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Look for big moves from Rangers
Remember when the Texas Rangers had no money? Last July, for example?
Back then, in the final days of Tom Hicks' bankrupt ownership, the Rangers still were quite active, making five trades before July 31 and getting cash back in all of them.
The team gives every indication that it will be quite active again before Sunday's non-waiver deadline, showing varying levels of interest in several big names: Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, Padres closer Heath Bell, Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
Only this time, the Rangers will not require financial assistance.
In one of the more underplayed stories of the season, the club recently spent a combined $24 million on three outfielders in the international market — Cuban defector Leonys Martin and 16-year-olds Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman.
Under new ownership, the Texas franchise is starting to resemble the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies, and not just in its spending power. The Rangers have the money and prospects to pursue just about any player they want. Yet, the extent to which they will follow through before Sunday's non-waiver deadline is unclear.
The buzz late Monday night was that they were making a strong push for Beltran — buzz that actually started Sunday, but was downplayed by team officials.
Beltran, at first glance, would appear to be the last thing that the Rangers need — the team ranks third in the AL in runs behind the Yankees and Red Sox, and dropped a cool 20 on the Twins Monday night.
The other problem with Beltran — the problem that might make this entire discussion a waste of time — is that he would prefer to stay in the National League, and can veto any deal by invoking his no-trade clause.
The Rangers, like other clubs, know that Beltran is the biggest impact player available, the one who would give them the best chance to win not just the AL West, but the World Series.
Imagine this lineup if everyone was healthy:
Know what that is, folks?
If the Rangers got Beltran, their offense would be powerful enough to mask any pitching issues that fester, at least for the rest of the regular season. The postseason, of course, is different, a time when pitching becomes even more paramount. And the Rangers know that their biggest need, by far, is another late-inning reliever to pair with closer Neftali Feliz.
Thus, the team is pursuing every prominent reliever who is available, and even some who aren't — everyone from Bell to the Nationals' Tyler Clippard, the Athletics' Andrew Bailey to the Marlins' Leo Nunez. No matter what happens with Beltran, and no matter how much club officials might be reluctant to overpay for a reliever, it would be a shock if the Rangers did not address their bullpen.
In a perfect world, the rotation also could use an upgrade, even though the Rangers rank second in the AL with a 3.44 rotation ERA. (AL West clubs actually occupy the top four spots, so the Rangers, at least with their offense, effectively play a tougher schedule than the Red Sox and Yankees).
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Statistically, there is no denying what the Rangers' starters have done — righty Alexi Ogando ranks eighth in the league in ERA, left-hander C.J. Wilson 10th, lefty Matt Harrison 12th. Righty Colby Lewis, while less impressive than last season, is 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA in his last seven starts.
There is no Cliff Lee. And no Cliff Lee available.
Jimenez, probably the closest thing on the market, is far less of a sure bet than Lee was a year ago. His acquisition cost, though, would be even higher — Lee was a potential free agent, while Jimenez is under control at club-friendly salaries through 2013 (he may void his option for '14 if he is traded).
Kuroda, like Jimenez, would be switching to the AL, the better offensive league. Still, the Rangers could use the stability that Kuroda or someone like him could offer (Kuroda, like Beltran, could invoke his no-trade clause to block any deal). Ogando and Harrison already are in unchartered territory with their innings totals; few would be surprised if they started to fade.
The Rangers, no doubt, are discussing all of these issues internally, trying to figure out the best possible course for the rest of 2011 while protecting their future.
The point is, they can do practically anything they want in the next six days.
The Rangers rarely are included in discussions of the sport's super-powers. But that won't be the case much longer.