To buy or to sell? That is not the question.

With the schedule now half complete, the time is right to start thinking about the trade season.  Of course, even though the conventional trade deadline is less than five weeks away, it’s still way too early to attempt to peg Texas as a buyer or seller.  

The Rangers will be prepared to go in either direction.  You lay the groundwork now so your pro scouts can start to follow targeted big leaguers and targeted prospects in preparation for late July.

But here’s the thing.  We’ve talked about this a bunch recently on various message boards and talk shows.  This isn’t Fogo de Chao.  You don’t have to flip your card to green or red and label yourself definitively as Buyer, or Seller.  Certainly not now.  But not even a month from now.  You don’t have to be either, and you can be both.  

You don’t have to believe you are primed for an immediate World Series title to be a buyer.  If you can go out and pick up a veteran (at the right cost) that can help you not only in August and September but also in 2009, maybe even beyond, then you can “buy” and still have an eye on the long-term prize.

What was Volquez and Herrera for Hamilton?  

A buy.  

This is not a heads or tails thing.  You can be a buyer even if you’re building for the future.

I’ll continue to say I’d like to see us go get an eighth-inning guy, whether we’re a half-game out of first place one month from today, or 13 games back.  The bullpen is going to need a boost going forward.  Assuming the price in prospects is reasonable, if there’s a reliever out there whose arm we like and whose contract fits and who we’d control for at least a full season, preferably more, I’d rather go get him now, push a few other key relievers one slot down in their roles, and get a better sense this summer of how the bullpen shakes out for 2009.

It’s a better idea, I think, than forfeiting a first- or second-round pick and committing three years and eight figures to a free agent set-up man in the winter.

Along with Milton Bradley, Vicente Padilla seems to be the player generating the most media debate in terms of whether you shop him in July.  I love the idea of Padilla pitching here in his final guaranteed year next season — unless someone comes at us with a Victor Zambrano package, like the Mets did in 2004, gifting Scott Kazmir to the Rays.

March 13, 2008 Newberg Report: “Josh Rupe, my pitching sleeper for 2008.”

Have you noticed what he’s done in June?  His last seven outings have been scoreless, five lasting at least an inning.  Seven hits (no home runs) and one walk in 9.1 innings.  Six strikeouts, four double play groundballs, only two of nine inherited runners scored.  

He’s as dependable a reliever as we have right now, and the one guy who may be in the process of earning a bigger role than he has at the moment.

Along with Luis Mendoza, that is.  In his two long relief appearances since returning from AAA, the righthander gave up three hits and no walks in six scoreless innings, fanning five.  He’s going to be back in the rotation before too much longer, you’d think.

Ron Washington told reporters that when Hank Blalock returns to action, Chris Davis will be sent back to Oklahoma regardless of how he performs.

Blalock’s timetable is unpredictable right now.  He experienced pain in his surgically repaired wrist while hitting in the cages before last night’s game and was told by team doctor Keith Meister not to pick up a bat for a week.

Peter Gammons did his traditional mid-season polling of baseball people, asking 50 general managers, front-office executives, managers, scouts, and journalists several questions, one of which was which players they expect to make a surprising contribution in the second half this year.  The first six (Rickie Weeks, Robinson Cano, Mike Pelfrey, Elijah Dukes, Clay Buchholz, and Jason Kubel) have been in the big leagues for all or most of the season.  

The seventh was Davis.

How much did Davis remind you of Mark Teixeira last night, not only with the opposite-field bomb but the two standout, athletic plays that the former third baseman made at first base?

Ramon Vazquez since Blalock last played: .338/.400/.539 in 179 at-bats, with 12 doubles and five home runs.

You know, it’s the sort of line that Blalock was projected to put up when he broke into the big leagues, before he sacrificed some average for more power.  

Righthander Joaquin Benoit admits he’s not at full strength, telling reporters this week: “The time off helped me a lot.  There’s still something in there.  I’m trying to do the best I can.  It’s not as bad as it once was.”

Righthander Brandon McCarthy threw off a mound in Surprise on Monday for the first time since April, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jennifer Floyd Engel writes this morning that McCarthy has had another setback and “is once again off the mound.”

Clinton righthander Neftali Feliz is number two on Baseball America’s Hot Sheet this week.  Before last night he’d given up more than one run only once in his last 11 starts.  He surrendered only his second home run of the season last night.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus was ahead of the curve on Feliz.  He had him as his number 11 pitching prospect in all of baseball in January, with only one other current Class A pitcher (Arizona’s Jarrod Parker) ahead of him.  The only Class A pitcher Goldstein would take over Feliz today is Detroit’s Rick Porcello.

Spokane righthander Neil Ramirez is crashing the party around here.  Signing too late last summer to make his pro debut, the 2007 supplemental first-rounder has a 1.93 ERA through his first three pro starts, scattering four hits and seven walks in 14 innings while punching out 17.  

Remember when this system boasted one, maybe two lefthanders each year that could be considered a legitimate prospect?  Today’s games on the Rangers farm include these pitching probables:

Spokane: Martin Perez
Clinton: Derek Holland
Bakersfield: Kasey Kiker
Oklahoma: Matt Harrison

Southpaw Glenn Swanson, who got off to a huge start last year (6-1, 2.93 with six walks and 42 strikeouts in 43 Clinton innings) before mid-season Tommy John surgery, is back.  Less than 12 months post-surgery, Swanson threw two scoreless Arizona League innings on Thursday, giving up one hit and one walk while fanning one.

Frisco manager Scott Little will be on the coaching staff of the World Team for the Futures Game on July 13 in New York.

Righthander Dustin Nippert with Texas: eight walks in 8.2 innings.

Nippert with AAA Oklahoma: 14 walks in 56.1 innings.

Frisco catcher-infielder Emerson Frostad will play for Team Canada in the Olympics.

The Cubs released righthander Andy Cavazos, and Toronto released first baseman Josh Kreuzer.  The Blue Jays also returned Kevin Mench to AAA Syracuse.

The New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League released infielder-outfielder Ramon Nivar, and the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League proceeded to sign him.

So, according to the transaction wires, one team subtracted Nivar, and one team added him.  

I think we’re going to have to wait for the agate type to know for sure whether Nivar’s first organization will be subtracting or adding themselves next month.  

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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