Commentary

Ryan Dempster keeps Rangers steady

Club doesn't sell farm to gain rotation depth with veteran, but offense must deliver

Updated: August 1, 2012, 7:45 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels says he wishes deals didn't happen at the last minute.

[+] EnlargeDempster/Soto
Frank Victores/US PresswireRyan Dempster joins batterymate Geovany Soto with Texas, which has a couple of months to work him into the plan.
I'm not sure I believe him. He seems to find a way to pull something together, even while clocks are ticking loudly around him.

Daniels pulled one off Tuesday, sending a couple of Class A prospects to the Chicago Cubs for Ryan Dempster just before the buzzer sounded at 4 p.m. ET.

Dempster is not Zack Greinke. He's certainly not Cliff Lee. But he is healthy and productive, and provides depth to a rotation ravaged by injuries and inconsistencies. And of the remaining options on the market, he was one of the best. Would he start Game 1 of the playoffs if they began tomorrow? Perhaps. But the club has two months to sort all that out -- and another trade deadline at the end of August.

"What I like is he's got savvy," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's got tremendous pitchability. He's a competitor. He has one of the best ERAs in the NL. He's a veteran. I think he can be exactly what we were looking for to lead our young pitching staff forward."

Before discussing Dempster with the media, Daniels was left to share the news that Neftali Feliz will have Tommy John surgery Wednesday. That, combined with Colby Lewis' season-ending surgery last week, left a gaping hole in the rotation. It was clear Monday that Roy Oswalt isn't quite ready to fill it, either.

So Dempster's arrival means an alteration in the Oswalt experiment, sending the struggling veteran to the bullpen, at least for now. At the rate things have been going for Texas, another injury could pop up at any time. But Tuesday's move at least gives the club a pitcher who is throwing with confidence and can eat innings.

"If Colby and Neftali had been 100 percent and hadn't had the physical setbacks, we still would have been looking to improve the club," Daniels said. "Would there have been as much of a need in the rotation? Probably not. But that's the area of the club that needed the help right now."

As is the Rangers' way, Daniels and his staff racked up some hefty cellphone charges the past few weeks. They looked at every possible way to improve the club, with the primary goal of landing a starter.

But they did so with the idea of trying to help this year's club without sacrificing the future. They like to think of it as two different plans that can coexist: the one-year plan and the five-year plan.

In other words, Daniels and company weren't willing to sacrifice the five-year plan for the one-year plan.

The organization has worked hard, really since a few months before the Mark Teixeira trade five years ago, to rebuild the farm system and produce enough homegrown talent to serve as the foundation for an extended period of championship runs. That concentration on drafting and developing helped give the Rangers the trade chips to deal for Lee at the deadline two years ago despite being in bankruptcy court at the time.

Then, once new ownership came in, Daniels had more financial resources to go along with a top-flight minor league system, allowing him to sign Adrian Beltre and win the bidding on Yu Darvish, among other moves.

Now the Rangers have all those pieces -- and are in position to continue to funnel talented players through the system and up to the big leagues when, inevitably, some free agents depart -- to contend for American League West and World Series titles for the forseeable future.

Players such as Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt help them do that. That's not to say those players couldn't end up in a deal (although Profar seems about as close to untouchable as anyone in the minors), but it would have to be the right one. Those are cards you play when the pot is its biggest. And the Seattle Mariners weren't trading Felix Hernandez, folks.

The right deal wasn't a two-month rental for Greinke or even Lee, who would have cost a bunch of money on the back end of his contract. Texas scouted Josh Johnson but had concerns about his velocity drop and overall health. The Rangers have liked James Shields for some time, and the contract is club friendly with him under control through 2014, but Tampa Bay is in the wild-card race and wasn't likely to move him unless blown away.

That left Daniels to try to find a middle-of-the-rotation starter at an affordable price. He did that Tuesday. Christian Villanueva is hitting the ball well at Class A Myrtle Beach but was blocked at third base by Olt. Right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks, Villanueva's teammate, is 5-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 20 starts. He's got 112 strikeouts and 15 walks. Both are good prospects, but with the Rangers' deep system, they were willing to move them. That's why it made sense.

Daniels knows winning a third straight division title won't be easy with the moves the Angels made and how the A's are playing.

"Whether the Angels got Grienke or not, they're good, and so is Oakland," Daniels said. "There's nothing that's happened in the last few days that's changed our minds on those clubs. It's going to go down to the wire. All three clubs are going to fight for it, and we want to put our best foot forward. Ownership has stepped up in this situation. We've clearly increased payroll again, and not all clubs are in a position to do that."

Even with the Dempster move, the bottom line is that the Rangers have to hit. The current lineup must step up and score runs with more consistency. Daniels didn't go out and get a hitter. Frankly, one hitter probably wouldn't make a huge difference during this team-wide scuffling period. It will take the collective group to have better at-bats and score more runs.

"If our guys play up to their ability, we're going to be pretty good," Daniels said.

Daniels did what he could to help them without mortgaging much of the future. Now the present group has to take it the rest of the way.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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