Ryan Dempster might regret Texas 

August, 3, 2012

In the aftermath of the Ryan Dempster trade, a smart person in baseball said the other day he wondered whether there would be a moment on the pitcher's flight to Texas when Dempster might think: "My God, what have I gotten myself into?"

Dempster had complete power to essentially steer himself to the team of his choice or remain with the Cubs, given his power to veto any trade. And Dempster used it. But in the end, the 35-year-old pitcher landed in the more difficult league, in arguably the most acute hitters' park in the AL.

The timing for this could not be worse, because Dempster just started what is essentially a two-month audition for his next job. He is eligible for free agency in the fall, and any serious struggles will damage his market value. In his first start for the Rangers against the Angels, Dempster -- caught in the vortex of a four-day steel-cage match between the two AL West superpowers -- didn't make it through five innings. He allowed eight runs in 4 2/3 innings while watching baseballs fly through the jet stream that blew toward right field.

Dempster has a chance to be part of something great and memorable in Texas. Maybe he'll start Game 7 of the World Series and wind up in the middle of a champagne shower among teammates overjoyed after getting the last strike of the last out of the last inning of the last game. He first pitched in the big leagues at age 21, but this is probably the best team he's been on; Dempster has just two postseason appearances.

But as colleague Tim Kurkjian noted, Greg Maddux -- an adviser with the Rangers -- is one of the smartest people in baseball, and he never threw any of his 5,008 1/3 innings for an American League team for a reason. Maddux smartly avoided the AL in the half-dozen times he switched teams. It's a much more difficult challenge, because the designated hitter lengthens the lineups and there is no end-of-the-lineup breather for the pitcher. Teams in the AL don't give away as many outs as NL teams do. Choosing to work in the AL rather than the NL is like opting to climb into a snake pit rather than walk around it entirely.

Dempster had never pitched for an AL team before Thursday night, and he could have stayed in the NL. The Atlanta Braves wanted him and were willing to trade Randall Delgado for him, a deal that the Cubs wanted. Dempster could have gone to Atlanta and remained in the NL, and with the Braves, he could have worked with a catcher he knows, Brian McCann, in one of the best pitchers' parks in the majors, spacious Turner Field. He could have faced the relatively sparse lineups of the NL East. Besides the Braves, here are the rankings of the NL East teams in runs scored:

12. Mets, 479

17. Washington, 445

19. Philadelphia, 439

30. Miami, 383

But Dempster wanted to go to the Dodgers, where his longtime friend Ted Lilly pitches. When the Cubs brought the proposed trade to the Braves to him, Dempster didn't embrace it; he used the trusted congressional tactic, the pocket veto, by not responding. The Cubs were forced to move on.

However, there was one unexpected development. The Dodgers never pushed to get Dempster. Oh, sure, they were interested, but the team's modus operandi before this year's deadline was to improve the team without surrendering its small core of good prospects. When the Cubs asked for certain players, they were rebuffed initially. The Dodgers never wavered on that stance, and never aggressively sought the right-hander.

So about four hours before the deadline, the Cubs explained to Dempster that they had no offers in hand and wouldn't be able to move him unless he became more flexible. Given the late decision to play the last two months with the Cubs or with a pennant winner, Dempster went along with the Cubs as they spoke with the Yankees -- who were never really that serious about obtaining the right-hander, whom they believed to be an imperfect fit for the AL -- and with the Rangers, who were suddenly in dire need of starting pitching after injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz.

It was only about five minutes before the deadline that the Cubs and Rangers agreed on a deal, and Dempster agreed to the agreement.

This is how Dempster was on the mound in Texas on Thursday, in a place where he had never really considered until late Tuesday morning, and then allowed more runs in a start than he had allowed in his previous seven in the NL.

He'll get more chances to make it better, but there could be rough waters ahead in what one GM called "the big boy league."


Dempster went through an initiation in the Rangers' blast furnace, writes Randy Galloway.

The Angels were let down by their pitching again, writes Bill Plunkett. Josh Hamilton won't be specific about what issue he is dealing with. With Mike Olt in the lineup, the Rangers bounced back.