You are the General Manager of a baseball team. The team you have built has had a decade-long run of success, and a number of your best veteran players are still on the team and still contributing. The division you are in, however, now includes baseball’s best team, by most objective and subjective measures. Other teams in your league have made headline moves this winter to get better in the short term.
· Load up for an impact signing or trade? (Go to the next paragraph.)
· Hold your water? (Turn to page . . . hmm . . . not really any “pages” in an email or the website version . . . turn to screen number . . . well, I’m not going to tell you how to format your margins and font size because I’m nothing if not non-over-officious . . . scrap the whole choose-your-own-adventure format because the author didn’t quite think this through.)
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Here’s the thing.
The easy play, for those of us who hang on every pitch and every trade and every story about the playing surface in the new ballpark and spend our money and family time supporting the franchise, is to say: “C’mon. Let’s go. WIN NOW.”
Or to embrace the camp that says: “Tear it down. Houston is too good. But look at that window of ours three years down the road. SELL.”
It’s not that easy, or advisable.
In either case.
First case: Look at the rotation. Yes, there’s some upside for things to actually work out pretty well, if it breaks right for Mike Minor and Matt Moore and Doug Fister. The bullpen will be better, almost by default; can’t be that bad again. So will the second baseman, same reason. With a couple free agents moving on, the club isn’t going to strike out another 1,500 times. Surely Adrian Beltre won’t miss 40 percent of the season again. Joey Gallo is going to be better and Nomar Mazara will be better and Delino DeShields keeps doing that, too, and here comes Willie Calhoun, not to mention Dan Warthen and Don Wakamatsu, and what if Jurickson Profar and Ryan Rua and Drew Robinson and Keone Kela and Jose Leclerc take the next step? And what if Chris Martin and Carlos Tocci and Ronald Herrera and Steve Delabar and Connor Sadzeck show up and make an impact?
Unfortunately, not all of that is going to happen.
And to assume Elvis Andrus and Robinson Chirinos and Alex Claudio are all going to repeat?
Can’t count on it.
Are we sure that the extra month of intense baseball that Houston went through brings that club back to the pack a bit? Didn’t have that effect on Texas in 2011.
Or 2012 or 2013, really.
The Rangers have a shot in 2018. It may not be a great shot, as we sit here more than a month from Pitchers & Catchers, but it’s no worse on paper than it was this time a year ago for Minnesota, or Arizona, or Colorado.
But as optimistic as you are, wherever you think this club is positioned right now, does gutting the top tier of your farm system to get Chris Archer or Christian Yelich put you over the top? Does it put you right there with Houston? Or the Yankees? You’d be better now, for sure. But better enough to evaluate this club’s chances completely differently — at the expense of some of the major pieces you’re counting on to impact the roster around when the new building opens?
And does giving nine figures to Jake Arrieta make you a division favorite — while reducing your chances of preventing Andrus’s opt-out from putting him in a new uniform?
If you’re really looking to spend big — really big — would it be better to wait for next winter, when names like Kershaw and Machado and Harper and Blackmon and Donaldson and Keuchel and Pollock — and Andrus — are potentially on the market?
Is right now the time to strike?
Now, for the teardown proponents:
Who are you trading?
Adrian? Maybe in July, if the season doesn’t break right for the team and a chance somewhere else is desired by the player.
Elvis? Shoot me your list of contenders that should be in the market for a high-dollar shortstop.
Rougned? Selling low wouldn’t even begin to describe it.
If you want to get another Calhoun and A.J. Alexy (Darvish) or Pedro Gonzalez (Lucroy), who do you think clubs are asking for?
Gallo. Mazara. Exactly the type of player you’re looking to add.
I want a Tyler Seguin trade, too. But who’s the Loui Eriksson?
Relief pitchers that don’t throw 104 don’t bring that sort of haul, but even if they did, Claudio has to do it again before he’s going to fetch high-end prospects. He’s far more valuable — for now — to keep than to trade.
Matt Bush would have to bounce back and Kela would have to take the next step and Chirinos fits that Claudio profile.
Are you trading Cole Hamels or Martin Perez?
You’re better off waiting until July.
By which time Hamels has reestablished his command and his value (courses can change with pitchers at that level: see Justin Verlander) and by which time Perez has proven his health and by which time contenders know they are contenders and will part with more.
Granted, pending free agents like Gio Gonzalez and Garrett Richards and Patrick Corbin and Drew Pomeranz could conceivably hit the trade market as well this summer — don’t count on Kershaw’s team or Keuchel’s team to be out of the race — but selling Hamels or the injured Perez now would be selling low. (And Perez is under team control through 2020 at reasonable salaries. Perhaps he’s one to keep.)
Maybe it’s the All-Star Break and the season has slid off the tracks and Jake Diekman or Bush or Kela is crushing the ninth and there’s a deal to pounce on.
And maybe, in that scenario, the club goes to Adrian, whose contract is up at season’s end. Do you want to be somewhere else the rest of the summer for a shot at a ring, or would you rather stay? Where would you want to be? Where would you not want to be? If you want to keep playing in 2019, and you want that to be back here, we will talk.
But not now.
For one, there’s what, two or three teams right now that we feel fairly certain will be charging hard going into the final third?
Or is that two or three teams too many?
In mid-July, the picture will be much clearer. In terms of where in the standings the Rangers fit, in terms of where the rest of the league fits, in terms of how Adrian feels about 2018 and about 2019 and about what he wants to do.
Could he have diminished value in July, compared to what it is right now?
Maybe not, but in his unique case the timing has almost nothing to do with whether the Rangers expect he’ll still be playing at his 2017 level, and in better health.
Who else could be at peak value now?
We’ve talked about them. The timing (for a couple reasons) doesn’t look right to move Elvis, Chirinos and Claudio wouldn’t bring you nearly as much in trade as they might bring you on the field, and you’re not trading Joey or Nomar — not that either of them is anywhere near what we expect their peak value to be.
Imagine Joe Gallo, at age 26, when Globe Life Field opens (and when Jose Altuve could be elsewhere if not extended, and a year before the same could be true for George Springer). And Nomar Mazara in the new building at age 24. And hold good thoughts on 26-year-old Rougie and 25-year-old Willie and 27-year-old Delino and — maybe — 31-year-old Elvis leading the group, with a Jeff Banister dugout that includes Jayce Tingler and Michael Young.
And, by then, what if Leody Taveras (21) and Hans Crouse (21) and Jose Trevino (27) and Chris Seise (21) and Joe Palumbo (25) and Cole Ragans (22) and Bubba Thompson (21) and Ronald Guzman (25) and Michael Matuella (25) and Pedro Gonzalez (22) and Kyle Cody (25) and A.J. Alexy (21) and Anderson Tejeda (21) and another handful of upcoming June draftees and July acquisitions and (here I’m choosing my own adventure) Julio Pablo Martinez (23) — or even a third of them — have hit their marks and are here or on the doorstep, allowing Texas to devote big dollars to things like a number one starter, a big right-handed bat, the next Show-ready impact player from Cuba or Japan, and a Gallo extension for life?
They won’t all make it, and some that do won’t be Rangers when that happens.
But this isn’t the time to trade Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell for a veteran player to put you over the top, because that’s not where this team is.
Nor, I think, is it prime time to move veterans for prospects, under the circumstances.
And at the same time, I’m not convinced this team can’t compete in 2017. There are players the Rangers will need improvement from, to be sure — but in many cases we’re talking about counting on a return to a level they’ve produced at before, rather than dreaming on a player finding a brand new gear and redefining himself.
But that requires patience. Patience from the organization, and from us.
Then, in July, with the season defined to an extent, one way or the other, the Rangers can make headlines on the trade market — capitalizing on an opportunity to boost things, or stripping down as they did last summer and bringing on another Calhoun, another Alexy, another Gonzalez.
Winning the winter is splashy. Restraint, in the name of retaining flexibility, isn’t.
I get it. We all want the drama. Off-season adrenaline is cool.
We’re invested, and we want to know where the story is headed, what this particular adventure will bring.
Sometimes the challenge — and the best choice — may just be to put the book down for a bit.