The Rangers’ willingness to trade a middle infielder does not merely stem from their logjam at the major-league level. Two of the team’s top prospects also are middle infielders, and it’s not out of the question that both second baseman Rougned Odor and shortstop Luis Sardinas could be ready by 2015.
Something has to give, which is why a trade of second baseman Ian Kinsler or shortstop Elvis Andrus is starting to look inevitable. Another option is to make infielder Jurickson Profar part of a larger package for, say, David Price or Giancarlo Stanton (whom the Marlins say is unavailable). But don’t count on it.
The Rangers, according to major-league sources, are reluctant to make a three-for-one or four-for-one deal involving young players. They do not want to deplete their farm system and eventually get caught in the same position as the Yankees or Phillies — saddled with an older club and few prospects.
Point: The Rangers have traded young talent at each of the past four non-waiver deadlines — for Cliff Lee in 2010, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara in 2011, Ryan Dempster in 2012 and Matt Garza in 2013.
Counterpoint: The Rangers still boast the game’s fourth-best farm system, according to a recent survey by Baseball America based on prospect rankings in each minor league.
Could Texas pull off another blockbuster? Sure. But it might be too soon, considering many of the Rangers’ best young players are in the 19-20 age range.
Odor, 19, and Sardinas, 20, reached Double A last season (Odor, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, is particularly intriguing, a Dustin Pedroia/Jason Kipnis dirtball type who had an .844 OPS in 144 plate appearances at Double A.)
Catcher Jorge Alfaro, 20, third baseman Joey Gallo, 19, and first baseman Ronald Guzman, 19, could be future middle-of-the-order hitters — and one scout says Alfaro’s arm is the best he has seen from a catcher since Ivan Rodriguez.
Of course, not all the prospects will become quality major leaguers, but the Rangers at least are in a position of strength. Acquiring additional talent for Kinsler or Andrus only would enhance that position, but the returns could be mitigated by each player’s hefty contract.
Kinsler, 31, is owed $57 million over the next four seasons, with a $10 million club option or $5 million buyout for a fifth. Andrus, 25, is guaranteed $126.475 million over the next nine years, though he can opt out after 2018 or ’19.
Funny thing about Andrus’ deal, though: In some respects, it enhances his trade value. Without it, he would have been a free agent after ‘14. This way, a club that acquires him would get long-term control over A) an elite defender; B) one of the game’s best baserunners and C) a hitter who rebounded from a poor first half to produce a .774 OPS after the All-Star Game last season.
Think the Yankees wouldn’t love to acquire Andrus? Of course they would, but they don’t have the talent to make a deal happen. The Cardinals are a more realistic possibility; they’ve also shown past interest in Profar, who is off to a strong start in winter ball and will play next season at 21.
Some team is going to get a good middle infielder from the Rangers. The only question is which one.
Garza: No elbow issues
Free-agent right-hander Matt Garza did not pitch after July 21 in 2012 due to what the Cubs described as a stress reaction in his right elbow. He did not pitch before May 21 last season due to a muscle strain in his left side. And he did not pitch especially well after the Cubs traded him to the Rangers, going 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA.
Still, if free-agent righty Ervin Santana wants $100 million, then what is Garza worth? Garza, who will turn 30 on Nov. 26, is a year younger than Santana. He also has a career ERA-plus of 108 compared to Santana’s 100 (ERA-plus is ERA adjusted to a pitcher’s ballpark and league. The average is set at 100.)
This isn’t to suggest that Garza is worth $100 million or more, but the good news is the condition of his elbow should not be a deterrent to interested clubs. Garza did not once receive treatment for his elbow last season, according to officials with both the Cubs and Rangers.
Vagueness on Vargas
Left-hander Jason Vargas wants to remain with the Angels. The Angels want to re-sign him. So what’s the problem?
Vargas, a southern California native who attended Long Beach State, might get a strong enough offer to pull him away from home. But the longer he waits, the greater the risk the Angels will turn to other starting pitchers; they are actively exploring alternatives, sources say.
The question is a familiar one: How much money might Vargas sacrifice to remain with the Angels, who reunited him with his former college teammate, Jered Weaver, by acquiring him from the Mariners last offseason?
On the other hand, the Angels could regret declining to make Vargas a $14.1 million qualifying offer due to luxury-tax concerns. Vargas, who missed almost two months last season after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from his left armpit, is, along with Scott Kazmir, one of the top left-handers on the market
What’s next for the Orioles?
The Orioles are at least exploring the market for backup catchers — Matt Wieters, a switch-hitter, batted only .214 with a .628 OPS from the left side last season. The question is whether they also might aim higher, pursue someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and seek to move Wieters, who is two years away from free agency.
Wieters, represented by Scott Boras, is unlikely to sign an extension; Boras generally prefers his clients to determine their values in free agency. It also might not be the right time to trade Wieters, whose value likely is down considering that his OPS has dropped from .778 to .764 to .704 over the past three seasons. Manager Buck Showalter, who greatly values Wieters’ defense, might even oppose such a move.
The Orioles also face an interesting decision on shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Trading Hardy might have made sense if Manny Machado were healthy and ready to move to shortstop from third base. But Machado underwent surgery in mid-October to repair a torn ligament in his left knee, and his recovery could extend into April.
The team’s long-term plan is for Machado to go back to short, where his defense could be otherworldly. Infielder Jonathan Schoop, a top prospect, could play second or third. The Orioles routinely reject trade offers from teams intrigued by Schoop’s power potential.
Hardy, though, could be part of the future, too; Showalter and the front office view him similarly to the way they do Wieters, as a critical part of the club. Hardy has won two straight Gold Gloves and also was the American League Silver Slugger winner at short for 2013. An extension is possible, but there are no current talks, sources say.
Comp picks: some things to remember
Though teams generally are reluctant to forfeit draft picks and bonus-pool money for free agents who receive qualifying offers, certain exceptions apply.
Teams that lose such free agents are more inclined to sign one from another club, simply replacing one high draft pick with another. The Cardinals, for example, would lose the 31st overall pick if they signed shortstop Stephen Drew but would gain a pick a few spots lower for losing outfielder Carlos Beltran.
Also, a team experiences diminishing losses if it signs multiple free agents attached to qualifying offers. The Indians last offseason had a protected first-rounder. They lost their second-rounder for signing first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher, then a competitive-balance pick, No. 69 overall, for signing center fielder Michael Bourn.
Thus, a team that signs, say, catcher Brian McCann, might be more inclined to follow up by signing an outfielder such as Curtis Granderson or Nelson Cruz. Something else to remember: Teams do not lose picks if they re-sign free agents to whom they made qualifying offers.
Around the horn
* Rival executives continue to express surprise the Tigers would even consider trading right-hander Max Scherzer. Such a move would look especially foolish if, say, righty Anibal Sanchez suffered a significant injury.
Then again, perhaps the Tigers could acquire an immediate replacement such as Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler in a trade. A team that acquired Scherzer might be inclined to offer a decent package, knowing it could get at least one quality prospect back by making the potential free agent a qualifying offer at the end of next season.
* One rival executive wonders whether the Cubs might be inclined to package shortstop Starlin Castro with right-hander Jeff Samardzija as part of a trade with the Diamondbacks. The exec reasoned that the Cubs, in an expanded deal, could land one of the D-Backs’ young shortstops as a stopgap until top prospect Javier Baez is ready.
The Cubs, though, hired Rick Renteria as manager in part because of their belief he will connect with Castro and other young players better than his predecessor, Dale Sveum. Castro will play next season at 24. He batted .307 with a .773 OPS in 2011. The Cubs are not ready to give up on him yet.
* The Diamondbacks still are waiting to hear whether Dave Duncan will accept an offer to become their pitching coach.
Another possibility is for Duncan to accept a lesser position, something like pitching coordinator for the entire organization.
Duncan, 68, stepped down as the Cardinals’ pitching coach in January 2012 to assist his wife, Jeanine, in her battle against brain cancer. Jeanine died on June 7.