I've been thinking about quite a few things related to baseball over the last several days, but it's only in the last few hours that I've managed to synthesize them into a string of coherent thoughts. You may not agree with everything I'm firing off here, and that's fine. This would be a terribly boring world if we all agreed on everything, anyway.
I've been thinking about my constantly waxing and waning interest level in this Rangers team, which is -- as I've confessed to in the past -- somewhat a function of burnout, but is also tied to something else other than burnout that I've had some difficulty identifying. I've also been thinking about this tweet issued by ESPN.com's Jason Churchill late last night (one which is connected in an odd sort of way with my inner conflict with baseball burnout), in which he wrote that rival executives believe the Rangers will be very aggressive in this year's trade market, and that starting pitching is the No. 1 target ... before relief pitching. That's not direct from the mouths of the Rangers' front office contingent, but I have no good reason to doubt its veracity.
I've been thinking about Jim Callis's suggestion in a Baseball America chat session yesterday that the Rangers might have the No. 1 farm system in baseball ... again. I've been thinking about the response to the Carlos Beltran poll I threw up in the Clubhouse the other day, in which more than half of the electorate decided that it wouldn't do Jonah Keri's proposed deal of Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman for Beltran even if the Mets ate the entirety of his contract. Perhaps above all else, I've been thinking about where I want to see the Rangers end up going, and what I think it's going to take for them to get there.
I've written on more than one occasion over the last few years -- both the winter of 2008-09 and late July 2009 stand out in my mind -- about the Rangers being in such a position that they should either go big or not go at all where the trade market was concerned. That, of course, wasn't exactly a cutting-edge or prescient notion to harbor at the time; the Rangers were positioned in such a way that they were still about a year away from entering the climax phase of their competitive window, and tossing assets out the window at players that weren't going to be legitimate difference-makers in their race to the finish line with Los Angeles would have been tantamount to, well, tossing them out the window. There wouldn't have been much point in it, because it wouldn't have been enough.
And now, two years later, in a race where the tables are turned, where the Rangers hold the narrow edge in the standings but are ostensibly still in the driver's seat, I'm going to espouse the same viewpoint: go big, or don't go at all. Oh, yeah, they can still go smaller, and perhaps reinforce their outfield situation with a Marlon Byrd or a Coco Crisp, or address the bullpen with a mid-to-upper-tier relief piece like Leo Nunez or Heath Bell or some such -- but I don't want to see it end there. It might end there, or might end with the Rangers doing nothing at all, but I don't think it's going to end in either of those places, and I certainly don't feel as though the Rangers are ready or willing to let it end in either of those places.
Part of this is driven by pure, unbridled selfishness, and of this I have no doubt or shame or regrets. I commented to a friend recently that one of the few things that could fully reinvigorate my Rangers fandom would be if they went out and acquired an upper-tier starting pitcher -- a John Danks, a Ubaldo Jimenez, a Matt Garza, an Anibal Sanchez. Look, I'm not going to tell you that the starting rotation of the present is bad or a monstrously glaring problem or even definably below-average, because it's not, but I can't (and won't) get past my deep-seated concerns over the front end of the rotation in a playoff series, and the fact that everything will otherwise hinge on Alexi Ogando busting past the 180-inning mark while retaining his effectiveness, on Colby Lewis cutting the Jekkyl-and-Hyde act, on one of Derek Holland or Matt Harrison cutting it as a playoff No. 4 starter ... and, of course, C.J. being C.J.
Is it selfish? Probably. Is it irrational? I don't think so. If there's even a kernel of truth to the rumor that the Rangers are targeting starting pitching -- and presumably very good starting pitching, as back-end starters would be of minimal value -- above all else, they're probably in line with a similar kind of thinking. It's easy for us to lob hand grenades at the organization from afar when things don't go exactly the way we want them to go, but the Rangers are not stupid. Not anymore, at least. (Not unless the calendar has been rolled back 9-10 years without my knowledge.) They recognize the immense value of impact players and, in particular, impact starting pitchers, both in terms of putting away this division -- which, I might add, is not sewn up yet -- and creating a meaningful competitive advantage in October.
That leads me into the other point I wanted to make in brief, and perhaps expound further upon later -- again, the Rangers are not stupid. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the last 24 or so months, the Rangers have graduated Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, and Tommy Hunter to the majors, dealt away Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan for pitching help, and seen other well-regarded prospects stagnate and/or be dealt away at only a small fraction of their peak value and/or succumb to injury (Engel Beltre, Eric Hurley, Michael Main, Max Ramirez, etc.), or develop into only marginal or flawed major league "veterans" (Taylor Teagarden, Julio Borbon, Chris Davis, etc.) ... and yet, they're still poised to stake a claim to the honor of being one of the five most loaded farm systems in baseball after this season if not the best overall. Think real hard about that.
This will probably fly over some of your heads, and this may actually be a horrendous 6:00 a.m.-induced analogy, but in the popular video game series Mass Effect, the primary antagonists are life-extinguishing, Lovecraftian, synthetic monstrosities known as Reapers. In simple terms, they hibernate in deep space for thousands of years until it is time for them to reawaken and purge the galaxy of all life as part of a neverending cycle. They may go dormant for a time, but they are always there looming in the darkness waiting to make their monstrous presence felt, and they are capable of self-repair. I really can't think of a more fitting way to describe the self-perpetuating minor league beast that the Rangers have created. This thing is a Reaper. It is what it is.
My point? Yeah, you don't want to overpay in terms of prospects for established, quality major league talent. Nobody does. And I want to be careful in saying that I'm not at all advocating blowing up the entire farm for a one-shot deal. There's calculated, even daring risks, and there's idiocy. But overpaying is a reality -- and very often a necessity -- in the baseball trade market, and I can't help but get the feeling that some people have grown far too averse to the idea of overpaying, given where this team currently is. And, hell, maybe I've fueled that just a bit. I still can't say for sure this morning if I'd pull the trigger on that hypothetical Scheppers and Kirkman for Beltran deal, but you can bet I'm rethinking my position on it given the level of impact that we're talking about.
And you can bet that even though the Rangers still have their guard up as a necessity (I shouldn't need to explain why after the Mets' reputed request of Jurickson Profar for K-Rod), and even though they're (likely) not going to do something stupid, they're also not at all afraid of overpaying for a premium rotation asset. In fact, I'd almost expect them to try and do so if they're speaking to a receptive ear. They get it. Winning begets revenue. Deep playoff runs beget even more revenue. Plowing that back into the amateur scouting departments -- combined with ample support from cash-flush ownership -- begets more waves of talent. It doesn't end. It keeps building. It's obviously all a bit more complex than that below the surface, but that captures the essence. It's 2011. The Rangers can trade good, or even great, prospects and reload to the point of having a quality, or a top-tier, or even an elite farm system again.
To quote my good friend Jason Parks from once upon a time not long ago: "It’s a new day. Treat it accordingly. Do whatever it takes to win now. The farm will survive."