August 2012

Tweet relief.

Coming off a self-imposed (Corby-inspired), four-day, respect-the-streak ban from in-game tweeting, lifted once the Rangers’ longest win streak in over a month was snapped, I scattered a few thoughts during Monday’s game, but then went ape last night.

I didn’t go back and count how many dozens of Twitter posts and conversations I hammered out during Texas 6, Boston 3, but it was a whole lot (I gained a few dozen followers but it cost me a few unfollows as well).  Among the subjects we covered:

  • The curious decision to leave Craig Gentry (who needs to play) and Jon Lester/Fenway-killer Mike Napoli (who needs to get untracked) out of the lineup against the Boston lefthander.
  • “Who will you need most in Sept/Oct: MY, Olt, or Nap?  Choose two.”
  • How stupid Fenway Park is, dimensionally.
  • “It’s 0-0 in the fifth inning and I’d like for Texas to win this baseball game.”
  • Ian Kinsler not taking second on shots high off the wall with Boston hiding Carl Crawford in left field – twice.
  • Ron Washington’s very good seventh inning.
  •  “If Mike Adams has strike one in his bag tonight, it’s a win.”
  • Adams starting three of four hitters with strike one (the exception: Adrian Gonzalez hammering a 2-0 pitch out over the plate to the top of the wall) – and punching all three of them out.
  • After Paul Nauert (who will be today’s home plate ump) ran Dustin Pedroia, a PG-13 group discussion on the letters that baseball’s “magic words” start with.
  • The future story line that involves Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, Scott Boras, and Jered Weaver.
  • Ryan Dempster’s great night.  (“Grimm had a start like that.  Oswalt too.  But this was BOS offense.  In Fenway.  And if Kins makes routine play, it’s a shutout.  Bravo, Demp.”)
  • And Geovany Soto’s very good one, too, at the plate and behind it.
  • The proper scoreboard-watching protocol when the A’s and Angels are teeing off: “Oakland, until the day the Angels are eliminated.”
  • “The Yu and CJ trends this season are eerily congruent.”
  • “That was a solid baseball game.  Now #WTDS.”
  • (Win the [dang] series.)

Day game today, so I promise to tweet less torrentially.

It’s Josh Beckett, who lost to Texas two weeks ago and was chased from his once start since then (eight days ago) with back spasms.

It’s Matt Harrison, the Rangers’ number one starter, who’s even better on the road (9-3, 2.99, .248/.297/.379) than in Arlington.

And surely Mike Napoli, who slugs .864 against Beckett, which overshadows Josh Hamilton’s .700.  No player with 20 plate appearances against Beckett outslugs Napoli, whose 24 plate appearances include four home runs.

The backdrop will be Angels-A’s, which will get rolling two hours into Red Sox-Rangers, pitting Zack Greinke, who has started two losses for Los Angeles while Dempster has started two wins for Texas.

Each righthander has had one good start and one bad, and I’ll take Greinke over Dempster in a vacuum, but when you see Kevin Goldstein rank the 43 prospects traded around the league in July and peg Jean Segura (2), Johnny Hellweg (4), and Ariel Pena (6) all near the very top, in contrast to the duo of Christian Villanueva (8) and Kyle Hendricks (36), and consider it in light of the relative strength of the Angels’ and Rangers’ farm systems and the very different impact that the Greinke and Dempster trades could have as a result, and mix in the thought that the removal of Cole Hamels from the free agent market could push the Dodgers all in this winter on Greinke, whose departure from the Angels wouldn’t trigger any draft pick compensation, then your thoughts may wander into big-picture territory that’s not especially conducive to 140 characters or less.

It’s August.  The bigger picture can wait.

#WTDS.

Flat-tired.

No other team has played nearly as much baseball these past two years than Texas.

The Rangers played six post-season series in 2010 and 2011, and not just that – they played 33 of a possible 38 games over those two months of uniquely intense baseball.

No other team has played more than three playoff series the last two years.

One of those teams, San Francisco, played its three in 2010, reaching and winning the World Series.  And didn’t return to the playoffs 2011.

St. Louis played its three in 2011 and, as of today, has to make up 2.5 games or will fall short of the second NL Wild Card slot and be home this October.
Philadelphia split its three between 2010 (two series) and 2011 (one series), and are hopelessly out of contention this year.

It’s hard to keep it going.

Those three franchises, along with the Yankees, have earned the right to play in three playoff series the last two years, the rough equivalent of an extra month of baseball.

On the calendar, that is.  An extra month of games, but at an intensity that surely takes an even greater physical toll than that.

And the Rangers have doubled it.

With relatively little turnover on the roster.

They look tired.  They’ve looked tired for months.

“Lifeless,” as a surprised Boston radio broadcast described them tonight.

They’re really good.  But, through this physical and mental grind that no other team has earned the right to have been put through since 2010, they look short on spark, short on swagger, short on energy, and on some nights, short on fight.

Not all of them.

But too many of them.

I’m not all that concerned about this year’s 162.

But I’m concerned about October.

1,800 words on a trade that will never happen.

The fury of the trade deadline has come and gone, but it wasn’t really a deadline at all.  It’s a lot more difficult to make trades in August than in July, and a lot less constructive in September than in August, but there’s never a time when trading activity is fully shut down.

The Rangers have made plenty of trades in August.  Last year they traded a player to be named later (Pedro Strop) for left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez.  The year before: Joaquin Arias for Jeff Francoeur.  In the past:

  • Ryan Dempster and player to be named Rick Helling to Florida for John Burkett
  • Ed Vosberg to Florida for Helling
  • Jose Vallejo and Matt Nevarez to Houston for Ivan Rodriguez
  • Ruben Sierra, Bobby Witt, and Jeff Russell to Oakland for Jose Canseco
  • Steve Buechele to Pittsburgh for Kurt Miller and player to be named Hector Fajardo
  • Harold Baines to Oakland for players to be named Scott Chiamparino and Joe Bitker
  • Eddie Guardado to Minnesota for Mark Hamburger
  • Players to be named Wilson Heredia and Scott Podsednik to Florida for Witt
  • Adrian Myers to Seattle for Jeff Fassero

Cliff Lee was reportedly placed on revocable Major League waivers on Wednesday, which means his name could very well trend this afternoon on Twitter.  The great likelihood is that there’s no story here at all, but social media being what it is, there have been thousands of tweets and column inches devoted to the Phillies’ routine maneuver, and I’m about to toss in my own two cents.

First, briefly, here are the basic rules.

After July 31, any player on a 40-man roster must first clear revocable waivers in order to be traded.  Almost all players in baseball are run through this type of waivers in August (though I believe there’s a limit of seven per day per team, unless that was changed in the new CBA).  The waiver period on any given player lasts 47 hours, from 2:00 ET on the business day he hits the wire until 1:00 ET two business days later.

In Lee’s case, that means the waiver closed a few minutes ago.

If a player placed on Major League waivers in August clears, he can be traded without limitation.

If he’s claimed within that 47-hour period, his current club has a few choices with regard to the player and the team making the prevailing claim (if he’s claimed by more than one team, the prevailing claim is determined by ordering them as follows: priority goes to teams in the same league as the player, headed by the team having the worst record as of the morning of the day that the waiver period on that player closes; if no team in the same league claimed the player, priority then goes to teams in the other league who claimed him, again in the order of worst record to best).

Once the team with the prevailing claim is identified, the player’s current club can:

  • Work out a trade with that other team – within 48½ business-day hours of the closing of the waiver period (so by 1:30 ET on the day in question).  If no trade is completed, the window shuts and neither the claiming team nor any other may trade for the player during the season.
  • Stick the other team with the player by simply conveying the player’s contract – which the other team doesn’t have the right to decline.  Randy Myers (1998, Blue Jays to Padres) and Alex Rios (2009, Blue Jays to White Sox) are two examples of this very rare result.
  • Revoke waivers and pull the player back (a second run through revocable waivers is not permitted – waivers would be irrevocable in that case).  This is what happens more than 90 percent of the time, and before the Twitter age we almost never heard about it.

Just about every player will go through this purportedly confidential process this month.  Even players with full or partial no-trade clauses, including those with 10/5 rights, can be run through waivers.  If the prevailing claim is made by a club to which the player cannot be traded contractually (or by virtue of 10/5), he can be traded only if the player waives his veto rights and consents to the trade.

That means a team on a player’s no-trade list (which is every team if it’s a full no-trade or 10/5 situation) can “block” by putting in a claim, with the only risk being that it makes the prevailing claim and the player’s existing club decides to stick that team with the player and the player agrees to waive his veto rights and consents to join the new team and the new team didn’t want him in the first place.

All the same rules apply starting September 1, but with one added restriction: An acquired player cannot appear on a post-season roster.

But we’re talking about August, and specifically about Lee.

If the rules haven’t changed, the waiver period on Lee will have closed minutes ago, at 1:00 ET (noon here).  If no team claimed Lee, who has a $95-110 million obligation remaining on his contract, Philadelphia can trade him to anyone.  If at least one team placed a claim, the prevailing claim will have been identified, and the Phillies would have until 1:30 ET (12:30 p.m. here) on Tuesday to complete a trade (with players and any cash subsidy to be negotiated), or wash their hands of Lee and convey his contract to that other team, or revoke waivers, making him a Phillie the rest of the year.

But even if he has cleared today, giving Philadelphia 29 teams and the entire month to consider while entertaining the idea of trading him, there’s another important hurdle.

Let’s say that Texas makes a claim, and that none of the 15 National League teams or the 12 or 13 American League teams with lesser records (I’m not sure how priority is determined between Texas and New York) make a claim, and that as a result the Phillies and Rangers have until Tuesday afternoon to talk trade.

Set aside for the moment that the one team that many are reporting as a legitimate candidate to submit a claim is the Dodgers, who were thought to be primed to sign the now-unavailable Cole Hamels in the off-season and who would have priority over Texas in the waiver process on Lee.  Assume for now the Rangers made the prevailing claim.

Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman and Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman and Craig Gentry will be off the table unless they were to get through 13 AL clubs and four NL clubs for Philadelphia to place a prevailing claim on them.

Same with Mike Olt.

Martin Perez, Leonys Martin, Justin Grimm, Wilmer Font, Engel Beltre, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Miguel De Los Santos, Matt West, and Roman Mendez would also have to get to Philadelphia on waivers, but each of those 40-man roster members – since they are in the minor leagues – could be designated as players to be named later to get around that hurdle.  Players to be named must be identified within six months.  So it can happen in the off-season.  No problem.

Different case with Olt and Scheppers and the others, though – because a player to be named later may not appear in the big leagues between the time of the trade and the time that the player is identified.

So Olt, reportedly a player that the Phillies insisted on if they were going to trade Cole Hamels here, would be off-limits unless he (1) slid all the way to Philadelphia on AL-then-NL waivers (absolutely no chance) or (2) were optioned before Tuesday afternoon and included as a player to be named later, prohibited in the meantime from returning to Arlington.

The purchase of Olt two nights ago, then, basically takes him off the table as far as any August trade talks are concerned.  And that’s completely OK with me.  It just changes the landscape for Philadelphia, and changes the talking points if the Phillies and Rangers find out at noon today that they have Lee to talk about.

Could Perez, Martin, Grimm, Font, and the others on the roster be traded?  Sure, but none would get all the way to the Phillies on waivers, and if included as players to be named later they’d be prohibited from joining the Rangers the rest of the year.  Would Texas accept not being able to bring Martin back to the bench in September, when an extra baserunner or defensive replacement on the expanded roster could be useful?  Take Perez and Grimm out of the equation the rest of the year?  I suppose if it were the only thing standing between adding Cliff Lee and not, the club would get over it.

Most expect Lee to clear waivers today.  The contract is just too big for teams to risk being forced by Philadelphia to absorb it.  In that case, the Phillies will be able to discuss a trade with all 29 teams.

But Lee can block trades to 21 of them.

And even the other eight, which reportedly includes Texas, would have difficulty getting a trade done, not only because Philadelphia has apparently shown almost no interest in kicking in at least $7-8 million per year (ESPN’s Buster Olney said the Phillies refused to eat any of the money in July and were nonetheless demanding blue-chip prospects) but also because any player going the other way would have to get to the Phillies through waivers if on the 40-man roster, and kept in the minor leagues all season if included as a player to be named later.

Would a package of non-roster players – a universe that includes the untouchable Jurickson Profar, Cody Buckel, Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, Luis Sardinas, Jairo Beras, Ronald Guzman, Nomar Mazara, Luke Jackson, Jordan Akins, Barret Loux, Victor Payano, Drew Robinson, and plenty others (this year’s draft class is ineligible, even as players to be named later) – be enough to get a deal done, assuming the bigger question of the cash subsidy got worked out?

I would guess so, in a vacuum.  Especially if someone like Perez or Martin were included as a player to be named later.

But then there’s the money.  Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) writes this morning that Lee for Olt and Buckel is a trade that “should have happened [in July] but didn’t.”  But there’s no mention in his analysis of the cash that the Phillies would have had to put into the deal to make it palatable for Texas, and the cash remains the much bigger issue than any prospects involved, and perhaps the biggest reason that the idea of Cliff Lee being traded before this season ends is such a longshot.

The part about which team or teams Philadelphia is permitted to have that conversation with should now be defined, as of the last few minutes.

360.

It was 360 days ago when I wrote about one of the worst losses in Rangers memory, a July 20, 2011 Rangers-Angels affair that was still bugging me nearly three weeks after it had been played.

On that night, Texas was riding a 12-game win streak, built mostly against division opponents, during which it broke free of a tie atop the AL West and pushed its lead to a season-high five games.

Behind Derek Holland, the Rangers (who had blanked the Angels, 7-0, the night before) jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the fifth inning, chasing Dan Haren.  Texas was headed toward 13 straight, a six-game cushion, and – a week and a half before the trade deadline – was about to hand the Angels their fifth loss in six games and, according to several stories, a possible decision to raise the white flag and sell off a couple veterans before the 31st.

Then Los Angeles scored six runs in the sixth inning.

And held on for a 9-8 win.

I tweeted:

Remember this one (if you dare put stock in the significance of one baseball game).

The point (as I found myself having to spell out and defend over the next few weeks) was not that I felt the Rangers were in any danger of losing their grip on the season but instead because I was concerned that it could galvanize a wheezing Angels club.

That day 360 days ago, when I revisited that brutal loss, the division lead had been carved down by Los Angeles to one game.

As for last night, I don’t believe for a second that Texas 11, Los Angeles 10 will bury the Angels or lock anything up, but this team needed a galvanizing moment in the worst of ways.

It was the best win of the year in the strangest Rangers season yet, snatched from the angry clutches of what would have been the season’s worst loss, not just because of the importance of the game and the directions Texas and Los Angeles have been heading but also because of the manner in which it was happening.  The cataclysmic third inning, the year’s worst, was far less an exhibition of getting beat by the Angels than an exercise in the Rangers beating themselves in all kinds of ugly ways, the worst way to lose.  Texas was giving the game away in a single, early frame, with some of the worst pitching and defensive execution in memory.

Before the game I’d tweeted:

Tonight’s the night.  The offense opens up a can and the pitching does the job.

I don’t know where the hunch came from.  Maybe it was the boost I hoped the Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto trades would give a team that had been playing without any swagger.  Maybe it was the law of averages, or the law of Overdue, or the desperation of wishful thinking.

But in the third, the pitching was very clearly not doing the job.

I didn’t have the stomach to tweet about the game after that, and don’t have the energy to write about the ninth or the tenth inning right now (though I’m still getting chills thinking about it), and I’ve resolved not to in-game tweet again until the Rangers lose.  You don’t mess with a streak.

The division lead is back to four games, and the Rangers and Angels tangle tonight for the final time until the season’s final two weeks.  It won’t be C.J. Wilson’s first game as a visitor to Arlington, but it will be Dempster’s and Soto’s – and Mike Olt’s – first as Texas Rangers, and I wish first pitch was in about 10 minutes, with all three hopping off the top step and running out onto the field.

After giving the game away last night, Texas bowed up and took it back.

The Rangers could give it all back tonight.  But I don’t think so.

A win like that, like that, after the way this series had gone, could do more for a baseball team than any closed-door meeting ever could.

Maybe the combination of that impossible win and the arrival of three new players jumpstarts a team that’s been in obvious need of its own galvanizing moment.

I know Texas 11, Los Angeles 10 did that for me.

Executing: The Ryan Dempster Trade.

Sometime over the last couple weeks, Jon Daniels and his group struck up a dialogue with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and theirs, with Texas looking to get stronger and the Cubs looking to get younger.

Somewhere along the way names began to get exchanged, and the conversation ventured off into different directions.

I’d like to think this happened at some point:

No, Jed, we’d trade those guys, but that’s more than we’d give up for Soto.

And this:

Jon, those are good names, names that fit, and that’s a start, but if you want to play ball on Garza, that’s not enough.  We need more.

You get where I’m going with this.

Hitters (if not lineups) get into bad habits.  Pitchers lose their edge.  Teams go into stretches of epic Flat.

But the better General Managers in the game don’t slump as often.

That’s not to say that their moves always work out, or that the ones they’d like to make even happen at all, but whatever the talent accumulation equivalent is of the no-out, first-pitch pop-up with runners in scoring position, or the four-pitch walk to the number nine hitter, or the hit batsman on 0-2, you just don’t fear that with some GM’s.  You don’t fear that with Jon Daniels.

The number three starter and the center fielder and the manager and the AA third baseman all have jobs to do, and so does the GM.  The GM in Texas did his.

These last few days, there were more reports tying Texas to Garza than to Dempster and Soto combined.  Did the Rangers push on Garza to develop a feel for which players in the Texas system the Cubs liked?  Did they make Soto a priority before Tuesday just to zero in on which second- or third-tier Ranger prospects Chicago wanted most, in case the Dempster possibility developed?

Certainly whatever the Cubs’ ask for the controllable Garza was, Texas could reasonably insist on a lesser demand for Dempster, who will be a free agent at year’s end.

Pushing on Soto on Monday rather than approaching Chicago on a package deal for the catcher and the pitcher did more, maybe, than put Dempster’s battery mate in Texas as an added enticement for the righthander to waive his 10-5 veto rights.

It’s not exactly like Texas going down the road with San Diego last summer on Heath Bell before redirecting talks toward Mike Adams, but there’s some similarity there, a tactical effort to define the price and then change the commodity.

Maybe none of this played out the way I like to imagine it.  Maybe I want to believe my team’s GM had a meticulously devised plan and executed it because I don’t want to think about my team’s offense or pitching staff’s own efforts to do the same thing right now.

You won’t talk me out of it.  The track record being what it is, I expect this front office to execute.  Every time.

This is why I’ve stuck with this project for 14 years.  It’s why I decided this past winter to write a book about this team’s baseball operations group.  The process of building a baseball team fascinates me.  It did for decades when it provided the only hope for a franchise that had never won anything, and it continues to do so now as the effort has shifted to finding a way to get that one last out and one final win, and to create a window that’s going to stay open for years.

On May 23, 1998, two days before the very first Newberg Report email, 21-year-old Ryan Dempster made his big league debut, mopping up in the eighth and ninth innings of a 10-4 Marlins loss to Pittsburgh.  Three years earlier, Texas had drafted him in the third round out of a Canadian high school, a year after which the Rangers, headed toward their first-ever playoff berth, traded the Class A starter and a player to be named later (Rick Helling) to Florida for John Burkett.

Burkett was far from a number one when Texas acquired him – in fact, he cleared National League waivers and most of the American League before the August deal was completed – but he came up big for the Rangers down the stretch and even bigger in October, earning what would be the franchise’s lone post-season victory until Cliff Lee won one in Tampa 14 years later.

Lee evidently wasn’t available for Texas to reacquire this week, at least not on terms the Rangers could accept, and Dempster is probably closer now to what Burkett was.  When the Rangers traded Dempster, they did so to get a reliable veteran who would help them win their first division title.  In trading for Dempster, they’re hoping they’ve added a reliable veteran who will help them win their first World Series.

Was Dempster (whose contract, which has about $5 million remaining on it, the Rangers will cover) the club’s first choice?  Probably not.  For one, he was traded to Atlanta a week ago before exercising his 10-5 rights and killing the deal.  Texas was said to be after bigger catches, from Cole Hamels to Zack Greinke to controllable pitchers like Josh Johnson and Garza and possibly Lee and James Shields.  A report overnight from Rob Bradford (WEEI) suggests that the Rangers even discussed a huge deal with Boston that involved Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kelly Shoppach (no names on the Texas side were divulged), and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) reports that the Rangers approached Houston about Bud Norris.

Even as late as 1:00 on Tuesday, two hours before the deadline, Nightengale reports that Texas was “running third” in the chase to acquire Dempster before making its charge in the final 20 minutes before time expired.  Dempster says he was asked to waive his veto rights with about five minutes to go.

Daniels says “the deal changed a little at the end” and the teams agreed on Myrtle Beach third baseman Christian Villanueva and his teammate, righthander Kyle Hendricks, as the return.  Both have had very good months, not an insignificant thing considering the heightened scouting efforts that go on in July.  Villanueva hit .333/.440/.479 for the month, while Hendricks fanned 32 and issued six walks in 31 innings over five starts (3.77 ERA).

Neither is a blue-chip prospect.  I had Villanueva number 13 in the Rangers system this winter, and Hendricks number 43.  Today, I’d have Villenueva at about the same place, maybe a couple spots higher, and Hendricks somewhere in the late 20’s or 30’s.  When asked yesterday if Hendricks (or Jake Brigham, the Frisco righthander whom Texas sent Chicago on Monday for Soto) would fit in the Cubs’ top 30 prospects, Baseball America’s Ben Badler said they have a “[c]hance to,” as the “[s]ystem has very little pitching.”

I’m a Villanueva fan.  While he may not hit with classic third base power, he is, as Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus) puts it, “one of those players whose greatest strength might be a lack of weaknesses.”  Signed out of Mexico in 2008 for a relatively modest signing bonus, the 21-year-old may profile as an Edgardo Alfonzo type (he’s seen some time at second base this season), and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  With Adrian Beltre and Mike Olt ahead of him and Joey Gallo and Drew Robinson behind him, however, Villanueva was part of a healthy Texas inventory at third base and a player that the Rangers – who would have had to protect him this winter on the 40-man roster – could afford to move.

As for Hendricks, a 22-year-old drafted in the eighth round last year out of Dartmouth, he’s one of those pitchers with an advanced idea on the mound and a high floor that compensates for what is probably a low ceiling.  The righthander has average stuff but he pounds the strike zone, having punched out 150 pro hitters in 166.1 innings, walking only 21.  He’s probably a back-of-the-rotation starter if everything falls into place.  There’s value in that, but it’s also the type of player that good teams with deep systems are able to part with.

Two great scouting and development success stories.

And less than I figured it would take to get Dempster, particularly on July 31.  If Hendricks had been replaced in the deal by someone like Justin Grimm or Cody Buckel or Nick Tepesch or Chad Bell, it wouldn’t have surprised me.  This was a case in which Dempster’s 10-5 rights (and perhaps the delayed announcement of Neftali Feliz’s need for surgery) helped Texas considerably.

As we talk about in this space all the time, the hope ought to be that Villanueva and Hendricks work out tremendously for the Cubs.  When the Rangers’ tier three prospects turn out to be productive pickups, as opposed to hyped names that don’t pan out, it encourages future trades.

Interestingly, the Dodgers (who were said to be in on Dempster until the end) made four prospects (pitchers Zach Lee, Allen Webster, Chris Reed, and the injured Rubby De La Rosa) untouchable for Dempster.  If that means theoretically that their fifth and sixth prospects were on the table, then that says something meaningful about the Texas system, considering Villanueva and Hendricks were nowhere near that level on the depth chart here and still won the day.

But the pair was certainly a lesser return than righthander Randall Delgado, whom the Braves were set to ship to the Cubs last week had Dempster not banged that deal.  “Not even close,” says Goldstein.

What would the Rangers have done had Dempster permitted the Cubs-Braves trade to go through?

Don’t know.  But they would have done something.

And they still might do more.

Jeff Passan (Yahoo! Sports) thinks so, at least: “Even though they snaked Dempster, the Rangers aren’t done.  They’d like to find another starter from outside the organization during August.”

Could that be Beckett (who exited his start last night with back spasms)?  (Ellsbury would never get to Texas on trade waivers, so forget about that larger deal during the season.)  Or Lee?  Or Johnson?  There are good pitchers with bad contracts who could be eligible to be traded this month.

With Colby Lewis and now Feliz done for the year and Roy Oswalt pitching terribly, Texas won’t stop looking for ways to improve the rotation.  But as Peter Gammons said yesterday, in spite of those developments, Daniels never panicked, and “never wavered from the best long-term interest of the franchise.”

Namely, Daniels didn’t trade Olt or Martin Perez for a rental or for a starter with a real injury concern, and he still added a pitcher having a terrific season (.210/.263/.324 opponents’ slash, 2.25 ERA, getting into the seventh inning on average in the pinch-hitter league) and, like Beltre and Mike Napoli a year ago, a veteran hungry to play in his first World Series – in a career that’s lasted so long that his three seasons as Greg Maddux’s teammate (2004-06) were actually in the second half of his time in the big leagues.

(And on the subject of the right-handed hitter for the bench that we all believe Texas will trade for this month: If you can catch lightning in a bottle and get a version of 2010 Jeff Francoeur rather than 2010 Jorge Cantu, great – maybe it costs Julio Borbon or some other version of 2010 Joaquin Arias – but if you’re going to have to trade a key prospect for someone like Scott Hairston [who would never get to Texas on trade waivers] or Carlos Lee, are we really sure Olt wouldn’t be just as productive?  Discussion for another time.)

Whether Texas has an interest in re-signing Dempster this winter, and whether he’s open to the idea himself, is something that won’t even be considered until we see how this all plays out over the next three months.  The Rangers’ 2013 rotation picture is less defined than it was a few weeks ago, but Dempster is in line for a big payday.

For now, though, the focus is solely on tomorrow night, when the first-time American Leaguer takes the mound in the first inning and peers in for Soto’s signs, just as he’s done close to 100 times since Soto arrived in the big leagues seven years ago.  Dempster’s mound opponent will be C.J. Wilson, who for Texas was the latest example – after Burkett and after Lee – of how regular season results aren’t always predictive of post-season success.

You can put Lewis, the pitcher whose role Dempster is essentially assuming, in that same category, if you like.  Dempster’s no ace.  But neither was Lewis, who will go down in Rangers history as one of the franchise’s great playoff warriors.

Would I trade Villanueva and Hendricks for the ability to get a healthy Lewis back right now?  You bet.

That’s the type of pitcher and competitor Texas is hoping Dempster turns out to be.

The product on the field has been sloppy and really frustrating to watch for too long now, and that has to change.  Ryan Dempster can’t help this team work pitch counts or hit with runners in scoring position, and neither can Jon Daniels, but they both have their own job to do, and if Dempster – once a Class A pitcher traded for a stretch run boost and now on the other side of one of those deals – delivers nearly as reliably as Daniels, he’s going to help this team get to October and maybe even stand out once he gets there, just as the player he was traded for 16 years ago once did for this franchise himself.

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