Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rangers Continue 'Arms' Race, Get Dempster

With the trade deadline looming, and now complete, the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs announced they had completed a deal, moving Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for two prospects. This is the same Dempster that rejected a move to the Braves earlier this season, but he was fine getting shipped into the Lone Star State. As with every trade, both teams obviously feel they won. Was Theo Epstein wise in moving Dempster? Are the Rangers smart in getting a risky pitcher for a couple of prospects? Read, set, trade analysis!

How did the Cubs do? Not having an insider in either the Dodgers or Yankees front offices limits my knowledge of what either team was offering for Dempster, but obviously the Cubs are betting Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva will pan out into the stars people are projecting them to be. Hendricks is currently in A+ ball, after his first season in mostly at the Double-A level. He is holding a FIP of 2.76 but a K/9 of 7.71. He is clearly a control artist, as his BB/9 is a very solid 1.03.

Villanueva is the bigger name here, as he is considered one of the Rangers (now Cubs) best prospects. As a third baseman, the biggest surprise is his 32 stolen bases in 2011 for the Single-A Rangers. Not only does he have speed (which could decrease slightly as he hits his prime) but he has power. An 0.186 ISO in 2011 and an 0.136 ISO in 2012 expresses his ability to drive the ball. He is triple slashing 0.285/0.356/0.421 this year, but he slugged 0.465 in 2011. This decrease in power and OBP could be correlative to a decrease in walks and increase in strikeouts (16.3% to 19.5%). If he can improve his strike-zone discipline, then he could very easily become a version (better or worse?) of a Ryan Roberts or Brett Lawrie-type player.

The Cubs give up a good pitcher, but one with a $14 million salary. Early details say the Cubs will save $5 million on the contract. They have gone on a seller-spree this trade season and now have a lot of cheap prospects and salary space. This leaves the die-hard fan base in a 'trust the process' situation, but one that could pay off in a few years.

How did the Rangers do? With the Angels getting Zack Greinke, Nolan Ryan and company knew they needed to make moves to catch the Angels incredible rotation. Dempster is far from Greinke, but has had a great season so far. He holds a ludicrous 2.25 ERA and a decent 3.41 FIP. This translates into a 54 ERA- and 84 FIP-, putting him in company with Jered Weaver and Cliff Lee. Part of this success could be very sustainable-- he is walking batters much less than usual (6.5% compared to 10.3%) and is getting ahead in counts (62.1% F-Strike versus career of 58.6%).

His FB/HR rate could increase, especially with his increase in fly balls, as he is moving into a more hitter-friendly stadium, but he will add a solid arm to a rotation that is desperately in need of consistency. With Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz out for the season and Roy Oswalt struggling, the Rangers knew not getting a solid starter could spell playoff trouble (not like they have any bad playoff memories in recent history.... right? right?).  Dempster has thrown 200+ innings every year since 2008, so he adds the ability to chew up innings and help mentor the promising young arms of Texas. He will be a free agent at the end of 2012, but the Rangers know he wants to keep pitching and will do whatever he can in a tough league to get results. All in all, it is a needed move by the Rangers and they only lose a hitter (they have plenty of those, especially with a great third baseman) and a pitcher that would not be ready to pitch come September.

Update: A source told me the Dodgers knew the Rangers had offered two prospects but declined to match. Still not 100% sure if the Yankees- who Dempster also said he would play for- had a matching offer on the table.

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