It's tough to be the team with everything. That is, a team with a full rotation, lineup, and farm system. It makes trading tough. When you're the White Sox, say, it's a little less painful to talk yourself into a blockbuster.
Kenny Williams: You know what, I don't think any of our prospects are off the table if we're going to get Stanton.
Marlins: Yeah, except we're looking at this list our scouts gave us of your best prospects … and #3 is Curt Bloom?
Williams: Oh, yeah. Up-and-comer. You know, he's probably off the table.
Marlins: He's the broadcaster for your Double-A team.
Williams: Heckuva prospect, though. Really well-respected, great guy.
Marlins: Your #4 prospect is Tim E. Gator, and from what we can tell, it's a man in a costume.
Williams: Ah. The Intimidator. Another solid prospect. Thought about bringing him up all year.
It's not that easy when you're dealing from a position of depth. Take the Rangers, who have had a productive farm system for the last few years. They've also had a full lineup and rotation, for the most part, which means a lot of prospects in the wings, waiting patiently. So when it came time to talk trade, the other teams had an are-you-gonna-eat-that? mentality.
You're not using Mike Olt. C'mon, you're not even using him. Just give him to us. You already have Adrian Beltre. Now you're just hoarding. Just give him to us.
For years, this was also the category Martin Perez fell under. The starter for Monday's 163rd game was usually the top pitching prospect in a system that had more than a few young pitchers. With Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Justin Grimm, and Nick Tepesch hanging around at one time or another, Perez was that rare commodity: a top prospect who just might move in a big trade.
He was "untouchable" in 2010 when the Rangers wanted Cliff Lee, but as Perez advanced through the minors with good-not-great performances, he started becoming a more realistic target for other teams. In 2011, the Rangers were balking at including him in a trade instead of taking him off the table completely.
And in 2012, he was on the table. The Rangers were tepidly putting him on the table, and they were keeping a hand on his ankle so they could rip him away at any time. But they were at least listening. Zack Greinke had just a half-season of team control left, but the price was high, and if the Rangers were going to beat the Angels' offer, they were going to do it with Perez. The Rangers balked. The Angels swooped in.
After the 2013 season, Perez wasn't just on the table. He was the centerpiece. The Rangers were eager to get Justin Upton, and they knew that if they were going to do it without Profar, that Perez had to be one of the guys going the other way. But the Diamondbacks were already dripping with young pitching, and they preferred the Braves' combo of majors-ready help and youth.
Perez ran the prospect spectrum, then. He went from untouchable, to slightly touchable, to reluctantly touchable, to bait. Along the way, the deal was never exactly right for the Rangers. They could get Cliff Lee without giving up Perez, so they held on to him. They couldn't get James Shields without Perez, so they ignored James Shields. They hoped they could get Justin Upton with Perez, but they couldn't. Every year, every trading deadline, the Rangers maneuvered and navigated in a way that always left them with Martin Perez.
They could have had Carlos Beltran, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren, Michael Bourn, Ubaldo Jimenez, Doug Fister, Hunter Pence, Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, and Anibal Sanchez over the last couple trade deadlines. They didn't bother. They weren't worth six years of Perez, in the Rangers' estimation.
And what they were thinking was a situation like this. Maybe not a do-or-die game like this so soon, but eventually. The Rangers would think, no, we can't trade Perez for four months of Grienke or Sanchez, because eventually we'll use him as a big-game pitcher for years.
It's here. After 162 games, the Rangers might go home even sooner than they did last year. The Rangers don't want to go from the pennant to the Wild Card to an honorable-mention ribbon. That's ... a discouraging trend. The Rangers need Perez to justify their faith. He's not Justin Upton, and he's not Zack Greinke. The Rangers are hoping he's the right guy at the right time, just like they've been hoping and projecting all along.