THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 29, 2006

With Monday’s release of Erubiel Durazo and waiving of John Wasdin, 40 players remain in camp for the Rangers, with three spots on the 25-man Opening Day roster primarily at issue: the last spot in the rotation, the last spot in the bullpen, and the last spot on the bench.

As far as the rotation is concerned, the disappointment is that Juan Dominguez, Edinson Volquez, and R.A. Dickey are each trending down, though Dickey’s uneven effort yesterday probably does less to emasculate the 12 consecutive scoreless innings leading up to it than Dominguez’s and Volquez’s recent work does to take them all but out of the mix for the fifth spot. At this point, it’s probably more likely that Dickey’s primary competition for the job is someone not yet in a Rangers uniform than it is that Dominguez or Volquez could get the nod.

As for the possibility of a trade, I look at it this way: Say what you want about Dickey, but the type of pitcher you’re going to be able to get with a few days to go before Opening Day is someone another team doesn’t want. I’m a John Thomson fan, but given the choice between Thomson on one hand, and Dickey plus someone like Michael Schlact and $4.75 million on the other, give me the latter. I’ll hang onto Schlact, save that $4.75 million, and go to war with Dickey. (Especially given the news that Thomson was scratched from a Grapefruit League start yesterday with elbow soreness.)

And who knows: Within a month, if Dickey is scuffling (Texas will only need three April starts from its number five man), Dominguez or Volquez or Josh Rupe or C.J. Wilson could be going well and ready to assume the job. Maybe Brian Anderson. Maybe even Roger Clemens.

Whoever is named the fifth starter for now will go for Texas in Saturday’s exhibition game against Florida in Arlington.

Bullpen spots are falling into place. Francisco Cordero, Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit, and Brian Shouse are locks. Antonio Alfonseca seems to have the inside track on a righthander’s spot that Jose Silva, Scott Feldman, and Jon Leicester are competing for. Texas must add Alfonseca to the 40-man roster today, or he can take immediate free agency.

Wilson, who has fought a barky hamstring and shoulder and a bout of the flu, appears to be in line for a southpaw role unless he has another setback, in which case Erasmo Ramirez would have a better shot than he does now.

But the long man role remains undefined, and Texas could go a number of ways to fill it.

Coming into camp, the main two candidates for long relief were probably Dickey and Wasdin, but Dickey pitched himself into consideration for the rotation while Wasdin pitched himself out of the plans. Coming into camp on a big league deal — his first in three years with Texas — Wasdin gave up 13 runs (10.64 ERA) on 23 hits (.426 opponents’ average) and three walks in 11 Cactus League innings, and Texas placed him on waivers. The Rangers owe him only $250,000 of the $600,000 contract he signed.

It’s possible that Dickey or Dominguez or Volquez could slide into long relief, but it seems more likely that the two or three of them who don’t win a rotation spot will be optioned so they can pitch in rotation. It’s also conceivable that the Rangers move Benoit into the long man’s role and award the middle relief role that Benoit was slated for to Silva or Feldman.

There’s also speculation that Texas could make Rule 5 pick Fabio Castro its long man. The club has been stretching him out lately (he threw four innings on Monday), and while no spot on a major league pitching staff is pressureless, that’s the role where the consequences are generally more mild than anywhere else.

The benefit, then, is that the Rangers could avoid using the 21-year-old Castro in too many high-intensity situations (relatively speaking) while keeping him in the big leagues all year (which they have to do in order to keep him at all). The downside is that the sporadic work patterns of the long man aren’t exactly ideal for the development of a young pitcher.

The battle for the final bench spot clarified itself somewhat on Monday when Texas released left-handed hitter Erubiel Durazo, who never got dialed in at the plate (.217/.250/.348) after returning from the World Baseball Classic. The 31-year-old, who would have been guaranteed $500,000 if the Rangers had elevated him to the 40-man roster by today, will probably get a big league shot somewhere else, but if not, Texas is leaving open the possibility of re-signing him later on.

With Gary Matthews Jr. all but a certainty to begin the year on the disabled list, all eyes will be on Brad Wilkerson as he returns to action today, having had an MRI on his right (non-throwing) shoulder that revealed no structural damage. Laynce Nix has been unleashed to play defensively, and he is heating up at the plate. David Dellucci’s name has popped up in a few trade rumors this week (Angels, Phillies), but that just doesn’t make sense on the Rangers’ end. I’d disregard the thought that Texas might trade Dellucci, given the club’s outfield health questions.

Durazo’s departure probably whittles the competition for the final roster spot down to an extra bench player to address the murky outfield picture. The player could be an extra outfielder like Adrian Brown or Adam Hyzdu, or it could be infielder D’Angelo Jimenez, who would allow Buck Showalter to play Mark DeRosa in the outfield without being a bench infielder short.

But the final spot could be devoted to the pitching staff, giving Showalter an eighth bullpen arm and limiting him to a three-man bench (DeRosa, Gerald Laird, and a fourth outfielder).

Outfielder John Mayberry Jr. finishes camp with a batting line of 1.000/1.000/2.000. After doubling in a run on Saturday (to right-center, not unpredictably), he was lifted from the game with a tightness in his hamstring.

Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo had his prostate surgery in New York yesterday, and all reports indicate that the procedure went well. He probably won’t rejoin the team until May.

The Rangers released 15 minor leaguers in the last few days: righthanders Justin Abbott, Chris Cordeiro, Arsenio Estevez, Juan Maldonado, Warren Rosebrock, Cody Smith, and Thomas Van Buskirk; lefthanders David Smith and Estelin Soto (a minor league Rule 5 pick from Seattle in December); catcher Craig Hurba; catcher-infielder-outfielder Lizahio Baez; and outfielders Brandon Cashman, Juan Senreiso, Billy Susdorf, and Andrew Wishy.

The biggest surprise in the bunch was Senreiso, the 24-year-old who spent six years in the system but never could develop the offensive consistency to go along with what was the strongest outfield arm in the organization. Senreiso played at four levels in 2004, starting at Low A and reaching AA before earning an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, but he struggled with Frisco in 2005, hitting .284/.345/.384 with five home runs and 35 RBI in 497 at-bats.

Texas reportedly approached Senreiso this spring with the idea of converting him to the mound, but that plan was scuttled and he was released on Monday. Before the day was up, he was moving his thing across the Surprise parking lot, having signed with Kansas City.

Smith, the son of former major league righthander Bryn Smith, signed with the Royals as well.

Estevez went 3-2, 1.50 in the Dominican Summer League last year, scattering just 38 hits and 12 walks in 54 innings while punching out 61.

Texas traded journeyman catcher Keith McDonald to the Yankees for a player to be named later, signaling that Jamie Burke and Nick Trzesniak will split catcher duties for Oklahoma.

Texas signed 32-year-old righthander Bryan Corey to a minor league deal. Corey pitched briefly for Showalter’s Diamondbacks in 1998 and for the Dodgers in 2002, otherwise pitching exclusively in AAA the last eight years. In 2005, he went 3-6, 7.65 in 43 relief appearances and one start for AAA Albuquerque in the Marlins system.

Kansas City picked up Tony Graffanino yesterday, further clouding the plans that the Royals have for infielder Esteban German, whom they acquired from the Rangers for Castro on the day of the Rule 5 Draft. German has had an excellent spring, hitting .317/.473/.512 with 12 walks and just two strikeouts, swiping eight bags in nine tries.

It means nothing at this point, but righthander Chris Young has an 11.40 spring ERA for the Padres, allowing the Cactus League to hit .379 off him. He’s uncharacteristically walked 11 while fanning just eight in 15 frames. San Diego is also concerned that outfielder Terrmel Sledge may not be ready for Opening Day, as he’s fighting through an assortment of minor dings. He’s hitting an outstanding .318/.400/.545 in 22 camp at-bats.

Detroit released first baseman Carlos Pena, and will owe him just a fourth of the $2.8 million he was set to earn in 2006.

St. Louis released righthander Jeff Nelson, San Diego released righthander Brian Sikorski, and Philadelphia released righthander Aaron Myette.

Non-roster invites reassigned to minor league camp: lefthander Justin Thompson (Milwaukee), first baseman Jason Hart (Minnesota), outfielder Andres Torres (Minnesota), outfielder Ryan Ludwick (Detroit), infielder Fernando Tatis (Baltimore), infielder Benji Gil (Kansas City), and righthander James Baldwin (Toronto).

Washington assigned outfielder George Lombard to minor league camp. Hopefully, Alfonso Soriano has already bought his own outfielder’s glove.

The Nationals moved Soriano from the leadoff spot to number five in the order.

Washington also placed righthander Ryan Drese on the disabled list.

Cincinnati got righthander Jason Standridge through waivers and outrighted him to AAA.

Juan Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with Boston but really didn’t, and signed a minor league deal with Oakland but really didn’t, and now he is getting closer to signing a minor league deal with Colorado that he may not really sign.

Independent league signings: catcher Jason Dewey (North Shore Spirit), shortstop Bobby Lenoir (Gateway Grizzlies), and righthander Reggie Rivard (Edmonton CrackerCats).

Connecticut General Life Insurance Company denied Houston’s claim to recoup $15.6 million of Jeff Bagwell’s $17 million contract for 2006. The Astros contend that Bagwell was totally disabled in January, while Connecticut General concluded that his condition hadn’t changed since playing in September and October. The significance is that this could affect Houston’s ability to meet whatever Clemens’s asking price will be.

Clemens will reportedly attend the Rangers’ opener against Boston on Monday, as the guest of Tom Hicks.

My latest MLB article, explaining the ramifications of the Disqualified List in the context of the Alfonso Soriano situation in Washington, is now posted on the Rangers’ official website.

Mike Hindman’s second article for MLB.com is now up on the Newberg Report MLB blogsite — in it, Mike runs down the minor league players who made the biggest impressions on him a couple weeks ago in Surprise. It’s a great read.

Eleanor Czajka has posted the latest entry in Michael Schlact’s spring training diary, as well as the transcript from last week’s chat session with Victor Rojas, on the Minor Details page.

Schlact plans to continue his diary with monthly installments during the season.

We’ll chat with Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus on Tuesday at 2:30 Central.

I’ll send updates out as the Rangers make the necessary moves to get their Opening Day roster finalized.

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

1 Comment

Ahh Jamey…let us continue to count our blessings that we have some pitching and continue to keep good karma…just in case you know who may stroll in to town at High Noon….

-rch

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