There are several different ways to look at yesterday’s trade of one smallish Southern Illinois University right-handed reliever for another, but the headline’s a pretty simple one: The “For Sale” sign in the Texas Rangers storefront has been lit up. With Jason Frasor for Spencer Patton, the Rangers have unmistakably announced to the league that, as far as 2014 is concerned, they are sellers.
Maybe buyers, too, I hope — but definitely sellers.
The story is partly about giving Roman Mendez and Matt West more responsibility in what is now even more clearly an audition for 2015.
It’s partly about whether Patton fits in that himself, which is extremely likely given that he’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster this winter anyway for draft protection purposes — so bringing him to Arlington at some point this summer won’t affect his options supply as long as he doesn’t return to the farm once brought up — and given that, at age 26, he’s probably as worthy of a look as several pitchers Texas has already relied on in 2014.
It’s partly about whether Frasor, who will be 37 in three weeks and a free agent in three months, served as much of a purpose helping Ron Washington get the game to his closer, at this point, as he did facilitating the addition of a much younger bullpen candidate (not to mention some nominal salary relief). There’s nothing stopping Frasor — who has never reached the post-season in his 11 big league seasons — from coming back to the Rangers this winter, if there’s mutual interest.
But it’s mostly about the clear signal, in this Wild Card era in which mid-July signals are less frequently so clear, that the Rangers are open for business and willing to move rental pieces for building blocks.
Is Joakim Soria next? Is Alex Rios? Neal Cotts? The analysis is different for each, but it would stand to reason that there will be some level of contender interest in all three, and, especially in the cases of Soria and Rios (over whom Texas has club control for 2015 that it can choose to exercise or not), there are alternatives to trading them that complicate the decision a bit, and give the Rangers extra leverage in trade talks.
What about Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, or Elvis Andrus? No. No. And only if overwhelmed.
And “overwhelmed” includes potential discussions with clubs willing to talk about impact players of their own.
Jon Daniels told reporters yesterday that Patton, whose appearance in last night’s AAA All-Star Game (one batter, one strikeout) was his final act as an Omaha Storm Chaser, has a scouting profile that often draws comps to Frasor himself. A relatively small righthander, he projects as a seventh-inning type with command of an average fastball (low 90s) and a swing-and-miss slider whose pile of minor league strikeouts gets chalked up in part to a deceptive delivery that causes hitters to pick him up late.
He’s almost certainly going to get to the big leagues in what’s his fourth pro season — compare that with Frasor, who was in his sixth season when he reached AAA for the first time and then debuted with Toronto — and get a legitimate chance along with Mendez and West and Shawn Tolleson and Neftali Feliz and possibly others to make a case for a 2015 role on the right-handed side of the bullpen.
Interestingly, though Patton was serving as Omaha’s closer this season — his first in that role — and even though he was limiting hitters to a .164/.276/.343 slash with 47 strikeouts and 17 unintentional walks in 39 innings, the Royals moved him back into a set-up role about three weeks ago, and you can imagine that was perhaps by design, prompted by the early stages of trade talks between Kansas City and Texas, if not others. After the shift, Patton’s peripherals looked about the same (.148/.233/.370 with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 7.1 frames), and twice he worked on back-to-back days, which he’d been asked to do very rarely over the first three months of the season.
Home runs have been an issue for Patton in 2014 (nine in 46.1 innings), but he’s been unhittable without splits (righties: .161; lefties: .162) and his ratio of strikeouts to base hits (60 to 26) has been otherworldly. That rate’s not going to translate to the American League, but the evidence is there from a statistical standpoint, and presumably based on the Rangers’ scouting evaluations as well, to make this deal now and not wait another two weeks to see whether Frasor could have gotten back into an effective groove (opponents are hitting .429/.485/.714 off him since June 17) and whether more teams would have jumped in as the deadline neared.
The addition of Patton may ring the bell about as much as the Rangers’ November waiver claim on Tolleson, and that’s not a bad thing. Like Tolleson, Patton is 26 and has fanned more than 10 batters per nine innings every year of his minor league career. Like Tolleson, he’s never going to profile as a starter or as a closer in the big leagues, and pitchers like that tend to show up in minor trades (Mendez), off the waiver wire (Tolleson), after a position change (West), or in the 30th round of the draft (don’t be surprised if Phil Klein is making September appearances in Arlington). Like Tolleson, perhaps Patton can develop into a piece of a winning bullpen, even if he’s not the headline act.
Frasor has pitched in 624 big league games, none as a starter and only a few dozen (many years ago) as a closer. When set-up relievers don’t have electric stuff (and multiple years of control) like Mike Adams or Koji Uehara, they don’t get flipped for high-end prospects. Patton (a former 24th-round pick out of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville) won’t show up on any Top 10 lists of the Rangers’ most promising minor leaguers this winter, and that’s OK. Jason Frasor (a former 33rd-rounder out of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) never showed up on a list like that, either.
But that’s not the primary takeaway from Frasor-for-Patton anyway. Whether or not Patton pitches his way to Arlington and then gets big league hitters out this summer, when Daniels says, “We’re not looking to tear the team down by any stretch — we’re looking forward to building it back up,” that’s no longer just a leveraging pitch made between GM’s by text message. I still hold out hope that Texas can get involved on the buyers’ end of a deal, but at this point there’s no question that Daniels has proclaimed that his club is ready to do business on the other end of that.
The Rangers have made a move, which sends a really dependable middle reliever into a pennant race but also sends an unambiguous message, that unlike most clubs, Texas is ready to build towards 2015, even at the expense of 2014, and I’d like to think that the next stack of texts Daniels receives from his counterparts around the league are less likely to be kudos for the addition of Spencer Patton than attempts to push bigger conversations into greater focus.