July 2013

Jolt.

Monday afternoon, with just over 48 hours to go before the conventional trade deadline, we got word from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that Texas checked in recently with Atlanta about the availability of catcher Brian McCann.

Even though the Rangers have been in a tailspin and even though McCann is a core piece of a team headed toward the playoffs and even though Texas will be able to go get McCann three months from now without having to offer up the frontline prospects it would surely take to get so much as an attentive conversation going.

Hours after that, the left-handed-hitting catcher that McCann would possibly replace instantly and the backup catcher with the Yu Darvish/Matt Garza rapport that McCann would possibly replace instantly both honey-badger Ernesto Frieri ninth-inning, two-strike 94 with blasts of pure hang time pull, suitably fair and very gone, and suddenly a team whose wins of any kind have seemed improbable lately walked off with one in the most improbable of fashions.

Texas had won only three games in July that Joe Nathan didn’t save, but certainly none like that one, none that had him warming to enter the ballgame when the ballgame suddenly ended.

And upstairs, a General Manager who’s reportedly been gauging interest in his stud closer sees a sea of red hopping dugout rails and swarming toward the plate and dancing around like Joe Nathan’s eight- and six-year-olds (well, all but Lance Berkman: check out the dugout video or Kelly Gavin’s photos) and feels what’s left of 36,000-plus shaking the joint like they’re all of 86,000-plus, and you have to wonder whether it changed his thinking on whether he can trade a core piece like that, now, even if it’s dealing from the club’s greatest strength to address a glaring weakness.

Surely one game isn’t going to dictate the front office’s trade deadline direction.

Dictate, no.  But influence?  Maybe?

And now there’s just one game before teams have to put their trade deadline pencils down.

Tonight: Derek Holland, C.J.Wilson, and lots of subtext.

More, probably, than Matt Garza and Jered Weaver, who may or may not have teed it up as California preps or as Fresno State and Long Beach State horses before turning pro as first-round picks drafted a year apart (but signing two weeks apart).

I watched Garza’s postgame interview late last night.  I’m glad I did.  What a beast.

I love watching Matt Garza talk about team almost as much as I love watching Matt Garza pitch baseballs.

Even if it turns out he’s here for less time than Cliff Lee was, I can’t promise that the only two Rangers player T-shirts I have ever owned (Lee and Adrian Beltre) won’t be joined by a Garza 22.

Maybe the Braves would be open to the idea of trading Brian McCann now since Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt and McCann’s imminent free agency market probably mean just a 2014 first-round pick otherwise — well, a 2014 first-round pick and McCann in October 2013 — but c’mon.  Can’t really happen, right?

Maybe the Rangers really are thinking about trying to overwhelm Atlanta for McCann, even though they could simply wait until the off-season when it would cost them a draft pick and not the three blue-chip prospects it would surely take to add him now to an offense that is more than one Brian McCann bat short of real health.  They’d get to keep the draft pick, after all, if they went out and got him now and re-signed him this winter.

And maybe the Rangers really are thinking about trading Joe Nathan today or tomorrow before 3:00 — hey, maybe for a blue-chip prospect they could then flip to Atlanta now, or Tampa Bay or Miami in the off-season — on the theory that he’s going to opt for free agency this winter himself and, given the club’s depth in the bullpen and needs elsewhere (and Nathan’s age), probably end up somewhere else

Whatever happens in the next 30 hours could make Joakim Soria or Tanner Scheppers or Neal Cotts a ninth-inning guy.  Or could cost A.J. Pierzynski or Geovany Soto, hours after their biggest moments as Rangers.

Or we could take Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan at their word, and not expect Texas to do anything nearly as significant as trading for Matt Garza.

Even if the momentary jolt of a ballgame that ends with a party at the plate threatens to knock reason out of the park and change the way you think about things.

Because sports.

Drained.

So Ken Rosenthal dropped a Fox Sports blog post late last night, reporting that, according to Major League sources, the Rangers have internally discussed the idea of trading Joe Nathan by Wednesday’s trade deadline, in an effort to see what sort of noise they might be able to make by “exploiting a thin market for relievers” while dealing from a club strength.

But I can’t bring myself to embrace the idea of the Rangers as sellers, no matter how nuanced that definition might be in this case.

I have a thousand COFFEY-appropriate notes that I’ve dutifully gathered over the last week, mostly concerning right-handed bats and touching on the Blue Jays’ free-fall and the Rockies’ own little skid.

But I can’t bring myself to embrace the idea of the Rangers as buyers, not the way the lineup has looked so uniformly hollow and drained for an uncomfortably long time.

I want to write an article about Engel Beltre and how he fits going forward, even as his options run out with the completion of this season.

But I can’t bring myself to do that today, either.

On June 27, the Rangers beat the Yankees, 2-0, and in doing so moved from a deadlock with Oakland atop the West to a half-game up on the idle A’s.

June 27.

That was the last day Texas gained ground on the A’s, whether ahead of them or behind.

I’ll leave it to someone with more energy for the task to figure out the last time in baseball history one team went a month without gaining ground on any one other team.

Let’s go, Alexi.  Let’s make this next month of baseball different.

Short.

We’ve been saying for weeks that this lineup is a bat short, if not more, but last night it was every other phase that failed the team.

The bats were fine.  Not so much for the defense, the baserunning, the starting pitching, the concentration or intensity or attention to fundamentals or whatever you want to call that, and, in the end, the bullpen.

The bullpen, which had been so good since coming to the rescue in the fourth inning (7.0-7-1-1-2-4) and which, thanks to Matt Garza on Wednesday and Derek Holland on Thursday, was as lined up for battle as you could hope for in the dead of summer.

The bullpen, whose stalwarts Neal Cotts and Joe Nathan remained available and seated as Jason Frasor was sent out for a third inning in the 11th.  Jason Frasor, who had never pitched three innings in his 10 big league seasons.  Jason Frasor, who had thrown two innings once in 2012 and once in 2011 and once in 2010 and in fact who had only recorded more than three outs as a Ranger two times — a 1.1-inning effort in May and another 1.1-inning job in June.

Cotts and Nathan sat.  So did Tanner Scheppers, who threw 11 pitches last Saturday, rested on Sunday, threw 11 pitches on Monday, rested on Tuesday and Wednesday, and threw four pitches on Thursday.  The manager said after the game that Scheppers was unavailable last night.

OK.  There’s got to be a reason for that.  Fine.

But the manager said Cotts and Nathan were available.

Thank goodness they’ll be ready tonight with Yu Darvish on the mound.  No, don’t even have one of them getting loose just in case Jason Frasor happens to let the first two Indians hit safely in the 11th inning on a night when the offense and the bullpen had absolutely battled to turn Cleveland 7, Texas 1 into a tied ballgame.  Keep Cotts and Nathan down in a winnable game against a team whose bullpen you clearly outmatch, because who knows how much help your ace will need the next day.  Cotts and Nathan were available, but what does that even mean?

The last time the Rangers were four games back in the division, they’d never been to a World Series.

There have been too many nights this season, more so than any time since Texas was winning pennants, when this team seems more than just a bat or two short.

The return of The Count.

“It’s just [about] going right after those guys.  Make them uncomfortable.  Make them think about what they’re doing, what they’re going to swing at.  Right now, they’re real comfortable.  They’re just up there swinging and hitting the cover off the ball.  So I’ve got to go in there and make them uncomfortable, make them do what I want them to do.  It’s a hard job, definitely a hard job, but somebody has got to do it.  And I feel I’m the right man for the job right now.”

So said Matt Garza.

On October 7, 2010, minutes after Texas had won the first two games of its best-of-five against Tampa Bay in its first ALDS in 11 years, with the series about to head to Arlington.

The Rays won Game Three, a Garza-Colby Lewis pitchers’ battle in which Garza had allowed nothing but an unearned run through six innings.  He surrendered an Ian Kinsler home run to start the seventh and exited the game.  Tampa Bay went on to score five unanswered runs and won, 6-3.

“I’m excited.  I couldn’t be more happy being in a place where I’m at, a place where I’m wanted, been wanted.  It’s awesome.  I felt good.  I just wanted to throw strikes.”  

So said Garza.

Right after the very next game he would pitch in Rangers Ballpark.

Which was last night.

Texas 3, New York 1, a game in which Garza allowed nothing but an unearned run through seven and a third.

Garza, who missed Tanner Scheppers by a year at Fresno State and who ensured that Scheppers — and Robbie Ross and Joakim Soria — wouldn’t be needed last night, helping the Rangers not only take a 2-1 series lead over New York but also go into this afternoon’s series finale at nearly full strength.

“We’re in a playoff hunt, aren’t we?  We’re trying to make it to October.  So every game’s a big game.  I don’t care who’s on the other side.  Every game counts. . . . I just want to get us to October.  That’s it.”

Matt Garza.  Arlington.  October.

Boom.

 

count

The Matt Garza trade.

When you have C.J. Edwards, you can get away with telling the team with the consensus top arm on the July market they can’t have Martin Perez or Luke Jackson, and still win the pageant.

When you have Justin Grimm, you can refuse to part with Nick Tepesch, and maybe Jake Brigham is heading in that direction himself.

When you have Victor Payano and Alec Asher and Connor Sadzeck and Nick Martinez and Luis Parra and Andrew Faulkner and Jerad Eickhoff and Yohander Mendez and Alex Gonzalez and David Ledbetter and Colin Wiles and Jose Samayoa and Ariel Jurado and Pedro Payano and Marcos Diplan and Edgar Arredondo, you accept the danger, if that’s the right word, of trading Edwards and Grimm, not because any of the others have close to the value that Edwards and Grimm have, but because the pipeline runs deep, and there will be some among them who will emerge into something more than they are now, just as Edwards went from the 48th round to blue-chip status and as Grimm reached the big leagues just two years removed from a 3-7, 5.49 college season.

This is not the Angels and Jean Segura.

Or the Rangers and Ruben Mateo.  Or Jovanny Cedeno.

Or John Danks.

Neil Ramirez, age 24, will go into 2014 with one option remaining, and assuming Texas will be even slightly healthier next season than this one, if it turns out he’s singled out in the next month as a Cub to be named later (Chicago GM Jed Hoyer apparently said he can choose Ramirez alone, or instead take two other minor league pitchers from a predetermined list), that might not be the worst thing for anyone.

Mike Olt, a month short of his 25th birthday, is blocked from playing where he’s most valuable defensively.  If you don’t trade him before third base opens up in Texas, he’s a player nearing his prime who will be learning a new position on a contending team.  Not ideal, whether or not there are concerns about a possible head injury.

That’s not to say the Rangers didn’t give up a ton for Matt Garza.  It’s a loaded package.

But they held onto Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor.

And Perez and Jackson.

And Lewis Brinson and Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara and Nick Williams and Jairo Beras.

And Jorge Alfaro.

And they still had enough to get the best starting pitcher on the trade market, more in the Cubs’ estimation than anyone else was offering.

I’m a Matt Garza guy.  Love the stuff, love the swagger.  He’s battle tested, both in the American League and in October.  He’s been as hot as any starting pitcher in baseball, and in a division that feels like it could go down to the final week, as it did last year, giving him the ball every time it would have otherwise gone to Ross Wolf or Josh Lindblom or a veteran returning from surgery could be a difference-maker.

But there are still two things that make me nervous about this trade.

One, while the Rangers are deep enough at the big league level and on the farm to survive the absence of Olt and Edwards and Grimm, the other part of that is they no longer have Olt and Edwards in particular to dangle in front of the Marlins or Rays or whatever club they are hoping to do very big business with this winter.  Those assets have now been allocated, irretrievably.

Second, while I believed Texas was a legitimate contender even before yesterday’s trade, I still don’t think the club is a realistic World Series competitor today, even with Garza.  The lineup feels one bat short, maybe two.

But there’s still a little more than a week to take care of that, and at this point, make no mistake: The Rangers, having made the Garza trade, are loaded for bear.  The front office is going for it.

How does Edwards plus Olt plus Grimm plus either Ramirez or two other minor league pitchers compare, a year ago, to either (1) Grimm, Cody Buckel, and a third prospect or (2) Grimm, Chad Bell, and Leury Garcia?  Those are the two packages the Rangers were rumored to have offered Milwaukee for rental Zack Greinke last July.

I’d say this package, especially if Ramirez is in the deal, is stronger, but then again Olt’s a year older and with more questions than his game raised a year ago (rumor has it that the Rangers could have had Greinke last summer had they agreed to send Olt to the Brewers — and Hoyer said yesterday he tried trading for Olt last July as well), and in spite of Buckel’s crash this spring, a year ago he was basically Edwards — and two years younger then than Edwards is now, while pitching two levels higher than Edwards.

The other thing is that Texas was leading the division by three to six games throughout July 2012, with seemingly fewer holes to address.  No, Garza 2013 is not Greinke 2012, but the need for impact help is greater this year than it was last.

Who knows what the Rangers were poised to give the Cubs a year ago for Garza, before his triceps injury shut his market down (and led the Rangers and Cubs to turn their attention to Ryan Dempster instead)?  Probably less than it would have taken to get Greinke.

And, perhaps shockingly, less than they’re giving Chicago for Garza now, even though he’s now under contract for one pennant race, not two.

But it’s also less than they were evidently being asked to give up just last week, when the Cubs asked the Rangers, Dodgers, Indians, and Blue Jays to make their final pitches — and then at least made appearances of getting the A’s involved at the eleventh hour.  According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, after Texas and Chicago had gotten deep into talks and were zeroing in on an agreement, the Cubs “had to accept Grimm instead of Odor” when Texas raised an issue about the soundness of Garza’s elbow.  Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the teams were discussing a structure of the deal that would have sent Sardinas to Chicago rather than Grimm (with perhaps a second player coming back to Texas).

If you’re like me, you see Grimm pitch and it’s easy to envision a guy who will be in the big leagues a long time, pitching in the middle or near the back of a decent rotation, perhaps in middle relief on a very good staff, but you see Odor as a potentially disruptive force at or near the top of a lineup, an energy player that the Rangers need more of now and probably a couple years from now, when the 19-year-old is pushing for a big league look.  And the 20-year-old Sardinas as a pure shortstop with plus run and a projection to hit, an extremely valuable commodity who could figure in here should the club decide to move a big league shortstop over the next year or two.

Or maybe you see Odor and Sardinas as winter trade pieces themselves, trade assets that the Rangers were able to preserve for that possibility.

Odor, strictly a second baseman, and Sardinas, whose offensive game and durability raise questions, are not Segura.

Neither is Olt, in spite of prospect rankings going into the season that had him in territory similar to Segura’s a year earlier, before the Angels parted with him in their Greinke trade.

Olt’s not Segura because he plays on a corner, not up the middle.  Because he’s three years older now than Segura was last July.  Because post-concussion syndrome is not exactly a quad strain.

But mostly because Olt was not nearly alone in the Rangers system as far as top-tier minor league talent goes.  Like Mateo used to be.  Like Danks once was.  And like Segura was for the Angels.

Imagine how much the aging, underachieving Angels would like to have Segura back right now, and for the next however-many years.

It wasn’t as easy to envision where Olt fit here, at least not in the next year or two.  He’ll be 25 in a month.

As for Grimm, who will also be 25 next month, where does he fit among Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Garza, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, and Tepesch, who could all be healthy in a month or so and who will all be here, with the exception of Garza and possibly Lewis, next year?

And not just next year.  The Rangers control Ogando through 2016.  Darvish through 2017.  Holland and Harrison and Perez and Tepesch through 2018.

Plus, we all know the Rangers aren’t going to stop chasing top-end pitching.

Which could include Garza.

He won’t forgo the opportunity to shop himself on the open market for his one career mega-deal, but maybe the player and the club decide this summer there’s a mutual fit going forward.  Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee reports that Garza, a Northern Californian, has been “very intrigued with the Rangers for some time, which bodes well for signing him long term . . . [he] wants a contender and may have one.”  USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale writes that the Rangers, “who have sought [Garza] for two years, privately believe they can convince him to stay as well, averting free agency.”

Garza will certainly test the market, but maybe he decides he wants to be right back here, and maybe the club wants him back.  Think back to Anibal Sanchez and Detroit a year ago.

Regardless, we know Texas will keep looking for more frontline starting pitchers.  Always.

On top of that, there are waves of talent coming behind Grimm, and Olt, and boots on the ground all over the world relentlessly looking for more.

And an ownership group committed to all of it.

An ownership group that signed off on the $4 million or so left on Garza’s 2013 contract, that had greenlighted the over-slot bonus it took to sign Grimm in 2010 as the franchise was coming out of bankruptcy, that stands behind Jon Daniels’s charge to his scouting department to step outside their routine, his challenge to them to do something every day to help the Texas Rangers win, a philosophy that inspired a 27-year-old scout named Chris Kemp, who had spent two nondescript Class A seasons in the organization playing first base, to venture deep into rural South Carolina to the town of Prosperity (population 1,200) and buy into a 150-pound kid that no other scouts were paying attention to, and to pound his fist on the table on Draft Day 2011 until the Rangers called the name of Carl “C.J.” Edwards in the 48th round, a round in the baseball draft that doesn’t even exist anymore.

The ownership group here doesn’t get enough credit for making the blueprint work.  For supporting a scouting and player development system that may be this franchise’s greatest star.

“What it comes down to is we had the players to do it,” Daniels said yesterday.  “The work our scouts and our player development [people] and coaches and trainers . . . have done to allow us to put these guys in a deal and get a pitcher of Matt’s caliber can’t be overstated.”

Yep.

“Not just these few players, but [we had] the confidence we’ve got more coming behind them to where we can part with a pretty significant package.  We paid a steep price in talent to acquire Matt, but we did so knowing we’ve got other guys in the system because of the work of our scouts, because of the work our coaches have done.”

Not everyone will agree with Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus) when he says the Rangers “didn’t give up big impact” for Garza, and suggests that he’d take Sardinas or Alfaro ahead of Olt (me too) and that Edwards projects to be a back-of-rotation or late-inning type (there are durability questions due to his size), but you get the point: The Rangers are deep in prospects that other teams like, deep enough that they are able to make a certain group of them unavailable in a deal for the market’s best available pitcher and still come away with him.

July’s have changed in baseball, as more young players are getting locked up into their free agent years, and more teams are falling into huge TV money, and the advent of a second Wild Card in each league means fewer sellers at mid-season.  It all adds up to fewer available impact players and more interested buyers, and as a result far more leverage for those few teams willing to concede to their own clubhouse and fan base in July that they’re sellers.

Upshot: It costs a lot to get markedly better at the trade deadline.  More than ever.

It’s not easy to decide whether to pay the inflated price, but it’s easier when you have a farm system equipped to survive the cost.

It’s well documented that Texas has repeatedly tried to get Garza the last few years.  I really love the pitcher.  I love his edge.  I love when A.J. Pierzynski says, “In the back of your mind, you know this guy can be a little bit crazy and let one go.”

Maybe he only makes a one- or two-game difference here.

You don’t need to have a great memory to understand how big an extra regular season win or two can be.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs nailed it: “Garza could make [Texas] a little more stable and a little more good.  And though his actual addition wouldn’t make the Rangers substantially better, it could make them better enough.  A small upgrade is only a small upgrade until it makes all the difference in the world.  The Rangers probably understand that better than most.”

I still believe that for this trade to make ultimate sense, there needs to be one other move, at least, to get a difference-making bat in here.

And the Rangers have the farm system to get something done on that front, whether it’s a player like Kendrys Morales or Alex Rios or (I write longingly) Jose Bautista, whose Jays probably wouldn’t even listen but who have now lost 17 of 24 and are hopelessly out of the race.  If Toronto is open-minded, the Rangers have the prospects to at least start a discussion.

Even after parting with four of five of them to get Garza.

It wasn’t clear what role Olt would have had here next year, and at his age his trade value was likely going to start to recede further.  Grimm’s role on this staff going forward wasn’t defined.  Edwards is years away, and Ramirez, if he’s in the deal, goes into next season with one option left and no big league experience, unless he gets some with the Cubs (he can’t get any here before the trade is finalized).

It’s possible none of them may have helped Texas significantly in 2014.

Garza may not help here in 2014, either, but this deal is about now — and so, I hope, is the next one, as Texas uses more farm system ammunition to go get an everyday hitter as the march toward the tournament gets set to enter its final third.

The message Daniels has sent to the Rangers’ clubhouse, and the Rangers’ fan base, from the front office is this: “We believe in this group.  Now go win baseball games.”

I’m less concerned about the package Texas gave up for Garza than I am about whether Daniels can go out and get a bat to match in the next eight days.

But I know this: I do like being the fan of a team that goes for it, and that has set itself up to do just that.

An apology.

A couple months ago, like clockwork, I looked at the home schedule, like I’d done every May since Brad Fullmer was a Texas Ranger and Jon Daniels was promoted to Director of Baseball Operations, to gauge when we might have our 10th annual Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark.

The club was going to be on the road the weekend before the trade deadline.  And the two weekends after the trade deadline.  Given that the event is always headlined by JD’s 90 minutes with us in the Hall of Fame Theater, within days of the end of July, that’s what I was looking for.    When the perfect date didn’t jump out at me, I figured I’d just come back to it.

I did, several times, and when I did I tended to put step one in the process off, because of some other things that were occupying my attention.

You guys kept asking, and I kept looking, but I kept putting it off.  Same reasons.

We’ve had nine of these in a row.  Raised a whole lot of money for various charities.

And we’ll have more.

And raise a lot more.

But there’s work stuff, and family stuff, and other stuff, and right now if I were to put the event together, it would not only be at a time of the baseball year that’s not ideal — it would also be half-baked, and I don’t like doing things that way.  I’m disappointed to report that we’re not going to have an in-season event this year.

This has nothing to do with the Rangers or any of the folks who help make this event run every year.  In fact, Norma Wolfson and Eleanor Czajka assured me that they would take even more of the planning tasks off my plate than they normally do.  I still couldn’t make myself commit.

My apologies to those of you who have been asking about the event, and the hundreds of you who have shown up year after year, for a day of baseball, behind the scenes and on the field, and charity.  I’d be very happy to put you in touch with the Hello Win Column Fund or the Mike Coolbaugh Diamond Dreams Foundation or Genesis Women’s Shelter or Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer or Feed the Children Foundation or the Texas Rangers Foundation and anyone else whose efforts we’ve benefited over the years, and would encourage you to support them as you guys always have.

In my head this thing’s been in limbo a lot longer than Garza-to-Texas, but it doesn’t make any sense to assume my circumstances are going to change dramatically any time very soon.  The event takes a lot of time and work (really, more time than work) in the weeks leading up to it, and it’s time I just don’t have right now.

Sorry to wait so long to decide.  It’s not the decision I wanted to make.

Grails.

There were a handful of memorable moments in Tuesday’s game that doesn’t count but that counts, from Chris Sale’s sliders to CarGo and Tulo, to Manny Machado’s play at third, to Jose Fernandez’s sixth, to Prince Fielder’s three-bagger, all eclipsed by that extraordinary Mariano Rivera moment, but at one point I did think about the Chicago Cubs.

I thought about how the Cubs, one of baseball’s signature franchises, were given only one roster spot in this year’s All-Star Game, a pretty good 26-year-old starting pitcher who has matched his career high with six wins in 2013.  I felt sort of bad for all the eight-year-old Cubs fans who got to stay up to watch the late innings, only to never see Travis Wood get into the game.  You think I don’t remember Bert Campaneris’s huge walk in 1977?

But I don’t feel bad for all the 38-year-old Cubs fans who understand the importance of Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant.

And the significance of Scott Feldman, and to a lesser extent Carlos Marmol and Scott Hairston, and to a far greater extent, soon enough, Matt Garza.

It’s a pretty great time to be a hardcore fan of the 42-51 Chicago Cubs, whose lone All-Star representative, Travis Wood, has been lined up coming out of the Break to start the club’s fifth game of the putative second half.

The 2013 Cubs season reminds me a little bit of the 2007 Texas Rangers.

The 2007 Rangers, who went into the All-Star Break with a 38-50 record (and sent one player to the All-Star Game, Michael Young, the lone AL position player not to play, not that our seven-year-old daughter noticed).

The 2007 season was a blast.

Trades for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, David Murphy, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Engel Beltre, and Max Ramirez.  A draft pick bounty spent on kids like Blake Beavan, Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, and Michael Main, and little did we know that none of them would develop like 17th-rounder Mitch Moreland, or the previous year’s 25th-rounder Derek Holland, who signed a few weeks before the 2007 draft as a draft-and-follow.  That summer was also marked by the continued resurgence of the organization in Latin America, highlighted that July by the signing of 16-year-old Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez.

The five-year plan — and the five-step plan — were coming into focus.

But here’s the thing.

The thing is, even if 2013 — injury-riddled, offense-addled 2013 — has been less satisfying, so far, than 2009, 2010, 2011, or (the final two brutal weeks notwithstanding) 2012, or even 2007 in its own way, this decimated, flawed, Andrused Rangers club is on pace to win 92 games — and that’s without considering the likelihood of greater health in the second half than the first, and maybe a reinforcement or two from the outside as well.

That’s a win total the Cubs have reached once in the last 24 seasons.

It’s a great time to be a Cubs fan.  They hold what appears to be, at least at the moment, the biggest trade chip in the league, a starting pitcher who doesn’t really fit their window going forward, which makes him a fairly obvious asset to flip.  They boast one of the league’s top farm systems, and within two weeks it’s going to be measurably stronger.  Things are looking up in Chicago, as they were here in 2007, one of the most energizing baseball summers we’ve had in North Texas — certainly leading up to that season.

Know what?  The Chicago Cubs want to be the Texas Rangers.

Put another way: They’d gladly take the 2013 season the Rangers are having, and would consider it a triumph of their own five-step plan.

It would be fun to be in a position to field overbids for the next two months of Matt Garza’s career, two months that would be meaningless if he were to remain a Cub.  And to keep up with what’s going on in Knoxville and Daytona Beach and Geneva, Illinois, where there are players to dream on everywhere you look, like there were here six years ago.

It’s more fun to be a playoff contender.

One more day off.

One more stupid day off until the Good Old Days kick back into gear.

Unpredictaball.

Today’s installment of Ball You Can’t Predict:

Max Scherzer is 0-1, 6.00 with an opponents’ slash of .320/.357/.560 in his last one game.

Derek Holland is the second visiting pitcher to go seven innings or more and allow one run or less in Detroit this year.

Scherzer was forced to throw 20.3 pitches per inning last night.

Holland 13.6.

Ron Washington hit Leonys Martin second.

And David Murphy ninth.

Which, these days, is more surprising than if he’d hit him 10th.

As the putative first half comes to an end, it’s the free-agent-to-be corner outfielder with the Biogenesis cloud hovering who is rising to the occasion and not buckling under that sort of once-in-a-career type of pressure to perform, and not the other free-agent-to-be corner outfielder.

Synchronicity X.

Tim Lincecum.

Matt Garza beats the Cardinals in a game that featured him slamming his glove in the Cubs home dugout, and it’s probably the last time he’ll ever be in the Cubs dugout.

And Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reports that Texas and Toronto are the frontrunners to acquire Garza, with Boston and Cleveland and San Francisco expressing “strong interest” as well.  Levine adds that the Rangers have had four different scouts see Garza over his last three starts, two of which (according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports) were on hand last night.  Levine also says Mike Olt would likely be involved — even though the Cubs just signed 21-year-old power-hitting third baseman Kris Bryant, their first-round pick, to a landmark $6.7 million signing bonus on Friday.

According to Rosenthal, Detroit and Baltimore and Pittsburgh had scouts watching the Cubs and Cardinals last night, though Buster Olney of ESPN reports that the Orioles are probably out of the mix for Garza because it would involve “[t]oo much cost in prospects and money” for them.  Olney, who suggests the Cubs are “making progress with at least two teams” (which may or may not match up with Levine’s report), believes Garza will be traded over the Break.

In the meantime, today we get Martin Perez vs. Justin Verlander, a few hours before Brandon Workman makes his second big league appearance and first big league start, facing Bartolo Colon, who makes his 400th and 394th.

There are a couple likely outcomes there, but then again at gametime in Detroit it’s going to be in the mid-80s and sunny, while back in North Texas it will be mid-70s and not.

Can’t Predict It.

YCPB.

One team has Prince Fielder OPS’ing .828, Austin Jackson coming off a .954 OPS in June, and Torii Hunter, Jhonny Peralta, and Omar Infante all hitting over .300.

And they’re all lucky just to have their name in the credits on The Miguel Cabrera Show.

The other team has had five of its regular everyday players spend time on the disabled list, not to mention its one star bench player because of the worst high five in the history of high fives, and among those who haven’t logged any DL time are the third baseman who looks to be on the verge of it with every scamper around second base, the shortstop who’s having one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball, and the left fielder who’s close, and given that the latter two have held down the number two spot in the lineup 84 percent of the time this season, it’s probably not really a coincidence that the club has had an awful time getting anything going in the first inning.

One team has a starting pitcher with a 13-0, 3.06 record and an opponent’s OPS (.581) that’s lower than the Rangers shortstop’s (.588).  Another one who went 7-4-0-0-1-12 against the team with the third best record in baseball (Pittsburgh), and yet another who went 8-3-0-0-1-11 against that same team two days before that.  And another who took a no-hitter to the ninth inning and ended up with a 9-1-0-0-3-12 line, which was probably less impressive since it came against the Twins than the 8-5-0-0-1-17 he threw at the Braves a few weeks earlier.

And aside from those four starters, that team has Justin Verlander.

The other team’s last five starts have come from Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Josh Lindblom, Ross Wolf, and Justin Grimm, who began the season (not in that order) as the club’s number four starter, a 21-year-old on the DL, a Round Rock starter and a Round Rock reliever, and a 30-year-old Frisco reliever.

I couldn’t fit all of that team’s currently DL’d pitchers in one tweet.

One of those two teams was down to the other by five runs before recording a second out last night and ended up losing its third game in a row (Synchronicity IX), and if you read everything above this and can explain how it is that the Texas Rangers have a better record than the Detroit Tigers, then you, sir or ma’am, are clearly a learned disciple of You Can’t Predict Ball, and I commend you.

Weird.

It was three years ago today.

Three years ago today, Chris Davis had just finished up his third of what would be seven minor league stints with Texas in the space of four seasons, and doing so emphatically, going 16 for his last 32 (.500/.543/.875), with half his Oklahoma City hits going for extra bases and runs driven in in six games out of seven.

Three years ago today, Derek Holland, having pitched his way back to the big leagues two months earlier, was rehabbing a shoulder and a knee, and getting ready to go out on a rehab assignment in advance of a return to Arlington.

This report is not about Chris Davis striking out swinging three times in four trips against Derek Holland last night, or about the fact that there were seven runners on base for Davis in those four trips, and that if Chris Davis did Chris Davis things at all in that ballgame, it’s fair to assume Texas 8, Baltimore 5 might have ended up a lot different.

It’s about what else happened three years ago today, when the Seattle Mariners, who wanted Holland rather than Justin Smoak, and according to some reports wanted Holland and Davis rather than Smoak and Blake Beavan, nonetheless backed out of a deal with the New York Yankees at the eleventh hour and instead sent Clifton Phifer Lee to the Texas Rangers, along with Mark Lowe, for Smoak, Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson.

It was a trade that triggered the beginning of Davis’s third of seven big league stints with Texas, a game in which Scott Feldman got the start for the home team, and in which Davis entered in the sixth, pinch-hitting for Joaquin Arias and replacing him at first base, the final of five first base appearances for Arias, who had never seen the position before 2010 and wouldn’t see it again until 2013.

Three years ago today.

That was the Corey Patterson game, the worst regular season moment of the Rangers’ 2010 season, but hours before it was the Cliff Lee press conference in Seattle, one of my favorite regular season moments that year.

On second thought, this report is not about The Cliff Lee Trade, either, because I have another super-crazy-busy day at work that’s going to need to be the focus of my full attention so I have to stop thinking about that now no seriously right now but man Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee prospects cash-subsidy no-trade clause Metroplex traffic beast Don Draper beast animal machine beast Cliff Lee stop it stop stop but dude that mind-blowingly calm methodical epic glove clap head down march toward Bengie please come back and pitch for my team Cliff Lee gotta go goodbye

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