Patchwork or Design?
The Texas Rangers today added Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne to their mix while visiting with free agent injured reserve pitcher Mark Mulder.
If you were to add these three to new Rangers Frank Catalanotto and Marlon Byrd, the Rangers offseason continues to look ordinary. So we ask the question: are these moves set up as a patchwork to help the Rangers get into next offseason with what they perceive will be a golden opportunity? Or are these moves all part of a grand plan to roll out a dynamic Rangers team for 2007?
With Mulder and Gagne the Rangers would be taking a risk with two pitchers who may or may not be totally healthy. Mulder very well may not pitch until mid-season. At the same time, the Rangers are bringing in two pitchers who have either contended for or won the Cy Young Award, Gagne being a rare relief pitcher to get the honor.
So, assuming Mulder would come on a one-year deal as well, they're probably planning to take a look at these players, not expecting their best this season, but evaluating them to be a part of a playoff run in 2008, right?
Not necessarily. Mulder would give Texas an All star arm with which to fill any holes that may have formed in the rotation by the break. Gagne gives Ron Washington closer options if Akinori Otsuka fails to repeat his 2006 successes or continues to show he can't close out the best teams. He's an iffy option but a nice addition to Otsuka, Kam Loe, and Frank Francisco as the Rangers look to decide who to hand the eighth and ninth innings to next season.
In addition, the Rangers have quietly toyed with the idea of dealing Otsuka to acquire young starting pitching talent. This may embolden them to do just that. But then what do they show for the Chris Young trade?
As for Lofton, Catalanotto, and Byrd, its hard to say. Lofton will give you quality defense but, at age 40, is not a long term option. His signing is clearly a patch. The Rangers have apparently decided DFW residents Vernon Wells and Torri Hunter are free agents next year and need to be chased. They should be front runners in that bidding war for a long term deal that would make not re-signing Gary Matthews, Jr., look brilliant.
Catalanotto has a good bat. A Tony Gwynn-type, though less advanced. But he will not provide high caliber defense. Figure him to fill that David Dellucci and Mark DeRosa role the next few years.
Byrd? Let's call it a backup plan. Lofton's 40. He's bound to get hurt or need a rest. Brad Wilkerson and Nelson Cruz can play center but are best suited defensively for the corners. So in comes Byrd and the hopes that Rudy Jaramillo can right his bat.
And if Wilkerson proves last year is no fluke? The Rangers have probably seen John Mayberry, Jr., progress over the last few months and may expect he'll be ready by the following year.
Of course, to pound this into the ground, the nature of this offseason hinges on Barry Zito, a situation I expect to clear up quickly after Scott Boras is done taking money from the Red Sox for Diasuke Matsuzaka Thursday at midnight. The Rangers pursue him with gusto, knowing they might get played, because they want to build a winner in 2007 without selling out the farm. Obviously, if Mulder signs, (a decision he's likely to make before his wedding this weekend) he's not an immediate solution. So the Rangers require the services of Zito or may have to consider a trade for a Brad Penny-type to make their offseason moves all part of the plan for 2007.
Otherwise, they can hedge their bets with a few patches and with the youngsters on the team and hope for the best knowing names like Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, and Jason Jennings are free agents next year.