My annual National Signing Day clarification, take 18:
I’m not gonna write about Rashan Gary, ever.
He’s not gonna write about Michael Matuella, at any time.
Though Shane Buechele’s probably fair game for both.
Have a great Wednesday, whether or not this day, for you, is all about fax machines, hot tubs, and letters of intent . . . or Pitchers & Catchers in just 15 sleeps.
Following Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’s announcements, MLB.com revealed its own Top 100 Prospects list this weekend, and its wake offered a relatively objective assessment of whose farm systems are strongest, as well as one subjective evaluation.
On the subjective side, MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis, former executive editor of Baseball America, tweeted that he would rank the best systems in baseball in this order: Dodgers, Braves, Rockies, Rangers, and Red Sox.
But based on formula — assigning 100 points to the player MLB.com judges to be the number one prospect in the game, 99 points to the number two player, and on down to one point to the prospect ranked number 100 — Texas finished first by a healthy margin, amassing 353 points, followed by the same four other teams (Rockies 325, Dodgers 319, Red Sox 316, Braves 302).
That’s not why I wanted to write about this today.
If the players Texas sent Philadelphia for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman were still Rangers property, including the three who land on MLB.com’s list (Nick Williams at 25th overall, Jake Thompson at number 34, Jorge Alfaro at number 70), the Rangers would have 527 points under the formula.
Again, the number two through number five teams earned 325, 319, 316, and 302 points. If the Rangers hadn’t made the Hamels/Diekman trade, they’d be at 527.
Instead, they’re at 353 — still best in baseball by MLB.com’s estimation and math — and by virtue of that trade have absurdly affordable control over Hamels for the next four seasons and absurdly affordable control over Diekman for the next three.
Not to mention the 2015 playoff berth (and an ALCS date that was within painfully short reach), which we can probably all agree wouldn’t have happened without those two lefties arriving at the end of July.
Those 353 points come courtesy of Joey Gallo being ranked number 9 overall (and owning what MLB.com considers the best power in minor league ball and the third-strongest throwing arm among position players), Lewis Brinson checking in at number 16, Nomar Mazara at number 18, Dillon Tate at number 36 (with the minor leagues’ best slider), and Luis Ortiz at number 73 (third-best in evaluation of pitchers’ control).
Baseball Prospectus, as discussed last week, has Mazara (5), Gallo (8), and Brinson (15) ranked as three of the five best prospects in all of the American League, with Tate (59) and Ortiz (68) showing up on its Top 101 list as well.
MLB.com also notes that the Phillies lead baseball with seven prospects on its Top 101.
Four of those seven arrived via trade.
Three of them were Rangers, until six months ago today.
The equipment truck leaves for Surprise on Tuesday, and attention turns full-scale to the big club — whose initial workouts will include Gallo and Mazara, who are on the 40-man roster, and Brinson, who was invited to join them even though he’s not yet on the 40 — but for now, we can wrap up the prospect focus that helps annually to get us from the Winter Meetings to Pitchers & Catchers, regardless of how much activity there is on the big league acquisition level.
Happy Half-Year Anniversary to the Phillies, whose acquisition of Williams, Thompson, and Alfaro helped accelerate their hopes to become a factor once again.
And to the Rangers, whose allocation of those three, plus Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher and Matt Harrison’s contract, announced formally on July 31, helped get them to 162+ in 2015 and boosts their chances to repeat the feat in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 . . . and whose farm system, in spite of taking that considerable hit, is still considered, by at least one measure, to be the very best in the game.
Rev up that truck.
“Few teams have a better 1-2-3 prospect trio than the Rangers,” wrote Baseball America’s Ben Badler on Tuesday, in conjunction with his publication’s ranking of Texas minor leaguers.
He was referring to Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, and Nomar Mazara, the same three that front any assessment of the Rangers’ system — though not always in that order, as Baseball Prospectus, for instance, goes Mazara-Gallo-Brinson, the same sequence I went with in the Bound Edition.
As a matter of fact, BP has those three ranked number 5, number 8, and number 15 in all of baseball — and has them as three of the top five prospects in the American League, along with Minnesota outfielder Byron Buxton and Boston infielder Yoan Moncada.
Yes, this is the Beltre/Darvish Window, but that’s not anything like the Pujols Window, given that the Angels are committed not only financially but also by virtue of an empty farm system to throw pretty much everything they can at winning now, at the expense of all else, as evidenced by their decision to trade their top two prospects (per BA) to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons.
Texas is (and should be) in a mode to win now, because the club has control of one of the best starting pitchers in the game for two more seasons and a third baseman whose game, at some point, will reportedly recede.
But there are plenty of key veterans who should be here and in their primes longer than those two — the rotation and bullpen are full of them, for instance — and the farm system is poised to continue paying off, as it has here for years.
BA has Gallo, Brinson, Mazara, righthander Luis Ortiz, righthander Dillon Tate, outfielder Eric Jenkins, infielder Josh Morgan, infielder Andy Ibanez, outfielder Leody Taveras, and righthander Michael Matuella as its Top 10, while mine goes Mazara-Gallo-Brinson-Tate-Ortiz-lefthander Andrew Faulkner-lefthander Brett Martin-righthander Luke Jackson-Jenkins-outfielder Ryan Cordell (Taveras 11, Matuella 12, Morgan 14, Ibanez 19), and if you want to take a shot at slotting where BA’s number one Angel (catcher Taylor Ward) or number one Mariner (outfielder Alex Jackson) would fit on a Rangers list, be my guest.
Certainly not in the top five. You could start debating after that.
Would it be nice if Texas had a guy like Ward standing out behind the plate and figuring squarely into the long-term plans? You bet. The last time Texas went with the same two primary catchers in consecutive seasons was in 2000-02, when Pudge Rodriguez and Bill Haselman held things down, and Jorge Alfaro’s potential now belongs to someone else. The system’s best bet at catcher, according to Badler, is Jose Trevino (the organization’s number 22 prospect, on my list), but he’s years away and there are questions about how his offensive game will translate as he moves up.
Don’t be shocked if a year from now, Morgan is ranked higher than number 7 on every Rangers prospect list.
As a catcher.
Just don’t be shocked.
Robinson Chirinos was a second baseman-third baseman-shortstop when his pro career began, too.
Baseball America made no mention of the idea of Morgan at catcher, but Texas launched the experiment at Fall Instructs (see page 14 of your Bound Edition) and wasn’t discouraged.
Of course, even if that were to come together, Morgan would be years away himself — he and Trevino were teammates with Low A Hickory in 2015 — and catcher will still be an open question going forward.
Chirinos and Chris Gimenez were good enough last year (once Carlos Corporan fell out of the mix) and stand to be the tandem in 2016, in spite of persistent rumors that the Rangers and Brewers could match up on Jonathan Lucroy (Phil Rogers of MLB.com proposes Brinson, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Tanner Scheppers for Lucroy, though he acknowledges that “[m]aybe [it’s] too much to give up”; David Schoenfield of ESPN wonders whether Texas would move Gallo for him [no]; Jeff Sullivan of FanGraph spitballs Brinson or Tate, plus Gonzalez or Matuella or Faulkner or Patrick Kivlehan), as well as Ken Rosenthal’s (Fox Sports) suggestion that San Diego’s Derek Norris — arguably a poor man’s Mike Napoli with his ability to produce from the right side while playing catcher and an occasional first base — is also available in trade.
There will probably be two or three more frontline catchers here before Trevino or Morgan gets to the big leagues in a best-case scenario, and that’s OK. Texas won a pennant with Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina one year, and Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba the next, and has played 162+ with a Napoli-Geovany Soto duo, an A.J. Pierzynski-Soto tandem, and a Chirinos-Corporan pairing last year, at least early on, before Gimenez and Bobby Wilson came to an unexpected rescue.
Once upon a time this was a franchise that transitioned at catcher, more or less, from Jim Sundberg to Pudge. Roger to Troy, Montana to Young, Magic to Kobe. Modano to Benn.
The days of Sunny to Pudge are long gone, and missed. This team, of course, has won at unprecedented franchise levels without long-term stability at catcher, but man, I can’t wait until there’s a Yadi or Buster or Salvy, or a Sunny or Pudge, holding things down again in Texas for the better part of a decade.
Short of an unlikely pickup of Lucroy or Norris, Gimenez goes into Rangers camp with (for him) a rare spot on the 40-man roster, giving him the edge on the second catcher spot alongside Chirinos. Wilson gets a non-roster invite to big league camp along with fellow catchers Michael McKenry, Brett Nicholas, and Kellin Deglan. (No Pat Cantwell, which is interesting.) Teams regularly bring added catchers to camp, as a large group of pitching hopefuls need someone to throw to early in camp, but of that group Wilson and McKenry are probably the only ones with a real chance to earn the confidence of the staff as in-season reinforcements.
Quick aside about another catcher that Texas gave a big league invite to, only he’s no longer a catcher. You’re probably a whole lot less familiar with right-handed pitcher Scott Williams than a number of other non-roster minor league arms in the Rangers system, but the college catcher is on a bullet train toward becoming a Major League pitcher.
Williams caught for the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 1,000 miles from his Berwyn, Pennsylvania hometown, after missing his high school senior season and redshirt freshman year at the University of Virginia due to injury. In his one season with the Manatees, Williams mixed 10 innings in on the mound, catching the eye of Rangers area scout Cliff Terracuso. Texas used its 11th-round pick on Williams in the 2014 draft, and made him a full-time pitcher right away.
Assigned to Hickory his first summer, Williams struggled, walking 16 hitters and uncorking seven wild pitches in a mere 17 innings, permitting 17 earned runs (9.00 ERA) on 21 hits (.300/.425/.414) as a middle reliever for the Crawdads.
Williams was sent right back to Hickory in 2015, and he took off. As the Crawdads’ closer, he held the South Atlantic League to 27 hits (just seven for extra bases) and 12 unintentional walks (.188/.267/.285) in 43.1 innings, fanning 49 while saving 10 games in a two-month stretch. His fastball touched 97, and his slider kept improving.
When I started putting my Top 72 Prospects list together for the book this winter, I had Williams on it but near the bottom. I talk to a lot of folks in the game when I’m working that list up, and just about every time I visited with someone about the Rangers system this off-season, I found myself moving Williams up a bit. He shows up at number 27 for me right now, and not long from now even that may seem low. (He’d probably show up on a BA Top Ten for the Angels or Mariners today. Not joking.)
The 2014 draft was the Ortiz/Martin/Morgan/Trevino draft for the Rangers, but from that class (and the 2015 Crawdads roster) it’s the Day 3 selection Williams who makes it to big league camp first.
Yes, this is the Beltre/Darvish Window, but the difference between that and the Pujols Window is not just that the Rangers are in better shape to win right now, but also that Texas has Mazara, Gallo, and Brinson on the verge of arriving — providing potential impact both between the lines and in payroll relief — not to mention Ortiz and Tate and Jenkins and Morgan, at one position or another, and Jurickson Profar and Ibanez and Taveras and Matuella, and Faulkner and Martin and Jackson and Cordell, and Ariel Jurado and Connor Sadzeck and Jairo Beras and Yohander Mendez, and Trevino and Williams, and plenty more behind them.
Helping in Arlington or, as we saw in July, enabling the Rangers to bring in game-changing pennant race impact via trade.
Last week, Buster Olney (ESPN) ranked the Rangers as the number five team in baseball (owning the number two lineup).
At the same time, Baseball America will soon judge Texas as having a top 10 farm system — even having divested itself of three players who will show up this winter on top 100/101 lists as Phillies, and two others who have already taken regular turns in the Philadelphia rotation.
It’s not the case everywhere, pretty clearly, but in Texas it’s a matter of keeping the picture window wide open while, if you take a look, the sun is peeking through another window over there, and a couple more around each corner.
Hey there, Nomar, Joey, and Lewis.
Eric. Josh. Yeyson. Leody.
I got to listen to Anthony Iapoce talk about hitting today. For 55 minutes.
What a beast.
It probably surprises nobody that I was fired up about every one of your careers yesterday.
Not as much as I am today.
Impact add, man.
Pass the eye black, please.
While my days are a series of a whole lot more “tons I’d like to write about but can I find the time?” than “feel like writing today but what is there to say?,” that stretch between the Winter Meetings and Pitchers & Catchers is always relatively slow, and sometimes content is more of a reach, a written foot-tap or knee-bounce that says “man, I really need baseball to start up again” without really advancing the conversation otherwise.
Today is that.
There’s just not that much to say yet about the Rangers’ arbitration cases, four of which have settled (Tom Wilhelmsen, Robinson Chirinos, Tanner Scheppers, Jurickson Profar), leaving three (Mitch Moreland, Shawn Tolleson, Jake Diekman) positioned — at least for now — for February arbitration hearings.
There are some in the national media devoting tweets and columns to the idea of Texas signing Justin Upton to a short-term deal or trading for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy. OK. Both seem unlikely.
Part of me wants to write about catcher Vin DiFazio, playing nothing but indie league ball since finishing his run in the Rangers system in 2012, signing a minor league deal this weekend with the Dodgers, but it just didn’t seem ripe for a few hundred words.
Facebook has this feature that gathers things you posted on this date the last few years, and two of my posts from January 17, 2015 jumped out at me this morning.
One of them: “Just saw Luis Sardinas shopping at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Frisco. Tick tock.”
Two days later, Texas traded Sardinas in the deal to get Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo.
The other: A link to that morning’s Newberg Report, titled “You’re Philadelphia.”
The premise was that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to decide whether the time was right to trade Cole Hamels, and if so, to get the trade right if he was going to be able to save his job.
In that article, I wrote this, on the idea of the Rangers trading for Hamels:
“It’s reasonable to assume that the Phillies, if [CSN Philly writer Jim] Salisbury’s note on [Joey] Gallo and [Nomar] Mazara was triggered by some intel that any talks between the clubs have moved beyond those two, would expect [Jorge] Alfaro to be paired with either [Jake] Thompson or Chi Chi Gonzalez, and then another player or two from the tier that includes pitchers Luke Jackson, Luis Ortiz (as a player to be named later), Andrew Faulkner, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, Corey Knebel, Keone Kela, and Marcos Diplan, and hitters Lewis Brinson, Nick Williams, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Cordell, Travis Demeritte, and Jairo Beras.”
“If the offer were, say, Alfaro and Gonzalez and Eickhoff and Williams — which would surprise me — I would expect the Rangers to insist on a tremendous cash infusion from the Phillies, turning Hamels into something along the lines of a $15-17 million pitcher annually (with most of the subsidy front-loaded), rather than one toting the $24 million AAV that his contract guarantees.”
A little less than 200 days later, I was surprised.
(It was Thompson instead of Gonzalez, of course, and Asher and Matt Harrison were added on the Texas side, while Diekman was included on Philadelphia’s side.)
Surprised, and fired up.
Though the Phillies had (and have) to be as thrilled with the outcome of that deal as Texas was (and is), Amaro didn’t keep his job. He’ll be coaching first base for the Red Sox when they visit Arlington late in June to face Hamels and Diekman and the Rangers.
By then, Eickhoff and Asher could be regulars in the Phillies rotation, and maybe even Thompson, too, with Williams roaming left field. Alfaro is less likely to be in the big leagues the first half of this season, and the same can probably be said about Harrison.
Maybe Upton is manning left field in a Rangers uniform that weekend, and maybe Lucroy is behind the plate, but neither of those longshot situations seems ripe for a “tick tock” reference that Facebook will trigger a look back at a year from today.
So, uh. Yeah.
That’s all I got today.
Various reports indicate that the Blue Jays have been in contact with Yovani Gallardo this week, as they look for a reliable veteran to fit with J.A. Happ at the bottom of their rotation. Short-term memory is a factor, as the 29-year-old pitched 13.2 scoreless innings (2-0, 0.00, slash line of .136/.224/.136) against the Jays in 2015, not including his Game One win in Toronto when he gave Texas five innings of two-run ball, the final run coming in his final frame, when Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar doubles cut the score to 4-2.
They were the only extra-base hits Gallardo allowed Toronto in 69 plate appearances last year. The other eight were singles.
If Toronto signs Gallardo — or if Baltimore or Kansas City or Houston or anyone other than Texas signs him — the Rangers will be awarded a supplemental first-round pick in this year’s draft as compensation. They’re probably pulling for the Orioles, as their slot ahead of Texas in the first round would be forfeited and allow the Rangers to move up from what is now the number 20 spot. Houston drafts ahead of Texas as well, but my guess is the Rangers would prefer that Gallardo not land there. The Jays and Royals would lose a first as well, but further back in the round than where Texas sits.
In any event, if Gallardo ends up joining the Blue Jays, they’d be taking from the team that nearly eliminated them from the playoffs last year, in a sense, but Texas wouldn’t be left empty-handed.
Unlike in the case of Gil Kim.
You might not have heard of Kim before this week, but as Director of International Scouting for the Rangers the last two years, his sixth and seventh seasons in scouting with the organization, you know his work. The Blue Jays thought enough of it that they hired Kim this week as their new Director of Player Development.
Texas will get nothing in return, aside from the opportunity to promote or to add, on the heels of Kim’s departure.
And that’s how baseball works. On extremely rare occasions, high-level executives are traded, but generally speaking, when one team offers someone else’s official the opportunity to advance his career, the incumbent team doesn’t stand in the way even though it gets nothing back — not even nominal cash consideration, as when minor league players are drafted via Rule 5. The Rangers didn’t have to give anything to Pittsburgh for Jeff Banister, and they got nothing from San Diego when A.J. Preller left to become the Padres’ GM.
Kim moves on to Toronto, and on a personal level the Rangers organization is probably thrilled for the 34-year-old. Administratively, it’s a loss.
Kim’s history is fascinating. Undrafted as a high school ballplayer in Philadelphia, the 5’6”, 150-pound, switch-hitting middle infielder played one year at Middlebury College in Vermont before transferring to Vanderbilt, where in three seasons he got all of 21 at-bats.
One of which resulted in a base hit. A single.
As a sophomore, Kim played alongside outfielder Antoan Richardson, who spent most of 2015 on the Rangers’ disabled list. As a senior, his Commodore teammates included freshman David Price.
In 2006, a year after Kim graduated from Vanderbilt (with a B.A. in U.S. History), he landed an opportunity to play professionally for the Hoofddorp Pioniers, a minor league club in the Netherlands. The following spring, after spending five months volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, Kim earned $250 a month playing for the Beijing Tigers in China. That winter, he moved on to the Western District Bulldogs in the Greater Brisbane Baseball League in Australia, working a construction job on the side to help make ends meet.
In the spring of 2008, Kim played in the Spanish National Baseball League, on a team owned by soccer monolith FC Barcelona, and that winter he took his career to Venezuela, where he played one season for Tiburones de La Guaira (though his name doesn’t show up on that club’s 2008 statistics page). He lived in the club’s locker room, sleeping on a mattress in the bathroom. He studied Spanish with the clubhouse attendants every day.
Kim’s time with La Guaira ended in November 2008. A little more than a month later, he had a baseball operations internship with the Pirates.
That lasted three months. The Rangers hired Kim away from Pittsburgh in March of 2009, offering him an opportunity to scout for the club in Mexico, and later in the Dominican Republic, before moving him into leadership roles in the club’s effort scouting ballplayers internationally.
And now, after “[running] one of the top international scouting programs” in baseball (in the words of Baseball America’s Ben Badler), Kim is now working in yet another country, settling in as the Blue Jays’ farm director. It’s a similar career progression to that of Rangers’ Senior Director of Player Development Mike Daly, who before being promoted was the Rangers’ Director of International Scouting from 2010 to 2013 — after which Kim assumed that post.
Toronto envisions Kim overseeing an organizational effort to help Jays minor league players “creat[e] and realiz[e] their physical, mental, and fundamental goals.” It’s part of what he did here, and if and when Venezuelan shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri and Nicaraguan catcher Melvin Novoa and Dominican outfielder Jose Almonte refine their particularly high upsides to the point at which they get to the big leagues, you’ll hear that Kim played a big role in putting Rangers uniforms on those teenagers in the first place.
Kim’s tremendous work in Texas probably never put him on a path that crossed with Gallardo. Maybe they’ll end up in Toronto together, maybe not. The Rangers can’t prevent the righthander from signing with the Jays — short of re-signing him themselves — and the truth is they’re just hopeful that he gets a big league deal somewhere (he will), because it will add a premium draft pick to the inventory in Texas as a result.
There’s no such compensation when you lose a frontline baseball operations official, and while there are positives — a tremendous reflection not only on Kim (who is younger than Adrian Beltre and Colby Lewis, a little older than Chris Gimenez) and his impressive rise in the game but also on the Texas organization and its ability to develop people off the field just as it does between the lines — the Rangers’ loss in this case is the Blue Jays’ gain.
Slow clap for the Rangers, for finding Kim and developing the man. Slow clap for the Jays, for this week’s hire.
Slow clap for Gil Kim, who has quite clearly paid his dues, and continues to earn new opportunities.
I was watching a show the other day when a Picasso quote I’d never heard was referenced:
It took me four years to paint like Raphael — but a lifetime to paint like a child.
My first reaction was shock that I’d never heard it before. My second was the embarrassment that it’s probably because I don’t read enough. My third?
I thought about the baseball card show I went to with Max and a few of his friends two days ago, and how awesome it was to see that world through 11-year-old eyes, that world that 35 years ago was my own 11-year-old nirvana, a world that on many days I wish I could still paint in.
I thought about Sunny and Buddy and Toby and how the best Rangers cards ever were in 1976 (inspiration for the cover of the 2007 Bound Edition) and 1978 (those awesome shots, especially Sunny and Toby and Mike Hargrove). I thought about Fergie and Gaylord and Bert and Jon. I thought about the Jeff Burroughs trade that made me sad and the Sparky Lyle that made me happy . . . until I realized who Dave Righetti was.
I thought about John Henry Johnson’s incredible Rangers debut and everything it promised (whoops), and I thought about being nearly alone in Port Charlotte in March of 1990, when everyone on a 40-man roster had been locked out of spring training, but there, on a field 100 feet away from the one where Donald Harris and Dan Peltier were taking BP, was the pudgy teenaged catcher whose one Class A season (.238/.278/.355 for Low A Gastonia) failed to lead Baseball America to make room for him on its Top 10 Rangers Prospects list, but whose work next to the other four or five catchers in those throwing drills made my jaw drop.
And now he’s in the Cooperstown on-deck circle.
I wasn’t a kid anymore in 1990. But I felt like one when I saw Ivan Rodriguez for the first time, separated by nothing more than a chain-link fence.
Baseball, like nothing else, has the power to make me feel like a kid again.
The daily adrenaline of the ups and the downs. The innocence of the game, and the complexity. The new hope it offers every day.
And every year.
Baseball is what, for lots of us, packs the promise that we’re going to paint our tails off, like a child, when that World Series is won.
Hopefully it happens for Belts, Rougie, and Yu, whose baseball cards and whose edge and whose artistry are inspiring some kid the way Sunny and Buddy and Toby inspired me.
The way Belts, Rougie, and Yu still inspire me now.
When I heard that Picasso quote a couple days ago, I thought in particular about one thing I’d written before, something I’d emailed to a fraction of you on this mailing list shortly before we left the house to take our daughter, now a high school sophomore who inspires me every day, to her first day of Kindergarten, a day after her brother’s first birthday.
If it’s OK with you, I’m going to self-indulgently run that 3,801-day-old report again, because it was about childhood and baseball and, I think, the pursuit of a sort of painting.
The Newberg Report, August 15, 2005
When I was five years old, we had this Saturday morning tradition. Dad would take me and my two-year-old brother Barry to 7-Eleven, or Schepps, for something out of the ice cream freezer. I think I usually went with a Banana Fudgsicle, Barry one of those orange Push-Ups, or maybe a Drumstick.
There were four games in town in the mid-’70s, one of which was king. My parents were religious Dallas Cowboy fans. Fall Sundays were devoted to football, usually at our house or the Donskys’, with Halleck’s chicken, chips and El Fenix queso, and Pepsi as the everyday lineup, and a mess of all kinds of other stuff in rotation around it.
I’ve told the story before about pulling up to Schepps on one of those Saturday mornings, asking Dad how many of the Cowboys he knew personally, and upon learning that the answer was zero questioning why he cared so much whether Dallas won. I have no recollection what his answer was. But the question, and the parking space we pulled into while my question hung in the air, are etched permanently in my memory.
There were also the Texas Rangers and Dallas Tornado and Dallas Blackhawks. The latter two were never televised. The Rangers were televised roughly once a week, which made them no different from the Cowboys in that respect. They were different in just about every other possible way, though. Rather than serve as the focal point of the day, the televised Ranger game, if anything, was generally background scenery while we got ready to go swimming somewhere.
My most vivid memories of Ranger games on TV in the mid-’70s involve Mark Fidrych firing a gem against Texas (while at either the Kreislers’ or Bruckners’ house, waiting to swim); Eric Soderholm driving in a game-winner against Texas in the ninth (ruining my mood as I dove into the pool at the Viroslavs’); and Willie Horton hitting three home runs in a game (while at Grandma and Papa’s, about to head to the pool). I have it stuck in my mind that Adrian Devine pitched in the game that Horton went nuts in.
When I was seven, we graduated from weekly ice cream to a pack of Topps, baseball half the year and football the other half. (I can’t remember whose idea it was to make the switch, but I like to think it was mine.) I still remember the older man who ran the Schepps grabbing the cardboard box full of wax packs off the top shelf of the candy aisle, pulling out not the top pack but one near the bottom of a stack and promising me and my brother that there’d be a Cowboy in it. And he was right: a few cards in (seems like Lem Barney and Vern Den Herder delayed the gratification, though there’s no way I actually remember that part), Rayfield Wright’s All-Pro face smiled at me, keeping to himself the secret of how Schepps Man knew. The bookmark-grade slab of “gum” was an afterthought, if that.
The love affair with sports no longer belonged only to Dad.
I’m not sure when baseball separated itself from football for me. My parents weren’t really baseball fans. If I’m really honest with myself, the time when football was no longer riding shotgun, and instead began to take a backseat, was probably 1984, when the Cowboys started missing the playoffs — until that time I was as crazy a football fan as I was a baseball fan. As demoralizing as it was to have my football year end with the regular season, I look back on it and realize how it set me up to be somewhat of a snobby fan. It’s easy to slither off the bandwagon when a team you expect as a child to go to the Super Bowl every year has as awful a win-loss record as 9-7!
Further back — and the fact that I vividly remember this tells you how snooty a Cowboy fan I was . . . how entitled I felt . . . even at age eight — the Cowboys had a 1977 home game against Tampa Bay blacked out because they failed to sell out Texas Stadium. (The horror!) What I remember about that is the stroll on which Mom took us (including my five-month-old sister Mandy) around Pennystone and Blue Trace, with the game on the radio, courtesy of Verne Lundquist and Brad Sham. (I’ve always been a radio guy anyway, in both sports, from those days until now.)
I was profoundly sad. The blackout shook my eight-year-old soul like a stock market crash. Because in those days, Dallas Cowboy ups and downs were Jamey Newberg ups and downs.
But Dallas went on to smack the Broncos in the Super Bowl that year. I celebrated by working and reworking my jigsaw puzzle that winter of Randy White and Harvey Martin mauling Norris Weese. A thousand times.
So how was it that baseball kept up with football in those years? Dallas was winning 11 or 12 games every season, finishing atop the division almost without exception, while the Rangers would annually hover around .500 (with the exception of the 1977 Willie Horton club, which won 94 times but still finished eight games behind the Royals). How was it that my affection for the Rangers didn’t keep as company the Tornado and Blackhawks, rather than the Cowboys?
Because of the tosses with Dad or Barry, or the daily games of streetball, or the pitchback in the backyard? Doubt it; they were all just as likely to involve a football as a baseball.
I think it was a few things. Football was a once-a-week event, baseball a daily ritual. Though we never missed an opportunity to meet Roger Staubach at Neiman’s or Drew Pearson at Joske’s, it was a lot easier to catch Jim Sundberg and Mike Hargrove at John Mabry Clothiers, or Jim Fregosi and Bill Fahey and Roy Smalley at Northaven Field to kick off the Little League season. And the world of baseball cards proved to be limitless, football cards not so much.
(Anytime I hear “Philadelphia Freedom” [Elton John], or something by Cliff Richard [thank goodness that’s pretty much a non-existent possibility these days], or “Steal Away” [Robbie DuPree], or “Too Much Time on My Hands” [Styx], or “Still the Same” [Bob Seger], I immediately think I’m in the car with Mom, as she’s about to drop me off at whatever mall the baseball card shop “Remember When” was located at.)
Once I was old enough to play organized ball, there was lots of baseball, no football. There were summers when the game was part of my routine every day, either games at Northaven or practices at Walker or scorekeeping at Churchill. And Risenhoover and Merrill on the radio at night, bringing me Rangers baseball as I drifted to (or fought) sleep.
And as for the Rangers, those years of mediocrity probably solidified a loyalty that Cubs fans made an art, and that Cowboy fans have never really shown, or understood. Those of you who were with this team before the Red Years know what I mean. It’s easy to root for a perennial winner; there’s more character, though, in standing behind Sisyphus and helping push.
The game itself has always captivated me. You can’t find a book about football in the same league as “Nine Innings” or “Men at Work” or “Three Nights in August,” none of which I imagine would show up on a list of the 100 best baseball books ever written. I’m a competer — which I know isn’t a word but which still connotes something different from “competitor,” I think — and I find irresistible the chess matches that make up the at-bats and the innings and the games and the series and the seasons and even the off-seasons in baseball. I say that now as a fan; once upon a time it was as a player.
There was a photo of Bucky Dent one ’70s spring in Street & Smith’s, hurdling a runner trying to break up a double play, and a shot in the same magazine of Robin Yount ranging into the hole, and they made me want to be a shortstop. It was my home on the baseball diamond for 12 years, until my high school coach put me on the mound as a junior and made me a pitcher-outfielder my senior year. (My day to pitch? “Bullet the Blue Sky” on my headphones, on the bus headed to Loos Fieldhouse or Reverchon Park.)
I hated Coach for moving me to the outfield. And then I wished someone had moved me sooner. It’s where I ended my baseball career one year later and two years after that, in that one week in Austin, that one day in Georgetown, and that one final week again in Austin. I love the outfield. I loved shortstop more; but I was better as an outfielder.
To this day there are guys I played with in Little League and middle school and BBI and high school and those 10 days at Disch-Falk and that one at Southwestern and on the intramural softball fields with whom I keep in touch. Maybe that’s what it’s been, more than the baseball cards and the transistor radios and the Street & Smith’s and even the chess matches, that’s responsible for my latching so acutely onto baseball. I’ve been able to share it with so many people. Including, for the past eight seasons, you.
This fully selfish and tangential exercise has been your present to me. You’ve indulged me on what’s an enormously nostalgic and proud day. Erica’s first day of Kindergarten (which comes a day after Max’s first birthday — thanks for all the notes yesterday) begins in a little more than an hour, and though she hasn’t known any of her classmates for as much as a week, it won’t surprise me if she sits down to eat lunch this afternoon with someone who one day will stand up at her wedding.
And on that day when her mother and I give her away, I hope to remember this day well, and the things I was thinking about as I was getting ready to head out the door. One of which was which kind of ice cream she’ll pick out this afternoon.
When the Cowboys make their first selection in the draft on April 28, as long as they don’t trade out of the number four slot it will be the third time that they and the Rangers have called names in the same first-round position in adjacent drafts.
In June of 1973, Texas took Houston high school lefthander David Clyde first overall, seven months after which Dallas used the draft’s number one selection (acquired from Houston for defensive end Tody Smith and receiver Billy Parks, I kid you not) on Tennessee State defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones. (The Cowboys also got the Oilers’ third-rounder in the trade, using that pick on quarterback Danny White. I’m serious.)
(Two picks after the Rangers drafted Clyde, Milwaukee took California high school shortstop Robin Yount. A pick after that, San Diego chose University of Minnesota outfielder Dave Winfield. Don’t worry about that.)
In June of 1974, Texas stayed home again and used the number two overall pick on Austin high school righthander Tommy Boggs (passing on the likes of fellow high school first-rounders Dale Murphy, Willie Wilson, Lance Parrish, Rick Sutcliffe, Lonnie Smith, and Garry Templeton).
Seven months later, Dallas had the second overall pick in its draft (picked up from the Giants along with a second-rounder for its 31-year-old backup quarterback Craig Morton, who had also signed a deal giving him an option to play in the WFL the following season) and used it on University of Maryland defensive tackle Randy White.
Seven months ago, in June 2015, the Rangers had the fourth pick in the MLB draft (after picking no higher than 23 the previous four drafts), collectively bargained consolation for a 2014 season brutalized by a record number of games lost to injury. They used the opportunity to draft UCSB righthander Dillon Tate, the first pitcher to come off the board (after the first three teams went with shortstops).
Three months from now, barring a trade, the Cowboys, besieged themselves this season by a handful of key injuries they couldn’t overcome, will also draft in the fourth slot.
Maybe they’ll take a quarterback (Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch), or perhaps the best player available approach will lead them to Joey Bosa or Laremy Tunsil or Jalen Ramsey or Laquon Treadwell or Myles Jack. They’ve got to get the pick right, more so than in baseball, given the salary cap implications and immediate roster needs, not to mention the fact that NFL players are almost all brought into the league via the draft, dramatically unlike MLB, where a huge segment of high-end talent arrives outside the draft, internationally, and where roster-retrenching trades for young talent are far more feasible.
Also, to be fair on some level, drafting in baseball is much, much tougher than in football, as even the most decorated amateur baseball players generally spend years of development between signing a pro contract and reaching the big leagues, while football players who go early in the draft typically step right into a starting NFL lineup. The slugging percentage in the baseball draft is a lot more challenging.
But the other thing is this: The Rangers are much better at scouting and drafting and developing than they were 40-plus years ago. Not that Clyde was necessarily the wrong pick at the time, for example, but the organization’s decision to immediately thrust the 18-year-old into a big league rotation just wasn’t real smart.
Maybe the Cowboys will come away in April with a player at number four who earns All-Pro recognition at the rate White and Jones did.
Maybe Tate will top out as a mediocre big league pitcher never reaching 162+, just as Clyde and Boggs did.
Doubt that, too.
There’s really no point to my decision to write this report (and to hit “send” rather than “delete”), other than to commemorate the humane euthanasia of a dreadful football season, one significance of which, aside from the resulting draft position bonanza, is a happy reminder that, at least locally, football is over, and Pitchers & Catchers will Report to complexes all over Arizona and Florida in a month and a half, which on the one hand is real, real soon — and on the other can’t get here soon enough.
Times long past, I think it means.
A year ago, it sort of felt — possibly — like that perennial World Series chase was a time long past for the Rangers. We were all pretty sure those 95 losses were freakishly anomalous, due in large part to record-setting injury numbers, but then again there were healthy veterans whose numbers had cratered, too, plus a first-time manager coming in, a couple division rivals who had what appeared to be impact winters, and then, in March, the loss of Yu Darvish for the year.
Instead, it’s now that brutal 2014 that feels like an outlier, an aberration, a time long past. Texas re-earned a place at the tournament table in October, and once again this has the look and feel of a contender, as has been the case every year this decade, other than 2014.
Jim Bowden ran an ESPN piece yesterday attempting to identify “[w]hat’s missing for all 30 MLB teams.” This is what Bowden said with respect to the 10 teams coming off playoff baseball:
* A power bat and bullpen depth (NYM)
* Starting pitcher (CHC)
* Patience to wait for farm system to deliver (LAD)
* Impact bat (STL)
* Starting pitcher, first base (PIT)
* Corner outfielders (KC)
* Bullpen depth, backup middle infielder (TOR)
* 1B or 3B (HOU)
* Starting pitcher (NYY)
* And Texas: Their players returning to good health
It’s been a relatively quiet off-season for the Rangers, but as we’ve talked about over and over, Texas got a four-month (and half-season) jump on its winter in July, plus it’s not as if the off-season is over.
But, as Bowden noted: “If everyone is healthy, the Rangers have a strong, deep club; now it’s just a matter of getting all hands on deck. All-Star starting pitcher Yu Darvish is expected back as early as mid-May from Tommy John surgery (surgery was in March), Derek Holland and Martin Perez would be another year beyond their surgeries, and Josh Hamilton has comeback player of the year potential if he can return from his long list of ailments.”
I might tap the Hamilton brakes, but you get the point. The Rangers, at least in the perception of Bowden and others, don’t need that added impact starter or a corner bat to contend. They may just need to be healthy.
The Yankees made a splash this week trading four prospects to Cincinnati for closer Aroldis Chapman — but as Sweeny Murti (WFAN) notes, New York was 66-3 this season when leading after six innings, 73-2 when leading after seven, and undefeated in the 81 games it led after eight. How much better, Murti wonders, does Chapman really make that team?
This isn’t exactly the 1997 Rangers replacing Mike Henneman with John Wetteland.
Some reports suggest the Rangers are lurking on Yoenis Cespedes (who wouldn’t cost a draft pick to sign, incidentally), and could turn loose a high-end bullpen arm for the right return (maybe a young, controllable starting pitcher with mid-rotation projection). But it doesn’t sound as if Texas plans to play big in free agency, and by all accounts the club isn’t proactively looking to move a reliever, or Mitch Moreland. The Rangers — as always — will look to be opportunistic, but that’s not the same as pushing the issue.
Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe) reports that Cliff Lee is “completely recovered from his flexor tendon tear and has been cleared to throw,” and he suggests the 37-year-old could be “a great gamble” for Texas, Baltimore, Kansas City, or Houston. That’s one situation I’m really interested in monitoring, but given the dollars it would take, even if heavily incentive-based, I’m not so sure the non-roster deal the Rangers signed righthander A.J. Griffin to a couple weeks may not be the more prudent risk to take.
Still: Would love to see Cliff back here.
Last winter was mostly quiet for Texas as well, headlined by the mid-January trade for one year of Yovani Gallardo and — in retrospect — the Rule 5 drafting of Delino DeShields.
But recognize that aggressive is always right around the corner when it comes to Jon Daniels.
I rank the Rangers’ top 72 prospects every winter for my book. Looking back at the list from a year ago, which I shared last New Year’s Day, and focusing on just the 24 that make up the top third, Daniels moved 10 of them in 2015, with another three not only graduating to the big leagues but lasting long enough to exhaust rookie status and remove themselves from this year’s list. None of them fell out of the top 24.
More than half of those two dozen from a year ago today are now with new organizations, or have established themselves in Texas.
More than half.
And as a result, Cole Hamels and Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman are also here, each for a long time, not to mention a supplemental first-round pick that the Rangers will recoup once Gallardo — whose 184.1 innings and the best ERA+ of his career helped Texas reach 162+ last year, when he was the de facto ace for the first half of the season — signs elsewhere this winter.
I’m not sure I’d predict that 10 of the 24 players who top the list in this year’s book get traded between now and New Year’s Day 2017, but I do agree with Bowden’s assessment that the Rangers don’t have much more to do this winter to position themselves to contend in 2016 — and knowing Daniels, that means we could be looking at another big trade deadline move or two this summer, as he once again gets a head start on the winter while boosting a pennant run in the meantime.
And making sure that 2014 feels, even more, like a time long past.
My Top 72 Rangers Prospects list, as found (with full write-ups on every player) in this year’s Bound Edition:
- Nomar Mazara, OF
- Joey Gallo, 3B-OF-1B
- Lewis Brinson, OF
- Dillon Tate, RHP
- Luis Ortiz, RHP
- Andrew Faulkner, LHP
- Brett Martin, LHP
- Luke Jackson, RHP
- Eric Jenkins, OF
- Ryan Cordell, OF-3B
- Leody Taveras, OF
- Michael Matuella, RHP
- Ariel Jurado, RHP
- Josh Morgan, SS-2B-3B
- Connor Sadzeck, RHP
- Jairo Beras, OF
- Yohander Mendez, LHP
- Yeyson Yrizarri, SS-2B
- Andy Ibanez, 2B
- Ronald Guzman, 1B
- Tyler Phillips, RHP
- Jose Trevino, C
- Travis Demeritte, 2B-3B
- Phil Klein, RHP
- Sam Wolff, RHP
- LeDarious Clark, OF
- Scott Williams, RHP
- Jake Lemoine, RHP
- Jose Leclerc, RHP
- Chad Smith, OF-1B
- Chris Garia, OF
- Jonathan Hernandez, RHP
- Victor Payano, LHP
- David Perez, RHP
- Drew Robinson, 2B-SS-3B-OF
- Luke Tendler, OF
- Michael De Leon, SS-2B
- Frank Lopez, LHP
- Jose Almonte, OF
- Chad Bell, LHP
- Tyler Ferguson, RHP
- Ti’Quan Forbes, 3B-SS
- Will Lamb, LHP (traded to White Sox for minor league righthander Myles Jaye after I went to print)
- Evan Van Hoosier, 2B-OF
- Luis Marte, SS-3B-2B
- Pedro Payano, RHP
- Jose Valdespina, RHP
- Richelson Pena, RHP
- Royce Bolinger, OF
- Jesus Pirela, RHP
- Samuel Zazueta, LHP
- Melvin Novoa, C
- John Fasola, RHP
- Miguel Aparicio, OF
- Adam Parks, RHP
- Jared Hoying, OF
- Kelvin Vasquez, RHP
- Anderson Tejeda, SS-2B-3B
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 2B-SS-3B-OF
- Cole Wiper, RHP
- Pedro Ogando, OF-2B-1B
- Collin Wiles, RHP
- Eduard Pinto, OF-1B
- Pat Cantwell, C-OF
- Ryne Slack, LHP
- Kellin Deglan, C
- Pedro Brito, LHP
- Jimmy Reyes, LHP
- Preston Beck, OF-1B
- Seth Spivey, 3B-2B-OF
- Yohel Pozo, C-1B
- Brett Nicholas, C-1B
Happy New Year, you guys. Here’s to good health and to more moments like this one, and to even better ones.
I think the science is that the days start, little by little, to get longer on December 22 each year. A little more light, each day.
It felt that way Tuesday night. The weather, and just about everything else, couldn’t have been better.
We packed in about 325 people at the really cool Bedford Ice House for the Newberg Report Book Release Party, and you guys donated hundreds of toys to help make sure lots of kids had better holidays than they would have otherwise.
Jeff Banister, Eric Nadel, Darren Oliver, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Freeman, and Josue Perez signed autographs and answered fan Q&A and posed for photos — Banny also formed a brand new Rangers cap at my request (scroll down through this stack of Marty Yawnick’s photos from the event to watch the video) — and it was a great night of baseball.
All those guys sacrificed family time to be with a few hundred hungry Rangers fans. The energy was incredible. Baseball can’t get here soon enough.
Jared Sandler and then Ben and Skin helped run things, Steve Richardson and his staff took care of everyone, Dawn Shepard and Billie Jo Davis classed up the joint, and this dramatic reenactment happened:
Thanks for everyone who came out to the party. Most of all, I want to thank Banny, Eric, Ollie, Robinson, Sam, and Josue, because the grind those guys go through — in large part for us — for eight or nine months every year leaves very little time to decompress, to reconnect with family and build on that part of their lives before the grind gets set to start up all over again. I think that’s probably lost on lost of folks. It’s no longer lost on me.
I’m super-grateful to those guys. They made a cool night really come together.
Now, I’m about to ruin today’s entry, because I walked out of a movie theater about 12 hours ago and can’t help myself.
No spoilers, I promise.
This is going to be terrible, but here we go.
Episodes one through three of the Star Wars franchise were the equivalent, maybe, of the Rangers’ first-ever taste of playoff baseball, when the club was mauled by the Yankees three times but still reached new territory. October 1996 (Juando: Rise of Vader), 1998, and 1999 = May 1999, 2002, and 2005. Yeah?
(This works better if you pretend for a minute that Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith were actually released first, just as they fall in the story.)
(Actually, it probably still doesn’t work.)
Maybe Episodes four through six line up with the 2010 World Series season (1977’s breakthrough A New Hope), the 2011 World Series season (1980’s awesome The Empire Strikes Back), and the extraordinary 2015 Rangers season (1983’s Return of the Jedi), which may not have soared the way 2010 and 2011 did but which was still a phenomenal experience . . . leaving us fired up, wanting more.
We saw Episode VII: The Force Awakens last night.
There’s a World Series parade ahead, one year soon, that will complete this analogy. That film was awesome.
The Star Wars portion of this report wasn’t awesome, but I ruined a “Mad Men” episode a few years ago by actually commenting on specifics, so I won’t make that mistake again.
(I just made a different mistake, by not deleting the last eight paragraphs.)
Thanks to all those who came out to Bedford Ice House on Tuesday. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.
Seriously: Happy New Year.