I've been off the grid more than I've been on it over the last week, which is probably the first time in the last five years of writing that I've been able to make such a statement. I suppose the timing is fortuitous in that respect, given that nothing of especially great significance has happened in the last 7-10 days. Yeah, we had Barry Larkin being ushered into Cooperstown by the keepers of the gate, and purported Rangers target Ryan Madson vanishing from the free agent radar, but it's been a much quieter January thus far this year than last (when Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli were brought into the fold), or than the year before that (when we got the Vladimir Guerrero and Colby Lewis signings), and that's been a good thing for me at a time when there just hasn't been enough time for me to say what I've been wanting to say.
I don't know that I have very much to say this morning, either, but what I can say is that I'm finally back, and that business is unequivocally on the verge of picking up. The Yu Darvish deadline is now five days and a few hours out, and after a smattering of rumors to the general effect of the Rangers "low-balling" the Japanese object of their affection (including Jim Bowden suggesting that Texas is trying to hammer out a deal "far south of the $75-80 million range [Darvish is] seeking"), the tenor of the rumors is changing course yet again, as FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi wrote yesterday that the Rangers were growing "increasingly optimistic" about their chances of signing Darvish, and Nolan Ryan himself is now putting it on the record that he believes a deal will get done:
"My expectations are that we'll get something done," Ryan said. "It's a process. During the period that we negotiate with someone we really don't talk about it, but I'm optimistic we'll get something done."
Darvish visited the area last week, and submitted to a physical exam performed by Rangers doctors and trainers during his quick two-day visit. The 6-foot-5 ace for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters also met with Ryan, and left a favorable impression.
"He was bigger than I thought," Ryan said. "He's built like a pitcher. He looks good. He understands a lot of English. I just liked his attitude about wanting to compete. He represented what I'd been led to believe, so I felt really good about it."
I doubt this will be interpreted as a true Nolan stamp of approval among those who believe that he's only partly or not at all on board with the team's pursuit of Darvish (a belief which mostly seems to drive from his past stance towards committing enormous dollars/years to starting pitching), and I also doubt this will clam Randy Galloway up after he implored Ryan to call him back and explain what in the hell he was allowing the Rangers to do with Darvish. Not that it really matters, mind you, because even if Ryan isn't fully on board with this, he's not going to disclose that fact on the record and undermine the baseball operations department that truly is sold on Darvish's ace potential.
And while I'm thinking of it, here's something else that almost certainly won't matter either (by way of Gerry Fraley): "The Rangers could add two more starting pitchers ... [they] have [in addition to negotiating with Darvish] made inquiries about veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt, according to a major league official." I don't doubt that the Rangers have been sniffing around here, but I very much doubt that their interest extends beyond viewing Oswalt as their veteran fallback option in the event that something calamitous happens to the Darvish negotiations.
If I'm wrong, though, you'd be looking at two of Alexi Ogando/Derek Holland/Matt Harrison/Neftali Feliz being traded or -- more likely -- being punted to the bullpen, and unless Oswalt were willing to accept a huge home state discount relative to the $16 million he pulled down last year, it seems like you'd be crossing over to the point where you'd be better served taking the money you'd be spending on Oswalt and using it on center field, or first base ... or, heck, just sitting on it. Because nobody ever said you had to blow through your entire player acquisition budget for the entire calendar year before pitchers and catchers even report to spring training.