THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 2, 2006

I’m not in the clubhouse. Never have been. I don’t know what goes on in there. But based on what we think we know by way of the press, it seems that in the past two days, Texas has traded both the player that was least trusted in the room and the player who might have had the most respect.

After moving Juan Dominguez on Friday, Jon Daniels traded outfielder David Dellucci on Saturday. Dellucci goes to Philadelphia in exchange for 24-year-old righthander Robinson Tejeda, whose upside is measurably greater than that of John Koronka or John Rheinecker, the two southpaws acquired in the three-team Dominguez deal. The Phillies are also throwing in Hank’s brother Jake Blalock, an outfielder who has spent each of his three full seasons in Class A.

Like Koronka and Rheinecker, Tejeda has at least one option remaining — in fact, the Phillies had optioned him to AAA on Wednesday — and it seems likely that he would have been the better bet to start the Rangers’ fifth game, but his wife gave birth yesterday and Texas decided to keep Koronka (who will throw a simulated game today) in place for the Friday start against Detroit.

This is, in a way, the antithesis of Friday’s trade. While trading Dominguez raises questions about the talent exchange but not about the impact in the clubhouse, the Dellucci trade does just the opposite. Texas sold low with Dominguez. The club is selling high with the 32-year-old Dellucci.

Ever since Dellucci arrived in the winter following the 2003 season, he has been one of the unquestioned glue guys on the roster. Add to that the fact that in 2005, he had the finest year of his nine years in the big leagues, setting career marks in at-bats (435), hits (109), home runs (29), RBI (65), walks (76), and slugging (.513).

But given the off-season acquisition of Brad Wilkerson, the desire of the club to have Phil Nevin protecting Mark Teixeira in the lineup, and the apparent return to health of Laynce Nix, there were three things working against Dellucci getting the same kind of playing time that he got last year: a new leadoff hitter, a new designated hitter, and two healthy left-handed-hitting outfielders to play alongside Kevin Mench.

Those two factors — coming off a career year and facing a diminished role — apply to Tejeda as well.

Tejeda’s breakthrough 2005 happened to be his first season in the big leagues. Having pitched six years in the Phillies system with only one season as high as Class AA, Philadelphia assigned the Dominican righthander to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last April, and they didn’t need to see much.

Tejeda made five Red Baron starts, in which he gave up more than one run only once, posting a 2-0, 2.22 record, scattering 21 hits (.214 opponents’ average) and 13 walks in 28.1 innings and fanning 28. It was as effective as he’d ever been as a pro.

When Philadelphia reliever Tim Worrell left the club for undisclosed personal reasons early in May, the Phillies called Tejeda up to work out of the bullpen, something he’d never done regularly as a pro.

The results were excellent. Tejeda made eight relief appearances in the space of three and a half weeks, allowing hits in only half of them and runs on his ledger just twice. Particularly impressive was a three-inning, hitless stint against St. Louis, foreshadowing what the 6’3″ righthander would do once the Phillies moved him into the rotation.

Tejeda’s first major league start came on June 8, as Texas visited Citizens Bank Park. He earned a no-decision but was brilliant. In five innings, he blanked the Rangers on two hits (a Richard Hidalgo double and a Rod Barajas single) and two walks, striking out four. (Philadelphia went on to win, 2-0, with former Ranger Aaron Fultz getting the win.)

Next time out? Tejeda went into Oakland and shut them out on four hits and three walks in 5.2 frames, this time getting his first big league win.

In his next three starts, Tejeda gave up one Mets run in six innings, two Mets runs in four frames, and no Atlanta scores over six. A bad start against Washington was followed by a second stint in the bullpen, and in the second half he would make seven starts and five relief appearances.

All told, Tejeda — who touches 96 with his fastball and mixes in a solid change and an improving curve — went 4-3, 3.57 in 13 starts and 13 relief appearances. He was markedly better as a starter, posting a 2.87 ERA in that role (allowing more than two earned runs only twice) while recording a 6.48 ERA in relief. The primary difference was in his control; he actually held batters to a lower batting average and slugging percentage out of the bullpen, but he walked a batter per inning in relief (16 in 16.2 frames) while issuing free passes at half that rate when starting (35 in 69 frames).

In 85.2 innings, Tejeda held opponents to a stingy .218 average and did an outstanding job suppressing power despite pitching half his games in a pronounced hitters’ park. Hitters slugged only .329 off Tejeda (even though his groundball-to-flyball ratio was slightly upside-down), with a home rate actually a tick lower than on the road. Only three baserunners attempted to steal all season off the righthander, suggesting he holds runners well; just one succeeded.

Tejeda’s sinker-curve-change repertoire was tougher on left-handed hitters (.210 average) than righties (.226), though he had bigger control issues against the lefties (.360 on-base percentage, as opposed to .326 by righthanders).

Tejeda did miss two weeks in early September with shoulder soreness, returning to action to make a couple mid-month relief appearances before the club shut him down for good. But he pitched in the Dominican Winter League, and appeared briefly for the Dominican squad in the World Baseball Classic, giving up one earned run in an inning and a third, spanning two relief appearances.

Philadelphia didn’t add the kind of frontline pitching over the winter that objectively would have pushed Tejeda out of contention for a role on the club’s staff, but his stint in the WBC probably did hurt his cause. He only got 7.1 innings of work in Phillies camp in addition to the 1.1 tournament frames, allowing five earned runs (6.14 ERA) on nine hits (.301 opponents’ average) and four walks in Grapefruit League play, striking out six. The club optioned him to AAA four days ago.

Tejeda threw four innings in a minor league game yesterday afternoon, and then flew to Boston for the birth of his child.

Blalock is no carbon copy of his older brother. The 22-year-old is three inches taller than Hank, hits right-handed, and moved from third base to the outfield early in his pro career. While Hank came into pro ball as a pure hitter whose power was expected to develop, Jake arrived with raw power and less of an expectation that he’d hit for average.

After somewhat of a breakthrough in 2004 (.271/.350/.449 for Low A Lakewood), Blalock experienced a dip in power in 2005, when he hit .279/.359/.388 for High A Clearwater. His doubles fell from 40 to 22, his homers dropped from 16 to 11, and his RBI plummeted from 90 to 65.

Blalock doesn’t project to be a star, and he needs to make a major step forward to be considered a future starter. But he does have some prospect status, and in this system that just might make him a top five outfielder.

Blalock was not on Philadelphia’s 40-man roster and thus doesn’t go on the Rangers’ 40-man.

Interesting deal — and the second one in two days that probably doesn’t happen if Adam Eaton doesn’t strain his middle finger. Dellucci should have a bigger impact in Philadelphia than Dominguez will in Oakland, at least in 2006. And Tejeda, in my opinion, is a more important pickup than Koronka or Rheinecker. This latter trade makes more sense from a baseball standpoint than a chemistry standpoint, while the Dominguez deal was seemingly driven by chemistry more so than talent.

I’m comfortable with this one, with my only reservation being that I hope it doesn’t cause a problem in the clubhouse. But I’m not all that concerned: I have enough faith in the leaders of this club that while the move may not be popular, it won’t affect how the team plays.

With Adrian Gonzalez, Erubiel Durazo, and Dellucci gone, and Nevin surely gone in a year, Jason Botts has suddenly become a much bigger factor going forward.

On the other hand, can we really rule out the possibility that Dellucci returns in 2007, if the player and team agree at that point that there’s a fit? His contract, which will pay him a base of $950,000 in 2006, expires at season’s end.

Since trades don’t materialize in 24 hours (and in this case, the Philadelphia papers had been speculating on Tejeda for Dellucci for about a week), it stands to reason, doesn’t it, that the Dominguez trade had less to do with timing the acquisition of a fifth starter candidate than with timing the selling of Dominguez? If, on Friday, Texas knew it could get Tejeda, then getting Koronka and Rheinecker would have been less pressing. And that must mean that trading Dominguez when the club did and for what it got was simply a decision that, instead of using an option on Dominguez, there was an opportunity to get something for him while the club could.

To get the Opening Day roster finalized, the Rangers purchased the contracts of three non-roster players: righthander Antonio Alfonseca, infielder D’Angelo Jimenez, and outfielder Adrian Brown. Texas placed lefthander C.J. Wilson, righthanders Josh Rupe and Frankie Francisco, infielder Marshall McDougall, and outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. on the 15-day disabled list, with Eaton retroactive to March 30 and the rest retroactive to March 24, making all but Eaton eligible to be activated on April 8. That’s really only meaningful in Wilson’s and Matthews’s case. Matthews will report to Oklahoma for a rehab assignment that will kick off on Thursday, when the RedHawks open their schedule.

The exchange of Tejeda and Dellucci didn’t affect the 40-man roster, but the addition of Alfonseca, Jimenez, and Brown took Texas to 41 players. Rather than move Francisco or Eaton (who has opted for surgery, which will reportedly take place this week and cost him three months) to the 60-day disabled list, the Rangers got back down to 40 by placing righthander Omar Beltre, who remains in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues, on the restricted list.

Texas also designated lefthander Erasmo Ramirez for assignment, not to get the roster down to 40 players but because Rule 5 pick Fabio Castro made the staff, and the Rangers couldn’t demote Ramirez since he was out of options. The club has 10 days to trade Ramirez, release him, or, if he clears waivers, outright him to the minor leagues. The Rangers got righthander Jon Leicester through waivers early in the week and outrighted him to Oklahoma.

Interestingly, the Rangers plan to stretch Leicester out by putting him in the RedHawks rotation.

Tejeda and Rheinecker were optioned to Oklahoma — so Tejeda can’t return for Friday’s game due to the 10-day rule — and outfielder Adam Hyzdu was reassigned to minor league camp. Righthander Jose Silva was reassigned to minor league camp a few days ago, and he’s decided to stay with the organization rather than take a more lucrative offer to pitch in the Mexican League.

Accordingly, the Rangers’ Opening Day roster is as follows:

Pitchers (12): Antonio Alfonseca, Joaquin Benoit, Fabio Castro, Francisco Cordero, R.A. Dickey, Scott Feldman, John Koronka, Kameron Loe, Kevin Millwood, Akinori Otsuka, Vicente Padilla, Brian Shouse

Catchers (2): Rod Barajas, Gerald Laird

Infielders (7): Hank Blalock, Mark DeRosa, D’Angelo Jimenez, Ian Kinsler, Phil Nevin, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young

Outfielders (4): Adrian Brown, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, Brad Wilkerson

Nix will evidently return to center, with Wilkerson moving to left.

Castro is the first Rule 5 pick to stick with the Rangers since righthander Ramon Manon, who made the club in 1990 but lasted just four weeks before Texas returned him to the Yankees.

As expected, righthander John Wasdin signed a minor league contract days after being released, and he’s expected to pitch in the Oklahoma rotation.

The Rangers released four minor league pitchers: lefthanders Brian Mattoon and Ivan Ramirez (Erasmo’s brother) and righthanders Mark Roberts and Kellan McConnell.

The Phillies released righthander Ricardo Rodriguez.

San Diego placed Ryan Klesko on the disabled list, paving the way for Adrian Gonzalez to break camp with the big club and start at first base.

Washington got righthander Travis Hughes through waivers and outrighted him to the minor leagues.

Kevin Gryboski (Washington), Steve Karsay and Einar Diaz (Cleveland), Keith McDonald and Jose Veras (Yankees), Jason Tyner (Minnnesota), and Jose Morban (Seattle) were reassigned to minor league camp.

Chan Ho Park will pitch in relief for San Diego.

The Padres, after releasing righthander Brian Sikorski, signed him to a minor league contract.

By the way, I was still in a crummy baseball mood when I woke up yesterday morning, but watching Grant Schiller hold forth at the Welcome Home Luncheon got my head right with ball.

I’m ready for tomorrow.

Thank you, David Dellucci, for September 23, 2004, one of the greatest baseball moments I’ve ever experienced.

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

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