Several hours after Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels proclaimed that the bullpen was the most likely facet of the major league roster to be upgraded via trade over the next five weeks, the sinkerballer-spinning relief tandem of Jason Jennings and Doug Mathis collectively crafted 4.1 innings of one-run baseball, with the former permitting a baserunner inherited from left-hander Matt Harrison to score but otherwise pitching serviceably and preventing a six-run loss from degenerating into a potential double-digit blowout in the desert.
Several hours beforehand, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo met individually with each of his disciples, emphasizing the approach necessary to overcome white-hot Diamondbacks starter Max Scherzer -- who was selected exactly one pick before Double-A Frisco southpaw Kasey Kiker in the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the latter of whom hurled seven frames of scoreless baseball against Midland on Tuesday evening -- while conceding that the offense's paralyzing tendency to overthink and subject itself to undue pressure had, in essence, handicapped his efforts to right the fast-sinking ship.
The formerly second-place Angels have now leveraged their recent 8-3 surge into a share of first place in the AL West, while the third-place Mariners loom just 2 1/2 games behind in the rear-view mirror and the notorious second-half-surging Athletics remain just 6 1/2 games back; the Rangers, meanwhile, have dropped a season-high five consecutive games, all to teams with last-place or next-to-last-place and sub-.500 records, which can be classified as either (a) the prototypical short-term slump exacerbated by some bad luck or (b) an alarming one-week skid against mediocre teams that is emblematic of the Rangers' numerous holes. My personal suspicion is that there are elements of both in play, which does little to allay our ever-growing concerns about the immediate viability of the Rangers' major league product but does provide us with something vaguely resembling a diagnosis for what currently ails this ballclub.
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark recently linked Texas to Rockies closer Huston Street ("[the] Rangers are believed to be one of the teams following him closely"), while D Magazine's Evan Grant even more recently tossed out the name of Orioles right-hander Danys Baez as a trade possibility, but aside from the apparent in-season transformation of the Rangers' bullpen from horrendous into capable, there's something else that bothers me about the notion of dealing legitimate young talent for relief pitching -- it's improbable that any bullpen arm acquired near the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline is going to amass more than 25 innings over the regular season's final two months, if even that many, with the overall positive impact almost certainly being no greater than one win at the high end during that span, and probably less than that.
By virtue of having attained the coveted "closer" label, Street's status and performance will presumably net Colorado a healthy two- or three-prospect package, and the lucky buying team will also be saddled with an potential salary arbitration case, likely to be amicably settled out of court but for no less than $5 million as he approaches free-agent eligibility after the 2010 season; Baez, meanwhile, will obtain his walking papers in a few short months, having fulfilled his duties as a bullpen mercenary while the Orioles enjoy what would almost certainly be a top-20 prospect from the Rangers' cache, since Texas evidently might require Baltimore's financial assistance in subsidizing the remainder of his $5.5 million salary. While the Rangers are uniquely positioned to absorb the impact stemming from such a deal by virtue of their insanely stacked farm system, that does not necessarily mean that they should elect to do so.
Back on April 17th, we traced the origins of baseball's 40 top-performing relievers during the 2008 regular season, and while 16 of those 40 relievers were acquired via trade, what isn't explicitly spelled out is that the vast majority of those primo hurlers were acquired before their performance broke out and their cooresponding value skyrocketed. The results of the exercise illustrated that relievers acquired via major league free agency do not often reward their employers with top performance and that there are much better ways to unearth top relievers, but a secondary inference which we can draw is that paying an elevated price in terms of talent for a good, but non-elite relief pitcher, is something less than efficient usage of resources.
The upshot for a team in a position such as the Rangers currently are in? Either go big -- which is a substantial risk in and of itself, for patently obvious reasons -- or don't go at all, because most of the names currently being listed in conjunction with Texas are going to only marginally improve a ballclub that seems to need significant help. And if Tom Hicks' financial situation is inhibiting the Rangers' efforts to improve their major league product to such a degree that they can't swing a deal for a higher-caliber player without yielding an excessive quantity of talent, then they should probably just stand pat, because it's going to be awfully difficult to engineer a trade that's favorable for Texas without any modicum of financial flexibility available.