Trading a first baseman.

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It may not be as stunning
a number as Juan Gonzalez’s 101 RBI before the All-Star Break in 1998, but all
things considered, the Rangers reaching 50 wins with four games still to play
before the Break this year is pretty remarkable.


Only one other time in
franchise history has Texas had 50 wins through 84 games – in 1996, the club’s
first playoff season.


With Tommy Hunter
(5-0) set to go Thursday against Baltimore’s Jeremy Guthrie (3-10), followed by
Scott Feldman (5-8) against Brian Matusz (3-9), and Matt Harrison (1-1) and
C.J. Wilson (7-4) slated to face two Orioles starters to be determined to round
out the first half, Texas would seem to have a good chance to pack on another
three wins to that total.


Three more hitless, scoreless innings for the bullpen
tonight, and Alexi Ogando may have been the best of the three relievers Texas
sent out there.  He drew the toughest assignment,
drawing Grebeck Nix and Carlos Santana among his three slated Indians, and he
retired them in order, on 15 pitches, locating 11 for strikes, including three
straight good-looking sliders to Nix, who had punished Texas fastballs all


Ogando became the first pitcher in 42 years to start his big
league career with three straight relief wins, but don’t expect many more from
him this year, or in the foreseeable future. 
He’s being entrusted regularly with leads now, and justifiably so. 


Major league hitters are hitting an anemic .093 (4 for 43)
off Ogando, including an 0 for 13 showing by left-handed hitters, against whom
he’s averaging just one ball per plate appearance.  The only run he’s permitted (not including
three inherited runners) came on a Nix home run on Monday. 


Justin Smoak is 3 for his last 33, with nine strikeouts in
that span (and four walks).  He was a
.130 hitter over one week in April, a .187 hitter in May, and a .266 hitter in
June, but back to .130 in July. 


I’m all for patience with young players, and there have been
a couple stretches in which Smoak has hit into some hard outs, but at what
point do you decide (1) for the long term, he’d be better off working on necessary
adjustments at Oklahoma City, where the pressure of a pennant race would be
off, and (2) for the short term, Chris Davis (.355/.404/.559) would give Texas
a better candidate to contribute offensively as the club nears a brutal
Boston-Detroit-Angels stretch coming out of the Break?


Maybe I’m making too much of the fact that, after playing
nothing but third base in 12 games since June 23, Davis slid back over to first
base in Game Two of the RedHawks’ twinbill tonight. 


Could it be that Davis seeing time at first base for the
first time in two weeks has something to do with multiple local stories tonight
that trade talks between Texas and Seattle “appear to be heating up” regarding
Cliff Lee, and that the Mariners are seeking a young impact bat – implicating Davis
or perhaps even Smoak, whose departure would certainly make Davis a first
baseman again as far as the Rangers’ plans are concerned?  (Seattle has also reportedly asked indicated
interest in Ogando, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, though
Texas is disinclined to make the three pitchers available.) 


Sure seems like if Texas and Seattle do get together on a trade,
Davis is going to be a big league first baseman again, either here or with the
Mariners.  And even if no deal goes down,
Davis is pressing the issue.


The White Sox have just
finished once again putting the Angels away. 
The division lead is now 5.5, seven in the loss column.  If you are Texas and believe Chris Davis is
not part of your plans, his trade value (whatever it is) will probably never again
be higher.  And Justin Smoak still has
plenty of trade value, despite his rookie struggles. 


Some may view it as an unfortunate by-product of playing
winning baseball, but Step Five is here, and it seems, given the above, that Texas
ought to seriously consider trading one of their two young first basemen in the
next few weeks if there’s a real opportunity to significantly improve the club
elsewhere, likely in the rotation.





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(c) Jamey Newberg



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