The Rangers still have some possible trades or free agency expenditures to pursue to improve the team going into the 2012 season, especially improvements to the bullpen.
The Rangers could trade Scott Feldman and his $6.5 million salary in order to make room for Oswalt, who would cost virtually the exact same sum. However, Oswalt is likely to be significantly more effective than Feldman. ZiPS, a projection system created by Dan Szymborski, projects Oswalt to finish with a 3.68 ERA (108 ERA+), whereas Feldman performs almost a full run worse, at 4.68 (97 ERA+). In order to move Feldman, the Rangers might have to take on some salary, which is complicated by them being over budget, as mentioned above. Even worse, Oswalt’s agent Bob Garber (who also represented C.J. Wilson) has stated that Oswalt is not open to pitching out of the bullpen in any capacity whatsoever. Although replacing Feldman with Oswalt would in fact be beneficial to the Rangers, it could cost as much as $3 million, or roughly the price of signing Mike Gonzalez.
The Rangers could also trade Koji Uehara and his $4 million salary. Ken Rosenthal and Buster Olney have confirmed that the Orioles and Athletics are in talks with the Rangers about a possible trade. As I mentioned in when I wrote about trading Uehara, the Rangers could use a high-ceiling outfield prospect, and the Athletics just happen to have a wealth of outfield players and prospects, such as Colin Cowgill.
It is unclear how the Rangers might go about using $4 million. One possibility is to sign Mike Gonzalez as a lefty specialist. Against both lefties and righties Gonzalez managed just under a strikeout per inning, but he gives up over twice as many walks to right-handed batters. When looking at his peripherals you might conclude that he just was very fortunate last season, since he gave up home runs to lefties at one third the rate against righties. However, his Groundball/Flyball rate against lefties was 2.11, compared to .66 against lefties. Basically, against right-handers, Mike Gonzalez turns into a precise groundball inducing machine.
However, the Rangers already have such a machine; although, to overextend the metaphor, I would characterize him as poorly manufactured. Michael Kirkman is youngish (26) pitcher who spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, where he produced 3.61 FIP. He shows the same kind of improvements as Gonzalez when pitching against lefties, but probably wouldn’t achieve quite the same results. Gonzalez and Kirkman both pitched to roughly a 3.00 FIP; however, Kirkman was greatly helped by allowing no home runs whatsoever, a trend which is unlikely to continue. Assuming his luck runs out, he will be somewhat less effective.
The benefit of using Kirkman over Gonzalez is the team could save $4 million and use that money at the trade deadline in order to take on salary for a key acquisition in a position of need. The downside is that using Kirkman in such a limited role kind of destroys his trade value, unless he somehow excels. He still has the potential to develop into a back of the rotation starter, or even a high-leverage reliever, although his age makes such a development unlikely. It might be wise to maximize his value by giving him an assignment where he can do well.
Personally, the prospect of replacing Feldman with Oswalt, or Koji with Gonzalez/Kirkman, leaves me feeling kind of blah. I’m not sure either move really has a significant impact on the team, even going with the best or worse case scenarios in either transaction. My problem is that there is quite a bit I don’t know motivating these trades, and I’m not likely to find out. Does Uehara really pine for Baltimore? Is Oswalt willing to compromise on his pitching role in order to work with his idol near his home?
I guess I’ll wait and see.