If you're not crazy about Chris Ray and Michael Main for Bengie Molina, there's one way that we could have been sure it wouldn't have happened: If the Rangers were having a lousy season.
Or if Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden had taken a step forward, rather than both going backwards.
Or if the sale of the club had gone through by now.
Or if the Texas farm system wasn't as deep as it is.
Any one of those things would have killed this deal.
But instead, the Rangers started Thursday with the best record in baseball, a catching situation that reminded us this week it needed an upgrade, a financial strait jacket, and a heavy inventory of pitching prospects.
I never really trusted Chris Ray, and particularly with Alexi Ogando's emergence and Tanner Scheppers getting close (and a chance for Pedro Strop to capitalize in between), I'm not sure we'll feel his loss at all. I don't love losing Main, though.
Was I too high on Main when I ranked him the Rangers' number six prospect going into 2008, his first full season? When I ranked him fourth going into 2009, and made him my number one pitching breakout candidate? When I ranked him seventh going into 2010, and number two on the breakout list?
Am I too low on Main when I suggest he'd be my number 18 Rangers prospect right now, 12th among pitchers?
There are two things I have no doubt about:
1. Main has a tremendous shot to pitch in the big leagues. He may not be Tim Hudson, as some initially thought he might be (or Bret Saberhagen, a comp I always liked better), but he has a decent chance to be solid.
2. There are at least half a dozen Rangers pitching prospects, and maybe 10 or 11, whom I would have moved Main before.
Yes, it's frustrating that the Rangers basically had to sell Main for $2 million in order to get a veteran rent-a-catcher they liked. But Jon Daniels is handcuffed with the club in bankruptcy court, and these aren't the days of Eric Hurley and Josh Rupe topping your pitching prospect depth chart, with a big league staff half full of guys who won't be around in two years.
The Rangers may have overpaid for Molina by including Main in the deal - and I'm in the camp that says they did - but given the inventory Texas has, I can understand (given the apparent inability to take on added salary) why this trade was made.
I say "inability," but maybe it was more like a "reluctance" to increase the payroll. We've heard in the last week or two that Texas does have room in the budget to add a contract of unknown size at the trade deadline, and if it took trading Main to preserve that for a bigger deal later this month (or even a big splash in the international free agent class, whose signing window opens today), then I'm OK with that.
Stated another way: If there's a deal out there to be made for a number one or two starter - who it is doesn't matter - and we can get it done for a package of players that's acceptable to you and me, if to close the deal we'd have to add Main, you'd do that without looking back, wouldn't you?
But we now know this, even if we all suspected it beforehand: If Michael Main is the cost of $2 million in salary relief to get a player like Molina, the price tag in prospects to get someone like Cliff Lee along with a cash subsidy is one I don't even need to see. (Prominent Seattle blogger Dave Cameron agrees, tweeting yesterday: "Attn Mariners: Please trade Lee to Texas. Based on reported return for Molina, they will pay through the nose if M's pick up his salary."
Main was consistently a back fields star in Surprise, in March and October, but he's had trouble staying healthy and has only 239 innings of work in four pro seasons, all in Class A or below. He's been good for the most part in 2010, posting a 3.45 ERA in 15 starts in the hitter-friendly California League. San Francisco will reportedly have the 21-year-old make his AA debut in the next few days, just as the Rangers were preparing to do.
But no matter how you tier things, Main is probably a pitcher whose departure can be survived. (Of course, the same was once said about Armando Galarraga.) In the wave that was working at Bakersfield, he was behind Wilmer Font and maybe Joe Wieland and Carlos Pimentel and Wilfredo Boscan and Jake Brigham (recently demoted to Hickory). At Frisco, he certainly would have been behind Martin Perez and Blake Beavan (and Daniel Gutierrez, once he works his way back to that level). A group at Hickory that includes Robbie Erlin and Robbie Ross and Matt Thompson is on the wave behind Main, but gaining on him and probably slotted ahead of him on the overall organizational whiteboard.
Among the 2011 Rule 5 class, while it's premature to handicap things, Perez and Beavan and Tomas Telis likely head a group that would have demanded roster protection ahead of Main. Plus, that doesn't include players from the 2010 group (Font, Pimentel, Boscan, Brigham, Gutierrez, Mitch Moreland, Engel Beltre, Kasey Kiker, Marcus Lemon, Miguel De Los Santos, others) who might be left off this winter but not lost, and then force their way into the roster picture in 2011.
And given Main's troubles with left-handed hitters (.285/.343/.506 this season with the Blaze), whether he'll continue to profile as a middle-of-the-rotation starter rather than a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever as he moves up the ladder could become an issue.
If Texas weren't squarely in contention, there would be no need to address catcher. But with about one-sixth of the club's remaining games coming against the Angels, you can't run Max Ramirez out there and allow Los Angeles to run at will, getting into scoring position and taking away the double play possibility at every chance. And you can't ask Matt Treanor (who's within a dozen games of a career-high workload) to catch every day, particularly in those seven games out of the season's final 14, head to head with the Angels.
And if the Rangers had been sold, maybe the trade would have been Ray for Molina, with no money changing hands and no prospect tacked onto the deal. Main is not Carlos Santana (and Molina is not Casey Blake), but it would have been nice not to have club finances impact the parameters of this trade.
Imagine what Daniels will be able to do with his roster once the financial handcuffs come off. The point of building a strong farm system, as we talk about here all the time, isn't just to develop young talent to groom for your roster - it's also to position yourself to make trades, whether it's to patch a roster hole, as with this deal, or to load up for an impact player.
It's going to be a great day when the ownership transfer is complete, and Daniels can use his tremendous farm system depth to acquire star players, instead of basically selling prospects to avoid taking on salary.
But dialing back to the present realities, the bottom line as I see it is this: Michael Main is a player, all things considered, that you can probably afford to give up.
It's just a shame, given current circumstances, that you had to.
Main attraction for Giants:
Need cash? Prospect back
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(c) Jamey Newberg