(* Trade Rumor Offerings To Chew On For Fun, Even Yuks)
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Tough one, pal.
Two disappointments in Florida. I needed the basketball game to take my mind off the bottom of the eighth. I needed to write about baseball to take my mind off the basketball game.
After sleeping it off, I'm starting to feel a little better about both, or at least not as despondent.
The baseball season's middle third got underway last night. Texas went into the game on a pace to win 87 games, just short of last year's 90, despite so much going wrong in the season's first two months.
But what's so frustrating is how many more wins over that first third seemed to be in hand before getting spit up late.
Texas relievers went 32-19 last year.
Texas relievers are 6-13 this year.
The disparity between the quality of this team, which remains in first place, and the unreliability of its bullpen makes what's going on right now feel so much like 1996.
The difference is that in 1996, Texas wasn't as well positioned to address the problem through trades. The Rangers had what Baseball America ranked as the game's number 28 farm system.
There were 28 teams at the time.
The Rangers will makes trades to fix this. It won't erase the games that have stacked up in the L column and shouldn't have, but as long as Texas wins as many games from this point forward as the other three teams in the West, the record over the first two months won't matter.
Bill Ladson (MLB.com) reports that Washington is looking for a leadoff-hitting center fielder and "is willing to overpay to get what [it] want[s]." According to Adam Kilgore (Washington Post), the Nationals have called Houston about Michael Bourn.
OK, let's whiteboard this a little. Do you feel good enough about the combination of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry right now to bridge things over until Leonys Martin is ready sometime in 2012 to part with Julio Borbon? Is bridging things in a contending season even palatable - if it helps address a massive need somewhere else?
I'm not suggesting that there wouldn't be a possible dropoff from Borbon (who should be ready soon: he singled twice, walked, and stole two bases for AAA Round Rock last night, seeing 25 pitches in five trips) to a Chavez/Gentry platoon - though Chavez in particular is playing well right now - but if Martin is the long-term answer in center field, and that's clearly the plan given the investment the Rangers just made in him, then Borbon's long-term role here is either as a bench piece or a trade asset. (Chavez, by the way, can't be optioned - he goes on waivers if dropped from the active roster.) Isn't it fair to say trading Borbon, if the right opportunity comes along, would make more sense than having him as your fifth outfielder?
If the answer is yes, the key, of course, is finding and exploiting the right opportunity.
Another thing: Borbon is no Bourn, and I'm not suggesting he'd be as attractive to Washington as the Houston center fielder is. But it would take a lot more to get Bourn, one of Houston's few valuable assets as that franchise, under new ownership, looks for ways to improve its foundation.
Borbon and either Robbie Ross or Fabio Castillo or Jake Brigham for Washington right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard.
Recognizing that Clippard is under team control through 2015 - but keeping in mind that Washington is reportedly "willing to overpay" - who says no?
For what it's worth, Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris was the Rangers' East Coast Crosschecker in 2007, when Texas made Borbon one of its five first-round picks.
Jon Paul Morosi (Fox Sports) tweets that the Rangers are in a mix of teams he expects to seek bullpen help via trade, along with the Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Rockies, and Angels, and Buster Olney (ESPN) reports that the Cardinals (along with Texas) have checked in with San Diego about closer Heath Bell.
A scout tells Danny Knobler (CBS Sports) that Francisco Rodriguez is "not reliable. He's throwing 88 [mph]. He's what Roberto Hernandez was at the end of his career." The scout adds that his secondary pitches have been unimpressive as well.
Apropos of not a whole lot: Mike Napoli caught K-Rod from 2006 until 2008 with the Angels, and Darren Oliver set K-Rod up the last two of those years. Darren O'Day was teammates with K-Rod with both the Angels and the Mets.
Many of you emailed to ask why Texas promoted lefthander Robbie Erlin but not righthander Joe Wieland from Myrtle Beach to Frisco last week. The duo hung together among the Carolina League leaders in almost every key pitching category, and Wieland is not only close to a year older and a full year more experienced, but also spent half of the 2010 season in High A, while Erlin didn't reach High A himself until camp broke two months ago.
One theory: I'd say it's commonly accepted that Erlin is thought of as the better prospect, though both are going to be big league starters as long as they stay healthy. Extending that thought one step further, I'd be surprised if Erlin were made available in any trade talks that didn't involve a frontline starting pitcher, while Wieland might be slightly more available in other types of deals. If that's the case, do you promote Erlin because, developmentally, he needs a new challenge, while deciding to keep Wieland in Myrtle Beach so he can continue to build on his dominant numbers?
In other words, maybe it's better to let the promising 21-year-old (who leads the league in ERA and strikeouts and was just named its Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season) pile up gaudy stats than to have a little of the sheen come off with a couple not-so-dazzling acclimation starts with Frisco - assuming Wieland is someone the club would be more willing to deal than Erlin, which would stand to reason.
I'm not sure it's a suggestion that Texas is shopping David Murphy or even listening to offers for him, but one local reporter writes that as "there is a great need for offensive left fielders in baseball, . . . [and t]he league-wide numbers suggest there are plenty of teams that could use Murphy," who is under team control through 2013.
According to a local report, Tanner Scheppers (rehabbing a from a herniated disc in his lower back and a pinched nerve in his leg) is throwing off a mound in Surprise and will embark on a two-week program of throwing bullpen sessions and live BP for two weeks before getting any game action.
Brandon Webb gave up five runs on eight hits, two walks, and a hit batsman over 3.1 innings in his rehab start for Frisco, fanning two. He threw 47 of his 77 pitches for strikes, apparently didn't exceed 85 mph, and two of the 10 outs he recorded came on the bases.
Olney, noting that Webb grew up near Cincinnati and goes back with Reds pitching coach Bryan Price to their days together with the Diamondbacks, "wonder[s] if there could be something worked out down the road between the Rangers and Reds on Webb if Texas doesn't have a spot for Webb, or doesn't see his stuff translating in their ballpark."
Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus) writes that "Martin is looking like one of the best international [signings] of the year. In his first 17 games as a professional, he's hitting .353/.438/.588, but the most impressive number might be the three (count 'em three) strikeouts in 68 at-bats. An above-average defender with plus speed and a true leadoff man's approach, Martin has the potential to be the answer to the center field question in Texas by turning into a better version of what Julio Borbon was supposed to be."
Jon Heyman (Sports Illustrated) said on MLB Network yesterday that Texas and Colorado had a deal completed over the winter that would have sent Michael Young to the Rockies for Eric Young Jr. "and a young player" plus cash, which Texas would have spent on either Vladimir Guerrero or Jim Thome. The Rockies, according to Heyman, agreed to let the Rangers out of the deal after Young told the club he'd be willing to DH. There's no real news there, but as definitive a report on how far along things got as I've seen.
Every time I hear Mike Napoli talk about his recent surge at the plate, he credits the work that Johnny Narron has put in with him in the cage.
Keith Law (ESPN), who had Frisco lefthander Martin Perez number 18 on his pre-season ranking of baseball's best prospects, installs him at number 7 overall now (third among pitchers). A number of players ahead of Perez on the pre-season list have graduated to the big leagues, but Perez leapfrogged others still on the farm, with Law observing that "[t]he up-and-down issue with his stuff from last year is gone, and while I don't love guys who repeat levels, he's got a 2.01 ERA in a league where he had a 5.96 ERA last year, missing a few more bats and getting more weak contact."
Law identified Hickory shortstop Jurickson Profar among seven players just outside his top 25 who he's keeping an eye on for his next update.
San Francisco purchased catcher Chris Stewart's contract after Buster Posey's injury. Milwaukee outrighted outfielder Brandon Boggs (again). Lefthander Ryan Falcon retired from the Lake County Fielders (owned by Kevin Costner) of the independent North American Baseball League. The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association released lefthander Joel Kirsten. Philadelphia signed reliever Les Walrond to a minor league deal.
The latest mock drafts from both BA and Law have Texas taking Wyoming high school center fielder Brandon Nimmo with pick number 33 in Monday's draft. Law is "[s]till hearing [Oregon State lefthander] Josh Osich connected with Texas but they could probably grab him with their next pick at 37, and [California high school third baseman Travis] Harrison is probably in the same boat."
BA notes that the Mets might consider Nimmo at number 13 but are leery of "his $2.5 million price tag."
John Sickels (Minor League Ball) has Texas taking Irving high school shortstop Trevor Story at 33 and New Mexico high school catcher Blake Swihart at 37.
Conor Glassey (BA) tweeted that Dallas Jesuit outfielder Josh Bell recently sent a letter to the Major League Scouting Bureau advising that he doesn't want to sign and plans to honor his commitment to the University of Texas.
We've all heard the Billy Beane philosophy that you spend the first third of the season evaluating your team and figuring out what you are, the middle third addressing needs through trades, and the final third finding the next gear. Though we're now into that middle third, the war rooms around the league are going to be draft-intensive this week, with the draft starting on Monday.
But you can be sure that Texas has one eye on the developing relief market, especially after another night when the bullpen couldn't preserve a late lead and close out a game that the team was poised to win.