When you have a team in contention on July 31st, one of the hardest things to figure out is how to balance trying to make the most of the present opportunity against building a team that can be competitive for years to come.
Jon Daniels was faced with that problem on Sunday and he offered a textbook case in finding the balance. The Rangers general manager saw his team sorely lacking in the bullpen and went to the market to fix that problem. He left the market with what he needed in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, but he also left it with a stacked system barely affected by two moves that significantly move the needle.
That's not to say that the Rangers didn't give up good players in the deal. Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter went for Uehara and both of them are capable major leaguers who have helped the Rangers win games in the past. Thing is, neither one of them is playing a high profile role for this year's team and there's not much chance that would change if they were here next year.
Uehara is going to play a big role this year and, assuming he makes 11 more appearances, he'll play a big role again next year. Daniels traded two maybes for a sure thing and he did it before he moved back to the Padres to discuss a deal for Adams or Heath Bell. The Padres knew they couldn't hold Daniels up for ransom because he had what he needed and would be okay standing pat if the Padres didn't make a reasonable offer.
For some teams, trading away two top-10 organizational prospects isn't reasonable. But Robbie Erlin, talented as he is, was the second-best lefty starting prospect in the organization and Joe Wieland might never have more value than he had as a result of his torrid streak to start his Double-A career.
If you had dealt those two for Bell, a two-month rental who probably wouldn't return without another round of find the bouncing Neftali Feliz, then you could make an argument that the Rangers sacrificed tomorrow for today. But Adams is signed through next year (and either he or Uehara could replace Feliz if he does go to the rotation) and the Rangers didn't touch any of the prospects they feel are sure bets to develop into regulars for the big league club.
The benefits of building a deep minor league system aren't just realized when players graduate to the big leagues. They are also found in deals like this, where the Rangers give up real assets that they can afford to lose so that this year's big club has a better chance to win the World Series.
Will it hurt one day if Erlin is winning big in San Diego while Martin Perez proves to be more sizzle than steak? Sure, but you have to be willing to risk that over the much likelier scenario of Arthur Rhodes or Darren O'Day blowing a playoff game because they can't get good hitters out in a tough spot.
What's more, you have to have faith in the ability of Daniels and his staff to keep producing players of the Erlin/Wieland level because they just keep doing it. That's what makes these two deals were a testament to everything that Daniels has achieved since taking over as general manager.
He's rebuilt the entire organization from the bottom up and he runs it with a shrewd appreciation for risks that have to be taken because he understands the value of every piece at his disposal. Adams and Uehara represent some of the reward for all of that hard work and the Rangers can rest assured that they'll always be in the mix as long as Daniels is calling the shots.