 (76.5%) over 315 MLB games.
With skills that are largely unchanged, DeShields should have an easy path to 30-plus steals in 2018, but even a slight improvement to his strikeout rate (24.8% in 2017) could nudge his OBP up even further, opening up additional green lights to run.
DeShields is one of five players projected by Steamer to reach 30 steals this season, and three of the other four are being drafted consistently in the Top 40 overall: Trea Turner, Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Starling Marte.
The cost is low in early NFBC drafts, as he’s carrying an average draft position of 204.1, but he will justifiably inch up draft boards if the Rangers continue to move forward with Drew Robinson and Rule 5 pick Carlos Tocci as DeShields’ only competition for playing time in center field.