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A giant tale.

The following, or at least part of it, did not happen.

There are two New York Football Giants fans who live in the Metroplex.  They’re really big New York Football Giants fans.

To protect their identity, we’ll call one “JD,” and the other “AJ.”

On September 8 this year, gearing up for the Giants’ regular season opener in Arlington, they saw their favorite baseball team break a three-game skid with a comeback win over the Angels, an outstanding bullpen effort on a day when the team’s relievers were relatively well rested and the club’s ace was set to open a series the next day against Pittsburgh.

The Giants lost to Dallas, 36-31.  Very disappointing for JD and AJ.

The next month was worse.  The Giants lost to the Broncos, lost to the Panthers, lost to the Chiefs, lost to the Eagles, and lost to the Bears — consecutively — and JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team went 10-11 over that stretch, the final loss of which was in a one-game play-in that their favorite baseball team had to play because of how the previous 20 games had gone.

Not fun.

JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team made a shocking announcement on October 17, involving a major change in the franchise’s executive suite.  JD and AJ typically liked to spend the time of the year when their favorite baseball team was finished playing thinking about ways their favorite baseball team could get better, and the shakeup in management probably distracted them a bit from that, but they also had the very welcome distraction of the Giants rattling off four straight wins, from October 21 to November 17.

There was a bye week in that stretch for the Giants, during which JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team extended the contract of its most promising young pitcher, guaranteeing four seasons and giving the club three more years of control after that.

AJ got his own job promotion around that time, too.

On November 24, with the Giants having miraculously climbed back into the playoff hunt with those four straight wins, they were getting Dallas at home, a reeling Cowboys team that had just been destroyed in New Orleans and had its own bye week afterwards to think about it.

Cowboys 24, Giants 21.  Gut punch for JD and AJ.  But JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team had just traded for one of the game’s premier sluggers, so at least they had that.

The Giants took care of business the next weekend against the Redskins, and JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team made an intriguing trade for a young power-hitting prospect who might be ready for the big leagues.  JD and AJ were feeling good.

But then, on December 8, the Giants were blasted by the Chargers, and with it their playoff chances were mathematically extinguished, with three weeks to go.  At least JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team wasn’t eliminated until after the regular season had ended.

But JD and AJ are loyal, diehard sports fans.  They’re not the type to jump ship.

The Giants’ next game, the first one that doesn’t really matter, is this Sunday afternoon in New York.  The Seattle Seahawks come into MetLife Stadium, hoping to pad what’s already the best record in the NFL, led by the most unlikely star quarterback in the game, Russell Wilson, who’s in his second year after being taken in the third round of the draft.

Five quarterbacks were selected before Wilson in that 2012 draft.

Two of them were Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler.

I’m not a Giants fan or a Seahawks fan myself, but I read a bunch of stories about Wilson yesterday, full of words like professionalism and competitiveness and makeup and work ethic and “off-the-charts character and focus.”

Off-the-charts focus.

JD and AJ hung out in Florida much of this week, and while most Giants fans have probably made other plans for Sunday, you can bet JD and AJ were thinking a little bit about football (when they weren’t thinking about their favorite baseball team and how they were going to help it win that day), and imagining how the Giants could find a way to compete with the Seahawks, to put a dent in that juggernaut team’s charge toward the playoffs, to keep fighting because that’s what you do, to maybe find a way to distract that star quarterback — to throw off that off-the-charts focus, maybe just a little.

JD and AJ have a good friend — who we’ll call “Josh” — who’s a really big 49ers fan.  The Niners are chasing the Seahawks in the NFC West, and are just two games back with three to go, having just handed them only their second loss last Sunday while the Giants were in the process of being eliminated.  San Francisco really needs Seattle to lose again, and Josh would really like to see that happen, and maybe if Wilson were to lose a little bit of that elite focus of his as he gets set to play the doormat Giants, that could help.

JD and AJ and Josh probably talked about that.  Because they’re huge sports fans, and they don’t stop thinking about ways to help their teams win.

Not all of the above happened.

Though I have no proof of that.

A little bit about you for our files.

So let’s say on March 23, 2004 the Rangers chose Robinson Cano over Joaquin Arias and Rudy Guillen and Bronson Sardinha and Jose Valdez, as was their right to do, and if anything it would have been even more likely in that case that Texas would have committed to Michael Young at shortstop, and though maybe Buck Showalter would have been a little more insistent that Alfonso Soriano move to the outfield I’m going to assume that still wouldn’t have happened here and he still would have been flipped to Washington for Brad Wilkerson and Armando Galarraga and Terrmel Sledge after two seasons at second base, but not so fast because that second Soriano season in Texas (2005) coincided with the 22-year-old Cano’s runner-up Rookie of the Year campaign in New York (while the 20-year-old Arias had his career year professionally — for AA Frisco), and maybe after Cano’s standout 2004 in AA and AAA — assuming he would have done same thing at Frisco and Oklahoma that year that he did at Trenton and Columbus — just maybe Texas would have gone to camp in 2005 with Young and Cano up the middle rather than Young and Soriano, and in that case maybe Soriano would have been traded that winter rather than the next one, and instead of Wilkerson-plus, who knows, maybe the Rangers would have gotten someone like Jose Guillen instead and, hmm, maybe the Wilkerson trade was OK after all, but then again if Texas hadn’t picked up Sledge who would have gone to San Diego along with Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young in Sledge’s place, and if Cano played in Frisco and Oklahoma in 2004, what would have happened with second basemen Jason Bourgeois (AA) and Ramon Nivar (AAA), well, Nivar would have just played 90 percent of his games in the outfield instead of just 60 percent and maybe that would have been a good thing, and speaking of middle infielders-turned-center fielders, if the Yankees lost Cano to Texas rather than Arias, maybe Arias never sees the outfield and never hurts his arm and as a result fulfills his crazy potential as a Yankee, and back in Texas while Cano’s double play partner at AAA would have been aging journeyman Manny Alexander, at AA it would have been shortstop Ian Kinsler, at least until he was traded, which he was that July (with Erik Thompson) for Colorado star slugger Larry Walker, who killed the deal with his no-trade clause, but Kinsler, who hit .402 with power for two months at Low A Clinton that spring and then .300 with power at Frisco, would have surely been traded anyway with Texas knowing that Cano was its next second baseman and maybe the Rangers would have jumped in on Kansas City’s Carlos Beltran trade that June, taking advantage of Kinsler’s ridiculous breakout by packaging him with second-year center fielder Laynce Nix and AA righthander Kameron Loe to get the 27-year-old (whom the Royals ended up trading in a three-team deal with Houston and Oakland, netting them third baseman Mark Teahan, righthander Mike Wood, and catcher John Buck [two future Rangers and one who has always seemed poised to be a Ranger]), and where would this team have been in the mid-’00’s with Cano at second and Beltran in center field, which assumes Texas would have spent the money to extend Beltran past that 2004 summer and keep him from going to the Mets that winter for seven years and $119 million, one helluva huge contract that’s less than half the cash that the Mariners committed to Cano today, and maybe if the Rangers had been better than the very average team they were those next few years, they wouldn’t have decided to tear the thing down and trade Cano’s former teammate (and perhaps Beltran’s future teammate) Mark Teixeira, in which case the Rangers would have never gotten Elvis Andrus or Matt Harrison or Neftali Feliz and nevermindforgetIsaidanything and as long as we have power when I wake up tomorrow I’ll probably write something about J.P. Arencibia and please stop asking me what ever happened to Erik Thompson.

The Gentry-Choice trade.

One year ago today, I wrote a report about Mike Napoli, focusing on a lengthy list

during the Jon Daniels/Nolan Ryan era of players that Texas acquired at what appears to have been exactly the right time.  Players who were picked up just before they exploded, who came at a price that in retrospect seems absurdly light, who reached their big league peaks (or a significant resurgence) here – which doesn’t even count Adrian Beltre, whose contract already seems like a bargain.

The list was headed by Napoli and included Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd, Darren O’Day, Milton Bradley, and Darren Oliver.

The departures the last few weeks of Nathan and Murphy, and possibly Cruz, will further prove the point.

Texas paid Nathan $7 million per year in 2012 and 2013 and got spectacular results.  Detroit will reportedly pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million annually for his age 39 and 40 seasons.

The Rangers paid Murphy roughly $13 million over six seasons, most of which were pretty productive.  Cleveland has agreed to guarantee him almost as much ($12 million) over just the next two, during which he will be 32 and 33, and coming off his worst campaign by far.

Cruz was paid about $21 million for seven Rangers seasons, with a high salary of $10.5 million in 2013.  The 33-year-old will blow that number away with his next deal, even though he’s likely to enter his decline phase at some point during it.

Even A.J. Pierzynski, who will be 37, will be guaranteed more in Boston this coming season ($8.25 million) than he was in Texas ($7.5 million).

Craig Gentry was a senior at the University of Arkansas in 2006 when, in that summer’s 10th round, Rangers area scout Jay Eddings (who was promoted last month to a pro scouting position) pounded his fist on the table for a kid who wasn’t even drafted as a junior, due in part to Tommy John surgery, and whose senior season was abbreviated by an infection in his knee.  Eddings believed in the player, and pushed until the Rangers used the 298th pick on the outfielder. It took a mere $10,000 signing bonus (where else was a senior going to go?) to bring him on board.  He entered the system with all the fanfare ever afforded a college senior, which is to say basically none.

As someone who’s addicted to outfield defense and pressure offense, I’m obviously a huge Craig Gentry fan.

But I’m a bigger fan of building winning baseball teams, and while yesterday’s trade with Oakland can’t be oversimplified as the conversion of a 10th-round senior sign into a 10th overall pick in the draft, this is yet another example, almost certainly, of the Rangers maximizing a player’s value — and in fact getting the most out of him when he was undervalued in terms of payroll impact — and flipping him when the opportunity came up to get younger and less expensive and, given the immediate state of the roster, possibly more balanced.

Gentry turned 30 last week.  His game is fully dependent on his legs.  Oakland doesn’t care too much whether he’ll be the same player after three more years, when he’ll first have the right to test free agency, because that club’s window, which is framed offensively around 2014 28-year-old’s Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes and 34-year-old Coco Crisp, who will hit the market a year from now, is wide open right now.  That’s a franchise that can’t worry about 2017, not coming off back-to-back division titles with over 90 wins and less payroll flexibility than most clubs.  The A’s are built to win, and every move they’ve made this winter has been focused solely on 2014.

Which is not to say the trade that sent Gentry and righthander Josh Lindblom to Oakland for 24-year-old outfielder Michael Choice and 20-year-old infielder Chris Bostick was a 2014 sacrifice by Texas with only future seasons in mind.  This deal, like last month’s Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder swap, was made because it allowed Texas to take an area of strength and address an area of weakness, giving the roster more balance than it had the day before the trade went down.

Here are the realities:

Texas expects Leonys Martin, who made significant progress in 2013, to take the next step in his development and replace the flashes of impact play with a steadier dose of consistency.  He’s this team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter, and not in a platoon.

As a right-handed hitter, Gentry could have gone into the 2014 season as the team’s starting left fielder, or more likely on the light end of a platoon with a left-handed bat like Engel Beltre or Jim Adduci or even Mitch Moreland.  But given the Rangers’ objective of resuscitating its offense with some of the run production that was missing in 2013, the likelihood was always that left field was going to be an ideal place to add some punch.

He’s not the baserunner Gentry is, but Beltre is every bit as good an outfielder, and arguably better.

He’s also 24.

And out of options.

With Martin set to play every day in center (and Alex Rios in right), Gentry was in a bit of a lurch here — worthy of more than just 150 at-bats and a bunch of late-inning defensive work, but not enough punch to hold down a corner outfield spot on a contending team.  A platoon in left?  I’m not sure the Rangers were going to be comfortable giving Beltre or Adduci the heavy half of a tandem arrangement on a corner, or making Moreland an everyday outfielder.  And if the plan was (or is) to go out and get a left-handed bat like Shin-Soo Choo (whom Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports Texas met with recently, and who Jim Bowden of ESPN/XM believes will sign with Texas) or Curtis Granderson or the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran, then you’re back to looking at Gentry as a fourth outfielder playing behind three full-time guys.  That’s a valuable piece, but perhaps less so than as a trade chip — particularly given what the A’s were offering — and especially when Beltre (who will surely be claimed by another club if he doesn’t make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster) is still around to serve in the lockdown defender role.

Craig Gentry is a bench weapon.  He’s very good at his narrowly defined job.  Contending teams win with players like that.

But he’s a 30-year-old bench weapon.  And when there are options behind him who can serve a similar function (even if less dependably), when you can turn a role player into a talent like Choice, it’s a risk that fearless GM’s are sometimes willing to take.

Jon Daniels was willing to make the deal because his scouts believe Choice, who was born in Fort Worth and played high school ball in Mansfield and collegiately at UTA (where he was teammates with Rangers outfield prospect Preston Beck), could give the club a power bat that’s ready to contribute.  He’s going to have the chance to earn the left field job (and though his left-right splits are reasonably even, it’s possible the club could pair him with the left-handed Beltre or Adduci).

He could also be sent to AAA for more seasoning (he has all three options left), especially if an impact veteran is acquired.

He could be traded again, for that matter.

The point is that there’s flexibility — and six years of control — and if Choice’s raw power translates against big league pitching, he could give the Rangers something they’ve lacked, with the negligible type of payroll impact that facilitates much bigger splashes elsewhere on the roster.

Chosen 10th in 2010 draft (in a deep crop that included Bryce Harper [1] and Manny Machado [3] and Matt Harvey [7] ahead of him, and Chris Sale [13] and Christian Yelich [23] behind him — Texas took outfielder Jake Skole with the 15th pick and catcher Kellin Deglan 22nd overall), Choice hit a robust .266/.377/.587 that summer with Short-Season A Vancouver and then .285/.376/.542 (with a league-leading 30 homers) for High A Stockton in 2011, followed by a standout run in the Arizona Fall League (.318/.423/.667).  His power receded with AA Midland in 2012 (.287/.356/.423) and came back only a little with AAA Sacramento this season (.302/.390/.445), earning a September look with Oakland in which he went 5 for 18 with a double and a walk, fanning six times.

Despite the drop in game power the last two years, scouts continue to tout Choice’s raw power and plus bat speed, pointing to his aptitude and mechanical adjustments as a hitter — his strikeout rate has improved every season (one for every 2.9 plate appearances in 2010, 1/4.0 in 2011, 1/4.6 in 2012, and 1/5.2 in 2013) and he walked once every 8.7 times up in 2013 after once every 12.2 trips the year before — and most believe he’s ready for the opportunity to hit in a big league lineup.

As with most deals that involve unproven players keying at least one side of it, this is a scouting trade.  Rangers talent evaluators obviously feel Choice’s power is not only in there but poised to break out.  Scouting decisions don’t always pan out, but this organization has a tremendous track record in that respect, and it’s easy to get behind the idea that Texas has measured the risk against the upside well and is right about what Choice will be.

The right-handed hitter/thrower is built like Marlon Byrd, and many things about his profile might remind you of the former Ranger outfielder.  He’s capable of playing center field but is ideally a corner defender.  He’s athletic but won’t be much of a basestealing threat and doesn’t throw particularly well.  Byrd’s a lifetime .280 hitter who has flashed 20-25 home run power in his good years.  Choice could be that same guy, with the chance to clear more fences eventually — especially away from O.co Coliseum as his home park.

Choice may not be ready to produce like Byrd did in 2007-09 with the Rangers or last year with the Mets and Pirates, but with Byrd now 36 there’s certainly no guarantee he’ll continue to produce at those levels himself.

And Byrd is guaranteed $8 million from the Phillies in 2014.  And another $8 million in 2015.  And another $8 million in 2016, if he plays enough beforehand to lock that third season in.

Choice will make roughly the Major League minimum those three years.

Ben Badler of Baseball America tweeted yesterday that Choice will slot somewhere in the top five among Rangers prospects — presumably along with catcher Jorge Alfaro, middle infielders Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, and one of righthanders Alex Gonzalez and Luke Jackson and third baseman Joey Gallo — but he was number two for the A’s, and without question the player with the highest ceiling in Tuesday’s trade.

According to San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser, “The move has some in the game scratching their heads (I’ve even heard comparisons to the Andre Ethier deal with the Dodgers).”

In December 2005, Oakland traded Ethier, then a 23-year-old who had just torn up the AA Texas League, to Los Angeles for Bradley, who would play the 2006 season at age 28 (plus infield prospect Antonio Perez).  Bradley helped the A’s win the West in his one full season in Oakland, while Ethier finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2006, since finishing sixth in the MVP race one year and appearing in the All-Star Game two other times.  The mere invoking of that deal eight years later suggests there are folks unsure of why Oakland — cash-strapped Oakland — would move a high-end prospect like Choice for a 30-year-old role player, when nine times out of 10 you find the A’s on the opposite side of that kind of trade.

(One big league scout suggested to Slusser, by the way, that Bostick, the second player coming to Texas, “has upside and is a risky trade” for Oakland.  He’s not a high-upside player, and is at least two years away, but Lindblom was probably not going to impact the 2014 Rangers staff any more than he did in 2013, and he’ll be out of options when the season ends.  Adding a middle infield lottery ticket like Bostick — more ballplayer than toolbox in this case — is a classic Daniels move.  But he’s far from a sure thing, even if some believe his hit tool and feel for the game could carry him a long way.)

I read a lot of A’s-centric material yesterday openly wondering if Billy Beane just isn’t a Michael Choice guy, for some unknown reason — otherwise it would seem fair to assume that (1) reasonable value for Gentry would have been less than a big league-ready prospect with Choice’s upside . . . or that (2) Choice could have brought a more valuable (younger?) asset back.  (Grant speculated that the A’s, desperate for a new stadium, have that added reason to go all in for the 2014 season — and perhaps increase support for stadium funding.)

(Maybe Beane thinks that sending Choice to Texas could take the Rangers off the chase for Choo or Beltran or Cruz, increasing his own club’s chances in the division this year.  Doubt that was a meaningful factor, though.)

Regardless of the reason, every national column you read today will suggest Texas won this deal, even if the more predictable immediate impact belongs to Oakland.

Gentry’s greatest value is as a part-time center fielder, and the importance of that role is arguably diminished this year in Texas.  He had more value to Oakland, whose center fielder is aging, injury-prone, and a year from free agency, and whose need to win right now, even at the expense of the near future, has become apparent.

And that made Choice less valuable to the A’s than he is to Texas, which has made run production a priority this winter, and which has a left field situation that’s immediately open to competition.  Oakland’s window may have gotten arguably wider with this deal, but it could shut sooner than the Rangers’ window, which Choice could help extend as he gives the club six years of inexpensive control and the type of raw power that was otherwise at least two years away from arriving off the farm.

The Rangers have had unusually good success in the 10th round of the draft, finding players like Rusty Greer and Doug Davis and Billy Sample and others (including outfielder Justin Maxwell, who didn’t sign, and righthander Matt Nevarez, who was eventually sent to Houston in a trade for Pudge Rodriguez, and outfielder Jared Hoying and righthander Cole Wiper, each of whom have a real chance to get to the big leagues).  It’s historically been a more fruitful round for Texas than the second, or the fourth.

Craig Gentry fits near the top of that list of Rangers steals in the 10th round.  Even though his unusually long college career was followed by an unusually long minor league apprenticeship, resulting in his first extended big league opportunity coming at age 27 in 2011, he was outstanding in his role here the last few years, providing the type of help off the bench that great teams get, and was a fan favorite (myself included).  But he’s 30 years old, arguably situated, given the state of the team, in a position where he was either going to be overexposed or underutilized, and with this trade he enabled Texas to add a recent first-round pick at a position of need — and to potentially address left field without surrendering a future first-rounder in the process.

For now, at least.

Gentry is unquestionably a success story in Texas, but this organization has demonstrated, over and over, that it won’t keep a player too long.  The Rangers scouted him well and developed him well, and most likely got Gentry’s best years, and are clearly convinced they have the chance to get the same out of Michael Choice.

And those lie ahead rather than behind.

One fan tweeted yesterday: “First Ian, now Gentry.  Who are the women supposed to cheer for?!?”

I responded: “The Rangers.”

Just as the presence of Jurickson Profar and need for left-handed power made Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder a good fit, the development of Leonys Martin and presence of Engel Beltre and need for even more power made the trade of Craig Gentry a sensible one.  If Choice becomes what the Rangers believe he will become, one day we’ll look back fondly not only at the very good years the former 10th-round pick Gentry gave this team, but also at the trade that sent a 10th man to a division rival for a hometown kid, the corner bat with a high ceiling, controllable for a baseball eternity, that this club had a serious need for.

Stuff.

I hate Detroit’s trade of righthander Doug Fister to Washington (no matter what happens next), I don’t like A.J. Pierzynski for Boston, I like Oakland’s trade for closer Jim Johnson because I’m a Rangers fan, I’m confused by the Tigers giving Alan Trammell’s number to Ian Kinsler, I’m fascinated that the Angels reportedly offered Howie Kendrick to Detroit for Fister before the Tigers took Kinsler for Prince Fielder, and I’m intrigued by a handful of the players set free by their clubs in advance of yesterday’s non-tender deadline (including righthanders Andrew Bailey, Daniel Hudson, Ronald Belisario, Ryan Webb, and Sandy Rosario, lefthander Wesley Wright, and catchers Lou Marson and J.P. Arencibia), but today I have just two things I wanted to share with you:

One:

Ricky Nolasco’s free agent deal with Minnesota (four years/$49 million) will pay him $12 million in 2014.

Scott Kazmir’s two-year deal with Oakland: $11 million in 2014.

Tim Hudson: $11 million in 2014.

Tim Lincecum: $17 million in 2014.

Dan Haren: $10 million in 2014.

Phil Hughes and Josh Johnson: $8 million in 2014.

Jason Vargas: $7 million in 2014.

Yu Darvish $10 million, Matt Harrison $8 million, Derek Holland $5.4 million, Martin Perez $1 million, and Alexi Ogando somewhere around $2 million.

A complete rotation — and a very good one — for under $27 million in 2014, or less than what the Giants will pay Hudson and Lincecum (their number three and four starters?) alone.

Two:

I’ve recommended Joe Sheehan’s Newsletter to you before, and will do it again.  He didn’t ask me to plug his work.  I asked him if I could share with you guys what he wrote on Sunday.  He said sure.

Enjoy this.

Months ago, before we had a clear idea of when mom’s surgery date would be, I committed to seeing “Betrayal” on November 20. One of the reasons I love New York is that I very much enjoy theatre, not so much the big musical productions but plays, and you have terrific access to those here. I like — this won’t come as a surprise to those of you who know my love of Aaron Sorkin — well-written dialogue. “Betrayal” fit that, and was something of an event here in town, with the married Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig as husband and wife in two of the three lead roles. Despite recent events, I didn’t want to stand up my friend who’d gotten the tickets, so I gathered myself together and went.

(Nickel review? Not bad, not great. I imagine it made a greater impression in pre-Thatcher London than it possibly can in a media environment where talky dramas are plentiful and adultery has lost its ability to shock. I did not like the conceit of telling the story in reverse. Also, the Barrymore may be a touch too big for a performance that is quiet, subtle, reserved.)

So i was completely out of touch when the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder trade went down, learning of it — as I learn almost everything nowadays — via Twitter on the 1 train headed home. My first reaction was…no reaction at all. I am a professional opinion generator, and the deal had broken me, the way Flash ads break my Firefox twice a day. i scrolled through others’ takes, sent some text messages and generally tried to figure out how this had happened.

It’s not as it this idea was completely random. Two years ago, when Fielder was a free agent, I beat the drums hard for the Rangers to sign him. They went with Yu Darvish instead, a decision that certainly cannot be criticized. However, their lineup was a bit lacking in 2012 and a real problem in 2013, a fact masked by a home ballpark that inflates run scoring. Darvish has been excellent, but the Rangers could have used Fielder as well. I had a good read on Fielder’s price — “an eight-year, $200-million contract” when he eventually got 9/214 — and foresaw that the Rangers would allow Hamilton to leave via free agency, creating a hole in the middle of the batting order.

“Prince Fielder is the one free agent the Rangers should target. He fills their position of greatest need; he is young enough that they would be buying his peak; he balances their lineup; and he provides a solution to the vexing problem of how to handle Josh Hamilton’s upcoming free agency. Even if it means stretching the budget a bit, the Rangers should make this move — it would swing the AL West back in their favor for now and years to come.”

The Rangers lost the AL West in 2012 by a single game and missed the outright spot in the Coin Flip Game by that much in 2013. Given that Mitch Moreland has failed to develop (.250/.308/.450 at ages 26 and 27), there’s a strong argument that pushing the payrolls the past two years to $140-145 million by signing Fielder could have been the difference between making the real postseason twice and not doing so at all.

The Rangers have now acquired Fielder and the seven years left on his contract in exchange for Kinsler and the four years left on his, with the Tigers sending $30 million over the last five years of Fielder’s deal to help make the trade happen. Fielder is a less attractive property than he was as a free agent, two years older — two peak seasons, ages 28 and 29, gone — and perhaps with more questions about what his performance will be in his thirties. His two years in Detroit were just all right: .295/.387/.491, playing in every single game, hitting 55 homers. Fielder’s 2013 line of .279/.362/.457 was his worst since his rookie season as a Brewer, and Fielder actively hurts any team as a fielder and baserunner, costing a team about a win a year with his glove and his legs. Per baseball-reference’s WAR, Fielder was just a single win better than Moreland in 2013, largely because of how poorly Fielder plays his position. It’s tempting to blame Comerica Park, but Fielder did not show unusual home/road splits during his time with the Tigers, and his poor 2013 stats weren’t any better away than they were at home.

Fielder’s defense may be bad enough that the Rangers can make him a DH and get more value from him than they would by leaving him at first base. Even if he doesn’t hit quite as well as a DH — most players don’t — they’d be getting back eight to 12 runs a year, and quite possibly more that that as Fielder ages. There are soft factors here to consider, as not all 30-year-olds take to becoming designated hitters, and you don’t want to start the relationship with your new #3 hitter by pissing him off. However, the most important things Fielder will do for the Rangers, he’ll do in the batters’ box; the Rangers need him to be the .300/.400/.550 guy they missed last year.

Will he be? Fielder has a very good strikeout rate for a hitter with his power, and excellent command of the strike zone. That’s enabled him to hit .286 in his career, and peak with three years of .299 or better. His strikeout rate has actually declined even as league strikeout rates have risen. His unintentional walk rate is down from its 2009-10 peak. I first thought that might be because he’s batting more with runners on base, but that doesn’t seem to be the difference. Per Fangraphs, though, Fielder does make contact more often now, when he swings, than he did earlier in his career. So the missing walks are the result of an improvement in his game. With his batted-ball data relatively stable, I see no reason to think Fielder’s plate discipline will be a concern. Fielder has never been a Three True Outcome player, which is what has separated him from the Adam Dunn class of batters, and which should be a separator for him — allowing him to continue to be productive — for the next few seasons at least. Fielder’s career slash line of .286/.389/.527 seems like a reasonable median expectation for him through 2016. There’s some downside risk here, because Fielder is a one-dimensional player and he’s signed for a long time, but he’s good enough at the plate now to warrant taking the risk.

The other player in the trade is substantially more risky. Ian Kinsler may have a broader skill set than does Fielder, and he’s signed for fewer years, and he has more positional value…but to my eyes, he’s showing many more markers of decline. Kinsler is a 32-year-old second baseman coming off two of the worst offensive seasons of his career. Never much of a hitter for average, Kinsler saw his power fall off — he slugged .423 and .413 the past two years despite a great home park for power — and his once-vaunted basestealing skills disappear. An 86% basestealer through 2011, Kinsler was 21-for-30 in 2012 and a wretched 15-for-26 last year. His 2013 bWAR was propped up by strong defensive numbers, ones that for Kinsler have bounced around considerably throughout his career. (Defensive bWAR, starting in 2006: 0.0, 0.8, -0.5, 2.6, 1.0, 2.2, 0.3, 1.5. Go ahead, predict the next number in that sequence.) Kinsler is closing in on 10,000 defensive innings at second base. He’s been prone to the kind of minor, nagging injuries that chip away at playing time and performance. Did I mention that he’s 32?

Perhaps the biggest concern is that outside of Texas, Kinsler has been an ordinary hitter. On the road, he’s batted .242/.312/.399, with stark changes in his strikeout rate and K/UIBB as compared to his work in Texas. Now, those road stats are skewed a bit — the AL West parks other than Rangers Ballpark have been excellent pitchers’ parks and the teams Kinsler has faced more with the unbalanced schedule have been good pitching teams — but the idea that Kinsler is a power/speed second baseman is belied by that .399. It’s not like Kinsler’s road stats are weighted by a couple of bad years. His road OPS, walking backwards from 2013: 735, 611, 730, 710, 672. This is who he is. When you add the road performance to the short-term decline to the age to the minor injuries…it’s a very problematic package.

Now, this could work out, but it hinges on Kinsler making fundamental changes to his approach. Kinsler hits a lot of pop-ups. That’s an effect of his being a flyball hitter, which you could argue was his attempt to take advantage of his home park. If Kinsler ports his pull/pop-up style to Comerica Park, he could have a very long season that accelerates his decline. If he changes, though…if he does something similar to what Torii Hunter has done the past two seasons and becomes a line-drive hitter with pop who can put balls in play in Comerica’s expansive outfield, then I think he could have more success than his home/road splits indicate. Projecting whether players will change in mid-career is a fool’s errand, but we’ve seen enough players make changes, even in just the last couple of years, to underline the point that adaptations happen. The current version of Ian Kinsler will get worked in his new home; if he builds a new version, though, he can help the Tigers win and perhaps stave off his decline. There’s a good outcome in which Kinsler hits .310 with 45 doubles and a dozen homers and his usual walk and strikeout rates.

The Rangers now have Fielder for the next seven years at a net cost of $138 million, or about $20 million per year. The Tigers have Kinsler for four years at a net cost of $92 million per year. I don’t think the money really matters all that much — you’re trying to win games and divisions and championships, rather than a wins-per-dollar title — but looked at that way, I think the Rangers did well for themselves. I would rather have Fielder under his terms than Kinsler under his.

Of course, this trade didn’t happen in a vacuum, which is why it’s such a fascinating deal. I’m certain that I’ve made fantasy baseball or Strat-O-Matic trades that were like this, where the fit between two teams was just so perfect that you could make a one-for-one swap that made both teams better the moment the deal happened. It’s extremely rare to see it happen in MLB; the first one that came to mind was the Padres/Blue Jays deal that, similarly, swapped a second baseman in Roberto Alomar for a first baseman in Fred McGriff, with Joe Carter and Tony Fernandez along for the ride. The Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda deal wanted to be this type of trade before it drank battery acid. The allure of the never-was-happening Oscar Taveras-for-Jurickson Profar trade was just this: to make the puzzle pieces fit better.

This trade isn’t about Fielder and Kinsler, really. It’s about Miguel Cabrera and Profar, and Nick Castellanos and Elvis Andrus. It’s about the puzzle pieces. This trade is designed to help the Tigers and the Rangers both align their talent better. So whether Fielder or Kinsler is the better player in 2014 or 2015, or whether one player’s contract commitment is now more or less onerous than the other, isn’t the point. The point is that both these teams expect to be better because of this deal.

For the Rangers, the immediate gain is obvious: After a year of being mishandled, Profar can now get on with his life as a second baseman. There’s some cost there, as Profar would be about a half-win more valuable per season, all things equal, as a shortstop, and he absolutely can be a major-league shortstop. However, simply being able to play him every day at a single position is worth that cost. Health allowing, the Rangers now have a championship-caliber middle infield locked in for the next six years, a combination that should be worth six or seven wins next year and could peak at 10 to 12 wins above replacement. Just putting an average team around Profar and Andrus makes the Rangers a contender. They also fill a  hole; in the first year post-Josh, Rangers’ left-handed batters slugged .389 with a .300 OBP, numbers Fielder will certainly help improve.

The Tigers’ gains aren’t quite so obvious, but this trade should cancel everyone’s favorite show, “Miguel Cabrera, Almost Third Baseman”. Cabrera was a poor defensive player at full health, and when injuries limited his mobility in the second half of 2013, he became one of the worst defensive players we’ve seen in a while. The Tigers’ roster construction left them no solution other than to keep playing Cabrera and hope for the best. While the Tigers put on a good face for two years, trading Fielder concedes the point that Cabrera can’t continue playing third base. With Fielder gone, Cabrera can not only move back to first base, he can spend time at DH when his body demands time off the field. The Tigers stand to gain 20-30 runs just by putting a capable third baseman on the field. Add that to the upgrades at second base and first base, and it becomes clear that this deal is going to make the Tigers better in the short term.

The Tigers fill a hole at second base that was opened by Omar Infante’s free agency, and they’ll have the option to move Castellanos, originally a third baseman, back to the hot corner. Castellanos was moved to the outfield as a downstream effect of Cabrera’s initial move to third in 2012, but his bat will play considerably better at third base. His defense at third did not warrant the initial position switch, and frankly, after two years of running Cabrera out there, the Tigers don’t get to tell anyone they can’t play third base for reasons of defense. Castellanos hasn’t exactly raked above A ball — .271 with middling power and a 176/65 K/UIBB in a bit more than 900 PA — so he’s got a much better chance of having a career if he’s not a corner outfielder.

I think back to that train ride home, and my inability to form an opinion on this deal. It’s because this trade, this bolt from the blue, doesn’t fit what we do any longer. It’s a baseball trade — forget the $30 million. It’s a baseball trade that aligns the talent of two teams better, that should make those two teams better, that makes sense no matter how you look at it.  You can’t snark it, you can’t reduce it to 140 characters, you can’t make a sound bite out of it. You can just sit back and appreciate the creativity and the craft of Jon Daniels and Dave Dombrowski, two men who do their jobs as well as anyone in the industry. Who won? They both did.

Flexibility Sunday.

The Twins have a beast of a minor league system, possibly the best in baseball.  It’s headed by two potential monsters in center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, followed by righthanders Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart, and backed up by a solid supply of kids up and down the system, all over the field and particularly heavy on the mound.

There’s an outside chance that Buxton, Sano, and Meyer could all arrive in Minnesota sometime in 2014.  But realistically, that franchise’s window is at least two years from opening.  It’s a club coming off seasons of 99, 96, and 96 losses, twice the most in the American League and once out-awfuled by only the Astros, and even with this week’s signings of righthanders Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, an over/under of 90 Twins losses in 2014 would probably draw fairly even play.

To convince a free agent in November to take himself off the market, you typically have to overpay.

That’s triply true when you’re a non-contender like the Twins.

Minnesota is reportedly committing $49 million over four years to Nolasco, who will be 31 next week, and $24 million over three years to Hughes, who isn’t very good at pitching.  That’s $73 million in obligated cash for a club whose payroll in 2013 was around $76 million.

It’s the latest example of the shifting contract landscape, as free agent classes get annually thinner at the same time as franchises lock in exponentially more lucrative TV deals.  It stands to reason that heavier competition for fewer arguably reliable veteran players would result in contracts that look crazier — but which, as always, won’t look so crazy in most cases, if we just give it a couple years.

One upshot of all this is that contracts that clubs entered into a year or two or more ago, even if they seemed like significant step-outs back then, tend to look like team-friendly deals now, assuming all other things (performance, health) are no worse than roughly equal.

And one baseball synonym for “team-friendly” is “tradeable.”

Who do you want: Nolasco at 4/49, Jason Vargas at 4/32, Hughes at 3/24, or Derek Holland at three years and $24.3 million — with club ability to control the 27-year-old at four years and $34.8 million or five years and $45.3 million?

Assuming Matt Harrison is healthy, you have him at 4/49 for the remainder of his year-old deal (or 5/60.25 if Texas picks up a 2018 option).  Would you trade the 28-year-old Harrison today for a 31-year-old Nolasco?  Of course not.

Yu Darvish: Locked up for 4/41 at this point (or 3/30 if he earns a player option via Cy Young finishes).

Let’s see what Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Bronson Arroyo get — but then again, even including Darvish in any affordability examination is sorta silly.

Some have suggested that Elvis Andrus’s contract extension, which commits Texas to $124.475 million over the next nine years ($13.8 million AAV) — or $139.475 over 10 seasons if the Rangers pick up a 2023 option — unless Andrus opts out after another five years and $66.475 or six years and $81.475, is a bad deal.

Who would you rather pay: the 25-year-old Andrus between $13 and $14 million a year for the prime of his career — or more than $13 million a year, for the next four seasons, to 31-year-old Jhonny Peralta?

If Nelson Cruz gets the four years and $75 million he reportedly seeks ($18.75 million AAV), how’s Adrian Beltre’s three years and $51 million ($17 million AAV) — which will be two years and $35 million ($17.5 million AAV) if he fails to reach 1200 plate appearances in 2014-2015 or 600 plate appearances in 2015 — looking now?

Beltre is 34.

Cruz is 33.

Cruz at 4/75 (or something close to it), or Alex Rios at the club’s choice of one year at $14 million or two years at $27 million?

Regardless of where you fall on Cruz vs. Rios as baseball players, you’re talking about a shorter commitment for Rios, and substantially less per year, assuming Cruz gets something close to what he’s asking for.

If Joakim Soria’s arm comes back in the second year after Tommy John surgery like they often do, is he worth the $6 million the Rangers will owe him in 2014 if they don’t pick up his 2015 option, or the two years and $12.5 million if they do?

Before you suggest he’ll need to be closing games to make the contract a good value, recognize that set-up men Joe Smith and Javier Lopez each just got three years guaranteed, for $15.75 million and $13 million, respectively.

Ian Kinsler’s contract was arguably as untradeable as any on the Rangers, until Texas moved it for Prince Fielder’s arguably unmovable deal.

All these other affordable contracts — plus the $15 million AAV saved the next few seasons at second base — presumably made assuming the Fielder contract palatable.

Especially with the $30 million subsidy from Detroit, which effectively makes the Texas commitment $19.7 million annually for the remaining seven years on Fielder’s deal.

Fielder is 29.  Hypothetical: You can trade the seven years left on his contract, right now, for the six years at $11.3 million annually that the White Sox have guaranteed Jose Dariel Abreu.  Wouldja?

You read all the time about the Rangers’ flexibility, from their depth at key positions to the waves of prospects in the pipeline to ownership’s demonstrated willingness to step out on payroll when key opportunities present themselves.

But there’s flexibility too created by locking up key pieces before they need to be locked up, and in spite of the fact that Texas regularly posts a top-third payroll, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find much of anything approaching albatross salary on this roster.  Given the way this winter’s free agent market has developed — not unexpectedly — you might take a look at the Texas roster and ask yourself how many attractive trade pieces this club has, and not only in terms of its robust farm system.

Parade.

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:

  1. Rougned Odor, 2B
  2. Jorge Alfaro, C
  3. Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez, RHP
  4. Luis Sardinas, SS
  5. Nick Williams, LF
  6. Joey Gallo, 3B
  7. Luke Jackson, RHP
  8. Nomar Mazara, RF
  9. Lewis Brinson, CF
  10. 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.

Steadily marching.

Felina (The Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder trade).

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.

Both.

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?

But I will miss Ian Kinsler.

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.”

Really?

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:

 

kins nap MY hamilton

 

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.

Virtual reality fail: An off-season baseball time-waste.

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.

Here goes:

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.

or:

(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.

Top of the world.

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.

Tim Bogar, and communication.

Hillcrest had fallen twice to North Lamar in a state playoff matchup of Panthers, 7-2 on May 19 in Paris and then 12-11 on May 21 in Dallas, and with it my playing career was over.

Less than two weeks later was the 1987 MLB Draft, and while I had no delusions of my own name being on some team’s list, I remember tearing open the next issue of Baseball America to see where the best players I’d grown up playing against would get taken.

There were Duncanville righthander David Nied (Braves/14th round) and his teammate, lefthander Chris Hill (Mets/42nd), who was my BBI teammate.

Dallas Baptist second baseman Jeff Baum (Royals/38th), who I’d played against when he was at Thomas Jefferson in Dallas.  W.T. White righthander Lee Jones (Padres/12th).  Skyline catcher (and future Skyline coach) Herman Johnson (Braves/50th).

Texas A&M third baseman Scott Livingstone (A’s/3rd), who was responsible for the most nervous moment in my life as an athlete (he was a senior at Lake Highlands when I was a freshman at Hillcrest — he was a left-handed hitter, and that year I was a second baseman).  Several picks later: Waco Midway’s Brian Lane (Reds/3rd), who was my opposing shortstop when we played them in the state playoffs my sophomore year.  The Rangers took UT third baseman Scott Coolbaugh with the next pick in the third round, and would use their 17th-round pick on University of Houston outfielder Omar Brewer, who I think may have been the first former Hillcrest baseball player ever drafted.

The first round in which the robust Texas territory didn’t have a player selected that June was the eighth, a round in which nine future big leaguers would be chosen, including Sacramento High School catcher Matt Walbeck (Cubs) and Eastern Illinois University shortstop Tim Bogar (Mets), and now I remember what this report was supposed to be about.

I remember the buzz when the Rangers hired Walbeck, a journeyman ballplayer but a decorated minor league manager, to be their third base coach and catching instructor after the 2007 season.  After retiring as a player with the Tigers in 2003, he went straight into coaching for Detroit, winning a Low A league title in 2004 and again in 2006, and earning BA’s nod as Midwest League Manager of the Year in 2005 and 2006.  The following season, Detroit promoted him to AA, where he not only won a division title but earned BA recognition as Minor League Manager of the Year, throughout all of baseball.

Texas hired Walbeck to complete Ron Washington’s second staff, and he was more than a decade younger than every other coach on the staff.  It seemed like the Rangers had a young star in the fold — perhaps a future manager.

Less than a year later, right when the 2008 season ended, the Rangers let Walbeck go, saying he and Washington “had a difficult time gelling.”

Walbeck landed with the Pirates, managing their AA Altoona club in 2009 and 2010, winning the league title that second year and earning Manager of the Year accolades.  But he was fired right after the playoffs.

He then caught on with Atlanta, hired to manage the Braves’ Low A Rome affiliate.  He was fired halfway into the season, and the grounds given were “philosophical differences,” a more generic but perhaps not a dissimilar basis from the “poor communication skills” and “lack of preparation” that had reportedly led to his dismissal from the Pirates organization.

Walbeck hasn’t worked in pro ball since July 2011.  He runs a youth baseball program in Sacramento.  He turned 44 a few weeks ago.

The meteoric rise was followed by a precipitous fall.

I’m not sure whether the Rangers were relying on Walbeck’s considerable buzz on the coaching side or if there were past relationships in play (I don’t remember reading about any), but there’s no question that Bogar arrives with both: a strong reputation and lots of history with the people he’ll be working with as the club’s new bench coach.

In 1991 and 1992, Bogar’s final two seasons in the minor leagues, Ron Washington was on the AAA Tidewater coaching staff.  Bogar says now that Wash taught him how to play big league-level shortstop and “got me over the hump to become a major league player.”

As a Mets rookie in 1993, Bogar was teammates with Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and Special Assistant to the GM Tony Fernandez (whom he backed up at shortstop until a June trade of Fernandez to Toronto moved Bogar into the starting lineup).

He and Maddux played together in 1994, and again in 2000 with the Astros.

In 2001, Bogar’s final big league season, played alongside Adrian Beltre with both the Dodgers and AAA Las Vegas.  Rangers Senior Special Assistant Don Welke was with that organization as well.

It’s safe to assume that Jon Daniels consulted Wash and Maddux and Welke and Fernandez and even Beltre about Bogar before the 46-year-old interviewed for the bench coach job earlier this month, and perhaps Tim Purpura (now reportedly in a business-side position with the organization) as well.  Purpura, then Assistant GM and Farm Director for the Astros, gave Bogar his first coaching job in January 2004 (Nolan Ryan joined the Astros as a Special Assistant the next month), when the former Houston infielder was hired to manage the Astros’ short-season Greeneville club (2004) and then Low A Lexington (2005).

Rangers official Mike Daly, who will now run the day-to-day operations of the organization’s farm system, was a scout with Cleveland in 2006, when Bogar managed the Indians’ AA affiliate and was named the Eastern League’s Manager of the Year as well as the circuit’s top manager prospect by BA (the same year Walbeck was BA’s Minor League Manager of the Year).

After a season managing the Indians’ AAA club, Bogar was hired by the Rays to serve as a big league quality assurance coach.  He worked in tandem with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon on series and game preparation, including setting defensive shifts based on spray chart analysis, and he was also asked to assist with infield instruction and spring training coordination.  Bogar will handle those duties with the Rangers as well.

In that 2008 season with Tampa Bay, the Rays went from last in the AL in the “defensive efficiency” metric to first.  The franchise, which had lost 90 games in each of its 10 seasons, went to the World Series that year.

The Red Sox, who fell to the Rays in a seven-game ALCS that October, hired Bogar away from Tampa Bay after the season to serve as their first base coach.  Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan was on the Red Sox staff, as was Sports Psychology Consultant Don Kalkstein.  Daniels probably talked to Magadan and Kalkstein about Bogar as well.

After his first season with Boston, Bogar shifted over to third base in 2010 and 2011, but not before interviewing with the Astros in October 2009 for their manager’s job, which eventually went to Bogar’s fellow Red Sox coach Brad Mills.

In 2012, Bobby Valentine arrived in Boston and made Bogar his bench coach.

Valentine had managed Bogar with the Mets in 1996.

Before the 2013 season, John Farrell replaced Valentine and brought Torey Lovullo along from his Toronto coaching staff to serve as his bench coach in Boston.  Bogar interviewed for Houston manager again, as Mills had been fired, but Houston hired Nationals third base coach Bo Porter instead.

Porter — who was Bogar’s teammate with AAA Colorado Springs in 2002 — asked Bogar to be his bench coach in 2013, but Houston, though offering Bogar a multi-year contract, insisted on an unusual clause in his deal prohibiting him from interviewing for managerial vacancies elsewhere while on the Astros staff.  Bogar understandably refused to sign the contract.

He instead took a job managing the Angels’ AA club in 2013.  Los Angeles GM Jerry Dipoto was Bogar’s teammate with the Mets in 1995 and 1996.  Angels Assistant GM Scott Servais and Bogar played together on that 2002 Colorado Springs club as well.

The Angels reportedly wanted Bogar (who took the Travelers to the Texas League Championship Series) to join Mike Scioscia’s coaching staff for the 2014 season, perhaps coaching third base in place of Dino Ebel, who was promoted to bench coach.  Read any number of Los Angeles articles from the past year and you’ll see that many believed Bogar would be the next Angels manager, whenever it is that Scioscia’s time is done.

Instead, Bogar took the Texas job.  He had no connection to the Rangers organization itself, but he has ties to Washington and Maddux and Magadan, and to Welke and Daly and Purpura and Kalkstein and Fernandez, and to Adrian Beltre.

When asked what he believes makes a good bench coach, Bogar told the local media that, first and foremost, it’s about the relationship you have with the manager, understanding what the manager needs, and making the manager’s day easier.  He said of Washington, who coached him up two decades ago and who he credits for making him a big leaguer: “He cared for me more as a person than as a player.  That’s something I’ve tried to do as a coach.”

If there’s any fear that bringing in a new bench coach — one with a “future manager” tag in the game — could be viewed by the current manager as a threat to his job, the way Bogar talks about his past with Wash should help to dilute it.

Daniels called Bogar a great communicator and a smart baseball mind, and emphasized his preparation skills and extensive experience.  He pointed out that Bogar has won as a player (in Houston), as a coach (in Tampa Bay and Boston), and as a minor league manager (everywhere he’s been).

You can say Matt Walbeck has a smart baseball mind and that he won as a minor league manager, but you’d have a hard time on the rest.  You can read plenty of articles that call some of those other things into question.

In Bogar’s case, you can find plenty of stories that back up what Daniels said last week.  But more importantly, as far as the Rangers are concerned, there’s a roomful of people, in uniform and not, who can vouch for Tim Bogar in ways that make the Baseball America medals little more than bullet points for his Rangers media guide bio, which ought to show up in more editions than Walbeck’s did.

I was excited about the Walbeck hire.

I’m excited about the Bogar hire — and a whole lot more comfortable with it.

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