Rangers' key player to rule on July 9

It was about this time last year, maybe a few weeks deeper into the summer, when Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels received an unexpected phone call from third baseman Michael Young.

The July 31 trade deadline was fast approaching and there had been talk that the Rangers might make a move to add another pitcher, perhaps even Toronto ace Roy Halladay, arguably the best starter in baseball.

Young's message to Daniels was this: Do what you think is best for the organization, but don't think you have to do something to appease the players in the clubhouse.

"It was a class act from a class guy," Daniels recalled this week. "He just wanted to let me know that the players in the clubhouse had seen first-hand the young players we were bringing in and liked the direction the organization was headed."

In other words, don't do anything stupid that might veer the organization in a completely different direction.

Daniels listened, kept his powder dry and the Rangers have been better off for it. He's in much better position to pull the trigger this time around if the right deal is there before the deadline.

But all of that depends on Judge Michael Lynn and the bankruptcy proceedings in his Fort Worth courtroom.

For all the doom and gloom that spread rampantly this week after Judge Lynn's ruling that the team's creditors were impaired, the Rangers' executives came away with a sense that the Judge is cognizant of the time element involved with the fast-approaching trade deadline and how important that could be to the franchise. One of his jobs is to maximize the value of the franchise and what better way to do that than to clear the decks so that the Rangers can be a player in trade talks by the end of next month?

How often, by the way, has baseball's trading deadline been brought up by a judge in court?

It's also important to note that Judge Lynn installed William Snyder as the chief restructuring officer, meaning Snyder has the ball right now and the judge can take his long-planned vacation cruise as scheduled. One other point: Those who understand all the legal gobbledygook say Judge Lynn's plan, if followed strictly by Greenberg and Ryan, will be virtually appeal-proof.

So while we're being cautiously optimistic here, and keeping our fingers crossed that Judge Lynn still intends to resolve this in a July 9 confirmation hearing, let's take that thought process another step further.

If Judge Lynn does get this ball rolling in the right direction by July 9, putting the franchise on the fast track for transfer of ownership from Tom Hicks to the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan partnership, is there any logical reason that Major League Baseball wouldn't allow the Rangers to consider adding payroll while the T's are being crossed and the I's dotted?

Let's hope that logic and fairness prevail, though that's something we can't count on in baseball.

But rather than fret over courtroom proceedings or trying to decipher the deep thinking that goes on in Bud Selig's inner sanctum, it's a lot more interesting to debate whether the Rangers should try to add Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt.

The refreshing thing is that with this new ownership, neither is out of the question. It's something Rangers' fans couldn't even dream of with Hicks still in control. With the new guys, anything goes.

Personally, I'd opt for Lee right now, because he's obviously at the absolute top of his game, because he's left-handed and because the Rangers will only have to pay about $4.5 million for his services over the last half of the season. That, and some top prospects, of course.

How hot has Lee been? You wouldn't want to handle him without welder's gloves, that's how hot.

He hasn't walked a batter in four straight games covering 37 innings. He had 19 0-2 counts in his win over the Cubs Wednesday. He leads the American League with a 2.39 ERA and in complete games with four, despite missing the first month of the season. He's worked at least eight innings seven times, also a league best.

Oh, one more thing: He was 4-0 in five postseason starts last year.

Yep, he's easily No. 1 on my list. But it's where he ranks on Daniels' list that matters.

"I know who I'd like to get," Daniels said, "but I'll keep that to myself right now."

What a surprise.

Oswalt wouldn't be a bad consolation prize at all and while his salary is much higher, he's also someone the Rangers would be guaranteed to have around for at least another season. He's knocking down $15 million this year and signed for 2011 at $16 million. Plus, there's a $16 million option (with a $2 million buyout) for 2012.

Throw in the fact that Houston owner Drayton McLane said this week that the Astros would be willing to eat some of Oswalt's contract and that Ryan is already on record as saying he'd love to have Oswalt ... well, it may come down to what the Rangers would have to give up in prospects to get one of these two prime-time pitchers.

Don't look for the Rangers to be bashful in this regard. This is the position they have worked hard to be in, and they're ready and willing to do what it takes to win.

"We're not a team that's just a flash in the pan," Daniels noted. "This is what we've been working towards for years now and if feel like we need to do something to help this team, we won't hesitate to do it."

Expect the Rangers to take the same approach that the Atlanta Braves did when they wanted Mark Teixeira a couple of years ago. Atlanta execs told Daniels they wouldn't do anything that would damage their current major league team and that there were a couple of prospects that were untouchable, but anyone else was in play. That's how the Rangers wound up with Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The Rangers have a couple of prospects who are untouchable -- my guess is that left-hander Martin Perez is one of them -- but everyone else is on the table for discussion.

Talking about all this makes Daniels nervous, naturally. It's not even the end of June yet and no one expects the Los Angeles Angels to fade quietly into the AL West background. The Rangers built a 10-game winning streak by butchering some of the worst teams in the National League and another one -- Houston -- arrives for the weekend at The Ballpark in Arlington.

With almost four months to go, we all hopefully understand that it isn't always going to be this easy.

It also won't be the end of the world if the trade deadline comes and goes and the Rangers don't wind up with either Lee or Oswalt. Who knows, Rich Harden could come back pitching better or Derek Holland could ride to the rescue after the All-Star break.

Still, it's nice to have options, and I doubt that Daniels will be getting a call from Young in the next month.

Besides, the most important name for the Rangers right now isn't Lee or Oswalt, it's Judge Michael Lynn. And to my knowledge, he's never thrown a pitch from the mound at The Ballpark in Arlington in his life.

Of course, if things go right, maybe the Rangers can invite him out for a ceremonial first pitch sometime in September. Wouldn't it be perfect if it was on a night when Lee or Oswalt was scheduled to take the hill for the home team?

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.