Pros, Cons Of Potential Starting Pitcher Acquisitions

While we wait for the decision on whether Yang Hyeon-Jong's Korean team accepts Texas's $1.5 million bid, we instead settle on news that the Rangers have signed RHP Ross Wolf (who pitched for the Rangers in 2013) and infielder Ed Lucas (who was recently designated for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster) to minor league deals with invites to spring training. 

Other than that, we're all playing the waiting game until the Winter Meetings get underway. But while we wait, in the spirit of the offseason, let's speculate on some pitchers the Rangers might be interested in, shall we?

1. Jordan Zimmerman: Of all the starters pitching on one-year deals in 2015, Zimmerman is probably the most interesting; he's a legit number two coming coming off his best season (+5.2 fWAR in 199.2 IP), combining a solid 22.8% strikeout rate with a minuscule 3.6% walk rate on his way to a 2.66 ERA (3.10 xFIP). He would look excellent sandwiched between Yu Darvish and Derek Holland in the rotation. The downside? He's owed $16.5 million in 2015, a figure he should outproduce, but would leave Texas with very little money leftover this offseason. 

2. Mat Latos: Latos seemed to have the pedigree of a fringe-ace... a big fastball and a power slider that induced nice strikeout numbers before last year. Then, last year happened. He threw only 102.1 innings and his strikeout rate went way down along with his velocity (averaging 90.1 MPH compared to a career average of around 94). He's projected to earn $8.4 million through arbitration in 2015, and would be an interesting buy-low candidate if the Rangers believe his 2014 performance was due more to injury than a sign of things to come. 

3. Ian Kennedy: Last week I wrote of the Rangers purported interest in Kennedy, an affordable #3 who makes up in durability and consistency what he lacks in overall dominance. But that's what he's supposed to be, no? He won't cost a lot in terms of prospects and it's only a one-year commitment. The relative safety he offers compared to the rest of this group make him the most realistic, albeit boring, option on this list. 

4. Andrew Cashner: Cash is cheap, controllable for two seasons rather than one, and has a checkered injury history. Doesn't he sound like the perfect fit for the Rangers? I think so. In spite of his decent peripherals (career 18.4%/7.6% K/BB rates) and excellent lifetime GB rate (50.9%), the Padres have to view him like a pitcher with some untapped potential, therefore the asking price will be pretty steep. He has more value to San Diego right now than any other team in the league. 

5. Johnny Cueto: I used to be curious who would end up as a better big league pitcher, Cueto or ex-Red, ex-Ranger Edinson Volquez. Johnny erased those thoughts almost immediately. Since 2010 he has generated +14.5 fWAR (+2.9 fWAR/year), though he's missed some time over that stretch due to injury. His full season averages make him closer to a 4-win pitcher than a 3-win pitcher, though he's eclipsed the 200-inning plateau only twice in his career. When he's healthy, he's a low-one/high-two type starter, meaning Cincinnati shouldn't let him go for anything less than one of the Rangers top-3 prospects, but because of that fact he seems like a long-shot to end up in Arlington in 2015. 

6. Tyson Ross: Who isn't available to be traded for from the Padres rotation? Ross is coming off an excellent year for San Diego (2.66 ERA in 195 IP), conflating a robust ground ball rate (57%) with a strong 24% strikeout rate; pitchers normally don't do that. Most strikeout pitchers are fly ball pitchers. Since he isn't arbitration eligible until after 2015 -- meaning he still has three years of team control -- it immediately makes him the most valuable of the Padres' troika of starters. With Kennedy and Cashner being far more likely acquisitions, Tyson Ross's value to Texas would be far greater, since he would be in the rotation -- along with Holland and Martin Perez -- through the Yu Darvish Championship Window. I'm skeptical that Jon Daniels would be willing to part with the kind of young talent in would take to get Ross, but it would make a lot of sense. The Rangers would essentially have to forget about the starting rotation until 2017.

7. Cole Hamels: If Philadelphia waits a year, JD will be all over him. He's a #1 starter, he's left-handed, and he would -- don't kill me for saying this -- make re-signing Darvish less of a priority in the short-term. Unfortunately, the Red Sox and Cubs, who have the prospects to shed and can absorb Hamels's contract right now, are involved in the trade bidding. From the Rangers-fan-perspective, we can only pray that Ruben Amaro's asking price will be too high this winter and the subsequent trade deadline that follows in July, that he gets fired next offseason, and the new GM will be willing to ship Hamels to Texas. For the now, it just doesn't make sense. 

I deal cards at the casino, but I'll always be a gambler first. If I had to place odds on the Rangers acquiring any one of these starting pitchers, I wouldn't place better than 20:1 odds on anyone not named Ian Kennedy. He remains the most likely candidate to get traded for, particularly taking the payroll into consideration. 

However, if I was putting odds on Texas trading for one out of these seven, I think that's pretty likely. Maybe 5:1 or better. That's something, I guess. 

Report: Rangers Submit Top Bid for Korean Pitcher

According to multiple sources on Twitter, the Rangers submitted the highest bid for Korean pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong. While earlier reports had Minnesota with the high bid, new reports are coming out of Korean media outlets that it was, in actuality, the Rangers.

Yang, 26, is a left-handed pitcher with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and was the top pitcher in the Korean League last season. While his 4.25 ERA doesn't sound too impressive on the surface, it's well below the league average for a hitter-friendly league, and depending on where you look, is projected to be something of a mid-to-back of the rotation starter.

In other words, he could certainly fill a hole that the Rangers will undoubtedly be looking to fill over the winter, and potentially at a cheaper price than many of the free agent or trade targets that were previously on the radar.

According to reports, the posting fee is believed to be around $1.5 million. If the Kia Tigers accept the amount, the Rangers would then have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Yang, a process many Rangers fans may remember from the way in which the club acquired Yu Darvish prior to the 2012 season.

Only time will tell, but if things fall into place, the Rangers may be able to cross another item off of their offseason to-do list, an item that figured to be of significant importance in relation to the other items on that list.

Rangers apparently interested in Justin Upton

This is a couple days old, but still worth mentioning: Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that the Rangers have inquired on the Braves' Justin Upton, which doesn't come as a shock given the amount of times they've tried to trade for him in the past. Lonestarball's Adam Morris recounts Texas's near-trade for him back when he was with the Diamondbacks, but more recently -- something I forgot -- in 2013 when they attempted to shovel Matt Garza, Joe Nathan and David Murphy onto Atlanta in exchange.

Again, it's not surprising Texas are interested. Even I mentioned him as a possible trade target a couple weeks ago, so this isn't exactly rocket science we're talking about. The Rangers need a middle-of-the-order bat who plays corner outfield, and Justin Upton is really good. It's as simple as that. 

What isn't so simple is the money involved, or the game of musical chairs Jon Daniels is going to have to play with his roster to get Upton in return. There's the money aspect, sure -- Justin is owed $14.5 million in 2015 before becoming a free agent after the year -- but there is also the philosophical quandary of what prospects are an organization willing to give up for one year of a really good player? 

According to Sherman's source, the Braves are "requesting a higher return" for Upton than they recently received from the Cardinals for Jason Heyward, which is fine. They can ask for the moon if that's what they really want; it doesn't mean they're going to get it.

The problem with such an asking price -- better than four years of Shelby Miller control and a pretty good pitching prospect to boot -- is that Justin Upton is (a) not as good of a player as Heyward and (b) costs more money. That isn't the recipe for netting a more substantial return, which is why the absolute ceiling for Upton in a trade is a controllable mid-rotation starter and a pretty good prospect. That is not insignificant, but that is all. 

Dave Cameron has a nice article up on FanGraphs explaining why Upton shouldn't cost more than Heyward, and concludes it by saying, "Any team that pays the Heyward price for one year of Justin Upton will likely end up regretting it." Cameron isn't exactly the god of analysis, but I believe he's on point here. 

Part of the allure of Justin Upton, at least from the Rangers' front office perspective, is the idea that he would be playing in a contract year and the possibility that they would be able to extend his contract at some point during the season. With inflation and the cost of each WAR going through the roof, he's almost assuredly going to be a $20 million-plus AAV outfielder once he hits the free agent market, but this is the Rangers we're talking about and they have some bucks to play with after 2015. 

Still, the questions remain: How much do you pay for one year of Justin Upton? How do the Rangers view themselves on the win curve next year? Adding Upton makes sense in that it will make Texas four of five wins better in 2015, but of what value does that hold if it's only going to bring them up to 83 or 84 wins? If they make this trade, based off the $20 million or so they are perceived to have at their disposal this offseason, they would essentially be shutting down their winter. Sign Upton, sign Colby Lewis, and then have another $2-3 million to find another pitcher? I don't know. 

Something is taking place behind closed doors. I don't know about it; you don't know about it; we'll have to wait and see. Justin Upton would be an impressive addition to the lineup, but at how much he's due to make in 2015 conflated by the cost in prospects it's probably going to take to get him, smart money is on Texas passing on the asking price, even if comparable options are bleak elsewhere. 

Rangers Make Handful Of Roster Moves

With Thursday being the deadline for MLB teams to finalize their 40-man rosters -- to protect players from the upcoming Rule-5 Draft -- the Texas Rangers made a flurry of roster moves. Per John Blake, Texas have added catcher Jorge Alfaro, middle infielder Hanser Alberto, and pitchers Luke Jackson and Jerad Eikoff to the major league roster.

To create space on the 40-man roster, they traded outfielder Daniel Robertson, whom they acquired last season from San Diego, to the Angels for cash considerations or a player to be named later, and are in the process of selling RHP Miles Mikolas and LHP Aaron Poreda to Japan. According to T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers are looking to do the same with outfielder Jim Adduci. 

At this point most of you are already familiar with Alfaro -- one of Texas's vaunted trio of top prospects -- and RHP Luke Jackson, the hard-throwing righty who more likely than not is going to end up in the Ranger bullpen, perhaps as early as next summer. Hanser Alberto gets lost in the doldrums of all the infield talent currently in the organization, but from a prospect standpoint the only thing you really need to know is he has a slick glove and no real bat to speak of. Essentially he's a reasonable facsimile for Luis Sardinas, though he isn't the type of prospect Sardinas is. 

Eikoff is a bit of a lesser-known, but from what I can tell from his FanGraphs page he is a fringe-average prospect who is a healthy bet to make a couple spot starts next season. Nothing sexy to see here. 

What I find more interesting is how many players the Rangers are selling. I just did a quick Internet search but couldn't find anything worthwhile, but I'm genuinely curious to know how much money MLB teams get in return for selling players to Japan. From what I could gather, the average salary for professional Japanese baseball players is around $400K (US currency), so if the Texas are selling Mikolas and Poreda, and possibly Adduci, how much would they be getting in return? $200K a pop? If you know the answer, I'd appreciate it. 

Daniel Robertson isn't the type of player or prospect the Rangers could receive anything worthwhile for in return, so my best guess is they'll take the cash over the PTBNL. If they successfully sell the rights of those four players, my best guess is that they'll have another $1 million or so to play with. 

It's not substantial in baseball terms, but given that I can't think of another time the Rangers have sold this many players in one offseason, it sort of highlights what many have believed to be true all along: That Texas are actively pinching pennies this offseason. 

Offseason Hot Stove: Rangers Interested in Ian Kennedy

Calvin Watkins writes that the Texas Rangers are interested in Padres' RHP Ian Kennedy, someone I've noted multiple times that makes a lot of sense for the vacated #3 spot in the starting rotation next year.  Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects Kennedy to earn $10.3 million in 2015, his final arbitration year before becoming a free agent after the season. 

Save about 40 innings with the Yankees between 2008 and '09, Ian has pitched exclusively in the National League -- the NL West, to be specific -- since 2010. Surprisingly, among pitchers who have been in the NL over that time frame, Kennedy has been the 12th-most valuable pitcher in the league, generating +13.6 fWAR (about +2.7/year) in route to a 3.81 ERA (3.86 xFIP). His peripherals don't exactly jump out at you; he has a career 21.3% strikeout rate to go with an 8% walk rate -- in line with most mid-rotation starters -- but he makes up for it in durability: In the last five years he is one of only three NL pitchers to log north of 1,000 innings, along with Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels. 

What Kennedy lacks in the sexy department he compensates for with consistency. In the last five years he's produced +2.9, +0.5, +2.9, +4.9 and +2.4 fWAR, respectively. Given the volatility of starting pitching, we can forgive his replacement-level 2013 campaign in the same vein we can admit he probably overachieved in his 4th-place Cy Young Award +4.9 fWAR season in 2011. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the middle of the Rangers rotation is exactly where Kennedy is supposed to fit in 2015. No one will complain if he produces his typical +2.5-3.0 wins next year. That's what we need him for. 

This goes without mentioning, until now, of course, the perceived relationship between Jon Daniels and new Padres GM A.J. Preller. The marriage just makes too much sense. Texas are clearly in the market for rotation help, and by dealing with the Rangers -- and a farm system he's undeniably familiar with and largely responsible for -- it's beneficial for Preller to pick and choose from there. It helps Daniels that he basically has an automatic trade partner in the opposite league, but it's equally damning that A.J. Preller has more knowledge of Rangers minor leaguers than any other team in baseball. He isn't likely to miss on the prospects he covets in a return for Ian Kennedy, who is, along with Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, the least valuable of the starters on San Diego's trade block.  

Kennedy isn't going to wow you by anything he does on the mound, but if you slot him behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, in front of Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch, at the very least it fortifies Texas's rotation in 2015. Yeah, there's the upside of having a pitcher in a contract year with the thought that he can outperform his projections, but more realistically you're looking at an innings-eater who will generate a couple wins above replacement, giving you something in the neighborhood of a 4.00 ERA over 200 innings. 

That's nothing special in the modern pitching climate, but it's something the Rangers need desperately, and at around $10 million for only one season, Kennedy provides a reasonable stopgap while Martin Perez's left arm improves.