The Rangers’ acquisition of Ryan Dempster from the Cubs as the clock struck midnight (well, 4 p.m. Eastern) on Tuesday’s trading deadline was perhaps the most logical trade of the entire, frenzied week. Coming into July, Dempster, a free agent after this season having a great year for a rebuilding club, looked like the player most likely to be traded by the deadline. As the month progressed, the state of the Rangers’ rotation became weaker and weaker with Colby Lewis being lost for the season to a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow, Roy Oswalt being lit up on either side of time missed due to his chronic back problems, Yu Darvish going 1-3 with a 5.74 ERA on the month and, in news that broke just minutes after the Dempster deal got done, Neftali Feliz's elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery.
Dempster, however, is a 10-and-5 player, meaning that he had the right to reject any trade because he has been in the major leagues for 10 or more years and spent the last five years with the same team. Prior to Tuesday, Dempster made it known that he would only accept a trade to the Dodgers, but Los Angeles had other priorities and the Cubs front office was reportedly fixated on a prospect, Double-A righty Allen Webster, with whom the Dodgers did not want to part. Tuesday, however, brought news that Dempster would also accept a trade to the Yankees or Rangers, at which point it just became a giant game of chicken with the Dodgers bowing out and the Rangers swooping in to offer third base prospect Christian Villanueva and minor league right-hander Kyle Hendricks. That got the deal done and Dempster, who was originally drafted by the Rangers back in 1995 only to be traded for John Burkett the following year, has come full circle.
This is a move the Rangers had to make, particularly after the division rival Angels, who trail Texas by just four games in the American League West, added Zack Greinke to their rotation on Friday. The 35-year-old Dempster has had an up and down career, but since returning to starting in 2008 he has posted a 3.64 ERA (117 ERA+), 1.29 WHIP and averaged 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings against 3.3 walks for a solid 2.50 K/BB ratio. This season has been his most effective of those five years. He arrives in Texas as the major league leader in adjusted ERA (177 ERA+), boasting a 2.25 raw ERA on the strength of a career low walk rate (2.3 BB/9) and career high strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.07). Dempster has also been a bit lucky. His opponents have hit just .244 on balls in play, compared to .304 in the previous four seasons, and fewer of his fly balls have left the park than in recent years. However, Dempster will find conditions similar in Texas -- a good defensive team in a homer-happy ballpark -- to what he’s been used to in Chicago, including being reunited with new Rangers backup catcher Geovany Soto, who has caught more of Dempster’s pitches than anyone else.
The addition of Dempster allows the Rangers to either move Oswalt to the bullpen and enter the playoffs with a top three of Dempster, Matt Harrison and either Derek Holland or a rejuvenated Darvish. That’s not as good as their rivals' trio of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Greinke, but it’s a lot better than what the Rangers were looking at Tuesday morning.
As for the players the Rangers gave up in the deal, Hendricks isn’t an elite prospect. The 22-year-old righty was an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth in the 2011 draft and has pitched well at High-A this year, posting a 2.82 ERA in 20 starts and walking just one man per nine innings, producing an outstanding 7.47 K/BB ratio, but he’s a soft-throwing command and control pitcher, the sort of college arm that tends to find its limit in the high minors where location and deception aren’t enough to get out high-level hitters. Villanueva, signed out of Mexico in 2010, is the key player in the deal. The 21-year-old third baseman just snuck into Baseball America’s top 100 prospects this spring at number 100 and has the potential to be a solid to above average major league third baseman with power, a good glove, speed and athleticism. That said, he’s not blowing anyone away in High-A this year (hitting .285/.356/.421 and has been caught stealing nine times in 18 attempts) and sat behind Adrian Beltre and Mike Olt on the Rangers’ organizational depth chart, making him easily expendable for a team seeking its third-straight American League pennant. He’s exactly the sort of player the Cubs should have gotten for Dempster, however, and given how little leverage Chicago had coming into the day, it should be happy to have him and to have cashed in its biggest trade chip.
-- By Cliff Corcoran