The Rangers didn’t trade for Cole Hamels.
They didn’t trade for Cole Hamels, because before they could do that, he said yes to Houston.
They didn’t trade for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman, because Houston got them both, and didn’t need to trade for Oliver Perez two weeks later.
They didn’t trade for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson, because Philadelphia made a deal it liked better and because Miami knew better than to shuffle the deck for a couple potential role players when there was absolutely no urgency to do so.
Texas, without Hamels and without Diekman and without Dyson, didn’t play in October, aside from the four games against the Angels that ended the regular season.
One of which Jerad Eickhoff started. Alec Asher started another one of them.
Houston didn’t get Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, because two of the Astros prospects that are now Brewers prospects (lefthander Josh Hader and outfielder Brett Phillips) went to the Phillies instead, so they didn’t get that Fiers no-hitter but they also didn’t end up 4-6 in games Fiers would have started. Jake Marisnick (.665 OPS) got the bulk of the center field starts that Gomez (.670 OPS with the Astros) would have gotten.
Perez (6.75 ERA, .275/.327/.471 opponents’ slash) — an impending free agent — never arrived in Houston, because Diekman (2.08, 169/.247/.273) — with three and a half years of control remaining — did. And Diekman was big for the Astros in the playoffs.
Texas finished strong but didn’t win 10 of the 12 regular season games that Hamels would have started, and didn’t quite get the .195/.246/.274 opponents’ slash in the 53 innings that Diekman and Dyson would have contributed, or the two relievers’ 50 strikeouts and seven walks and million ground balls, and the bullpenners who would have gotten those innings gave up a lot more than Diekman and Dyson’s three combined home runs and posted an ERA somewhat north of their 1.53.
Texas held onto not only Eickhoff and Asher but also Jorge Alfaro (who returned to action on a minor league rehab assignment for a week), Jake Thompson, and Nick Williams, the latter two of whom headlined every Rangers trade rumor as the winter got underway, because with Chi Chi Gonzalez and Eickhoff and Asher, Texas had some doorstep starting pitching to offer teams, and because Lewis Brinson gave Texas some more doorstep outfield depth to deal from, and Williams didn’t project to offer the same plus defense in center field or right-handedness that Brinson offered, not an unimportant thing given how heavily the Texas lineup (now and going forward) tilted so far to the left.
Texas had significant pitching staff needs going into the winter, as the rotation was headed by Derek Holland and Martin Perez, coming off second-half returns from injury, and Yu Darvish, whose 2016 would be delayed at least a month. Colby Lewis and Gonzalez were legitimate candidates to start, and Eickhoff showed enough promise down the stretch to join Nick Martinez as spring training competitors, along with Asher and Anthony Ranaudo and Carlos Frias, the righthander Texas who wasn’t the key piece from the Dodgers in the Yovani Gallardo trade deadline deal but the closest to the big leagues. Matt Harrison? Longshot, but possibly in the mix.
But this is the Darvish-Beltre window, and though the American League had no great teams, the Rangers knew they needed an impact off-season boost to compete for a pennant in 2016. The rotation needed help, as did the bullpen, which got a great year from Shawn Tolleson and Keone Kela but not such a great one from Tanner Scheppers. Sam Freeman was solid, and Luke Jackson and Andrew Faulkner showed a ton of late-season promise, but there weren’t enough established relief arms going into the winter, especially with the shape of the rotation promising a heavy bullpen workload.
The Rangers were well armed to go get pitching help. They had frontline prospects in the upper levels of the farm (or in the big leagues) on the mound (Gonzalez, Thompson, Eickhoff, Asher, Jackson, Faulkner), behind the plate (Alfaro), in the infield (Joey Gallo), and in the outfield (Brinson, Williams, Nomar Mazara).
And they had some payroll room as well, with a loaded crop of free agent starters and relievers to engage.
They could have traded for Shelby Miller.
But most believe it would have taken more than Thompson, Williams, Alfaro, Eickhoff, and Asher to get the Braves to decline Arizona’s offer of Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair. (And that’s without factoring in the Harrison piece, which favored Texas.)
They could have approached Miami on Jose Fernandez — but the Marlins apparently wanted that same Diamondbacks package plus Patrick Corbin and Brandon Drury. And Miami reportedly asked the Dodgers for Corey Seager. And Julio Urias. And Joc Pederson. And more.
Let’s see what Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner fetch for the Padres, or Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar bring Cleveland. It will be a ton, if they’re traded at all.
Because everyone wants pitching. Reliable pitching.
The Rangers could have instead gotten involved in the open market, and though they wouldn’t have played on David Price or Zack Greinke at those dollar levels, maybe they could have given Jordan Zimmermann five years and $110 million or Jeff Samardzija five/$90MM or Hisashi Iwakuma three/$45MM or J.A. Happ three/$36MM or John Lackey two/$32MM, which assumes those pitchers would have taken those same dollars from Texas — can’t assume that — and it’s up to you to decide where in that sentence to draw the line separating the impact rotation additions from the rest.
To bolster the bullpen, Texas could have gone ahead and traded Leonys Martin and Anthony Bass to Seattle for Tom Wilhelmsen (plus corner bat Patrick Kivlehan and center fielder James Jones), and now you’ve got Wilhelmsen and Tolleson in place as reliable arms for the back of the pen. The Rangers could have ventured into Japan and prevailed in the competition to sign righthander Tony Barnette and his filthy sink and cut for a reported two years plus a club option.
A sinking fastball with swing-and-miss stuff: That’s a great combination late in the game.
But would Wilhelmsen and Barnette, added to Tolleson and Kela and Scheppers and Freeman and Jackson and Faulkner, have been enough to give the Rangers confidence that they had a winning combination in the bullpen, set to support a contending team?
Texas could have jumped into the reliever market and competed to sign Darren O’Day at four years and $31 million (though he wanted to stay in the Baltimore-D.C. area) or Joakim Soria at three/$25MM or Ryan Madson at three/$22MM or Tony Sipp at three/$18MM or Shawn Kelley at three/$15MM or Mark Lowe at two/$11MM or Steve Cishek at two/$10MM (that could end up being as much as two/$17MM) or John Axford at two/$10MM or Jason Motte at two/$10MM or Jonathan Broxton at two/$7.5MM or Perez at two/$7MM or Chad Qualls at two/$6MM or Rich Hill at one/$6MM.
Or traded the equivalent of righthanders Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, and Thomas Eshelman, lefthander Brett Oberholtzer, and infielder Harold Arauz to Philadelphia for Ken Giles (and minor league shortstop Jonathan Arauz). (One rival club executive, asked to evaluate what Houston gave up this week to get Giles said that, if the Phillies were to move Velasquez to the bullpen, the rookie could be “just as good as Giles.”)
The Rangers could have signed Happ this winter and had him, theoretically, for the next three seasons at $36 million.
But they traded for Hamels, at around the same effective payroll hit (not counting this past summer’s two-months-plus-playoff-run), instead.
That is, unless they exercise a club option to keep Hamels around an extra year.
They could have traded a massive package of prospects to control Ken Giles through 2020.
But they traded Tomas Telis and Cody Ege to control Sam Dyson through 2020 instead.
And they got four pennant races of Jake Diekman tossed into the Hamels deal.
Rather than going out and signing Tony Sipp — who’d been designated for assignment 16 months ago — for three years and $18 million.
Would you rather have Giles than Dyson? Maybe.
But what if Philadelphia had been using Giles in the seventh and eighth inning the last couple months before trading him and Miami had been closing with Dyson, rather than the opposite? How would their trade value have changed, artificially?
Texas will pay Hamels less in 2016 and less in 2017 — during the Darvish window — than the Cubs will pay Lackey. And Texas will have Hamels another year after that, and maybe two.
Texas will pay Dyson a little more this year than it will pay Jackson at the big league level.
The following year, too.
You could have between two and three Diekman’s this year for what the Rockies will pay Qualls.
Or four Diekman’s for what Oakland will pay Axford, whom the Indians allowed the Pirates to claim on waivers in mid-August.
Houston is probably going to overpay Kazmir to return this winter, or overpay for some other starting pitcher, either in dollars and years or in prospects, because that’s where the market has gone, not unpredictably.
The Astros could have instead had Hamels for 2016, 2017, and 2018, with a club option for 2019 — not to mention to boost what was already a storybook 2015.
If he hadn’t vetoed their trade with the Phillies.
But he did, and that led to Texas adding a frontline starter — and frontline reliever — to a team that then picked up another shutdown bullpen arm and stormed from that point forward to 162+.
And stormed toward something else, too.
What Texas did on July 29 and July 31 changed everything, as far as the 2015 season was concerned.
But the Rangers didn’t only earn a return to the playoffs when they picked up Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson.
The Rangers had a really good winter in July.