Despite the Rangers' continued interest, the Toronto Blue Jays are going to sign Darren Oliver. Make no mistake, this leaves a big hole in the Rangers' bullpen. Joe Nathan replaces Neftali Feliz as the closer, Alexi Ogando could be joining the group, and Mike Adams and Koji Uehara will have more time to adjust to this unforgiving environment. Still, Texas had been after Andrew Bailey all winter and has been in the mix on other high end relievers.
In losing Oliver, you're basically right back where you were last fall, minus any left-handed presence. That's not bad, but it's also not what Jon Daniels wanted to do entering this offseason. Daniels clearly wanted to construct a pen that would dominate and turn playoff contests into 5-6 inning propositions for his opponents. He doesn't really have that right now, and he doesn't have a lefty in his pen.
Now, Oliver wasn't a typical lefty because he was basically equally adept against left-handed and right-handed bats. The thing is, he was good against all of them, so he could be used in a specialist role when it was called for - and Ron Washington asked him to do that quite a bit. We're never going to forget Game 6, but Oliver was really good here. Heck, he was borderline dominant.
Unless there are multiple significant deals still coming, the Texas pen will consist of six righties, since Nathan, Adams, Uehara, Yoshinori Tateyama and Mark Lowe are already in place, and Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando look like the two guys most likely to lose out on starting spots. You still need one quality lefty, though, and the options are fairly limited.
As Adam Morris notes, Mike Gonzalez is still on the market and the Rangers are reportedly still talking with him. Gonzalez was really good against lefties and really poor against righties last year, but he's been the exact opposite in other years. I think you're conceding a downgrade if you go from Oliver to Gonzalez.
The White Sox have reportedly floated Matt Thornton on the market after he slipped in 2011. He has always been tough on lefties, but would almost certainly require an overpayment, given his history as a closer. Michael Kirkman is still on the 40-man roster, and he's frankly the only viable internal candidate that I see. You're not going to make Martin Perez a reliever at this point in his development, and Miguel De Los Santos isn't ready for that kind of role.
To summarize, the Rangers now need a lefty. The only two obvious candidates are Gonzalez and Kirkman, and they both look like significant downgrades on paper, at least for the 2011 regular season. As we saw last year, Daniels is able to effectively supplement the pen during the season, so it's possible that he'll go that route again, give Kirkman a look in spring training, and look for an upgrade during the season if that doesn't work out. That he's pulled it off before doesn't mean that it's not a tall order, though, and he does have what appears to be much stiffer competition to win the division this time.
As good as Oliver was for the Rangers, there is a bright spot to this. We're talking about a one-year asset and a guy in his 40's, and the Rangers are going to get fairly lopsided compensation for the loss. Because Oliver became a free agent this winter, he was able to take advantage of a legitimate market for a short term contract, and the Rangers were still able to receive compensation. Before this brand new CBA, Oliver would have cost the Blue Jays their first rounder - the 17th pick in the draft. They wouldn't have even considered that, so Oliver would have been much more likely to return.
Under the rules that will be in place after the 2012 draft, the Rangers simply wouldn't have gotten any compensation for Oliver, because compensation will be based on the player's new contract rather than the antiquated, inaccurate Elias rankings, and Oliver isn't signing for anything near that threshold. The compromise this winter in the interim was an adjustment to relievers so that the current Type A, Type B setup is still in place, but a good reliever like Oliver would be Type B.
If you're not familiar with the old classifications, Type B rated free agents don't require compensation from the signing team but do provide a pick in the supplemental round (between the first and second rounds) for the player's previous team, providing that he was offered salary arbitration or signed by a certain date. So, this winter was a bit of a perfect storm for Oliver leaving and the Rangers having something to show for the departure.
Because there are still free agents on the market, we don't know exactly what pick the Rangers will receive for Oliver, but we do know that it should be in the mid-50s. CJ Wilson was a Type A rated free agent, but because the Angels also signed Albert Pujols, the Cardinals will receive their first rounder and the Rangers will get their second rounder. They will also receive a supplemental pick that will be in the late 30's.
That all means that unless Texas signs Prince Fielder, they will have their own first rounder, No. 29 overall, the Wilson and Oliver supplemental picks, the Angels' second rounder, which will be around No. 70, and their second round pick, which will be about ten picks lower.
The five picks in the first two rounds is not unprecedented for the Rangers. They had five picks in just the first and supplemental rounds in 2007 and have had four in those two rounds twice since. What makes this draft different is that teams will be playing under new draft rules as well. Under the new CBA, teams will be given budgets to sign their picks in the top ten rounds (similar to the draft pool in the NFL draft), and they'll have a cap for picks after the tenth round. They will not be forced to stay under those limits, but the penalties for exceeding them by more than a little are quite severe. Not only will clubs pay hefty, graduated taxes, they will also lose premium draft picks if they reach certain thresholds above the cap.
We can expect two results from all of this. One is that we may see fewer second tier high school players sign. In recent years clubs have typically drafted and signed elite high school players in the top half of the first round, but if a player's talent didn't warrant that high of a selection and his price tag was higher than his draft ranking might warrant, several clubs had taken up the practice of overpaying for this type of player. That meant that the actual draft order actually bore virtually no resemblance to teams' draft lists. The value of a high pick was simply more access to good players who didn't require leverage premiums.
That changes with the new system. Teams will still look for value picks - guys who will sign for less than his slotted amount but who they think is worth the selection - so that they have extra money to spend on the pricier guys, but the margin will be much, much lower. The new deal will also close loopholes, such as not signing a player and using his slotted amount toward other players. This means that under the new rules, the only way to have access to expensive players is to have high enough picks that you'll be able to sign them.
If in fact we do see fewer high school players sign, it will be at the expense of the next three drafts, because (with a small number of exceptions of high end two-sport players who would then choose basketball or football) eventually high school players not signing will simply mean more good college prospects. With that exception, though, the fact that the Rangers will have something like five of the first 80 picks (without any of these compensation rules they would have three of the first 90) should be more meaningful than in the past.