On May 9th the Rangers fell 7-2 to the visiting A’s, losing their 11th game in 15 days and completing the destruction of the 9-1 start to the season.  Texas now sat 18-18 and found themselves in 3rd place in the AL West behind both the A’s and Angels.

Lack of offense, not enough timely hitting, too many batters reaching base with two outs instead of less than two, starting pitching not going deep enough, or bullpen giving up too many inherited runners.  Whatever you want to pinpoint as the problem, it was evident to all watching and listening, that Texas needed a turn-around. 

In the 12 games since the Rangers have notched seven wins, not included is the wash-away 7-0 lead on the A’s, and regained first place in the division. 

The hitting has slowly begun to come around and  just recently received a huge energy boost with the activation of both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz from the DL on Monday the 23rd.  In their return both players clubbed home runs in the effort to get Alexi Ogando his fifth win and first career complete game, shutout. 

So hitting is slowly, but seemingly surely coming back to life…check!

In the past 12 games Ranger starters have thrown 86.2 innings, that’s just under 7.1 innings pitched per outing.  They have a combined 1.77 ERA and have held opponents to a .211 batting average.  All this highlighted by back-to-back shutouts of the Phillies and White Sox, in fact the starters held the mighty Philly lineup to five runs in three games.

So the starting pitchers are once again a strong point and going much deeper into games…check!

That leaves us with the third and final piece to the puzzle…the bullpen.  There are some good signs with closer Neftali Feliz returning from the DL and getting his first save on Sunday since returning.  Or the re-emergence of Mark Lowe, who has pitched well enough lately to earn a shot at the setup role in the 7th or 8th innings.  Or the strong performance from Dave Bush in the 8th inning on Friday in Philadelphia .  Maybe even look at the promotion of Japanese sidewinder Yoshinori Tateyama who has been very solid at AAA Round Rock.  All of these are good signs, but in my opinion it’s still not enough.   

Now before I delve into options that the Rangers could look into and some possible trade talk starters, let me first state that I don’t believe anything is done in the month of May.  In fact, I believe my son will be born before any Ranger, major league worthy, trades occur.  His due date is June 17th.  This of course can change within a week depending upon how the bullpen performs, but with the starters going deeper and deeper into games, I’m optimistic about the effects that will have on the ‘pen.  I fully expect Jon Daniels to add at least one; I’m predicting two arms to the Rangers bullpen by the July 31st trade deadline.  My main reason for why later than sooner is that there really aren’t that many teams ready to throw in the towel and start working toward 2012, aside from the Padres, Twins, and Astros.  By mid- or late-June the White Sox, Royals, Mariners, Cubs, and Pirates are likely to be added to that list.  There is plenty of relief help amongst those teams, but Texas right now needs to be smart and patient and wait out these recent troubles…think Jedi.

Over the next few weeks to couple months here are some of the names that are likely to be tossed out as potential trade possibilities:

This past weekend began the rumor mill as there were multiple reports that tied the Rangers and the Pirates together.  This was centered on Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan who is once again having a very solid year.  But the talks quickly fell apart as the Pirates want a “significant piece” in return.  Sorry Pittsburgh, we are not there yet.

All season there has been speculation that the Padres would likely trade away closer Heath Bell, who has an expiring contract.  And now with the Friars sitting at 19-29, 9 games behind the Giants, I honestly don’t see a scenario in which Bell is in San Diego on August 1st.  Plus, there is some growing rumbling that the Padres might also trade setup man Mike Adams as well.  This one really makes me smile, as I’m personally really high on Adams .  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to get Bell , even better to get them both.  But compare Adams to Bell and throw in the fact that Bell is already an established closer, and getting Adams would be a lot cheaper (plus Adams is under control through 2012).

            Through May 22nd:

            Heath Bell – 16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9 saves, 12 Ks, 6 BB

            Mike Adams – 21.2 IP, 1.25 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 8 holds, 21 Ks, 2 BB

 

With the horrid start to their season the Minnesota Twins are likely to become sellers in the very near future, so watch for their closer Matt Capps to hit the market and garner a lot of attention.

These are the four guys that will likely get the bulk of attention but also keep an ear out for Luke Gregerson (SD), Joe Nathan (MIN), Jeff Fulchino (HOU), Brandon Lyon (HOU), Matt Thornton (CWS), Robinson Tejeda (KC), Brandon League (SEA), Chris Ray (SEA), Jamey Wright (SEA), David Aardsma (SEA), Kerry Wood (CHC), and Joe Beimel (PIT).  Now I understand some of these pitchers are currently on the DL, but watch for them to return and if they quickly establish themselves, be traded for something in return.  Many teams will pay for potential when it comes to the trade deadline and making the postseason. 

Now before I look at potential options for the Rangers, we need to establish what tradable material is.  There are going to be countless teams that approach the Rangers wanting to get their hands on some of the top talent, but it won’t happen.  Last year Texas got players like Bengie Molina, Jeff Francouer, Jorge Cantu, and Cristian Guzman while only giving away players like Michael Main, Omar Beltre, Evan Reed, and Ryan Tatusko.  Nothing from the top tier talent was touched. 

However, in order to land some of these top relief pitchers it might cost some tier-two prospects and I expect names like Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, Pedro Strop, Michael Kirkman, Ramon Aguero, Miguel de los Santos, Leury Garcia, Engel Beltre, Endy Chavez, and Craig Gentry to be mentioned on a regular basis.  I do understand that there are some solid prospects that still have some major upside amongst those names, but I would gladly trade away any and every single one of those players to acquire pitching relief if it means these guys aren’t touched: Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Erlin, Robbie Ross, Joe Wieland, David Perez, Neil Ramirez, Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, and Leonys “Cohiba” Martin. 

Again, before you completely criticize my first lists of ten players, read over the second list of ten and think about how much better of our farm system and organization will be with those second ten still on the upward climb to Arlington .

Quick analysis on why some of those first ten players are there: 1) Davis might have run his course with Texas and is likely destined to be the centerpiece in a trade to a NL team; first base is now Michael Young and Mitch Moreland country, while third base is Adrian Beltre’s.  This, I believe, has been proven by his demotion back to AAA, time to show off the numbers and ability to play 1B and 3B, and then capitalize on him.  2) I’m not a fan of Strop, too much of a head case and not enough consistent control, time to get the most we can for him.  3) Kirkman can still fetch a hefty price, but his recent move back to the bullpen was done to show his versatility or as a late season left-handed option. 4) I like E. Beltre, Chavez, and Gentry, but I like Cohiba a whole lot more.  No need for four potential CFs (five, if you include Julio Borbon), time to cut ties with two of them.

Finally, here are a few trade ideas that could be good ways to start off the conversation of bring these players to Texas by the end of July: 

  • PIT trades: CP Joel Hanrahan, SP Kevin Correia, and OF Matt Diaz

             TEX trades: 1B/3B Chris Davis, RHP Pedro Strop, and C Tomas Telis

  • MIN trades: CP Matt Capps

             TEX trades: SS Leury Garcia and RHP Pedro Strop

                                 OR

  • MIN trades: CP Matt Capps and SP Francisco Liriano

            TEX trades: LHP Michael Kirkman, RHP Pedro Strop, OF Engel Beltre

  • HOU trades: CF Michael Bourn and RHP Brandon Lyon (currently on DL)

            TEX trades: RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Ramon Aguero, and OF Julio Borbon

  • CWS trades: SP John Danks and LHP Matt Thornton

            TEX trades: LHP Michael Kirkman, RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Ramon Aguero, and OF Engel Beltre

 

            Finally, my favorite…

  • SD trades: CP Heath Bell and RHP Mike Adams

             TEX trades: 1B/3B Chris Davis, RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Miguel de los Santos, and RHP Ramon Aguero. 

That last one would make the back end of the Rangers pitching staff: Feliz, Bell , Adams , and Mark Lowe.  That’s a bullpen!

There is a lot that can still happen between now and July 31st, but I’m comfortable enough to say that one thing is for sure: the makeup of the Rangers bullpen will be changing, and for the better.