March 12, 2022, the Rangers made one of their most lopsided trades of all time. They dealt infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Twins for catcher Mitch Garver.
Kiner-Falefa was a legend in his own mind. He had a Texas-sized ego with Rhode Island-sized production. He was insulted when he wasn’t selected for the All-Star team in 2021, when FanGraphs had him dead last among the thirty shortstops in baseball. He responded by saying, “If you’re a purist of the game, you’d appreciate the way I play and the way I do things.” Still sniveling, he added, “I felt like I finally deserve some credit, and when these people still look down on you, it’s motivation.”
In 2021, Kiner-Falefa ended with an OPS+ of 85, meaning he was 15 percent worse than an average major league baseball player. His four-year average was 81. No wonder people looked down on him. That’s where you had to look to find his value.
So, when the Rangers were able to trade him for Mitch Garver, it was the steal of the century. The Twins wasted no time immediately flipping him to the Yankees, where his lack of production cost him his starting shortstop job and caused him to be a part-time outfielder.
Garver, on the other hand, is a top three offensive catcher in baseball. His trouble has been staying healthy. But when he is, watch out. He put up a 157 OPS+ in 2019, winning the Silver Slugger award as the best at his position in the American League.
He immediately follow that up with an injury-plagued 2020. Garver was injured for much of 2021 as well, but still put up a 138 OPS+. He was injured last year, his first season with Texas, missing the season after May.
This year, he got off to a hot start, hitting two home runs on opening day and having an OPS of .943 after the first week of the season. Then, he was injured again. By the time he got back in June, Jonah Heim had snatched the starting catcher position from him with an All-Star performance.
He got limited playing time, mostly at DH, where he struggled. But when he played catcher, he was on fire offensively. And when Heim went down with injury, Garver put up numbers that exceeded Heim’s All-Star numbers.
For some reason, though, he was absent from the lineup the first three Rangers playoff games, left on the bench in favor of Robbie Grossman.
Garver finally got a start yesterday in Game 2 in Baltimore. The Orioles jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first. In the second, he singled in the go-ahead run in what would eventually turn into a five-run inning.
Then, in the third, he broke the game open with a grand slam, making it 9-2. As it turns out, that would be the difference in the game because the real Rangers bullpen showed up.
In total, Garver went 2-for-6 with five RBIs and two runs scored. He was the difference maker in what turned into an 11-8 nail biter that gave the Rangers a commanding 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series.
The Rangers head home to Arlington, one win away from a chance to play for the American League pennant.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not along for the ride.
The two facts are not mutually exclusive.