It's almost Christmas, and the Texas Rangers haven't done anything to address the hole in the rotation left behind when Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and the opening created at designated hitter after the club declined a $9 million option on Vladimir Guerrero.
Aside from rumors and a lengthy courting of Lee, the team's offseason has been relatively quiet. Thus far, the reigning American League champions signed catchers Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor and relievers Yoshinori Tateyama and Seth McClung. (Update: They just signed 41-year-old lefty Arthur Rhodes.) Texas also inked Esteban German, Endy Chavez, Yhency Brazoban and Arizona Diamondbacks' 2010 first-round pick Barret Loux to minor league contracts.
Not much to get excited about.
Meanwhile, the Oakland A's have quietly improved their club after bolstering their offense by signing DH Hideki Matsui and trading for outfielder Josh Willingham and adding pitching depth by inking former Rangers hurlers Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy. (Today's actually the four-year anniversary of the trade by Rangers general manager Jon Daniels that sent lefthander John Danks to the Chicago White Sox for McCarthy, who was released this offseason.)
Oakland's a sexy early pick for the sleeper team of 2011 with good reason. The A's posted the best team ERA in the American League this year with a young rotation featuring Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden. And, apparently, they have money to spend, reportedly offering free agent Adrian Beltre a five-year, $64 million contract. (The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim reportedly offered him a five-year deal worth around $70 million that was recently pulled off the table, and Texas has shown some interest in the third baseman.)
It's time to make a splash, and while I'm on board with signing former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to an incentive-laden deal with the hope he's healthy, the Rangers need to do more if they plan to remain the favorites to win the AL West.
Former 19-game winner Fausto Carmona and Tampa Bay right-handers Matt Garza and James Shields are the top pitchers mentioned among the available starters on the market. I've already said trading for Carmona would be a smart, and I'd be very happy to add Garza, but let's think bigger.
How about Philadelphia Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels?
OK, so no one is saying he's available, but his name is worth mentioning given the Phillies' signing of Lee and loss of right fielder Jayson Werth via free agency to the Washington Nationals. Their rotation would still feature Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt without Hamels, and a trade with the Rangers for a package headed by Nelson Cruz would actually make sense.
Philadelphia desperately needs a right-handed slugger to balance a left-handed heavy lineup that includes Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, and Cruz gives them a player that's very comparable to Werth for considerably less than the $126 million contract he was awarded by the Nats. Nellie enters his first year of arbitration this offseason after making just $440,000 this year, and he's under club control until 2013. He's averaging a .273 batting average with 30 homers and 93 RBI per 162 games, while Werth averages .272-25-85.
At 27 years old, Hamels enters his prime following a great 2010 season, posting a 3.06 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 211 strikeouts in 208.2 innings while pitching most of his games in a hitters park. The 2008 World Series MVP is set to earn $9.5 million this year and has a final year of club control for 2012, after which he'll become one of the most sought after free agents on the market if he stays healthy and productive.
Why not at least make an attempt to land Hamels with Cruz and perhaps shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar and another player? Cruz could take over in right field for Werth, and Profar would give them someone that could eventually replace Jimmy Rollins as he grows older. Then buy out Hamels' last year of arbitration and add five more years for $120 million. Sounds pricey, but I'd rather pay Hamels $20 million a year instead of Cliff Lee $23 million annually, and the Rangers could attempt to replace Cruz's bat by signing Derrek Lee or Adam LaRoche to play first base and moving Mitch Moreland to the outfield or signing Beltre and moving Michael Young to left field or first base -- just to name a few options.
Odds are that Daniels and Philly GM Rubén Amaro won't ever discuss such a deal, but, heck, stranger things have happened.