Zack Greinke of the Milwaukee Brewers was traded to the Angels a couple days ago in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura, and pitchers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena. Jean Segura was widely recognized as the top prospect in the Angels’ system, and an excellent prospect overall, ranked 55th by Baseball America and about as well by John Sickels. Pena and Hellweg were not as heralded, but probably still in the top 10 in the Angels system. Both are 23, have great K rates, but Hellweg struggles with control. The Rangers seemingly should have had no trouble matching or exceeding that package with their particular set of prospects, but all indications are that they elected not to do so.
The limiting factor is Mike Olt. The Brewers wanted him badly, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, while the Marlins are unwilling to even begin discussing trading Josh Johnson unless Mike Olt is also a part of those discussions. Just who is this character that is holding the Rangers back from acquiring a terrific pitcher to challenge Matt Harrison as staff ace?
According to Baseball America, the 11th-best prospect in the league, that’s who. A terrific defensive 3rd baseman who stands out for his glove, Olt also happens to be one of the top hitters in the minors, hitting for an incredible 170 wRC+ in AA. There are some flaws, notably a high strikeout rate and poor speed on the basepaths, but otherwise Mike Olt is destined to be a solid or better big league third baseman. He’s a great player, and its unsurprising the Rangers are unwilling to give him up for a rental pitcher.
On the other hand, Mike Olt’s future with the Rangers is murky, at best. Adrian Beltre is signed through 2015, and is also an excellent defender an unlikely to be moved off the bag. While Olt has occasionally played some first base and right field in the minors, his positional flexibility, is, at present, untested. Moreover, while Olt’s bat is very attractive at third base, which has few power bats besides the aforementioned Beltre, his bat compares much less favorably to the field at first base and in the corner outfield spots.
Many probably feel that without a role on the big-league team, the Rangers would be better off just jettisoning him for a good player, and as a result, are very disappointed the Rangers didn’t pull the trigger to grab Greinke. I disagree, and I’ll try to explain why here.
My position rests on a key difference between the Rangers and Angels franchises. The Angels are desperate for the 2012 World Series win, while the Rangers are desperate for 2012-2020 World Series wins. By all accounts, the Rangers have a stellar farm system, perhaps the best in the league; combine that with a young core of players and financial flexibility, and the Rangers are positioned to do well in the long term. The Angels, with their poor farm system, aging core apart from Mike Trout, and considerable financial investment in players on the wrong side of 30, are more concerned with the immediate future.
The second fact worth keeping in mind is how small a chance any team has of winning the Series, even after having made the playoffs. Although a 7-game series reduces the influence of chance on the outcome of a competition between two teams, there is still a considerable amount of luck involved, so much so that no team ever really has more than a 30% chance of taking the series at the outset of the playoffs, even with a dominant record.
Essentially, I’m suggesting that the Rangers care a great deal about what their team looks like in 2018, almost as much as what it looks like in 2012, while the Angels are much more fixated on 2012. The Rangers are unwilling to give up Mike Olt in his prime, potential Team MVP of 2018, in exchange for Zack Greinke, potential 3% increase in 2012 World Series victory odds.
This isn’t a criticism of the Angels; in fact, I think that in terms of going “all-in”, they are doing an unbelievable job, certainly better than other recent examples like the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 (who traded for Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Francisco Rodriguez). They acquired an excellent catcher in Chris Ianetta, arguably the two best free agents in C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, and now the best available pitcher on the trade market. The Rangers just have different set of priorities.
We’ll see where all this takes us, but for now, I am happy with the Rangers management of the situation, and I trust Mike Olt to validate the immense confidence the Rangers are showing in him.