Windows, '13.

“I’m really disappointed in Texas,” said an AL exec.  “It’s unbelievable to me, how they allowed themselves to miss out on everything they had on their radar.”

But another AL exec said there’s a logical explanation for that – and a moral to all that swinging and missing: “They had too many balls in the air.  They had too many things going on.  You have a chance to get shut out when you do that.  And that’s exactly what happened.”

-- Jayson Stark (ESPN)

The temptation is there to upbraid an organization that not long ago was widely judged as baseball’s best.  But it’s far too early to do that.  The Rangers will swing from their heels in these final offseason at-bats.

-- Jon Paul Morosi (Fox Sports)

The wrong reaction for the Texas Rangers would be an overreaction, a course correction that takes them off a trajectory that has carried them through two World Series appearances in the last three years. . . .

The Rangers’ significant resources in prospects and money are still available.  Maybe the Rangers will make their move before the July 31 trade deadline, or maybe they’ll contend without a major move – and still be in position to be one of the teams with a legitimate shot at David Price when the Rays trade the left-hander; rival executives view that as inevitable, because of Tampa Bay’s financial limitations.

The Rangers are not going to alter their long-term plan.

The Rangers are biding their time.

-- Buster Olney (ESPN)

Texas was very much in the red zone on Zack Greinke, perhaps “within an eyelash” (as Don Welke put it Wednesday night) of signing the righthander before he opted to become a Dodger.

The Rangers, having missed out on Greinke, were thought to be the team to beat as far as

trading for James Shields was concerned.  Kansas City instead pulled a deal off with Tampa Bay.

After that, every national writer had Texas squarely in the mix for R.A. Dickey before Toronto stepped up with a shocking offer that made it easy for the Mets to decide to trade the underpaid Cy Young Award winner.

And of course, the overwhelming consensus was that the Angels’ new left fielder was going to stay in Texas, but that didn’t happen, either.

There’s something telling about those deals.

Forget the Dodgers for now.  They belong in a category of one, and since they have only eight players making $10 million (if not double that), and are still saddled with two non-marquee everyday players, I halfway expect them to trade Dee Gordon, Zach Lee, and Yasiel Puig for Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano to fix that.

What do the other three teams making those deals that were seemingly primed for Texas – the Royals, Blue Jays, and Angels – have in common (besides Willie Mays Aikens and Rance Mulliniks)?

Windows.

For Kansas City, the idea was pretty clear:  Go for it.  Baltimore and Oakland getting it done in 2012 provided the inspiration.  No sense in waiting for the next wave of kids.  Win before Alex Gordon and Billy Butler leave.  Gird the thing as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Sal Perez, and Alcides Escobar take that next step.  Take advantage of the solid young bullpen and a division that at least allows for dreams of a Wild Card berth, and add some veteran arms to the rotation.  Stop waiting for Luke Hochevar to figure it out and for Danny Duffy to get well and for Jake Odorizzi to arrive.  Trade for Ervin Santana.  Re-up with Jeremy Guthrie.

And then go get a guy to give the ball to in the opener against the White Sox.  Trade for James Shields.  Get Wade Davis in the deal, too, because agreeing to put a blue-chip young hitter like Wil Myers and more on the table allows you to do that.

When a pitcher like Shields is on the free agent market, he ends up getting a contract north of $100 million, while the Royals are left chasing guys like Guthrie and Bruce Chen and rolling the dice with Luis Mendoza.  This was their chance.

It was a tremendous deal for the Rays, who can slide Chris Archer or Alex Cobb into the rotation in Shields’s absence, wait on Odorizzi (who also came in the deal) to develop, and envision Myers joining Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist to form the core of Tampa Bay’s lineup for years.  (Such a good deal, in fact, that the Rays weren’t open to the Rangers’ overtures unless they were getting Jurickson Profar, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.)

I didn’t mind the deal for the Royals.  They’ve been awful forever.  They have a core of young hitters who are capable of contributing to a winner, and the sputtering treadmill of constantly waiting on the next wave that they’ve been running on includes the reality of eventually losing the better ones as they reach their prime and, with it, free agency.  They don’t have a monster TV deal, nor one on the horizon.

My one regret as far as the Royals-Rays deal is concerned is that Ryan Dempster didn’t take Kansas City’s two-year, $26 million offer in late November, wanting the club to go to three years (he’d later accept two years and $26.5 million from Boston).  Had the Royals signed Dempster, theoretically they would have kept Myers and not traded for Shields – perhaps leaving Texas to get something done with Tampa Bay without having to include Profar.

But aside from that, this arguably makes some sense for Kansas City.  I’ve heard some things about Myers that has me less enthusiastic about his future than maybe I should be, but even if he turns out to be Chipper Jones rather than Nick Markakis, the Royals believe they have a window of opportunity here, and securing two years of control over Shields (and thus two summers of flippability in case the bigger plan doesn’t work out) plus five years of Davis matches up well with where their lineup strength is right now, not to mention the state of the division.

For the Jays, the price to obtain Dickey was just as steep, as they parted with catcher Travis d’Arnaud – thought to be untouchable – and their next-best prospect, 20-year-old righthander Noah Syndergaard (of Mansfield), in a seven-player deal to get the 38-year-old knuckleballer.  Why go that length to get Dickey?

Again, the window.

The Yankees and Red Sox haven’t been this big a combined question mark in a whole generation, certainly not since Toronto won its two World Series in 1992-93.  Tampa Bay, having moved Shields and Davis, arguably takes a step back, even if Myers and Odorizzi arrive sometime in 2013.  The Orioles, 2012 notwithstanding, are the Orioles.

And as Keith Law (ESPN) points out, with the Maple Leafs on ice and the Raptors brutally bad, the Blue Jays – another club without the benefit of a TV windfall – have a chance for dramatically higher attendance revenue (they haven’t drawn three million fans since eclipsing the four million mark in those two World Series seasons) if they win.

Hence, kids to Miami for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and more, and d’Arnaud/Syndergaard-plus to the Mets for Dickey-plus.  That influx of talent increases the odds that Toronto wins something during Jose Bautista’s own window, at a time when the division competition appears to be as vulnerable as it’s been in a long time or can be expected to be after another winter of prospect development and reloading opportunities for the Jays’ rivals.

The concept of a window to win is a bit different for the Angels.  It’s not so much about taking advantage of a competitive opportunity – though signing that outfielder accomplished the objective in part, by removing him from the Rangers’ attack – as it is about going all in while Albert Pujols is still productive (whether he’s 33 right now, or 37), not to mention Jered Weaver, who is under contract the next four years, his age 30 through age 33 seasons.

Five years from now, Mike Trout is going to get paid.  (He’s surely going to get locked up well before that, but the deal, whenever it’s made, will likely have ramp-up salaries in 2015, 2016, and 2017, before the game-changing numbers set in.)  Until then, it’s all about winning while Pujols is still Pujols, and while Weaver is still Weaver – Trout is exceptionally great but one Andrew McCutchen does not a contender make – and given that the Los Angeles farm system, according to Baseball America, “might be the worst in baseball,” throwing that kind of commitment at that new right fielder (massively backloaded, as a matter of fact: 15-15-23-30-30, with a $10 million signing bonus paid up front) was all about taking another big chunk of that Fox Sports West cash and loading up to win . . . right . . .  now.

Interestingly, Olney reports that it’s “evident that [the] deal [for the outfielder] was made over the head of the Angels’ baseball operations department.”

It wasn’t a great baseball move for Los Angeles, given the risk associated with the player and the manner in which a budget that already basically guarantees one substantial anchor three and four and five years from is now going to be weighed down even further in those seasons.

This has the appearance of Angels ownership looking for ways to grease through a window that’s going to start closing pretty soon.

(I think if I were the Angels, I might have loaded up for Greinke instead of the outfielder, but two things there: (1) Maybe they thought they had no chance to force the Dodgers to fold on Greinke; and (2) going in the other direction had the added allure of a direct kick to the Rangers’ gut.  I do wonder, though, if the Angels might have waited until Greinke signed to make their move, so that Texas wouldn’t have the chance to respond by kicking up their own proposal to Greinke.)

(Interesting comment on MLB Network Radio by Jon Daniels, by the way: He notes that it was around December 7, six days before the player signed with the Angels, that he first suggested to Daniels that it “might be time to move on” – in part because of “things that had been said” – though Daniels didn’t think at that point that the situation was intractable, and believed there was a “chance to repair” things.  According to Jon Heyman [CBS Sports], Texas ultimately made an offer “that could have gotten [the outfielder] to five years,” even if not guaranteed for five like the Los Angeles proposal was.)

As far as the big strikes the Royals, Jays, and Angels have made this month, you might quibble with the execution, but there’s no debating the plan.  Windows-based, all of them.

So we turn to Texas.  There’s TV money coming.  There are winning players here and high-end prospects ready to reinvigorate the lineup, behind which there’s still plenty of farm system muscle.  There’s a creative and tireless front office, and the support of a hungry ownership group.

On the one hand, the window here appears to be so wide open that you can’t even see it framed, with waves of minor league talent coming that promises (one way or another) to keep it that way.

On the other, how much longer will Nolan Ryan want to do this?

How much longer will Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, and A.J. Preller all be working together?

Yu Darvish’s contract, Adrian Beltre’s prime, Elvis Andrus’s situation.

The defections this winter that have yet to be fully addressed, with the options out there getting more limited.

Maybe there is a sort of window here after all.  There’s going to be another one right after this one narrows – as surely as one can say that about any organization – but with a core that’s already been chipped away at this winter without a title, this is no time to be thinking about a retrenching year.

Oakland will have to show it can repeat.

Seattle has work to do before that club is Tampa Bay (pitching depth, a few lineup pieces, a number one starter to ride . . . while he’s still around).

Houston is there.

Los Angeles can just bring it.

Yeah, the Rangers are still right there, and the winter’s not over.

Daniels and his crew regularly talk about the dual one-year and five-year plans, a concept that Welke rebranded at our event Wednesday night, referring to them instead as two-year and six-year plans.  The idea, I suppose, is that even labeling a strategy as having a one-year design could be interpreted as possibly militating toward the occasional emptying of the upper tier of the farm system for two months of Greinke, or dealing James McDonald and a prospect for two months of Octavio Dotel.

Two (no, three) months of Cliff Lee – that’s different.

And so is two third-tier prospects for Dempster, and one of them for Bengie Molina.

Otherwise, control is king, which is why Mike Adams made so much more sense than Heath Bell (aside from being a better pitcher), why Koji Uehara was a tremendous fit, why targeting Mike Napoli was more than just rolling the dice on a one-year breakout.

It’s why persistent rumors that Arizona and Texas talk regularly about Justin Upton are completely credible, as the Rangers look for long-term control over an impact outfield bat to replace the one that they once acquired when he promised five years of club control himself.

Upton – at the right cost – would boost that two-year plan.  And fit a good chunk of the six-year version.

But the cost is obviously key, and presumably why Upton remains a Diamondback, for now.

The Mets reportedly wanted Mike Olt or Leonys Martin – if not both – in any deal for Dickey.  Texas declined.

Profar in a deal for Shields?  No thanks.  Love Shields, but no.

Four years for Edwin Jackson?  Texas was apparently never interested.

Three for Napoli, or Cody Ross?  Too much.

Three years – and a forfeited first-round draft pick – for Adam LaRoche?  He’d presumably be a Ranger right now if Texas wanted to do that.

Four and a pick for Nick Swisher?  Thad Levine told MLB Network Radio that Texas wasn’t in on that mess.

(Well, he didn’t say “mess.”)

The Rangers could have afforded to do any of the above.

Can they afford not to do any of them?

Too soon to grade the winter.  Way too soon.

But here’s the thing about what the Royals, Jays, and Angels have done, and they’re not alone.  This mantra we’ve heard the last few years about teams hoarding their prospects, and overvaluing them, because of cost certainty and payroll containment, seems to have given way to, or at least made room for, a different stratagem: To overpay in prospects in order to take advantage of windows to win.

As Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos said after the Dickey deal: “Sometimes we forget . . . it’s all supposed to be about winning . . . . That’s the end goal.”

Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus) offered more texture to the same idea.

The Blue Jays “feel they have a chance to win,” Parks wrote, “and they are willing to part with some of the currency they’ve been saving up to enhance their odds.  It’s a risk, but you can’t always rest on the accomplishments of your farm system when the product at the highest level is paramount to your own survival.  Eventually, you have to play your hand.”

Is this new baseball carpe diem the smart way to go?

No matter how you answer that, is it becoming the only way to play ball on the big stuff?

The idea of Profar for Shields, or Olt and Martin for Dickey, is just as preposterous as committing four expensive years to Jackson, or three to Shane Victorino.

Right?

You can bet Kansas City and Toronto sold a bunch of tickets these last few weeks, and that they feel much better about winning in 2013 and 2014.

You can also bet that a significant chunk of hard-core Royals and Jays fans aren’t crazy about seeing Myers and d’Arnaud set to launch their eagerly awaited careers somewhere else.  It’s not as if those trades brought David Price over, or Giancarlo Stanton.

Speaking of which, if it takes Myers to get Shields, and d’Arnaud to get Dickey, and Didi Gregorius for one year of Shin-Soo Choo, where does the ask start on Price or Stanton?

Sure, Price probably isn’t thrilled to see Shields and Davis moved for unproven pieces while he’s helping prop open the Rays’ window, and we know how Stanton feels about Marlins management blowing the thing up around him, but if that marginally chips away at any leverage Tampa Bay and Miami has with those two gold pieces, the Shields and Dickey trades boost it a hundredfold.

For Stark, a Texas offer for Stanton would probably require Profar, Olt, Martin, “and more . . . [and] even then [I’m] not sure [the Marlins] do it.”

Still, if the Marlins decide to move Stanton, or if the Rays decide to move Price, few clubs could afford to part with what it would take – and survive it developmentally – especially given this new landscape in which the bluest of prospect chips are being traded.

What could Texas get for Andrus in this new sort of trade market?

Don’t answer that.  Don’t think about it.  I take it back.

Instead: Extend the window, and make a lifetime deal.

(If you’re wondering whether I’m directing that plea toward the team or toward the player, the answer is yes.)

Morosi says the Diamondbacks, even having targeted the shortstop prospect Gregorius and landing him, would still trade Upton for Andrus.

Yeah, I bet they would.

Morosi also says to keep an eye on Texas and Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

OK.  But look at the cost to get one year of Choo before spitballing a trade for Gonzalez and his five years of reasonably salaried club control.  Morosi suggests the price could be merely Martin Perez “and some other arms.”  Given CarGo’s uninspiring road splits away from Coors Field, maybe so.  But given the very current landscape, I’m unconvinced.

I’m also unconvinced when Morosi says Texas could jump in on Michael Bourn, who turns 30 this week with a game predicated on speed, who doesn’t get on base, and who would cost a first-round pick even if his ask on the length of term necessarily comes down.

Pierzynski’s one-year deal doesn’t fit a two-year or six-year plan, but at his age and at the relatively modest salary it took, you make that move because it doesn’t compromise anything and fills a hole.

Trading for Jason Kubel’s one year of inexpensive control?  Same idea, I suppose, as long as the pitching prospect price that Arizona reportedly seeks is closer to the package Texas gave up for Dempster than the one the Angels surrendered for Greinke.

The Diamondbacks trading Kubel, if they end up doing that as expected, would be the latest example of another trend we’re seeing this winter: Signing a player to create a surplus, and trading out of that surplus to address other needs.

The Angels sign a power-hitting outfielder, making Mark Trumbo a DH, and then trade Kendrys Morales for lefthander Jason Vargas.

The reverse: Cleveland trades Choo to get a package headlined by young righthander Trevor Bauer – and signs Swisher to replace Choo.

Toronto stockpiles catchers early in the off-season.

Seattle’s acquisition of Morales could prompt that club to trade Justin Smoak.

Arizona signs Cody Ross, and may trade Kubel for pitching.

Detroit re-signs Anibal Sanchez, and may move Rick Porcello to one of what’s being reported as a whole bunch of interested clubs.

The Dodgers sign Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and may trade Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano for something.

If Texas were to get Upton, maybe Nelson Cruz gets moved elsewhere.

Which to me would represent more than just a reallocation of assets, as I tend to think of Upton not so much as a superstar to climb on the back of but instead as a younger and slightly better version of Cruz.

Even if the Upton-to-Texas concept, which has gotten more media play than any bet-on-it scenario since the Texas-catching-for-Boston-pitching theme of four winters ago, similarly falls short of reality, it seems likely that the Rangers’ next impact move will be via trade rather than free agency.  Levine intimated as much on MLB Network Radio a few days ago.

The window is partly why.  Sacrifice prospects rather than too many years or too much money to get the player, and hang onto the first-round draft pick that, in some cases, would be lost, making sure not to compromise the pipeline just to add a free agent with a commitment that instantly doesn’t feel right.

We don’t know what the Rangers will do next.  They’re very good about virtually ensuring that that’s the case.

But we do know they’ll do something big.

Well, we don’t know that.

But pretty close.

Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) wrote, recently: “One way or another, the Rangers are going to be good.  They’re also going to be different.  Whether they end up better remains to be seen.”

Yes, it does.

It remains to be seen not only because the winter isn’t over, but also because the games haven’t been played.  If you think the Royals, Blue Jays, and Angels have positioned themselves to go ahead and make October reservations, ask the Angels how that worked out last year, and the Marlins and Red Sox if you need more convincing.

And if you’re wondering, like I am, whether this new trend of taking presumably untouchable prospects and converting them into immediate help has set a new market that Texas is going to have to succumb to in order to keep up, lots is uncertain, but this isn’t: The Rangers have shown restraint this winter, which is not a compliment or a complaint, but instead an observation that while some clubs are absolutely going all in, and others are happily taking advantage of the emergence of clubs absolutely going all in, Texas lurks, with something laid out on a whiteboard that none of us can see.

Without ever mentioning the Rangers, Ken Davidoff wrote something a week ago in the New York Post that seemed to be squarely about this franchise:

I think it’s worth noting that the best-run teams, payroll be darned, don’t seem to think in terms of windows.  They look at the endless expanse of the future and strive to contend each and every season.

It’s only words.

But just as the Angels’ Pujols strike and the Marlins’ Reyes/Buehrle/Bell offensive didn’t work last winter – and in fact in Miami’s case became part of this new story a year later – we don’t yet know how moving Wil Myers or Travis d’Arnaud will work out in the short term, we don’t yet know how overcommitting to an age-risky hitter will pan out in the long term, and we don’t yet know how refusing so far to go down paths like those will turn out for Texas, in the short term or the long term or in terms of the concept of sports windows, which may or may not drive this franchise after all and which therefore makes me question dumping almost 4,000 words on it and, hey, now it’s snowing a whole lot outside so catch you later.

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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