Two days ago we heard that Texas Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland injured his left knee falling down the stairs in his house and will be out for the first half of the 2014 season. It was one of crazy accidents, and Rays fans have to feel lucky that it did not occur to one of their pitchers. The funny thing, though, is that if things had gone a different way, it could be the Rays and not the Rangers scrambling for pitching depth. The Rays could have acquired Derek Holland two years ago, when the Rangers were right there with the Chicago Cubs in the bidding for Matt Garza.
We know the final deal: the Rays traded Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zach Rosscup to Chicago for Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, and some throw-in named Sam Fuld. But the Rangers thought they had a chance with their offer. Their plan was to acquire Chirinos from the Cubs (evidently, the Rays liked him a lot) and then package him together with Holland, Frank Francisco, and Engel Beltre. The need to acquire a key piece of the deal from the other team that you were bidding against put this package at an immediate disadvantage. But let’s look at the package for a second and see how good of an offer it was and how the Rays would have fared if they had taken it.
Holland, 23 at the time, was coming off a season that began with dominance in the minor leagues and culminated with 14 strong appearances for the Rangers. He went 3-4 with a 4.08 ERA and a 54-24 strikeout to walk ratio in 57.1 innings pitched for Texas. He showed good command of his fastball in the 92-94 MPH range, and he paired it with two promising secondary pitches in his slider and changeup (plus the occasional curveball). Holland showed outstanding stuff, especially for a lefty, and while he was older than your average prospect, he already boasted 197.1 innings in the major leagues. Holland was a talented pitcher who would immediately compete for a spot in the Rays’ rotation and give them a chance for another dominant lefty to go along with David Price. It would have quite a snag if the Rays had gotten him in a Garza trade. After him, however, the package drops off.
Francisco, 30, was a late-inning reliever with good stuff, but he was also inconsistent and homer-prone. Beltre was a 20 year old outfielder who managed to crack Double-A, but he lacked the potential of a player like Lee thanks to inconsistent plate discipline and questionable power. Then we get back to Chirinos, the 26 year old former infielder who had a big season after being converted to catcher. The strangest part of the package was easily Francisco–why would the Rays want a 30 year old reliever with one year left as an arbitration-eligible player when they had confidence that they would be fine from the low-cost free agents they picked up? Holland was interesting, but he also lacked Archer’s upside he is two years older and has slightly worse stuff. With Jeremy Hellickson set to replace Garza, it was not as though Holland’s readiness for the big leagues really was much of a factor for the Rays. The Rays saw a good offer, but not a great one, and the Rangers were still going to have to acquire Chirinos from the Cubs or put in another player or two that the Rays liked.
Had the Rays taken the Rangers’ offer (assuming they acquired Chirinos), they would have gotten four inconsistent players, and it would not have worked out so well. Holland’s talent is undeniable, but 2013 was his first great season in the major leagues and now his 2014 won’t come close to matching it. Francisco could have had a good year (he did for the Toronto Blue Jays), but his presence may have meant that Kyle Farnsworth never got his chance to shine. Beltre has really been up-and-down, only making the major leagues this season after two-and-a-half years at Double-A. Finally, there is Chirinos, and we know how that turned out (ironically, he is on the Rangers now). The offer the Rays took certainly was not perfect, but Archer is coming off a great rookie year and is under control for the next five years, Lee is the shortstop of the future, Guyer should finally an impact in a bench role this season, and Sam Fuld had his magical moments in his three years with the team. The Rays are happy with the path they took. At the end of the day, though, don’t laugh about Derek Holland’s injury. It is easily conceivable that he could have been pitching for the Rays.