Rougned Odor never met expectations with Texas Rangers. It’s hard to pinpoint why

·5 min read

No one with the Texas Rangers has anything bad to say about Rougned Odor the guy, the person, the teammate.

Even in spring training, with second base no longer his and third base his only chance to make the team, he showed up, played hard, played with enthusiasm, and didn’t create any drama.

He was a professional.

The same Rangers people won’t say anything bad about Odor the player. That’s just not something fellow ballplayers do, and, besides, Odor does have talent.

Not just anybody can hit 30 home runs in three separate seasons.

And he has pretty good right cross.

The first of those 30-homer seasons, in 2016, convinced the Texas Rangers that Odor was worth a six-year, $49.5 million contract extension. The expectation was that those seasons, which included a .271 average, would be the norm.

Everyone with the Rangers, fans included, knows how it turned out. He’s with the New York Yankees now, and the Rangers are paying all but the league minimum on the remaining two years of his contract.

Why? He was no longer a fit, with the Rangers going younger and needing to clear a path at second base for Nick Solak, and potentially for 2020 first-rounder Justin Foscue, and at third base for top prospect Josh Jung.

That answers one why. Here’s another: Why didn’t Odor live up to the contract?

That why produces a lot of answers.

“It was sad to let him go because I felt like he was getting close to being that productive, consistent guy,” manager Chris Woodward said. “When he first got called up I watched video, and this kid was dynamic. He was athletic in the batter’s box, the bat-to-ball was better. So ... I don’t know.”

The Yankees activated Odor from the 10-day injured list Tuesday before the second contest in a four-game series against the Rangers at Globe Life Field. He was in the lineup at second base, batting fifth.

Odor spent Monday joking around with his old teammates, especially Joey Gallo, and they all had something to say about how he looks without his beard. Odor admitted it was strange returning as a visitor, and that parting ways was difficult.

“It was tough. I think it’s tough for every player, leaving the team you’ve been playing for your whole career,” Odor said. “But that’s already in the past. I’m going to go out there and compete and do my best to help the team win.”

He was batting .164 with four home runs in 61 at-bats before spraining his left knee May 4. Those numbers and an IL stint following the trend established in his final three seasons with the Rangers. He was on the IL at least once in each season from 2018-2020, and he batted .205 overall and .167 the past two years after a .253 showing in 2018.

Odor hit only .204 in 2017, but he played all 162 games and hit 30 homers to give him back-to-back 30-homer seasons.

“The first couple years he had success doing it a certain way, and kind of fell into the trap of, ‘I’m a home-run hitter,’” Woodward said. “Maybe that was the start of it.”

At one point, the Rangers were concerned that he was getting swing input from too many sources. His uncle, Rouglas, was a former minor-league player and minor-league hitting coach, and what Odor was hearing at the ballpark and elsewhere conflicted.

After the 2019 season, Odor didn’t work out in the Metroplex with Rangers hitting coaches, but in Miami at Bommarito Performance. Rangers personnel had to travel to check on him, and they could evaluate his progress only on video.

He was the same hitter.

Approach has also been an issue for Odor. The Rangers didn’t want to take away his aggressiveness, but too often he swung at pitches out of the strike zone. Pitchers kept throwing them there, and only in spurts did he exercise patience.

His eyes would get particularly big if he homered early in a game. Rather than take the approach that produced the homer to the plate in ensuing at-bats, Odor would often swing at anything and everything.

Toward the end for the 2019 season, in which he hit 30 homers but batted .205 and tied for the American League lead with 178 strikeouts, the Rangers started to believe that Odor was starting to fully comprehend the analytical data they had been feeding him for six months.

Strong Septembers were an Odor staple that gave the Rangers fleeting hope that he was on his way to breaking through. But by the beginning of a new season, including what he showed this year in spring training, he was back in his far-to-accustomed rut.

Once the Rangers decided last season to begin rebuilding with young players, Odor’s status became less certain. Solak did nothing in the offseason or spring training to lose his hold on second base, and the Rangers didn’t believe Odor would be a good fit as a part-time player.

He was told the day after spring training that he would be designated for assignment on Opening Day, April 1. The Rangers and Yankees struck a trade five days later.

“It was a really tough decision to let him go,” Woodward said. “But at the same time I’m glad he caught on with these guys. I hope we can get him out a couple times.”