I've been a little under the weather the last couple days, so I've reached out to our pal north of the border to pinch-hit today. You might remember this guy from a couple entries he shared with us in 2006.
But first, two quick things.
Huge thanks to Scott Lucas for his best year of daily reporting on the Rangers minor league system yet. I doubt we've seen his ceiling yet, though - instead of eight AAA games a season to report on in his backyard, he'll now get more than 70. Awesome work this year, man. Thanks.
The video of Thad Levine's Q&A with us at Sherlock's last week is now online at http://dallassportsnetwork.tv/2010/09/14/dsn-tv-thad-levine-qa/, thanks to Ted Price. Among the highlights: a fascinating explanation of the process the club goes through when pursuing a trade, with a specific walk-through for us on the Cliff Lee deal, and some comments on how the organization views the catcher position in the short term.
(By the way, not only did that night's Game-Watching Party boost this season's Newberg Report event record to 7-0, it also broke the team's five-game skid and kicked off what is now a six-game win streak.)
OK. Behave for the sub.
THE NOUVEAU-BERGERON REPORT
The tragic number for the Jays is now down to four. It would be a waste of time talking about tonight's game in Baltimore or the weekend series in Boston. This isn't a bad team - we'd be in second place in the AL West - but there's plenty of work to be done if we're gonna make any noise the next few years in the East. Let's look at something two of the four teams who will be in the playoffs this year did in 2007 to help get them where they are now.
Texas traded Mark Teixeira (and Ron Mahay) to Atlanta at the July trade deadline that year, getting future cornerstones Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, neither of whom had yet reached Class AA, plus rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and lefthanders Matt Harrison (AA) and Beau Jones (Low A).
That November, Tampa Bay traded Rookie of the Year runner-up Delmon Young to Minnesota for young righthander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett. (The Rays also gave up utility infielder Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie, who the Twins had drafted via Rule 5 two years earlier but sold back to the Rays, and the Twins parted with relief prospect Eduardo Morlan.)
You think the Braves would like a do-over on that first one? General Manager John Schuerholz, about to vacate his post, got super-aggressive, trading for Teixeira, Mahay, Octavio Dotel, and Royce Ring on July 31, but ended up missing the playoffs for just the second time in 13 years. And the Braves haven't been to the post-season since.
They're two games out of first in the NL East right now. But how much better off would they be if they'd held onto Andrus and Feliz? Or moved those two in separate trades from each other and from Saltalamacchia, who lots of teams wanted, and Harrison, who was Atlanta's top pitching prospect coming into that season and second maybe only to Tommy Hanson at the time of the Rangers trade?
For one thing, if they'd kept Andrus they wouldn't have had to trade the player they felt made him expendable - the regressing Yunel Escobar - two months ago for middle-aged shortstop Alex Gonzalez. (As a Jays fan, I couldn't be happier that they did.)
Toronto has a unique surplus at a key position and an opportunity to get better because of it.
Tampa Bay had Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton in its outfield, Rocco Baldelli bouncing in and out of health, and Desmond Jennings coming when they decided in November 2007 to trade Young, who had some rumoured makeup issues, for a young starter with top-of-the-rotation potential. (They had Elijah Dukes, too, but he would be traded five days after Young was.)
When Atlanta traded Andrus in July 2007, the club had veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria locked up through 2009, and the 24-year-old Escobar two months into his rookie season, hitting .314/.358/.400.
The names aren't as glitzy, but the depth we have in catchers may be almost as strong as what the Rays had in the outfield and the Braves had at shortstop three years ago.
This year at AAA Las Vegas, we had J.P. Arencibia, MVP of the Pacific Coast League. At High A Dunedin, there was Travis d'Arnaud, ranked by Florida State League managers as the circuit's best defensive catcher. At Low A Lansing, A.J. Jimenez was ranked as the Midwest League's best defensive catcher. Some people think Short-Season A Auburn catcher Carlos Perez will be the best of the whole group.
It's the kind of strength behind the plate that the Rangers seemingly had two years ago . . . which illustrates the importance of not holding onto everyone too long.
At the end of the 2008 season, every newspaper in the Boston market and in North Texas, not to mention the ESPN and Fox folks among others, had Gerald Laird and Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez lined up on one side, and Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson and Michael Bowden and Daniel Bard and Nick Hagadone on the other, and constructed a thousand trade rumours. Who knows if the Rangers had any real opportunities to make a catcher-for-pitcher deal with the Red Sox that winter? But if they did, it's too bad for them that they didn't pounce.
And in short order, Texas has gone from catching-rich to completely unsure about the position going forward.
There's a lesson there.
And for Toronto, I think, an opportunity.
To draw a comparison, John Buck is probably our Laird. Nice player, but he's not the long-term answer, both because he's 30 years old and a free agent, and because Arencibia, the offense-first Saltalamacchia equivalent, is probably ready. While he's not as close to the big leagues, d'Arnaud is what Teagarden was in 2008, an agile defender who throws well and profiles as a regular despite less upside with the bat. There's not really a Ramirez equivalent in the Toronto system, just as there wasn't a Perez down below two years ago in the Rangers organization (though in retrospect maybe Jose Felix was that guy).
So if the idea is to take advantage of that depth now, rather than hope our guys' value builds even further, the question becomes whether to trade one of the catchers in a huge deal, like the Braves did with Andrus, or to move one in more of a value-for-value swap, like the Rays more or less did with Young.
The Jays system is average. There are high-end righthanders Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart, plus a leadoff center field type in Anthony Gose, all of whom were acquired in trades, plus 2010 first-round righty Deck McGuire, Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, and the catchers. Toronto needs to be building its young core, not loading up for one veteran player and mortgaging the top tier of the farm to do it.
So I like the Rays-Twins model better.
Which catcher do I trade? Depends on which one it takes to get the player we want, of course, but it seems that d'Arnaud should be the guy. Traded a year ago himself in what was Philadelphia's own Teixeira deal - Drabek, d'Arnaud, and Michael Taylor from the Phillies to the Jays for Roy Halladay (Taylor was flipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace, who was then sent to Houston in July for Gose, who had come from Philadelphia in the Roy Oswalt trade) - the 22-year-old was having a strong year at High A before a back injury cut his season short at the end of July. Would we be selling low since d'Arnaud finished the year hurt? Maybe so, but given the weak state of the position across the league, there could be a team willing to step up on him.
I don't move Arencibia. Let Buck sign elsewhere, and give J.P. the job. Keep Jose Molina around to back him up.
I'd rather not move Perez, and at age 19 with only short-season experience he's not going to key a deal yet anyway.
Jimenez isn't on the same tier as the others.
For me, Arencibia is the answer in Toronto right now, and we can be patient with Perez as he develops. If d'Arnaud isn't so devalued by the back injury that clubs are trying to steal him from us, it would make sense that he'd be the one to move.
Speaking of how the Rangers' catching depth turned upside down the past couple years, that's the team I want to deal with. They could use a long-term answer behind the plate. And they're loaded with trade pieces.
(Also speaking of Texas, you ought to read this outstanding article -- http://jonahkeri.com/2010/09/13/pitching-injuries-and-rangers/ -- that good Canadian Jonah Keri published this week on pitching injuries, with its focus on what the Rangers are doing to build and protect their young arms. It's remarkable work.)
You know, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Rangers, who have used Matt Treanor, Bengie Molina, Teagarden, Ramirez, and Saltalamacchia this year, go after Buck this winter, just as they did last off-season. Maybe they go with Buck and Treanor, and keep Teagarden at AAA since he'll have one option left.
Felix will be at AA. Texas can pair him up with d'Arnaud and develop them together. Maybe that's the tandem in Arlington one day.
What do we target from the Rangers? What does Toronto need? In the short term, maybe a first baseman or DH (whichever spot Adam Lind doesn't fill) and some major bullpen help (several key guys are likely gone this winter). Long term, the way this lineup strikes out, we could use some guys who reach base, and probably another outfielder to develop.
But you can't solve every need in one trade.
And you have to trade wisely. I don't even want to look back at what we did with Michael Young, Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, and Brent Abernathy when we had all of them coming up as middle infield prospects. We traded all of them, and lost in every deal.
I want Tanner Scheppers or Alexi Ogando. Jason Frasor and Scott Downs are probably gone after this season, and who knows if we keep Kevin Gregg around? Either Scheppers or Ogando steps into the bullpen right away and eventually settles in as our Neftali Feliz.
I'd like Mitch Moreland, too, but I'm not sure the Rangers would move him unless they have a plans to bring in a big bat at first base this winter. David Murphy would be a great fit, but that's another player I'd have a hard time seeing the Rangers part with for a future piece, given their plans to contend again in 2011.
I like Pedro Strop, too. He hasn't done it in Texas, but neither did Robinson Tejeda.
And I love Engel Beltre, a five-tool center field talent who started to put things together this year.
Ramirez will be out of options and I like the bat, but if Arencibia settles in as the starter here, his backup needs to be a more dependable veteran. Again, Jose Molina is a perfect fit.
How about this: Travis d'Arnaud and John McDonald (yeah, he's 36, but he's under contract for $1.5 million next year and would give Texas a lockdown defender who can back up at every infield position, plus he's shown a little pop this season) for either Scheppers or Ogando, plus Chris Davis, who has an option left and needs a change of scenery?
Is that too much to ask Texas for? If it is, they're the kind of organization that would probably take a high-reward kid even if he's years away, maybe one from Latin America. OK, give them 20-year-old Dominican righty Misual Diaz.
Or how about d'Arnaud and McDonald for Beltre and Strop?
Even though young catching is thin right now around the league, there are several teams with a surplus like we have. The Reds have Yasmani Grandal and Devin Mesoraco. The Nationals have Wilson Ramos and Derek Norris. The Rockies have Wilin Rosario, Jordan Pacheco, and Michael McKenry. The Yankees, behind Jesus Montero (man, Seattle screwed up on that Cliff Lee deal), have Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez. Cleveland has Lou Marson (who Philadelphia traded as part of its package for Lee a year ago) behind Carlos Santana.
The point is there are other teams out there with a high-end catcher prospect they can trade. I think the Jays need to jump on this before they find themselves like the Rangers did when they held onto their depth too long.
The Texas catching situation, with Buck and Treanor in the big leagues, Teagarden and Ramirez at AAA, and d'Arnaud and Felix at AA (with Jorge Alfaro and Kellin Deglan developing below, and maybe Vin DiFazio or Tomas Telis if his arm bounces back or Leonel De Los Santos if the bat comes around at all), would suddenly look pretty good again. And Scheppers or Ogando can be our Matt Garza - or we can bring in an upside position player like Beltre that fills a bigger developmental need than d'Arnaud does right now.
So: (1) d'Arnaud, McDonald, and Diaz for Scheppers or Ogando and Davis or (2) d'Arnaud and McDonald for Beltre and Strop. Who says no?
Thanks to my Jays buddies T.A. Seiber, Doron Barbalat (FrontOfficeFans.com), and Mick Doherty (Battersbox.ca) for talking this stuff through with me. Good day.
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(c) Jamey Newberg