There is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money.
— Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
I was away for a week when I heard the news that the San Diego Padres wanted A.J. Preller to lead their organization, and that Preller wanted to do it. It’s an outcome I always thought of as possibly unlikely — not because I doubted Preller could do the job, but instead because I questioned whether the 37-year-old would ever choose budgets and sponsor meets and media over the floppy hat and court shoes and Judesca Profar’s living room for the dozenth time, and a dozen more, if that’s what it takes.
It would be safe to assume that those three components Gladwell wrote of, the three things that he insisted in Outliers are what work must offer in order to truly satisfy, would lead a scout to chase one of those 30 GM desks, to cheerfully trade in the chain-link fences and the necessarily delayed shot at gratification and the solitude of the scouting wilderness to find that ultimate baseball satisfaction (not to mention the cash gravy). Still, I wasn’t sure — from purely a fulfillment standpoint — Preller, a scout’s scout who prefers doing his work behind the scenes, would see it that way.
I’ve mentioned a time or two that I’m not not very good at doing nothing — though Preller is exponentially worse at it — and part of my week away included a couple full-day drives. On one of those, to help fight through the monotony of the road, we listened to Outliers in the car.
In it Gladwell talked about the “right place, right time” opportunities that, in conjunction with their gifts, gave us Bill Gates and the Beatles and others, and I thought about the circumstances that led Preller, second in his class at Cornell, to this moment.
There was the friendship he developed with Jon Daniels at the Ithaca university.
The dogged determination to get into baseball that led to the internship he scored with the Phillies as a college junior (and by “scored” I mean “created for himself”).
The chance to work with and learn from and be pushed by Frank Robinson and Don Welke and John Hart — and Daniels.
The circumstances that led Tom Hicks to turn the Rangers’ reigns over to Daniels and to hire Preller from the Dodgers.
The state of talent-mining in Latin America that Preller capitalized on (Hicks: “JD had hired Preller the year before, and had the Dominican buzzing”), and the Rule 4 and Rule 5 drafts and the Darvish chase and a hundred other bullet points that led the Padres, focusing their search primarily on “who was going to be able to bring impact talent to the organization,” to target Preller as a GM candidate, and then a finalist, and then the right man.
At the right place and at the right time.
Just like a winning coaching staff in the NFL, you don’t keep a successful MLB front office — especially a relatively young one — together forever. Texas hasn’t won a title — and I suspect the idea of unfinished business to see through was something that factored in for Preller and that he had to overcome internally before saying yes to San Diego — but one strike short doesn’t make your baseball operations group any less smart or any less hard-working or any less productive. This was going to happen, eventually, and it’s fairly surprising that it didn’t sooner.
But since the Rangers’ consecutive World Series appearances, after which you’d have expected other teams to come after their front office talent offering opportunities at promotion, here’s the complete list of teams who, in the four ensuing years, have replaced their General Managers:
Winter of 2011-12: Padres, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Orioles, Twins, Astros
Winter of 2012-13: White Sox
Winter of 2013-14: Nobody
Summer of 2014: Padres
Of the eight GM changes in the four years preceding Preller’s hire, four involved internal promotions, leaving only four clubs who went outside for someone to take over the reins: The Cubs (reeling in the high-profile Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer tandem from Boston), the Angels (bringing Jerry Dipoto over from Arizona), the Orioles (recycling Dan Duquette), and the Astros, who reportedly targeted Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine before hiring St. Louis executive Jeff Luhnow.
Of those, only Luhnow had not been a GM before.
The Rangers hadn’t been raided since their back-to-pack pennants, but by all accounts they almost were (when Jim Crane, a year after trying to buy the Rangers, was said to have chased Levine — and possibly Preller), and aside from Houston’s search every other instance of GM turnover involved a promotion from within or the hiring of a former GM.
There just haven’t been a whole lot of situations in which Rangers officials were basically passed over.
As for the vacancy that Preller’s departure leaves in Arlington, will the Rangers promote from within? He was one of two Assistant GM’s advising Daniels, along with Levine, but setting titles aside, it’s Preller’s leadership on the scouting and player development side that will need to be addressed. Does Pro Scouting Director Josh Boyd get an expanded role, overseeing not only that effort but also the amateur and international scouting departments? Does Senior Director of Minor League Operations Mike Daly, whose niche has long been in Latin America, see his responsibility grow? What about Minor League Field Coordinator Jayce Tingler, a rising player development star in his own right?
There are others. Daniels told reporters last week: “We’ve got some really talented and capable people who in my opinion have been ready for that next step. They’re going to spread their wings a little bit. I view it as an opportunity for them and all of us, including myself, to grow.” Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) suggests San Diego actually did the Rangers a favor, forcing the organization to introduce an “outside voice” into its innermost “circle of trust” — even if that voice belongs to someone already in its employ.
As for the risk of losing some of those folks to the Padres, there appears to be clearly defined restrictions in that regard, though the exact nature of those limitations hasn’t been reported. What we know:
- Anthony Andro (Fox Sports Southwest) refers to “strong restrictions” on who Preller can take with him, given the level of the position Preller held here.
- Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) suggests the restrictions that Texas set in June when granting the Padres permission to interview Preller might be similar to those the Rangers put in place when the Angels hired Senior Director of Player Development Scott Servais away in 2011.
- When Servais left Texas for Los Angeles, there was a period of at least one year during which he was prohibited from hiring someone who had been employed by the Rangers. But the Rangers allowed him to bring player development assistant Mike LaCassa with him at the time he was hired, and there could be similar concessions with Preller. Daniels told Marty Caswell (The Mighty 1090 Sports Radio/San Diego) that, in spite of the hiring freeze imposed on Preller and the Padres, “we’ve discussed the possibility of an exception here or there.”
- It’s possible the embargo in this case could last more than a year. Tom Krasovic (San Diego Union-Tribune) suggests that “[o]ften when [a] GM [is] hired from another club, two years must pass before he can hire from [his] ex-team [and] I hear that’s [the time]frame on Preller.” Dennis Lin (San Diego Union-Tribune) agrees that “[t]here’s supposedly a two-year moratorium on any Texas defections to San Diego” though there “[c]ould be an exception or two” — and that “Preller would probably love to bring [Senior Special Assistant to the GM Don] Welke over.” That’s surely at the crux of whatever discussions Daniels and Preller have had about waiving the restrictions in a special case or two. Welke mentored Preller with the Dodgers and came to Texas with him after the 2004 season. But you can bet the Rangers are reluctant to let Welke go.
- Lin adds that while “Preller may not be allowed to raid [the] Rangers’ staff, [one] source says some targets could conceivably allow [their] contracts to expire, then go to [the] Pads.” I’m pretty sure that’s not permitted under this type of arrangement. While most scouting and player development officials operate on one-year deals, I heard somewhere that a hiring freeze like this one would prohibit San Diego from hiring a Texas official during whatever the restriction period is, even if that official’s contract expires before being renewed by the Rangers for the following season — assuming they want to keep him.
- Lin has “heard Boyd’s name mentioned as a potential assistant GM” in San Diego but adds that he’s another official “the Rangers really want to keep.”
Here’s a thought that concerns me: Yu Darvish’s contract is probably going to expire after the 2016 season. Even under a liberal reading of the above, it appears that any hiring restrictions the Padres might have with regard to Rangers executives would expire no later than that time. Preller was at the forefront of the effort to scout and recruit and land Darvish, and so was Boyd, who taught himself Japanese.
Boyd and Preller’s relationship predates their time with the Rangers.
Boyd, who grew up in Southern California, spent four years scouting for the Padres.
You can expect Preller, who told Padres President & CEO Mike Dee during the interview process that “[a]s long as you have the quality of pitching that we have, you have a chance to win every night,” to push ownership to go as hard after Darvish two and a half years from now as he did here two and a half years ago. Having Boyd on board makes sense for several Padres-centric reasons, not the least of which might be a second recruitment of the ace righthander.
I hope Boyd stays. And I would really like Darvish to want to extend his deal here before we ever get to 2016.
(Beltre, who is close to Preller in age and was in the Dodgers organization at the same time, is free after the 2016 season, too. And now I need to change the subject.)
Another Rangers official who could be a fit with the Padres, if permitted to go, is Special Assistant Scott Littlefield, a huge scouting presence in the Texas front office who, according to Jeff Wilson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), lives in the San Diego area. Notably, Littlefield spent five years as a scout with the Padres previously (2005-09), including one as their national crosschecker.
Know who else had stints with the Padres, as players? Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. And the two pitching instructors who could theoretically be viewed as Maddux’s heirs apparent, Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and AAA pitching coach Brad Holman. And Special Assistant to the GM Greg Maddux.
Jim Callis (MLB.com) considers it a “[r]easonable assumption” that “some of Texas’s connections with Latin American free agents and buscones will be following Preller to San Diego,” but again, that could be a couple years from happening.
And considering Preller’s expertise internationally, no matter what you think of the powerful front office infrastructure he leaves behind — and it is strong, without question — with the new CBA restrictions on doing business in Latin America, international relationships are more important than ever, as is the ability to develop advantages under the modified, restrictive rules. While Preller’s departure doesn’t strip Texas of its identity and mentality on the international front, he’s now an added competitor, and will be a formidable one, and eventually may lead others to follow him.
You may not recognize names like Kim and Saab and Halabi and Aquino and Colborn and Furukawa, but pay attention if they pop up in trail notes separated by ellipses detailing Texas defections to San Diego. It’s their work the last few years that have made the Rangers, some might say, outliers on the international landscape. In a positive sense.
Some have painted Preller as an outlier of another type. Stories surfaced toward the end of the Padres’ interview process and certainly after the Preller hire that he and the Rangers had been punished years ago for some unidentified incident involving scouting on the international side. According to Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports), the alleged violation “stemmed from negotiating with a player who had been suspended for an age/ID discrepancy,” though Dee said the Commissioner’s Office gave Preller a “clean bill of health” and others said Preller was “penalized for a relatively minor infraction and question the validity of the process that led to his suspension, noting that baseball no longer employs the investigators who built the case against him.” That part is interesting.
Daniels commented a week ago on the allegations Preller has had to address: “I’m defensive because I care about him and because I know the truth. He works his butt off. That’s why he’s been productive, not because of any underhanded stuff.
“Are we aggressive? Is he aggressive? Absolutely. But we’re far from the only ones. He was one of the first young American guys to go down there and change the way business is done a little bit. That has ruffled some feathers.”
Questioned about the incident in his introductory San Diego presser, Preller said that “ultimately, MLB felt there were no violations” and that the investigation may have been triggered by a case of another franchise’s “sour grapes on missing out on signing an international player.” Baseball America speculates that the player in question could be Dominican righthander Rafael DePaula, who was suspended in 2009 for presenting false age data before signing late in 2010 with the Yankees for $500,000.
Ironically, New York traded DePaula (and former Ranger farmhand) Yangervis Solarte to the Padres for Chase Headley three weeks ago, while Preller was still interviewing with San Diego.
As for how Preller will be as a trading GM, that’s a question that can only be answered with time and with track record. He does draw on experience, even if he wasn’t the one calling the ultimate shots in Texas. Asked by Lin what he picked up professionally from his longtime friend Daniels, Preller said: “I learned a lot of things from JD, but two things really stand out. The first was that he was really good at seeing what our competitive window was. When we first went in there, we probably misevaluated that and helped out the Padres a lot with the Adrian Gonzalez-Chris Young trade (the Rangers received Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka). JD and I probably thought we were a lot closer than we really were to winning at that time. Pretty quickly, we realized we made a misevaluation. The second thing about JD is he’s a tremendous decision-maker. You have to be willing to make the tough move, the tough trade, and be right more than your competitors. He’s shown he can do that.”
And now Preller will be expected to show the same thing.
When asked on MLB Network Radio if he plans to help get Preller’s trade history started, Daniels said that there are players in every organization that baseball operations officials disagree on, and he joked with Preller that he fully expects him to come after some of those that he always liked more than Daniels does himself.
I can hear the conversation now.
“You love him. Give us a lot.”
“You don’t love him. Take less.”
Answering the question seriously, Daniels referred to the six-player trade Texas made with Oakland (Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro for Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Hart, and Mario Ramos) two months after Grady Fuson arrived from the A’s as the Rangers’ new Assistant GM, and to the deal that Padres GM Jed Hoyer made with his former Boston colleagues a year after taking the San Diego job, sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, and Eric Patterson. (Hoyer then became the Cubs’ GM a year after that, and about two months later he acquired Rizzo from the Padres.) It just makes sense that Preller, as familiar with the Rangers system as he is — and as instrumental as he was in scouting and acquiring so many of the organization’s big league and minor league players — would find a comfort level in talking trade with Daniels, knowing what the Rangers’ needs are and in fact what Padres players the Rangers like.
I’m not sure what the Padres’ 40-man roster conundrum looks like this winter, and though San Diego has a strong farm system, if there’s room to add a couple prospects to the big league roster this winter, the conversation between Preller and Daniels could be relatively open. Preller knows who the Rangers’ roster bubble guys are — he’d been at the center of deliberations on that very issue — and there might be an opportunity where he can help Texas relieve a bit of its impending 40-man jam. Unless the talks were to involve someone like Andrew Cashner (highly unlikely), roster addition candidates like Jorge Alfaro and Luke Jackson aren’t going to be discussed, but then you get to names like Ryan Rua, Jerad Eickhoff, Spencer Patton, Phil Klein, Will Lamb, Jon Edwards, Martire Garcia, Alex Claudio, Hanser Alberto, Odubel Herrera, Tomas Telis, Kellin Deglan, and Drew Robinson. You’re not going to be able to package three of those guys to get Tyson Ross, but if Preller finds an opportunity to offer Texas a player it covets — he should know what that list looks like, too — and can grab a couple of those names in the process, it would be less than a shocking development.
The Padres are excited about what Preller will work to accomplish with their organization, and they should be. Peter Seidler, one of the franchise’s lead investors, said after hiring Preller: “What resonated with me was his passion for baseball, his creativity and his work ethic. All those three things were off the charts. I love a creative approach to a problem or to an objective. I think the creative way he articulated that, how he was going to build this, the winning formula he had in mind, impressed all of us.”
Right there, wrapped up in one comment, are those three Gladwell components to creative work that can inspire greatness: Complexity. Autonomy. And the relationship between effort and reward. Seidler and the Padres have set the table for Preller to feast.
“I really want our staff to think about being cutting edge,” Preller said when introduced as the Padres’ new GM. “I look forward to being that type of group, being next-wave, being ahead of the curve. . . . Usually when you get an idea or thought that works, within a year 10 other teams are copying that or doing the same thing. That’s why you constantly have to hit on ideas that give you a competitive advantage and, when the competition catches up, hopefully hit on the next idea to take us where we need to get to.”
Preller acknowledged that he’d heard others characterize him “as this maverick out in the middle of nowhere, doing my job. [But] the biggest thing is, can you connect people? That’s what we did with the Rangers and that’s what I want to do with the Padres.”
“I want Padres fans to understand that it’s not going to be smooth sailing from Day One,” Preller said. “But I can promise you we’re going to have the hungriest, hard-working group of employees in the game. I feel pretty confident that once we get going in that direction, we’re going to be doing some pretty special things here.”
Effort, and reward.
Daniels talked in his MLB Network Radio spot about Preller’s work ethic and his preparation and his knack for “always looking two steps ahead as far as how to beat the competition, looking for where the value is, looking where other people aren’t looking,” and that’s not an indictment of anyone else still here. The sky is not falling, and nobody’s saying it is. But the Rangers have lost an important voice, and having one fewer of those than you had before is a loss. A.J. Preller is always thinking about ways to beat the competition, which is sometimes deciding that a Class A outfielder in the Oakland system (and banned from entry into the U.S.) is a pitcher, or agreeing that a shortstop from Curacao isn’t one, and now the Rangers are part of the competition.
In the e-book on the Rangers’ front office group I wrote two and a half years ago, Daniels talked about Preller’s potential to take on the role he now has: “Veteran baseball men, some of whom may have been biased against guys with A.J.’s profile (Moneyball didn’t help in that regard), would regularly say he’s one of the best baseball minds they’ve been around. That’s huge praise from a veteran guy to a young guy with no on-field experience. I’m convinced he could be a top GM in the game now, and if he put the same time into it, a top GM in the NFL.
“That may sound crazy, but he’s got a handle on the big picture that not many do.”
He could be an NFL GM, in at least Daniels’s estimation.
He’s the best basketball player you’ve ever seen on the back fields.
He taught himself absolutely fluent Spanish in the space of two months, an enormous edge in some of the most fertile talent territories in the world, almost none of which are subject to the draft and thus stage scouting and player procurement efforts built largely on grinding work ethic and nurtured relationships.
He can do just about anything you’d want a baseball operations official to do.
He would be a huge asset at your business, too.
Preller called Pat Gillick, John Schuerholz, Terry Ryan, and Hart the best General Managers of the last two decades and noted that they had one important thing in common — “the ability to connect the organization from top to bottom.” While Preller is justifiably praised for his ability to evaluate player talent (one industry source told Corey Brock (MLB.com): “I cannot think of another GM in baseball who can out-scout him,” though that’s sort of like moving Adrian Beltre across the diamond and calling him the game’s best-throwing first baseman, isn’t it?), Daniels told local reporters that “what that misses is just how gifted he is at . . . building a staff, hiring people, creating a philosophy and getting everyone to buy in and feel good about it.”
During the interview process, Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler was blown away by the priority Preller placed on doing just that in San Diego. “You have to have consistency throughout the organization in terms of how you’re going to do things,” Fowler acknowledged. “I’ve never been with an individual who understood personnel at all levels of baseball to the extent that A.J. Preller does. It was an unbelievable education in terms of who does what to whom, and how it gets done.”
Fowler and Seidler and Dee committed an eye-opening five years to Preller to get it done, after which they heard him say, publicly: “I learned a lot in Texas, and having people on the same page top to bottom is the most important lesson I bring with me. . . . One of the things I want our staff to understand is you don’t have Jed Hoyer guys or Josh Byrnes guys. You have Padres guys.”
Though presumably having been around Preller no more than a few times, Brock captured the 37-year-old perfectly. “In the end,” Brock wrote (missing an opportunity to go with “at the end of the day,” a crutch phrase that Preller will throw down on you about every other sentence), “Preller stood out among the candidates as a result of his words, background and what he has planned for the organization. There was a quiet passion with Preller, a sense of intensity, like he was ready to get started right there and then.”
That will be missed. Just because your organization might have that sort of passion and intensity and drive in abundance doesn’t mean you ever want to lose any of it, especially when the loss comes in the form of someone who had helped set the overall tone.
In Daniels and Levine, Daly and Boyd, Welke and Kip Fagg, Tingler and Littlefield and Kim and Greg Smith and Matt Vinnola and dozens of others, there’s still plenty of baseball operations firepower in Texas, even with Preller’s departure. Just as there’s an emphasis on keeping the pipeline flowing at the minor league prospect level, there’s a constant effort in Texas to develop evaluators and decision-makers. The Rangers will be fine without Preller, in part because of the work he did training and mentoring others the way Welke once mentored him. But this is a big loss — and that’s without knowing who else might join Preller, either now with the Rangers’ permission or after the moratorium is lifted in a couple years.
Another suggestion Gladwell made in Outliers is that “people at the very top [of their fields] don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” You probably wouldn’t believe the ratio of days on the road to days in his own Dallas home that Preller has spent the last 10 years. That proportion is going to settle down some with the new job title in San Diego, but he’ll still probably push 20-hour days (especially once he finds the right place to run ball before the sun comes up) and will surely put himself out in the field, scouting baseball players, as much as any GM ever has.
On the night last week that the Padres hired Preller, the Rangers got a complete-game shutout from Colby Lewis in a game in which every starter hit safely and drove in a run and scored a run. In a season that’s had too few of them, Texas 16, Chicago 0 was a complete game in every sense. The farm system won six of seven games that night, with AAA Round Rock suffering the only loss, though the former 17th-rounder Rua doubled twice and homered in that extra-inning defeat. Nomar Mazara doubled and tripled in his debut for AA Frisco that night, and Alfaro drew two walks in his, while Chi Chi Gonzalez lowered his ERA to 2.32 with a 6-4-1-1-2-6 effort that saw Lamb and Kela continue their own marches to a bigger stage. High A Myrtle Beach won, 2-0; Low A Hickory got sturdy pitching work out of righty Akeem Bostick and lefty Felix Carvallo; and the Arizona League club shut the A’s out, 3-0, in what would be third-rounder Josh Morgan’s final game at that level. Both Dominican Summer League teams won big, because that’s what DSL Ranger clubs do. The one affiliate that didn’t play on that Tuesday night was Short-Season A Spokane, as the Northwest League played its All-Star Game — with Rangers sixth-rounder Jose Trevino bagging MVP honors.
It was a night that, top to bottom, looked like what most of us think 2014 should have looked like, with players bearing Preller’s fingerprints coming up big at every level, including the one at the top, just as it was announced that he would be moving on.
It’s still hard for me to get my head wrapped around the idea that Preller now dreams on Austin Hedges rather than Alfaro, thinks long-term with Max Fried and Joe Ross instead of Jackson and Gonzalez, hopes Hunter Renfroe can develop into half the power threat that Joey Gallo projects to be, ponders Casey Kelly’s return from Tommy John surgery rather than Martin Perez’s, has Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland in his plans after all, and stares at what stands to be something in the neighborhood of the 10th pick in next June’s draft and the associated bonus pool, when a week and a half ago the question was whether his Rangers might end up at 1/1 in the draft for the first time since David Clyde’s name was called in 1973.
I’ll get used to that before long, but you’ll understand if I prefer to envision Yu Darvish and Don Welke and Josh Boyd and Scott Littlefield and Jayce Tingler staying right where they are — the organization if not the role — and for more than just the next two years.
I’m going to miss having A.J. Preller in Texas. I’m going to miss the edge he brought, the tenacity, the tireless will to beat the other guys. Again, that’s not to say any of those things will be missing now from the Fourth Floor. But Preller’s was an essential voice here for a long time — for the entirety of what has been the greatest run in franchise history — and now it belongs to another franchise that the Rangers will have to compete with, for players if not eventually for more than that.
Maybe Preller isn’t the outlier after all. Maybe he’s not the outlier so much as a front office that featured a couple Cornell roommates and a former college baseball player with an MBA at the top of a deep baseball operations roster, one that, but for a final strike not thrown and a final out not recorded, would be recognized today and forever as a Championship group, and yet managed to stay intact as long as it did.
If a series of “right place, right time” developments was necessary for Preller’s genius to manifest itself in baseball the way it did, maybe that story is still playing out, both for the Padres and their new GM, and for the Rangers and whoever is brought forward to carry more weight in Preller’s absence, as his 10-year chapter in Texas concludes. Maybe the relationship between effort and reward, worth more in sports than any amount of money, will be one we’ll write about another 10 years from now, with the legacy Preller leaves behind — not just in terms of pitchers and catchers and shortstops but also in the scouting and player development folks he helped groom for roles they’re ready to grow into — eventually bringing the Rangers that elusive title that drives baseball men to do what they do, and drives the rest of us to care at the most intense levels, looking not toward any supposedly falling sky but instead toward an imminent opportunity, because this is sports, to invite the newest competitor to go ahead and bring it.
When you put men on second and third in the eighth inning and fail to push a run across, it’s deflating, and I get that, but if you put three on the board a couple innings earlier, those runs count just as much.
I heard from some of you yesterday just after 3:00 in the afternoon, complaining that Texas “did nothing” while David Price and Jon Lester and Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Masterson and John Lackey and Jarred Cosart and Asdrubal Cabrera and Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew and others were flying all over the place.
But if you look back at what the Rangers got for Joakim Soria nine days ago (and Jason Frasor to a lesser extent, a week before that), and compare it to what Miller, for instance, brought Boston yesterday, you’ll probably agree that when you score doesn’t matter as much as how many you score — and in this case, Texas appears to have played the market very well by jumping when it did.
(MLB.com’s Jim Callis, asked whether he preferred Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, whom the Rangers got from Detroit for Soria, or minor league lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, the player that Baltimore sent Boston for Miller, who is having a better year than Soria: “Thompson and Knebel, easy call.”)
It’s not as if the Rangers took yesterday off. Jon Daniels told reporters that other teams asked him not only about Alex Rios and Neal Cotts but four to six other players as well, possibly including Colby Lewis. “We exchanged proposals with a couple clubs,” Daniels said, “but it just didn’t line up ultimately.” He also acknowledged that Texas got involved in conversations about controllable starting pitchers, a couple of whom show up in the second paragraph above.
There’s value in restraint, and while I was with all of you who were hoping for that adrenaline rush of some breaking news on Thursday involving the Rangers, I can point to trades the last couple July’s with the Chicago Cubs that prove the point that saying no is often the best move a club can make.
And trade season isn’t over.
As things stand today, Texas is a half-game ahead of Houston in the inverse standings, a full game ahead of the Rockies. But this month, where the Rockies’ record sits isn’t so important. August trade waiver claims are league-dependent, and so when American League clubs run dozens of players onto the wire revocably this month, the Rangers will have the first shot at putting in a claim and creating a trade opportunity. Sure, Houston could catch Texas in that regard, but presumably that organization would be less likely to risk a claim on a sizable contract, as Texas did a year ago on Rios, leading to the deal that sent Leury Garcia to the White Sox for the veteran outfielder. Any National League players placed on trade waivers will have to clear the 15 NL clubs before Texas and its AL counterparts have claim opportunities.
And, looking ahead, where the Rangers find themselves in the standings will reap huge benefits over the next year, and Daniels admits the process isn’t necessarily fair. In a recent interview he did with Boston radio station WEEI, Daniels said of the procedural rules that reward teams with bad records: “On some level the rules are in place to create parity. Finishing at the bottom of the standings, we have a chance to do it this year. We certainly don’t want to. We weren’t designed that way. The system is set up that it’s an enormous advantage to finish last. It’s something we need to look at as an industry.
“We have an incentive to lose on some level, and nobody wants to acknowledge that. Nobody builds their team thinking to lose.”
Noting that there’s a lottery system in the NBA that at least purports to create a mild disincentive to lose games, Daniels pointed out that finishing last in baseball results in the following:
- Picking first in the June amateur draft
- Being awarded a bigger draft budget for the first 10 rounds (which not only gives you a shot at the top player, but also the ability to shift more money around to impact the following rounds)
- Being awarded a bigger international free agent budget
- Picking first in the Rule 5 Draft
- Having the top waiver claim position for the entire winter (when waivers are not league-dependent) and through the first month of the following season
There’s an advantage in free agency as well, as teams with one of the 10 worst win-loss records have their first-round picks protected — meaning the Rangers will be able to sign an impact free agent who received a qualifying offer from his 2014 club (Max Scherzer, in light of Detroit’s Price pickup yesterday? Nelson Cruz?) this winter without forfeiting their June first-rounder. Their second-round pick would instead be on the line (though if they recoup a supplemental first for losing a player they’ve tendered the qualifying offer to — like Rios, for example — I’m pretty sure that pick would be lost for signing such a player, instead of the club’s second-rounder).
Texas will also be getting a significant number of key players back from injury in 2015.
Young players will have another year of experience under their belts, including some like Knebel and Patton who aren’t with the big club yet but presumably will be soon, like Phil Klein, who is reportedly on his way to his home state to meet the Rangers in Cleveland, presumably the same destination today for Rangers area scout Roger Coryell.
Oakland will have to recover from a move that meaningfully impacts business going forward — as Lester will almost certainly leave, the A’s will get no compensation as a result (you can’t tender a qualifying offer to a player you didn’t have for the entire season), Cespedes is gone, and Oakland also tossed its competitive balance pick (usually in the 70 range) into the trade, which reduces its draft pool budget by roughly $800,000. Texas cares more at this point about how good the A’s are in 2015 and 2016 than how they fare in 2014, and yesterday’s trade (not to mention the Jeff Samardzija deal in which Oakland shockingly parted with shortstop Addison Russell) dramatically impacts that club’s position once the books on 2014 are closed.
And Lester and Masterson, to name a couple, will be on the market this winter, with Texas not having to surrender its first-rounder to play.
Thursday was a good day for the Rangers, even if they didn’t score themselves by 3:00.
And it’s only August — which means there’s still the ninth inning to play.
How does Jon Daniels feel about big 20-year-old righthanders with a “slider [that’s] a big league out pitch with two-plane bite,” or about 22-year-old righthanders who reach the big leagues less than a year after being drafted and who strike out a dozen batters per nine minor league innings and who mix “a hammer curve that misses bats with regularity” in with mid-90’s velocity, or about New York Yankees tarp crews?
Why did JD trade Joakim Soria now, after an uncommonly bad outing on the back end of consecutive nights of work, and with another week of potential contender desperation to go before trading veterans (and trading for them) gets a lot more challenging?
Has his evaluation of how Michael Choice fits into the big picture changed? What about Robinson Chirinos? Jake Smolinski? Roman Mendez? Miles Mikolas?
What are JD’s thoughts on losing A.J. Preller — or hanging onto him?
Same question on Alex Rios and Neal Cotts.
Does Daniels think Yu Darvish wants to extend his contract to pitch baseballs for the Texas Rangers?
Ask him on August 13. Ask him what you want, and if you’ve attended Newberg Report Night events in the past, you know he’ll answer.
He’ll obviously talk about the Wednesday trade that FanGraphs writer Dave Cameron describes as one in which the Tigers “paid through the nose” and conceivably will have “punted one of their best pitching prospects and a power arm who might have been a useful reliever himself. Certainly, this is the kind of deal that could easily backfire, and the Tigers may very well regret this deal in the long run.”
Maybe he’ll talk about another trade he will have made in the three weeks between now and then, or hint at something he’s still got cooking.
And by being there, you’ll be helping to support Richard Durrett’s young family.
We are close to half of capacity after admission to the event opened up yesterday.
For details on how you and your Rangers friends can be there, click this link.
And start working on your questions.
The Rangers have traded closer Joakim Soria to Detroit for Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, a pair of Texan righthanders ranked this month by Baseball America as the Tigers’ number two and number four prospects, respectively.
The 20-year-old Thompson, the Tigers’ first pick in 2012 out of Rockwall-Heath High School (in the second round, as Detroit had forfeited its first-rounder by signing Prince Fielder), was promoted last week to Class AA by the Tigers, while the 22-year-old Knebel, the Tigers’ supplemental first-round pick in 2013 out of the University of Texas, started the season in Class AA but bulleted his way to the big leagues by the end of May.
Scott will have more in the morning on Thompson (reportedly headed to Frisco) and Knebel (reportedly headed to Round Rock — perhaps to groom for the newly vacated ninth-inning role if Neftali Feliz can’t claim it), but I will say this for now: The Rangers have just added two power arms, one projected to be a mid-rotation starter and the other a late reliever, both of whom should be ready to contribute when this club’s window reopens. And for what it’s worth, I would consider Thompson and Knebel each a better prospect than any of the four that the Angels traded days ago to San Diego for Huston Street.
It’s a disappointment when a season unfolds in such a way that you are trading your closer late in July, but that’s where we are, and Texas had an opportunity to upgrade the pitching inventory in the upper half of the system and executed on it.
There’s one clear objective when you’re a contending team signing a veteran closer, but there’s a fallback upside there, too, and while the Rangers didn’t sign Joakim Soria coming off Tommy John surgery so they could rehabilitate his trade value, they got some really good work out of him over two years and have the chance now to extend his worth to this franchise for a lot longer than that, if Thompson or Knebel or both develop into contributing pieces to the next Texas club that spends July in its more familiar spot, looking for pieces to themselves over the top.
The 10th Annual Newberg Report Night at Globe Life Park, benefiting the Richard Durrett Family Fund.
We’re now ready to start taking reservations for the Tenth Annual Newberg Report Night at Globe Life Park, which will be on Wednesday, August 13, when Texas plays Game Three of a four-game set against Tampa Bay. This year our event will benefit the Richard Durrett Family Fund.
Newberg Report Night will include our usual extensive pre-game program in the Hall of Fame Theater, featuring a roundtable Q&A with Rangers Senior Special Assistant to the GM Don Welke, national sports injury expert Will Carroll, the Newberg Report’s own Scott Lucas, and local minor league junkie Tepid Participation, followed by our annual Q&A session with Rangers GM Jon Daniels, plus our yearly memorabilia raffle/auction, conducted by a local professional auctioneer.
There are several different price point options to attend:
- $40 per person: Admission to all the pre-game events plus an Upper Reserved game ticket (parking not included)
- $200 per person: Admission to all the pre-game events plus a Luxury Suite ticket (parking and catering not included)
- $20 per person: Upper Reserved game ticket only (that is, no admission to the pre-game events)
- $175 per person: Suite ticket only (no admission to the pre-game events)
- For those who already have tickets to the ballgame: Admission to the pre-game events without a game ticket costs the same as it would if you bought a game ticket: $40 per person
We typically have about 300-350 people attend this event every year. Once we reach Hall of Fame Theater capacity, we’ll have to close registration (though we can continue to sell spots for the game only). For the last couple Newberg Report Nights, we sold the event out in less than 24 hours, and while I wouldn’t necessarily expect the same sort of rush since we’re having to hold the event on a weekday this year, I can’t promise it won’t sell out that quickly, and I would strongly recommend that you make your reservations as soon as you know you’ll be attending.
Kids are welcome.
Here’s what we tentatively have planned (the details tend to get better as we get closer to the event):
3:00 Doors open
We’ll gather in the Hall of Fame Theater. You’ll get your game tickets once you enter the front lobby of the Hall of Fame — no need to go to Will Call or anywhere else.
You’ll have the opportunity in the lobby to make a donation to our designated charity, which this year will be the Richard Durrett Family Fund, which has been established to support the family of the long-time local sportswriter, who covered the Rangers beat for more than a decade before passing away suddenly at the age of 38 in June, leaving behind an expecting wife and two children. You may donate any amount; for every $10 you donate, you will get one ticket for a memorabilia raffle we’ll have during the event.
As usual, I would recommend getting there as early as you can in order to get a good spot in the auditorium. Some of you will have to stand — the theater capacity includes not only the room’s 235 permanent seats but also extra folding chairs (not pictured below) and standing room.
3:30 Roundtable Q&A featuring Don Welke, Will Carroll, Scott Lucas, and Tepid Participation
As the theater fills up, Don and Will and Scott and “Tepid P” will field your questions on Rangers prospects, sports injuries, Don’s legendary contributions to the game, Scott’s least favorite spots along Route 66, and whatever else is on your mind. These are really smart baseball guys with an 80-grade sense of humor (maybe 70 in Tepid’s case). Should be fun.
4:30 Raffle/auction, charitable presentation
As we’ve always done, we use this event to raise money for charitable efforts, including through your purchase of raffle tickets that day. For every $10 you donate, you will get one ticket for the raffle. Whoever makes the largest donation at the event will get his or her choice of any of the prizes. The remaining prizes will be raffled off.
We’ll then also have a few special items (including signed bats, game-used caps and batting gloves, signed baseballs, upcoming game tickets, “experiences” with local media members, and other cool stuff) to put up for a quick live auction, presided over by award-winning local auctioneer Bret Richards.
After the auction we’ll make a quick charitable presentation.
5:00 Jon Daniels Q&A
While it’s not possible this far out to guarantee his availability, Rangers GM Jon Daniels is expected to join us, as he has the nine previous Newberg Report Nights, for a lengthy Q&A session. The fact that the event is shortly after the conventional trade deadline makes the possibilities even cooler, and if you’ve ever been to one of our events, you know how extraordinarily open and honest JD is with his answers. This is a really unique opportunity, one of my favorite days on the baseball calendar every year — and as JD has told us in the past, one of his as well.
Jon is expected to arrive at 5:00 and take your questions in the theater for about an hour and 20 minutes.
6:30 To the game
At about 6:30, we’ll conclude in the theater and head to the seats/suites for the 7:05 first pitch. (Again, you’ll pick your game tickets up just inside the Hall of Fame entrance when you arrive.)
Please sign up and pay as soon as you know you’ll be coming. Spots are first come, first served — your spot is only locked in once I receive payment — and again, the last couple years we sold out in less than 24 hours.
The cost, once again, is $40 (pre-game plus Upper Reserved ticket) or $200 (pre-game plus suite ticket), and you can pay in one of two ways:
- You can order by credit card through PayPal by going to www.paypal.com, selecting the “Send money” option, and typing in GJSneaker@sbcglobal.net where you are prompted for the e-mail account. (Make sure to specify what types of tickets and in what quantity.)
- Or you can send a check or money order, payable to “Jamey Newberg,” to:
Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein, P.C.
1601 Elm Street, Suite 4100
Dallas, TX 75201
If you’re paying by check, I’d recommend mailing it right away so the event doesn’t close before your payment arrives.
If you’re buying multiple tickets, I don’t need to know every attendee’s name, but if you’re paying separately from someone you want to sit with for the game (whether in seats or a suite), let me know their names in an email or in a note with your payment (PayPal or check). The suites hold 20 people each, so if you have a group (of anywhere between two of you and 20 of you), just let me know so I can be sure to put you together in the same suite . . . but you can certainly buy one suite ticket as well.
One last thing: Just like the last two years, we’re opening up sponsorship opportunities for the event. There are $500 and $1,000 sponsorship levels, both of which include two suite tickets and an autographed Bound Edition (year of your choice). At the $500 and $1,000 levels you will get mentions in all event-related email; at the $1,000 level you will also get mentions in Twitter blasts and in the 2015 Bound Edition.
If you or your business might be interested, give me a shout.
Let me know if you have questions. And let’s raise a lot for Richard’s family.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia had run his course here, so much so that his trade to Boston, which came down in a season when nearly all of his at-bats came in AAA even though he’d had more than 700 plate appearances with Texas and which came down days before the Rangers were sold in a courtroom and which involved four pieces coming back from the Red Sox — a Short-Season A righthander, a Low Class A first baseman, a player to be named later who was a Low Class A catcher that Texas planned to convert to pitcher but who never played an official game again, and some cash — with the cash piece arguably being more important at the time than the first baseman (think back on as many Rangers trades as you want during the Jon Daniels era and see how many of them involved targeted corner players), could best be described as a footnote.
After a lost 2011 season, that first baseman, The Citadel’s own Chris McGuiness, had a breakout year in 2012 with AA Frisco and an outstanding Arizona Fall League after that, but the Rangers didn’t make space for him on the 40-man roster that winter, Cleveland drafted him away in December via Rule 5, he failed to stick with the Indians and camp and was sold back to Texas, he got a brief look in the big leagues in June 2013 in the midst of a solid AAA Round Rock season, and was designated for assignment in December to make room for the addition of Shin-Soo Choo.
Pittsburgh called during the 10-day designation window and offered Texas a 25-year-old righthander that it had acquired from San Diego a month earlier in that off-season, and the Rangers, knowing there was enough interest at that point in McGuiness that he wasn’t going to clear waivers and therefore would be lost, made the trade, and to make room for the newly acquired Miles Mikolas, Texas designated outfielder Rafael Ortega for assignment, and if you remember (1) that late-December series of moves or (2) Ortega . . . well, then, props to you.
Seven months later, there were chills, in a season with far too few. Chills when he was hugging family and friends with an ice pack on his shoulder and a crazy-huge smile on his face at the front row of a stadium that had just been emptied of 45,000 Yankees fans asking what a “Miles Mikolas” was.
Chills, thirty minutes after I’d sat down from my living room standing ovation, on a night when McGuiness went 1 for 3 in an 8-3 AAA Indianapolis loss to AAA Charlotte, when Saltalamacchia homered, not for Boston but for yet another team, and when Michael Thomas was doing something else.
Yes, I’ll admit, I thought of this game, 14 years ago, also against the Yankees, but I don’t think we’re looking at another Brian Sikorski here.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of fun this season as a Texas Rangers fan, but Texas 4, New York 2 on the road, behind 7.1 innings of masterful Miles Mikolas work — that was outstanding. Just outstanding.
There’s always a reward, sometimes at the most unlikely moments, if you keep watching.
[P.S. and very off-topic: The Dallas Pelicans 10U AAA Select tournament team will conduct tryouts on (1) Thursday, July 24 and (2) Thursday, July 31 to complete our roster for the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 seasons. If you are interested in details or know someone who might be, you can find them here: https://www.facebook.com/jamey.newberg/posts/10152616229803987 Thanks.]
In the next few days we’ll be ready to start taking reservations for the Tenth Annual Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark, which will be on Wednesday, August 13, when Texas wraps up a three-game series against the Rays. The event will include our usual extensive pregame program, featuring separate Q&A sessions with Rangers GM Jon Daniels and sports injury expert Will Carroll as well as a memorabilia raffle/auction that will benefit the Richard Durrett Family Fund.
As always, we will have several different price point options, which I’m trying to finalize. Once that’s squared away, hopefully in the next couple days, we will open the event up to reservations.
We generally have about 300-350 people attend this event every year, and once we reach Hall of Fame Theater capacity, we’ll have to close registration. For the last couple years of the event, we sold out in less than 24 hours, and while I wouldn’t expect to fill up that quickly this year since we’re having to do it on a weekday/weeknight, I would recommend that you make your reservations as soon as you know you’ll be attending.
Again, though, reservations aren’t open quite yet. I hope to open things up sometime this week.
If one end of the spectrum at the All-Star Break is Juan Gonzalez with 101 RBI (1998) or the Rangers sitting on a 4.5-game lead and having already pulled off the Cliff Lee trade (2010), then somewhere hanging around the other end is Texas, owners of baseball’s worst win-loss mark, setting an all-time big league record of 50 players used before the Break, a feat the club achieved yesterday when Ryan Feierabend (the Rangers’ 28th pitcher, not counting Mitch Moreland or Chris Gimenez) entered with two outs in the seventh, managing to close out one of only two innings all game that the Rangers were able to keep the Angels off the board.
Texas fell for the 22nd time in 25 games, the worst skid of that length in the franchise’s 43 seasons (matching a 25-game stretch in the club’s inaugural 1972 campaign), but even with a win on Sunday the club would have claimed baseball’s worst record heading into the Break, and until the last three weeks I would have never believed I’d be writing that — though, on the other hand, it’s impossible right now to imagine there’s another team playing less inspired or less inspiring baseball.
But while the game that counted on Sunday featured Scott Baker and Adam Rosales and Daniel Robertson and Feierabend, and Gimenez on a day when Robinson Chirinos was in the lineup too, one that didn’t count for anything 990 miles to the north featured the following 80-grade analysis, chronologically, and mostly on Twitter:
David Lennon (Newsday): “Rangers 3B prospect Joey Gallo is hitting BP homers completely out of the stadium here. Sick power.”
Jim Callis (MLB.com): “Joey Gallo just put on the best BP show I’ve ever seen at a Futures Game. Or, really, anywhere.”
Keith Law (ESPN): “Joey Gallo with a moderately impressive BP session. #holycrap”
Josh Norris (Baseball America): “One ball went so far, in fact, that it cleared the stands and shattered the window of a pick-up truck meant for the winner of the upcoming Home Run Derby.”
David Cameron (FanGraphs): “Who would be against adding Joey Gallo to the HR Derby tomorrow? No one, right?”
Jayson Stark (ESPN): “One more on Joey Gallo’s awesome BP show, from a scout: ‘If he were in that (Derby) tomorrow night, I think I’d pick him to win it.’”
Joe Hamrahi (Baseball Prospectus): “I think I may prefer to watch an afternoon of Joey Gallo BP than the actual Futures Game.”
Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus), asked which of Gallo and Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has more power: “Only [Giancarlo] Stanton comes close to Gallo.”
Parks, asked if he was really suggesting Gallo has more power than Stanton: “I think it’s very close. I’m not kidding.”
Ben Badler (Baseball America), just before the start of the game: “Joey Gallo hitting fifth. Would anyone be opposed to doing this minor league spring training style and letting him lead off every inning?”
Callis: “[Reds prospect Jesse] Winker then pointed to the video board atop third deck in RF. ‘I’d like everyone to take a moment to reflect,’ he said, ‘that Joey Gallo came two rows of seats from hitting that Jumbotron out there. Unbelievable.”
Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe): “Rangers 3b prospect put on a power show in BP and has just hit a 419-foot homer to right to give USA 3-2 lead in Futures Game in Minny.”
John Manuel (Baseball America): “Joey Gallo lives up to the hype . . . loooong home run to right and a [Korean Baseball]-worthy bat flip to punctuate it. Have a freaking day Joey Gallo.”
Jay Jaffe (Sports Illustrated): “Joey Gallo: Holy launch angle porn.”
Callis: “After electrifying the Target Field crowd — and damaging a Chevrolet pickup truck on the concourse behind the right-field stands — during batting practice, Gallo struck out in his first two Futures Game at-bats. But he made the most of his third opportunity, unleashing a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the U.S. team a 3-2 lead that held up for its fifth straight victory. The announced distance on Gallo’s home run was 419 feet, which several press-box observers thought was too conservative.
“As impressive as Gallo’s Futures Game-winning home run may have been, it paled in comparison with the show he put on in batting practice. He led all players with 15 home runs, many of the tape-measure variety. He reached the third deck in right center with his first swing and hit five more balls there. He also hit three blasts to right field that carried completely over the stands and onto the concourse, including one that smashed the windshield of a pickup truck.
“[Said Gallo, who was named Futures Game MVP, of the BP shot everyone’s talking about:] ‘I heard I broke a windshield, and I do feel bad about that.’”
Badler: “Does anyone have a cigarette?”
Our tenth annual Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark will be on Wednesday, August 13. I’ll have full details out in the next few days, but for now I can tell you that Jon Daniels, as he’s always done, has agreed to do a lengthy Q&A session with us, and Will Carroll is coming in from Indiana to be the warmup act. We will have a raffle and auction of lots of very cool stuff, and this year proceeds will benefit the Richard Durrett Family Fund, which has been established to support the family of the Rangers beat writer who, at age 38, passed away on June 17.
More details on the event — with instructions on how to reserve your spots — very soon.
I also wanted to add two points to yesterday’s report about the opportunities the Rangers will have this month as we near the conventional trade deadline, both of which I expect I’ll write about in greater depth in the coming weeks:
1. I would trade any Texas Rangers player other than Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, and Jorge Alfaro. The circumstances would have to be extraordinary for me to discuss Elvis Andrus or Rougned Odor or Joey Gallo or Martin Perez and probably even Leonys Martin, but for me they’re not untouchable.
Yu, Adrian, or Jorge are.
2. I would not rule out the idea that Texas jumps into the mix on the “buyer’s” end of a July deal. I would hope, if David Price or Giancarlo Stanton is open for discussion, and you can probably throw another few names of elite impact players with club control beyond 2014 in there too, that Texas gets involved even if that’s a bit unconventional for a club not positioned to win this year.
For one thing, the Rangers are able to part with a core piece at the big league level, something that a contender would obviously be reluctant to do in July and that could appeal to the seller. Which ties back into the first point.
And Texas has plenty of depth in prospects to tack on as well.
More on that idea soon, but more on Newberg Report Night sooner.
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.