The easy thing would be to turn our attention to LeBron or Messi-Germany or the Grapevine police blotter and keep our baseball blinders on, and I’m guessing that’s where we can find the dozen or so who have unsubscribed from these emails in the last week-plus (most of whom had signed up since October 2010), but when the manager says, “Put me in that box? I’ll fight your ass . . . at 62 . . . and you tell me you’re 20-something and you can’t fight? Don’t worry about failure” — an apparently abbreviated and sanitized taste of what he delivered to his club behind closed clubhouse doors Thursday night — it’s a reminder that this is a process, and not a linear or predictable one, and most of us lived through that in the seasons that led to 2010, some for a few years and others for a few decades.
It’s plenty demoralizing (and thankfully unfamiliar) to be talking about trading productive veterans off in July, but there’s something invigorating about it, too, and whether that’s because it can serve as a welcome distraction or instead as a key opportunity to keep close tabs on, these next three weeks should offer plenty to keep more of our focus on Rangers baseball than the minor league signings of Jerome Williams, Brodie Downs, Erik Hamren, and J.T. Wise in the last few days, or the fact that the correct Jeopardy answer to the clue “Lisalverto Bonilla, Wilmer Font, and Justin Marks” is “Who are the only pitchers of the 22 on the Rangers’ 40-man roster who haven’t yet been in the big leagues in 2014?”
The Alex Rios situation is probably worth an entire report on its own (of the multiple reasonable scenarios, I’m in favor of three that don’t have him in Texas in 2015), but we can talk about relief pitchers for now, because that’s where the local and national media have directed our attention the last couple days.
Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports report that the Blue Jays, Tigers, and Angels have expressed interest in Joakim Soria, and locally we learn that the Rangers expect a “substantial package” involving more than one legitimate prospect for their closer (with the Royals perhaps in the mix as well) and are fielding calls on Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts, too.
The Soria situation in particular sets up well. Texas owns a $7 million club option on the 30-year-old, who has fanned 40 and issued three unintentional walks in 29.1 innings this season, holding opponents to an anemic .180/.207/.279 slash line. There’s no reason not to feel good about bringing him back in 2015, when the Rangers have the right to expect a return to contention. Jon Daniels isn’t in a corner, having to deal Soria. He can tell clubs what it will take to get him — not just for one pennant race but for two — and if the offers don’t meet the demand, Soria stays.
Different situation with Frasor and Cotts, both struggling right now under heavy workloads and both free agents after the season, but I have in my head a scenario in which Texas offers to pair one of the veteran set-up men with Soria, much as the Cubs agreed to tack Jason Hammel onto Jeff Samardzija, in order to get the prospect(s) in return that Texas really wants.
You’re not going to get big league righthander Marcus Stroman or AAA righthander Aaron Sanchez or AA lefthander Daniel Norris or Class A outfielder Dalton Pompey from Toronto, or AAA lefthander Robbie Ray from Detroit or big league reliever Mike Morin or AA righthander R.J. Alvarez from Los Angeles, but what about injured Jays Class A righthander Roberto Osuna, or Tigers righthander Jonathon Crawford or shortstop Willy Adames, playing together at Low A West Michigan, or Class A shortstop Jose Rondon or some other Angels prospect or two that the Rangers believe stand out in an otherwise flimsy system?
Those teams could all use not only Soria but probably Frasor or Cotts as well (even not at their best, on a hope for a bounceback), and you can bet the A’s don’t part with Addison Russell in a deal for Samardzija — and I’m surprised they did at all — but getting a second piece like they did in Hammel, that changed the equation.
And let’s take that thought a step further: Wouldn’t Rios be a fit for Toronto, who are a game and a half back in the Wild Card race (and three games out in the AL East) and have Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind on the disabled list? Would a Soria/Rios package — with Toronto seeking its first playoff berth in more than 20 years — entice the Jays to part with Norris or Pompey? And would a package headed by one of those two prospects prompt Texas to part with its 2015 closer plus, as far as Rios is concerned, a potential trade piece in a thin December market or a possible compensatory first round pick?
Think back to 2011, when Texas added Mike Adams and Koji Uehara — neither a closer (at the time) but every bit as valuable in a pennant race context (Adams clearly had more value to the Rangers than his closer teammate Heath Bell did) — and compare what it cost to get them. Both came with an extra year of club control (Adams via arbitration and Uehara via a vesting option), just as Soria does, and, though proven relievers, were no more so than Soria is.
The ultimate price tags on the two were very different. For Adams, Texas parted with two legitimate mid-rotation prospects in AA, lefthander Robbie Erlin and righthander Joe Wieland. For Uehara, the return was two 25-year-olds poised for a change-of-scenery relocation: first baseman Chris Davis and righthander Tommy Hunter, each of whom had seen time in both AAA and the big leagues in 2008 . . . and 2009 . . . and 2010 . . . and 2011.
Two very different trades. And none of the three teams involved would want a do-over.
(Though Texas would probably like a mulligan on letting Uehara go away a year and a half later.)
Neither Soria nor Rios, even paired and even if Frasor or Cotts were tacked on, is going to bring back the type of haul Texas gave up for Matt Garza, because relievers aren’t starters and that’s just baseball economics. But the pair the Rangers sent Chicago for Ryan Dempster (Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks)? That one’s worth shooting for.
And arguably worth saying “yes” to.
However many times I write between now and the end of the month, I’m betting more than half those times will be about Joakim Soria or Alex Rios or both, and while that’s not what I would have ever expected, or hoped for, three months ago, it is what it is, and one of the great things about baseball, even when your team is having a down year, is there’s an opportunity two-thirds of the way through a season like that to make a significant impact on how things might play out down the road. That’s something those of us who have hung in there with this franchise for more than four years are plenty familiar with. It’s not always a bad thing, and in some cases, it turns out to be hugely important.
I may spend more time in the coming weeks talking about the Toronto and Detroit farm systems, and Seattle’s if that club’s rumored interest in Rios is real, than I will about Ryan Feierabend and Adam Rosales and about Geovany Soto’s latest headline, but you’ll forgive me if there’s some Matt West and Roman Mendez talk mixed in, which is not entirely unrelated given the Soria/Frasor/Cotts opportunities that Texas will need to decide this month what to do with.
We’ll know by tonight whether the Mavericks will go into the next season with both Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, which is not the same as having both Leonys Martin and Martin Perez, especially not now, not this season, which is moving into that unique stretch between All-Star Weekend and the end of the month when a small handful of teams reluctantly turn their attention to something further into the future, and in that position there’s an opportunity to make the future better, maybe in 2015 and maybe in 2017, and that’s something worth paying immediate attention to, if you asked me.