The Rangers go to court today

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For what it’s worth, I continue to stand by my story about the Rangers-Astros talks. A deal may never happen because of all the financial complications surrounding the team, but that doesn’t mean the front office has simply given up the notion of trying to improve itself. Quite the contrary, actually.

And though he was the first to say I was full of it regarding the Oswalt thing yesterday, Buster Olney is right about one thing: the hearing that’s going down in a Dallas bankruptcy court this morning regarding the Rangers’ sale is going to tell us an awful lot about how aggressive Jon Daniels will be able to be in adding pieces to his contending ballclub.

For those who missed it or whose eyes glaze over at such things, today’s hearing is going to determine the time frame of the Rangers’ bankruptcy proceedings and ultimately the sale of the team.  If things go smoothly, there could be a schedule in place that has the team emerging from bankruptcy before the trade deadline.  If they don’t go smoothly, the process could be protracted and Major League Baseball will continue to foot the bill in Texas. That would likely mean no big shiny pieces added for the playoff stretch.

The complicating factor: on Friday, the creditors to Hicks Sports Group made a filing in which they purported to establish that one of the losing bidders — the Jim Crane Group — had a superior bid to the Greenberg-Ryan Group. The emails that were part of the filing are not flattering for the Rangers, inasmuch as they show Hicks Sports Group people (i.e. the ones selling the Rangers) admitting that Crane was offering more money. Perhaps $13-20 million more.

Major League Baseball counters, however, saying that those communications and the money discussed therein reflected unauthorized negotiations during a time when Greenberg was supposed to have exclusive dealing rights, so they don’t count. More importantly, baseball says that during that same time (i.e. the exclusive negotiating window) Greenberg’s offer improved dramatically itself, so the communications are misleading at best.

I understand what baseball is trying to say here, but they probably need to be careful about how hard they hit the notion that baseball’s bidding calendar and exclusive negotiating periods control the matter.  For one thing, one of the most important party to the deal — Hicks Sports Group — apparently didn’t give a rat’s butt about the exclusive window, because it was apparently still negotiating with Crane.

For another thing, baseball’s right to control these kinds of sales, to pick the bidders and to ultimately pick the winners, is not as iron-clad as it likes to pretend it is.  It’s hardly ever challenged so, yeah, in practice it has always had the right to do it. But at least one federal court has held that baseball cannot control this process like it thinks it can. Though it would likely be a logistical nightmare, if a given team owner and a prospective team buyer wanted to do their own deal and leave MLB out of it, they could theoretically do it.

This case would be different in that, rather than a team owner who wants to reject MLB’s wishes, it would be a court substituting its judgment for the bankrupt team.  Specifically, the bankruptcy judge is tasked with figuring out what’s best for the creditors here, not what’s best for Major League Baseball’s interpretation of the breadth of its antitrust exemption, and he could very well say “Hey, Crane had a higher bid here before he was shut out; we need to reopen this bidding to make sure the best deal is done.” I have no clue what the judge will do with all of this. The easy play would simply be to defer to MLB and the Rangers and get the sale done. But he could be a maverick and decide to reopen the sale.

In any event, we’ll definitely have a better idea after today of what is within the realm of the possible for the Texas Rangers.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.