Rather than devote another 1700 words to the players grouped in the quaternary and quinary levels of this particular value exercise (obviously, a package for a Josh Johnson or Zach Greinke sets the bar high, so the value levels I established are specific to that), I’ll just throw out a list of some of the prospects that could not only offer value in a trade, but could jump several tiers in the next calendar year.
LHP Robbie Ross: He could stick in a rotation long-term, but he might prove to be a better fit as a reliever, with a bowling bowl fastball and the makings of a major league slider. If he can find success in Double-A, his value will tick up a bit, although his ceiling isn’t as high as his draft status might suggest. OFP report: Link
RHP Omar Beltre: Lots of versatility with Beltre, who will play much better in the bullpen, but has the arsenal to function in the rotation. He has a plus fastball with some late life that he pairs with a slider and a splitter. In talking with people from other organizations about this article, several mentioned Beltre as a player with value. He should log innings in the Rangers pen next season, and he has the stuff to stick around.
Miguel Velazquez: After reemerging last season as a prospect, Velazquez failed to advance his status in ’10. That said, he still has value, and the tools are very enticing. While not an upper-echelon five-tool talent, he does have all five raw tools, and he still has time to put it together on the field. The clock is ticking, so 2011 is the year it needs to happen. OFP report: Link
Jorge Alfaro: Super young, super raw, and super talented, Alfaro is the player who can make the biggest tier jump in the Rangers system. Because of his high ceiling and his lofty sticker price, the 17 year-old Colombian catcher would make an attractive kicker in any deal. But if he can show some tool-translation on-the-field, Alfaro can launch into top prospect status in short order. OFP report: Link
This could reach Pynchonian levels if I continued, but you get the point. The list is very long, and very promising, and with the exception of Olt, I didn’t even profile some of the more intersting 2010 draftees, like Luke Jackson, Jake Skole, and Cody Buckel. I profiled Jorge Alfaro, but I didn’t profile some of the other high-ceiling Latin Americans in the low-levels of the system, like RHP David Perez or shortstop Hanser Alberto, who will be names to pay close attention to in the coming years. I didn’t profile Chad Bell, Neil Ramirez, Jake Brigham, Randol Rojas, or Tommy Mendonca, or 25 other players that help make up the depth of the system. Again, you get the point. The system might lack a crowded primary and secondary tier grouping, but the overall value of the farm is tied to the depth, and given the abundance of talent contained within, the value will continue to increase, regardless of how many pieces are used as trade collateral. More on that in a minute.
Before I make the case why trading prospects for proven major league talent makes sense for the Rangers, let’s first take a look at the landscape of the 25-man roster, and why the window to compete with the current collection of talent is shrinking. On the surface, the upstart American League Champions appear to have a roster heavy on the side of youth (service time; on-the-field exuberance; Elvis’s sweet smile), with pundits often using that perception to place them in the AL West’s driver seat for the next decade. While a decade of sustainable success is entirely possible, the error in the perception is that the Rangers are a team with a young core of talent, and that the 2010 success is just another step towards their eventual ascension to baseball greatness. I think it’s a stretch to assume either is true.
Without busting out a spreadsheet or making this more complicated than it needs to be, let’s just ask a few straight-forward questions about the Rangers going forward, and see where we stand when the smoke settles.
1) Do you feel confident that 30 year-old CJ Wilson and 31 year-old Colby Lewis can duplicate (or even build upon) their impressive 2010 campaigns and form a one-two punch at the top of the rotation? How confident? Are they really top-of-the-rotation material?
2) If you assume that Kinsler (29), Cruz (30), and Hamilton (29) have already entered their peak performance years, how many years until they start their eventual decline? Is two years overly conservative or realistic?
3) Is there anybody in the farm system not named Scheppers that you think can provide high-impact value to the 25-man roster over the next two seasons?
4) Speaking of youth, how confident are you in the Hunter/Holland duo, and do you think they can solidify the middle of the Rangers rotation in 2011?
5) Given the current landscape of the American League West, do you think the division is more likely to be competitive in 2011?
My answers to the above questions don’t exactly fill me with confidence going into the 2011 season, much less the next decade. The Rangers, as they are presently constructed, have an expiration date; sometime in the next three seasons. But the product could start to spoil before that point, and even with an overly optimistic approach to prospect prognostication, it’s a stretch to assume the Rangers high-impact minor league talent will actualize and provide high-impact major league production in that window. Look, I really like the players in question (Scheppers, Perez, Beltre) and I’m telling you that it will be highly unlikely if one of the prospects near their ceiling in that window, much less all three.
To reintroduce the main theme of the piece: “Tomorrow Never Knows.” A rather profound malapropism from the mind of Ringo Starr, but this is how you have to look at prospects. They are merely abstract dreams that very rarely manifest into reality. They are wonderful things to cultivate, but falling in love with the dream of a player can often limit the range of possibilities at the major league squad. When you’ve had a taste of the spotlight (when the fans have had a taste of the spotlight), and you have a core of talent that puts you on the cusp of contention, you have to aggressively maximize the potential of the opportunity.
Here’s the plan: Every player in baseball has a price. Not every price is affordable, or even remotely reasonable, but the price exists, nonetheless. My point is, a player doesn’t have to be “on-the-block” to be a target, and if the Rangers are serious about acquiring a top of the rotation pitcher (relative, of course), said player can acquired. I’m not advocating for a foolish move; rather, suggesting if the Rangers wanted to make a splash, the requisite water resides in their system. Obviously, teams aren’t lining up to sell their future, so the opportunity would have to embrace both parties involved.
What if the Rays decided to trade Price? Not suggesting they are, but what if their ears were open? What if the Marlins were dead-set on building around Johnson, but were willing to listen to a proposal? Would you cash-in for a player like that? Would you be willing to trade the all impact prospects of the future to maximize the present? This is academic, but it proposes an interesting question: Are you willing to do whatever it takes to win now?
Here’s the reality: The Rangers could bring in a player of the Garza ilk; a mid-rotation arm that might cost a bit too much in prospect treasure, but gives you quality at the major league level. Given the above thesis, is it fair to say that acquiring a mid-rotation starter (conceptual at this point, but just go with it), regardless of the inflated price, gives the Rangers a better opportunity to compete in the aforementioned two-three year window? The answer is yes. But will it hurt the farm? “The Rangers can’t throw away the future.” I disagree. Here’s why.
This is simple. The Rangers obviously have a competent scouting team in place. They have an established presence in Latin America (read: flags in the ground). They have a new ownership group in place that is willing to spend for talent. That’s a recipe for a sustainable farm system. Period. The Rangers system is primarily built on depth, but a sizeable percentage of that depth consists of high-quality talent. This is an important fact to remember. Players that currently reside in the quaternary column could easily emerge at a higher tier as their development continues. High-impact prospects like Alfaro or Sardinas could take steps forward and start to actualize. With a penchant for up-the-middle talent, the Rangers continue to acquire players with lofty projections and enticing trade values.
Basically, the pipeline is full, and will remain full going forward (the Rangers have excellent position in the deep 2011 draft, and an established relationship with the equally strong July 2nd market). The days of penny-pinching are over. Do you really think the current Rangers ownership would allow a talent like Purke to slip away? It’s a new day. Treat it accordingly. Do whatever it takes to win now. The farm will survive.