So I had been vigorously preparing to roll out a lengthy Texas Rangers-centric winter meetings primer in anticipation of this week's proceedings at the luxurious Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, but then real-life priorities and the temporary destruction of my enthusiasm for sports -- largely powered by a heartbreaking last-second defeat of the Green Bay Packers by the Houston Texans at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon -- inconsiderately derailed those plans.
In light of what has evidently transpired in the last 24 hours, that's probably for the best. It would have likely amounted to a great quantity of wasted words in the end, because on the eve of perhaps the most active four-day period transaction-wise of the entire calendar year, those ever-maddening Rangers appear to be on the verge of completing their most significant trade of the off-season.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported late Sunday evening that the Rangers had, according to an anonymous Major League source, traded catcher Gerald Laird to the Detroit Tigers for minor league right-hander Guillermo Moscoso and a second unnamed prospect, purported to be a "17-year-old [pitcher] who spent last season in the Dominican Summer League."
Since that could ultimately turn out to be anybody from Rayni Guichardo to Carlos Melo (both of whom represent raw and largely unknown commodities at this point, but both of whom also notched in excess of 10 strikeouts per nine innings for the Tigers' rookie-league DSL squad in 2008, so we can safely infer that they're live-armed individuals), there's no real point in baselessly speculating about whom that mysterious second player is -- yet.
[1:20 A.M. Update: At least one media source is reporting that the second prospect is indeed Carlos Melo, a Dominican right-hander who is primarily known for an "electric fastball that averages well over 90 miles per hour." He's exactly the sort of toolsy throw-in you'd expect to see included at the back end of a deal such as this one.]
Jon Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press is similarly indicating that the framework of a trade has been agreed upon by the two clubs; hours earlier, the prolific beat writer wrote that "significant progress" had been made towards a deal being completed, with Detroit fending off apparent interest in Laird from the Reds and, more recently, the Nationals. Tigers officials were reportedly "reluctant" to part ways with Moscoso, which should be perceived as a good sign -- as more than one enlightened baseball oracle has been heard to softly mutter over the years, you know that a trade is probably fair if neither club involved is particularly thrilled about the tradeoff between what was relinquished and what was acquired.
We briefly reviewed the finer qualities of Moscoso's game earlier this week when the Tigers' enhanced efforts to acquire Laird first began to make headlines, but it would surely be beneficial to take a second look at the scouting report industry publication Baseball America crafted for the 25-year-old right-hander a matter of weeks ago, when it deemed Moscoso the Tigers' 10th-best prospect:
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: Moscoso shows a curveball and change-up, but neither is as effective as his fastball. His shoulder problems have limited him to no more than 91 innings in a pro season, which raises the question of whether he would be better suited for the bullpen. It might be easier to keep him healthy as a reliever.
A November 2002 international signee of former Tigers baseball operations/foreign affairs assistant Ramón Peña (who was fired in May 2006), the modestly framed Venezuelan did not make his stateside debut until age 21, and was beset by minor injuries at the end of his 2005 campaign with short-season Oneonta, pushing him backwards to the rookie-league GCL Tigers to begin 2006 and helping to explain the rather notable disparity between his advanced age and his current minor league level (Double-A Erie). Lingering shoulder tendonitis that prompted a six-week shutdown at the beginning of the 2008 season surely didn't aid matters in that regard.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the Moscoso acquisition -- and the one aspect that will require particularly close observation going forward -- is that he may well provide immediate utility to Texas if commissioned as a reliever at the big league level, and in light of his somewhat checkered medical background that also comprises 2005 shoulder surgery (details on the severity of the injury that prompted this procedure, and the specifics of said procedure, have proven rather difficult to track down thus far), the decision to groom him as a late-inning reliever may well be a prudent one.
Moscoso, however, reportedly prefers to start games (his struggles in the 2008 Venezuelan Winter League are thought to be a function of his assorted difficulties in adapting to the bullpen), and that could play into the organization's thought process when it comes to determining how the newest addition to the Rangers' 40-man roster should be developed over the coming months.
[1:30 A.M. Update: MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan writes that it's improbable that Moscoso will legitimately compete for a big league roster spot next spring, and suggests that the Reds' unwillingness to deal right-hander Homer Bailey for Laird was the sticking point in negotiations between the two clubs. Funny.]
The expulsion of Laird somewhat alleviates the organizational catching logjam from which remarks such as "Well, the Rangers have to trade a catcher this winter! They can't go into spring training with four catchers!" have frequently been born this winter. That, in my view, was never as big an issue for Texas as ensuring the acquisition of fair value in a trade involving any of the four backstops that have generated such controversy over the months: Laird, Max Ramirez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. This trade has ostensibly accomplished that goal, with the added benefit of freeing up much-needed playing time for the younger talent that had rapidly accumulated behind Laird and the payroll space (somewhere around $3 million) that his 2009 contract would have consumed via salary arbitration eligibility.
Texas could also clear payroll space -- and enable additional maneuverability in a free-agent market that the club otherwise wouldn't be able to participate in -- by trading corner infielder Hank Blalock, whom the Giants are known to covet to some degree. The Rangers have reportedly dispatched a dozen front office personnel to Las Vegas to engage in the "serious discussions" that are set to take place between the two clubs and other such possibilities on the trade front, which could also include the likes of Marlon Byrd and Frank Catalanotto.
For what it's worth, Ken Rosenthal noted on Sunday afternoon that the Rangers rebuffed the Mets' proposal of a Luis Castillo-for-Vicente Padilla swap, no doubt in large part because it would have forced second baseman Ian Kinsler to a different position.
Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that outfielder Milton Bradley has, as expected, declined the Rangers' offer of salary arbitration. Texas can opt to refrain from any additional pursuance of his services and net a compensatory supplemental-round draft pick in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft, or stubbornly persist in their attempts to re-sign the talented slugger; either way, Bradley probably isn't going to get that $40 million contract he's actively seeking.