Commentary

Millwood trade gives Rangers options

With starter gone, Texas acquires much-needed flexibility to bolster its roster

Updated: December 10, 2009, 9:56 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- So much for a quiet, non-eventful winter meetings week for the Texas Rangers.

The club that arrived in chilly Indianapolis with a very thin wallet bartered one of its more expensive investments and created some cash.

Now the trick is to spend it wisely.

General manager Jon Daniels said he didn't send Kevin Millwood and $3 million to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Chris Ray without considering replacement options. That includes free-agent starter Rich Harden, who pitched for the Chicago Cubs last season. A source said the club has a framework of a deal in place for Harden, pending his approval and physical. Another source told ESPNChicago.com that the contract would include a salary between $7 and $8 million in 2010.

"We would not have made this trade in a vacuum," said Daniels, who didn't comment on anything regarding Harden. "This isn't about saving money for the bottom line. It's about saving money to allocate toward improving the club."

Filling Millwood's spot just became the Rangers' top priority. The club needs to add a starter with at least some service time to complement a young rotation. It's the same reason the Orioles said they acquired Millwood, who provided quiet but steady leadership in the Rangers' clubhouse. But he did it at a price that was a little high for a team whose owner for 2010 remains uncertain.

"I'm a little surprised. It feels weird, but what can you do?" Millwood said. "I liked it here in Texas. I've had a great time and enjoyed playing with great teammates. I was hoping to finish here, but that's not going to happen."

Trading Millwood, who turns 35 on Christmas Eve, was one of the more realistic ways the financially challenged Rangers could create additional funds. They were able to get a bullpen piece and at the same time add bigger coins to their tinny-sounding piggy bank. The trade will result in a savings of about $8 million for the club once Ray is paid.

In Chris Ray, the Rangers get a guy they can slide into a late-inning setup role. That is, of course, if he can stay healthy. Ray had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2008. He struggled in his return last season, going 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA in 43 1/3 innings. But before the surgery, Ray was the Orioles' closer of the future and a guy that had 33 saves in 2006. That's the Ray the Rangers plan on seeing in 2010.

"I do think that the track record on guys coming back from [Tommy John] surgery is pretty good," Daniels said. "Typically, there's a transition year where the results lag behind where guys are physically. That's what we're hoping for, but obviously there's risk involved."

Millwood dealt with a few minor injuries during his time in Texas, but for the most part, he gave the club innings. He pitched more than 198 innings twice in his four years, and his lowest innings output was 168 2/3 in 2008.

Harden has No. 1-starter stuff. The question is, can he add top-starter durability to that equation? He hasn't pitched more than 190 innings in any one of his seven seasons, dealing with various injuries along the way. But his upside is certainly higher than Millwood's is now. He just turned 28 years old -- nearly seven years younger than Millwood -- and when he has managed to stay healthy, he's put up impressive numbers: 50-29 with a 3.39 ERA in his career. Harden has averaged just over a strikeout per inning pitched, giving the Rangers a dynamic they don't currently have -- at least until Neftali Feliz gets comfortable in the rotation.

Should the Harden deal fall through, the Rangers could still go after Ben Sheets. The club met with Sheets' agent, Casey Close, on Tuesday, but word is the starter is looking for guaranteed money nearing the $12 million he made in 2008 before elbow surgery. That's too expensive for the Rangers.

The remaining funds the club has -- and if the numbers on Harden are right, that's about $5 million -- could go toward a right-handed bat. The Rangers are interested in Jermaine Dye, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome (among others) and would prefer to structure a deal that includes plenty of incentives. They are also talking to teams and agents about a veteran catcher and utility infielder. The team also continues to try to acquire more bullpen pieces so Feliz (and maybe even C.J. Wilson) can join the rotation if they win the job in spring training.

Thanks to Wednesday's deal, they have some money to play with on some of these fronts. Give the Rangers credit for that. They showed up with little to spend and expectations of a calm week and made things happen. We'll see if it makes the club a contender in the AL West in 2010.

Richard Durrett covers the Texas Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at richard.durrett@espn3.com.

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