Full disclosure: This is a fragmented sort of post, one that I'm going to continue to add onto as the afternoon progresses, and, as such, it's probably not going to be the most cohesive point-to-point read. There's a lot to process and digest in light of yesterday's news that Colby Lewis is done for this season, though, and I figure that I might as well move the ball ahead on that, even if it means pushing out a post that may not be entirely finished at the time that you read it:
● During last night's FSNSW telecast, a Rangers commercial that prominently featured Colby Lewis popped up out of nowhere, and I immediately felt as though I had been kicked in the gut. I think most of us properly appreciated Lewis and his accomplishments and what he meant to this team, but I don't think all that many of us anticipated that it would hurt this much on a personal level to lose him. He was -- and still is -- the archetype for pitchers who managed to resurrect their careers from ashes, and a symbol for never giving up on your dreams. He flamed out as a top prospect, and then underwent several major operations to repair serious, career-threatening damage in his right shoulder, and, at that point, he could have chosen to walk away from the game given the magnitude of his health-related setbacks and early-career failures. But he didn't.
Instead, Lewis went to NPB, kicked ass for two years, secured a guaranteed contract with the Rangers, and proceeded to silence the doubters by furnishing 500-plus quality regular-season innings over a period of three years for a base sum of just $8 million, plus eight post-season starts during that 2010-11 window where he proved virtually unhittable, and where he took the ball time and time again and repeatedly said "yeah, I've got this," without ever really needing to say it out loud:
|2 Yrs (6 Series)||4||1||2.34||8||50.0||1.080||5.8||1.3||4.0||7.9||2.00|
In 2012, Lewis's strikeout-to-walk rate (93 K vs. 14 BB over 105 innings) approached Cliff Lee-esque proportions, and if not for a small handful of nightmarish starts and that five-homer spectacle in Baltimore, he would have been regarded as a legitimate name in this year's Cy Young discussion; as things were, though, he was in the midst of a very good season, and was looking to be an integral part of the Rangers' post-season rotation, with a reasonably lucrative multi-year deal on the near horizon. I don't necessarily know that the Rangers would have been the team to make him the offer he would have been looking for, but I can buy the notion that they viewed -- and still do view -- him as a cornerstone of their pitching staff, and that they would have paid him as such.
Jon Daniels talked last night about just how important Lewis had been to the pitching staff, how he didn't just put up great numbers but also relentlessly and reliably chewed up innings, and how he had established himself as a leader by example on the pitching staff -- particularly to the younger hurlers, all of whom could look up to Lewis and model their work ethic and perseverance after his. Per ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett, Lewis knew after the first MRI on his right forearm that he had a small tear in his flexor tendon, and after the events of yesterday, he remarked: "It was a question on how much (pain) could I take and how much was I willing to take." He kept going until he was physically incapable of going any further. I'm typically not all that big on analogizing professional ballplayers to warriors, but I really cannot fathom there being a more apt label for Lewis.
Alas, Lewis now faces a 9-12 month road to recovery, and an uncertain contractual situation beyond 2012. The widely held presumption, though, is that the Rangers are going to bring Lewis back next year, partly to pay their debt of gratitude for his years of excellent service and partly because they still feel he can be an asset in 2013 and beyond. I expect that the Rangers and Lewis's agent will get together this winter, and they'll work out something along the lines of a low-base, one-year deal with a second-year option that pays Lewis a decent sum in 2013 (say, $1-2 million), with a payoff closer to $5-6 million in 2014 if the option is exercised or vests or what have you.
I also expect that we'll be more excited and relieved about Lewis being brought back than we should be, given that he'll be working his way back from a serious injury and, in addition to the long rehabilitation that awaits him, may require a lengthy period of time to recapture the pitching form that we've grown to know and adore ... if it can be recaptured at all. But, hell, nobody ever said that being a baseball fan was rational.
● I'm concurrently working on a different post that delves a bit more into this topic, but, right now, the Rangers face a couple of different challenges: yes, there's the obvious issue of needing to construct a championship-caliber playoff rotation, and the rest-of-season absence of Lewis is quite problematic in that regard, because you've lost your post-season pillar of reliability, and because, as things stand now, you've gone from having one of Roy Oswalt, Neftali Feliz and/or Derek Holland at the back of your post-season rotation to having two of them. I like all three of Oswalt/Feliz/Holland to varying degrees (and for varying reasons), but I'm not quite so enthusiastic about throwing two of them up there in a five- or seven-game series.
The other challenge, though, is ensuring that the Angels don't gain an uncomfortable quantity of talent/expected wins relative to what the Rangers gain over the next eight days, and ensuring that the Rangers lock down the division, since the penalty for not doing so is that terrifying one-game wild-card playoff. Texas boasts a five-game lead as of this moment, and still stands tall as the most talented team in the division, but it's not inconceivable in the slightest that the Angels could pick up an extra win or two over the final couple of months of the season based solely on what they do in the trade market; the Rangers, of course, have made it abundantly clear that they're not "scared" of the Angels, and they obviously won't conduct deadline business from a position that is rooted in apprehension and fear, but the Angels are a dangerous team nevertheless, and that should give everyone something to think about.
Regardless of which challenge you focus on, though, the Rangers have more to gain now from the acquisition of a front-line starting pitcher than they did before this whole sad business with Lewis materialized, and, to that end, they'll continue to be tied heavily to Cole Hamels, Zach Greinke, and Cliff Lee, with word also coming down last night that the Rangers had dispatched a scout to watch Josh Johnson throw a gem for the Marlins. It's an enticing possibility, particularly when you consider the potential neatness of the fit if a Johnson-to-Texas trade were to be headlined by Mike Olt, as Miami is in the process of dismantling and selling off the parts of the ship right now, and current Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez could be one of the next major league pieces to follow Anibal Sanchez out of town. Can you see it? Yeah, you can see it.
● On a closely related note, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan has a new blog post out this afternoon, and says that, in light of the Lewis injury, Texas is "serious[ly]" contemplating reinforcing the bullpen and stretching Alexi Ogando out to rejoin the starting rotation, and also reiterates that if the Rangers add anyone in the trade market, it's going to be an October "difference-maker" ala Hamels or "maybe Greinke" (who, according to Sullivan, hold more appeal to the Rangers than anything else out there). He also says that the Rangers won't allow the lack of draft-pick compensation to impede their pursuit of a difference-maker, even if that pitcher should walk at the end of the season and the Rangers have no assets remaining from that trade come November.
I do have two comments with respect to Sullivan's notes: first, and as we discussed above, you can expand the pool of viable (and available) difference-makers to include Johnson, I think, and Cliff Lee as well, although that contract represents an enormous obstacle that will almost certainly torpedo any substantive Lee-to-Texas trade talks. And, second, it's interesting that Sullivan says that a couple of good rehab appearances from Neftali Feliz and a strong showing from Roy Oswalt before the deadline "would assuage the need to do something before Tuesday." I could be wrong about this, but I really don't think that a couple of minor, short-run successes like Oswalt and Feliz pitching well over the next week would be something that would materially impact the Rangers' longer-range plans, or their level of motivation to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter.
● This point isn't directly related to the ongoing fallout from the Colby Lewis injury, but ESPN.com's Keith Law has ranked the top 10 prospects on contending teams -- or teams boasting 15-plus percent probabilities of making the post-season as of this morning -- based on their immediate trade value, and, as expected, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar both found themselves in prominent places on the list, with Olt being ranked No. 5, and Profar netting the expected No. 1 spot:
Too good to trade? Profar looks as if he could step in as a major league shortstop by Opening Day and be league-average or better, with superstar upside. That combination of immediate return and potential peak could make it impossible for Texas to get sufficient return in any deal; they would have to receive more than one established big leaguer with multiple years of control remaining to come close to the potential value of the first six years of Profar's career.
I realize that there's really no such thing as a truly "untouchable" prospect -- even young talents held in the highest possible esteem can be pried loose with the right return, although you rarely see it happen with guys at the super-elite end of the spectrum -- and that you can tap into Profar's immense value right now if the return is right, but there isn't a single clearly available asset on the trade market right now for which the Rangers would move Profar.
And, clearly, it's not just a matter of ceiling/proximity on Profar, because a large component of his current attractiveness is the projected floor. Even if he didn't fulfill the superstar upside and were to ultimately settle in as, say, a 3-4 win player (probably still too optimistic as a mean expectation, but not completely off the grid), you'd still be missing out on tens of millions of dollars of surplus value that he would generate from the shortstop position over a 6-7 year period (assuming an Elvis Andrus trade, which you would assume would also net quite a bundle of talent), and the current return on a Profar deal would need to be sufficient to properly justify that loss in future value.
Olt is an entirely different matter, though, in that it's virtually impossible for the Rangers to max out his value where their own roster is concerned due to the long-term blockade at third base (Adrian Beltre), and given that he seems to be viewed as a more uncertain commodity on the whole. Yeah, he could be a two-way monster at the hot corner for another team with plus-plus defense and enough actualized power to compensate for the ample amount of miss in his swing, but the range of expected outcomes unquestionably trends lower for Olt than it does for Profar.
And, yeah, Texas could make a go of it with Olt as a four-corners guy who logs only a fraction of his time at third base, and the thought of losing such a nice power/defense package is a painful one, because there are ways that you can slot him into the post-2012 lineup, and there's a chance that the Rangers will rue the day that they hit the 'sell' button on Olt ... but given the emergent present needs of the team, and given that you can likely recoup a very good starting pitcher with a package headlined by Olt, and given what we know about Olt's skill set and post-2012 fit on the team, about the wind really seems to be blowing in the direction of hitting that 'trade Olt' button in the next week.