The Rangers weren't merely looking for attention when they pulled out all the stops to land Matt Garza on Monday.
Good thing, too, because the Garza transaction was a hot topic for, oh, maybe 15 minutes before the Ryan Braun news broke.
Texas' intent, rather, was to repair a rotation ravaged by injury and in need of a second-half boost. The costs were steep for a two-plus-month rental with a lengthy injury history (and kudos to the Cubs for pulling off a shrewd swap), but this was still a chance the Rangers needed to take in a thin starting-pitching market if they're going to swing the American League West back in their favor.
The good news is that the Rangers didn't let their starting search drag on until the final minutes before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, as they did a year ago. Last July, after coming up short in their attempts to land Zack Greinke from Milwaukee, the Rangers turned in desperation to Ryan Dempster, despite concerns that his strong start to the season for the Cubs would be unsustainable in the AL. Dempster's 7-2 record with the Rangers was a product more of ample run support than anything he did on the mound. He posted a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts, a short and unmemorable tenure on a Texas team that watched its season unravel in the final weeks.
The bad news is that there are probably as many questions about Garza this year as there were about Dempster last year.
Garza, a free agent at year's end, has made just 29 starts since the start of 2012, and he was, at his best, a slightly-better-than-league-average arm before that. His status as a stud in this trade market was a primarily a product of the market itself.
But he does have AL experience with the Twins and Rays, and, after missing the first seven weeks of the season with a lat strain, he has proven he's healthy and capable of some dominant turns in a rotation. Over his last six starts with the Cubs, he was 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA. And with a new contract on the line for Garza, the Rangers can take advantage of Garza's potential monetary motivation.
Whether or not this is a relationship that will last beyond 2013 is another matter for another time. For now, the Rangers can slot Garza in alongside Yu Darvish, just back from a strained back, and Derek Holland, and feel fairly confident that they have the makings of a playoff-caliber top end.
Alas, ground must be made up if the Rangers are going to enter the playoffs as a division winner. They entered Monday trailing the A's by three games, as the in-season losses of Darvish, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando, paired with the continuing absence of the rehabbing Colby Lewis, had caught up with them in a big way. The primary reason the Rangers had become such an AL power in recent years is that they had reinvented their reputation on the starting side, but this year's constantly evolving staff has been responsible for an ERA (4.19) above the league norm.
As Ogando returns to the rotation Tuesday and Lewis continues his Minor League rehab assignment and Harrison begins throwing bullpen sessions after in-season back surgery, the Rangers are slowly but surely building a surplus of starters. (It has long been expected that when or if closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz returns this season, it will be in a relief role.) This is a good thing, but the Rangers still did the right thing in making this proactive move, because the truth is there's no telling what level of performance any of those guys will reach after their time away.
The cost of proactivity was third baseman Mike Olt, right-handers Justin Grimm and C.J. Edwards and one or two players to be named (depending on who the Cubs select). It's a steep cost for a rental, one very few teams are willing to pay in this day and age, when prospects are valued higher than ever before. But Olt has seen his stock fall in what has been a difficult 2013 transition to Triple-A, and the Rangers had no obvious home for him on the horizon; Grimm has allowed 15 homers in 89 innings in the Major League rotation this season; and Edwards was a 48th-round Draft pick pitching in A-ball, so it's hard to know how much weight to place on his impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio.
For the Cubs, maybe these guys aren't future franchise cornerstones, but they are undoubtedly nice acquisitions for a ballclub building from the roots up. This was a surprisingly bountiful return for a guy who will probably only make a dozen or so more starts in the regular season and won't net the Rangers any Draft-pick compensation if he leaves in free agency.
But the Rangers are deep enough to absorb the blow, and their rotation was wayward enough to necessitate some aggressive patchwork on the part of general manager Jon Daniels and Co.
This trade might have only made waves for a matter of minutes, but it could prove impactful in the AL West.