The Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant on a trade that may or may not signal Texas’ pessimism about their chances of signing free agent Barry Zito.

The Rangers sent top pitching prospect John Danks (above), their top pick in 2003, along with reliever Nick Masset and 20-year-old right-hander Jacob Rasner to the Chicago White Sox for 23-year-old right-hander Brandon McCarthy. They also received minor league outfielder David Paisano.

McCarthy already has 151 innings of major league experience and would be under Texas’ control through at least 2011. He spent most of last season as an apprentice in the White Sox’s bullpen. He was 4-7 last season with a 4.68 ERA with 51 of his 53 appearances in relief.

The Rangers view him as a more advanced version of Danks, who is 21. McCarthy is only 18 months older, and his advancement through the minors parallels Danks’. Both reached Triple-A by 21, but McCarthy was 37-21 with a 3.38 ERA and an average of 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 470 2/3 minor league innings. Danks is 21-30 with a 4.20 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 426 innings.

Though I thought Danks looked super sharp in homecoming start versus Round Rock last August, the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers is wary of White Sox GM Kenny Williams “trading known quantities for pitchers with big upsides but no guarantees.”

t’s surprising the Sox would trade a 23-year-old with the potential to win 15 to 18 games every year. It’s not shocking, however, with veterans Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez still in the rotation.

But it would have seemed more logical to use McCarthy as a chip that would bring back a significant outfielder, like the Devil Rays’ Rocco Baldelli or the Blue Jays’ Alex Rios. To trade your one young starter after you’ve just seemed to have opened a spot in the rotation for him, and to get back only unproven players, well, that takes chutzpah.

Williams still could use the surplus of pitching prospects he has created to pull off a trade that brings immediate improvement to one of three positions: left field, center field or shortstop. But the reality is he has now made four trades since November without addressing his most glaring needs.

On the surface, the McCarthy deal is another part of the Williams/Jerry Reinsdorf plan to replace, rather than re-sign, Buehrle, Garland and Vazquez (along with the recently departed Freddy Garcia) before the 2009 season. This is a despicable plan, not just because it puts economics ahead of competitiveness but because it guarantees that guys who brought a World Series parade to Chicago are going to be leaving town too soon, maybe still in their primes.

When this organizational strategy was revealed this month, I used the word “arrogant” to describe it. Williams, however, believes he is merely being “prudent” and “forward-thinking” to get ahead of a pitching market that is throwing big four- and five-year contracts at No. 3 and No. 4 starter.

With that pitching market in mind (and taking a shot or 3 at Gary Matthews Jr.), the New York Times’ Murray Chass writes,

The owners are out of control and, as usual, they have no one to blame but themselves. Marvin Miller used to say the owners wanted the union to protect them from themselves, and he was right. Without engaging in illegal collusive acts, they are incapable of protecting themselves from themselves.

Just last week, the players™ union computed the 2006 average player salary at a record $2.7 million. The contracts flooding the market this winter indicate that a year from now baseball will be flirting with a $3 million average.

Like workers in other industries, professional athletes should be able to earn as much as they can, with no artificial restraints, like payrolls caps, limiting their pay. Rock singers and rappers can do it. So can actors and television anchors. Why not athletes?

But in their desperation to add a lusty hitter or an effective pitcher, the owners lose all perspective and spend exorbitantly and foolishly. They fit the story, apocryphal or not, that is told about Lamar Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs™ owner, who died recently.

His father, H. L. Hunt, supposedly once said of his son™s involvement with professional football, œI gave him an unlimited budget, and he has already exceeded it.