Why (and How) the Rangers Should Go All In as the Trade Deadline Looms
The Mariners say he's off the market, but we don't believe them.
What a week for Your Texas Rangers.
Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington took turns publicly ripping Josh Hamilton for the alarming lack of discipline he's displayed at the plate, increasing the likelihood that he'll be headed elsewhere this offseason. Fans booed the slumping slugger at home for the first time on Friday night. Wash benched Hamilton on Saturday and demoted him to the fifth spot in the lineup on Sunday.
If that wasn't enough to put the team into a tailspin, they learned that opening day starter Colby Lewis is out for the rest of season after tearing an elbow tendon, and Neftali Feliz was scratched from his next rehab start with discomfort in his throwing elbow. Until more information becomes available, Feliz can't be counted on to pitch again this year.
Meanwhile, top trade target Cole Hamels signed a $144 million contract extension to remain in Philadelphia, and the next best option, Zack Greinke, was traded to a division rival.
So, is it time to hit the panic button? Not yet.
Remember, this is an organization that overcame its so-called franchise player demanding to be traded twice, its manager getting busted for using cocaine, its most popular player and recovering alcoholic photographed in Arizona licking whipped cream off women's breasts while drunk and relapsing again at a local bar, its ownership resolved in bankruptcy court and the tragic death of a fan reaching for a ball tossed into the left-field seats.
There's no doubt this club is resilient. However, that's not a reason to stand pat as Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline nears.
The Rangers current starting rotation consists of Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Roy Oswalt and either Scott Feldman or Alexi Ogando. While it's possible that group will perform well enough to keep the Angels and A's at arms length in the American League West standings, it's also just as likely that they won't. That's why Texas would love to add an upper-tier hurler, which in turn is what makes general manager Jon Daniels' inability to pull the trigger on Greinke so damn puzzling.
Initially, it was speculated that JD refused to surrender third base prospect Mike Olt in a potential deal with the Brewers, and there were a lot of Rangers fans and baseball scribes that believed Olt was simply too much to give for Greinke. Later it was reported that Martin Perez was the deal killer.
Either way, neither player should have been off-limits.
Greinke naysayers are quick to label the former Cy Young winner as a headcase because of his battles with depression and social anxiety, but he appears to have those issues under control. They also cite Greinke's struggles in his first trip to the postseason last year, but it's not a large enough sample size to suggest he won't be effective this October. And Greinke's contract expires at the end of the World Series, but that didn't dissuade Daniels from acquiring Cliff Lee as a rental two years ago. (Although this time Texas wouldn't have received draft pick compensation if Greinke bolted.)
The bottom line is the Rangers would get a huge boost from adding an ace, and Greinke was the best one available. In fact, I think there's no doubt he's one of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball, and I believe most MLB GMs would agree.
Yet, rather than pay Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin's asking price, in what amounted to a rare misfire by Jon Daniels, he not only let Greinke slip out of his hands, he allowed him to go to the very team that Texas is most concerned about fending off for the lead in the West.
It just didn't make a lot of sense. Prospects are a dime a dozen. Every club has them, and every franchise and fan base is convinced that their best ones are on a path to become perennial All-Stars or Hall-of-Famers. The reality is that for every Mike Trout, there are thousands of supposedly can't-miss prospects that turned into marginal big leaguers or never found their way out of the minor leagues.
Now Texas is left to choose from the likes of Josh Johnson and James Shields (I'm not buying that Cliff Lee can be had), and both the Marlins and Rays are reportedly asking for more than what the Brewers received for Greinke, since Johnson is under contract for next season at $13.75 million and Shields' contract includes club options for 2013 ($9 million) and '14 ($12 million.)
With good reason, the Rangers are reportedly concerned about Johnson's lengthy injury history and Shields' poor performance this year, so it's unlikely Daniels would pay the hefty price required to land either one.
Ryan Dempster, Josh Beckett and Justin Masterson are other potential trade options, but Dempster already nixed a deal to the Braves and appears only to want to play for the Dodgers. Beckett and Masterson have been mediocre pitchers at best this year and don't represent clear upgrades to the rotation.
So how does Daniels respond to losing Greinke to the Angels without knee-jerking and ensure his club stays in the driver's seat in the West? Give up the farm for Felix Hernandez.
Although the Mariners have denied that they would be willing to part with their young ace, considering they're a team in transition and unlikely to reach the playoffs before his contract expires, it's reasonable to think GM Jack Zduriencik could change his mind if overwhelmed with an offer.
A proposal of Profar, Olt, Perez and a B-level prospect would be difficult for Seattle to pass up, and here's why it would make all the sense in the world for Texas.
1. He's arguably one of the top five starters in baseball . I'd rank Jered Weaver, David Price, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw ahead of Hernandez, and that's it. Strong arguments can be made for Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, but it's too close to call.
2. He's signed for two more years. Although he's hardly a bargain, Hernandez is under contract for $19.5 million next year and $20 million in '14. So even if he goes somewhere else at the end of his current deal, the Rangers will have had Hernandez for three potential postseason runs following their back-to-back AL championships.
3. He's in his prime. It's hard to believe, but King Felix is just 26 years old, having finished second in the AL Cy Young voting as a 23-year-old before winning it the following season. Texas would have him locked up during his age 27 and 28 seasons, which could be his best yet.
4. He's durable. Hernandez has been on the disabled list twice, but once was because of a sprained ankle and the other time was because of a strained elbow five years ago that hasn't recurred. He's made at least 30 starts in each of the last six seasons and is on pace to do so again this year.
5. He knows the league and division. Hernandez has pitched his entire career in the AL West, so he has plenty of experience against the top hitters in the division and league as a whole.
Of course, for this whopper of a deal to become reality, two things must happen, both of which are unlikely, one of which more so than the other.
First, Seattle has to be willing to deal Hernandez. And while it would be a tough message to send to their fans after recently parting ways with franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki, it would help them rebuild to compete in the future. And if Hernandez really loves it in Seattle as much as he has claimed he does, then he can re-sign there after the 2014 season, when the Mariners are closer to contending.
Second, Daniels has to radically change his current philosophy. Right now, he's holding on to the team's young, unproven minor leaguers for dear life, and the idea of trading the top three prospects in the organization (including perhaps the top one in all of baseball), might just give him a heart attack.
So, yeah, the odds aren't good on that one. In fact, I'd say they are about the same as Profar, Olt and Perez all finding their way to Cooperstown.
But if Daniels can dream about that, why can't I dream about what this team would look like with a bona fide ace in its rotation for the next three years?
Daniels is much more likely to add a bullpen arm, a bat or both. The Rangers have been linked to closers Jonathan Broxton and Rafael Betancourt, along with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, although the latest reports suggest Texas has lost interest in Choo. None of which would have the impact of adding Greinke or Hernandez.
Given what we've seen the last two seasons, Daniels is sure to make a move, but even if it's a smaller one, it's important to remember what I said earlier: It's not time to panic.
After all, last night Texas tied its best 100-game record in franchise history (1999, 2010), which put them four and a half games ahead of Oakland and five ahead of Los Angeles. Scott Feldman suddenly looks like a viable rotation piece. Mitch Moreland should return soon. And the lineup has to start clicking soon. Right? Riiiiight?
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamMerten.
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