"The teams most certain to do something are Texas and St. Louis," says one National League GM. "The Rangers have a really good team that can win in October. They have built their farm system. Most of all, they have proven that they will try to do what it takes." (Peter Gammons, MLB.com)
"Seems other clubs expect the Rangers to be very, very aggressive' on the trade market again this year. [Starting pitcher] the No. 1 target, then [relief pitcher]." (Jason Churchill, ESPN)
"We will look at anything that will improve our club," Daniels said. "The bullpen is still the focal point, but if something comes along that allows us to improve the club in another way, we will look at it." (local report)
"Our scouts have been out there grinding. None of this is going to catch us by surprise. . . . You hate giving [up your better, young players], but that is part of the game. Our objective is winning in Arlington." (Daniels, on Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket)
"We understand the risks," says [Jon] Daniels, "but there is risk in everything we do." (Gammons)
"What we do know is that [the Rangers] are established as a legitimate Major League threat, with ownership and management that cares and tries and isn't afraid to be wrong." (Gammons)
"The [Rangers'] system is getting stupid with talent." (Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus)
Something will happen this month. Other teams know it, the situation calls for it, the track record promises it. And teams out of the race are going to look for opportunities to get together with Texas and exploit the Rangers' motivation to improve the club before July 31 - primarily because of this system, a talent breed that just stays stupid with talent.
Consider this: Texas had what was considered a thin minor league system going into 2007, but that season's overhaul via the June draft (including Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, Josh Lueke, and Mitch Moreland, not to mention 2006 draft-and-follow Derek Holland), the July 2 international crop (Martin Perez, Tomas Telis, Leury Garcia), and the late-July trade season (Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Murphy, Engel Beltre, Max Ramirez) vaulted Texas into the top tier, according to Baseball America, which ranked the Rangers system 4th in 2008 and 1st in 2009 and 2nd in 2010, and Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein, who had the Rangers 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd those three years.
Taking a look back at that top ranking by BA going into 2009, the crop that staked Texas to that honor has almost fully vanished. Of the top 31 prospects in the system, according to BA, the only ones with any chance of showing up on such a Rangers list today are Perez (5th in 2009), Beltre (7th), Neil Ramirez (15th), Joe Wieland (16th), Wilmer Font (20th), and Robbie Ross (25th). Where have the other 25 gone?
Graduated to the big leagues: Feliz, Andrus, Holland, Borbon, Eric Hurley, Hunter, Moreland, Taylor Teagarden
Traded: Justin Smoak, Main, Beavan, Jose Vallejo, Guillermo Moscoso, Omar Poveda, Greg Golson, Joaquin Arias
Waived: Max Ramirez, Warner Madrigal, Thomas Diamond, John Bannister
Regressed: Wilfredo Boscan, Kasey Kiker, Kennil Gomez, Clark Murphy
Injured: Tim Murphy
The experts recognized the attrition a year ago, ranking the Texas system in the middle of the pack (BA: 14th, Goldstein: 10th) going into 2011, but unless they move several top-tier prospects in trades this month or in the winter, the Rangers will be right back near the top going into 2012.
BA's Jim Callis was asked in a chat session this week to speculate on which organization's farm system will get the publication's nod this winter as baseball's best. His response: "[I]t might be the Rangers or Rays."
Again: at least 25 of the 31 prospects that made the Texas system baseball's best just two years ago, according to Baseball America, won't be on the list this winter. But the system may be back in the number one perch anyway.
The mid-season individual prospect rankings are dropping now as well. BA ranks Perez as baseball's number six prospect, Jurickson Profar number 12, Leonys Martin number 25, and Robbie Erlin number 34. No other club had as many as the Rangers' four in the top 50. The Angels had one (the transcendent Mike Trout, who should come off the list entirely by time the off-season gets here), and so did the Mariners (righthander Taijuan Walker, who at number 38 trailed all four of the Texas honorees). The A's had none.
ESPN's Keith Law has Perez 10th (up from number 18 before the season) and Profar 22nd (up from 81st).
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) ranks Perez fourth on the list of AA or AAA pitchers capable of developing into top-of-the-rotation starters in the big leagues. And the lefthander just been promoted to AAA Round Rock, where he'll be the youngest player in the 16-team Pacific Coast League - by 15 months.
Goldstein said this week that Profar, the youngest of the 49 players invited to last weekend's Futures Game, is "the best shortstop prospect in the game."
Callis says one scout he talked to compares Martin (who, going into Thursday, had swung and missed at five of 118 July pitches he saw in AA and AAA) to Jose Reyes.
Erlin, the second-youngest pitcher (by two days) in the Texas League, sits at 5-0, 3.70 in seven Frisco starts (including a 1.37 mark in his last three) and one relief appearance, fanning 48 in 48.2 innings while scattering six walks.
High A Myrtle Beach has three of the Carolina League's eight youngest players (Garcia, Santiago Chirino, Joseph Ortiz). Profar is the youngest player in the South Atlantic League, and righthander Cody Buckel is 10th youngest. Short-Season A Spokane has the five youngest players in the Northwest League, and six of the seven youngest (Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, David Perez, Victor Payano, Hanser Alberto, Richard Alvarez).
What does all of this mean?
That when San Diego insists on "one of baseball's very top prospects for Mike Adams" (Jon Heyman, Sports Illustrated) and the Mets seek a "big-time prospect" for outfielder Carlos Beltran (Buster Olney, ESPN), Texas can compete - if it wants to.
That if the Rangers have in fact "checked in with the Marlins about their pitching" (Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports), Florida isn't going to do anything with Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, or Leo Nunez before making sure there's no potential for a deal with the Rangers, with whom they "engaged in more serious trade discussions - about pitching - during last December's winter meetings."
That if "the most interest [in Heath Bell] has come from the Rangers, Cardinals, Angels and Phillies" (Bill Center, San Diego Union-Tribune), that list may be exaggerated by at least one, given that the Angels "don't appear willing to budge much from the $140 million payroll they started with this season" (Mark Saxon, ESPN Los Angeles), largely due to "$26 million in dead money to Scott Kazmir, Gary Matthews Jr,. and the injured Kendry Morales" (John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus), and the Rangers have greater depth to consider dealing from than St. Louis or Philadelphia.
That if the Padres did ask for Profar in discussions about Bell - just as the Mets reportedly did in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez before he was moved (Bowden) - Texas has enough on the farm to redirect talks away from the 18-year-old shortstop without cutting off the conversation.
That the cash- and future-strapped Dodgers won't move Clayton Kershaw (or Matt Kemp) "without having replacements at the ready or getting them back in trade" (Ken Gurnick, MLB.com), but if you were going to draw up a profile for a trade partner, should Los Angeles be whiteboarding scenarios, a club that could conceivably dangle Derek Holland or Matt Harrison backed up by the deepest farm system of any club able to take on a financial commitment like Kershaw's stands to be on a short list.
That the same concept applies in the unlikelier context of Felix Hernandez and the Mariners.
That if "it would require the ideal scenario for [Kerry Wood] to waive his no-trade clause" (Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun-Times), you can certainly imagine Texas qualifying for the Metroplex native and the Rangers' inventory being of interest to the Cubs, as it reportedly was over the winter when Chris Davis (and Darren O'Day) kept showing up in trade rumors.
That any Wood discussion would probably be expanded (conceivably by either team) to see if Matt Garza, a winter Rangers target, can be part of an expanded deal.
That there's enough crazy depth in this system to momentarily distract me from the disappointment that Julio Borbon's ankle and Engel Beltre's season are not helping the July effort.
That if the Rockies are in fact listening on Ubaldo Jimenez (Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports), Daniels and Thad Levine have probably each picked up the phone to chase down their former colleagues at 2001 Blake Street for a series of little stay-in-touch chats.
That spending prospects for controllable pitching now, rather than free agent money on it in the winter, might make a lot of sense if Texas believes the Nippon Ham Fighters will post 24-year-old righthander Yu Darvish (12-2, 1.47 this season and 87-34, 2.05 over seven years, with regular rates of 10 strikeouts and fewer than two walks per nine innings).
That teams trying to close trades with other teams could call Texas to put a prospect or two into the deal that they need, and lack. That creates opportunities.
That Joakim Soria's no-trade list (Morosi: Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Rockies, Braves) should be no more of an impediment to a deal than the Rangers' pile of trade assets, if that's a direction Daniels would want to go.
That the step-out signing two weeks ago of 16-year-old Dominican outfielders Nomar Mazara ($5 million) and Ronald Guzman ($3.5 million) should theoretically make it more palatable for Texas to discuss its growing stock of outfield prospects, much of which sits in the lower half of the system, and that the rumored signings of Venezuelan lefthander Yohander Mendez ($1.5 million) and Dominican righthander Pedro Payano ($650,000) are just another reminder that the Rangers' stable of pitching prospects has the systemic durability of the Hydra.
That even though the Angels are right on the Rangers' tail, they play 14 of their 17 games leading up to the trade deadline on the road (with the only three at home coming next week when Texas visits), and sometime in that stretch I fully expect the Rangers to make an impact trade or two, which could threaten as much damage to the Angels' run as that club's suitcase stretch for the rest of the month. Yes, Los Angeles gets the Rangers 13 more times, hosting Texas for 10 of those games (including a season-ending three-set), but the Baseball Prospectus metrics still generate an 83.2 percent chance that the Rangers hold the Angels off for the playoff berth that a division title guarantees.
Finishing up with another quote:
Know what makes me baseball-sad?
That when Florida put 24-year-old Miguel Cabrera on the trade market in 2007, the type of hitter that's available at that age about once a decade, our farm system wasn't in the shape that the top of Detroit's was then, and that ours is now.
Sports timing drives me crazy. (Newberg Report, April 26, 2010)
Neither Andrew Miller nor Cameron Maybin, both of whom the Marlins shipped away less than three years after the Cabrera trade, panned out the way Florida had hoped, but that drives home another point. It's not always necessary that every key prospect in your farm system fulfills expectations and becomes a core Major League piece. It's a really big deal, however, if they establish themselves as advancing minor leaguers whom other teams can dream on, and other teams covet, and right now it stands to reason that the Rangers have lots of those players, something they were just starting to put together when Cabrera was made available in 2007 but not to the extent to which things sit right now.
Something will happen in the next 16 days.
The stories say Texas is a lock to get something done, certain to be super-aggressive with a group upstairs "that cares and tries and isn't afraid to be wrong." There's a crew of scouts out there killing it right now while the execs at 1000 Ballpark Way work the smartphones, armed with a system that's stupid with talent and a mindset that there's something out there to be won, not only in October but in July as well.