As they often say, where there's smoke, there's fire -- and this Thursday morning missive from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan strongly intimates that business is about to pick up in Arlington:
The Rangers are discussing a trade with the Detroit Tigers that would involve catcher Gerald Laird, according to Major League sources.
Sources said the two sides are talking but nothing is close. It should be a topic of conversation at next week's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
[...] The Rangers appear more motivated to trade Laird than Saltalamacchia or Teagarden.
Jon Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press affirmed the Tigers' interest in Laird yesterday, suggesting that Detroit has coveted the 29-year-old backstop -- who figures to bank something in the neighborhood of $3 million through salary arbitration in 2009, and will be eligible for free agency after the 2010 season -- for "quite some time," and is better positioned asset-wise to acquire Laird than Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero.
Newsday's Ken Davidoff reported on Sunday that the Mets inquired into the possibility of trading for Laird earlier this off-season, though it's unknown to what extent those talks progressed (or if they even did at all), and there doesn't presently appear to be much in the way of buzz in that sector regardless.
Neither of the potential principal pieces mentioned by Sullivan as possibilities to go back the Rangers' way in such a deal - mid-20s right-handers Chris Lambert and Zach Miner -- are terribly captivating. Miner's lifetime 18-15 record and 4.22 ERA (107 ERA+) in the majors belie his greater problems with the strike zone, which appear to be twofold: first, he doesn't really get the ball across the plate enough (just 59 percent of his 2,027 pitches thrown in 2008 were good for strikes, though his walk rates somehow remain in the vicinity of league average), and second, he has thus far proven incapable of converting his solid stuff -- consisting of a mid-90s heater, a low-90s cutter, and a pair of mid-80s secondary offerings, according to Miner's Pitch f/x player card -- into passable strikeout rates.
Lambert, a first-round pick (19th overall) of the Cardinals in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft and the player to be named later in the June 2007 trade that sent Mike Maroth to St. Louis, was deemed the Cardinals' fourth-best prospect three winters ago by industry publication Baseball America -- which praised his "91-94 mph fastball, good change-up and potentially dominating curveball," but criticized his sloppy mechanics -- and appears to possess a bit more upside than Miner, but likely wouldn't represent an improvement over fellow 2004 first-rounder Eric Hurley going into the 2009 season.
Of the three Latin American right-handers tabbed by Sullivan as possibilities to "enter the discussion," 25-year-old Guillermo Moscoso (deemed the Tigers' 10th-best prospect by Baseball America two weeks ago) is perhaps the best suited to immediately help the Rangers' big league product, though more probably as a middle- or late-inning reliever than a starting pitcher in light of his past shoulder issues and apparent lack of a quality secondary pitch:
Moscoso has a quick arm and a fastball that reaches 91-92 mph with late riding action that makes it a swing-and-miss pitch. He can also use his fastball to handcuff hitters and force easy popouts. His delivery has some deception and hitters have trouble reading his pitches. He's aggressive in the strike zone and confident on the mound.
[...] Some club officials say Moscoso resembles former Tigers prospect Jair Jurrjens, a flattering comparison. If he can stay healthy and develop his secondary pitches, Moscoso could be a No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors. He could reach Detroit at some point in 2009.
In 86.2 innings split between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie in 2008, Moscoso fanned an eye-popping 122 batters and yielded just 21 free passes en route to crafting a superb 2.70 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, good for a nigh-incomprehensible strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 5.81. Texas would likely demand more for two years of Laird than simply Moscoso by himself, but there's enough mid-level pitching talent present in the Tigers' farm system for the two sides to strike an equitable deal.
All that said, don't set your heart on anything being completed before the onset of baseball's winter meetings next Monday in Las Vegas. Boston has a greater quantity of intriguing arms to offer Texas than Detroit does, and it's improbable the Rangers will part ways with one of their most valuable trade chips without first ensuring that they have maximized their return.
And from the "For What It's Worth" department: ESPN.com's Peter Gammons wrote on Wednesday that the Blue Jays, effectively financially paralyzed by the slumping economy, were "out of the hunt" for free-agent outfielder Milton Bradley, and boldly predicted that the Rays, in addition to a slew of other teams, would not be entering the "$10-plus million free-agent league for bats." Tampa Bay and Toronto were thought to be Bradley's most enthusiastic suitors just a matter of days ago.
Said one anonymous general manager to Gammons: "There's no question this is a dual-market situation"The corner bat/DH market is flooded, and the stock market is drowning. Not a good combination, not when pitching rules the market."
If I'm Bradley, the Rangers' arbitration offer is beginning to look more and more appealing with every passing day.