I say what I'm about to say without a lot of conviction. I may reverse course in two days.
Even once my Google Reader ceases to cough up as many articles each day containing the word "lenders" as about the last night's game, I don't think I want to see a trade for Roy Oswalt. Or Cliff Lee. Or Lance Berkman. Or Paul Konerko. Or anyone else who would cost even one player from among Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Justin Smoak.
It's not time.
Not time to break that group up, that is.
It may still be Time to nail down a playoff spot in 2010. Probably not with the roster as presently constituted, but I have faith in Jon Daniels and his staff and scouts - who, driven by inventive and often unconventional ways of thinking, brought us Scheppers and Vladimir Guerrero and Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis and Pedro Strop and Robbie Erlin and Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz and Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day and who wouldn't surprise me if they asked Chris Davis to give catcher a AAA shot - to improve the club this summer.
By that I mean something like last summer's Matt Nevarez and Jose Vallejo for Ivan Rodriguez. Ray Olmedo for Matt Treanor. Jose Marte for Dustin Nippert. Ricardo Rodriguez for Vicente Padilla. Joselo Diaz for Matt Stairs, and Jesse Chavez for Kip Wells.
The Daniels trade that pushes up against that line the closest without crossing it is probably Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, and Julian Cordero for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.
Just not Holland and anything else for Oswalt.
Or Scheppers for Konerko.
Why? Because even if this club fulfills on its pledge that It's Time, this is a franchise whose window is opening, not closing. I'm all for getting aggressive in July, addressing a hole or two and sending a strong front office message to the clubhouse that we're all in, but Atlanta did that in 2007 when, on July 31, a general manager motivated by window he'd already bought shutters for traded for Mark Teixeira, Ron Mahay, Octavio Dotel, and Royce Ring, without much ultimately to show for it.
The Braves are doing just fine now. But they'd be better with Andrus and Feliz.
There are too many holes on this Rangers roster to think that a number one starter or a number five hitter would catapult them from AL West contenders to challengers for the pennant. Back to the Braves three years ago. Going into its July 31 game against Houston, Atlanta had lost nine of 14 and was 4.5 games back in the NL East (as far back as the club had been all season) and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card chase. Julio Franco (.217/.327/.289) and Scott Thorman (.220/.262/.402) were sharing first base. Its bullpen was led by Bob Wickman and backed by Rafael Soriano and a nondescript collection of righthanders Oscar Villarreal, Peter Moylan, Tyler Yates, and Chad Paronto.
That club's holes were as obvious as the bottom third of the Rangers' lineup.
After the massive July 31 overhaul, Atlanta went 29-27 the rest of the way, finishing 5.0 games back in the division and 6.0 games (and three teams) back in the Wild Card standings. The Braves missed the playoffs for the second time in 13 years.
Teixeira turned into Casey Kotchman (who turned into Adam LaRoche, who left without an arbitration offer) and Steve Marek. Mahay turned into 2008 draft pick Brett Devall, a high school lefthander whose has fought elbow and forearm injuries since signing. Ten days after arriving, Dotel landed on the disabled list for six weeks with a shoulder strain. He left for the White Sox that winter, having given Atlanta 7.2 innings of work and zero parting compensation. Ring threw 27.1 largely ineffective innings for the Braves in 2007 and 2008 before being designated for assignment, clearing waivers, and leaving in the winter via minor league free agency.
John Schuerholz, having already decided 2007 would be his last season as Braves GM, made one last run at a pennant. It failed.
You think Braves fans were any less pumped about the idea of Teixeira "coming home" than some Rangers fans are at the prospect of landing Oswalt, who has reportedly included Texas as just one of three teams he'd waive his no-trade clause to join? Or that the average Atlanta fan knew any more about Neftali Feliz then than the average Metroplex general columnist knows now about Matt Thompson, if not Martin Perez?
Ask a Braves fan now whether he'd want a July 31, 2007 do-over.
Two things make this July's trade deadline sticky for Texas. One is the club is obviously immobilized financially. But even when that gets cured, by the end of July or not, in order to address the various glaring problems the active roster has, and address them in such a way that the team becomes a legitimate threat in October, the top tier of the farm system will have to get ransacked. It's not a realistic plan.
Very good baseball teams tend to break in one inexperienced position player a year, maybe two if at different times. They might introduce a couple young pitchers into key roles each season. There are far more Justin Smoak's than Jason Heyward's. Young players usually struggle to keep up with the adjustments that league makes against them, as the book develops.
Holland and Feliz were the two kid pitchers Texas planned to count on in 2010. But neither was thrust out of camp into a role he wasn't thought to be quite ready for (a luxury, you might say, this team has rarely created for itself on the pitching side).
The Rangers knew that the rotation, coming off a season in which it was more reliable than it had been in years, could be better. The club basically turned Kevin Millwood into Lewis and Rich Harden, and while the latter hasn't worked out to date, there's no second-guessing that exchange. C.J. Wilson was given an opportunity to start, an opportunity that was made possible in part by the targeting and signing of Darren Oliver away from the Angels. Depth (and Matt Harrison's spring) allowed Texas to give Holland some added minor league seasoning.
Texas also added Chris Ray in the Millwood deal, strengthening a bullpen that needed another power arm with late-inning experience and giving Feliz a safety net in case he wasn't ready to hold down the eighth inning. But early struggles by Frankie Francisco gave Feliz an opportunity to step into a bigger role, and so far the move looks like it was the right one. (Did you realize he has yet to allow a hit on the road this season? Opponents are 0 for 25, with two walks.)
On the offensive side of things, the one young player that Texas was expecting to count on was Julio Borbon, who was coming off an impressive 157-at-bat debut last summer (.312/.376/.414, 19 stolen bases in 23 tries), primarily in the leadoff spot. In camp, the main questions tended to revolve around his readiness to hold center field down. Not until the final three games of the 2009 season did Borbon start in center for Texas, having worked primarily in left field. He actually started at designated hitter 21 times, starting defensively in only 17 games.
Given Borbon's minor league track record at the plate (.321/.362/.425 and .307/.367/.386 in his two seasons after signing late in 2007), even accounting for an expected regression in 2010, more people were concerned coming into 2010 about his ability to patrol center field and limit the extra base than about his chances to lock down the leadoff spot. His work in spring training (.326/.368/.427 in a team-leading 89 at-bats) did nothing to trigger concerns about his bat.
Then the regular season got going. Borbon's tremendous struggles at the plate (he's been helpless against lefthanders, he's not hitting at all on the road, he's drawn two walks in 139 plate appearances, he's hit an excessive amount of lazy flies to left, he's worked the count to 2-0 just two times all year) have been mitigated to an extent by Andrus's seizing of the leadoff spot, but in spite of Borbon's moderate progress of late, I'd still expect Endy Chavez's name to start showing up with more regularity in the notes columns in the next couple weeks.
But that's the nature of young players, and we must remember that Borbon reached the big leagues in his second full pro season. He's still learning, and good teams can live with that. What becomes problematic is when there are multiple players in that category.
Borbon, right now, is where Chris Davis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were a year ago.
And that's leads us to the problem.
This whole thing, the entire outlook for this team, at least for 2010, would be in colossally better shape if first base and catcher had taken a different progression than they have.
Davis, coming off an impressive 2008 debut (.285/.331/.549 with 88 strikeouts in 295 at-bats) that was no less promising than Borbon's 2009 summer, regressed terribly in the first half last year (.202/.256/.415 with 114 strikeouts in 258 at-bats). But he refound himself over seven weeks in Oklahoma City (.327/.418/.521 with 39 strikeouts in 165 at-bats), and then put together a largely overlooked, resurgent finish over the final six weeks of the season with Texas (.308/.338/.496 with 36 strikeouts in 133 at-bats), suggesting he might have locked in the adjustments that had eluded him in the spring.
As late as this March, there was apparently internal debate as to whether Davis or Cruz should be the one hitting sixth behind Guerrero and Ian Kinsler. Davis then hit .364/.395/.494 in spring training, and he was nowhere near the list of roster questions coming out of camp.
Saltalamacchia, after posting big league OPS's in the low .700's in 2007 and 2008 (at young ages for a starting big league catcher), was being counted on to take the next step in 2009. He did make obvious improvements defensively, but he didn't hit. In April, Saltalamacchia hit .276. In May, .241. In June, .239. In July, .204. In August and September before being shut down for good, .143. A winter of health setbacks followed, and the job behind the plate was thrown open in camp.
But Saltalamacchia got only 25 at-bats due to upper back and neck issues, Taylor Teagarden struck out 21 times in 40 Cactus League at-bats, and the club made a late-March trade with the Brewers for journeyman Matt Treanor, who was expected to serve as AAA insurance until Toby Hall was physically ready.
Instead, Treanor has nearly three times as many big league at-bats this season as Saltalamacchia and Teagarden combined, and hasn't done a whole lot with them (.207/.295/.283). I'm a Matt Treanor fan, and would be more than happy if he were my number two catcher the next however-many years. But he's not an everyday player on a contender, at least not one with other holes offensively.
It would have been a lot better if Saltalamacchia had nailed down the job envisioned for him three years ago.
And if Davis had picked up where he left off in August and September and March, allowing Smoak to continue to punish AAA pitching.
If those two things - not slam dunks but also not longshot expectations coming into the season - hadn't become major problems, with what have proved to be inadequate solutions, then this team would have a much healthier lead on the division, and would be better able to fight through Borbon's struggles as long as he was showing some signs of improvement.
Instead, Smoak is proving not to be ready (Nolan Ryan has said the organization thinks 150 plate appearances is a fair trial period, and Smoak is at 126 and seemingly regressing in his command of the strike zone and pitch recognition, if not confidence). Treanor is what he is. And Borbon is a .243 base-reacher.
Collectively, those three are hitting .201/.270/.282.
And the 7-8-9 slots (thanks in part to Andrus's 11 solid games in the bottom third of the order) sit at .219/.289/.279.
I'm not in the mood to check to see if there's a team in baseball (National League included) with a blacker hole at the bottom of the lineup.
Or in the mood to imagine Tanner Scheppers relieving John Danks in the ninth, or Derek Holland as the Astros' ace by time Roy Oswalt returns to that club in 2012 to finish his career.
It might be Time. If that means Texas should take a couple second-tier prospects (many of whom could headline other franchise's systems) to improve the roster in July, I'm all for that and would be disappointed not to take that shot.
But this is not John Schuerholz's Braves. It's a team that's getting better with promise for a lot more, promise that's not too far off and in many cases that we're all able to see, as opposed to just reading about.
If this team can settle its financial position by winter (if not by August) and add a couple impact pieces, and then internally add a rookie pitcher or two each year to the core, and maybe one young hitter, then we're in serious business.
But adding Cliff Lee or Lance Berkman wouldn't do enough to change where this club is headed in 2010, at least not enough to stomach the loss of Holland, or Scheppers, or Perez, or Smoak, not given the number of immediate holes that need fixing.
Give me an opportunity to add Josh Willingham for Wilmer Font, David Murphy, and Miguel Velazquez, and I'm all over it, as long as the Nationals will cooperate.
Blake Beavan and Braden Tullis for Jake Westbrook? OK.
Chad Tracy for Mike Lowell and a bunch of cash? I'd do it.
But anything this summer that spoils my vision of Derek Holland and Martin Perez in the 2012 Rangers rotation, with Tanner Scheppers in the bullpen, and Neftali Feliz in one or the other, with Justin Smoak at first base and hitting third, and every key member of the club's current core still under control (with the exception of Vladimir Guerrero and C.J. Wilson, whose situations I'd vote to be addressed as the first order of Greenberg-Ryan business), would upset my stomach.
At least for the next couple days.
Sunday night, May 30 update:
I'm tired of feeling overmatched and outsavvied by good, not great, teams. I'd forgotten how much I really don't care for how that feels.
I'm tired of seeing number eight and nine hitters working walks against our guys, while our 3-4-5 hitters roll over or pop out, a lot.
I'm tired of watching other teams find ways to put together sustained rallies while we kill the chance of any by running into outs.
I'm tired of envying nearly every other offense I've seen this season.
I'd be interested if someone who has more time than I have could figure out where Texas ranks in the number of innings with, say, at least seven batters sent to the plate.
It would be OK with me not to see our guys signaling whatever that overhand claw thing is back to the dugout after a bases-empty single when we're down three runs in the ninth.
I find myself wondering how things might have been different if physical and mental health issues hadn't killed deals to make Mike Lowell and Khalil Greene members of the Rangers' bench.
Texas is now 8-15 on the road, and was hitting .237/.297/.336 away from Arlington going into tonight's game. The road offense is a big bag of Nyjer Morgan (if his slump continues another day or two, that is).
I'm thinking about all those things because I don't want to think about why Derek Holland couldn't feel the ball in his hand tonight.
Another lousy day off on Monday, after which Mark Buehrle and the White Sox host Rich Harden and the Rangers.
Harden against his 2010 opposition the first time through the lineup: a slash line of .197/.352/.338.
The second time through: .224/.344/.368.
The third time through: .415/.490/.634.
(Not surprisingly, no hitter has faced him a fourth time this year.)
That convictionless report I sent out yesterday is taking firmer hold.
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(c) Jamey Newberg