Since we can all feel OK about losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, it's fair to evaluate Jon Daniels' Plan B, especially with the trade of Zack Greinke -- easily the best pitcher to be had on the market as a 27-year-old with filthy stuff, two years left on his contract and a Cy Young Award on his résumé -- to Milwaukee. I asked Daniels directly about his post-Lee plans in November and I included Greinke among the options, but there wasn't room to fit his response into my story about the Rangers' offseason plans.
"There are multiple ways to build a club, and I have a high degree of confidence in our decision-making group that we'll find ways to be as competitive if not more so next year," he said.
Me too. I'm confident that Daniels, Thad Levine, Nolan Ryan and the rest of management won't sit on their hands. They are too good at what they do not to improve this club. But starting pitching options are getting thin, so the time to be aggressive is now.
It took four solid young prospects from the Brewers -- shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress -- to land Greinke, which decimated an already mediocre farm system. Doug Melvin, who has been excellent as Milwaukee's GM, also acquired starter Shaun Marcum, who had a strong season with the Toronto Blue Jays after recovering from Tommy John surgery, for top prospect Brett Lawrie this offseason.
Greinke and Marcum would have been great pick-ups for Texas, but both teams were targeting specific players. The Royals wanted up-the-middle offensive players and a couple top pitching prospects, and the Blue Jays really like Lawrie. It's unclear what it would have taken to nab either one, but I'd assume Kansas City asked for Elvis Andrus, with Daniels saying, "Thanks, but no thanks." Toronto may have not been a match because the Rangers don't have a second base prospect comparable to Lawrie, although Ian Kinsler could have been a match in a multiple-player deal.
The so-called top free agent left on the market is Carl Pavano (who's drawing interest from the Twins and Nationals), but the Rangers have focused on Brandon Webb, who missed most of this year recovering from shoulder surgery. He represents a considerable risk much like the Rich Harden signing last offseason, but assuming Texas inspects his medical reports as closely as it did before watching Ben Sheets ink a one-year, $10 million deal in Oakland, it could be a savvy move. Apparently, the Rangers and Cubs are bidding against each other for the former Cy Young Award and 22-game winner.
Even with a potential Webb signing, Texas should be in the market for another starter. Several intriguing names are out there in the free-agent market (Jeremy Bonderman and Brad Penny) and are supposedly available in a trade (Matt Garza), but no one matches the appeal of Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona, who just turned 27, won 19 games in 2007 and was an All Star this year.
Carmona's stats over the past four seasons don't knock you over (45-41 record, 4.32 ERA and 1.42 WHIP), but he's entering his prime years and has a very attractive contract. He's set to earn just $6.1 million next year, with club options for 2012 to 2014 at $7 million, $9 million and $12 million respectively. That would give the Rangers an emerging young starter with upside and no risk as they can go year-to-year deciding whether to keep him. And if they exercise all three options, Texas would pay only $34.1 million for what should be Carmona's best four seasons at an average of $8.5 million annually.
The Rangers apparently like Carmona, just not as much as Greinke. But with Greinke off the board and other options likely to sign or be dealt elsewhere soon, Daniels and his staff need to find out what Cleveland wants and give it to them, of course, within reason. But let's not covet prospects to the point where the Rangers can't build on a team that won the AL Pennant less than two months ago.
Remember Ruben Mateo? The Rangers wouldn't part with him to land Roger Clemens from the Blue Jays. How about John Danks? Sure, he's the one erroneously dealt to the White Sox for Brandon McCarthy (who signed with the A's recently), but he's also the pitcher coveted by the Florida Marlins in a potential swap for Josh Beckett, but Texas passed on trading him and Hank Blalock for Beckett and 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell.
As for Plan B, Daniels told me he actually doesn't have one.
"Whenever we set out into an offseason, it's not even plans A, B and C, because in some ways that would suggest that Plan C is bad. You have to parallel path it. You have to walk through a lot of different options. Our goal is not to come out with this exact roster. Our goal is to come out with a roster that can win the division, advance to the playoffs and ultimately win a World Championship. I'd love to bring a lot of players in here, but we're never going to put all of our eggs in one basket. There are certain players that are going to necessitate a higher priority and a higher degree of our focus and time, and that's fully appropriate, but you always have to have multiple balls in the air because it's such a competitive marketplace and you can't control what other teams do."
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