The trades for Mike Gonzalez and Matt Treanor.
One of the crucial aspects to the Mike Adams and Koji Uehara trades, as far as Texas was concerned, was that both relievers would be here not only for the season’s final third and, with any luck, the playoffs, but also for another whole year, as each is subject to club control in 2012. That fact made it easier to rationalize parting with Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland, Tommy Hunter, and Chris Davis in order to get those deals done.
Mike Gonzalez and Matt Treanor were acquired a month later than Adams and Uehara, and will both also be free agents as soon as Texas is done playing this year. Their time commitment to the Rangers will be a fraction of Adams and Uehara’s, but when you look under the surface of yesterday’s deals for the two veterans, the cost makes a good amount of sense.
To get Gonzalez from Baltimore, Texas traded a player who will, by all accounts, be named shortly as right-handed reliever Pedro Strop (likely once the 48-and-a-half-hour period expires on trade waivers for Strop, as the Orioles have claim priority over everyone else in the league since they have the American League’s worst record).
The Rangers sent cash to Kansas City for Treanor, opting to go forward with him as the third catcher on an expanded September roster rather than Taylor Teagarden.
The key: Strop and Teagarden are each on their final options this season.
As a no-compensation free agent, Gonzalez was an easy asset to flip for value for the Orioles, who can re-sign him this winter without draft pick consequences if there’s mutual interest (a real possibility, evidently). He’s of much more use over this final month, and we hope two, to Texas than to Baltimore.
Strop, on the other hand, is of much more use to Baltimore, who can audition him for a month – and next year when he must be in the big leagues from the start – than to the contending Rangers, who wouldn’t be in a position to entrust him with any key situations in September, and who are set up in such a way that any chance he’d have had of earning a spot on the staff on Opening Day 2012 would have to be considered extremely remote.
Put another way: Texas was going to lose Strop, who has shown some of the 4-A tendencies that defined his new teammate Davis’s tenure with Texas, at some point before the start of the 2012 season. Baltimore had a chance to add a power arm project in exchange for a veteran on an expiring contract. The only real variables were whether Texas felt it could use Strop in a different deal, either now or in the winter, that would have a bigger impact than this one, and whether another club could have made the Orioles a better offer for Gonzalez. Roch Kubatko (MASNSports.com) reported Wednesday that the Yankees were in on Gonzalez as well but that Baltimore GM Andy MacPhail preferred the Texas offer.
As far as the catcher situation is concerned, with Teagarden on his final option, the only truly conceivable way he’s going to make the Opening Day roster next year will be if either Mike Napoli or Yorvit Torrealba – both under club control in 2012 – starts the season injured, and that assumes that Texas would be comfortable assigning Teagarden semi-regular duties in the first place. Like Strop, and in a sense like Davis as well, chances are that Teagarden isn’t going to be back next year because of his options status, and so what the club was looking at was September alone (with some chance of an October spot as well, since a shortened rotation and built-in off-days allow for a deeper bench): Do you want to go with Teagarden as your third catcher in the final leg of a pennant race, or a veteran like Treanor? (Teagarden isn’t eligible to return to Texas until Sunday, needing to spend the requisite 10 days on the farm since he was last optioned, but that wasn’t a factor – surely Texas knew when it sent Teagarden to Round Rock last week that the Treanor trade would be available.)
Not a difficult decision, given Treanor’s history here and the modest cost to reacquire him. He’s an ideal fit. Even if playing sparingly, he proved last year that he can be a positive influence in the clubhouse, someone who knows the Rangers staff for the most part (more so than Teagarden) and knows American League hitters and can help game-plan certain matchups as Texas tries to outlast the Angels this month. His presence gives Ron Washington a little extra comfort in starting both Torrealba and Napoli on nights that he wants both right-handed bats in the lineup. And we should also remember that Treanor was C.J. Wilson’s personal catcher for much of 2010. He’ll get some starts.
As Jon Daniels said yesterday, Kansas City had a bigger need for Treanor than Texas did coming out of spring training, and the Rangers wanted to do right by Treanor at that point and get him in a situation where he’d play . . . but right now Texas has the bigger need for him, and the Royals wanted to do right by the veteran and stick him back in a pennant race.
Treanor sustained a concussion in a home plate collision a month ago and has been rehabbing for two weeks with AA Northwest Arkansas (an assignment that started with the Rangers’ Frisco squad in the road dugout). He’d hit .226/.351/.306 for the Royals this season and had cut down 26 percent of opponents attempting to steal.
I’ve seen that Treanor is projected to fall just short of Type B free agent status this winter, and that some sort of statistical spike this month could vault him into Type B territory and net the Rangers a supplemental first round pick should they offer him arbitration and he signs elsewhere this winter. A huge windfall, potentially, but don’t count on it – first, I wouldn’t expect the boost in his ranking, and second, even if he were to end up as a Type B, I’m not sure Texas would take the chance of offering him arbitration unless it was with an assurance that he’d decline it. Plus, if he signed a non-roster contract with another club, something he’s probably relegated to at this stage of his career rather than a big league deal, Texas wouldn’t get the compensatory pick, I’m pretty sure.
And if Treanor can’t find a big league opportunity going into camp, wouldn’t it make some sense that if he were going to take a non-roster deal with a club that was set on the big league roster, he might hook up with the Rangers and report to Round Rock to work with Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez and Tanner Scheppers and the club’s other top pitching prospects, waiting for his own opportunity to come up and help in case of injury? Remember, the only way Teagarden can be assigned to Round Rock in 2012 will be if he first clears league-wide waivers and is outrighted. Texas is going to need a AAA catcher capable of coming up and playing. And conceivably, an assignment to the Express could be a way for Treanor to start phasing into what most expect will be a coaching career.
On the subject of draft pick compensation, the system is somewhat flawed, and one example of that is that Treanor straddles the line between Type A and Type B status while Gonzalez, a recent big league closer who has been one of the best southpaw relievers in the game in the second half this year, won’t come close to even a Type B ranking. He’ll be a no-compensation free agent, so the Rangers won’t recoup anything if and when he goes elsewhere in the off-season.
There were repeated references yesterday to the numbers Gonzalez put up in August, but go a little deeper than that. Add in his final three July appearances, and the 33-year-old has put together a run of 12.1 scoreless innings over 13 appearances in which he has scattered five hits (four singles and a double) and one walk, striking out 15, stranding all six runners he inherited. And only four of those games were against teams with a losing record. The slash over that period: .122/.143/.146 – not that there’s anything wrong with his .154/.200/.173 slash (zero home runs) over the entire second half.
For the year, left-handed hitters are hitting only .211/.253/.322 against Gonzalez in 2011, and we talked yesterday about the lefties that the Rangers’ possible playoff opponents would run out there (Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford; the Yankees’ Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, though they aren’t necessarily vulnerable to southpaws; and Detroit’s Alex Avila). Notably, Gonzalez pitched the last two years in the AL East, from which the AL West’s LDS opponent will emerge. He’s been healthier in 2011 than in 2010 with Baltimore, and comes with good reviews from Mark Connor, who was the Orioles’ pitching coach the first half of this season and has since returned to the Rangers in a consulting role.
The former Pirates and Braves closer may not be as filthy as he was a few years ago (I found a July 2008 TROT COFFEY report in which I passed along this note: “If the Braves and Rangers did discuss Mike Gonzalez for an outfielder, talks went nowhere because Atlanta would only consider such a deal if it were for Josh Hamilton”), but he’s been very effective lately, and especially with an expanded roster where matchups can be exploited more so than usual, he’ll have the chance to get some big outs as the Rangers push to return to the playoffs.
(Incidentally, Baltimore recalled lefthander Zach Phillips to fill Gonzalez’s vacated bullpen spot. The former Rangers prospect made his big league debut in the Orioles’ 13-0 loss to Toronto last night, allowing two hits and a walk in a scoreless eighth, fanning one.)
Texas will owe Gonzalez about $1 million of the two-year, $12 million contract the Orioles gave him before the 2010 season, when they expected him to settle in as their closer. That assignment lasted about as long in 2010 as Frankie Francisco’s did in Texas. He blew two save opportunities in Baltimore’s first four games, and was shut down for three months with a shoulder strain. Orioles closer duties went first in his absence to former Rangers farmhand Alfredo Simon, later in the season to Gonzalez’s new Rangers teammate Uehara. Gonzalez was very good upon his return in the second half (.165 opponents’ average, 28 strikeouts and seven unintentional walks in 22.2 innings, one home run), a run of effectiveness that he’s found again over the six weeks leading up to yesterday’s trade.
If Gonzalez pitches as well in September as he did in August, Texas will make room for him in October. But keep in mind that you typically have a bullpen at full strength most nights in the playoffs, given the frequency of off-days for travel, and the Rangers might have a second lefthander to go along with Darren Oliver in the pen if Matt Harrison or Derek Holland is bumped from the rotation.
But we probably shouldn’t assume that Oliver is a post-season lock, in the event that Gonzalez clearly outpitches him in September.
Playoff roster decisions don’t need to be made until the end of this month, however, and to speculate too deeply on that right now feels like bad karma. For now, it could be that yesterday’s deadline trades for Gonzalez and Treanor, perhaps like last year’s move for Jeff Francoeur, will provide a moment here or there in September that brings the Rangers closer to the instant when those magnificent, exquisite decisions on how the 25-man roster will look in October get to be made.
In that sense, the trades have almost no downside, especially when you consider the diminishing shelf life in Texas of the two players whose careers as Rangers were most directly compromised as a result.