We're exactly two weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and as expected, rumors are heating up and running wild throughout Major League Baseball. Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, Cole Hamels, Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza, and Ryan Dempster are among the players that could be changing uniforms between now and August 1.
And of course, the Texas Rangers have been linked to some of the prime talent available, namely Greinke, Upton and Hamels.
And of course, the Rangers have plenty to deal from to acquire any of those players -- or other players that they deem fitting. Baseball America rated Texas' farm system as the best farm system in all of baseball, despite having won back-to-back American League pennants.
Yes, times are good to be a Rangers fan, but times are stressful in Texas' front office. The Rangers are clearly interested in making some type of big splash, though it could just be posturing from Jon Daniels. Texas has sent scouts to check out Greinke, Hamels and Upton recently.
Obviously, none of those three players are going to be cheap. And let's face facts here too -- the Rangers don't need Greinke, Hamels or Upton to make the playoffs in 2012. They're going to be playing October, again. How far they go, though, can depend on the moves they make between now and July 31.
So, who might Arizona, Milwaukee and Philadelphia target from Texas' system?
Forget Jurickson Profar, he's probably off limits, even for somebody as talented as Justin Upton. Texas' next best prospect, depending on who you ask, is Mike Olt.
Olt's star has risen considerably this year. Through July 15, Olt is hitting .292/.403/.573 as a 23-turning-24 year old in AA, with 22 home runs in 291 at bats. All in all, an excellent year for Olt.
I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that I'd move Olt for Justin Upton. Upton is under team control through 2015, and is set to make $9.75 million, $14.25 million and $14.5 million the next three years and is certainly not a rental. He's displayed MVP talent already (6.4 WAR in 2011), and he doesn't even turn 25 until August.
Sure, Upton is struggling this year. But he's a talent that can easily make Rangers fans forget about Josh Hamilton next year, if and when Hamilton departs as a free agent this winter. As for this year, assuming he can turn it around, there's no telling how good Texas' lineup could be with Hamilton, Upton, Kinsler, Andrus, Napoli, Beltre and Cruz.
If the Diamondbacks call and say they want Olt as a centerpiece, I'd be more than willing to make it happen if I'm Daniels. The call isn't so easy for Greinke or Hamels, both of whom will be destined for free agency after the World Series concludes this year.
On the surface, most fans would probably prefer Hamels, but I'm not one of them. If the Phillies asked for Olt in return for Hamels, I'd decline if I were Daniels. Hamels, though his surface numbers are better, has been nearly a full win 'worse' than Greinke this year, with Greinke posting a 3.5 WAR and Hamels posting a 2.7 WAR in 2012 this year.
Hamels has been there, done that, winning a World Series MVP Award in 2008, but small sample sizes do not concern me. Hamels seems like he's eager to test the free agent market, and he's already expressed an interest in returning back to California to pitch close to where he grew up -- so you can expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to bid heavily for Hamels, and maybe even the Angels, who are also rumored to want to acquire him, to bid heavily for his services.
If the Rangers can land Hamels without surrendering Profar or Olt, by all means, I'd be willing to listen. If it's going to cost either one of them, I kindly hang up the phone if I'm Daniels.
I can't quite say the same for Greinke, though. Maybe I have a strange affinity for him just because of his 9+ win season in 2009, but I've always believed he can be one of the five best pitchers in baseball.
Greinke is a curious case. He's quit on the Royals before, and even said as much so he could facilitate a trade away from Kansas City. Greinke has stated his desire to win. And as we all know, Greinke has an anxiety disordered that has made larger market teams (read: New York) less interested in him. Still, his talent is undeniable, and he's been one of the five best pitchers in baseball this year.
There are apparent differences between Greinke and Hamels. Greinke has commented to the media, and has made clear through his past actions in Kansas City, that he simply wants to win. Without knowing either of them personally, I'd wager there's a decent chance Greinke takes less money to pitch for a contender, and a place that he's comfortable, as a free agent this winter.
Hamels, meanwhile, has talked up the free agent experience lately. It seems like he's interested in the largest pay check -- and/or going home soon.
This, of course, is ignoring the impact that Greinke could have on the Rangers this year. The past two years, the Rangers have gone into the playoffs with a legitimate top of the rotation pitcher. In 2010, the club had Cliff Lee, and last year, the Rangers had C.J. Wilson. This year, Matt Harrison has been the most valuable pitcher on Texas' staff, followed by Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis. While Darvish is the most talented, he's simply unreliable as a staff anchor at this point.
While I don't subscribe to the idea that pitching wins in October, it sure helps -- and Greinke at the top of a rotation will certainly go a long way to wining an LDS, LCS or World Series.
Texas' window to win isn't restricted to this year, but the opportunity for Texas to win the World Series is there here and now. Olt is a fantastic prospect, and a fair bit of his value lays in his defense at third base. I don't believe that Olt will hit as well as he is in AA at the Major League level at any point in his career. I don't believe that Olt would be an All-Star first baseman, but he could very well be one at third base. The problem is, the Rangers have Adrian Beltre there for a few years.
If Olt is who the Brewers demand for Greinke, a player who could very well re-sign with the Rangers, and a player that could help deliver a championship for the Rangers in 2012, then I would send Olt away.
It's not an easy decision to make, and I'm not envious of the decisions Jon Daniels has to make in the next two weeks. If there's a way to get Greinke without giving up Olt, then even better -- it just not might be the case with other teams bidding to acquire Greinke.
Will the Rangers make the playoffs without making a trade? Yes. Can the Rangers win the World Series as currently constructed? Yes. Does adding Greinke, Hamels or Upton increase Texas' chance of winning the World Series? Yes.
We'll see how it all shakes out in the coming weeks, but Daniels is at the very least will have some interesting options on the table.