Tommy Hanson, Nelson Cruz, and the amateur draft.
Would the Rangers have reached the World Series in 2010 without Cliff Lee? Without Bengie Molina coming in to upgrade the Matt Treanor/Taylor Teagarden mix behind the plate?
Does Texas win the pennant in 2011 without Mike Adams, or get to the playoffs without him in 2012?
Same goes for Koji Uehara, notwithstanding his brutal first half of October the first of those two years.
Although his run here fell short of expectations, if Matt Garza wasn’t around in 2013, do the Rangers still win eight of those 13 starts he made, and do they get all those innings (he averaged getting an out in the seventh), relieving a little pressure on the pen? Without Garza, is Texas around for Game 163?
Does the club get past 162 in 2012 and again in 2013 without Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross?
How does the farm system look right now without Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Williams, Luke Jackson, Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, Travis Demeritte, Akeem Bostick, Alec Asher, David Ledbetter, and Cole Wiper?
All of those players, from Cliff to Cole, were brought to Texas because of the Rangers’ draft power in the top few rounds. Some were drafted in rounds 1 through 4, sometimes because Texas stayed away from signing more compensation free agents (either others’ or its own). Some were signed well above slot in a later round due in part to the bonus pool boost the Rangers got because they had extra picks. Some were acquired by trading players drafted in those first few rounds.
We’d all feel better if the Rangers added a more reliable rotation option that Tommy Hanson. Like free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, for example.
Sure, adding Nelson Cruz would theoretically put this lineup into rarefied territory.
But sign Jimenez, or Ervin Santana, or a bat like Kendrys Morales, and maybe you miss the chance to draft the next Williams.
Bring Cruz back and you might not get the chance to bring in the next Scheppers.
Yes, that forfeited second-rounder to sign another compensation free agent could turn into Tommy Mendonca instead of Williams or Ross.
And losing the opportunity to get that extra supplemental first if Cruz signs here rather than somewhere else could mean no Julio Borbon rather than no Scheppers.
But the best way to maximize the drafts hits is to draft more players.
Granted, there are no-compensation free agents still out there — A.J. Burnett and Suk-Min Yoon, for instance — but they aren’t going to be affordable for what might end up being a depth piece once Derek Holland returns.
If you were to drill down on the list of the Rangers’ top 32 prospects according to Baseball America, here’s what you will find:
Fifteen were signed internationally.
Nine were drafted in the first two rounds.
Three more were chosen in Rounds 3 or 4.
Five were taken in later rounds.
Look solely at the top 10, and every one of them was international (four) or taken in the top two rounds of the draft (six).
You can make the argument that the premium draft picks (and the associated draft bonus allotment), from a pipeline standpoint, are even more important for the Rangers this summer, as the club will be capped at $250,000 per player on the Latin American market this year as a result of blowing past the cap last year.
I get the argument that ending up with Kevin Matthews and Zach Cone because you didn’t sign Cliff Lee doesn’t always mean you’ve managed to extend the window. And that having enough farm strength to add Ryan Dempster (or Garza, arguably) isn’t always suitable for framing.
But draft power is a huge, huge priority for this organization, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that without it, these last four years — and the next four and more — end up going not nearly as well.
If Texas didn’t have its second-round pick last summer, Bostick is not a Ranger.
And without Bostick — who signed for $400,000 under slot — the Rangers wouldn’t have had enough in their bonus pool to take Wiper in the 10th round and sign him (for more, as a matter of fact, that it took to sign Bostick).
You better believe money isn’t the only reason Texas hasn’t jumped out to sign Cruz or Jimenez, or Morales or Santana.
Maybe Michael Choice is ready to handle the short side of a DH platoon with Mitch Moreland. Maybe he’s not. And maybe there’s another right-handed bat who isn’t yet in the mix, but will be.
And maybe Hanson, rumored to be in agreement on a roster deal with a $2 million big league split (plus incentives), will be closer to Colby Lewis than Brandon Webb on the reclamation scale. Maybe another year removed from his shoulder problems and the death of his stepbrother encourages the Rangers that 2014 will be better for Hanson than 2012 or 2013 were, and that he’s a candidate to return to his 2009-2011 form, when he was fulfilling the potential he was thought to have when Atlanta reportedly refused to include him in the trade talks in 2007 that led to the Braves parting with Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz.
Or maybe he’s Webb, or Rich Harden, and as a result Nick Tepesch will be real important in the first half. And in that case, all you lost on Hanson — if he’s even in the big leagues — will be $2 million, which would be something like the 15th-highest salary on the roster. If Hanson end up earning more, that’s probably good news.
What you would not lose, whether Hanson pans out or not, is one of those premium draft picks, and in a year when the Rangers will have their hands relatively tied in Latin America, maintaining a certain level of draft power — and what that could mean to the inventory of future big league pieces and trade ammunition — is just something that can’t be ignored.