Earlier this afternoon, MLB rumors popped up from local Dallas media reporting that the Texas Rangers were considering calling up Jurickson Profar as an option to be the team’s utility infielder, as early as during the Rangers next home stand. Jurickson Profar is the Rangers’ best prospect, and is arguably the best prospect in all of baseball. He can play second base and shortstop, and despite being 19 years old, is talented enough to more than adequately fill the role of utility infielder. Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels had previously alluded to a September call-up being a possibility for Profar, but an August call-up would be a horse of a different color.
There is one thing that is certain: the Rangers need a utility infielder. Currently, the team has a three-man bench, after former utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez was assigned to Triple-A to make room for the return of relief pitcher Mark Lowe off of the disabled list. The only backup middle infielder is Michael Young, and his defense is too limited to consider him a worthy option for the Rangers as they continue down the stretch run of the season and into the playoffs. Viewing the landscape of players currently in the Texas organization, Profar is the best option for a utility infielder. However, the question of whether or not Profar should be tapped on the shoulder to make the transition to the big leagues is more complicated than that.
Profar, by all accounts, is on a trajectory to be one of the best players that the Rangers have ever brought up from their farm system, and contribute in Texas in a big way for a long time. Because of that, it would behoove the Rangers to keep Profar under the organization’s control for as long as possible. If Profar is called up in 2012, his service clock begins ticking. There is also the issue of how much playing time Profar would receive as the backup utility infielder with the Rangers, but that is less of a concern. Profar is hitting .283/.362/.463 in Double-A as one of the youngest players at that level. He just hit his 14th home run of the year. He’s ready to contribute at the big league level, and doesn’t need the extra minor league at-bats for development reasons. The bigger factor is service time.
If Profar collects one year of service (defined as 172 days with the major league team) by the end of the 2013 season, he will become a free agent after the 2018 season. If Profar is held in the minor leagues long enough that he does not have 172 days of service time at the end of next year, he’ll be under team control and arbitration eligible through 2019. In 2019, Profar will be 26 years old, and in what I would assume be his prime. That arbitration purchased 2019 season could end up being worth in the neighborhood of $15-20 million dollars to the Rangers.
If the Rangers wanted to keep Profar under control through 2019, they have a few options. One option is to not call him to the major leagues at all in 2012, and then wait until about mid-April in 2013 to bring him to the bigs. If the club feels Profar will be a major contributor in 2013, this option puts him on the big league roster for the longest amount of time next year. Any other option is a derivative of that one, with the trade-off being any time spent with the major league team in 2012 would be time that would need to be added on to that mid-April date for his call-up in 2013.
This is a complex decision. There is no clean-cut solution. If Profar is called up after September 1 this season, he would be ineligible to play on the playoff roster. If he is called up in August, that would mean he would need to stay in the minors until June in 2013, or he would become free agent eligible one year earlier than necessary.
One must also wonder just how much Profar would contribute to the major league team in 2012 as the backup utility infielder. Is it worth it to start his service time clock for the role that he would be filling? Prior to his demotion, Gonzalez saw just 55 plate appearances in the 110 games he was with the team. Texas players in the backup utility infielder role have collected a total of three plate appearances in their last two postseason runs. You could argue that Profar is better than Esteban German and Andres Blanco, combined, and you would be correct. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he would get more playing time. Rangers’ manager Ron Washington tends to play the players that have earned his trust, and a 19-year old seeing his first big league action, much less postseason action, is not likely to find his way on to Washington’s list of players he trusts so quickly, and that’s by no fault of his own, or Washington’s for that matter.
So the discussion is whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice possible playing time for Profar in 2013, or a full year of arbitration eligibility in 2019, to bring Profar to the big leagues in 2012 to mostly ride the pine and collect a handful of plate appearances here and there. This isn’t a Mike Trout or Manny Machado situation where the Rangers have a hole that their young phenom fills. In this case, Profar would be insurance to potential injuries, or a possible spark plug to use sparingly. If that is the case, and the usage truly would be spare, recalling Gonzalez or making a trade for a player like Nick Punto might just make more sense. The Rangers don’t need Profar to win the AL West in 2012, and his impact in the postseason is clearly debatable. Is it worth $15-20 million in the future to gain that marginal advantage in 2012?
The more exciting move is to make the move now, and begin the Jurickson Profar era in Arlington. It is also the win-now move, as it gives the Rangers the best possible product on the field today. However, for a team like Texas that is looking to create a model of sustained success, it can’t only be about winning now. It’s the same reason that the Rangers wouldn’t sacrifice their other top prospect Mike Olt at the trade deadline. Olt would have netted a significant return that would have made Texas the best possible team in 2012, but the Rangers front office decided trading Olt would be sacrificing too big a piece of the future pie for the instant gratification of the present. Their decision with Profar will impact the future, impact the present, and will be made based on where the Rangers are comfortable on the sliding scale that balances the two.
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