We're less than two weeks away from the July 31 trade deadline and the Texas Rangers are in position to make some moves if they choose. But with any deadline, the club must prioritize, get prepared and decide what kind of value it places on the prospective pieces on the market. With an additional playoff team in the mix, things may go even more down to the wire than normal as certain clubs could decide very late that they are sellers or buyers. And with the changes in compensatory picks, it could alter the value of rental players.
So let's pretend that I'm general manager Jon Daniels (he's way smarter than I am, but I'm taller and better looking) and I'm trying to figure out which deals I should do and which ones I shouldn't. Here are five things to consider at the deadline:
1. If the Rangers trade for a starting pitcher, make it an impact one. You'll hear the names of Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza this time of year. Maybe even Wandy Rodriguez. But it doesn't make sense for the Rangers to deal decent prospects for pitchers who aren't going to make the rotation appreciably better.
Should Texas decide to get a starter, it needs to be someone who slots in at the top come the postseason. The two biggest names that could be out there are Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels. Personally, I like Hamels more than Greinke. And we'll see if he even becomes available now that the Phillies and Hamels' agents are intensifying talks. But this is where things get interesting. It's going to take a big package of premium prospects (and maybe even some major league players) to get it done. That would likely mean Mike Olt. I'm normally a guy who advocates dealing prospects for sure things. After all, they are called prospects for a reason. They might pan out, they might not. But with no draft picks coming back to Texas if Hamels (or Greinke) leaves, I think Olt (notice I'm not even mentioning Jurickson Profar, someone I can't imagine the Rangers even considering trading for a rental) is too high a price to pay to be included in the deal. If I'm Texas, I want Hamels. And I'm willing to fork over some solid prospects (Martin Perez, Cody Buckel or Justin Grimm, maybe even a combination) and even some big league pieces (yes, I'd consider dealing Neftali Feliz). But you don't trade the entire farm for someone who is here for a few months.
This is different from the Cliff Lee trade of 2010. With Lee, the Rangers not only knew they would get compensation picks if he left, but they knew they had to have someone at the top of that rotation to help them get over the hump of never winning a playoff series. Texas does not beat the Tampa Bay Rays without Lee, so the trade was a success (no matter what Justin Smoak does in the future). But the Rangers got something in return, too. Hamels is not the Lee of 2010, either. But he's the closest facsimile, if he's available. I'll pay a high price, just not as high as Olt. If that's not good enough to get Hamels, I'm not "settling" for Garza or someone else who doesn't have a big impact. It's just not worth it. So get a pitcher that can win Game 1 in the playoffs or don't get one at all and go with this current rotation, which I still believe is good enough, especially with the Rangers' bullpen, to win a title.
2. Get a right-hander for the bench. The AL's loss in the All-Star Game only reinforces this need. It means that if the Rangers return to the World Series, they open on the road without a DH and could play the deciding game -- should it go the distance -- in the NL park. St. Louis' bench was a big difference in last year's World Series and manager Ron Washington didn't have enough weapons at his disposal. There are some names that are intriguing, but contract situations may make it unlikely. Josh Willingham seems like a good fit, but the contract calls for him to make $7 million next year and the year after. But there are other, cheaper options that could help the bench. Carlos Quentin's asking price is likely to be too much. What about Shane Victorino? It's the final year of his deal at $12.5 million this season and he's hitting .254 overall. But the 31-year-old switch-hitter is batting .322 against lefties.
There are some bats out there and the Rangers need to try to see if they can find one to help that bench down the stretch and into the postseason.
3. Keep an eye on the catching market. Honestly, I'm not sure there are reasonable upgrades to the club's catchers on the market, but the club has to at least do some digging. Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba have done a nice job with the pitching staff and that's the first priority. However, the position is giving the club nothing at the plate.
The Rangers are one of the best teams in the league at checking on everything and leaving no stone unturned. That means at least seeing if there's anything worth pursuing on that front that can increase the offensive production at that spot.
4. See if there's a left-handed specialist for the bullpen. It might seem odd to do anything with one of the best bullpens in baseball, but let's not forget what Mike Gonzalez did for this club in the postseason last year. He got two very big outs -- one in the ALDS and the other in the ALCS -- that helped the Rangers win games in those series. He struck out Johnny Damon with two runners on in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS, a pivotal game in that series. The Rangers won that game by one run. He also came in late in Game 1 of the ALCS with the bases loaded and the Rangers up by a run and got Alex Avila to end the threat. Those two outs alone made the trade worth it. Texas has a strong left-handed pitcher in Robbie Ross, but he's someone they utilize for a full inning or two and is actually better against righties than lefties (though neither can hit the rookie these days). Still, the idea of having a veteran left-handed pitcher who can get a key out is appealing. It's worth noting that the Rangers picked up Gonzalez at the August trade deadline, so it's not something they have to do right now.
5. Keep an open mind for a trade no one expects. One thing this team does so well is that it stays prepared for anything and everything. That needs to be the case this year, too. Sure, it's unlikely that the Phillies would make Lee available or that the Seattle Mariners would put Felix Hernandez on the block (or want to deal him to Texas), but you never know. Maybe there's another impact player out there that Texas could get that no one expects right now. While we talked about not giving up Profar or Olt for a rental player, if there's a big-name pitcher with some years left on his contract, that's when those names might be discussed (still can't see Profar going unless it was something really big). Be ready to pull the trigger if that special opportunity (that Cliff Lee 2010-like chance) comes up.
What am I missing? What other deals would you try to make? What deals should the Rangers make?