(Big) trade embargo.
I say what I’m about
to say without a lot of conviction. I
may reverse course in two days.
Even once my Google Reader ceases to cough up as many
articles each day containing the word “lenders” as about the last night’s game,
I don’t think I want to see a trade for Roy Oswalt. Or Cliff Lee.
Or Lance Berkman. Or Paul
Konerko. Or anyone else who would cost
even one player from among Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and
It’s not time.
Not time to break that group up, that is.
It may still be Time to nail down a playoff spot in
2010. Probably not with the roster as
presently constituted, but I have faith in Jon Daniels and his staff and scouts
– who, driven by inventive and often unconventional ways of thinking, brought
us Scheppers and Vladimir Guerrero and Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis and Pedro
Strop and Robbie Erlin and Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz and Tommy Hunter and
Darren O’Day and who wouldn’t surprise me if they asked Chris Davis to give
catcher a AAA shot – to improve the club this summer.
By that I mean something like last summer’s Matt Nevarez and
Jose Vallejo for Ivan Rodriguez. Ray
Olmedo for Matt Treanor. Jose Marte for
Dustin Nippert. Ricardo Rodriguez for
Vicente Padilla. Joselo Diaz for Matt
Stairs, and Jesse Chavez for Kip Wells.
The Daniels trade that pushes up against that line the closest
without crossing it is probably Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, and
Julian Cordero for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.
Just not Holland and anything else for Oswalt.
Or Scheppers for Konerko.
Why? Because even if
this club fulfills on its pledge that It’s Time, this is a franchise whose
window is opening, not closing. I’m all
for getting aggressive in July, addressing a hole or two and sending a strong
front office message to the clubhouse that we’re all in, but Atlanta did that
in 2007 when, on July 31, a general manager motivated by window he’d already
bought shutters for traded for Mark Teixeira, Ron Mahay, Octavio Dotel, and
Royce Ring, without much ultimately to show for it.
The Braves are doing just fine now. But they’d be better with Andrus and Feliz.
There are too many holes on this Rangers roster to think
that a number one starter or a number five hitter would catapult them from AL
West contenders to challengers for the pennant.
Back to the Braves three years ago.
Going into its July 31 game against Houston, Atlanta had lost nine of 14
and was 4.5 games back in the NL East (as far back as the club had been all
season) and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card chase. Julio Franco (.217/.327/.289) and Scott
Thorman (.220/.262/.402) were sharing first base. Its bullpen was led by Bob Wickman and backed
by Rafael Soriano and a nondescript collection of righthanders Oscar
Villarreal, Peter Moylan, Tyler Yates, and Chad Paronto.
That club’s holes were as obvious as the bottom third of the
After the massive July 31 overhaul, Atlanta went 29-27 the
rest of the way, finishing 5.0 games back in the division and 6.0 games (and
three teams) back in the Wild Card standings.
The Braves missed the playoffs for the second time in 13 years.
Teixeira turned into Casey Kotchman (who turned into Adam
LaRoche, who left without an arbitration offer) and Steve Marek. Mahay turned into 2008 draft pick Brett
Devall, a high school lefthander whose has fought elbow and forearm injuries
since signing. Ten days after arriving,
Dotel landed on the disabled list for six weeks with a shoulder strain. He left for the White Sox that winter, having
given Atlanta 7.2 innings of work and zero parting compensation. Ring threw 27.1 largely ineffective innings
for the Braves in 2007 and 2008 before being designated for assignment,
clearing waivers, and leaving in the winter via minor league free agency.
John Schuerholz, having already decided 2007 would be his
last season as Braves GM, made one last run at a pennant. It failed.
You think Braves fans were any less pumped about the idea of
Teixeira “coming home” than some Rangers fans are at the prospect of landing
Oswalt, who has reportedly included Texas as just one of three teams he’d waive
his no-trade clause to join? Or that the
average Atlanta fan knew any more about Neftali Feliz then than the average
Metroplex general columnist knows now about Matt Thompson, if not Martin Perez?
Ask a Braves fan now whether he’d want a July 31, 2007
Two things make this July’s trade deadline sticky for
Texas. One is the club is obviously
immobilized financially. But even when
that gets cured, by the end of July or not, in order to address the various glaring
problems the active roster has, and address them in such a way that the team
becomes a legitimate threat in October, the top tier of the farm system will have
to get ransacked. It’s not a realistic
Very good baseball teams tend to break in one inexperienced
position player a year, maybe two if at different times. They might introduce a couple young pitchers
into key roles each season. There are
far more Justin Smoak’s than Jason Heyward’s.
Young players usually struggle to keep up with the adjustments that
league makes against them, as the book develops.
Holland and Feliz were the two kid pitchers Texas planned to
count on in 2010. But neither was thrust
out of camp into a role he wasn’t thought to be quite ready for (a luxury, you
might say, this team has rarely created for itself on the pitching side).
The Rangers knew that the rotation, coming off a season in
which it was more reliable than it had been in years, could be better. The club basically turned Kevin Millwood into
Lewis and Rich Harden, and while the latter hasn’t worked out to date, there’s
no second-guessing that exchange. C.J.
Wilson was given an opportunity to start, an opportunity that was made possible
in part by the targeting and signing of Darren Oliver away from the
Angels. Depth (and Matt Harrison’s
spring) allowed Texas to give Holland some added minor league seasoning.
Texas also added Chris Ray in the Millwood deal, strengthening
a bullpen that needed another power arm with late-inning experience and giving Feliz
a safety net in case he wasn’t ready to hold down the eighth inning. But early struggles by Frankie Francisco gave
Feliz an opportunity to step into a bigger role, and so far the move looks like
it was the right one. (Did you realize
he has yet to allow a hit on the road this season? Opponents are 0 for 25, with two walks.)
On the offensive side of things, the one young player that
Texas was expecting to count on was Julio Borbon, who was coming off an
impressive 157-at-bat debut last summer (.312/.376/.414, 19 stolen bases in 23
tries), primarily in the leadoff spot. In
camp, the main questions tended to revolve around his readiness to hold center field
down. Not until the final three games of
the 2009 season did Borbon start in center for Texas, having worked primarily
in left field. He actually started at
designated hitter 21 times, starting defensively in only 17 games.
Given Borbon’s minor league track record at the plate
(.321/.362/.425 and .307/.367/.386 in his two seasons after signing late in
2007), even accounting for an expected regression in 2010, more people were
concerned coming into 2010 about his ability to patrol center field and limit
the extra base than about his chances to lock down the leadoff spot. His work in spring training (.326/.368/.427 in
a team-leading 89 at-bats) did nothing to trigger concerns about his bat.
Then the regular season got going. Borbon’s tremendous struggles at the plate (he’s
been helpless against lefthanders, he’s not hitting at all on the road, he’s
drawn two walks in 139 plate appearances, he’s hit an excessive amount of lazy
flies to left, he’s worked the count to 2-0 just two times all year)
have been mitigated to an extent by Andrus’s seizing of the leadoff spot, but in
spite of Borbon’s moderate progress of late, I’d still expect Endy Chavez’s
name to start showing up with more regularity in the notes columns in the next couple
But that’s the nature of young players, and we must remember
that Borbon reached the big leagues in his second full pro season. He’s still learning, and good teams can live
with that. What becomes problematic is
when there are multiple players in that category.
Borbon, right now, is where Chris Davis and Jarrod
Saltalamacchia were a year ago.
And that’s leads us to the problem.
This whole thing, the entire outlook for this team, at least
for 2010, would be in colossally better shape if first base and catcher had
taken a different progression than they have.
Davis, coming off an impressive 2008 debut (.285/.331/.549
with 88 strikeouts in 295 at-bats) that was no less promising than Borbon’s
2009 summer, regressed terribly in the first half last year (.202/.256/.415
with 114 strikeouts in 258 at-bats). But
he refound himself over seven weeks in Oklahoma City (.327/.418/.521 with 39
strikeouts in 165 at-bats), and then put together a largely overlooked,
resurgent finish over the final six weeks of the season with Texas
(.308/.338/.496 with 36 strikeouts in 133 at-bats), suggesting he might have locked
in the adjustments that had eluded him in the spring.
As late as this March, there was apparently internal debate
as to whether Davis or Cruz should be the one hitting sixth behind Guerrero and
Ian Kinsler. Davis then hit
.364/.395/.494 in spring training, and he was nowhere near the list of roster questions
coming out of camp.
Saltalamacchia, after posting big league OPS’s in the low .700’s
in 2007 and 2008 (at young ages for a starting big league catcher), was being counted
on to take the next step in 2009. He did
make obvious improvements defensively, but he didn’t hit. In April, Saltalamacchia hit .276. In May, .241.
In June, .239. In July, .204. In August and September before being shut
down for good, .143. A winter of health
setbacks followed, and the job behind the plate was thrown open in camp.
But Saltalamacchia got only 25 at-bats due to upper back and
neck issues, Taylor Teagarden struck out 21 times in 40 Cactus League at-bats, and
the club made a late-March trade with the Brewers for journeyman Matt Treanor, who
was expected to serve as AAA insurance until Toby Hall was physically ready.
Instead, Treanor has nearly three times as many big league
at-bats this season as Saltalamacchia and Teagarden combined, and hasn’t done a
whole lot with them (.207/.295/.283). I’m
a Matt Treanor fan, and would be more than happy if he were my number two
catcher the next however-many years. But
he’s not an everyday player on a contender, at least not one with other holes
It would have been a lot better if Saltalamacchia had nailed
down the job envisioned for him three years ago.
And if Davis had picked up where he left off in August and
September and March, allowing Smoak to continue to punish AAA pitching.
If those two things – not slam dunks but also not longshot
expectations coming into the season – hadn’t become major problems, with what
have proved to be inadequate solutions, then this team would have a much
healthier lead on the division, and would be better able to fight through
Borbon’s struggles as long as he was showing some signs of improvement.
Instead, Smoak is proving not to be ready (Nolan Ryan has
said the organization thinks 150 plate appearances is a fair trial period, and
Smoak is at 126 and seemingly regressing in his command of the strike zone and pitch
recognition, if not confidence). Treanor
is what he is. And Borbon is a .243
Collectively, those three are hitting .201/.270/.282.
And the 7-8-9 slots (thanks in part to Andrus’s 11 solid games
in the bottom third of the order) sit at .219/.289/.279.
I’m not in the mood to check to see if there’s a team in
baseball (National League included) with a blacker hole at the bottom of the lineup.
Or in the mood to imagine Tanner Scheppers relieving John
Danks in the ninth, or Derek Holland as the Astros’ ace by time Roy Oswalt
returns to that club in 2012 to finish his career.
It might be Time. If
that means Texas should take a couple second-tier prospects (many of whom could
headline other franchise’s systems) to improve the roster in July, I’m all for
that and would be disappointed not to take that shot.
But this is not John Schuerholz’s Braves. It’s a team that’s getting better with
promise for a lot more, promise that’s not too far off and in many cases that
we’re all able to see, as opposed to just reading about.
If this team can settle its financial position by winter (if
not by August) and add a couple impact pieces, and then internally add a rookie
pitcher or two each year to the core, and maybe one young hitter, then we’re in
But adding Cliff Lee or Lance Berkman wouldn’t do enough to
change where this club is headed in 2010, at least not enough to stomach the loss
of Holland, or Scheppers, or Perez, or Smoak, not given the number of immediate
holes that need fixing.
Give me an opportunity to add Josh Willingham for Wilmer
Font, David Murphy, and Miguel Velazquez, and I’m all over it, as long as the
Nationals will cooperate.
Blake Beavan and Braden Tullis for Jake Westbrook? OK.
Chad Tracy for Mike Lowell and a bunch of cash? I’d do it.
But anything this summer that spoils my vision of Derek Holland
and Martin Perez in the 2012 Rangers rotation, with Tanner Scheppers in the
bullpen, and Neftali Feliz in one or the other, with Justin Smoak at first base
and hitting third, and every key member of the club’s current core still under
control (with the exception of Vladimir Guerrero and C.J. Wilson, whose
situations I’d vote to be addressed as the first order of Greenberg-Ryan business),
would upset my stomach.
At least for the next couple days.
To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get
e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game
recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to www.newbergreport.com
and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.
(c) Jamey Newberg