THE NEWBERG REPORT — SEPTEMBER 1, 2006

I want to expand on one point from yesterday’s report, by sharing a variation of a few emails and message board posts I made in response to the two percent of you (among those I heard from) who were outraged by what I wrote.

Five seasons ago I called for Johnny Oates to be let go. I thought the team needed a new leader. And then three weeks ago I heard Dave Valle tell a story from the 1996 season that may be the greatest Rangers story I’ve ever heard. It gave me a different understanding, and appreciation, of Oates, even though it was a 10-year-old story, and five years after his last game as Rangers manager.

Hearing Valle’s story is what made me start thinking about Buck Showalter’s term in Texas. I thought about Oates asking Valle, who’d requested permission to hold a team meeting, when he and his coaching staff should leave the locker room, and about Valle telling him that he and the coaches needed to be there. I thought about Valle getting in the face of every man in the room — starting with Oates — and challenging each of them: “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?” I thought about Oates responding to the player who was basically his 25th man: “Yes, sir.”

I thought about Oates and his philosophy that sometimes you just have to “try easier.”

I thought about all of that and tried to imagine a similar scene in this team’s clubhouse. I can’t envision Showalter doing what his mentor Oates did, and I can’t envision any player doing what Valle did.

But I also thought about the fact that I didn’t know that full story when it happened 10 years ago. And that’s basically what I meant when I said, in as many ways as I knew how yesterday, that I don’t know what goes on before the game and after it, and so for me to suggest I have all the answers as to whether a manager should stay or go would be crazy, and arrogant. While Oates was still here, I’m not sure I could have envisioned him doing what he did that day. I know now that I didn’t really know then what he was like with his team. And I don’t really know what Showalter is like with his.

I can argue that Fabio Castro should still be here. Or that Rusty Greer should have switched to a lighter bat in May rather than August. Or that C.J. Wilson had something, even when his numbers, for a while, might have suggested otherwise. That’s because I can see all those things and judge them (whether I’m really qualified to or not) with my own eyes.

But I think a manager’s greatest value to his team occurs exactly when none of us can see it. His effect on 25 guys before the game and after the game, to me, is more critical over the long haul of a baseball season than the pitching changes or the hit-and-run calls. I’d submit that there are at least 1,000 times more men qualified to manage a baseball game than there are qualified to manage a baseball team, at least one made up of players who average $2-3 million salaries.

To reiterate: I don’t have a clue what goes on before the game and after it. Beat writers have daily insight into the temperature of a team but even they are ushered out 45 minutes before gametime, and kept out the first 10 minutes after the final out. Columnists have access to the room, and it’s up to them whether they make use of it. But I can only offer guesses as to what goes on (which is not a complaint: I’m just a fan). And that’s what I tried to make clear in yesterday’s report. It’s one big guess.

Texas traded Frisco catcher Mike Nickeas to the Mets for AAA outfielder Victor Diaz on Wednesday. It’s easy to see why each team made the deal.

In the last couple years, the Rangers have spent third-round picks on Taylor Teagarden and Chad Tracy. They invested a reported $325,000 to sign 16-year Dominican catcher Cristian Santana. Emerson Frostad has emerged and Kevin Richardson looks ready for AAA. The added depth that Texas has built behind the plate has — predictably — created an opportunity to address another weakness.

Drafted in the fifth round in 2004, Nickeas had a strong rookie season (.288/.384/.494 with 10 homers and 55 RBI in 62 games for Spokane), prompting Texas to aggressively promote the defensively advanced backstop all the way to Frisco in 2005. He struggled at the plate, hitting .202/.263/.302 and losing six weeks to a broken finger. Demoted to Bakersfield to begin the 2006 season, Nickeas hit a punchless .297/.395/.359 over seven weeks and, after a promotion back to Frisco, he hit .248/.382/.363 in 39 games. Richardson was getting the bulk of the time behind the plate for the RoughRiders.

Diaz is an interesting case. Although they’re very different players, he and Laynce Nix have had sort of similar paths. Both were drafted in 2000 — Diaz out of Grayson Community College in Denison — and both were in the big leagues by age 22. Diaz was traded by the Dodgers to the Mets in July of 2003 (along with Kole Strayhorn and recent Rangers farmhand Joselo Diaz) for Jeromy Burnitz, and he proceeded to hit .354/.382/.520 for AA Binghamton, the third time in five minor league stops that he hit .350.

Going into the 2004 season, Diaz had 33 home runs in 1187 pro at-bats. But in that 2004 season, his first in AAA, he blasted 24 bombs in 528 at-bats, hitting .292/.332/.491 and earning a September look with the Mets, clearing the fence three more times in 15 games. Like Nix’s 2003 time in the big leagues, Diaz’s 2004 debut had New York thinking he was on his way to becoming a fixture.

But given an opportunity the following year, Diaz (like Nix) didn’t progress like the club had hoped, hitting .257/.329/.468 with 12 homers in 280 at-bats and spending a couple months back in AAA. He actually began the season by setting a Mets rookie record for RBI (10) and runs scored (16) in a month, but by mid-May he was back in Norfolk. He had an excellent season for the Tides, hitting .300/.353/.541 with 10 homers and 34 RBI in just 42 games, but he came into the 2006 season fighting not for a regular role but a spot on the Mets bench. He made the team out of camp but went just 2 for 10 over the season’s first two weeks before being optioned once again to Norfolk. He came back up for three days at the end of April, getting one more at-bat before returning to the Tides for what would be the rest of the season, until Wednesday’s trade.

An aggressive hitter, Diaz has had his worst pro season to date, hitting .224/.276/.330 with eight home runs and 38 RBI in 103 AAA games. Having hit below .200 in three of five months, and with Lastings Milledge securely ahead of him on the depth chart, Diaz was designated for assignment by New York on August 22, to make room on the 40-man roster for newly acquired outfielder Shawn Green. The move gave the Mets 10 days to find a trade partner or try to run Diaz through waivers, and eight days in they moved him to Texas for Nickeas.

Diaz has earned the nickname “Mini-Manny,” partly due to his legitimate power but also because of his body type and his defensive abilities: he’s a guy who was drafted as a second baseman, broke in at second, third, and first, eventually migrated to the outfield corners, and by all indications is probably best suited at this point to DH.

I’ve seen very little of Diaz myself, but from what I’ve read, he sounds like a talented hitter who needed a change in scenery if not a change in attitude. Maybe a trade (especially to an American League team) will help kick him into gear.

This is an example of two teams, while not expecting a guaranteed payoff, making a deal to help balance things developmentally. From the Rangers’ standpoint, Diaz is a 24-year-old with parts of three years in the big leagues, while Nickeas — who is just 14 months younger — had become a backup AA catcher.

Don’t put huge expectations on this deal, but it’s one that could end up working out a little bit.

The Rangers assigned Diaz to Oklahoma, and early indications are that he probably won’t come up to Texas this month even though he’s on the 40-man roster. The plan is to send him to instructs and then winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Nickeas moves on to AA Binghamton.

Texas slid outfielder Adam Hyzdu off the 40 to make room for Diaz, and outrighted him to Oklahoma.

Mark Teixeira has played 47 games since the All-Star Break. In that span he has 15 home runs and 34 RBI (which extrapolates to 52 bombs and 117 RBI over a full season), hitting .292/.416/.601 and amassing more walks (36) than strikeouts (35).

Teixeira has 12 lifetime plate appearances against Baltimore lefty Bruce Chen. He has six home runs, a double, and a walk, giving him a slugging percentage of 2.364. It’s the all-time “Loves to Face.”

Not sure which fired me up more — Teixeira beating out the right-side hopper to the pitcher last night or Gerald Laird’s bunt hit (after homering earlier in the game) the night before.

If the Rangers were in the National League, they’d be in a virtual tie with (though a fraction of a percentage point behind) San Diego for the league’s Wild Card spot. Crazy.

Righthander Kip Wells is having season-ending surgery to repair a ligament in his left foot today.

Pitchers Nick Masset, John Koronka, and Kameron Loe are among those being considered for September roster expansion. The Rangers plan to activate at least one pitcher today but could stagger their call-ups over the next few days, to allow Oklahoma and Frisco to finish their schedules.

T.R. Sullivan suggests in his MLB.com blog that Texas is prepared to tender Brad Wilkerson in December. More on that when we get into the off-season.

Sullivan adds the Rangers will likely offer arbitration to at least six of their 10 free agents: Vicente Padilla, Adam Eaton, Mark DeRosa, Gary Matthews Jr., Carlos Lee, and Rod Barajas. Barajas would be the riskiest offer. More on that when we get into the off-season, too.

The Rangers have reached player development contract extensions with Oklahoma, Frisco, and Bakersfield through 2010 and with Spokane through 2008.

Jason Botts has taken his rehab to Frisco.

RoughRider righthander Kea Kometani posted an 0-5, 9.97 record in five starts in June, his first month in AA. In July, he went 2-0, 3.14 in five starts. In six August starts, the Pepperdine product went 5-0, 2.73.

Bakersfield lefthander Danny Ray Herrera, just three months after being drafted in the 45th round, is now 4-1, 1.49 in four starts and nine relief appearances for the Blaze, scattering 33 hits (.190 opponents’ average) and 11 walks in 48.1 innings while punching out 55 with a dizzying array of offspeed stuff. His groundout-to-flyout rate is a phenomenal 3.94.

Why not consider Herrera for one of the Rangers’ two remaining pitching spots in the Arizona Fall League?

After hitting .236 through the season’s first three months, Clinton outfielder John Mayberry Jr. is hitting .314 in July and August, with 10 homers and 42 RBI in 56 games. Through July, Mayberry had fanned 92 times and drawn 38 walks. In August, he has 21 strikeouts and 19 walks. His 20 homers are third-most in the Midwest League, and he’s hitting .274/.361/.486 for the year.

RoughRider righthander Thomas Diamond (12-5, 3.96, 143 strikeouts in 127.1 innings) and first baseman Nate Gold (.285/.370/.567, 32 homers and 98 RBI) were named Texas League Post-Season All-Stars. Diamond has already set Frisco records for wins and strikeouts in a season, leading the Texas League in both categories, and Gold has established franchise records for homers and RBI. His 32 bombs are the most in all of Class AA.

Spokane outfielder-first baseman Chris Davis (.274/.341/.526, 13 homers and 37 RBI in 63 games) and catcher Chad Tracy (.263/.342/.456, 10 homers and 31 RBI in 60 games) were named to the Northwest League All-Star Team.

Minnesota traded a player to be named later to the Cubs for Phil Nevin and cash yesterday, at the deadline to acquire a player and have him eligible for the playoffs.

Oakland recalled first baseman Dan Johnson and outrighted second baseman D’Angelo Jimenez to AAA yesterday, apparently a move to restore Johnson’s eligibility — and eliminate Jimenez’s — for the playoff roster.

San Diego signed righthander Rudy Seanez. For his fourth stint as a Padre.

Atlanta released righthander Carlos Almanzar.

Boston purchased the contract of first baseman Carlos Pena.

The Southern League named Jacksonville Suns righthander Spike Lundberg the circuit’s “Most Outstanding Pitcher” in 2006. The former Rangers farmhand went 14-2, 2.36 in 23 starts for the Dodgers’ AA affiliate.

Friend of the Newberg Report Scott Lucas has generated an “Organizational Tree” for the Rangers’ 40-man roster. Very cool. Check it out.

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

3 Comments

Dear Jamey, I am an huge fan of the Texas Rangers and your books. I just wanted to ask if you know what ever happened to Ramon Nivar after he was traded to Baltimore. Also, about a week ago I visited the Rangers Single-A team the Cliton Lumberjacks while they played at Pohlman Field against the Beliot Snappers. I saw that Andy Fox is their manager. Why is not playing professional ball this year?

Nivar had a knee injury that cost him time in St. Louis’s camp in the spring; I don’t think he resurfaced this season.

Fox retired after 04 and went straight to managing in the Rangers system.

I’m a Met fan. Not sure why Victor Diaz was in Mets doghouse but whenever he played for the Mets he was a valuable asset to the team. Natural hitter, can hit the curve, has better than average power and runs well. Better player right now than Milridge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers

%d bloggers like this: