Bats in the belfry?

A couple days ago, I tweeted that “[i]n the next COFFEY I send out, I’m gonna suggest adding one name to the [Giancarlo] Stanton-[David] Price discussion.  And I’m not sure he’d be a step down.”

But then I read something yesterday, and decided this thought I’ve had was worth something more than just a little rumor-mongering bullet point.

In Dave Cameron’s FanGraphs chat yesterday, he had a bunch of interesting things to say that, from a Rangers-centric viewpoint, were worth clipping and saving.

There was this:

Q:  Do the Marlins trade Stanton this year?
DC:  This calendar year?  Maybe, because November/December are still part of 2013.  Not this season, though.

But that wasn’t what I wanted to write about.

And this:

Q:  Considering the salary issue that goes along with [Cliff] Lee, do you think teams could still aim for Matt Garza first presuming he’s available as well?  He’s clearly not the pitcher Lee is, but as a rental would cost less in prospects and wouldn’t be under contract 2014.
DC:  Yeah, I’d imagine Garza will be option A for a lot of teams.

Garza’s more interesting than Ryan Dempster was a year ago, but he obviously doesn’t fit anywhere near a Stanton/Price tier.

Q:  Do the Mariners trade [Tom] Wilhelmsen at the deadline?
DC:  I would strongly consider it, yes.

Tuck that one away, depending on a couple other situations.

Q:  Bigger albatross from last offseason: B.J. Upton or Josh Hamilton contract?
DC:  Hamilton.

I include that here not as a pile-on, but as a reminder that, regardless of whether the Rangers were granted a final conversation with Hamilton this winter, they weren’t ever going to match the Angels’ offer.

It was another Cameron comment that grabbed my attention the most.

Q:  Should the Jays trade [Jose] Bautista or [Edwin] Encarnacion?  What might the return look like?
DC:  They are going to be a fascinating seller at the deadline.  I doubt they move either, and probably just trade Josh Johnson, but I wouldn’t put it past [Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos] to make a blockbuster if he got an offer that brought in young talent that could help in 2014.

Interesting.

At 32 years old, Bautista makes $14 million this year, will make $14 million next year, and $14 million in 2015, plus another $14 million in 2016 unless his club pays him $1 million to leave.  Sounds like a lot of money for a player his age.

Then again, by trade deadline time we’re talking about $34 million for three pennant races, and in spite of his age Bautista is crushing at his MVP-discussion-level 2010 and 2011 seasons, hitting .292/.405/.571 (including a ridiculous .366/.479/.602 May) with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.

Ultimately, I doubt the money or the player’s age would be much of an issue.

The issue is whether Joey Bats would even be up for discussion.

It’s a subject that Nick Cafardo raised in the Boston Globe a week and a half ago:

File this under ‘way too early’ because who knows if the Jays will get back in the race.  But teams like Texas are already looking at a potential power bat for the second half of the season, and Bautista and fellow Toronto basher Edwin Encarnacion certainly fit the mold.  The Jays certainly don’t want to give up on what they started, but at some point, do they try to get the most for these guys?

The more persuasive argument would be that Toronto wouldn’t, at least not with Bautista.  The club went all-in this winter, dramatically so, trading young, inexpensive, controllable assets from baseball’s number five farm system for veterans R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, several months after extending Encarnacion for a guaranteed $29 million over the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons.

An $83.7 million payroll in 2012 saw a 42 percent increase in 2013, to $119.3 million.

Even in the formidable AL East, and with a brutal start that has Toronto in last place, 8.5 games out (and further behind fourth-place Tampa Bay than the Rays are out of first), you can’t be thinking a third of the way through the season about punting.  Not after the off-season statement that organization made to its fans.

Plus, the Jays aren’t just renting a shot at a title.  Johnson will be a free agent at season’s end, but Toronto controls Buehrle through 2015, Bautista and Encarnacion and Dickey through 2016, and Reyes through 2018.

The Jays obviously went into the winter believing their window to win is now.  They’re spending that way.  Their core is locked up for multiple years.  And they’ve sacrificed future for present in a big way – since July the Jays have traded nine of the 20 prospects that Baseball America judged to be their best a year ago.

On the other hand?

The flip side of moving that many key prospects is that the club’s depth over the next couple years could be compromised, and opportunities to add to the mix this summer, or next winter, could be limited.

Reyes is hurt, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus haven’t progressed like the club hoped they would, Buehrle and Johnson have been awful, and Dickey has been ordinary.  Ricky Romero is looking like a lost cause at AAA.

Bautista and Encarnacion are doing their things, notwithstanding which Toronto is a 23-30 ballclub.  Which of the other four teams in the East can the Jays really feel they’ll be better than in 2014, led in the rotation by Dickey, who will be 39, and Buehrle, who will be 35, and by Brandon Morrow, whose opponents’ average and strikeout rate are the worst of his seven-year career?

Toronto had a strong 2012 draft and selects 10th overall a week from today, but that group of prospects is largely three years away, at which point the core of the team as it’s situated now will be an old one.

Would Anthopoulos – who made the ballsy decision to trade his top two prospects, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and righthander Noah Syndergaard, in a strange deal for Dickey this winter – have the guts to go in the other direction this summer, moving Bautista for prospects and effectively sending a message to his clubhouse and fan base (if he’d even have the blessing of a heavily invested ownership group) that the club isn’t set up to win now after all?

Would trading Bautista be the right thing to do, even if it wouldn’t be the popular, revenue-generating thing to do?  Would the proper baseball move, given how this Toronto roster matches up in that division, be for the Jays to internally view every key asset they have as one that can help them win in three years – whether on the field then or as a trade chip now?

Neither Johnson, who’s been bad when he’s not been hurt, nor Buehrle would bring back the kind of return that would accelerate a window-shifting plan.  If the Jays were to trade Dickey six months after acquiring him, they wouldn’t get close to the d’Arnaud-Syndergaard package they gave up, which is basically saying they’re not going to trade Dickey.

But what about the player whom the awful Pirates left exposed and lost in the Rule 5 Draft in 2003, the player who in 2004 was designated for assignment by the Orioles, designated for assignment by the Rays, traded by the Royals, and traded by the Mets, putting him back in Pittsburgh until he was traded again in 2008, that time to Toronto, straight up for minor league catcher Robinzon Diaz, who I’d be surprised if you knew spent two later stints (2011 and 2012) in the Rangers system?

That player was Jose Bautista, and realistically he ought to be untouchable.

Of course, I thought that about d’Arnaud, too.

Would you rather have Bautista at age 32 than Stanton at age 23?  Well, no, but the cost wouldn’t be the same, either.

Assuming the Jays would even discuss Bautista, which I’m not suggesting they would, surely they’d insist on Jurickson Profar (the four Texas names that popped up this winter in rumors involving d’Arnaud or Arencibia were Profar, Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando) as part of the package.  While Profar’s greatest value is as a shortstop, and the Jays don’t need one, they could put him at second base – or flip him for something hugely significant.

But Texas isn’t going to move Profar for Bautista.

Loading up with frontline prospects would be the idea if Toronto were to decide to move Bautista, but there would have to be an immediate return as well, from a P.R. standpoint, even if it’s not necessarily the key piece.  The Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Teixeira Trade, if you will.

Maybe Ogando is that player.

There’s so much about these 1,500 words that probably qualifies as a waste of your time (and mine), but take a look at the Rays’ last three weeks and you’ll agree that we probably ought to call off the #pricecheck, at least for the summer.  Ask yourself if you’re more inclined or less after seeing Profar’s game the last week to trade the 20-year-old, whose untouchability would arguably be more of a deal-killer in any talks for Stanton than it would be for Bautista.  Plus, this time waste beats the heck out of dwelling on three-game skids or rainouts or Colby Lewis setbacks or the bad news on Ian Kinsler’s timetable or the Angels’ 9-2 run, which pales in comparison to Oakland’s 11-1 tear.  And do you really think I’m going to overreact and dump this sort of word count, this soon, on the Joe Benson and Carlos Pimentel Trains or on Mike Olt’s return to a game on a field with opponents and umpires and a scoreboard, even if it’s one in which he gets to bat (third, shrewdly) every inning?  (Some of you don’t need to answer that.)

Alexi Ogando, Justin Grimm, Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, and Alex Claudio for Jose Bautista, free-agent-to-be Josh Johnson, and Josh Thole.

I think both teams probably say no to that idea, but we’re on June’s doorstep, the beginning of the schedule’s spitballing middle third, and we all know that basically means we’re entering crazy season, the good kind of crazy that beats exaggerating the significance of a hot streak in High Class A or seven plate appearances in extended spring, but you know, maybe Ryan Rua is the new Matt Lawson, I’m pretty sure Café Martinez’s last three weeks make no sense, and man, have you seen what kind of tear Alec Asher’s on?

 
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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