Nolan Ryan talked to the Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway about why the trade market for relief pitching has been slow to fully develop:
There's a couple of things happening. One, there are clubs that two or three weeks ago appeared to be slipping out of it, but they have surged again.
Even if the front offices of those clubs don't think they can hang in it, they can't send a message right now to their fans that they are already packing it in for the season. That's understandable.
But even a bigger problem for us is it's surprising how many clubs are looking for bullpen help. At the moment, it's a strong sellers' market for bullpen guys. That tends to slow things down.
The first comment's gotta be about two 37-37 clubs: Pittsburgh, whose 12-9 June has that club three games out of first in the NL Central, and Washington, whose current 10-1 run puts the club in Wild Card race (4.5 games back) amidst the bizarre news that manager Jim Riggleman quit yesterday because the front office wouldn't meet with him about his 2012 contract option.
Ryan's second comment reflects something we've talked about here for a couple months: Not only would the Pirates and Nationals never send a message to their fan bases that they're not capable of competing this year - especially given the extended futility that both clubs seem to be breaking out of this year - but there's also the matter of the clubhouse. This isn't Rotisserie League baseball. A front office simply can't trade key pieces of a surging team, one that hasn't sniffed contention at any time with its current players in that uniform, without driving a wedge internally between management and players that could have long-term ramifications.
That's why Joel Hanrahan and Chris Resop (and Evan Meek, though he's not healthy at the moment) aren't reasonable targets, at least not now, and why all the Tyler Clippard and Todd Coffey talk should probably be shelved for the moment.
It's also why it might be worth it, as a Rangers fan, to keep an eye on the scoreboard each night, to monitor not only what's happening in the AL West but also whether Pittsburgh and Washington can hang in there over the next five weeks.
As for Ryan's final comment, lots of folks went into the season figuring it might be a buyers' market when it came to mid-season bullpen help, as Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, and Ryan Franklin were all set to become free agents next winter, with Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan having 2012 club options that could be bought out.
But injuries to closers (David Aardsma, Brad Lidge) and key set-up men (Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Contreras, Darren O'Day, Bobby Jenks) have thinned out bullpen depth for a handful of clubs thought to be well fortified in relief, and simply bad bullpen situations among teams in the hunt (Texas, St. Louis, Seattle) have created perhaps more need for relievers among contenders than foreseen a few months ago.
We're just going to have to be patient with this situation, and hope that the Rangers can take advantage of this huge schedule opportunity (16 of 19 at home, with the other three in Houston) without too many more bullpen collapses heading into the All-Star Break, which is when the market should start to materialize. Last year, Texas traded for Bengie Molina on July 1 and Cliff Lee on July 9, both just before the Break. But because of the two things Ryan hit on yesterday, it seems less likely that a key bullpen trade can be closed that early this year, unless you're willing to meaningfully overpay.
The Rangers go to Seattle and Los Angeles coming out of the Break, before 10 with Toronto and Minnesota take the club right up to the July 31 trade deadline. You can bet that Texas will want to have the bullpen reinforced before those seven division games out West, but that's going to depend on a few more teams falling out of the race between now and then.
For now, the hope is that O'Day and Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter (perhaps in that order) are ready to help soon. Whether the front office is whiteboarding a scenario in which Alexi Ogando, up to 88 innings, returns to the eighth inning is a subject better saved for another report, but you have to think that every option is being discussed as the club tries to figure out the best way to get the back third of the game fixed.
Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) breaks a number of bullpen acquisition candidates into several categories: impact relievers (Bell, Hanrahan, Carlos Marmol, Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson); capable veterans (Kerry Wood); and minor league vets (Josh Kinney, Chuck James, Scott Mathieson). (In four Round Rock appearances, recent veteran acquisition Manny Delcarmen has allowed opponents to hit .412 [7 for 17] while walking two and fanning five in four innings.) Fraley also mentions Clippard and Coffey as options for Texas.
T.R. Sullivan (MLB.com) notes that Baltimore would move right-handed relievers Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara, but probably not Jim Johnson, and that the Orioles have shown interest in Chris Davis.
According to Sullivan, Kansas City might listen on Joakim Soria and "have had interest" in Rangers outfield prospect Engel Beltre. Hmm.
Sullivan also suggests that Sean Marshall of the Cubs "is the best left-handed reliever who might be available."
K-Rod told Kristie Ackert (New York Daily News), "If I am going to be traded, obviously I want the opportunity to close out games, but if it's going to be good teams like the Yankees or the Rays, and it's going to be for two months, I can go out there and help them out."
Davis homered for the fifth time in four games when Round Rock completed Tuesday's weather-suspended game yesterday, giving him 15 bombs in 27 Express games. He's at .368/.420/.868 in 106 AAA at-bats, and has fanned only twice in his last six games (21 at-bats).
According to Brittany Ghiroli (MLB.com), Texas and Cleveland have shown interest in Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie.
Feldman followed his five-inning, no-hit rehab effort for AAA Round Rock with two scoreless innings (two hits, no walks) on Tuesday. A signal that his cutter is cutting again is that left-handed opponents are hitting just .206/.250/.294 off Feldman in 34 at-bats.
Hunter got spanked in a Wednesday relief appearance for the Express, giving up three runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning.
Hunter's rehab assignment cannot go past July 3. Feldman's expires July 10 but he ought to be ready, at this rate, before then. Brandon Webb's ends July 13 and Eric Hurley's is done July 19.
Tanner Scheppers wasn't as good Wednesday (two walks and a hit batsman amidst two outs, both on strikes) as he was on Sunday (two perfect innings, four strikeouts).
The move of Frisco righthander Jake Brigham to the bullpen is an interesting one, giving rise to a thought that maybe a team with a veteran bullpen piece to move might want to see how Brigham's fastball-curve repertoire works in relief. But I found this fascinating - take a look at Brigham's results this season in each of the first five innings of the game:
First inning: .328 opponents' batting average, 9.64 ERA
Second inning: .288/6.59
Third inning: .224/3.46
Fourth inning: .178/2.08
Fifth inning: .136/.1.38
Another interesting Brigham split is the .214/.269/.353 slash that he's holding right-handed hitters to, compared with a gaudy .323/.447/.527 lefties' slash. Even if there's not a showcasing going on, taking a look at Brigham (who must be protected on the 40-man roster this winter to be shielded from the Rule 5 Draft) as a power right-on-right option for the late innings may not be such a bad idea developmentally.
Speaking of the Riggleman resignation, though John McLaren has temporarily taken his place at the helm of the Nationals, three men with Rangers ties are among the names being tossed around as candidates for the permanent hire: Bo Porter, Randy Knorr, and Bobby Valentine.
Jurickson Profar is the youngest of the 50 players announced yesterday to appear in the July 10 Futures Game. Martin Perez, the other Rangers prospect selected to play, is the fourth-youngest pitcher.
Profar has an .868 OPS for Hickory and more walks (32) than strikeouts (29) - and will be 18 years old all season.
Happy Birthday to Jason Romano (32) - and Minka Kelly (31).
And Happy 33rd to Dirk Nowitzki, whose week-long birthday party culminates tonight when he throws out the first pitch before Rangers-Mets, likely close to his final local appearance before he heads back to Germany for what ought to be a pretty great summer.
Texas is going to make the playoffs again this season, but to get where Dirk got in 2011, it's going to take a significantly improved bullpen. We're going to see that start to take shape soon enough, but probably not until well after the Mavericks' closer has been carted through a parade in Wurzburg.