To Trade Or Not To Trade

**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 7/11/12**

 

The Rangers find themselves in a very unique and enviable position these days. They are one of the very best teams in baseball, who also possess one of the game’s richest stockpile of prospects. This has been a throne upon which the Yankees have traditionally sat alone, as it is rare for a franchise to have their on-field success align with good fortune down on the farm for any extended period of time. 
Yet here are the Rangers, legitimately contending for a third consecutive World Series berth while simultaneously ranking among the top farm systems for several years running. Their winning ways have translated into record attendance, which in conjunction with (fairly) new ownership and a super-sized TV deal, give them unprecedented financial resources.Combine that with the “human” resources they have in terms of highly-touted prospects, and you’ve got a franchise who can get virtually anyone they want.

It’s certainly a great problem to have, but just because you’re able to buy doesn’t always mean you should.  The challenge facing Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan and the rest of the Rangers brass is deciding what moves to make and what moves not to make. They have to strike just the right balance between pulling the trigger on putting this team over the top right now and keeping it competitive long-term, both on the field and in the bank.

That being the case, should the Rangers buy, sell or stand pat as the trade deadline approaches? A strong case could be made for any one of those options. The two biggest names continually rumored to be potential trade targets for the Rangers are a pair of high-end National League starting pitchers: Zach Greinke of the Brewers and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Should the Rangers trade for either, neither or both?

Greinke and Hamels are both what most would consider “short-term rentals,” meaning they aren’t signed past the end of this season, and there’s no guarantee they would sign with the Rangers beyond 2012.  So for many, that fact immediately eliminates them from trade consideration. That’s certainly an understandable position, albeit a conservative one, as there are many examples of so-called “rentals” helping a team achieve postseason success. Though Cliff Lee didn’t lead the Rangers to a championship, he definitely helped them get to the World Series.

So while “renting” a player can prove beneficial from a “win now” perspective, if you fall short of your ultimate championship goal, the true measure of success reverts to what you gave up for the “rental.” To get Lee (and Mark Lowe, who’s still a contributing member of the Rangers, though how effective a contributor is up for debate), Texas had to lose prize prospects Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan (along with Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson).

It’s still too early to definitively determine whether or not the Lee trade was, in retrospect, worth making.  But based on what we know today, given how those former Ranger prospects have performed since leaving Texas, it would seem that (at least for now) it was a worthwhile transaction. Smoak is still only 25, but he’s followed up a sub-par 2011 campaign (in which he hit .234) with an abysmal 2012 (batting .203 so far).  His OPS has plummeted from .719 last year to .597 this season.

Beavan showed some early promise in 2011 (finishing 5-6 with an ERA of 4.27), but he had fallen to 3-6 with a 5.92 ERA this year before being shipped down to the minors.  Still, at just 23, he could eventually fulfill his once promising potential. As for Lueke and Lawson, neither are even part of the Mariners organization anymore.  Lueke made three largely unsuccessful appearances out of the Tampa Bay bullpen early this season (18.90 ERA), before he was sent down to the minors, and Lawson is now in the Indians organization still awaiting his first-ever call-up.

Both Hamels and Greinke are 28 and in their prime. They are both having excellent seasons, with Hamels at 10-4 sporting a 3.20 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, while Greinke stands at 9-3 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.  Really, the only appreciable difference between the two is Greinke’s notorious history of mental struggles, which many would say are somewhat overblown by the media.

It would seem that if the Rangers could execute a similar deal to the one in which they acquired Lee in 2010, that would be a gamble worth taking. Yet there are two significant differences between what they face now versus then: the change in compensation (no more compensatory draft picks to help offset the loss of a “rental” who chooses not to re-sign) and the quality of prospects who would have to be included.

While no prospect is untouchable, Jurickson Profar should under no circumstances be included as part of a package for a “rental.” He’s as close to a sure thing as there is, recently ranked as the #2 prospect in all of baseball.  To even consider letting go of Profar, it would have to involve a pure ace entering his prime signed for multiple seasons beyond 2012…and even then, it would take lengthy contemplation.

The other prospect named most often in proposed trade scenarios is Mike Olt, who while not quite at Profar’s seemingly unreachable ceiling is still pretty darn close. He’s got legitimate potential to be a power hitting corner infielder (or maybe eventually an outfielder) for years to come.  You certainly don’t ever want to lose a player of his caliber, but to get something good, you have to give something good.

Would either Hamels or Greinke ensure an ever-elusive World Series victory for the Rangers? No, but they definitely help improve their odds.  However, keeping Profar and Olt should help improve the Rangers odds in 2014 and beyond. Daniels, Ryan and company have a tough decision ahead.  To me, the best move to simultaneously maximize the Rangers’ championship chances this year without compromising their ability to continue contending in the years to come, would be to keep Profar but be willing to include Olt in a deal to get you either Hamels or Greinke – preferably Hamels.

Yes, the Rangers still would have a legitimate chance of winning the World Series without making that move, but don’t you want to make every reasonable effort to get as good as you possibly can right now?  This team may look much different by the time Profar and Olt are regular contributors. Josh Hamilton could very well be gone next year, along with others.  There’s no guarantee that even by keeping such highly-touted prospects, the Rangers will remain among the best teams in baseball.

We don’t know for certain that the Rangers will be legitimate championship contenders in the years to come, but we do know they are right now. When you’re as close as they are, you do whatever it takes to get over the hump.  No, you don’t want to mortgage your entire future for a chance at today, but if you have the resources to get better now when you’re this close, you’ve got to seize that opportunity. Playing it safe for the future is a riskier move than you might think…just ask Mark Cuban. 

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Bob.Bland@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @SDIBob
Bob Bland

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