If the Texas Rangers want to have a markedly better chance to end their long playoff drought this season they will ignore the naysayers and focus their efforts on getting Livan Hernandez, the one pitcher that can truly help them.Baseball’s trade deadline is one week away and for the Texas Rangers one fact is abundantly clear: They need another starting pitcher.
Yes, pitching is a constant need for the Rangers but unlike last season they are actually contending for the division title and are have the pieces to make a significant deal. The last two months the Rangers have been neck and neck in the AL West standings with the Oakland A’s and that battle will likely continue until the end of the season.
Pitcher Adam Eaton returns from a season-long stint on the DL to boost the rotation’s numbers. Eaton hasn’t thrown in a big league game since he was with San Diego last season, so his effectiveness will probably be limited. Unheralded starters John Koronka and John Rheinecker have struggled of late and have no track record that would suggest a resurgence is on the way.
You would think that a team in the thick of a playoff race would have considerable buzz surrounding them. That’s not the case with the Rangers as they have only had one serious playoff run (2004) in the last 6 seasons. In that 2004 playoff run former GM John Hart neglected to make a move believing that they could win with the team they had assembled. That team fizzled because Hart didn’t get them the starting pitching they needed. It was certainly an opportunity wasted.
Youthful Rangers GM Jon Daniels will probably make some kind of deal with this being his first trade deadline. He has said in recent interviews that he is willing to part with top pitching prospects John Danks, Edison Volquez, and Thomas Diamond if the right deal came along. Daniels is also trying to avoid the type of passive stigma that his predecessor John Hart was saddled with during his time in Texas. This past offseason Daniels showed a willingness to make big deals by trading 2005 opening day starters Alfonso Soriano and David Delucci.
The Rangers must avoid acquiring a pitcher just for the sake of acquiring one. It takes a special kind of player to pitch at the Rangers home park Ameriquest Field. The intolerable heat and favorable hitting conditions can easily break a pitcher (see Chan Ho Park and Mark Clark) if he lacks mental toughness. For a pitcher to thrive in a Rangers uniform they must have a short memory, little concern for dazzling statistics and must pitch aggressively to opposing batters.
That said there is only one pitcher available who fits all those criteria: Livan Hernandez.
Hernandez is currently 7-8 with a 5.80 ERA for NL East also-ran Washington, and has repeatedly said that he would like to remain with the team. Hernandez also is owed 7 million dollars next season, plus he’s been battling right knee trouble and descending velocity on his pitches. However, Washington GM Jim Bowden is close to dealing Alfonso Soriano to the White Sox which would leave a gap in the Nationals outfield. That gap could be closed by trading Hernandez to Texas for outfielder Kevin Mench. Reports say that Bowden has been interested in Mench for some time.
All that aside, pitching on a contender seems to ignite Hernandez as it did last year with Washington, San Francisco in 2001 and 2002 and with in 1997 when Hernandez won the NLCS and World Series MVP’s with the champion Florida Marlins. Hernandez has started 8 postseason games in his career and won 6 of them while posting an ERA under 4.00.
In addition to his postseason success Hernandez has a reputation as a gutsy workhorse who gets out batters. The last 6 seasons Hernandez has started at least 33 games and pitched at least 215 innings all while avoiding long periods on the DL. His lunch pail, innings-eating style is exactly what the Rangers need to strengthen their rotation and survive their brutal upcoming stretch and possibly win their division. 7 of their next 8 series are against playoff contenders the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, LA Angels, Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers.
During the Rangers glory years in the late 90’s it wasn’t uncommon to see their top pitchers Rick Helling and Aaron Sele with ERA’s well above 4.00. They understood that Cy Young trophies, league-leading ERA’s, and other flashy accolades would probably always elude Ranger pitchers and that wins was the only important statistic.
Hernandez understands this because he has pitched in many pressure-packed situations in which his individual performance was subpar and still he came out on top. He has always wanted the ball when the stakes are high which will make him immediately respected if he’s traded to Texas. The pitching market is thin, with many of the guys available having little to no postseason experience. If the Rangers have to give up a top prospect then let it be for a proven pitcher like Hernandez and not for lightweights such as Jon Lieber or Cory Lidle.
The future is now for the Texas Rangers and Daniels has to show the entire DFW Metroplex that he is committed to winning now. Acquiring Livan Hernandez would be a step in the right direction.