Nap was huge and Luc stayed hot and Rougie slowed the game down in an adrenaline spot and Martin walked just one unintentionally and Sam threw a scoreless ninth and there was a whole lot about Texas 5, San Diego 2 that violated 2017’s narrative, giving us permission, just maybe, to at least wonder whether ¾ of the season is enough time to redefine it.
But that’s not what I’ve wanted to write about for a week, held at bay by a hard drive that crashed and failed like a middle-of-the-order hitter seeing an 0–2 breaking ball diving at his shoetops and . . . .
These last three days notwithstanding, it’s been a frustrating season, marked too often by a gut punch per diem, and in several ways completely antithetical to the typically prevailing view of this team.
It hasn’t hit.
It hasn’t won many games late — last night was the club’s first win when trailing after six innings — and hasn’t held leads late.
It hasn’t taken care of the baseball.
Its starting pitching has been its lone strength, and really the club’s only tire that, at the moment, isn’t flat.
And yet today I want to write about 2020, and why I’m not so much concerned that the 3.4 million fans who will buy a ticket to sit in a brand new ballpark that year will be seeing a bunch of 11–8 games — because I trust this front office to make sure that’s not the brand of baseball the Rangers will be playing — as much as I’m grappling with how that’s going to be pulled off.
Fixing a Mac can take 3–5 days.
Fixing an offensive approach can take awareness and trust and the recognition of results. (Looking at you, Rougie. Fantastic AB in the ninth, sir.)
Fixing a rotation? It’s the equivalent of trying to fix quarterback or goalie and, for various reasons, at least as elusive.
When the 2020 begins, Elvis Andrus will be 31.
Rougned Odor will be 26, and Joey Gallo will be, too.
Nomar Mazara will 24.
Delino DeShields will be 27, and Ryan Rua will be 30.
Shin-Soo Choo will be 37.
They won’t all be here, but they’re all under club control in 2020.
Jose Trevino will be 27, and so will Drew Robinson and Scott Heineman and Andy Ibanez. Ronald Guzman will be 25, and Yanio Perez and Josh Morgan will each be 24.
Leody Taveras will be 21, and ready. Anderson Tejeda and Miguel Aparicio will be 21, too. Kole Enright and Sam Huff: 22.
For what it’s worth, Luis Robert will be 22 and Shohei Otani — whom Jon Daniels and other team officials have scouted in Japan this week, according to Dylan Hernandez (Los Angeles Times) — will be 26 (yes, I know this is a list of position players), and the Rangers’ first two picks this June, 26th and 29th overall, might be 24 years old and they might be 21 and while I’m at it, you can bet Texas is probably going to pick higher than that in 2018 (age 23, or age 20), and you never know what’s in store for Round 17 (Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Rua).
There’s a really good offensive core that should be here to help usher in the new ballpark. (Please ignore the last five weeks. Work with me.)
It’s not possible to project bullpens three years in advance. It’s hard enough to project three months from now.
Or, we’ve learned this season, three nights.
Then there’s the rotation.
We’ve been spoiled by having Yu Darvish here. Ever since his arrival in 2012, we’ve had a pitcher wearing a Texas jersey who, every time he’s taken the ball, has been a candidate to do something historic.
The Rangers got to the World Series with rotations led by C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, with a late-season infusion of Cliff Lee in 2010 that put a pure Number One atop the staff. Enter Darvish after those two seasons, and right there is one reason Daniels has been quoted to say he thinks the Rangers’ 2012 roster was their best in this era of perpetual contention.
Cole Hamels arrived in 2015, helping secure two straight division titles, one with Darvish sidelined and the next alongside him, a 95-win club that seemed poised to do more than just lead the league in regular season victories.
Yu Darvish will be 33 in 2020, and probably pitching for someone else.
Hamels will be on his next contract. I’d guess that will be elsewhere, too.
The pitchers on the big league roster whom the Rangers currently control through at least 2020: Martin Perez ($9 million club option; age 29), Matt Bush (34), Sam Dyson (31), Tony Barnette (36), Alex Claudio (28), Jose Leclerc (26), Keone Kela (26), Nick Martinez (29), Chi Chi Gonzalez (28), and Dario Alvarez (31).
They won’t all be here, either, of course, but let’s say they all were.
The starters, should everyone stay in their roles: Perez, Martinez, and Gonzalez. (And maybe even A.J. Griffin, the casting director’s first choice, if there is one, to assume the Colby Lewis role of stacked-up short-term deals.)
Where do they fit in a winning rotation?
On their way: Yohander Mendez, who will be 25 in 2020. Connor Sadzeck, who will be 28 — and lots of folks believe his future is in the late innings, though he continues to develop as a starter and that’s been going well.
Ariel Jurado and Brett Martin will be 24.
You can be optimistic about all four, but you’re not counting on any of them near the front of a winning rotation just three years from now.
At age 22, it won’t surprise me if we’re fired up about Cole Ragans and Alex Speas, but they’re not going to open the 2020 season in Arlington. Jonathan Hernandez (23), Pedro Payano (25), Kyle Cody (25), Tyler Phillips (22), same.
Joe Palumbo, who at age 25 will be coming off his first full season after Tommy John surgery? No. (Dammit.)
Michael Matuella, who will be 25 as well? Not gonna rule that one out.
But like Mendez and Sadzeck, it will be good enough if Matuella is taking the ball every fifth day in a Rangers uniform in 2020. To expect more would be reckless.
Houston, for example, has 2020 control over Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove and Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz and Francis Martes and Ken Giles. Texas can’t match that, at the moment. And then there’s the guys Rangers pitchers will be tasked with getting out, like Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher, and an aging Yulieski Gurriel.
Whether the Astros can re-up with Dallas Keuchel (free agent after 2018) and Jose Altuve (free agent after 2019) is anyone’s guess, but that club is going to be formidable regardless.
(Notably, the Astros are restricted from signing big-ticket international J2 free agents in 2017–18 and 2018–19, though they’re eligible to sign Robert as long as it’s before this June 15.)
So there’s more than a thousand words to get us to this: Where are the Rangers going to find the starting pitching they’ll need to transition from the Beltre/Darvish/Hamels club to the next version, without seeing the window slam shut in between?
I made a really rough list of 40 pitchers who are either recent top-of-the-rotation types or generally thought to be on the verge of that. The purpose: To see how frontline starters are acquired.
Because that’s the task.
· Max Scherzer
· Jon Lester
· Johnny Cueto
· Zack Greinke
· David Price
· Masahiro Tanaka
· Rich Hill
· Jeff Samardzija
DRAFTED HIGH/SIGNED BIG (J2’s):
· Clayton Kershaw (7th overall)
· Madison Bumgarner (10th overall)
· Stephen Strasburg (1st overall)
· Marcus Stroman (22nd overall)
· Carlos Martinez (J2)
· Gerrit Cole (1st overall)
· Lance McCullers Jr. (41st overall)
· Aaron Sanchez (34th overall)
· Justin Verlander (2nd overall)
· Felix Hernandez (J2)
· Aaron Nola (7th overall)
· Jameson Taillon (2nd overall)
· Dylan Bundy (4th overall)
· Matt Harvey (7th overall)
DRAFTED/SIGNED REALLY WELL:
· Corey Kluber (4th round)
· Dallas Keuchel (7th round)
· Jacob deGrom (9th round)
· Danny Salazar (J2/$210,000)
· James Paxton (4th round)
· Luis Severino (J2/$225,000)
· Jose Quintana (minor league free agent)
TRADED FOR PROSPECTS:
· Chris Sale
· Cole Hamels
TRADED AS PROSPECTS:
· Chris Archer
· Noah Syndergaard
· Carlos Carrasco
· Kyle Hendricks
· Yu Darvish
· Jake Arrieta
· Rick Porcello
· Michael Pineda
· Robbie Ray
Let’s look at the five discrete categories, and then the “Other” cases.
FREE AGENTS: One option is getting in on the free agent deals that are often tone-setters for the winter market. They tend to involve paying for a couple years that you basically know, up front, you’re overpaying for. That’s just the cost of doing business, and it’s looking to be a deep winter crop of starters, including — from the above 40 alone — Darvish, Arrieta, Pineda, and, if they opt out of the significant years and millions remaining on the guaranteed portions of their current deals, Cueto and Tanaka.
There’s no salary cap in baseball, and the Rangers can certainly play in that arena, especially if the objective is to keep Darvish around (there have been rumblings that he doesn’t really want to leave — not that that means hometown discounts are going to factor in).
But that would surely limit what else Texas could do with its roster, not only in terms of other pickups but also as far as extensions with players like Mazara and Gallo are concerned.
DRAFTED HIGH/SIGNED BIG (J2’s): The Rangers pick 26th and 29th next month. They picked fourth overall (2015) when they chose Dillon Tate, who was traded last year for Carlos Beltran and who has yet to escape extended spring training with the Yankees this season. Drafting is hard. Counting on a rotation fixture late in the first round, let alone someone to lead the staff, is certainly not something you can blueprint.
And the J2 market? Different risk, of course. International teenagers remain free agents, and so you can separate yourself with exceptional scouting and a willing pocketbook, but there are caps on spending and penalties for blowing by them. Plus, drafting a college horse like Price or Verlander or Strasburg or Cole is one thing. Bringing in a 16-year-old from another country and expecting him to develop into a playoff starter four or five years down the road involves far more speculation, and risk.
DRAFTED/SIGNED REALLY WELL: Coming up with a Kluber or Keuchel much later in the draft, or paying a kid like Salazar or Severino a fraction of a typical frontline J2 bonus, is obviously the kind of thing that can define a career for a scout and for the coaches and coordinators responsible for player development.
This certainly isn’t where a franchise pins its long-term projections, but it happens and is part of the reason the best clubs devote significant resources to the effort to scour the globe for talent and then to coach the kids up on the fields not girded by cameramen.
TRADED FOR PROSPECTS: Nope. Not the time to draw further from the organization’s top tier of minor leaguers. Justin Smoak for Cliff Lee made sense. Jerad Eickhoff, Jorge Alfaro, and more for Cole Hamels (and Jake Diekman) made sense. Lee and Hamels were brought in as pieces to put the club over the top (and in the case of Hamels, to impact the rotation for four or five pennant races, not just one).
Texas is not trading Leody Taveras, and isn’t getting a guy like Archer without him.
TRADED AS PROSPECTS: Archer was traded for Matt Garza. Syndergaard was traded for R.A. Dickey. Carrasco was traded for Lee. Hendricks was traded for Ryan Dempster, and now I’ve used up one of my final remaining allotted mentions of that deal.
This is the story worth tracking this summer, if the Rangers don’t make a sustained charge over the next month and trigger some confidence in the possibility of 162+ this year. You can bet Josh Boyd already has pro scouts deployed all over the minor leagues, due-diligencing with July in mind.
None of the veterans above were at the level of Darvish at the time, even though all but Dempster were more than rentals. Would Texas be willing to move Darvish this summer?
What would Jonathan Lucroy bring?
Mike Napoli, if he finds a rhythm?
Andrew Cashner, and possibly even Tyson Ross?
Would Texas consider moving a controllable piece like Matt Bush or Martin Perez if part of the return was a starting pitcher prospect with frontline potential?
Read enough stories previewing this summer’s trade market and you might include the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Astros among the teams likely to go hard after that final piece or two, based on where they find themselves in the standings, the strength of their farm systems, and ownership’s willingness to spend.
Would the Dodgers even think about parting with righthanders Yadier Alvarez and Walker Buehler for three months of Darvish? First baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger isn’t going anywhere, and I doubt Los Angeles would put both Alvarez and Buehler in one deal for a rental piece, but one of those righties plus an outfielder like Alex Verdugo or Yusniel Diaz or righthander Jordan Sheffield?
The Yankees are much deeper in position player prospects than they are on the mound, but big league lefthander Jordan Montgomery or AA pitchers Chance Adams or Justus Sheffield could work alongside an outfielder like Clint Frazier or Blake Rutherford. (New York’s interest in Darvish, if nothing else, could help drive the price up.)
The ask from the Cubs would likely start with righthander Dylan Cease, and while outfielder Eloy Jimenez is likely off limits, second baseman/outfielder Ian Happ can probably be had given his unclear path in Chicago. Corner infielder Jeimer Candelario probably isn’t as good a fit.
Would Texas dare trade Darvish to Houston?
Surely the threshold question is actually whether the Astros would dare send frontline prospects to the Rangers, whom they’re counting on aging during Houston’s presently wide-open window.
Probably not, but righthanders Martes and Franklin Perez would certainly stir a conversation in Arlington, as would outfielder Kyle Tucker. Righthander David Paulino, too.
Darvish isn’t going to bring the depth of the haul that Texas gave up for Hamels and Diekman, or that Boston paid for Sale, or even for Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress, because the half-year of Darvish service lags what the Rangers and Red Sox were getting in those trades, and (unlike Lucroy, for example) there’s no draft pick compensation tied to Darvish since teams losing players to free agency after less than a full season with that club aren’t comp-eligible.
If Los Angeles is reluctant to part with both Alvarez and Buehler, what if Jeffress rounds back into form and the Rangers offer to attach his three pennant races of control as a sweetener?
There will be other teams checking in on Darvish. Standings will dictate that. And the earlier that a team out there decides it’s time to blow the Rangers away and convince them to (1) punt on 2017 and (2) forgo other trade opportunities, the better the return might be. Extra starts (reference: Texas picking Lee up on July 9 that year) cost extra.
Again, though, ignore the Sale and Hamels deals when thinking about what Darvish’s trade value might be. Better examples: The Tigers did fine but probably didn’t redefine their rotation picture going forward when they picked up Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd (and Jairo Labourt) from Toronto for rental David Price in July 2015. Same with the Reds the summer after that, when they turned Johnny Cueto into lefthanders Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed. The key piece Texas parted with for Lee was a corner infielder.
Solid deals but probably not the type poised to pad that category above that includes Archer, Syndergaard, Carrasco, and Hendricks.
But maybe, with enough teams in the mix, Darvish fetches more than Price or Cueto or Lee did — in part, perhaps, because of Darvish and in part based on good scouting.
OTHER: Now for those frontline starters whose acquisitions don’t fit neatly under any of the above headings.
Darvish, whose rights were secured under a posting system that no longer exists (at least in that form).
Arrieta, who had stalled in four big league seasons with Baltimore and was shipped with Pedro Strop to the Cubs for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger, a July 2013 swap that hardly made a ripple at the time. Not even Chicago could have reasonably hoped for a Cy Young out of the deal.
Porcello, whom the Tigers moved to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes (and Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier) in an old-fashioned core-for-core deal.
Pineda, part of an exchange of frontline prospects, with massive disappointment Jesus Montero as the key piece going from the Yankees to Seattle.
Ray, part of a three-team deal involving young players going in each direction: Ray to Arizona, Shane Greene to Detroit, and Didi Gregorius to the Yankees.
But here’s the thing about the Pineda and Ray deals: Texas isn’t going to move Mazara or Gallo or Odor for a young big league arm with big upside. Rua or DeShields don’t get a deal like that done.
(But: Profar for a pitcher who then emerges the way Devenski did post-trade? In other words: Profar for his pitching equivalent?)
There’s not going to be a Porcello-type deal, because the closest thing Texas has to what Cespedes was at the time is Andrus, and I just don’t see that happening.
Could the Rangers hit on the next Arrieta, a big leaguer whose change of scenery could unlock him? Sure, but that’s probably even more rare than hitting big in the draft or in free agency.
Could the Rangers hang onto Darvish?
I sure would like to think so.
He’s a top-15 pitcher in baseball, and hasn’t peaked.
But he’s going to pull in a landmark contract this winter, whether he loves it here or not, and if Texas isn’t the team offering the most (or very close to it), Texas isn’t going to have Darvish next year, or the several after it.
Could the Rangers trade the 30-year-old for an impact return, and then bring him right back in the off-season?
New York traded Chapman to the Cubs for four prospects in July. One of them was shortstop Gleyber Torres, who Thursday morning was unveiled by Baseball America as the number two prospect in baseball (behind White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada, who was acquired from Boston in their Chris Sale deal).
And Chapman returned to the Yankees months later.
It can happen with Darvish. There’s going to be at least some interest on both sides in extending the relationship here.
Not likely. But possible.
There’s one other “Other.”
If Otani is subject to the international spending limits, which he should be unless the CBA is modified imminently to exempt Japanese players from those rules, then if Nippon Ham posts him this winter, these teams will be out because they can only spend $300,000 per player for the 12 months starting July 2 of this year: the A’s, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals. (The A’s, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres, and Reds are so restricted the following year as well.)
Having the Dodgers, Astros, Cubs, and Padres on the sidelines for this one would be good.
If Robert, the Cuban outfielder, signs in the next five weeks, there could be another team barred from getting in on Otani. (Though if it’s one of the above clubs that already blew past its cap in the 2016–17 signing period, it can sign Robert and just build on the penalty.)
The big Japanese righty will turn 23 in July (he’s two years younger than Darvish was in his own posting year) and is considered as dominant a pitcher as Darvish was in Japan — and that’s before you consider that he’s a dangerous hitter who might be capable of DH’ing on some days that he doesn’t pitch, if that’s what Texas would want to do. (I’d suggest he’s a better fit in the American League, given the DH option.)
Otani wears number 11 on his Fighters jersey. That’s not a coincidence.
(Jeff Wilson [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]: “Yu Darvish and Shohei Otani are close. Workout partners. Darvish mentors him on conditioning. Otani looks up to Darvish.”)
What if the Rangers, half a year from now, are looking at Darvish and Otani and Alvarez etched in permanent ink on the dry-erase board projecting the rotation that will usher in the new ballpark in 2020, with an everyday core featuring Mazara and Gallo and Andrus and Odor and Taveras and Trevino?
That’s not happening.
But, once upon a time, neither was Corey Kluber becoming Corey Kluber, Chris Archer developing into Chris Archer, or Jake Arrieta transforming into Jake Arrieta.
These last three days have been remarkable in a season full of demoralizing — one utterly dominant thrashing and two improbable wins — and I’m not ready to rule out the possibility that a handful of veterans who came up big last night might be finding a sustainable rhythm.
But it’s likely that fewer of those named in this report’s leadoff sentence will be in the home whites when the new building opens three years from now than won’t, and as difficult as it might be to project what this offense will look like in a few months, it strangely feels almost more predictable looking out a few years.
The rotation, just the opposite.
To that end, while his team was busy taking three of four from the Padres, the GM was evidently halfway around the world, investigating opportunities to address the area of this club that, though it’s been the most consistent thing about 2017, is probably its haziest going forward.
There are different ways to add impact to your rotation, and while 25 guys and their coaches look for ways to bottle up the last few days, others tasked with the job of acquiring the guys who put those uniforms on are very busy, you can be 100 percent sure, looking for ways to win on a completely different level of scoreboard.