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.”
“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.