Something I was thinking about as our own season of overindulgence gets rolling this week . . . .
There are a few interesting things about the Baseball Prospectus list of the Rangers’ top 10 prospects, published a couple weeks ago by Jason Parks:
- Rougned Odor, 2B
- Jorge Alfaro, C
- Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez, RHP
- Luis Sardinas, SS
- Nick Williams, LF
- Joey Gallo, 3B
- Luke Jackson, RHP
- Nomar Mazara, RF
- Lewis Brinson, CF
- Ronald Guzman, 1B
You have international free agents from Venezuela (two), the Dominican Republic (two), and Colombia (one), and five draft picks — two first-rounders, two supplemental first-rounders, and a second-rounder.
There’s a 22-year-old, a 21-year-old, four 20-year-olds, three 19-year-olds, and an 18-year-old.
Which, of course, does not include 20-year-old Jurickson Profar or 22-year-old Martin Perez.
From strictly a “tools” standpoint, the player who would probably chart lowest is the also the one who received the smallest signing bonus of the 10.
He’s the Rangers’ number one prospect.
There are three players who finished the 2013 season in AA. Two in High A. Four in Low A.
Of the hitters, two hit from the right side, five from the left, and one from both sides of the plate.
And maybe coolest of all:
A catcher, a first baseman, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman, a left fielder, a center fielder, a right fielder, and two pitchers.
It goes without saying, but this sort of depth — vertically and horizontally — is how you can afford to spend big on Major League free agents, and trade for impact players.
There’s a reasonable chance not all 10 of the above players will still be Rangers when camp breaks around 80 sleeps from now.
But if that’s the case, it means the big league club will have added immediate impact in the process — and there are plenty more where those 10 come from.
The day after Tampa Bay 5, Texas 2, a game in which Ian Kinsler turned out to be the Rangers’ final baserunner of the year, Ginger and I decided it was time to watching “Breaking Bad,” start to finish.
I’ll never forget where I was when, seven weeks later, I heard Kinsler was traded for Prince Fielder. We were just sitting down to watch the final two of the series’s 62 episodes.
I’m sad it’s over.
There are reasons to like the trade.
There’s the addition of much-needed left-handed slug.
There’s the clearing of an everyday spot for Jurickson Profar.
There’s the math revealing that, effectively, Texas will pay $19.7 million per year to have Fielder through his age 36 season (2020) while Detroit will pay $23 million per year to have Kinsler through his age 35 season (2017) (though Detroit’s $30 million subsidy won’t actually kick in until 2017-20) (but hey, that means if Ronald Guzman is ready to roll by then, the Rangers won’t have to chip all that much in to move Fielder elsewhere).
There’s the reality that seven years and $138 million for Fielder probably looks a lot like what Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo will approach this winter, and given the choice between the three (and the relative scarcity of power around the league), I know which one I want. (Not that we can categorically rule out having two of them.)
There’s the fact that Fielder is just 29 while Kinsler is 31.
There’s the excitement of an old-fashioned blockbuster baseball trade.
There’s the factor that may be most critical here — that Fielder, coming off arguably his worst season (that still resulted in a .279/.362/.457 slash and 106 RBI), may be poised for one of those something-to-prove seasons in a new uniform.
And I do like the trade. It addresses multiple problems with this lineup, and demonstrates an ownership and baseball operations commitment to go hard after ways the group believes it can get better. I’m a believer in the axiom that you always want to get the best player in the deal if you can, and I think Texas has done that. Fielder, despite his physique, has been more durable than Kinsler (in fact, more durable than just about anyone else), and given where Kinsler’s offense has headed the last two seasons, when he’s no longer a middle infielder, what is he?
That’s OK, I think.
It sort of ties in — sort of — with the story I was prepared to write today about David Murphy moving on to Cleveland.
I got a ton of email messages from readers after word broke on Tuesday that Murphy was going to sign with the Indians. One of them stood out. The message, no doubt from one of the many Rangers fans who bristled openly whenever I tweeted or wrote anything about Murphy short of suggesting he was an MVP candidate, simply said:
“Great. Now we have nothing to show for the Eric Gagne trade other than overhyped Engel Beltre. Fail.”
The fact that David Murphy — who had fallen off the map with Boston several years after the club had used a first-round pick on him, who had been scouted well and bought low by the Rangers, who shed the disappointment tag and established himself as a key piece on a contending Major League club, who went from a 25-year-old minor leaguer to a guy who will earn at least $25 million playing the game, and who will get half of that from a third organization that thought enough of him to quickly offer the 32-year-old what amounts to the fourth-largest contract yet signed by a free agent this winter — isn’t going to retire as a Texas Ranger made the July 2007 deal that brought him here a failure?
Under the same thinking, with Kinsler moving on, are we supposed to instantly downgrade what was one of the great Rangers careers?
A year after Kinsler was drafted, the Mavericks traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to Atlanta for Jason Terry and Alan Henderson. Is that a failed deal because Terry left as a free agent last year?
Or no, I suppose, everyone would give the Mavs a pass there since Terry helped Dallas win a ring.
But wait, does that make the Mark Teixeira Trade a failure unless Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, or Neftali Feliz retires as a Ranger — or unless at least one of them wins a World Series here? Same with the Rule 5 pick on Class A outfielder Alexi Ogando?
And what’s the point? Is it to hang onto the players we all really like as people and role models even when their usefulness as baseball players begins to wane, or is it to win the very last game of baseball’s post-season?
Maybe the answer isn’t the same for everyone. OK.
But I don’t understand the sentiment that David Murphy (or Kinsler) wearing another uniform, in a profession and certainly a sport when the ones who last a long time almost always wear more than one, amounts to a failure for the team he’s moving on from.
Do the Rangers have “nothing to show” for Edinson Volquez and Danny Ray Herrera, just because they didn’t win a World Series with Josh Hamilton?
“Nothing to show” for Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson, just because Cliff Lee didn’t stick around long-term? Or for Frankie Francisco because Mike Napoli moved on?
Will Texas have “nothing to show” for its insistence that Milwaukee, as the seller in July 2006, tack 4-A Nelson Cruz onto the deal that sent rental Carlos Lee to the Rangers for Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, and Julian Cordero — if Cruz leaves this winter?
Well, I suppose there will be the compensatory pick after the first round in that case, just as Hamilton’s departure turned into infielder Travis Demeritte and Lee leaving led to Texas drafting lefthander Kevin Matthews and outfielder Zach Cone.
And if Demeritte and Matthews and Cone and whoever the supplemental first for Cruz would be don’t help Texas win a title before their time here is done, what then?
Do we as fans having nothing to show for however long and however much we’ve invested in these last 42 years? Does anyone actually think that way?
Was the step-out to sign Adrian Beltre a failure if he retires as a Ranger without winning a World Series?
Was Kinsler’s time in Texas a failed bit since the player Texas found in the 17th round and developed into one of baseball’s best second basemen didn’t help bring home a ring while he wore the uniform?
Of course not.
I’ve been a Kinsler guy since that 2004 spring training, his first, which I’ll never forget (four months before John Hart traded him to Colorado with righthander Erik Thompson for outfielder Larry Walker . . . who vetoed the deal) (then again, had Texas chosen Robinson Cano rather than Joaquin Arias from the Yankees to complete the A-Rod trade three months before the Walker near-trade, Kinsler likely would have been traded somewhere else once the Rockies deal died). The bat speed, the foot speed, the chip on his shoulder. The toughness on the double play pivot and everywhere else, the ability to do what your leadoff hitter needs to do while throwing in a little middle-of-the-lineup damage, the tear from first to third, the swagger.
Yes, the pop-ups and the pickoffs drove me crazy at times. But no player is perfect, and Ian Kinsler could play for my team any day.
I don’t dislike David Murphy and never have. As Jeff Wilson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) tweeted yesterday: “Media loses a go-to guy. Rangers lose a good guy.”
Unassailable, on both counts.
Was I upset that Murphy, in spite of a career that in some respects has been fairly similar to Alex Gordon’s, didn’t have Gordon’s left field range or outfield arm or defensive court sense? No. Not Murphy’s fault. He is what he is.
And what that was was very good here, in spurts, a couple of which — the last two months in 2010 and the last month in 2011 — were a pretty big deal.
Whenever a player, especially one on the wrong side of 30, gets traded (in part) to make room for a much younger, much cheaper player who is judged to be ready to contribute every day, that’s typically good baseball management, even if it doesn’t always please the P.R. meter. When one of those players gets the opportunity to sign what will be his only multi-year contract for a whole lot of money, you’ll almost never see me complain about him leaving whatever situation he had in order to do it.
Given the circumstances as a whole, moving Kinsler made more sense than moving Andrus or Profar, especially if there was an opportunity to get a core piece in return. Given the team’s overall situation, Texas was never going to pay Murphy $12 million to play his age 32 and age 33 seasons here. With Cleveland willing to do that, I’m happy for Murphy and am totally behind his decision to accept the deal. It would have been foolish not to — just as it would have been foolish for the Rangers, whose needs are too great in other areas to pay that amount for that player, to make offer him that contract.
I can’t say I’m happy for Kinsler, but he’s seen just about every one of his veteran teammates go (if not come and go). It’s rare for a player to spend an entire career in one place. Kinsler knows that.
Just because I’m absolutely OK with the Kinsler trade and the Murphy exit via free agency doesn’t mean I had a problem with Kinsler (far from it) or that I wasn’t fine with Murphy in the right role.
The Rangers have plenty to show for Kinsler, their 17th-round pick in 2003, and for Murphy, the 17th overall pick in that same draft, a change-of-scenery prospect they acquired for the aging rental closer they’d gotten a mere four months of work out of. Even without either bringing a ring while they were here.
If the sole measure of whether a draft pick or a trade pickup or a signed free agent worked is whether that player finished his career here, or helped the Rangers win a ring, or both, then you’re setting yourself up to accept that very few moves are ever going to work. Suit yourself.
I wouldn’t ever say that I have nothing to show, as a fan, for the investment I made in the 2010 and 2011 Rangers, who fell just short.
Or for everything I put into the other 35-plus seasons I’ve spent caring a whole lot about this team.
I have plenty to show for all those years. It doesn’t always work out, in the ultimate sense, and in fact usually doesn’t.
My “Breaking Bad” experience is over, too — on the same night that Kinsler’s Rangers career ends — and I’ll miss it. Maybe it’s easier to let go since my experience with the show lasted just seven weeks, rather than the full six years. Still, I hate that it’s done.
But I’ll think of it well.
Just like Pudge and Cliff and Nolan and these four guys:
There were different reasons that Texas and those four parted ways, and chances are one day Prince Fielder might wear a uniform that doesn’t say “Texas” or “Rangers” across the front. That’s baseball.
But for now, Adrian Beltre will see Andrus and Profar and Fielder to his left just about every night, and until yesterday not one of those three was a lock going into 2014.
The Beltre deal concerned lots of people when Texas made it three winters ago, because of his age and the dollars and term involved. That one’s worked out pretty well so far.
Even though Beltre isn’t wearing a ring yet.
Fielder isn’t wearing one, either, though he’s gotten close a few times, just like Andrus and just like Kinsler. The Rangers wanted to sign him two years ago, and you have to wonder what might have been in 2012 and 2013 if they’d succeeded.
But that’s in the past, and the Rangers have acted quickly this winter to tend to business as far as their American League future goes, to start taking advantage of every opportunity they can to help their chances to win going forward.
That’s the part that has me fired up about Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and $30 million, a deal that reportedly came together in the span of about 24 hours. And about whatever’s next, because Texas isn’t done.
Which doesn’t mean, in the case of Kinsler or David Murphy or anyone else who has outplayed their draft position here or who redefined their careers here or who came here for three glorious months before moving on, that I’m not a fan of what they contributed in the past.
But get overly caught up in that, and lose sight of the primary objective, which is to get better and to win, and those numbered jerseys and T-shirts in your closet might stay relevant longer . . . but end up on your back in an emptier ballpark, with a stale ballclub playing meaningless games to ride out the season’s string.
None of us wants that.
Like Walter White said in Season 1 of “Breaking Bad,” which was great and which is over and which nonetheless gave me an experience I feel like I’ve got plenty to show for and which I won’t ever forget:
Sometimes you’ve just got to change the equation.
Fine. I’ve put this off long enough.
I’ve thought about what Texas needs as it reshapes its roster this winter, in some cases out of necessity. I’ve thought about what the Rangers have that might interest particular other clubs. I’ve thought about payroll, and I’ve thought about not only which free agents might attract Texas by but also whether this club might be a good fit as those players decide where to make their next baseball home.
And this is still basically a worthless exercise.
Because, for starters, I don’t get to talk to other clubs or to know what those conversations had by others consisted of. I don’t have access to a crew of scouts and advisors who’ve had conversations with their other-organization contemporaries.
I sit, like you, on the sidelines “watching” this game get played, though most of the important action remains completely out of view.
Especially with this organization. (Slow clap.)
And, maybe as on-point as anything else: What do I know?
I’ve tried to think about as many of the possible whiteboard angles as I could, each of which sprouts a dozen possibilities and at least that many we haven’t thought of. I’ve tried to come up with a couple models that at least arguably look like possible Rangers courses of action. I’ve scratched out far more ideas than I haven’t.
But there’s enough left for me to dump the scraps on you, with the strong suggestion that there’s a super-huge likelihood the club would never be able to execute all of these moves — there are 29 other clubs who like the same likable players and have money to spend, too — and that even if the scope was realistic, the specific moves themselves probably aren’t, and so you would be very well served to take it all with a saltier chunk of salt than any TROT COFFEY report.
1. Texas offers righthanders Alexi Ogando and Luke Jackson, shortstop Luis Sardinas, and third baseman Joey Gallo to Tampa Bay for lefthander David Price.
The Rays say no.
The Rangers move on from David Price.
The rest of this is not in chronological order.
2. Texas signs the following free agents: catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Carlos Beltran, and second baseman-outfielder Skip Schumaker.
The Rangers forfeit picks 22 and 72 in the June 2014 amateur draft for the McCann and Beltran signings, but recoup a pick at 38th overall when Nelson Cruz signs somewhere else. (The picks will actually end up being slightly higher than those slots as other teams forfeit picks and sign their own free agents, but you get the idea.)
3. Texas signs righthanders Colby Lewis and Juan Carlos Oviedo (nee Leo Nunez) to non-roster deals.
4. Texas makes one of two trades:
(a) Second baseman Ian Kinsler, outfielder Engel Beltre, and catcher Kellin Deglan to Kansas City for DH Billy Butler, second baseman Johnny Giavotella, and either lefthander Donnie Joseph or lefthander Sam Selman.
(b) Second baseman Ian Kinsler, righthander Alexi Ogando, and shortstop Odubel Herrera to Toronto for outfielder Jose Bautista.
If Texas makes the Jays trade, the club then goes out and signs free agent righthander Tim Hudson.
5. Texas trades righthander Jerad Eickhoff and outfielder Jordan Akins to San Diego for first baseman Kyle Blanks.
6. Texas trades either lefthander Michael Kirkman or the combination of infielder Ryan Rua and righthander Jose Valdespina to Colorado for utility infielder Jonathan Herrera.
If I knew how to Photoshop, I’d take this image and replace Yoda with Pudge Rodriguez, Obi-Wan with Bengie Molina, and Anakin with Brian McCann, as the triumvirate who gets to help put finishing touches on Jorge Alfaro (Luke) the next couple years.
Instead, I’ll just invite you to watch this, which is some of what Alfaro did yesterday while he was playing baseball and I was trying to settle on the final look of this silly spitball report, compiled with only one name completely off-limits as far as I’m concerned (well, two, if you count Yu Darvish), and if you’re not sure who my other Rangers untouchable would be, just re-read this sentence and click that link.
Unlike everything else in this report, that stuff’s real.
Thursday morning, the Baseball Prospectus staff published a story called “The Lineup Card: 12 Items That Tell the Story of the 2013 Season.” At number 11 was a lengthy entry by BP writer Nick J. Faleris, which he titled “The Rangers’ International Spending Spree.”
In Faleris’s section, he went into interesting detail on the tactics Texas deployed last year on players like righthander Marcos Diplan, shortstops Yeyson Yrizarri and Michael De Leon, and outfielder Jose Almonte, blowing through the club’s allotted cap and absorbing the codified penalty for doing so, which happens to restrict what the Rangers will be able to in 2014’s J2 period but, for teams exceeding their cap going forward at the level Texas has done in 2013, the primary restrictions will extend not just to the following year of international signings but actually to two years of such spending.
Faleris spells it out: “That’s right. While the Rangers are forfeiting the right to spend big next year, any team hoping to follow suit in gobbling up a bunch of top talent in a single signing period will have to forfeit big spending for a two year period. By acting first in this manner, the Rangers have effectively claimed an advantage on the international amateur scene that no team can match. Strategically, it’s a home run; scouting and development will ultimately determine whether that impressive first move results in an on-field advantage for the big club.”
And this: “In many ways, Rangers fans might consider 2013 a disappointment. To me, it was another example of an impressive organization operating at the forefront of the talent acquisition game. It’s moves like this that should keep Rangers fans confident their org is going to do what it takes to keep the talent pipeline stocked for the foreseeable future.”
Hours after Faleris wrote about the Rangers’ “remarkable first move advantage,” the club announced the signing of lefthander Martin Perez to a contract that it controls for longer than that of any other player. It’s a move that set the 22-year-old up for life, provided the organization with a tremendous amount of cost certainty, rotation stability, and overall flexibility, and earned praise from writers all over the country (including ESPN’s Keith Law, who tweeted: “Dispatch from the Department of Obvious Analysis: The Martin Perez deal looks amazing for Texas”).
And it harkened back to a time when the Rangers, after years of international absenteeism, began to reclaim that advantage in Latin America that is now a big part of why Texas operates, Faleris argues, at the forefront of the talent acquisition game.
Most of us remember when the Rangers had an unmistakable foothold internationally, signing teenagers like Pudge Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra and Jose Guzman and Wilson Alvarez. But the advantage Texas had south of the border began to erode to the point at which the club was lagging most of its competition, and perhaps not coincidental in its timing.
By the time the Rangers started winning in the mid-1990s, international spending had been noticeably de-prioritized, with occasional exceptions. In 1999, the Reds had agreed to pay a 16-year-old Dominican righthander named Omar Beltre $300,000 to sign, but when they opted to delay the deal until 2000 for bookkeeping purposes, the Rangers swooped in and signed Beltre in February 2000 for $650,000.
Ten months later, Texas agreed to share $252 million with Alex Rodriguez.
You can imagine a probable offshoot of that decision was significant budget cuts in various other departments. Whether one of those was international scouting is uncertain, but between February 2000 (Beltre) and July 2005 (when Fabio Castillo, Cristian Santana, and Johan Yan were signed as part of the first J2 class after A.J. Preller’s and Don Welke’s arrival, for between $325,000 and $425,000 each), the only international signing for so much as $200,000 was Dominican shortstop Antonio Pena, who managed to play 132 games in four minor league seasons (.222/.323/.298) over a career that topped out with seven games at Low A Clinton.
Texas did sign Edinson Volquez (then known as Julio Reyes) in 2001, but that was more an example of excellent scouting (hat tip, Rodolfo Rosario) than any budgetary rededication to the international market. Volquez signed for $27,000.
The Castillo-Santana-Yan class has been chronicled repeatedly as a “statement” class more than anything. Maybe the Rangers overspent on those three by committing more than a combined $1 million to sign them. In retrospect, there’s no question they overspent, at least in terms of what those three Dominican prospects would develop into. But they didn’t overspend at all in terms of sending a message, to players and to buscones and to the baseball industry as a whole, that the Rangers — who had moved on from A-Rod and were beginning to refocus on player development — were back in the international game.
In 2006, Jon Daniels’s first full year as Rangers GM, Texas ramped its international spending and presence up even further, bringing in a class that July that included Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan, Carlos Pimentel, Kennil Gomez, Geuris Grullon, Leonel De Los Santos, and a third baseman named Emmanuel Solis who got $525,000 to sign.
Mike Daly joined the Rangers’ international scouting department after the 2006 season, as the organization looked to beef up their efforts in Latin America even further. In July 2007, Texas paid two international teenagers more to sign than it had paid any since the February 2000 Beltre acquisition: a Dominican shortstop named Wilson Suero ($558,000) and a Venezuelan lefthander named Martin Perez ($580,000), who was widely considered the top southpaw on the international market.
Yesterday, a little over six years later, the Rangers agreed to pay Perez $1 million to sign a contract that will pay him $750,000 in 2014, $1 million in 2015, $2.9 million in 2016, $4.4 million in 2017, $6 million on a team option in 2018 ($2.45 million buyout), $7.5 million on a team option in 2019 ($750,000 buyout), and $9 million on a team option in 2020 ($250,000 buyout).
That’s over $32 million (if all options are exercised) in a deal that every single person who spends time reporting on and analyzing these things is calling a slam dunk for the team.
It’s that for the player, too. Perez will still be just 22 when camp opens in three months, and even if he pitches well enough to persuade the Rangers to make sure he’s here in 2018 and 2019 and 2020, he’ll still be short of his 30s when he has the right to venture onto the free agent market. Very few frontline starters hit free agency before age 30.
Texas made sure yesterday Perez wouldn’t be able to hit the market when he’s 27.
And that it controls Perez and Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison and Derek Holland through 2017, at least. (Unless Darvish claims that 2017 option by being elite the next few years . . . in which case we can all hope he gets re-locked up before then anyway.)
True, Perez has yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues and in fact has more minor league starts the last two years (29) than big league starts (26).
Yes, he can still be traded. (Arguably, the contract extension makes him an even more valuable commodity, not that the Rangers would be open to moving him, even in a deal for David Price or another impact pitcher or hitter.)
Sure, he could get hurt or fail to take the next step or somehow not make this deal pay off, in which case the Rangers can get out for a total of $12.5 million after the fourth year of the contract.
But nobody’s counting on that.
Without the Rangers reestablishing their presence internationally, there’s no Perez and no Darvish and no Leonys Martin and no Jurickson Profar and no Wilmer Font and no Jorge Alfaro or Rougned Odor or Luis Sardinas or Nomar Mazara or Ronald Guzman or Jairo Beras or Marcos Diplan.
Without Volquez, there’s no Josh Hamilton. Without Leury Garcia: No Alex Rios.
Faleris was writing about the Rangers’ 2013 moves internationally when he referred yesterday to Texas as “an impressive organization operating at the forefront of the talent acquisition game.” But later in the day we were reminded that it’s nothing particularly new for this franchise, and even though the reality in the Latin American market is a lot of those signings don’t end up paying off, that’s the cost of doing business in that part of the world and part of the game, and sometimes they not only do pay off — they can do so in a potentially very big way that can set up a player for life, not to mention his franchise, in many ways, for the foreseeable future.