While I've known, intellectually, that the Rangers' #5 starter spot is a problem, watching Ross Wolf put the Rangers in a 7-0 hole in two innings of work yesterday really hammered that point home. And sharpened my focus, if you will, on what can or should be done to address the issue.
At this point, there looks like there are four spots in the Ranger rotation that are set: Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez. And Colby Lewis is going to have a rehab start tomorrow night, going 60-65 pitches, and presumably we will have a better handle on how realistic a possibility he would be to join the rotation in August at some point.
Nick Tepesch is on the d.l. and it doesn't look like he'll back back before September. Matt Harrison has just started throwing bullpens, and doesn't look like he's an option until September. Justin Grimm has been banished to the bullpen. Josh Lindblom is in the minors. Neil Ramirez is in AA and looking like he's got a nice future as a reliever.
And there are obviously questions about Ogando and Perez at this point, as well. Ogando hasn't stayed healthy this season, and there's reason to think he might be better served going back to the bullpen rather than sticking in the rotation. And Perez is a 22 year old rookie without a track record of success.
If you knew that Colby Lewis would come back in early August and be, at least, decent, if you knew that Matt Harrison would be back in September, then maybe you'd limp along for now and wait for those guys. I don't know that you've got the luxury of doing that, though.
And that's particularly true given that the Rangers are trying to maintain momentum as an organization, are trying to continue to build on the success of 2010 and 2011. Yes, the Rangers made the playoffs last season, but the "playoffs" consisted of one game, a loss to the Orioles in the Wild Card game on the heels of an embarrassing, historic collapse. One of the factors that I'd wager Jon Daniels and the rest of the front office is taking into account is that they want to maintain a high level of fan enthusiasm and interest in the team, because that translates into more dollars, and more dollars means more money to invest in the minor leagues or in the major league payroll.
A second place finish again this year, failing to make the playoffs in 2013, risks a lot of the local fans shrugging, saying, "Same ol' Rangers...it was a nice run, but they are back to fading in the second half each year..." and seeing ratings and attendance drop off in 2014. It also makes it harder to sell free agents on coming to Texas for the chance to win a title.
As a result, I think this organization is more likely to sacrifice some long-term assets to try to win now than it has been in the previous couple of years. And clearly, they've identified upgrading the starting pitching as a priority.
We know all about the Matt Garza rumors, and the reports that the Rangers were supposedly willing to part with a package of Mike Olt, Luis Sardinas, Neil Ramirez, and C.J. Edwards to get Garza and a second Cub. And while you can't evaluate that deal without knowing who the second player coming to Texas is, just looking at that package Texas would be giving up makes me nauseous.
(And don't suggest Alfonso Soriano would make that deal more attractive...he's owed $18M per season through next year, and has a sub-.300 OBP).
There's also talk that Chicago starter Jake Peavy, fresh off the disabled list, is available, and discussion that the Rangers could look to try to acquire both Peavy and Alex Rios, giving them both the starting pitcher and the righthanded hitter the Rangers want. Of course, that puts them on the hook for $27.5M in salaries for Peavy and Rios for 2014, meaning you are at $115M in contract obligations for 2014 (including arbitration cases), and that means that trading for Peavy and Rios likely means you aren't making any significant moves (at least, significant moves that involve taking on salary) for the 2014 campaign. There's also the issue that Rios isn't anything great, and Peavy has an injury history that is going to make relying on him a concern.
And that's before we even get into the cost, in terms of prospects, of trading for Rios and Peavy. Although, if you wanted to preserve your prospects and are willing to spend more money to keep them, you could consider offering to take Adam Dunn off the hands of the ChiSox if they turn over Peavy and Rios.
In any case, I'm not enthusiastic about the price for Garza, and I'm not all that fired up about Jake Peavy and Alex Rios.
Which leads me to coming around on Bud Norris.
Look, I agree, Norris isn't anything special. And his K rate has cratered this, year, which is a red flag (although his HR rate is also down, and it may be that the two are related). But Norris is someone who can keep you in games, will give you innings, and is under team control for two more years after this year. He's a 2-3 win pitcher, which will suffice for now.
And those two years of control are key. Norris is going to cost more than if he were just a rental because of those two years. But my guess is that he still costs less than Matt Garza. And Norris gives you flexibility going into the offseason...if you want to keep Perez in the rotation, put Ogando back in the pen and let Joe Nathan walk after the season, Norris can plug into the rotation as your #4 starter. On the other hand, if you want to go hard to try to sign, say, Matt Garza this offseason, or trade for a David Price, Norris has value as a cheap, controllable arm that you could move to another team, and likely recoup most of the value you give up now in terms of prospects.
It depends on the cost, of course, and I have no idea what the Astros would want for Norris. But at this point, I'm starting to think that, if we are going to trade for a starting pitcher, Norris might be the best choice.