With Ryan Dempster unwilling to go to Atlanta and the Dodgers unwilling to pay up, the door opened on this trading deadline afternoon for the Rangers to swoop in and grab one of the season’s most surprising starting pitchers. Texas will send right-hander Kyle Hendricks and infielder Christian Villanueva to the Cubs to complete the deal.
For the Rangers, dealing with injuries to Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis as well as the ineffectiveness of Roy Oswalt and Scott Feldman, starting pitching suddenly became a need. The Rangers are six games clear of a Wild Card and a near-lock to make the playoffs, but the Athletics and Angels are within 3.5 and 4.0 games respectively, and with the Angels nabbing Zack Greinke a division title is by on means locked up. The Rangers sensed a need for starting depth and pounced.
Dempster leaves the National League behind only Ryan Vogelsong for the ERA lead at 2.25. Even though his peripheral statistics aren’t so lofty, Dempster is indeed enjoying a career year by many measures. A career low 2.34 BB/9 has his FIP down to 3.41, tied for his best mark as a full-time starter. His 3.07 K/BB ratio is a career high and his first time over three.
The environment Dempster is about to enter will be the toughest he has pitched in over his entire career. It will be his first time in the American League, facing designated hitters and generally superior rosters than in the NL Central. The Ballpark in Arlington is the toughest park he’s ever had to pitch in — Wrigley Field can be unfriendly, but Texas has a 109 home run park factor, well above the 104 for Chicago.
Dempster increasingly become a flyball pitcher over his last three seasons as well, dropping from 47.4% in 2010 to 44.1% in 2011 to 42.1% this season. Dempster has been human at home with the Cubs, posting a 2.82 ERA and a 4.44 FIP largely thanks to a 1.21 HR/9. More of the same — at least in regards to the home run ball — is likely in Texas.
Still, Dempster projects as an average to above-average pitcher — ZiPS has him for a 3.92 FIP the rest of the way — and that’s all the Rangers need given their current injury struggles. Neftali Feliz hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy in the rotation and could be better served in the bullpen. Scott Feldman has a 4.61 career FIP as a starter. Roy Oswalt is serving up almost two homers per nine innings. The Rangers can now run a playoff rotation of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Dempster and Derek Holland without worrying about any of their struggling or injured pieces, and the difference between Dempster and Feldman could be the difference between a division title or a one-game Wild Card play-in.
The Rangers had to take on nearly $5 million in salary to make the deal happen, and the prospects aren’t valueless either. Mike Newman just wrote up Villanueva as a sleeper prospect and Hendricks has been solid in the low minors, if a bit old for the level. To fill the biggest need on the major league level, however, such a price is minimal, leaving the Rangers well positioned for the season’s final two months.
UPDATE: Anthony Andro of Fox Sports Southwest reported Neftali Feliz will undergo Tommy John surgery. That may be why the Rangers swooped in for Dempster at the last minute — conceivably, the Rangers could have ran a rotation of Darvish, Feliz, Harrison, Holland and Oswalt, but with Feliz out Feldman would have been necessary for the rest of the season. With Dempster a clear upgrade over
Feldman Oswalt (see update 2), the decision was necessary for Texas.
UPDATE 2: Roy Oswalt is headed to the bullpen for the Rangers.