On the heels of Jayson Stark's curious Thursday free-agent speculation (which is probably of little relevance to the Texas Rangers anyway, given that they're evidently working against an owner-imposed payroll cap and presently appear to have all the financial flexibility of General Motors), here are a few early-morning tidbits that may or may not merit close monitoring going forward:
● Barring a dramatic plunge in the asking prices of free-agent third basemen Casey Blake and Joe Crede, the Rangers will not have the available capital to make a legitimate run at either (T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com)
[Not even Crede? Wow, times really ARE tough.]
● The Padres may be willing to trade third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to clear room for a return to the hot corner for talented 24-year-old outfielder Chase Headley, but Texas doesn't seem particularly interested in the former and doesn't believe the latter is available (Sullivan)
[Fun fact: Kouzmanoff has drawn more than 32 walks in a season just once -- 44 walks at Low-A Lake County in 2004 -- and posted an unyieldingly poor 3.6 percent walk rate in 668 plate appearances with the Padres in 2008. It's true that pitcher-friendly Petco Park has been a drag on his overall numbers, but there's something distinctly Kevin Mench-ian about the sharp decline he has endured in terms of being able to consistently induce bases on balls, and that, coupled with his absolutely horrendous second half -- .241/.272/.422 in 287 PA -- and unexplainable flip-flopping lefty/righty splits, is plenty enough cause for concern.
Want to take a shot at Headley, who was tabbed by industry publication Baseball America as the game's 32nd-best prospect before the 2008 season and produced modestly well in his rookie campaign? Then get ready to pony up one of the heralded Big Three -- Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland or Michael Main -- and some other goodies just to keep Padres general manager Kevin Towers on the line.]
● The Reds might make third baseman Edwin Encarnacion available, but Texas isn't enthralled by his shoddy glovework, astutely recalling that miserable defense at the hot corner was one of the team's biggest Achilles' heels in 2008 (Sullivan)
[And shortstop, and second base, and first base, and...]
● Free-agent infielder Ramon Vazquez has fielded offers from the Diamondbacks and another unnamed team; he has apparently not backed off his demands of a multi-year contract (Nick Piecoro, Arizona Republic)
[I've been trying to decide whether Vazquez's dramatic drop-off in offensive output late in the 2008 season was an statistical aberration or a harbinger of things to come; legendary hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has a definite history of resurrecting one-time fringe big leaguers and developing them into useful players, so I suppose it would be silly to bet against Rudy, but I don't have a real great feeling about Vazquez away from Jaramillo's watchful eye.]
● Finally, the Braves, Dodgers and Mets are believed to be among teams that have inquired about veteran right-handers Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, both of whom have one guaranteed year left on their multi-year contracts and could help a contending team; Millwood has a limited no-trade clause (Jon Heyman, SI.com)
[Dave Cameron pointed out at FanGraphs that virtually all of the notable signings and trades that have been made thus far this off-season have been in the buyer's favor; the market has noticeably shifted, and it would be reckless to assume that either Millwood or Padilla would net much more than a B-level prospect or two individually.
I will say this: if Millwood or Padilla are indeed moved in what essentially amounts to a salary dump (see also: Nick Swisher), it will be a move that financially enables something else. Texas won't make that sort of trade just for the hell of it.]
Chew on that.