July 2013

Matt Garza’s scary.

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports published a video report in which he noted, based on two unnamed sources, that Texas was apparently “within minutes” of trading for Cubs righthander Matt Garza last July, before backing off due to Garza’s barking triceps muscle and turning the discussion with Chicago to the much more inexpensive Ryan Dempster.

The Rangers were reportedly in heavy on Garza after the 2010 season, when the Rays traded Garza to the Cubs.  (Peter Gammons suggested that Texas offered to send Derek Holland, Frankie Francisco, and Engel Beltre to the Rays, and Chris Davis to the Cubs for Robinson Chirinos, who would have been flipped to Tampa Bay in the three-way deal.)

Texas was on Garza after the 2011 season, too.  At the 2011 Winter Meetings, Gammons suggested the Cubs would have sent Garza to Texas for Martin Perez, Mike Olt, and perhaps another prospect.  Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago suggested at those Winter Meetings that the Cubs were asking for Scott Feldman (whom they’d sign a year later) and prospects, while Rosenthal reported that the Rangers found Chicago’s ask to be too steep.

The Rangers reportedly chased Garza not only last July but after 2012 as well.  Following the Winter Meetings, Levine revisited the idea of Garza-to-Texas and wrote: “I’m sure the Cubs would insist on Olt in any deal involving Garza.”

I’m a Matt Garza guy, and have been for a long time.

But the idea of trading for him now scares me.

He’d fit great behind Yu Darvish, he’s a proven American League and post-season starter, and you obviously feel better about a playoff rotation (hell, a second-half rotation) in which Holland is your number three rather than your number two.  But he’s a rental, free to test the market for what will likely be his one shot at a multi-year mega-deal, and if he were to come here and then leave, there’s no draft pick compensation.

I’m squarely on record as a “flags fly forever” guy, but that’s the thing: Is Texas one frontline starting pitcher short of legitimate World Series sights?

Not for me.  There’s a huge need for another bat, and maybe two.  The Rangers have had a bad year on the health side of things, and there’s no guarantee how many (if any) of Joakim Soria and Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz and Jeff Baker and Craig Gentry will return and contribute meaningfully, and, aside from Lance Berkman, I have to cover my eyes just about every time Adrian Beltre has to put his legs in full gear.

The rotation is averaging less than six innings a start.  It’s putting a heavier load on the bullpen than it did in 2011 or 2012, and while the pen has been really good this year, what happened last night with Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers is a reminder that you just can’t ride relievers hard all year and expect them to hold up at the same levels we’re accustomed to seeing them pitch at.  Soria will help, but that’s not going to be enough, even if he’s healthy and sharp, and it’s hard to imagine Ron Washington taking his foot off the gas with lefthander Neal Cotts, no matter how urgent that seems.

I’d have written the last two paragraphs even if Texas hadn’t put Berkman and Nick Tepesch on the disabled list today.

I’ve shared my fears that Olt could be the Rangers’ Jean Segura if he gets moved for a two-month rental who leaves without ever pitching a playoff inning here.

And truthfully, as weak as this winter’s free agent starting pitcher class appears to be, and with as many contenders as there always are looking for another playoff starter, the Cubs are going to be able to get a lot more for Garza this month than Olt.

I’m open to trading Olt (or anyone else, in the right context), but would prefer that it not be for a rental.

Trading for Dempster with Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks: Fine.  Trading for two months of Garza with a package starting with a player who either fits a long-term need here or could help consummate a trade later on for a bigger, long-term piece is different.

The choice isn’t simply between trading for a rental and selling your own veterans.

If you think you’re good enough to win it all with the current roster, and the expectation of some help from the disabled list, you can stand pat, and move a couple third-tier prospects for a Dempster/Bengie Molina-like reinforcement or two.

If you think you need to make an impact addition, or two, you can load up to trade for someone with club control left — like you did with Mike Adams and Koji Uehara in 2011, and tried to do with Matt Garza both before that and since.

Now, maybe that deal’s just not available.  Maybe Toronto (Jose Bautista) and Colorado (Carlos Gonzalez) just won’t sell, and maybe Chicago wants too much for Alex Rios.  The Rays and Royals have different reasons not to move David Price or James Shields — yet — and maybe you don’t believe in Yovani Gallardo or Bud Norris enough to give the Brewers or Astros what they think they’re worth.

And maybe the gulf between what Philadelphia would take — if anything — for Cliff Lee and what you’d part with is too massive, when overlaid against how much cash the Phillies would be willing to kick in as a subsidy.

I’m not anywhere close to suggesting the Rangers need to stand pat, and it’s silly to suggest Texas ought to consider selling.

But the idea of taking two of my four or five best trade chips and moving them for two months of a number two starter — without making a similar move to impact the offense — may not be enough to make this roster what it needs to be, and compromises the ability to go out this month or this winter or next year and make a blockbuster addition.  And that scares me more than just a little bit.

Especially on a day when the club’s rotation, lineup, and bench got even thinner.

Taking chances: A story not about Manny Ramirez.

You will read two dozen stories today, if you so desire, about Manny Ramirez and the Rangers’ taste for giving second chances.

This story is about Texas giving first chances.

If you get the Dallas Morning News “Texas Rangers Daily Newsletter” in your email each morning, packaging links to the top stories and most recent blog entries from the publication’s writers, you’ll notice that today’s is all Manny: all five top stories are about the 41-year-old, and all five blog entries are, too.  (If you scroll down to the “More   Rangers” section, you’ll see a link referencing the extra-inning baseball game Texas played last night.)  I read two of the 10 Manny stories, which was enough for me, for now.  One of the two talked about Ramirez’s MLB suspension, which he served out last year while playing for Oakland’s AAA club.

This post is going to start with a note about another suspension coming to an end.

Jairo Beras suited up Tuesday night for a game that counted.  For the first time.

Venezuela’s Eduard Pinto singled to lead off the AZL Rangers’ first.  Australia’s Todd McDonald replaced him at first base after a 6-4 fielder’s choice.  Georgia’s Travis Demeritte walked.  Up stepped Beras, the 6’6″ Dominican.

The at-bat we all waited 16 months for, the last 12 of which Beras had to sit out due to perceived birthdate fraud, promptly ended in an inning-ending, double play grounder to third.

We only had to wait another 40 minutes for Beras’s next opportunity, and that one went better.  The 18-year-old stepped up in the bottom of the third, after a Pinto lineout and a McDonald strikeout and another Demeritte walk, and Beras tripled the opposite way, giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

The two at-bats were a useful reminder that — even for players who commanded $4.5 million as amateur free agents — there’s going to be lots of hit-and-miss.

Like with Hickory third baseman Joey Gallo, the 6’5″ 19-year-old who leads all of minor league baseball with 25 home runs (ahead of teammate Ryan Rua and former Rangers farmhand Mauro Gomez, both of whom have 24), but who is also second in the minors (in all of professional ball, in fact) with 125 strikeouts, trailing only teammate Lewis Brinson (127), the 6’3″ 19-year-old outfielder who has 15 homers of his own.

I remember when, in the summer of 2005, having brought A.J. Preller and Don Welke over from the Dodgers’ scouting department, the Rangers announced with their wallets that they were back in business in Latin America, where the organization had been so successful mining talent in the 1980s before relative international irrelevance had set in.  Texas invested $1 million that July — combined — on catcher Cristian Santana, righthander Fabio Castillo, and third baseman Johan Yan.

I remember Texas signing Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez for nearly $600,000 in July 2007, weeks after a draft in which Texas made five first-round picks and weeks before trades of Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton would bring in another haul of young talent, including Latin American minor leaguers like Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Max Ramirez, and Engel Beltre, a flashy Dominican outfielder who had spent part of his high school years in New York City, which is the only thing he has in common with Manny Ramirez, a player Beltre could be teammates with later this summer.

I remember the Rangers landing the top two international shortstops in July 2009, paying Jurickson Profar (Curacao) and Luis Sardinas (Venezuela) about $1.5 million each.

Then, in 2011, the last summer in which international spending was uncapped, the Rangers spent $12.83 million in signing bonuses, over $5 million more than the next-highest-spending club (Toronto).  The haul was highlighted by Dominican outfielder Nomar Mazara, Dominican first baseman Ronald Guzman, Venezuelan lefthander Yohander Mendez, and a Venezuelan second baseman signed six months beforehand named Rougned Odor.  The $12.83 million figure didn’t include the $15.5 million invested that May on Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin, or the $51.7 million the Rangers put up seven months after that to win the right to sign Japanese-Iranian righthander Yu Darvish, which they did for an added $60 million a few weeks later.

In 2012, there were CBA limitations in place, but Texas out-due-diligenced everyone else before July and got Beras signed (weeks after finalizing the deal with Darvish) for $4.5 million, far more than he would have gotten if he’d had to wait until July 2 to sign (as most clubs assumed).  A lengthy MLB investigation into Beras’s age and his role in misrepresenting it in the past held the deal up for months, and when it was finally blessed the league suspended him from official play until July 2, 2013.

July 2, 2013 was also the day on which this year’s international class was first eligible to agree to terms on pro deals, and according to widespread reports, on Tuesday Texas signed 16-year-old Dominican righthander Marcos Diplan, considered by Baseball America to be the top pitcher in this year’s J2 class, for an estimated $1.3 million.

And 16-year-old Venezuelan/Dominican shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri (BA‘s number two shortstop), for a reported $1.35 million.

And 16-year-old Dominican outfielder/third baseman Jose Almonte, for a reported $1.8 million.

And 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Michael De Leon, for a reported $550,000.

And 16-year-old Mexican righthander Edgar Arredondo, for some amount.

Add it up, and those five players alone cost Texas $5 million plus Arredondo.

But not exactly.

Because under the current CBA, Texas was capped at doling out $1.94 million in signing bonuses internationally.

The codified penalty?

A 100 percent tax on everything over the cap, plus a max of $250,000 per player signed in next year’s J2 class.

So add to that $5 million plus Arredondo’s cost another $3.06 million plus another Arredondo amount.

A $1.94 million “cap.”

And an outlay of more than $8 million, plus two Edgar Arredondo’s — not to mention Dominican lefthander Francis Cespedes, an 18-year-old the Rangers signed three weeks ago for a reported $750,000.

I love this ownership group.

And that part about being limited to $250,000 players next summer?  Just expect the line item in the budget for Venezuela and the Dominican and associated territories to be reallocated in part toward Asia.  Or Cuba.  Or some other region where players ready for their first chance here aren’t subject to CBA constraints.

Or maybe it gets reallocated toward the trade deadline budget.

Diplan, Yrizarri, Almonte, De Leon, and Arredondo may not have the same buzz as the Rangers’ Fab Five from a year ago — draftees Brinson, Gallo, Nick Williams, Jamie Jarmon, and Collin Wiles — or of the 2011 international haul that included Mazara, Guzman, Mendez, and Odor (not to mention Martin and Darvish), or of last summer’s Beras signing, but buzz is what the 2006 Rangers needed, when they felt they had to make a statement that they were back in business in Latin America.

Not so much any more on the need for buzz.  This is a franchise that thought Profar was a shortstop when every other interested club wanted him to pitch.  A franchise that got Profar signed — in an uncapped year — for less money than it reportedly took this week to sign Almonte, a player that Baseball America doesn’t even consider one of the top 30 players available in this summer’s class.

We’ll see if BA is right about that.

I’d like to write about Matt Garza and the fascinating thing about his trade value, but that will have to be next time.  It’s a discussion that might even involve some of the names covered in this report, and that’s part of the point.

Talent accumulation is everything.  The Texas Rangers are very good at it, and ownership here is fully and tenaciously invested in it, in every sense of the word.

Though he did score the tying run in a ninth-inning Arizona League Rangers comeback win last night, Beras went 0 for 4 in what was his second official game in the Rangers system, two more than Manny Ramirez has played so far.  I’ll admit that I’m going to keep an eye on the Round Rock box scores and Scott’s reports with a little bit of an added purpose the next few weeks, but I’m pulling those AZL boxes up every day, too, fired up to see how this Beras journey gets going, now that it’s happening between the lines.

I’ll also admit that when the current Rangers DH stepped to the plate last night with men on in the bottom of the sixth and again in the bottom of the eighth, both times in a tie game, I would have been just as happy to have Manny up to bat, straight off the street.  Maybe Manny — born three days before Raul Ibanez — has something left, maybe he doesn’t.  But the current guy looks done.

And that’s where a deep and heavily subsidized farm system could very well come into play, as we start thinking about Alex Rios or a different bat, or Matt Garza or another arm.  Those are things we’ll talk about the next time I write.

You can go read a hundred Manny Ramirez stories in the meantime, if that’s your thing.

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