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It's time ... to think about Vlad's future

5/31/2010

The Rangers shouldn't waste time daydreaming about acquiring high-priced Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt or anyone else for that matter. Instead of focusing on being buyers in this year's midseason trade market, they should plan on being sellers.

Despite the organization's marketing slogan of "It's Time," the reality is that the Rangers remain a new owner away from being ready to contend.

I can't fault the club for the marketing angle, as most of us assumed the baton-pass from beleaguered owner Tom Hicks to knight-in-shining-armor-in-waiting Chuck Greenberg would have gone down by now. But it hasn't. And by the time it does, this team might find itself too many holes away from being an October steamroller to fix on the fly in the middle of the season.

Which brings us to 35-year-old steal-of-the-offseason Vladimir Guerrero. Rangers GM Jon Daniels and Co. will need to decide if Guerrero will be a part of their plans in 2011 before this season's trade deadline for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Guerrero will have immense trade value. If you think signing him was a stroke of genius, imagine if it can be turned into a batch of top-flight prospects at the deadline.

Further, you can argue that the Rangers don't stand much of a chance as currently constructed. And without a payroll boost from new ownership, they'll be unable to address a slew of glaring holes.

Their 26-24 record is bolstered by a 19-6 record against sub-.500 teams. They're 7-18 against teams doing better than .500 and 8-15 overall on the road. And while we're being honest, their schedule hasn't exactly been treacherous.

If this season is indeed going nowhere, the Rangers will get plenty of tantalizing offers for Guerrero, who could potentially be the most dangerous hitter available at the trade deadline. If, in fact, he is made available, that is.

If he's not made available, it will be because the Rangers are either in contention this year or are intent on keeping him in 2011. But at what price?

If he continues to punish the baseball like he is now, he'll likely decline his $9 million option for 2011 and look to sign for even more money in Texas, or elsewhere. While he's been a spectacular bargain at $5.5 million (with a Rangers buyout option of $1 million) at 35, will he still be a bargain at twice that and perhaps even more at the ripe, old, anyone-seen-a-pool-with-a-cocoon-in-it age of 36? For young Vlad? No brainer. For 36-year old Vlad? Gulp.

Glad I won't have to make that decision.

Assuming he wrestles the team away from the angry mob of creditors currently camped out on Hicks' well-watered lawn, Greenberg wont be spending $150 million on payroll in 2011. He'll still have to be exceedingly prudent. Vlad making big-boy money at the elderly age of 36 might be too risky to stomach, no matter how impressive he's been this season.

On the other hand, it wouldn't shock anyone with a halo on his hat if Guerrero's miracle season suddenly fell off a cliff due to a series of grown-man injuries. That scenario would most certainly make picking up the $9 million option for 2011 season too risky for the Rangers' front office. If that plays out, they'd likely exercise their $1 million buyout to cut bait.

So, what scenarios make sense for the Rangers and Vlad to reunite next season for $9 million, or more? If Vlad proves he can stay healthy all year and puts up monster numbers, that's a start. If the Rangers can overcome their many holes, an explosive courtroom drama, and tumbleweed in the petty cash drawer to somehow stay afloat in the miserable AL West, that would help, too.

But what happens if the Rangers are nose-diving without a real chance to win the West and they find themselves holding one of the most enticing trade chips in baseball come July?

For a team that still has a few more holes to plug before It's Time, it might be hard to turn down the right package.