The Newberg Report: February 22

There are days when you can use a bit of a lift, and so when baseball offers you a message from your team’s manager, delivered not only to his troops but also to the press, that he expects to be playing eight months from now when 22 other teams have gone home, you accept it as a small gift.

And maybe it was that momentary boost you got, but that vision of mid-October baseball might have included a new player that wasn’t on the Ranger radar a couple weeks ago, let alone anyone else’s.

Don’t get me wrong: Erubiel Durazo is not going to be the difference between Texas making the playoffs and not, but it’s easy to imagine that if this team does fulfill the expectations of its manager, its owner, and every player who laces ‘em up in 2006, Durazo could be a factor.

The Rangers signed Durazo to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp on Tuesday, and he was in uniform for the club’s first full-squad workout. The 31-year-old DH-first baseman may have health questions, and doesn’t have a clear role here even if he’s ready to go, but it’s an interesting addition.

Two immediate reactions:

First, the litmus test. Any time Texas loses a player or adds one, my gut instinct is generally informed by the following question: Would I be upset if the player ended up with Oakland or the Angels? If Durazo had reupped with the A’s or signed with LAAA, yeah, that would bother me.

Second, the lumbering left-handed hitter made me think of athletic, right-handed pitcher Chris Carpenter.

After Carpenter fought through a miserable 2002 season, during which he spent three stints on the disabled list and had shoulder surgery, Toronto released him. St. Louis signed the 27-year-old to a league-minimum contract three months after his torn labrum was repaired, knowing it wouldn’t get a thing out of him in 2003. He would rehabilitate all year, making eight minor league appearances, and the Cardinals declined a $2 million option — before signing him to another league-minimum deal for 2004, with another $2 million option.

Carpenter then went 15-5, 3.46 in 2004, and St. Louis picked the option up for 2005. Once the 2005 season was underway, Carpenter signed a two-year extension for $13 million, and he’d go on to win the Cy Young with a 21-5, 2.83 campaign.

This isn’t to suggest that Durazo is going to win an MVP award in the next couple years — or that Texas is going to have to nurse him back to health for a full season — but I wonder if the Rangers didn’t make this move with 2007 in mind, rather than 2006.

I say that not so much because of Durazo’s health — he had Tommy John surgery in July but insists that he’s 100 percent — but because he doesn’t appear at the moment to fit. Can the Rangers, likely going with only a four-man bench, afford to keep a guy like Durazo, who is a subpar first baseman? (On this team, it wouldn’t matter if he was a brilliant defender, of course.) Considering three of its infielders never rest and a guy as versatile as Mark DeRosa is around, maybe so. But surely not if David Dellucci and Phil Nevin are both on the roster.

But that’s the thing: Dellucci and Nevin are free agents after this season. Durazo is probably here only as a low-cost insurance policy against a spring injury to one of them. But if Durazo sticks, somehow, he could be part of the 2007 picture when Nevin will almost certainly be gone and Dellucci (if he repeats his 2005) could test free agency.

The deal Durazo signed allows him to leave if Texas hasn’t put him on the big league roster by March 29. If he does make the club, he’ll earn between $500,000 and slightly more than $1 million, but barring injury, it’s hard to imagine there being room for him — unless Nevin capitalizes on Mark Teixeira’s WBC sabbatical and plays himself into a trade, or plays so poorly that the Rangers decide to release him and eat his massive contract.

If circumstances put Durazo on the team, you can expect him to be productive. The former Diamondback and Athletic is a lifetime .281/.381/.487 hitter in his seven big league seasons and a .338/.432/.513 hitter in 80 Ameriquest Field at-bats. Should Ian Kinsler struggle at the plate early in the season, Durazo would be a heck of a weapon to bring off the bench in the late innings, hitting once for Kinsler with DeRosa moving in to play defense. He could also DH from time to time with Dellucci getting some time in the outfield.

The signing of Durazo isn’t great news for Jason Botts, but chances are that Botts wasn’t going to begin the year in Arlington regardless of the circumstances.

Durazo will play for his native Mexico in the WBC, but before and after he’ll get a chance to audition for a job with Texas and, frankly, for the other 29 teams. I just don’t want to see him wearing an Angels uniform in April.

Tom Hicks, who addressed the team yesterday, told reporters that he personally met with Roger Clemens at the pitcher’s home outside Houston two weeks ago.

Dellucci (Italy) and Francisco Cordero (Dominican Republic) are considering withdrawing from WBC competition. Hopefully, Cordero will make that decision final soon. The righthander felt a twinge in his shoulder a few days ago, and is throwing off flat ground rather than the mound.

Righthander Adam Eaton sat out Sunday’s workouts with back spasms but was back on the field Monday.

With non-roster catchers Nick Trzesniak (back) and Keith McDonald (knee) dealing with barks, Kevin Richardson has come over from minor league camp.

Mike Hindman’s sensational Prospect Previews series continued Monday with his analysis of the top five catchers in the Rangers system. Next: relief pitchers.

Jack Gordon Teixeira was born on Monday. D’Angelo Jimenez Jr. was born last Wednesday.

Infielder Marshall McDougall will report to camp after his wife gives birth later this month. He’s expected to begin the year on the disabled list, following off-season left wrist surgery.

A local columnist made a mistake a couple days ago, suggesting that Texas can keep Rule 5 lefthander Fabio Castro by either keeping him on the major league roster all season or working out a trade with the White Sox. Not so. It’s true that teams often attempt to make a trade with a Rule 5 pick’s original club in order to keep him on the farm (Mitch Williams, Marshall McDougall), but to do so the drafting team has to get the player through league-wide waivers first. There’s zero chance that the Rangers will be able to get Castro, the December draft’s top overall pick, through waivers. He’ll either break camp on the Rangers’ Opening Day staff or be with another organization in April — unless he lands on the disabled list.

Speaking of Castro, when Kansas City used the draft’s first pick to take him from Chicago before trading him to Texas in a prearranged trade for Esteban German, it was thought that the Royals made the deal because they envisioned German as a potential leadoff-hitting second baseman. Then they signed Mark Grudzielanek. And now, word out of Kansas City’s camp is that German will have to fight Joe McEwing off to even make the club in a bench role.

Baseball Prospectus names Kinsler the number 39 prospect in baseball, and Thomas Diamond one of 15 honorable mentions beyond the top 50.

Baseball America has yet to publish its full Top 100 Prospects list, but in the back half, Edison Volquez (56), John Danks (59), and Thomas Diamond (72) show up. Executive editor Jim Callis notes that Joaquin Arias was number 101.

Arias has reportedly put on eight pounds over the winter, reporting at 163. That’s right — he gained eight pounds.

A.J. Preller, who has helped revitalize the Rangers’ presence in Latin America, has been promoted from manager of pro and international scouting to director of pro and international scouting. Jake Krug, who works with amateur scouting director Ron Hopkins on the June draft, was promoted from assistant in baseball operations to manager of baseball operations. Bobby Crook moves from the Rangers’ media relations department into baseball operations.

Philadelphia has hired Scott Franzke to join its radio broadcast team. The Dallas native, who for the last four years handled Rangers pregame and postgame duties on KRLD 1080, will do play-by-play for the fifth and sixth innings of all Phillies games and also handle the club’s pregame and postgame shows.

Former Rangers Carlos Almanzar (Atlanta), Kevin Gryboski (Washington), Chad Allen (Kansas City), Benji Gil (Kansas City), and Scott Erickson (Yankees) signed minor league contracts with invites to big league spring training.

Pedro Astacio is said to be nearing a decision on whether to sign with San Diego or Washington.

The Cubs gave Juan Gonzalez a workout but evidently decided against offering him a non-roster invite.

Now that all compensation-classified free agents have signed, the 2006 draft has been set. The second-round pick that Texas forfeits to Cleveland for the signing of Kevin Millwood will be the 56th pick overall.

For grins: recent number 56 picks have included second baseman Jason Bourgeois (Texas, 2000); shortstop J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee, 2001); first baseman Brian Dopirak (Cubs, 2002); shortstop Jeff Flaig (Seattle, 2003); outfielder Jon Zeringue (Arizona, 2004); and righthander Chris Mason (Tampa Bay, 2005). It’s a $600,000-$700,000 pick, and doesn’t always pay off.

Did you catch Jimmy Johnson’s cameo on "The Shield" last night — trying to convince the strike team that the perp they were looking for was "Terry"? Johnson’s scruffy wino character’s name: "J.J."

Sorry if today’s effort seems a little disjointed; my head’s just not right with ball at the moment.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

1 Comment

A small gift well received. Pitching, hitting and defense from the best players to put on Rangers uniforms will make the season interesting, too.

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