Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers get: SP Ryan Dempster

Chicago Cubs get: 3B Christian Villanueva, P Kyle Hendricks
Tears of Texas baseball fans everywhere still saturate the dirt despite the unforgiving southern summer sun, but GM John Daniels is doing his best to see that the waterlogged field doesn't get damaged any further. In a bid to get to their third straight World Series, the Texas Rangers acquired starter Ryan Dempster just minutes before the trade deadline expired on Tuesday.

Just weeks ago, playoff hero and de facto staff ace Colby Lewis went down for the season with elbow surgery, leaving Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Roy Oswalt and of course, unhealthy MAMBINO favorite Yu Darvish as the only members of the Texas rotation left standing. With CJ Wilson leaving for the Angels in the offseason and former closer turned starter Neftali Feliz undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Rangers needed another starter badly if they wanted to stay up with the hard-charging Angels, who acquired SP Zack Greinke from Milwaukee on Friday.

What the Rangers got certainly wasn't the postseason hero that they had in the battle-tested Lewis, but is good and bad in his own right. Dempster is having a strange year, having spent time on the DL after pitching at least 200 innings for four straight seasons. His ERA is a career-low 2.25, cutting his walks down to 2.3 per nine innings down from 3.6 per nine the two seasons before that. However, he's throwing one strikeout less per nine innings than he did the year before. Now 35, Dempster's performance seems to be due to better pitch control, rather than a late career renaissance involving missing bats. The latter is a troublesome development for a starter that's been a typically high strikeout pitcher, but also encouraging in that he's changing his style as he advances towards the end of his career.

Regardless, Dempster's value to the Rangers is apparent: he's there to help the Rangers fend off the Angels for the division title. Anaheim showed that they are not merely trying to make a wild card berth with their trade for Greinke, and now boast a better rotation than Texas, and perhaps a comparable lineup. Remarkably, Dempster has only been to the postseason twice, but perhaps less remarkable when you remember that he's spent a majority of his career with the Cubs. However, the most important role he'll play with Texas, for now, is pitching every five days to make sure the Rangers are guaranteed at least three games in the playoffs, rather than the crapshoot one game wild card round.
New Cubs GM Theo Epstein continues his complete revamp of the organization by cutting ties with the nine-year Chicago veteran in Dempster. Moving forward, I thought the Cubs might try to re-sign Dempster, who still provides value and had seemed to want to stay in the Windy City. However, after the former Cubs' last week veto of a trade to Atlanta, it seems unlikely that such a reunion, even after a trade, would be unlikely. More and more signs point to Theo getting this team ready to compete in two years, rather than next season, when Dempster would be most valuable.

The Cubs got a pretty good return from a guy they weren't interested in keeping for the long term, so says

Villanueva, 21, has a .285/.356/.421 batting line in 425 plate appearances with Class A Myrtle Beach this year. The third baseman entered the 2012 season as the 100th-best prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America. He has a .286/.350/.438 batting line in four minor league seasons.

Hendricks, 22, has a 2.82 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9 in 130 2/3 innings over the course of 20 starts at Myrtle Beach. The 6'2" right-hander has 150 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 166 1/3 innings since being selected in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.

The rumors were that the Dodgers were in on the new Texas starter late, but balked at the price of SP Allen Webster, the second best prospect in their farm system. For GM Ned Colletti, the deal was much too rich for a rental player like future free agent Ryan Dempster. The Dodgers organization believes that this team can win the World Series, so in hesitating to trade for a rotation-solidifying guy like Dempster means both that the price was too high, and that they must have some type of confidence that currently disabled pitcher Teddy Lilly or Rubby de la Rosa (coming back from Tommy John surgery) can contribute.
It's hard not to call this trade a win for the Rangers, especially seeing how flush with prospects their farm system is, and how crucial it is winning the division rather than finishing with as a wild card team. Villanueva wasn't going to break through with Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, and Hendricks is still in low-level ball. However, it seems like a steep price for yet another rental player.

Regardless of whether or not they had Dempster in the fold, it was going to be extremely difficult to fend off the Angels for the AL West crown. However, with his addition, they stand a much better chance to stay on top. I still believe that the four-man corp of Greinke, Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren will eventually pitch the Angels to the head of the AL West, but Dempster's confidence and hunger for his first ever postseason win make this a much more difficult proposition for Anaheim.

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