It was a brilliant game plan. It really was.
I was coming off my second Rotisserie League title in three years, with much of the core of my roster still under contract for another year, at least. I calmly told the catbird he’d have to scoot over.
I had eight open spots to fill in the spring auction, but no huge holes. I’d pick off a couple ordinary regulars who had a chance to help keep the train rolling, but my focus would be mostly on young players who seemed ready to contribute big. I’d grow the pipeline, extend the window, lose another shirt to a Yoo-Hoo casualty.
Buying low on Vinny Castilla ($4) coming off an unusually bad season fit the plan perfectly early in the draft. Landing the versatile, quietly productive Rob Mackowiak for $3 early worked, too. Those two would help set things up so I’d have plenty of cap space left at the end of the day to make sure nobody could outbid me on the player I really wanted, Houston rookie righthander Brad Lidge.
The strategic genius, however, turned into a kick in the gut when, as teams around me started running out of money, I was able to land Lidge to round out my 25-man roster – leaving me with $8 out of the precious $260 that I never got to spend. In hindsight, I wanted to go back and leave Mackowiak for someone else, and to have taken those extra eight bucks and grabbed Marcus Giles at the $11 he ended up going for to fill my empty second base slot.
But do-overs were no more available in Rotisserie League baseball in 2003, however, than they are in the real thing, and that bungled blueprint bugged me until the games got underway.
Imagine the possibilities if you could get a mulligan in pro ball. Revoke Chan Ho Park’s deal. Undo that Adrian Gonzalez trade. Take Mike Trout or Shelby Miller instead of Matt Purke. Hire Jim Leyland instead of Doug Rader.
It’s been a disappointing winter for the Rangers, given all the high-end opportunities that they were reportedly very much in on, but I wonder how much of it the club is second-guessing. How many Marcus Giles are there that they’d like a redo on?
Think if Josh Hamilton had given Texas that final conversation, the club would have matched the 5/125 that the Angels are paying him – assuming a match would have even kept him from heading to Hollywood?
Do the Rangers wish they’d put another million or two per year on the table for Zack Greinke?
The better question is whether anyone really believes that would have brought about a different result – other than kicking the Dodgers’ offer up accordingly.
In retrospect would they have done anything differently in order to bring James Shields in?
Kansas City put Wil Myers in the deal. To beat that, Jurickson Profar would have had to go. Though I suppose the Rays would have taken Yu Darvish.
Outdistancing the Jays’ package of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to get R.A. Dickey would have been silly.
Does Texas second-guess itself on not tendering a one-year, $13.3 million offer to Mike Napoli, whose medicals were so bad that he ended up having a three-year, $39 million offer scaled back to a guarantee of $5 million? If he and his agent knew how doctors assessed his hip condition going into the winter, he’d have taken the one-year tender and the Rangers not only wouldn’t have gotten the compensatory draft pick but likely wouldn’t have gone out and signed A.J. Pierzynski – and maybe not even Lance Berkman, given the financial commitment to Napoli.
The greater regret in that case obviously belongs to Napoli, who reportedly turned three years and $38 million down from Texas after the 2011 season, figuring he’d boost his market value even further in 2012 on his way toward a relatively weak free agent class.
Justin Upton? Again, the Rangers weren’t going to include Profar or Elvis Andrus then, and they wouldn’t do it now. If they really offered Mike Olt, Leury Garcia, either Martin Perez or Cody Buckel, and a fourth prospect, and Arizona declined that package, how much higher do you think they wish now they’d gone?
Let’s say Texas makes that deal by agreeing to put both young pitchers in it, something Jim Bowden of XM and ESPN hears the Diamondbacks would have accepted.
Without Olt and Perez and Buckel around, it would be a lot tougher to come up with the ammunition and pounce once David Price or Giancarlo Stanton hits the trade market, and not have the system decimated in Pyrrhic proportions. Whatever competitive advantage the Rangers have right now over most clubs in that regard would be severely compromised.
And Upton is no Price or Stanton.
Texas is guaranteeing Berkman, Pierzynski, Joakim Soria, and Jason Frasor a combined $11 million less than Boston committed to Shane Victorino. Doubt there’s any buyer’s remorse there.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying this winter has gone the way Texas wanted it to. It hasn’t come close.
But I’m not sure where the obvious do-over is – unless the club decided it was time in one case or another to overpay in prospects, which seems to be an unusually prevalent trend this winter on the trade market in particular, given the Shields and Dickey trades, the one the Diamondbacks had teed up with Seattle before Upton killed it, and whatever Arizona was thinking in its three-team deal with Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Hoggy’s equipment truck pulled up the ramp and away from 1000 Ballpark Way Friday, embarking on an 1,100-mile voyage to Surprise, and tucked away among the baseballs and bats and sunflower seeds and laundry detergent was a modular storage thingy full of loose letters and large numbers that can be sewn onto white or red or gray or blue jerseys, and on a loosely related subject I ask you the following question:
How many players on the Rangers’ current 40-man roster whose primary position is outfield are under club control past this season?
OK, now name them.
And Engel Beltre, who will be out of options when this season ends.
Sure, there’s Olt, who six games in the outfield this winter are more than he’d played in his minor league and big league career combined.
And Mitch Moreland, who was more of an outfielder in the minor leagues than a first baseman or pitcher, but who since June 2011 has played in 177 big league games and in that stretch has started exactly one game in the outfield.
And Berkman, whose fitness to play first base these days on that right knee is enough of a question mark that the prospect of future days in the outfield is probably not worth spending more than a sentence on.
And Garcia, who first saw the outfield late this June, in what was his fifth pro season.
The four games he logged in the Frisco outfield this summer are four more than Ian Kinsler and Profar have had professionally, just in case you’re making plans in your mind for one to settle in eventually on a corner and the other in the middle.
Those guys will be around past 2013 too, as long as Texas wants them to be, but that’s not a real inspiring outfield picture going forward.
To be fair, there are rumors that the club and David Murphy could rip up the one-year deal they struck two weeks ago and replace it with some sort of multi-year commitment.
On the other hand, Nelson Cruz will almost certainly be gone after this season.
Which was pretty much a slam dunk even before last week’s off-the-field development.
And that brings us back to the immediate picture.
Texas wanted to sign Hamilton, and maybe Torii Hunter. Met with Cody Ross. Tried to trade for Upton, and (according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports) Michael Morse. Is surely keeping tabs on Stanton, and Carlos Gonzalez, the first of whom is said to be unavailable – for now – and the other of whom may practically be, given Tracy Ringolsby’s MLB.com report that the Rangers “never got past a preliminary chat with Colorado about [Gonzalez] when they refused to consider giving up prime prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt.”
None of them are here.
Texas brought Jeff Baker and Aaron Cunningham and Jim Adduci in on non-roster deals, but collectively that bunch looks like this year’s version of Conor Jackson (not that you should write Baker off), a Doug Deeds, and another Doug Deeds. Brandon Snyder will be back in camp, and Joey Butler will be there, too, but we’re talking about impacting the top of the outfield rotation, not the back end.
The Rangers have also reportedly kicked the tires on free agent Michael Bourn, who remains available, though at age 30 the prospect of giving him four or five expensive years – and forfeiting the 24th pick in the draft – doesn’t seem all that palatable. Plus, as Daniels has said regarding center field: “If we’re not going to look at Leonys now, when are we?”
He said that before the Cruz story surfaced.
Does the timing of JD’s comment matter? ESPN’s Buster Olney wonders, along with a whole lot of folks, “in light of [the] Cruz allegation, . . . if [Texas will] now pursue” Bourn.
The front office is saying no. Maybe because there’s no guarantee Cruz will miss time, and even if he does it will amount to less than two months – almost like couple of those typical hamstring deactivations – and you’re not going to invest a stack of years and a first-round pick in a player you didn’t want before just to cover for a 50-game penalty that may not ever get imposed.
On the other hand, if you sign Bourn, as opposed to trading for an impact outfielder, you lose the pick but keep all your prospects – and that doesn’t compromise your ability later to go get Price or Stanton or whoever you want to fill the blank with. All that’s surrendered (besides cash) is the 24th pick in June.
Sort of. Truthfully, it’s probably less about the 24th slot than the $1.75 million or so that the pick will be worth as far as the draft bonus pool in the new system is concerned. Having the 24th and 35th picks (the second of which could be higher depending on what happens with Bourn and Kyle Lohse) and the $3.25 million or more that the two picks are worth combined could make it easier for the Rangers to go large on someone like they did last year at number 39, when they took Joey Gallo and went significantly over slot to get him signed. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, for what it’s worth, says the Rangers were “one of the teams that vehemently opposed the new draft rules,” which amputate aggressiveness on the scouting and acquisition front. But they are what they are, and Texas, like everyone else, is left to figure out ways to maximize opportunities.
But back to the threshold question: Does the potential loss of Cruz – and let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that he’s likely to serve the full 50 games – mean Texas ought be rethinking its position on adding an outfielder, even with Hamilton and Hunter and Upton off the market?
As Rob Neyer (SB Nation) points, Cruz measured out to be worth roughly a win and a half more than “a good AAA hitter” while playing 159 games last year, which arguably means a 50-game absence would be worth half a win if Cruz is no better a baseball player in 2013 than he was in 2012.
And I know there are those of you who bristle at my belief that a player’s frame of mind has an effect on his play, but I worry about how Cruz will respond to the glare that will follow him all season unless and until he’s exonerated. I worry about that with him maybe more than I would with any other player on the club, next to Neftali Feliz.
The point is that I’m not sure losing Cruz for 50 games, if that happens, now turns Bourn into a need if he wasn’t thought of one a week ago – but at the same time, I’m not expecting huge “contract year” numbers from Cruz, no matter how his situation shakes out.
I don’t dislike Cruz. Far from it. He’s done a remarkable job converting what was uniformly considered to be a 4-A career – remember that he slid clear through league-wide waivers just before his breakout 2008 season – into one of a core piece of a two-time World Series offense, with a resume full of October heroics at the plate that will never be forgotten around here.
I don’t hate him for the bad swings, or for the mediocre outfield play (outside of an extraordinary arm) that’s degenerated into something worse. He is what he is.
And part of what he is is a 32-year-old who will be 33 when he reaches free agency for the first time at the end of the year, a player that won’t make a lot of sense, regardless of the off-the-field circumstances, to invest heavily in here.
The Texas infield, in one scenario (Kinsler to first base), could boast four former shortstops (which doesn’t even include Garcia and Luis Sardinas, who head a formidable wave of shortstop prospects behind Profar), and I’ll take that over having three center fielders in the outfield like the Angels do, but the Texas outfield picture, already murky past 2013, is suddenly out of focus in the present.
Olney had an interesting article a month and a half ago, noting that there were teams considering a sign-and-trade arrangement to acquire a player like Bourn without forfeiting a first-round pick. Olney used Cleveland as an example, suggesting the Indians – whose first-rounder is protected since it’s in the top 10 picks and who already surrendered their second-round pick by signing Nick Swisher – could sign Bourn, losing their third-round pick as a result, with plans to then trade the outfielder (with his permission, as free agents can’t be traded without their consent until June 15) to Seattle (in Olney’s hypothetical) for something more valuable (and predictable) to Cleveland than its third-round pick, but less valuable to the Mariners than the first-rounder they’d sacrifice by signing Bourn themselves.
Creative idea, if far-fetched.
The Nationals’ rotation is in somewhat of a similar situation as the Rangers’ outfield. Washington was said to be on the hunt for one more starting pitcher even before Gio Gonzalez was implicated in the same Miami New Times piece as Cruz; now it would stand to reason that the Nationals are even more intent on adding a starter before camp.
The difference is that while Lohse – tied like Bourn to draft pick compensation – remains on the market, so does a guy like veteran righty Javier Vazquez, an interesting lower-cost alternative whom Washington is reportedly very interested in.
Vazquez, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have a very good equivalent among available outfielders. To bring in a player that would relegate Murphy, Gentry, Martin, or Cruz to a different role from the one they are slated for now would take a big move, basically Bourn or a trade, and neither seems very likely at this point.
(For what it’s worth, Bowden thinks Bourn ends up with the Rays, Mets, or Mariners, while he suggests the Red Sox, Rangers, Angels, Brewers, and Orioles may make the most sense for Lohse.)
Do you load up for Stanton or Carlos Gonzalez? The Marlins and Rockies would have to be blown away, if they’d even be receptive. Bowden thinks a package headed by Profar and Olt “would have to make Miami listen” on Stanton – even though Bowden professes not to be an Olt guy, he thinks Arizona will regret choosing Martin Prado over the younger third baseman – but he bets Texas is probably more inclined to hang onto its top chips until the Rays decide it’s time to field offers for Price.
Every trade possibility that Texas has been rumored to be in on – from Shields to Dickey to Upton and probably every other impact player who’s drawn Texas into a discussion (not to mention Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and Gio Gonzalez and Josh Johnson last year) – has involved Olt, at least according to all the reports we know to take in with a pinch of salt. Considering:
- Olt’s primary position is also Adrian Beltre’s
- Olt’s ability to play that position makes up a great part of his value
- The details on almost every Rangers trade rumor include Olt in the exchange
- Profar is the prospect we’re all holding our breath over
- This winter has seen a new market develop, one that has seen blue-chip prospects moved – and not necessarily for blue-chip superstars . . . three of the game’s top six prospects on Jonathan Mayo’s recently published list for MLB.com have been traded this winter: Myers (in a deal for Shields), d’Arnaud (in a deal for Dickey), and Taijuan Walker (in Seattle’s deal for Upton that he vetoed) . . . and two more in the top 10 have been traded as well (lefthander Tyler Skaggs from the Angels to the Diamondbacks in 2010 and righthander Zack Wheeler from the Giants to Mets for Carlos Beltran in 2011)
. . . on some days it feels like Olt’s hardly more than an asset to be inevitably converted into something else, almost like a draft pick as Draft Day draws near.
Should we tap the brakes?
Hank Blalock was the top prospect in baseball 11 years ago, at least among position players. Colby Lewis was number 82 on the list put together by Baseball America.
Two years after that, Kinsler was BA’s number 98, thought of as a lesser prospect than Thomas Diamond and John Danks and Joaquin Arias. A few months before that ranking, Texas had traded Kinsler to Colorado, only to have Larry Walker bang the deal with his no-trade clause.
Just because Olt isn’t considered the Rangers’ top prospect, and just because he’s a standout defender at a position where he shouldn’t be needed until well after his bat is ready, doesn’t mean trading him is something we should be resigned to.
When MLB Network and MLB.com unveiled Mayo’s Top 100 Prospects list last week, Olt was number 22. Now, I think that’s probably a bit high, but Mayo built the rankings based on conversations with dozens of scouts, scouting directors, and other club executives. There’s a faction in the business, charged with evaluating these things, that sees Olt on a pretty rarefied level – which might help explain why so many clubs are evidently zeroing in on him whenever the opportunity to trade with Texas presents itself.
Even clubs like the Mets and Rays who are set at third base. Compare the Rangers’ rumored efforts to pick up shortstop Andrelton Simmons from Atlanta just to flip him to Arizona in an Upton deal early this off-season. There are teams who want Olt even if he doesn’t fit for them at third base, either because they believe they can flip him for something else they need (but can’t presently get) or because they think the bat will play at another corner.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, winner of two straight Gold Gloves, played zero games in the outfield until 2010. Drafted in 2005, he was strictly a third baseman, with a little first base peppered in, until roster makeup in Kansas City brought about the shift to the outfield.
Will Olt’s bat play in the outfield, where Texas has needs now and as far into the future as you want to look?
There are only three corner bats who rank higher on Mayo’s list than Olt: Myers (4), Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (12), and Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos (21). (That’s if you categorize Oscar Taveras [Cardinals, 3] and Christian Yelich [Marlins, 13] as center fielders, which we will, for now.)
Myers was a catcher his first two years in pro ball.
Sano was originally a shortstop.
Castellanos was strictly a third baseman until a shift to the outfield late in 2012, his third year in pro ball.
Now, to be fair, those three shifted to less demanding positions because of defensive issues, which there are none of as far as Olt’s play at third base is concerned. On the flip side, they’re also thought to be surer things at the plate, at least in Myers’s and Sano’s case.
But the point is Olt – purely a third baseman until a couple dozen games at first or right field in 2012 (and then six of 18 games in the outfield in winter ball) – is the fourth-ranked corner bat on at least one reputable prospect list. Maybe the folks in charge of deciding on his future aren’t as ready to trade him as every national writer in the business.
And maybe, like with Kinsler, that will turn out to be the correct decision.
Unless he’s needed in a deal for Stanton (who’s a year younger than Olt) or Price or Felix Hernandez, at which time you thank Jay Heafner and Randy Taylor and Kip Fagg and A.J. Preller and Josue Perez and Tim Hulett and Jason Wood and Steve Buechele for finding Olt in Connecticut and molding him into a player ranked higher today among prospects in the game than he was less than three years ago among prospects in the 2010 draft.
But I bet Dave Magadan, who has already begun working with Olt, is eager to see the process continue to unfold here. Maybe, like with Kinsler, we’ll look back one day and wonder how close Texas actually came to trading him before his career took off.
And so to an abrupt and clumsy end comes a 4,000-word exercise in saying pretty much nothing, a polyphonic spree of ideas with all the orderliness of an Elvis Andrus spray chart,
[which reminds me: sign a long-term deal in Texas Elvis c’mon do it do it now think about the Napoli lesson it-is it-is do it do it do it]
a painful memory jog for one of us of the highly disappointing 2003 season for Rob Mackowiak and the Exprestos, a momentary brain cramp as to why I even brought Mackowiak into all of this, oh yeah the clumsy do-over point, and how am I gonna get outta this mess, maybe I’ll cook up an imaginary flash drama starring Rangers International Scouting Director Mike Daly unable to enjoy Baseball America praising the organization’s “unusual . . . ability to avoid the landmines of high-priced international amateur free agent busts” because he’s tormented by the thought of his former LSU teammate Ryan Theriot coming in and essentially costing his former amateur find Leury Garcia a real spring shot, or maybe instead I’ll just pour one out for you, Kevin Millwood, and you too, Brandon Webb, and wait, Fernando Tatis, really?, and dang it I still haven’t written up Lisalverto and Coty and Cory and Jeff, and hey, Angels, having the number 30 farm system could be worse, no it couldn’t, and look who needs the do-over now, and man I really need to hear Eric dust off those three magic words.
Those three glorious, heartfelt, sorely missed words.
“Hello again, everybody!”
In the second and a half that it’ll take Eric to say that into a microphone high above Billy Parker Field in Surprise Stadium, 17 days from today, he will have packed more substance than I have in this box, but, hey, to paraphrase JD, if I wasn’t going to write this report now, when would I?
Tell us hello, Eric.
Tell us soon.