He’s the greatest post-season warrior this franchise has had, in a career that was never supposed to reach this second phase, but Colby Lewis wouldn’t have earned the Rangers’ lone 2010 World Series win had Texas not decided at the eleventh hour to trade Justin Smoak.
The Rangers were headed to the playoffs on July 9th that year, nursing a 5.5-game division lead on the Angels, but they felt they needed a legitimate Number One for October, to put in front of C.J. Wilson, Lewis, and Tommy Hunter, with Derek Holland sidelined with a shoulder and the club’s Opening Day and Opening Night starters, Scott Feldman and Rich Harden, not viable options.
They wouldn’t have gotten Cliff Lee from Seattle if the Yankees had agreed to put righthander Ivan Nova or utility infielder Eduardo Nunez in a deal headed by Jesus Montero that was at the doorstep, and if Jon Daniels and his group didn’t swoop in when that deal stalled and agree to part with Smoak, something they’d reportedly been reluctant to do.
Lee was transcendent in the ALDS (2-0, 1.13) and even better in the ALCS (8-2-0-0-1-13 in Yankee Stadium), but it was Lewis, who’d gotten a no-decision after five scoreless innings against the Rays and went 2-0, 1.98 in two starts against New York, including eight strong in the unforgettable Game Six, who was the best pitcher Texas had in the World Series that year. While Lee lost twice to the Giants, with an ERA nearing 7.00, Lewis kept the Rangers in the hunt with a big Game Three win at home, handing the ball off with two outs in the eighth, having allowed single runs in the seventh and eighth and nothing more.
Lewis doesn’t get that win without Smoak-plus for Lee-plus three months earlier.
On Monday, it was announced that Lewis will undergo surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow, ending his 2012, the final season under his existing contract.
Hours later, it was announced that Seattle was optioning Smoak to AAA.
Two years ago, Smoak was a can’t-miss prospect getting his feet wet in the big leagues, and he netted Texas the best starting pitcher on the trade market.
Today, particularly in light of the Lewis development, the Rangers are faced with a similar challenge, and opportunity.
In a strange way, the new CBA rules might have the Rangers in a position of selling while they buy. This time of year, contenders chase the best players that are being shopped, and the CBA doesn’t change that. But – at least theoretically – those teams ought to be more reluctant than ever to part with their best prospects, and this is starting to feel like a situation in which Texas might actually be able to get the best starting pitcher on the market again, if they want to, by shopping Mike Olt.
Just about every club with a frontline starter it’s open to moving is rumored to want Olt. He’d even make sense for the Marlins, who could move Hanley Ramirez in another deal to make room at third base and further accelerate the rebuilding process (in terms of both young players and reduced payroll).
The way this always works, the sellers let the buyers duke it out. I wonder if Texas can use Olt, the same age that Smoak was in 2010 and probably about the same level of prospect, to put the sellers in the ring.
The money and the concept are too big for me to wrap my head this morning around the idea of turning this into an opportunity to go get both an arm and a bat in the same deal (Cole Hamels or Lee – plus Hunter Pence?), but as much as I’m protective of the idea of Olt as a Ranger, the Smoak lesson is there to heed, with last night’s transaction wire a useful reminder that projections aren’t always met.
But sometimes they are, and you get Evan Longoria.
Lee faces Zack Greinke tonight, with Lee winless at home and Greinke pitching poorly of late.
Felix Hernandez goes tonight, too, against Ichiro and the Yankees.
As a result, there will be important Rangers eyes not in Arlington watching Martin Perez tonight.
But there will be important eyes from other clubs who are.
Josh Johnson pitched brilliantly (6-1-0-0-0-9) against Atlanta last night, before being pulled for precautionary reasons due to a small cut on his middle finger. The precautions, in this case, are more about just his next start. They include who that start, or the one after that and a lot more this summer and this October and next year, might be for.
I don’t feel bad for Colby Lewis in exactly the same way I did for Jeff Zimmerman, but man. Lewis’s strange road was less strange than Zimmerman’s, and he did pitch in two World Series and go 4-1, 2.34 in eight post-season starts, getting into the seventh inning on average, and there’s nothing tragic about the $8 million or so that Lewis has earned in the big leagues (to say nothing of what he was paid in Japan) – just as the $11 million that Zimmerman earned helps make his story just a little less sad.
But Lewis was on his way to landing a two- or three-year deal from someone, for probably close to $10 million a season, and more immediately he’s been robbed of another chance to do what he does best, which is pitch like a beast in October. He’s as clear an example this franchise has of the toughness on the mound that the Club President was known for, and if you forced me to bet right now, I’d say Colby Lewis is more likely today to be a Texas Ranger in 2013 than he was yesterday.
But he won’t be on the mound to start the 2013 season, or this October, and the effort to find another warrior who can do both, or at least the latter, has just become intensified.
At least the Lewis development happened when it did. There’s a week for the front office to respond.
And it will.