Christmas Eve stuff

Obviously, there's just a couple of things that are that important today to touch base on.  But I'm going to touch base on thing at length...this is going to be one of the longer news-related posts that I've done in a while...

Getting the quick one out of the way, Jon Daniels said yesterday that he wasn't encouraged about the Rangers' chances of signing Barry Zito.  

It is surprisingly to hear Daniels say something like that at this point of the process, but then, he's also seemingly tacitly acknowledging that the Rangers aren't going to give Zito the 6 years, $100 million that it was thought it would take to get him to Texas.

And it also seems to suggest that the Rangers believe that their role in this process has been to try to allow Scott Boras to leverage more money out of the Mets...remember, Barry Zito said that he wasn't even interested in talking to the Rangers until they hired Ron Washington.

The Rangers appear to have gone strong after Barry Zito, and if they have made a $75-80 million offer (presumably over 5 years), then you can't legitimately complain that they are being cheap.  It just looks like it isn't going to be a fit.

Which brings us to the Brandon McCarthy/John Danks deal.  And the irony here is that Danks, of course, is also represented by Boras (which, for the record, I think was irrelevant as far as this trade goes), and that Danks' upside is probably Barry Zito.

This is a tough trade to digest, and as a Rangers fan, it particularly is hard because Danks is a guy a lot of us have been following since he joined the organization.  A native of Round Rock, a guy who has been hyped -- and lived up to the hype -- a guy who looked like he was going to be the best pitcher that the Rangers had drafted and developed since Kevin Brown.  

Jerry Seinfeld famously claimed that when you are a sports fan, you are just rooting for laundry -- the uniforms that the guys are wearing, regardless of who is in them.  But I think the stomach-punch reaction that a lot of Rangers fans -- myself included -- had when they saw that Danks had been dealt gives the lie to that statement.  

The emotional element out of the way, I can see why the Rangers made this deal, and I can see why it makes sense for the organization.  The Rangers gave up one of their top two pitching prospects, along with a guy who had been a bit of an enigma but who seemed to be putting it together as a relief prospect, to land a pitcher thought to be one of the best young pitchers in baseball.

Let's be clear...there was no way you could have gotten Brandon McCarthy for John Danks and Nick Masset at this time last year.  

Part of that has to do with McCarthy's uneven performance out of the pen last year, and the appearance that his gopher problems may keep him from being the top-of-the-rotation starter so many thought he could be (although it is worth noting that US Cellular is even more homer-friendly than TBIA).

Part of that has to do with Danks', and especially Masset's, progress over the past year.  Masset, remember, had an awful 2005 season, posting an ERA over 6 for Frisco, and getting dropped from the 40 man roster in the middle of the 2005 season, going through waivers unclaimed.  He bounced back in 2006, posting a 2.06 ERA in AA, a 4.81 ERA in AAA, getting a cup of coffee with the Rangers, and impressing folks in winter ball.

I have to wonder, though, if folks are getting too worked up over his winter ball performance...I remember, a couple of years ago, Agustin Montero getting a 40 man roster spot and a lot of hype because he was dominating winter ball.  Masset may turn into a quality reliever...but he turns 25 in May, he's out of options after the 2007 season, and his recent track record is too erratic for me to have a lot of faith that he's going to be the real deal out of the pen.

And again, if he is, that is an area where the Rangers have a ton of depth, and can afford to move someone to get someone like McCarthy.

Another reason that I don't think this trade could have happened a year ago is that, a year ago, Kenny Williams hadn't developed his enormous mancrush on John Danks and Nick Masset.  You've heard Danks and Masset linked to the ChiSox all winter, with the Chicago papers saying that those are the two guys Williams coveted (along with, of course, Michael Young) from the Rangers.  

And I think this may be a situation like the Adam Eaton trade, except in reverse.  Last year, the Rangers apparently decided that they absolutely had to have Adam Eaton, and were bound and determined to put together a deal that landed him here.  That resulted in the worst trade in Jon Daniels' tenure with Texas, and a deal that could well be one of the five worst in Ranger history.

This year, Kenny Williams seemingly decided he had to have John Danks and Nick Masset.  And to land those two guys, he was willing to give up a pitcher whom the ChiSox have carefully nurtured along, a guy whose presence supposedly allowed them to deal Freddy Garcia (and would have allowed them to deal Jon Garland), a guy who BP ranked as the #23 prospect in baseball in 2005 (the pitchers ahead of him -- King Felix, Jeff Francis, Scott Kazmir, Yusmiero Petit, Jered Weaver, and Chad Billingsley).

All last summer, you heard that the two guys in Chicago who were untouchable were Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy.  And McCarthy is now the Rangers' #3 starter...something that wouldn't have happened if Williams hadn't fallen in love with Danks and Masset.

I saw McCarthy compared to Chris Young elsewhere this morning, and while I like Chris Young (and hated the trade that sent him away), I also see McCarthy as having a lot more upside and being much more likely to head up a rotation than Young, who always seemed like more of a solid #3/#4 starter to me.

But the reason why the Rangers made this deal is twofold, I think.  First, like Young, McCarthy should be able to step into a rotation and be a #3/#4 starter right now, something that John Danks was probably a little ways away from.

And number two, Brandon McCarthy has the upside of being a legit #1, a true top-of-the-rotation, build your playoff schedule around him ace starter.  

As good a prospect as John Danks is -- and just about everyone seems to think that he's going to be a good major league pitcher -- I don't think he's perceived as having the ceiling that McCarthy does.  Like McCarthy, Danks has a reputation for being a bit homer prone, but Danks isn't viewed as being the strikeout pitcher that McCarthy can be.  The Rangers are giving up a guy that, I think, they believe will be a good #3 starter for a guy they believe can be a legit ace.

Something Daniels made clear at the press conference yesterday is that he doesn't want to go into every offseason trying to scrounge up two or three starting pitchers.  And with this deal, the Rangers have three guys -- McCarthy, Millwood and Padilla -- that I think they believe should be solid starting pitchers for the next three seasons.

And if that is the case, all of the sudden, the Rangers are no longer out there trying to find a Jeff Suppan or a Ted Lilly every year.  Instead, they are looking to fill out the last two slots of the rotation...and with the pitching prospects that the Rangers still have coming up, even after this trade, they are probably optimistic that they can do that internally.

And thus, the Rangers go from a team persistently seeking free agent starting pitching to a team that is going to be out of the starting pitching market for the next couple of years.

Something else to think about...is the package the Rangers gave up -- Danks, Masset and Rasner -- that much more valuable, and than the package the Astros gave up (Tavares, Hirsh, and Buchholz) for Jason Jennings, a nice middle of the rotation starter who is a free agent after the season?  I don't believe it is.  

Anyway...looking at the Chicago papers, Phil Rogers isn't a fan of the deal, saying that the ChiSox are making themselves worse right now so that they can afford to let their veteran starters walk after the next couple of seasons:

It's surprising the Sox would trade a 23-year-old with the potential to win 15 to 18 games every year. It's not shocking, however, with veterans Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez still in the rotation.

But it would have seemed more logical to use McCarthy as a chip that would bring back a significant outfielder, like the Devil Rays' Rocco Baldelli or the Blue Jays' Alex Rios. To trade your one young starter after you've just seemed to have opened a spot in the rotation for him, and to get back only unproven players, well, that takes chutzpah.

Williams still could use the surplus of pitching prospects he has created to pull off a trade that brings immediate improvement to one of three positions: left field, center field or shortstop. But the reality is he has now made four trades since November without addressing his most glaring needs.

On the surface, the McCarthy deal is another part of the Williams/Jerry Reinsdorf plan to replace, rather than re-sign, Buehrle, Garland and Vazquez (along with the recently departed Freddy Garcia) before the 2009 season. This is a despicable plan, not just because it puts economics ahead of competitiveness but because it guarantees that guys who brought a World Series parade to Chicago are going to be leaving town too soon, maybe still in their primes.

When this organizational strategy was revealed this month, I used the word "arrogant" to describe it. Williams, however, believes he is merely being "prudent" and "forward-thinking" to get ahead of a pitching market that is throwing big four- and five-year contracts at No. 3 and No. 4 starters.

Mark Gonzalez has a piece in the Chicago Tribune, saying that the ChiSox had started scouting the Ranger system last summer, quoting Williams as saying he was "bowled over" by the Rangers offer, and reminding us that the ChiSox developed a relationship with the Danks' family when they drafted Jordan Danks, who ultimately went to the University of Texas.

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