July 2012

Deadline.

There are days when I feel the Rangers are the best team in baseball, stronger than they were in the middle of 2010 or the middle of 2011.

There are other days when I believe that the Rangers could be a disturbingly easy mark this October, with too many ways to be beat to address them all on the trade market without gutting the system.

There are more days than either of those when my mindset is that this is a team positioned to win a World Series, but one that – like almost every contender ever – could use an impact boost heading into the stretch run.

I assure you of two things: that I’m as frustrated as any of you that Texas has been unable to make a statement trade yet this week, and that so is the group at 1000 Ballpark Way.

This isn’t an issue of the Rangers not having a taste for doing something big, or lacking the guts to take a significant risk.  The track record speaks for itself.

What this week might be demonstrating, as much as ever, is how much restraint the Rangers front office has.

Every story about Zack Greinke and Cliff Lee and Josh Johnson and Justin Upton – and Felix Hernandez – and whoever else has claimed that day’s headlines has singled Texas out as the lead (if not sole) candidate to get something done, if it wanted to.  The Rangers have the financial muscle, the high-end prospects, the farm system depth, a few need spots on the roster, the chance to win it all and the hunger to match.

But there’s also that five-year plan laid out alongside the one-year plan, and so far management has resisted compromising the long-term blueprint for the short-term fix, based on what the cost to do so would have been.

It’s been a weird Rangers season in all kinds of ways, and there are both moments when I’m glad Texas didn’t put Mike Olt or Martin Perez into a deal to get Greinke because I think this team is good enough without Greinke to give up that sort of high-end asset and moments when I’m glad the club didn’t part with Olt or Perez for Greinke because I don’t think Greinke would be enough to overcome the biggest questions going into October and don’t think Greinke would stick around thereafter.

Restraint has prevented the Rangers from making the late-July splash they’ve made the last two (World Series) seasons, and as much as my baseball adrenaline craves something louder than Jake Brigham for Geovany Soto, my faith in the folks making baseball decisions preserves my sanity and eases my impatience.

Which isn’t to say that I expect Jon Daniels and his crew to kick back today and idly watch the clock tick toward 3:00.

Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal and a dozen others said yesterday that the Phillies were open to trading Lee and that no team other than Texas had a realistic shot at him and that those talks are dead.

There’s no reason, though, to write that possibility off for another five hours.

And yes, Lee will slide all the way through the National League and then most likely all the way through the American League for Texas to make a prevailing revocable waivers claim in August.  But two things there: (1) Philadelphia can make a Randy Myers maneuver and just convey the entire Lee contract to the Rangers, with Texas having no right to say no (the more likely scenario is that the Rangers let him slide all the way through waivers so that this can’t happen); and (2) just as Lee would have to clear waivers, so would anybody on the 40-man roster that the Phillies would demand from Texas.

Olt and Cody Buckel and Chad Bell and Leury Garcia and Jorge Alfaro and dozens of others – no problem, as they’re not on the 40-man roster.

But Perez and Leonys Martin and Justin Grimm and Tanner Scheppers and Engel Beltre are.  No American League team is going to let those guys get by them on August waivers.

Could those guys be players to be named later, not identified until after the season?  Yes.  But the rules only allow that if they don’t appear in the big leagues between the day of the trade and the day that it’s finalized.  Would Texas be willing to park Perez or Martin or Scheppers in AAA in August and especially in September when rosters expand and there’s a benefit to having a deeper bullpen and some speed on the bench?

Lee could be traded in August.  But the universe of players Philadelphia could get in return is greater today.

There are reports this morning that the talks between the Rangers and Cubs that led to last night’s Soto trade might have branched off to include righthanders Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, the first of whom is sidelined with a triceps thing and the latter of whom is a rental.  Even if the Rangers are interested, they won’t be alone, and the issue, like with Greinke, will be whether Texas wants to pay Chicago’s price.

The Marlins reportedly aren’t getting the offers they want for Johnson.  Same with the Red Sox and Josh Beckett.  Jon Paul Morosi (Fox Sports) thinks Texas should be pushing on Yovani Gallardo and Justin Masterson and Kyle Lohse.  Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) thinks Seattle would be crazy not to see what it could get for Hernandez, and that Texas should be the dance partner.

The one certainty is that the Rangers have looked into every possibility the media has run out there, and plenty that haven’t seen the light of the rumor-dump day.

The Soto trade isn’t a huge move but it’s an improvement.  He’s a better defender than Torrealba, he’s hit in the past, he’s controllable in 2013 (but only as an arbitration-eligible, so Texas has the right to cut ties this winter without consequence if it chooses to), which could be significant since Torrealba and Mike Napoli will be free agents, and hey, he’s been Garza’s and Dempster’s primary catcher for a long time.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden led Texas in innings caught in 2009.

Matt Treanor and July pickup Bengie Molina led in 2010.

Torrealba and Napoli led in 2011, and have in 2012 as well.

Next to a number one starter, the thing I would most love to see the Rangers add this winter is a frontline catcher who would be here for years.  My pipe dream for 2013 has been Travis d’Arnaud (though the trade I proposed a month ago couldn’t happen in that form now), with Kelly Shoppach as his 1A.  Soto (who makes $4.3 million this year but much of what remains this season will be paid by the Cubs) is more likely a Shoppach/Torrealba type for Texas, rather than a long-term solution, but so was Molina, and in his short time here he made a significant impact.

Brigham was a reasonable price to pay.  You can read Scott’s report from earlier this morning for more on Brigham, whose power combination has produced inconsistent results in varying roles but who is the type of pitcher teams regularly take chances on.  Texas traded Michael Main (and Chris Ray) for Molina two years ago, and some Rangers fans complained.  Now?

Torrealba has been designated for assignment to make room on the active roster for Soto (Brigham’s departure will mean the 40-man roster has an extra open spot) and that the Rangers are likely to find a trade partner for the veteran catcher.  Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets that the Rangers and Nationals are expected to discuss Torrealba today.  But don’t expect a major return, and it might turn out that some of the cash the Cubs sent Texas goes away with Torrealba to defray the cost of his own contract.

Texas would probably rather take a non-prospect than see Torrealba claimed off waivers, for instance, by the Angels (Scott Servais was said to be a key proponent when the Rangers signed Torrealba, with whom he was familiar as a teammate).  Even though Los Angeles doesn’t need a catcher, particularly with Chris Iannetta returning, the idea of him joining the Angels even briefly and sharing scouting reports on Rangers pitchers (tendencies, game plans on Angels hitters, etc.) is probably something the Rangers would prefer to avoid.

Will the Soto acquisition and return of Mitch Moreland cut into Michael Young’s playing time?  That’s up to Wash.

But whether Wash has Lee or Garza or Dempster or another pitcher to work into the plans is up to Daniels.

And we’re down to as little more than five hours before the conversation changes, at one crossroads point in a season in which the conversation seems to have changed a lot.

Sunday. Best.

Couldn’t do much better than Sunday, even if you didn’t win two low-scoring playoff softball games to start the morning.

We raised more than $17,000 in the Newberg Report Night raffle and auction, all of which will go to the Hello Win Column & Diamond Dreams foundations.  It’s over $2,000 more than we’ve ever raised at one of our events.

We sang Happy 14th Birthday to Desiree Smith.

There was Don Welke and Will Carroll and the “second tier.”

Jon Daniels and Thad Levine and Coach and Tim Purpura and Josh Boyd and Kip Fagg and Mike Daly and Matt Vinnola, and standing ovations, and the wardrobe challenge, and who knows what A.J. Preller was busy doing that kept him from joining us, too?

Or why JD and his posse had to leave an hour before gametime rather than the usual 30 minutes – a disappointment on one hand but an adrenaline boost on the other?

Angels lose, with Zack Greinke on the mound and Mike Trout sidelined.

A’s lose.

Rangers win.

Packed house, Scott Feldman, 88 pitches in eight innings, no walks, no runs, 2-0, you gotta be kidding me.

Others will recap the pregame events, and when they do I’ll pass links along.  It was an amazing afternoon.

And if I weren’t so tired this morning, I’d put together a COFFEY report to send out, because there’s some very interesting stuff brewing out there.  Instead, I’ll try to send something out over lunch.

But maybe by then, there will be news to share that will trump any rumor stack.

And if not?

We’re barreling down toward two things:

  • The conventional trade deadline is just over 31 hours away.
  • 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9.

It would be a lot to ask for today and tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday to be as badass as Sunday was, but I’m going to assume it’s OK if I just think of yesterday as a really strong start to what could be a really cool week.

More, hopefully, this afternoon.

Mental.

There’s talk about struggles and contagiousness and postgame meetings and trade deadline sparring and the big punch and rehab assignments and “mental breaks” and the superstar “not being able to share everything with you guys – when the time is right, I’ll be honest with you, you’ll be right in the loop” and “chew on that and think about it” and, hey, at least he’s not throwing his bat as much and here come the Angels (to town) and here come the A’s (really?) and stranded runners and six-out innings and the squandered opportunities column and faulty memories and Twitter snark and, seriously, what the heck and, yeah, I’m out of wind and out of ideas.

“We need a good pitcher,” says the manager.  But he said more.

“We need a lot of things . . . . It’s obvious we need to get better.  Everybody does, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Maybe the offense, maybe the pitching, maybe the defense, maybe the trade front.  Maybe not even all of it and things will be fine, which they may be anyway, but at least they’ll start to feel fine again.

“It’s obvious we need to get better,” the manager says.

Saint Lewis.

He’s the greatest post-season warrior this franchise has had, in a career that was never supposed to reach this second phase, but Colby Lewis wouldn’t have earned the Rangers’ lone 2010 World Series win had Texas not decided at the eleventh hour to trade Justin Smoak.

The Rangers were headed to the playoffs on July 9th that year, nursing a 5.5-game division lead on the Angels, but they felt they needed a legitimate Number One for October, to put in front of C.J. Wilson, Lewis, and Tommy Hunter, with Derek Holland sidelined with a shoulder and the club’s Opening Day and Opening Night starters, Scott Feldman and Rich Harden, not viable options.

They wouldn’t have gotten Cliff Lee from Seattle if the Yankees had agreed to put righthander Ivan Nova or utility infielder Eduardo Nunez in a deal headed by Jesus Montero that was at the doorstep, and if Jon Daniels and his group didn’t swoop in when that deal stalled and agree to part with Smoak, something they’d reportedly been reluctant to do.

Lee was transcendent in the ALDS (2-0, 1.13) and even better in the ALCS (8-2-0-0-1-13 in Yankee Stadium), but it was Lewis, who’d gotten a no-decision after five scoreless innings against the Rays and went 2-0, 1.98 in two starts against New York, including eight strong in the unforgettable Game Six, who was the best pitcher Texas had in the World Series that year.  While Lee lost twice to the Giants, with an ERA nearing 7.00, Lewis kept the Rangers in the hunt with a big Game Three win at home, handing the ball off with two outs in the eighth, having allowed single runs in the seventh and eighth and nothing more.

Lewis doesn’t get that win without Smoak-plus for Lee-plus three months earlier.

On Monday, it was announced that Lewis will undergo surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow, ending his 2012, the final season under his existing contract.

Hours later, it was announced that Seattle was optioning Smoak to AAA.

Two years ago, Smoak was a can’t-miss prospect getting his feet wet in the big leagues, and he netted Texas the best starting pitcher on the trade market.

Today, particularly in light of the Lewis development, the Rangers are faced with a similar challenge, and opportunity.

In a strange way, the new CBA rules might have the Rangers in a position of selling while they buy.  This time of year, contenders chase the best players that are being shopped, and the CBA doesn’t change that.  But – at least theoretically – those teams ought to be more reluctant than ever to part with their best prospects, and this is starting to feel like a situation in which Texas might actually be able to get the best starting pitcher on the market again, if they want to, by shopping Mike Olt.

Just about every club with a frontline starter it’s open to moving is rumored to want Olt.  He’d even make sense for the Marlins, who could move Hanley Ramirez in another deal to make room at third base and further accelerate the rebuilding process (in terms of both young players and reduced payroll).

The way this always works, the sellers let the buyers duke it out.  I wonder if Texas can use Olt, the same age that Smoak was in 2010 and probably about the same level of prospect, to put the sellers in the ring.

The money and the concept are too big for me to wrap my head this morning around the idea of turning this into an opportunity to go get both an arm and a bat in the same deal (Cole Hamels or Lee – plus Hunter Pence?), but as much as I’m protective of the idea of Olt as a Ranger, the Smoak lesson is there to heed, with last night’s transaction wire a useful reminder that projections aren’t always met.

But sometimes they are, and you get Evan Longoria.

Lee faces Zack Greinke tonight, with Lee winless at home and Greinke pitching poorly of late.

Felix Hernandez goes tonight, too, against Ichiro and the Yankees.

As a result, there will be important Rangers eyes not in Arlington watching Martin Perez tonight.

But there will be important eyes from other clubs who are.

Josh Johnson pitched brilliantly (6-1-0-0-0-9) against Atlanta last night, before being pulled for precautionary reasons due to a small cut on his middle finger.  The precautions, in this case, are more about just his next start.  They include who that start, or the one after that and a lot more this summer and this October and next year, might be for.

I don’t feel bad for Colby Lewis in exactly the same way I did for Jeff Zimmerman, but man.  Lewis’s strange road was less strange than Zimmerman’s, and he did pitch in two World Series and go 4-1, 2.34 in eight post-season starts, getting into the seventh inning on average, and there’s nothing tragic about the $8 million or so that Lewis has earned in the big leagues (to say nothing of what he was paid in Japan) – just as the $11 million that Zimmerman earned helps make his story just a little less sad.

But Lewis was on his way to landing a two- or three-year deal from someone, for probably close to $10 million a season, and more immediately he’s been robbed of another chance to do what he does best, which is pitch like a beast in October.  He’s as clear an example this franchise has of the toughness on the mound that the Club President was known for, and if you forced me to bet right now, I’d say Colby Lewis is more likely today to be a Texas Ranger in 2013 than he was yesterday.

But he won’t be on the mound to start the 2013 season, or this October, and the effort to find another warrior who can do both, or at least the latter, has just become intensified.

At least the Lewis development happened when it did.  There’s a week for the front office to respond.

And it will.

Buckle up.

The fourth third.

There’s that whole thing Billy Beane is credited with issuing from his baseball pulpit, about spending the first third of the season evaluating your team and figuring out what you are and where you could be headed, the middle third addressing needs on the trade market, and the final third flooring it.

The regular season, roughly a six-month process, has ballpark mileposts at the end of May and the end of July, marking the points at which one of those thirds symbolically transitions to the next.  The fact that July 31st is procedurally fixed as a point after which impact trades are much more difficult to pull off makes the Beane maxim cleaner.

But let’s talk for a second about May 31st.

On that date, Texas rested, having completed a homestand against Toronto and Seattle and heading to Anaheim, Oakland, and San Francisco for a 10-game road trip.  The Rangers were 31-20, boasting the American League’s best record and baseball’s second best, the best run differential in baseball by a lot, and a 5.5-game lead in its division, tied for the biggest edge in the big leagues.

On May 31, Josh Hamilton was hitting .368/.420/.764.  His slug led all of baseball by more than 100 points, his OPS by nearly 100.  He led baseball in home runs, extra-base hits, isolated power, RBI, go-ahead RBI, intentional walks, and story lines.

Same date: Albert Pujols was hitting .243/.290/.408.

Since that date, Hamilton is hitting .201/.290/.396.  Seven players in baseball have a lower batting average over that time.  Four, if you don’t count the Mariners.

Since that date, Pujols is hitting .327/.411/.605.  His 1.016 OPS isn’t the best in the AL in that span – Mike Trout’s 1.101 is.

Hamilton’s .686 isn’t the worst Texas OPS since May 31.  That belongs to Michael Young (.610).

Again, on May 31, the Rangers were 5.5 games ahead of the Angels.

Since then, with Hamilton and Young doing what they’re doing and Pujols and Trout and Mark Trumbo putting up video game numbers?

The Rangers have gone 25-18.  The Angels have gone 26-18.

Texas is 5.0 games ahead of Los Angeles.

Friday and Sunday sucked.  Saturday sucked for the Angels.  None of the games were particularly close; the only game that was on the line late was last night’s, and that was only after Ernesto Frieri made a non-save opportunity interesting in the ninth, before finishing things off with seven straight mid-90s fastballs to Hamilton, three of which he swung through.

But a 4-4 West Coast road trip and a 1-2 series in Anaheim is hardly a free fall, and it leaves me with the feeling I had before it, and that I’ve had for a while now:

I’m not worried at all about the final third of the regular season.

But I’m worried about October.

And that’s different from any feeling I’ve ever had about this team, because this year – no matter what you think about the window, which is not anywhere near closing but is probably going to look a lot different in 2013 – it’s unmistakably about winning a World Series.

Not getting there.

Not getting back there.

Winning it.

A big 10 at home gets underway tonight, as a skidding Boston visits a Rangers club having trouble finding any level of consistency on offense and now having to start reinforcements on the mound in Games One and Two.  The White Sox, in a spirited fight in their division, arrive next, and then it’s the Angels for four, starting on July 30th, the day before the deadline by which Jon Daniels and Jerry Dipoto must make their biggest impact moves of the season, or not.

Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) may be overstating things in a Jim Bowden way when he tweets: “Whoever wins the Rangers-Angels series might not be as important as which team wins the trade deadline for starting pitching.”  But, at least as far as October is concerned, he probably isn’t.

Which reminds me to thank Tanner Scheppers, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson, Engel Beltre, Luis Sardinas, Christian Villanueva, C.J. Edwards, Chris McGuiness, Jared Hoying, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Monegro, Jimmy Reyes, Abel De Los Santos, and perhaps even Joey Butler for their very good timing, something which in a different context I sure would like to see Josh Hamilton get some recognizable semblance of back, because while Texas may not need him to be MVP-level Josh Hamilton over the final third of the season, it’s going to be problematic if he’s anywhere near as unproductive as this in October.

Worst and best and strange and awesome.

We’re finished with the strangest part of the schedule (five games in the last 11 days) in what has been the strangest year of Rangers baseball I can remember.

Going by OPS, Ian Kinsler is having the worst year at the plate of his career.

As is Michael Young.

As is Mike Napoli, which is compounded by the fact that Yorvit Torrealba is, too.

Nelson Cruz is having his worst season since the Rangers ran him clear through league-wide waivers before the 2008 season.

The last single month in which Josh Hamilton was less productive than he’s been in June and July combined was in July of 2009, when he was returning from abdominal surgery and a five-week stay on the disabled list.

The club is stealing fewer bases than it did last year, and getting caught more often.

On the pitching side, Derek Holland has been on the disabled list and Colby Lewis has been on the disabled list and Neftali Feliz has been on the disabled list and Alexi Ogando has been on the disabled list and Koji Uehara has been on the disabled list and Mark Lowe has been on the disabled list.

And yet only one team has a better record in all of baseball.

And only one team has a better offense.

And only one team in the American League has a better ERA.

The Rangers’ 55-36 record is the best after 91 games in franchise history.  Two games better than it was in 1996 and 2004.  Three games better than in 2010.  Five games better than in 2011.

How much better would the best team in Rangers history be if Kinsler and Young and Napoli and Cruz were having what amounted to normal seasons for them, and if Hamilton wasn’t in such an extended tailspin, and if the pitching staff hadn’t been so decimated?

These next 11 days are going to be fascinating, which reminds me that the person in this organization I have the most faith in, more than any hitter or any pitcher, is Jon Daniels.

And while the next 14 days are certainly more important for the Angels than they are for the Rangers, the fact that the two teams tee it up seven times in 13 games is pretty great baseball theater, seven games thick with steady intensity and collisions of swagger, three times there and four times here, all played out against the backdrop of a different brand of baseball drama, this one between 30 front offices aiming at different levels to alter the direction of their franchises, some with a long-term view and others with something altogether more urgent, with many believing the most heated competition will be between the two teams that, on July 31, will be busy doing battle on the field in Arlington.

Trying to peg the pitching probables for Rangers-Angels, July 30 through August 2, is sort of foolish right now, and not just because both teams have an off-day the week before to take advantage of.  One of those two teams, if not both, may prefer to treat its trade deadline as July 29 (easier said than done), the day on which the General Manager for one speaks to 300 of us for what shapes up to be a fascinating hour and a half.

Coming off that strange week and a half in which so little baseball was played, we head into a week and a half of awesome baseball overload, starting these next three days with Holland-Weaver, Darvish-Santana, and Harrison-Haren.

3, 5, 7, or 9.

It’s a much more predictable set of outcomes than what might happen to the Rangers’ and Angels’ rosters between this weekend’s three in Anaheim and the end of the teams’ four games in Arlington a week and a half later.

B.I.

About halfway into the 2,600-word reaction I had in December to C.J. Wilson’s decision to sign with the Angels was this:

When the red-gloved Wilson faces Texas, I will put everything I have into hoping the Rangers rip him a new one, just as if he were Jered Weaver or Chris Carpenter or Matt Moore or Charlie Furbush.  And even if I hope Wilson’s team loses every time he pitches – not because he’s pitching but because of who he’s pitching for – I’m good if he leaves with a 2-0 lead in the eighth every time out, having fanned 11 and walked two and scattered three (unlucky) base hits, only to see the Los Angeles bullpen cough it up.

New York 6, Los Angeles 5 fit the bill just about perfectly last night.

And then Texas and Seattle nearly followed the same script, brutally.

But the Rangers held on, capping off an outstanding night of baseball after an All-Star Break that seems to last irritatingly longer every year.

Tonight: Yu vs. King, many hours after Jerome Williams returns from the disabled list to face Freddy Garcia in Yankee Stadium.

Today might not turn out to be as awesome a day of baseball as yesterday was, but it might, and I close the door on this report, packed with fewer words than I dumped last night on Twitter, with an intense appeal to this Great Game to continue, for yet another time in this extraordinary season, to go ahead and Bring It.

Jairo Beras, Texas Ranger.

You can’t base your judgment of the signing of Jairo Beras solely on the money.

Texas paid roughly the same signing bonus to John Danks ($2.1 million) and Vincent Sinisi ($2.07 million) in 2003.  Drew Meyer got $1.875 million in 2002, though he had a big league career, something that Scott Heard, paid $1.475 million two years earlier, was never able to say, even though the idea was that the young catcher might eventually succeed 28-year-old Pudge Rodriguez, who had signed as a 16-year-old out of Puerto Rico for $20,000, if you don’t count the $12,000 college allowance just in case baseball didn’t work out.

Mike Olt signed for $717,300 in 2010, less than Jake Skole ($1.557 million) and Kellin Deglan ($1 million) and Luke Jackson ($1.545 million), each of whom went earlier in the first round than Olt, but also less than Justin Grimm ($825,000), who lasted until Round Five.

Then there was Dominican righthander Jovanny Cedeno, who a dozen years ago (before shoulder injuries robbed his career) was the most promising pitching prospect the Rangers had developed in close to a decade.  An instant minor league sensation, Cedeno had signed in July 1997 for $4,500, less than half of what Texas gave junior college shortstop Spike Lundberg the same year to give pitching a try.

To put things in context, the Major League minimum salary in 1997 was $150,000, or about one-third of what it is now ($480,000).

Cedeno signed for a fraction of what Sinisi and Meyer and Heard and another hundred Rangers minor leaguers you’ve never heard of were paid to sign.

Jairo Beras was paid as much as one thousand Jovanny Cedeno’s.

Forget about the money.  The Beras money was an issue for the four and a half months that MLB spent reviewing the signing of the Dominican outfielder, because if the $4.5 million agreement had been voided, he would have gotten a lot less (if held to be too young to be eligible until this month, meaning he’d have been subject to teams’ $2.9 million cap under the new CBA) or presumably a lot more (had he been ruled a free agent not subject to the July 2012 cap and opened up to a new league-wide bidding).

The money no longer matters.  It didn’t matter when Ronald Guzman ($3.45 million) and Jordan Akins ($350,000) stood out together at Fall Instructs 2011 and spring training 2012.  It doesn’t make Rougned Odor ($425,000) less of a prospect than Luis Sardinas ($1.2 million), and isn’t so much as a bullet point for Jurickson Profar ($1.55 million), whose tear toward the big leagues would be viewed just the same if he’d signed for $100,000, or $4 million, rather than the same money Skole would sign for a year later.

What matters is that Thad Levine has said Beras probably would have been a top 10 pick in June if Dominican players were subject to the draft – even though Beras would have been only a high school junior had he been schooled stateside.

And that Kevin Goldstein says Beras would have been the number one talent in this year’s July 2 class if he’d been held ineligible to sign beforehand.

And that Jason Parks suggests Beras, even though he won’t be allowed to play in a minor league game until next July, immediately figures in as a top 5 prospect in the Rangers system – which may not sound like much until you remind yourself that behind Profar and Olt in this system are players like Guzman, Odor, Leonys Martin, Martin Perez, Cody Buckel, Jorge Alfaro, and Joey Gallo.

It matters that Don Welke, one of the game’s elite talent evaluators, said a few weeks ago that Beras is not only built like a young Josh Hamilton and blessed with some of the same raw tools and athleticism, but is also, at age 17, capable of assaulting a 50-year scout’s senses during a batting practice session like Hamilton has been known to do.

And that the kid has apparently been wearing number 32 while working out at the Rangers’ Dominican Academy in Boca Chica, waiting on MLB’s ruling.

Beras won’t be able to play this summer in the Arizona League, where the Rangers’ lineup features teenagers Gallo, Guzman, Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson, Jamie Jarmon, Nick Williams, and Luis Marte.  But as Baseball America’s Ben Badler points out, he wouldn’t have played stateside this summer anyway (compare Guzman and Mazara last summer), and the complex leagues start playing around June 20 each year, so practically speaking the year-long suspension that MLB has handed down for age misrepresentation will end up keeping Beras out of games he would have otherwise played in for less than two weeks.

Badler tweets that the result of MLB’s investigation “is a great outcome for Beras and Texas” and that, “[i]n reality, the suspension is irrelevant.”

The Rangers were not punished, unless you consider their decision to sit out this year’s July 2 market as they awaited the results of the league’s investigation (the duration of which Goldstein called “an embarrassment for MLB”).  The Beras commitment doesn’t cut into the $2.9 million cap that Texas has under the CBA to spend internationally this summer, but most of the key players in that market have now found teams, including shortstop Wendell Rijo, a player reportedly of interest to the Rangers and whose knee injury reduced his price tag to a modest $625,000 paid last week by Boston.  Badler suggests Texas might hang back for now and try to hit on some “pop-up guys” between now and next July 2.

But the absence of sanctions is less of a story than the reward that this resolution represents.  You have to dig hard in the Rangers’ media guide to find the names of Danilo Troncoso, Roberto Aquino, and Paul Kruger, but it was their legwork that led to the ultimate opportunity that Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan and a hungry ownership group got behind.

Troncoso, the organization’s East Dominican area scout, is a Rangers lifer, having been around when Pudge signed.  Among the players Troncoso has signed are 40-man roster member Miguel De Los Santos and recent roster member Fabio Castillo, former big leaguer Wilson Heredia, current Dominican Summer League hitting coach Guillermo Mercedes (whom the Rangers traded for left-handed reliever Dennis Cook in 1995), and Jovanny Cedeno.

Aquino, who reports to Director of International Scouting Mike Daly and Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller in his role as Latin America Crosschecker, was hired away from the Braves before the 2011 season.  Among the players he signed for Atlanta was an overlooked Dominican kid name Neftali Feliz, who didn’t sign until 11 months after he was eligible, agreeing to a modest $100,000 bonus from the Braves, who beat Boston and Pittsburgh.  That was in 2005, a year before Phillies Special Assistant to the GM Don Welke spotted him throwing easy gas on the back fields in Florida and tucked his name away, a year and a half before the Rangers hired Welke back, and two years before Texas insisted on Feliz’s inclusion in one of baseball’s greatest trades over any measure of time.

Kruger was promoted in January from Assistant/International Operations to Assistant/Player Development and International Scouting, but he delayed the promotion to stay back in the Dominican for an extra month to work on the Beras case, while the rest of the organization got things rolling in Surprise.

Troncoso, Aquino, and Kruger move on, grinding it to find the next Beras, the next Feliz.

It’s unclear what Daniels meant on Thursday when he said he felt the club could be creative in working through any potential delays in Beras’s development track, but the 17-year-old will stay in the Dominican for the summer (though he won’t play for the organization’s Dominican Summer League team) before participating in the Rangers’ programs in Surprise for Fall Instructs, spring training, and extended spring.

When he shows up in Surprise in September, Beras may be issued the same number 32 he’s been wearing in Boca Chica.  He may choose to wear it all the way up the chain, and just as there are no guarantees that his development will take him where Cedeno and Heard never got, there is no guarantee that, if Beras does reach Arlington, Hamilton will still be around to force him to pick a different number.

That part is about the money.  The next three and a half months for Hamilton are about helping Texas win baseball games.  After that, the money matters, and right now I’m not sure how much more likely it is that Hamilton will be in Texas four years from now than Beras.

As of yesterday, Beras’s immediate future is a lot more clear than Hamilton’s.

There’s a lot to dream on here.  This is an organization whose farm system, a year ago, was light on corner bats and power potential in general, but that has since spent more than $15 million to add Gallo and Guzman and Mazara and now Beras, a player whose march to Arlington won’t get underway officially for another 353 days.  It will be easier to exercise patience at this point than it was over the last four and a half months, but we’re now authorized to start hoping that Beras develops with the force and fury of a thousand Jovanny Cedeno’s, and that the greatest adversity on his path to the big leagues will be one that’s already behind him.

Turning back the clock: The hottest stove.

I was a sophomore at The University of Texas in 1988.  I subscribed to the Dallas Morning News, because the Austin American-Statesman didn’t offer too much Rangers coverage, the awesome National sports daily was still two years away from launching (and three from dying), the Internet wasn’t yet a big player, and the world of the Prodigy bulletin board time-suck hadn’t yet been dialed up.

It wasn’t necessarily super-cool to be a Rangers fan at the time.  Austin had more of an Astros feel, the DMN was focused on the flagging Cowboys (in the final months of Tom Landry’s tenure) and the surging Mavs (having taken the Lakers to Game Seven of the conference finals in June), and the Rangers, who had never won anything, were coming off a season that saw them finish 33.5 games out of first in the West, their greatest deficit since the 1972-73 introductory seasons, drawing under 1.6 million fans, a total that they’ve eclipsed every year since – including this one, just half the way through the schedule.

I was a resident assistant at the Castilian, happily roommateless and running SportsCenter on a perpetual loop interrupted only by ballgames on WGN or TBS.  I saw a lot of Cubs game in the summer of 1988, which gave what would happen in December an added layer of cool.

The Rangers were a young team, and that was a positive for all of us grasping for straws of faint hope.  In 1986 they’d introduced Kevin Brown, Ruben Sierra, Pete Incaviglia, Bobby Witt, Mitch Williams, Mike Stanley, Jerry Browne, Bob Brower, and Mike Loynd to the big leagues (with Oddibe McDowell, Edwin Correa, Jose Guzman, and Steve Buechele among their second-year players), winning a staggering 87 games and finishing five games back in the West, matching a franchise best.

But that group won only 75 games in 1987, finishing in a tie for last in the West with the California Angels.

And then there were 70 wins in 1988, and that overpoweringly distasteful 33.5 in the “GB” column.

Every regular in the lineup who was there in both 1987 and 1988 saw his OPS drop in the latter season, with the exception of Buechele.  The offense was below league-average in OPS and in batting average and in just about every other measure.  Texas was the first team in 20 years to strike out more than 1000 times three straight seasons.

Tom Grieve, in his fourth full season as Rangers GM, had engineered the youth movement a couple years earlier, but he knew, even with Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa and Dean Palmer getting closer to the big leagues, that his lineup needed a facelift.  He went into the Winter Meetings in Atlanta with a bad offense, and three stud prospects who would arrive the next year at ages 19, 20, and 20 and would bring with them the expected growing pains and, naturally, a whole lot of swing and miss on a club that, even on its best days, was violently free-swinging.

I’ve been meaning to do this for years but just got around to it last night.  I asked Grieve, who remembers everything about everything, a few questions about the plan he took to Atlanta that December.

“We felt that we needed a couple of good hitters,” Grieve recalls.  “We targeted .300 hitters who would give us a better chance against good pitching.  We could feast on number 4 and 5 starters, but we got shut down by number 1 and 2’s.

“We keyed on Julio [Franco] and especially Raffy [Palmeiro], and we got lucky because we matched up with both Cleveland and the Cubs.”

There have been published accounts suggesting that Grieve pushed the Yankees hard that off-season on five-time All-Star Don Mattingly, in his prime at age 27 but reportedly at war with owner George Steinbrenner.

A month before the Winter Meetings, Grieve reportedly offered New York a package including Pete O’Brien, Guzman, and Williams for Mattingly, while the Yankees apparently wanted to expand the deal to one in which they’d tack on third baseman Mike Pagliarulo and infielder Bobby Meacham and get Texas to add Buechele, Brower, and two prospects to O’Brien, Guzman, and Williams.

Apparently, the Yankees changed the conversation so regularly that Grieve pulled the three-for-one offer off the table, and turned his attention to a handful of other pure-hit types like Wade Boggs, John Kruk, Harold Baines, and Johnny Ray.  (An effort earlier in the off-season to sign free agent second baseman Steve Sax failed.)

There was evidently one discussion with the Cubs that would have sent Guzman and Curtis Wilkerson to Chicago for Shawon Dunston, whom Grieve reportedly would have flipped to San Diego in a deal for Kruk, but the Padres wanted to put prospect Sandy Alomar Jr. in the deal rather than Kruk.  Those talks died.

But they generated a discussion that Grieve hadn’t anticipated – the Cubs were open to trading the 24-year-old Palmeiro, probably because they viewed him as a first baseman even though they’d broken him in as a left fielder, and were committed at first base to fellow 24-year-old Mark Grace (but perhaps for other reasons you can probably root out with a Google search).

Chicago had finished under .500 four straight years, ending the 1988 season 24 games back in the NL East.  Their offense was league-average and their rotation, led by Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe, was suitable.  Their bullpen was a mess.  From the Dunston talks, Grieve knew that the Cubs were enamored with Williams, a pitcher he was more open to moving than Guzman, anyway.

Centering things on Palmeiro and Williams, the Rangers and Cubs struck a nine-player trade on December 5, involving five left-handed pitchers (Williams, Paul Kilgus, and prospect Steve Wilson from Texas, and Jamie Moyer and Drew Hall from Chicago), with Palmeiro heading to Texas and Wilkerson and mediocre prospects Luis Benitez and Pablo Delgado going to Chicago.

Grieve had the hitter he coveted in Palmeiro.  And he wasn’t done.

Hours before finalizing the trade with the Cubs, Grieve sent Brower to the Yankees for Meacham, giving him an extra middle infielder he’d need because of another deal he’d laid the groundwork for a month earlier and would strike on the following day.

The Indians had managed two winning records in the decade and no better than a fifth-place finish in the AL East in 12 years.  They needed their own shakeup.  Their best player was Franco, the league’s reigning Silver Slugger at second base and, at “age 27,” arguably headed toward the wrong side of his prime years and thought to be a bit of a clubhouse concern.  They’d started an aging Willie Upshaw at first base in what would be his final big league season.  And they coveted one young Rangers player in particular.

“Cleveland loved Oddibe,” Grieve recalls.  “And they probably looked at Julio as the one guy they had who could return multiple starting players for them.”

With the addition of Palmeiro, whom Texas was prepared to move in from the outfield and turn into an everyday first baseman, O’Brien was expendable.  Center fielder Cecil Espy had done enough in a supporting role in 1988 that Grieve was prepared to move the regressing McDowell.  Cleveland wanted the 22-year-old Browne as a replacement for Franco, as part of an effort to get significantly younger as prospects Joey Belle and Mark Lewis were developing on the farm.

O’Brien, McDowell, and Browne for Franco.

Deal.

Having acquired Palmeiro on December 5 and Franco on December 6, Grieve had two more moves in mind, one to get a bat to plug in at DH (Larry Parrish had been released over the summer, and 16 other players had appeared at DH that season, led by Geno Petralli) and another to make completely different kind of splash from the ones he’d made by overhauling the lineup that week.

The Plan A effort at DH fell just short, as Grieve tried to pry Nick Esasky loose from Cincinnati after the 28-year-old’s disappointing 1998 season.  The Reds were primarily interested in reliever Dwayne Henry, who at age 26 had five straight seasons split between the farm and the big leagues and who in 1988 had punched out 98 hitters in 75.2 AAA innings but too often couldn’t find the plate (54 walks) and thus couldn’t earn the organization’s trust.

“We thought we had the trade done, Esasky for Henry,” Grieve remembers, “but Cincy changed their mind.

“In hindsight, I wasn’t aggressive enough.  We should have gotten that done.”

A week later, the Reds traded Esasky, along with left-handed reliever Rob Murphy, to Boston for first baseman Todd Benzinger, righthander Jeff Sellers, and minor league righthander Luis Vasquez.  Esasky would have his career year with the Red Sox in 1989 (.277/.355/.500 with 30 home runs and 108 RBI) – after which he signed a three-year, $5.6 million contract with Atlanta, but appeared in only nine games as a Brave before retiring, never able to overcome a severe case of vertigo induced by an ear infection.

But even though Grieve concedes he wasn’t aggressive enough after Palmeiro (December 5) and Franco (December 6) to get Esasky, he was plenty aggressive on December 7, 1988, signing Nolan Ryan to a one-year contract with an option for a second, outdueling the Astros, Angels, and Giants to sign the 41-year-old and, you might say, to help change the ultimate course of Rangers history.

A landmark free agent signing, maybe the franchise’s biggest ever at the time, and two awesome, old-fashioned, talent-for-talent baseball trades, dependent neither on contract status or financial redistribution – “strength/weakness” deals rather than “buyer/seller” deals, as Rays GM Andrew Friedman believes might be trending again soon.  Volquez for Hamilton a generation earlier and on a different scale.  All in the space of three days that were as glorious at it once got for Rangers fans, yet to be treated to a post-season baseball game to call our own.

Now, whether this oddly timed retrospective was prompted by the nostalgic rush that tonight’s Turn the Clock Back special at Rangers Ballpark brings crashing in, or by the recent irritating rash of anemic hacktasticness at the plate by the Texas offense, or by the significant lineup turnover that this club faces over the next two years (which will involve a number of the hacktastically guilty) that calls for even more trade market spitballing and the search for hitters who are tough outs, is for you to decide, while I sit here frustrated by this team’s current offensive rut, not because I think the odds of reaching the playoffs are at all endangered but instead because I fear the possibility that this lineup, if it nose-dives into one of its extended, collective sputter-phases when October rolls around, could end up making the club a shockingly easy out once the win-loss records are wiped clean and the tournament gets underway.

Broad stripes and bright stars.

Jon Daniels chatted with reporters this week on the subject of this month’s conventional trade deadline.  The bullet points, paraphrased:

  • “We hope not to be a big player on the trade market.”
  • “We prefer to get healthy on the pitching staff and stay healthy as a team.”
  • “But we’ll be on top of the market, prepared for anything.”

The real story would have been if Daniels said anything different – even on the first point.

The Rangers are always prepared.  If there are fireworks this month, nobody should be surprised.  While Deron Williams has forced the Mavericks to turn to a July Plan B, there’s a great comfort level in knowing Daniels and his crew are probably looking over Plans A through G that were first put up on the whiteboard in November 2010.

You can view credible reports that Texas had a scout at Zack Greinke’s last start (at least) and that the Brewers had a scout at Martin Perez’s one Texas start (so far) and that they have also had a scout in Frisco recently (which you assume might be routine area coverage until you see the clarifying note that it was one of the club’s special assignment scouts) and draw your own conclusions.

Milwaukee is seven games out of the NL Central race and six back in the chase for the second NL Wild Card slot.  They may not be sellers.

Texas “hopes not to be a big player on the trade market.”

But they’re both preparing.

As are the Phillies, who are two games further off the Wild Card pace than Milwaukee but who insist that the move of Jim Thome to Baltimore was not an indication of anything bigger than an opportunity for the veteran slugger to have a more meaningful role in what could be one last pennant race.  And don’t assume the move of Chad Qualls meant anything, either.

Whether the Phillies have had a scouting presence at Rangers Ballpark or Dell Diamond or Dr Pepper Ballpark or BB&T Coastal Field or L.P. Frans Stadium or Avista Stadium or on the back fields in Surprise, we don’t know, but there are two reasons to believe they probably have:

1.  Texas has reportedly scouted Cole Hamels recently.

2.  This tweet from Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) yesterday: “One scout who recently scouted a Texas Rangers farm team: ‘They are stacked.  They do a great job.’”

It doesn’t really matter whose team that scout works for, and it really doesn’t matter which Rangers affiliate he was sitting on.

If Philadelphia is considering trading Hamels (or Shane Victorino or Hunter Pence) – and Heyman has reported that the club has in fact started making calls to gauge interest in Hamels (an effort that ESPN’s Buster Olney suggests actually began in April) – it would be sort of silly for that club, as part of the preparation process, not to be scouting the Rangers.

The hungry, aggressive, prospect-laden Rangers.

Olney hears that Philadelphia seeks a “very, very steep . . . package of four to five prospects, some A-plus” in exchange for Hamels.

Sort of tricky, considering that unless they’re coming from the Dodgers, the trade partner may be looking at the truest of rentals, as losing Hamels to free agency this winter won’t result in any draft picks for a team trading for him now.  (Olney adds, anecdotally, that “[u]nless Philly’s asking price for [Hamels] diminished dramatically, the Yankees have no intention of joining the bidding.”)

Set that aside for a moment – but not really – and consider the additional Olney note that the Phillies may center their demands on help at third base and the outfield.

Naturally, according to Fox Sports columnists Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, that would likely lead to the Phillies asking Texas for Frisco third baseman Mike Olt, whom they suggest Texas “would be very reluctant to part with . . . in any trade.”

When I was spitballing the trade landscape in May, I speculated that Milwaukee could conceivably ask Texas for Perez, Cody Buckel, Victor Payano, and Hanser Alberto for Greinke.

And for Hamels?

You want him, and maybe you can bundle that Greinke package up and tack it onto the back of Mike Olt.

Then [Hamels] signs with the Dodgers in December.

At which point you no longer have Hamels or Olt or Perez or Buckel or Payano or Alberto.

And no draft picks.

For those reasons, I wasn’t suggesting I’d make those deals, or, in the Hamels case, the other idea that “no other team [could beat the package of] a pitcher with the track record and controllability of Matt Harrison with a couple prospects like Chad Bell and Rougned Odor.”

Since I wrote that, Harrison (who was 4-2, 4.41 at the time, with an opponents’ slash of .287/.326/.442 and six home runs allowed in 63.1 innings) has rattled off a run of six starts in which he’s gone 6-0, 1.29, held opponents to a .224/.276/.283 slash and, and allowed one homer in 42 innings.

So forget that idea.  You bet the Phillies would make think about making that deal, or at least shop it around for a better one.

But Texas wouldn’t.

Morosi (who suggests this morning that the Angels, with a hurting Dan Haren and a lousy Ervin Santana, “will have to consider Hamels and Greinke”) points out that the “Rangers [are] smart to pursue [both] Hamels and Greinke,” as they “[c]an leverage one team vs. [the] other.”  And maybe that’s what’s going on, as Peter Gammons [MLB.com] suggests when he tweets that a Rangers official confided: “We will not be in on Greinke.”

Two thoughts there:

1.  No Rangers official would betray that sort of information.  Smokescreen?

2.  This is different from the Heath Bell/Mike Adams dance last summer (in which the case can be made that Texas found out what prospects San Diego wanted for Bell before shifting the talks to Adams), since it involves two teams rather than one, but leveraging is a huge factor every July, and Morosi’s point is one that serves as a useful filter as things play out this month.

There are several factors that militate against sellers getting what they might have gotten for impact players in past July’s, starting with the disappearing compensatory pick safety net.  Another is that the teams who are eligible to recover draft picks for lost free agents – that is, teams who had those players for an entire season leading up to their free agency – can only secure those picks by tendering an offer of one year and something around $12 million or $13 million within five days after the World Series ends.

I just can’t see Texas parting with Olt in a deal for three months of work from Hamels.  I go back and forth on whether Olt has played his way into the “virtually untouchable” category that Jurickson Profar occupies, but even on the days when I can see Olt being discussed, it’s only in talks for starting pitchers who are both (1) controllable past 2012 and (2) aces.  At least in my mind.

I think Gammons agrees.  After reader Jerod Couch tweeted a Hamels/Victorino trade idea yesterday (he suggested Olt, Justin Grimm, Buckel, and Odor), I responded: “You been reading the report I’m working on?”

Minutes later, Gammons replied: “If they wouldn’t put Olt in [a] deal for Gio Gonzalez, whom they’d control, would they for a 2½ month rental?”

There were reports over the winter that Oakland wanted Olt and Perez for Gonzalez – plus a note from Olney that if Texas hadn’t won Yu Darvish, the “smart money [was] on [the] Rangers to be the team to land” Gonzalez.

It stands to reason that the A’s were holding out for that possibility.  They traded Gonzalez to Washington (for lefthander Tommy Milone, catcher Derek Norris, righthander Brad Peacock, and righthander A.J. Cole) four days after the Rangers were announced to have the high bid on Darvish.

But maybe, as Gammons suggests, Texas was never going to put Olt in a deal for Gonzalez.

Regardless, at this point, I agree with Gammons.  If Olt can be had, it’s gotta be for a difference-maker who will be around to make a difference for more than just 2012.

I suspect teams, understanding the Rangers’ long-term picture, aren’t spending too much time trying to convince Texas that they won’t discuss Player X unless Profar is in the deal.  But Olt (given Adrian Beltre’s presence and contract) is probably a different case, even with the Rangers giving him occasional time at first base and right field in Frisco.  Different in the sense that he’ll be discussed at length this month, as clubs may hold out in talks hoping that the Rangers accede at the last minute, just as they did in 2010 with Justin Smoak.

But you understand the difference, thanks to the new CBA, between Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Back to the $12-13 million tender issue.

The Padres may insist that they want to build around Carlos Quentin, but are they really going to be willing financially to outbid other clubs on a multi-year deal this winter – and before that, to tender a one-year, $12-13 million offer to him to ensure they get the picks if he does go elsewhere?  If he’s an $8-10 million player annually (compare Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel), he just might take the one-year deal.

(Related question for another time: Would Texas risk offering one year at $12-13 million for Colby Lewis this winter?  Mike Adams?  Guessing yes on Mike Napoli, but the other two are thornier.)

Greinke and Hamels and Josh Hamilton will get those qualifying offers, and a few others will, too.  But Quentin?  Without the reality of their own draft pick compensation, maybe San Diego puts him out there this month.

And lots of relief pitchers will be available, too, for the same reason.  Including Quentin’s teammate, Huston Street.

Imagine what the Padres could have gotten if they’d waited until this month to make Ernesto Frieri available.

(Which reminds me of the joke I tweeted a few days ago:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

LAA kept Trout in AAA for three weeks.)

(Which also reminds me of something I’ve been wondering lately: How did New Jersey high school pitchers get Trout out 34 times his senior year?)

One other reality for the Brewers is that they’re not going to get for Greinke what they gave up to get him in December 2010.  Aside from the draft pick issue, they’re selling two months of Greinke, whereas the Royals were offering up two reasonably priced years of the righthander when they got Milwaukee to part with Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeremy Jeffress and to also take Yuniesky Betancourt off their hands in the process.

Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) suggests that while the Rangers won’t move Profar and “will try everything in their power to exclude Martin Perez and Mike Olt from any deal,” if they do want Greinke, “with a deep major league club and farm system, the Rangers have enough to make the Milwaukee Brewers an offer they can’t refuse and allow them to place Greinke at the top of their rotation.”

Then again, there’s the note from Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), who says he has “spoken to multiple teams who have expressed at least a bit of reticence on Greinke, fearing the [mental] adjustment [and comfort factor].  It’s not a non-factor.”  Does that give more credence to the Gammons tweet?  Or fit with it in the misdirection column?

Rosenthal thinks Greinke would welcome a deal to the Cardinals, who have lost Chris Carpenter for the season, and that he’d be open to signing long-term with them.  But Texas?

Just for fun, here are the various trade darts I’ve thrown out there on Greinke over the years, generally not ideas that I’d suggest Texas would do or that Kansas City/Milwaukee would do or that I’d even want to do, but instead a guess as to what sorts of packages might have been talks-appropriate at the time:

June 20, 2008: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Eric Hurley, John Mayberry Jr., and Warner Madrigal for Greinke (who was then 6-4, 3.33 for the season, and 27-39, 4.40 for his career)

August 27, 2008: Saltalamacchia, Harrison or Hurley, Mayberry or Nelson Cruz, Joaquin Arias, and the Royals’ choice of a lower-level pitching prospect — Zach Phillips or Carlos Pimentel or Miguel De Los Santos or Geuris Grullon or Julio Santana or Matt Nevarez — for Greinke and reliever Ramon Ramirez

May 7, 2010: (1) Tommy Hunter or Perez; (2) Wilmer Font; (3-4) either Julio Borbon and Max Ramirez, or Cruz and Engel Beltre; (5) Leury Garcia; and (6) Brennan Garr to Kansas City for Greinke and reliever Juan Cruz

November 17, 2010: (1) Derek Holland; (2) Perez; and (3-4) either Profar and Craig Gentry, or Garcia and Engel Beltre, to Kansas City for Greinke and out-of-options backup outfielder Gregor Blanco

November 18, 2010: Holland, Perez, and either Profar or Beltre or Borbon to Kansas City for Greinke

June 22, 2012: Perez, Grimm, and Borbon to Milwaukee for Greinke

My gut still says that even though it’s going to be difficult for the Brewers to get what they want for Greinke, two things might make the price as high as it would have been under previous CBA’s – the added Wild Card slot allowing more teams to bow up as potential buyers, and the general late-July gut call by teams looking not only to put themselves over the top but also to make sure the competition doesn’t.

So what would I consider giving up for Greinke?  For Hamels?

Hang on.  Not yet.

A year ago, the Mets were in a position to dangle Carlos Beltran, and his situation is particularly instructive because his expiring contract included a Scott Boras provision barring an offer of arbitration – meaning whoever traded for him would be getting a pure rental with no chance of draft pick compensation on the back end.

Various reports suggested that the Mets had dispatched scout Bryan Lambe (a former Rangers scout) to Hickory, where Texas prospects like Profar, third baseman Christian Villanueva, outfielder Jake Skole, second baseman Odubel Herrera, catchers Tomas Telis and Kellin Deglan, and pitchers Buckel, Luke Jackson, Nick Tepesch, and Roman Mendez were playing, and also that New York pro scout Roy Smith was also on hand to watch Frisco’s Joe Wieland pitch.

More than one media outlet had the Texas at or near the front of the Beltran chase with days to go before the deadline, but ultimately the Mets shipped him to the Giants for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.  Heyman reported that Texas offered multiple prospects in a proposal that New York then “used to up the Giants’ bid.”

Gammons reported that Wieland was in the Rangers’ offer to the Mets.  According to Andy McCullough (Newark Star-Ledger), the Rangers and Mets talked about Wieland, Buckel, Robbie Ross, and Odor in various combinations.  Rosenthal said New York could have had either Wieland or Robbie Erlin – who would end up going to the Padres in the Adams deal three days after Beltran was moved – and that Texas refused to part with Perez.

There were reports suggesting that, in the days leading up to the deadline, San Francisco similarly refused to part with Wheeler, and that the Giants caved only when it became clear that Texas had offered a package that the Mets were prepared to go with.

Beltran was great (.323/.369/.551) in two months as a Giant.

But San Francisco missed the playoffs.

And got no draft pick compensation when Beltran parlayed his resurgent season into a lucrative two-year deal with the Cardinals.

Today, Wheeler is considered an elite prospect.

Do the Giants regret Wheeler-for-Beltran, when there’s no flag flying forever as a result?

That’s the question, basically, that teams have to think about this July and every future July under the current CBA.  When the Rangers traded Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson to Seattle for Lee, they not only got two years of control over Mark Lowe as a hedge but also the promise of two draft picks (which were used on Kevin Matthews and Zach Cone) if Lee didn’t stick around.

Not possible anymore.

When Rays GM Andrew Friedman tells Bowden that “teams are focusing more on players with at least two years [of] control . . . in terms of trades,” that’s a big reason why.

San Francisco had nothing to show for Wheeler once Beltran played his 44 regular season games and left.

That’s what faces teams considering deals for Hamels or Greinke or Victorino or Quentin.

Wheeler is a lot more valuable today than he was a year ago.

So is Profar.  So is Olt.  So is Ross.  Who knows what Buckel’s value might be a year from now?  Or Odor’s?

The fact that Olt, who saw time at first on occasion in Frisco’s first half, played outfield Saturday (for the first time since Little League) shouldn’t be viewed as a showcase move, nor should the fact that Odor, who had previously played nothing but second base as a pro, has appeared at shortstop four times in his last eight starts.

Lately, Profar’s cameos at second base have come roughly every other game.  Garcia has shown up in center field twice in the last week and a half, his first outfield play in five pro seasons.  Catcher Jorge Alfaro played first base Monday and again yesterday.  Outfielder Ryan Strausborger has played second base three times in the last week and a half.

All of those (especially the Profar and Olt maneuvers) could be internally motivated.

Or not.

Jon Daniels may be sending signals that he doesn’t plan to be an impact participant in this month’s trade market, but he and most of his counterparts around the league are always going to say either that or nothing at all.  You can count on him saying publicly that he’s simply monitoring things, doing his due diligence, but you can also count on the fact that there are intense internal discussions going on at 1000 Ballpark Way this and every other July, weighing certain opportunities and examining ways to create others.

You can also count on a reckless barrage of trade idea spitballs in this space every July.

But before we get to that, what have we learned today?

  • Texas is reportedly scouting Zack Greinke and Milwaukee is scouting Martin Perez and the Frisco RoughRiders.
  • I’ve been cooking up Greinke trade ideas since Elvis Andrus was a Frisco RoughRider.
  • The Brewers shouldn’t expect to get for Greinke what they gave up to get him a year and a half ago.
  • Texas is reportedly scouting Cole Hamels.
  • Philadelphia is making calls to gauge interest in Hamels, and wants a ton for him.
  • Mike Olt may not be untouchable on a Jurickson Profar level, but I have a hard time imagining him being made available for anything less than a controllable number one starter.
  • Players nearing free agency like Carlos Quentin and any number of relievers are good bets to be traded since they probably wouldn’t fetch a one-year, $12-13 million tender from their current clubs.
  • Last July’s Carlos Beltran trade is useful to look back on, since he was a rental without the promise of draft pick compensation on the back end, similar to pending free agents under the new CBA.
  • One GM suggests that teams are focusing on acquiring players they can control past 2012.

OK, here we go.

No Carlos Gonzalez ideas, as Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd broke out of normal GM-speak mode when he said last week: “The Carlos Gonzalez thing is a joke – we’re not trading Carlos Gonzalez.”

But otherwise, let the spitballs fly.

  • Lefthander Martin Perez, lefthander Chad Bell (drafted by Milwaukee out of high school), shortstop Hanser Alberto, and outfielder Julio Borbon to the Brewers for righthander Zack Greinke
  • Lefthander Martin Perez, righthander Tanner Scheppers, third baseman Christian Villanueva, and outfielder Engel Beltre to the Phillies for lefthander Cole Hamels
  • Righthander Nick Tepesch, righthander Roman Mendez, and shortstop Luis Sardinas to the Padres for outfielder Carlos Quentin and catcher Nick Hundley
  • Righthander Wilmer Font and either righthander Kyle Hendricks or shortstop Odubel Herrera to the Twins for left-handed reliever Glen Perkins

Maybe we can talk about Matt Garza or Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer or Huston Street or Shane Victorino – or Hunter Pence – another time.

OK, three more for now.

  • Lefthander Martin Perez, righthander Cody Buckel, second baseman Rougned Odor, and righthander Wilmer Font to the Marlins for righthander Josh Johnson (owed the balance of $13.75 million in 2012 and $13.75 million in 2013) and outfielder Austin Kearns
  • Third baseman Mike Olt, lefthander Martin Perez, outfielder Jordan Akins, outfielder Ryan Strausborger, and lefthander Yohander Mendez to the Mariners for Felix Hernandez
  • Righthander Neftali Feliz and outfielder Julio Borbon to the Blue Jays for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, outfielder Travis Snider, and righthander Danny Barnes (a winter deal, as Feliz and d’Arnaud are currently injured)

Just what you needed this morning: more than 3,500 words breaking down things that arguably could happen . . . but never will.

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