The Dempster Backstory, and other heads and tales . . .

Turns out the Chicago Cubs got a pair of A-level minor leaguers, Christian Vilanueva (3B) and Kyle Hendricks (RHP), from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster . . . decent prospects but not necessarily blue chips. For the most part, few no-questions-asked blue chip prospects moved in the non-waiver trade period, Jean Segura (SS) possibly having been the bluest of the chips when he went to Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal.

How and why did the Rangers—hungering for rotation help with Colby Lewis gone for the year (entering the final fortnight, his was the hole they needed to fill)—end up settling for Dempster when all was said and done? According to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal:

* Approaching the non-waiver trade deadline the Rangers’ real first love was Cole Hamels—but Hamels signed that $144 million, six-year extension with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ryan Dempster—the Rangers landed him only too much in the nick of time . . .

* With Hamels out of reach, the Rangers’ next great love was Zack Greinke—but they were out-bid for him by the Los Angeles Angels, simply because the Rangers were unwilling to surrender any of their top three farm prospects (they offered their numbers six and fifteen; the Brewers said not quite) and less likely than the Angels (who sent the Brewers Segura as part of the trade package and have the farm depth to have been able to make the deal) to be able to sign Greinke long-term. Which made the Rangers only too normal under today’s collective bargaining agreement that puts serious reins on spending for prospects.

* With Greinke out of reach, the Rangers went talking about every other starting pitcher known to be available. Except that Miami’s Josh Johnson is an established health risk, Tampa Bay’s James Shields picked the wrong time to slump, their own one-time World Series carrier Cliff Lee was too damn expensive, and Boston’s Josh Beckett had just too many issues—from his own expensive salary to his own history of health and clubhouse issues. (Which means, Rosenthal says, the Red Sox may have missed their own best shot at moving Beckett, and the Rangers lost out on a possible blockbuster that might have included another element they hoped to get: seeking a lineup sparkplug, they’d coveted Shane Victorino, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but would have taken Jacoby Ellsbury if the two sides could work a blockbuster that didn’t happen.)

* With Dempster, the Cubs themselves were over the proverbial barrel—the new rules would have given the Cubs draft pick compensation if Dempster left as a free agent after the Cubs made him a single-year, qualifying offer, which they might not have been willing to do for a pitcher Dempster’s age if it meant losing a first-round pick.

* Dempster himself helped the Rangers’ cause when he spurned a deal to the Atlanta Braves; the Dodgers—Dempster’s known first choice—didn’t want to part with their top prospects for him (they refused to budge on Allen Webster, not that you could blame them), and Dempster himself was in the Cub front offices watching the haggle with the Dodgers, perhaps enough to cause him to change his mind on his hoped-for choice. Then, if a deal couldn’t get done with the Dodgers, Dempster let it slip that he wouldn’t say no to the Yankees or the Rangers, and for likewise personal reasons: in New York, two Dempster allies (former Cub GM Jim Hendry, former pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who now has that job in the Bronx) are there, and in Arlington there’s another former Cub teammate he respects (future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux) working in the front office.

“Time will tell,” Rosenthal writes, “if Dempster made the right decision by rejecting the Braves and switching leagues just months before he enters the free-agent market — he not only is moving to the more hitter-friendly AL but also to hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.”

And barely had Dempster agreed to the move—which happened practically as the period expired—when the Rangers got hit with a double-whammy: Neftali Feliz, their closer-turned-starter, who looked impressive enough in the new job until he went down with elbow trouble in May, now needs Tommy John surgery and will be lost until the middle of next summer at least; and, Roy Oswalt, whom they signed as a free agent in May, continued showing his age and has been transferred to the bullpen.

They could still end up with a Cliff Lee homecoming, though—there’s always a chance of making a deal on Lee once a) he clears the waiver wire; and, as just about every analyst figures, the Phillies get it into their thick skulls that they’re going to have to eat some money to move him. Which would embarrass the Phillies far less than the Red Sox have been embarrassed since they moved Kevin Youkilis: the erstwhile Greek God of Walks is enjoying a renaissance with the White Sox, while the Olde Towne Team ended up with a small-enough return for moving Youkilis, Scott Podsednik, and Matt Albers.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

There were some deals that didn’t get made but might or should have:

* Chase Headley—San Diego did a lot of talking about moving their third base prize; lots of people wanted Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, too, but those two signed contract extensions while Headley, who stayed on the market until the non-waiver deadline, went nowhere. Leaving the Padres, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, to see if they can get a better package for him after the season.

* Michael Cuddyer—The former Minnesota mainstay now with the Rockies and struggling a bit, there was a GM or two who wanted him but the Rockies didn’t want to let him go, for whatever reasons.

* Chris Perez—Cleveland needs to continue rebuilding; Perez could have brought them a decent if not spectacular return from a team in dire need of relief fortification (the New York Mets or the Brewers, anyone?), but the Indians decided to hold him.

* Denard Span—The Twins wouldn’t mind moving him, and the Cincinnati Reds—who fortified what might be the best bullpen in baseball this year when they added Jonathan Broxton before the non-waiver deadline—could have plugged in their leadoff hole nicely with Span. And the Reds right now are baseball’s most solid team without Joey Votto; they’d have been downright filthy with Votto and Span in the ranks.

* Scott Hairston—Among pieces the slipping Mets might have moved, Hairston would have brought the best return. Maybe the Mets aren’t giving up on the season just yet, maybe they are, but if they’re not giving up on the season it’s to wonder why they didn’t offer up Hairston seeking badly-needed bullpen help, since the only thing making their bullpen look anything close to serviceable is the horror of a bullpen in Milwaukee. The Mets aren’t being run by dummies anymore, and you know damn well they won’t even think about moving the like of David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Ike Davis (who’s beginning to rehorse after a frightful beginning this season), Matt Harvey, or Bobby Parnell (they may still see him as their closer of the future, if he can get that explosive stuff of his under control), but holding Hairston when his trade value was at peak may have been a bigger mistake than it looked as the non-waiver deadline approached.

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