The Texas Rangers made their first trade of the 2012 season late on Monday night, sending Double-A pitcher Jake Brigham to the Chicago Cubs for catcher Geovany Soto. The corresponding move to this transaction will be the disposal of Yorvit Torrealba from the 25-man roster via designation for assignment, at which point he can be claimed off of waivers by another team, traded, or released outright. The move to bolster backup catcher was not the impact move many expected the Rangers to make, but it was one that was presenting itself as more and more of a need. However, that move will likely not be the last the Rangers make before the 3pm local time trade deadline on Tuesday. Instead, it may only be the first domino.
The Rangers have two needs that they must fill via trade this year. The first need has been an obvious one since Spring Training: the bench. If the Rangers expect to make another run at the World Series this year, they will need to upgrade the weapons on the bench that can make a late-inning impact in critical games. Brandon Snyder has filled the role of right-handed 1B/OF bench option well so far in this season, but if a better option can be found in the trade market, it absolutely must be pursued. Reed Johnson was available, but he was shipped from Chicago to Atlanta on Monday night, so he is off the table. The two remaining options that seem to be the best fit would be Scott Hairston of the New York Mets and Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies. Both of these players may be difficult to acquire at the right price, as their current teams view them as more than just a bench bat, and the Rangers are not likely to pay the price for a starter when all they need is a substitute. They would fit the role perfectly though, as they can hit lefties, are not under contract beyond 2012, and they could bring another veteran presence to the Rangers already-strong clubhouse. Other options that are out there, but I consider even more remote possibilities are Shin-Soo Choo and Corey Hart. It is also not out of the question for the Rangers to make a trade for this need after the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, when players can still be traded up until August 31st, but only after being run through league-wide waivers first. The Rangers made a valuable acquisition in Mike Gonzalez in 2011 through this method, and in 2010 they found Jeff Francoeur in the same way.
The second need that the Rangers have is more obvious, and more recently pressing. After the season-ending injury to Colby Lewis, the elbow injury that has knocked Neftali Feliz out of the rotation, and the struggles of Roy Oswalt, Texas needs another starting pitcher. The trade market for starting pitching has been relatively quiet so far. Zack Greinke and Francisco Liriano were moved, but Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Cliff Lee and Josh Johnson all remain locked in with their existing teams with reports of high demands by their current employers from potential trade partners for their services. The Rangers don’t seem to be eager to meet those high demands, so a starting pitcher likely will not be acquired.
Instead, the Rangers will look to get better from within. The Rangers general manager, Jon Daniels, recently said that “the best players we can acquire are already in our organization”. By this, he was referring to pitchers coming back from injuries. The bullpen has been held together with duct tape and Joe Nathan’s bubble gum for the last month, and is in need of reinforcement. Mark Lowe, Koji Uehara, and Feliz should all find their way into the pen at some point. If a starter cannot be traded for, that leaves an opportunity for Alexi Ogando to jump to the rotation and attempt to repeat success similar to that of 2011.
If Ogando makes that transition, it leaves a hole in the bullpen, and that is a hole that could be filled in the trade market much more easily than finding a starter. If Uehara and Feliz’s injuries do not heal as quickly or effectively as desired, there could even be two holes in the bullpen that need to be filled. Rafael Betancourt and Jonathon Broxton are two names that have been rumored to be available and options for the Rangers. They would be good fits to do the job, but my rule is that if you hear a player’s name tied to the Rangers as a possible trade candidate, you can almost guarantee the Rangers won’t actually be getting that player. Look for the Rangers to instead target relievers who are not currently in a closer’s role, but have closer stuff. Some possibilities are names you probably don’t know very well: Matt Belisle of Colorado, Tom Wilhelmsen of Seattle (though Seattle just traded two of their relievers, so that may be less likely), David Hernandez of Arizona, or Texas could pilfer the young and talented bullpen of their Spring Training complex-mates the Kansas City Royals in the persons of Greg Holland or Tim Collins.
The Rangers still have more options than any team in baseball. The move for Soto is nice, but it’s low impact. Low impact has not been the operating procedure for the Rangers the last two years. They will be making more moves, and all signs point to finding a bat and an arm or two to give Texas a boost and solidify the roster for another deep run in October.
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