Given the chance to talk about the Texas Rangers’ forecast for the free-agent market this off-season, general manager Jon Daniels has quickly guided the questions toward the potential fruit that could be plucked via trades.
The Rangers, Daniels has said for at least the past six weeks, aren’t going to be players when it comes to the big names in free agency. That’s status quo for the close-to-the-vest Daniels, who has balked at free agency early in past off-seasons only to later make a significant splash.
He seems serious this time, especially in light of the Rangers having only $15 million to spend, barring a trade of a high-priced salaried player. But don’t expect a trade to come together as quickly as the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler deal did a year ago this week.
The general rule of thumb is that a trade takes more than the 48 to 72 hours it took for the Rangers and Detroit to swap All-Stars, but not as long as the six weeks it took to acquire Josh Hamilton from Cincinnati in 2007 for Edinson Volquez and Danny Ray Herrera.
Another general rule of thumb is that the process of piecing together a trade picked up steam during the annual GM meetings, which ended Thursday at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.
“I think the trade market is going to be pretty active this winter,” Daniels said. “You look around at different teams, and there are some clear needs and clear areas of depth.”
But they have already tended to the first step all teams take in the off-season, by looking over their roster and assessing team needs. The Rangers need starting pitching and a second catcher, and should strike if a power-hitting left fielder becomes available.
Daniels and crew have also looked over the rosters of other clubs to see who has enough depth at the Rangers’ need positions and players the Rangers like enough to make a deal.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, and Braves have a surplus of outfielders. The San Diego Padres have young, controllable starting pitchers who can be had. The Rangers, meanwhile, have a glut of middle infielders and also believe they have quality young major leaguers and depth in the minors for teams looking to rebuild or unload.
Then, it’s time to pick up the phone, or maybe shoot off a text. Daniels said he has already initiated talks with clubs, but even those conversations start out dealing in generalities before getting to the point.
“It’s pretty much what fits and what doesn’t fit,” Atlanta Braves vice president John Hart said. “You can get to the bottom of it pretty quick as to whether you’re a trade partner or not.”
If the teams think there might be a match, the scouts get involved again. They reaffirm that the players targeted are indeed who they want. They look at which bit pieces in the deal would be the best fit and which players being dealt away would hurt the least.
Daniels and the front-office types begin assessing the value of a proposal, and what the impact of acquiring, say, a young controllable pitcher such as the Padres’ Andrew Cashner or the Braves’ catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis for prospects would have on the rotation as well as the farm system.
If it’s a high-priced veteran being offered, Daniels and crew have to determine how much of the contract they want to pay and if asking the trade partner to pick up a chunk of money is worth the quality of players the Rangers would have to surrender.
A proposal, of course, takes on many forms and has had many alterations before it gets to the finish line, like the Michael Choice-Craig Gentry swap last year with Oakland.
“The Choice-Gentry deal was a three-way at one point and took on some different looks over time,” Daniels said.
Chances are a trade proposal won’t get to the finish line.
The vast majority of trade talks end up going nowhere, which make pulling off a deal far more complicated than negotiating with a free agent.
But the work of a successful trade can have more value to the franchise than the alternative.
“Just by nature free agents are going to cost more money,” Daniels said.
Clearly, the Rangers are going to have to sign some free agents. That most likely starts with re-signing right-hander Colby Lewis, with whom the Rangers have had contact while he tests the open market.
But in listening to Daniels so far this off-season, the Rangers don’t have the money to play at the top of the free-agent market. Trades will be the Rangers’ first avenue toward upgrading the roster.
That isn’t always the quickest process.