Almost all Texas Rangers fans can agree on one thing about the 2014 team: a quality starting pitcher needs to be acquired, either through free agency or trade. Depending on the acquisition, this is a move that could transform Texas into league-wide favorites to win the World Series this October.
The team shouldn't just acquire any No. 4 or 5 pitcher—the need exceeds that level of production. Quality is the key word here. Whomever general manager Jon Daniels brings in has to more than marginally improve the rotation. Ideally, the Rangers will get a great No. 2 level pitcher, or a solid No. 3.
Considering the slight availability of free agent pitchers as well as their heavily inflated asking prices, that is a stubborn criteria to try to fill. The trade market is likely more accessible and open, as teams will at least actively listen to offers on most quality pitchers.
But this search will not be easy for Daniels and his front office, and if they truly want to improve the Rangers' rotation, they will have to bend in their concession of big money or a sizable prospect package.
Recently, I've suggested that the Rangers' best free agent option is to sign Ubaldo Jimenez. I argued that his career inconsistency would lower his price to reasonable levels, and for that price—one that I expected would be far less than that of Masahiro Tanaka or Ervin Santana—Jimenez is the best value on the market.
Well, it appears that I underestimated Jimenez' worth—or at least what he thinks he's worth.
According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, h/t to Gavin Ewbank's piece on 101baseballnews.com, Jimenez is seeking a deal around $17-20 million per year for four years.
There's goes my support for him. That's baseline Tanaka money, and Jimenez isn't nearly as good as Tanaka. If or when that price comes down to $7 to $9 million per year for four years, I'll reconsider.
So, here's the free agent pitching situation folks. You've got Tanaka, Santana and Jimenez, and all want way too much money, especially Tanaka, who hasn't thrown a pitch in the major leagues. Santana and Jimenez aren't worth nearly their asking prices and would both cost the Rangers a first round pick.
To the trade market!
Everyone is aware and well-versed in the David Price trade talk. But what about some other options? Here are some others that might be interesting. At this point, considering the free agent market for starters is so frozen, it might be easier for the Rangers to trade for the pitcher they need. They should be open to any and all options.
Note that all of these except Price are speculative. There have been no reports of talks between the Rangers and any of these teams for these pitchers. These are guys the Rangers should at least take a look at however. In comment sections of another article of mine, a few Ranger fans in the B/R community brought up some of them.
David Price - Tampa Bay Rays
He shouldn't be the Rangers' top option, because he is only signed for two more years. This would be a repeat of the Royals-Rays trade for James Shields last offseason, and then some. Yes, he is a Cy Young winner and would solidify the Texas rotation as the best in the American League. But is he worth the price (no pun intended)?
Keep in mind that Daniels has the farm depth to make multiple combinations of deals appealing to Tampa's GM Andrew Friedman. Here's one package that could get Price to Texas.
Texas trades Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas, Joey Gallo, Luke Jackson and Connor Sadzeck to Tampa Bay for David Price.
If the Rangers are willing to include Martin Perez in the deal, they might be able to keep Jackson out of the deal and save him for their farm. This deal might work because the Rays are an organization that sells high on premium talent. They have an uncanny ability to develop young talent—Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson are all examples of this. Price was as well.
They would probably need at least one major-league-ready piece, maybe even two. Here is a situation where I would be okay with signing Kendrys Morales—but only if a trade happened first. Mitch Moreland, as attractive as he is because of his peanuts price, would be a very nice trade chip for Tampa. James Loney is their first baseman, but Moreland could immediately step in at DH and improve their offense.
Only then would I want to sign Morales, but Daniels would still need to play his market a bit. Trading for Price and signing Morales essentially gives the Rangers a tighter two-year window—the two guaranteed years left on Price's contract.
There are two major considerations with a Price trade.
One, the Rangers must decide who is more important to the franchise's long-term success: Profar or Perez. If it's Perez, they'd trade Profar and have to plug in Rougned Odor at second. If it's Profar, they'd trade Perez and get Price in the deal. If I had to choose, I'd be more comfortable trading Profar because Odor is coming up right behind him.
Two, Daniels would need to be supremely confident that Price would sign an extension with the Rangers in two years. This is the single greatest risk to Texas.
After all that said, I'd pass on Price. He is too expensive, and without a guarantee of an extension, the cost is even steeper. I'm not sure the Rangers need someone of his caliber anyway.
Chris Sale - Chicago White Sox
Let's just say that he'll cost far more than Price. Why? Because not only is he three years younger, but he is currently signed for twice as long as Price. He won't be a free agent till 2018, and he's only making $32.5 million over that time. He might be the single best bargain in baseball not named Mike Trout.
So then, I don't think you really want to know what it will take to pry him from Chicago. I would love to have the guy, but I think we are all dreaming here.
Here is a bit more realistic option that one of my readers brought up to me.
Clay Buchholz - Boston Red Sox
He makes perfect sense for the Rangers. The Red Sox have a wealth of starting pitching—five of them with whom they should feel comfortable starting a postseason game. The Rangers have a need for a quality starter. Buchholz is signed through 2016, and has two option years that could keep him signed through 2018 and is affordable throughout that period.
His most expensive years are his two option years, when he'll make $13 million and $13.5 million, respectively, if the options are picked up.
I think this is a situation where Buchholz is making just enough over the next two years, $19.7 million, to make him expendable for the right deal. Boston has several guys coming off the books next season—including Jon Lester, and they'll want to extend him for sure.
That'll be a hefty price. Boston's payroll is already in the stratosphere. If they sign Stephen Drew, it'll be even higher. It's reasonable to assume that they might want to shed some payroll if possible, knowing they will have to extend several guys after next year. Also, Boston might want to pursue other free agent talent in the next two to three years.
Additionally, Buchholz represents the caliber pitcher that the Rangers actually need to have a World Series-level rotation. He isn't a David Price or Chris Sale, but he's also better than Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. He is the Red Sox's No. 4 starter, but that rotation is highly interchangeable.
If manager John Farrell wanted, he could successfully slide Buchholz into Boston's No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Jon Lester.
Aside from that, he is a Texas native and is on the right side of 30. I can't imagine that he wouldn't have any interest in pitching in Texas all the time.
One problem: In this scenario, Daniels is trading directly to another strong World Series contender. The road to the Series undoubtedly goes through Boston. This is a move that could come back and pester the Rangers a bit, should these teams see each other in the ALCS. Is Buchholz worth the risk then?
I believe he is. He's had winning seasons every year since 2009, and went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 173.2 innings in 2010. Last season, one shortened by injury, he went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts. But he might have been the best pitcher in the AL for the first two months of the year before he went down.
Keep in mind that Buchholz should be much cheaper than Price. He doesn't have a Cy Young and isn't an ace. Here's a package I'd offer Boston for him. Also he's coming off a year in which he only made 16 starts due to injury. That could be a potential leverage point for Daniels in any trade talks for him.
Texas trades Alexi Ogando, Luke Jackson and Luis Sardinas for Clay Buchholz, with Texas eating all of his owed salary.
I would prefer not to give up Ogando for his versatility. But he's a piece that Boston could either plug into the bullpen with his velocity, or make him a sixth starter type. Luke Jackson is that young talented pitching prospect that would be attractive to a team with a somewhat aging rotation. Sardinas adds nice infield depth to their system.
Gallo and Odor should be off limits. I don't think Buchholz will be able to command prospects of that level beyond Jackson and Sardinas.
Remember, the Rangers would be in control of Buchholz for the next four seasons. He's talented and affordable, and he keeps the ball down, working low in the zone. Over his seven-year career, he's only given up 72 homers. He'd fit in Arlington.
Again, this is just some speculation at a time when the Rangers news lines are a bit quiet. Nothing that I've mentioned is certain or even likely. I haven't seen any reports that Daniels has contacted the Red Sox about the status of Buchholz. But I have to think that Boston GM Ben Cherington would at least listen to an offer.
Rather, these are just some more alternative options to consider when thinking about the Rangers' need for another quality starter.
*All stats and contract details, courtesy of baseball-reference.com