October 2006

THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 30, 2006

As we sat at the Purple Power Puffs’ season-ending team party tonight at Fuddrucker’s and Erica won the “Most Improved” award, I couldn’t have been more proud. She’s not the best soccer player on the team, but she’s working harder and getting better, and that means everything.

To hear Erica’s coaches announce in front of her friends the thing that her parents always tell her, that her hard work is paying off, was really cool. Mom and Dad are supposed to say things like that. But Coach Sue? Another story.

As we were driving away, with Max in the Rangers uniform that he’ll wear tomorrow night as he chases candy, I imagined Don Wakamatsu or Trey Hillman or Ron Washington getting the team together at Fuddrucker’s a year from now, handing out the Hustle Award and the Titanium Award, and Most Versatile and Most Improved, with each player hopping up front to pose for a photo with the skipper. And then everyone got cookies.

By which I mean World Series rings.

Hey, the Cardinals won three more regular season games than Texas this year. Can’t rule anything out.

Tricky thing, that last out of the World Series. Those two weeks between baseball games and the heating of the stove do goofy things to my brain.

As you open the door a few dozen times tomorrow night for kids dressed up as Spongebob and Hannah Montana and Cartman and Ariel, and all those other faces they see on TV and in books, think about the fact that, sometime earlier in the day in Arlington, a door will open and Jon Daniels and Trey Hillman will each be staring at someone whose face, for the last four years anyway, they’ve only seen on TV and in newspapers.

Hmmm. A little corny. Erica would be a lot less proud of Dad than he is of her.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — OCTOBER 30, 2006

The Elias Sports Bureau rankings have been revealed and, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Gary Matthews Jr. and Carlos Lee have been classified as Type A free agents, Vicente Padilla and Mark DeRosa and Rod Barajas are Type B’s, Adam Eaton is a Type C (which now nets no compensation), and Kip Wells is a traditional no-compensation free agent.

The important thing to note is that Padilla and DeRosa (and Barajas) will not cost teams any draft picks to sign, which should enhance their marketability. Type B’s used to cost a team their first- or second-round pick in the next June draft, but with the new CBA the only compensation a team gets for losing a Type B to whom it offers salary arbitration is a sandwich pick between rounds one and two.

A team losing a Type A, as before, gets both: the signing team’s first- or second-rounder plus a sandwich pick between rounds one and two.

Texas is expected to offer arbitration to all five of its compensation free agents, which would produce a windfall of draft picks should some of them sign elsewhere.

Also, notably, Michael Young was ranked as the number one infielder in the American League based on the Elias rankings (which classify every player, not just free agents), second in the big leagues only to Albert Pujols. Not A-Rod, not Jeter, not Tejada, not Ortiz, not Cabrera. Michael Young is on top. Only Vladimir Guerrero had a higher AL ranking among position players.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS PLUS — OCTOBER 29, 2006

Some added details have emerged with regard to the Rangers’ managerial search, which is about to ramp up considerably.

Nippon Ham Fighters skipper Trey Hillman will leave Japan for the U.S on Tuesday, interviewing with the Rangers that day before visiting with Oakland on Wednesday and San Diego on Thursday. He’ll fly back to Japan on Friday, after which he’ll coach an All-Star Game on Sunday the 5th, manage in the Asian Series (against teams from China, Taiwan, and South Korea) beginning on Sunday the 12th, and attend Japan’s National Baseball Convention on the 14th, the Fighters’ celebration parade on the 18th, and a fan fest at the Sapporo Dome on the 19th. He hopes to be back home in Texas for Thanksgiving.

Rangers bench coach Don Wakamatsu will interview for the Texas job on Wednesday. In addition, Oakland has requested the Rangers’ permission to interview Wakamatsu regarding its managerial vacancy.

Hillman, according to JapanBall.com, says that if he’s offered a big league job he will make a decision on whether to leave Japan for the Major Leagues at the conclusion of the Asian Series.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — OCTOBER 29, 2006

According to a story just distributed by the Associated Press, Trey Hillman is leaving Japan on Tuesday for a whirlwind tour of the United States, to conduct in-person interviews with Texas, San Diego, and Oakland regarding those clubs’ managerial openings. He will return to Japan on Saturday for obligations that include the coaching of his Nippon Ham squad in the Asian Series.

Meanwhile, Ken Davidoff of Newsday reports that Nippon Ham has offered Hillman a one-year, $1 million extension to remain with the Fighters.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 28, 2006

For those of you who care about the promotions and hires made in the Rangers’ baseball operations and scouting departments this week — and I’ve learned in the last few days that there are a lot more of you than anyone would expect — you’ve probably already learned the basic facts about Don Welke, Kevin Bootay, Gary Rajsich, Mike Daly, Kip ****, and Barbara Pappenfus. A few extra tidbits about each that you might not have known:

Welke, hired as senior director of baseball operations, has been in the game for more than 40 years, including 1999 through 2004 with the Dodgers, a span within which A.J. Preller worked in baseball operations with that organization. Preller was hired by Texas in November 2004; Welke was brought here three months after that as an international crosschecker for his first stint with the Rangers, which lasted one season before Welke’s longtime sidekick Pat Gillick was hired in Philadelphia and brought him along. Shortly after Welke’s departure for the Phillies, Preller was promoted from manager of professional and international scouting to director of professional and international scouting.

Semantics aside, Preller’s importance in this organization has grown exponentially — he’s part of the three-headed team interviewing managerial candidates — and Welke returns in a more significant role than the one he left behind a year ago, as he will act as an advisor to Jon Daniels. Saying you want to make a bigger impact as an organization on the international market is one thing. Having the Welke-Preller duo back together for a third time to lead that charge is how you execute the plan.

Bootay, the Rangers’ new West Coast scouting supervisor, was the Rangers’ first-round pick in the January phase of the 1984 draft, 11th overall — seven spots after Rangers minor league catching coordinator Damon Berryhill, six spots after former Rangers outfielder Dave Martinez, and two spots after former Rangers scout Tim Fortugno. (Oddibe McDowell was the Rangers’ first pick in the June phase, 12th overall.) Bootay, who spent five years in the Rangers system as a .258-hitting outfielder who racked up more stolen bases (167) than RBI (157), was a product of Cerritos College, which also produced Rod Barajas, Danny Patterson, Craig Worthington, and Marcus Lemon’s dad, Chet.

Rajsich, whose brother Dave pitched in relief for the Rangers in 1979 and 1980, was purchased at the end of his own big league career in 1985 from St. Louis by the Chunichi Dragons, the club that just fell in the Japan Series to Trey Hillman’s Nippon Ham Fighters. Rajsich, who assumes a pro scouting job with the Rangers, spent the 1986 through 1988 seasons with Chunichi.

Daly, the new manager of scouting operations after working as an area scout with Cleveland, was an LSU teammate of former Rangers farmhand Brandon Larson. Daly’s final year at Louisiana State was 2000, the season before Laynce Nix and Nick Masset would have joined the Tigers had they not changed their plans.

****, the organization’s new national crosschecker, was an area scout with the Rangers from 1992 through 2000, responsible for the drafting and signing of Doug Davis, Rick Helling, and Colby Lewis, among many others. He was promoted to national crosschecker for the 2001 season when Tim Hallgren was elevated from that position to scouting director. When Grady Fuson arrived a year later, Hallgren was returned to the national crosschecker post, and **** became West Coast crosschecker, which is the position he held until this week’s promotion.

I first met Barbara Pappenfus in 2001, during the first Winter Carnival at which the Rangers invited the Newberg Report to have a presence, when she brought Jovanny Cedeno over to our booth and tried to facilitate a conversation between the 21-year-old righthander, who spoke no English, and me, who spoke no Spanish. Barbara, promoted to executive assistant to the general manager, is a great person, and has a great family, including a husband and a son who are both courageous fighters.

It’s beginning to look like it took a rule change to keep outfielder Ben Harrison off the 40-man roster this winter. As good a season as he had in 2006 between Bakersfield and Frisco, the run he’s on right now in Venezuela is simply unconscious.

Speaking of that rule change, I think I’ve got the details on the modification of Rule 5. While it’s clear that an extra year has been instituted before clubs must protect their draft picks on the 40-man roster, what wasn’t clear at first was when the trigger date was for calculating eligibility.

The old Rule 5 counted forward beginning with the effective season of the player’s first pro contract. Now it’s a bit more complicated.

The player’s Rule 5 clock starts with the player’s signing date — as long as the player signs before the regular season ends for the farm club to which he’s assigned. If he signs after the minor league regular season ends, his clock doesn’t begin until the following season.

To clarify, if a player signs on August 1, that December’s Rule 5 Draft will count towards the requirement of four or five before the player is eligible to be drafted. But if the player signs on October 1, that December’s draft will not count — the draft 14 months later will be the first that counts.

So, as I understand it, since Emerson Frostad signed his first contract with Texas on August 25, 2003, he’ll be eligible for this winter’s draft. Under the old Rule 5, Frostad would have been a first-time eligible this winter because his original contract was for the 2004 season (even though he signed it in August 2003), meaning the December 2006 draft would have be his third. But rather than have his eligibility pushed off a year like most first-time eligibles, he’ll actually be eligible this year anyway, because his sign date occurred during the 2003 season and thus the December 2006 draft will be counted as his fourth.

Of course, this distinction will become virtually meaningless in a few years, because starting in 2007 draftees will have to sign by August 15 (unless they are college seniors) or not at all. In other words, almost all players who sign will necessarily do so during the minor league season.

Peter Gammons suggests that Hillman might figure into the mix of candidates for Oakland’s managerial opening. From what we know about Hillman, he doesn’t seem to fit Billy Beane’s automaton profile, but when Gammons writes something that involves Beane, you can usually assume that Beane wanted it written, for whatever reason.

As I speculated yesterday, Hillman is almost a certainty to be a candidate in San Diego, where Grady Fuson is part of the leadership group. Padres general manager Kevin Towers has acknowledged that he’s formulated a list of seven or eight candidates — none of whom have big league managing experience. Bud Black evidently goes into the process with the tag of frontrunner.

Righthander Jesse Ingram pitched a scoreless inning in yesterday’s Arizona Fall League “Rising Stars Showcase” (the league’s equivalent of an All-Star Game), giving up a hit and recording one strikeout.

According to Baseball America, the Rangers have signed 29-year-old righthander Jose Vargas out of the Mexican League. The reliever went 6-4, 1.36 with 27 saves this season, permitting 61 hits and 26 walks in 73 innings while punching out 70 and allowing only one home run. Texas also signed righthander Ken Chenard, a former Mets farmhand who spent the 2006 season pitching for Winnipeg in the independent Northern League, going 3-3, 4.30 in six starts (24 hits and eight walks in 29.1 frames, with 37 strikeouts).

BA also notes that the Rangers re-signed righthander Michael Bumstead (1-2, 1.81 with five saves in 33 relief appearances for Frisco in 2006) and catcher Reese Creswell (.188 in 80 at-bats between Bakersfield and the Arizona League).

The North Shore Spirit of the independent Can-Am League traded outfielder Andrew Wishy to Worcester.

Anyone else getting the feeling that, maybe next to Jeff Suppan, there isn’t a free agent whose market is gaining more strength than Gary Matthews Jr.?

While, at least for the moment, it seems as if the Rangers will have the relatively uncontested ability to choose their next manager, the club’s opportunity to hang onto its top free agents isn’t going to be nearly that simple.

With the World Series over, a 15-day window has opened for eligible players to file for free agency. During that period, teams have the exclusive right to negotiate with their own players who have declared. But the Rangers’ top free agents — Matthews, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Lee, and Mark DeRosa — are almost sure to test the market starting two weeks from now, and perhaps for that reason, as much as any, Daniels will want to have his new manager in place by time open free agency begins.

It’s about to heat up.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 27, 2006

The San Francisco Giants are expected today to introduce Bruce Bochy as their new manager, after Bochy had spent the last 12 seasons at the helm of the San Diego Padres.

I wonder if today is when we hear for the first time this winter that Trey Hillman is an official candidate to interview for manager of a team other than the Rangers. According to most accounts four years ago, Hillman’s lead proponent when he interviewed for the post that Buck Showalter eventually got was current Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson.

Whether Fuson was Hillman’s greatest champion here or not, there’s no doubt that Fuson’s ties with Hillman are strong. Hillman was hired to become the Rangers’ director of player development in 2001, four weeks after Fuson was hired to be the organization’s assistant general manager, scouting and player development.

So far, the one name mentioned as a candidate to interview in San Diego is Angels pitching coach Bud Black.

Stay tuned.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — OCTOBER 26, 2006

It’s over. Trey Hillman’s Nippon Ham Fighters have defeated the Chunichi Dragons in Game Five by a score of 4-1, giving the Fighters their first Japan Series title in 44 years.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 26, 2006

Just think: If Michael Young didn’t triple on July 11, we might have gotten Game Four in last night.

There was one Game Four that took place on Wednesday, however, 5,944 miles away from Busch Stadium. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters won their third straight over the Chunichi Dragons on Wednesday, taking a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven Japan Series. The Fighters try today to seal the title at home, and as a result Trey Hillman could be hours away from becoming available to talk to the Rangers about their managerial opening. If Chunichi takes Game Five, the series would resume on Saturday at the Dragons’ home field.

Jon Daniels acknowledges that if the Fighters win the Series, further obligations may prevent Hillman from being able to travel to the United States anytime soon, and as a result he might have to interview with the Rangers by phone.

To recap the CBA changes that I discussed in news flashes on Tuesday night, draft pick compensation has survived. The loss of a Type A free agent whom a club offers arbitration to still nets that team two picks (a late first-rounder or early second-rounder forfeited by the signing club, plus a sandwich pick between rounds one and two). The loss of a Type B player (which in 2007 will be one ranked at his position between the 21st and 40th percentile, rather than 31st-50th) now results in sandwich pick compensation but no forfeiture of a pick by the signing team, which will help those players’ marketability. The Type C classification no longer exists.

So for 2006, the Rangers stand to benefit just as they would have under the old CBA in terms of draft pick compensation, unless there’s an issue regarding a player who would have been a Type C — but it’s unlikely that Texas would have offered arbitration to any such player.

Gary Matthews Jr., Carlos Lee, Vicente Padilla, Mark DeRosa, and Rod Barajas all stand to be Type A’s or Type B’s, something we should learn officially soon. It should be close to a lock that Texas will offer arbitration to the first four, while Barajas and Adam Eaton (who could be a Type C) are less likely.

The Lee situation bears the following watch: should the Cubs sign him, Texas would get pick around 30-35 and a pick around 45-50; should Houston, the other team most often mentioned in connection with Lee, sign the outfielder, the Rangers would get the 17th pick and a pick around 30-35. Big difference.

The period of time before a player must be added to a 40-man roster for purposes of Rule 5 Draft protection has been changed from three or four years from the player’s first minor league season to four or five years from year of signing — at least that’s how the MLB press release reads. While there’s no question that this means no roster addition next month for John Danks, Thomas Diamond, and Ben Harrison, I’m still not sure about Emerson Frostad. If the trigger date has in fact been changed to the signing date rather than the player’s first pro season, then Frostad (who signed in August 2003) will be Rule 5-eligible this winter. If it remains the effective season of the player’s first pro contract, the Frostad (whose first contract was for 2004) won’t be eligible until a year from now.

While for most players, the only real impact will be that their options won’t kick in until a year later, some — like Danks — might see their big league debuts delayed if all that’s needed is, for instance, a spot start. Danks would have been added to the 40-man roster in November under the old rules. Now he won’t be. If he’s pitching well for Oklahoma in May, for example, and the club needs an extra starter to pitch the back half of a doubleheader and go right back down, then Danks is slightly less likely to get that call than he would have under the old CBA. Before this rule change, Danks would have started the 2007 season on his first option; now the only way an option gets used in 2007 is if Texas purchases his contract during the season and then sends him back down for at least 20 days thereafter.

But, of course, if Danks is deemed to be ready at the time and Jon Daniels thinks he gives the Rangers the best chance to win that nightcap, he’ll get the call.

While the Rule 5 Draft will, theoretically, be the weakest in memory because all first-time eligibles have just become ineligible, there will still be minor league players added to rosters in November. The Rangers, for instance, have repeat eligibles like Omar Beltre (who is on the restricted list), A.J. Murray, Nate Gold, Anthony Webster, and Alexi Ogando to consider. And maybe Frostad.

And to drive home the obvious point — the fact that Danks and Diamond and Harrison and a couple others don’t have to be protected this year gives players like Murray, Gold, Webster, Ogando, and (I think) Frostad a much greater chance of landing a roster spot this winter.

The draft-and-follow process has been eliminated, as a signing deadline of August 15 has been established for all draft picks (other than college seniors). As a result, though the draft will still last for 50 rounds, you can bet the days of over 1,500 players chosen are history. This change also means the end of lengthy, drawn-out, Boras-driven holdouts. Three cheers.

I do believe that 2006 draft-and-follows can still be signed, meaning the Rangers would still have a chance to come to terms with lefthander Kevin Angelle, for instance. The 13th-rounder opted out of his commitment to Texas A&M and instead enrolled at San Jacinto Junior College for the 2007 spring season.

While draft bonuses weren’t formally slotted, teams who fail to sign their first- or second-round pick will now get the same pick in the subsequent draft as compensation. (Failing to sign a third-rounder nets a sandwich pick following the next summer’s third round.) This new wrinkle gives teams an incentive to stick to slot and not be held hostage by outlandish demands.

The May 1 issue no longer handicaps Houston as far as Roger Clemens is concerned, as teams are no longer stayed from signing their own free agents that they don’t offer arbitration to.

Pre-arbitration players got a healthy salary increase, as the minimum salary jumps from $327,000 to $380,000 in 2007, $390,000 in 2008, and $400,000 for the final three seasons of the five-year CBA.

Speaking of which, right there is the biggest plus of the new deal — no threat of any labor stoppage for five more years.

Right-handed reliever Jesse Ingram was the lone Rangers farmhand selected to play in the Arizona Fall League’s inaugural “Rising Stars Showcase” All-Star Game, which will played tomorrow at Surprise Stadium. In six innings of AFL work for Grand Canyon, Ingram has permitted two runs (one earned) on just two hits (.105 opponents’ average) and three walks while fanning one. Right-handed-hitting prospects are 1 for 9 off Ingram, lefties are 1 for 10, and he sports an impressive 3.25 groundout-to-flyout rate.

If you’re not on the mailing list, you should be, if for no other reason than to get Mike Hindman’s outstanding off-season daily reports, which include in-depth coverage and analysis from the fall and winter leagues that feature Rangers prospects.

Baseball America’s draft report card is out for the American League West, including the following rankings from the Rangers’ draft crop:

Best pro debut: Danny Ray Herrera, Chad Tracy, Chris Davis
Best athlete: Craig Gentry, Grant Gerrard
Best pure hitter: Tracy
Best raw power: Davis
Fastest runner: Gentry
Best defensive player: Marcus Lemon, Gentry
Best fastball: Kasey Kiker, Brennan Garr, Jake Brigham
Best breaking ball: Kiker
Most intriguing background: Herrera, Tracy, Lemon, Clint Stubbs
Closest to the majors: Herrera, Glenn Swanson
Best late-round pick: Herrera
The one who got away: Brandt Walker, Lance McClain

Nice feature on Herrera by Kent Bonham today at BaseballAnalysts.com.

Orel Hershiser will interview for Oakland’s managerial opening. He’s the first external candidate to be identified.

David Dellucci plans to shop himself on the free agent market. Gary Sheffield won’t be able to, as the Yankees are picking up his $17 million option with possible plans to trade him.

Listening to the L.E.O. disc makes me think I should have been a bigger ELO fan in the 1970s.

Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News reports that when righthander Chris Carpenter was recuperating from shoulder surgery after the 2002 season, the two teams that showed the most interest in signing him were St. Louis and Texas.

What Hagen didn’t note was that, a year before that, at least according to a Dallas Morning News report at the time, Toronto had offered Carpenter to the Rangers in a proposed deal for Carlos Pena, before Texas shipped Pena to Oakland in the six-player trade that brought Gerald Laird here.

MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan points out that the two World Series general managers were runners-up to get the job in Texas once upon a time. Walt Jocketty was beaten out by Doug Melvin after the 1994 season, and Dave Dombrowski lost out to John Hart after the 2001 campaign. It stands to reason that if Jocketty got the mid-’90s job, he might have brought Tony LaRussa here a year into the job.

Next time Norm Hitzges says, as he regularly does, that you should run away whenever Atlanta offers to trade you a young pitcher, you can add Adam Wainwright to your list of impeachment evidence that already included Kevin Millwood and Jason Schmidt and Jason Marquis and Odalis Perez.

I’ll have details about the 2007 Bound Edition in the next few days.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — OCTOBER 24, 2006

While the modifications to the Collective Bargaining Agreement are relatively minor, there are lots of them. For now, here are the ones that might be of most immediate interest as far as the subject matter of the Newberg Report is concerned:

Draft pick compensation survives, contrary to what many reputable baseball writers reported over the last week. But there are changes: The loss of a Type B player now results in sandwich pick compensation but no forfeiture of a pick by the signing team. Type A’s still net two picks (one forfeited by the signing club, and one sandwich pick). The Type C classification no longer exists.

Beginning in 2007, the top 20 percent of players at each position will be classified as Type A’s, and next 20 percent will be Type B’s. That’s a change from 30 percent and (Type A) the next 20 percent (Type B).

This helps the Rangers in a big way. Gary Matthews Jr., Carlos Lee, Vicente Padilla, and Mark DeRosa are sure to get arbitration offers from Texas, and I would expect each will be a Type A (with the possible exception of DeRosa, but let’s see how the still applicable 30 percent provision classifies him), meaning a potential windfall of picks in the first two rounds in the case of those players who sign elsewhere. Adam Eaton and Rod Barajas are tougher calls, both in terms of classification and the Rangers’ interest in offering arb.

Also, the standard December 7, December 19, and January 8 deadlines for offering and accepting arbitration to free agents and for those free agents to re-sign with their previous club have evidently been eliminated, as has the May 1 date before which free agents who rejected arbitration were once prohibited from re-signing with their previous clubs.

That’s another set of provisions that I suspect will be more easily understood and explained once I get the chance to see the exact language.

The period of time before a player must be added to a 40-man roster for purposes of Rule 5 Draft protection has been changed from three or four years from the player’s first minor league season to four or five years from year of signing.

Until I see the CBA language, I can’t say for sure, but it sounds as if this means the crop of prospects I discussed this morning — John Danks, Thomas Diamond, and Ben Harrison chief among them — won’t actually need to be added to the roster next month after all. It doesn’t delay their timetable for arrival in the big leagues, but it does affect when their options timetables kick in, and it also gives Texas (and every other team) more roster flexibility, especially this winter, when very few blue-chip prospects will need to be added to rosters around the league.

I can’t say for sure how it affects Emerson Frostad, who was signed in 2003 but whose initial contract was effective in 2004. According to the way the press release is worded, Frostad may still be eligible this winter. But the press release isn’t the CBA. When I get the chance to read the new provision, I’ll update you.

There will now be a signing deadline of August 15 for draft picks other than college seniors.

More details as they become available.

ADDENDUM:

LOSS: Another interesting offshoot of the modified CBA — the draft-and-follow process has gone the way of the “re-entry draft” for free agents, the secondary phase of the amateur draft, and New Coke.

That note in the MLB press release tonight that noted a “signing deadline of August 15 for draft picks other than college seniors” was apparently literal — no longer will teams be able to monitor draft picks at two-year schools through an extra spring season, up until the week before the ensuing draft.

While the draft wasn’t shortened, it’s a good bet that plenty of teams won’t stick around for all 50 rounds from this point forward.

WIN: Trey Hillman’s Nippon Ham Fighters squad took Game Three of the Japan Series earlier today, giving them a 2-1 lead over Chunichi in the best-of-seven.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 24, 2006

Jon Daniels and his crew have two major decisions to make in the next month or so, one of which has been getting coverage every day for a few weeks now, while the other will barely be reported outside of an email newsletter with a focus on the minor leagues. The Rangers’ highly publicized managerial search stands to heat up in about a week, while the organization’s determination of which minor leaguers have earned protection on the 40-man roster must be made by November 20.

Ron Washington, John Russell, and Manny Acta each got their first interviews with Texas, and now continue to shop themselves. Washington is likely to get strong consideration from Oakland, Russell will apparently interview with the Nationals, and Acta is evidently high on the lists of both Washington and San Francisco, which were also both after Joe Girardi (although Girardi has reportedly withdrawn from the Nationals mix). Acta became the fourth candidate to interview with the Giants yesterday.

Whether the three interviews that Daniels, Thad Levine, and A.J. Preller have conducted were more along the lines of rule-out meetings than anything else is anybody’s guess, and it’s probably just a semantic distinction, anyway. Still feels like this is Don Wakamatsu’s or Trey Hillman’s job to lose.

Hillman’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters took Game Two of the Japan Series, knotting the best-of-seven against the Chunichi Dragons at a game apiece. Game Three will be played today. Wakamatsu won’t interview until the Rangers visit with Hillman, which suggests that those two are the frontrunners. Look at it this way: If the Giants or Nationals, for instance, were poised to hire Acta, do you think Texas would jump into the mix without even having sat down with Hillman or Wakamatsu? Doubt it.

As for spots on the 40-man roster, it’s not a particularly strong group of eligibles once you get past no-brainers John Danks and Thomas Diamond, if the measure is whether the candidates are foreseeably within a year or so of helping at the big league level. Among the Ranger farmhands who will be Rule 5-eligible if not added to the roster in a month are, after Danks and Diamond, the following: righthanders Jesse Ingram, Johnny Lujan, Alexi Ogando, and Omar Beltre (who would need to be reinstated from the restricted list); lefthander A.J. Murray; catchers Emerson Frostad and Kevin Richardson; infielders Nate Gold, Tug Hulett, Travis Metcalf, and Jim Fasano; and outfielders Ben Harrison, Kevin Mahar, and Anthony Webster. (Kelvin Jimenez, Aarom Baldiris, Enrique Cruz, and Ruddy Yan are free agents.)

From that list, the players who probably made up the most ground during the summer were Frostad, Gold, Ogando, and Harrison, the first three of whom have been Rule 5-eligible before. For Harrison, however, this is his first eligibility winter, and he’s making a huge case for inclusion. After a breakthrough first half with Bakersfield (.293/.397/.520, 18 homers, 19 doubles, 74 RBI, and 49 walks in 331 at-bats), he struggled in July in his first taste of the Texas League, but then exploded with a line of .318/.378/.579 over the final five weeks of the season, smacking seven Frisco home runs and driving in 24 runs in 28 games.

Harrison has amped it up even further this winter. Playing left field for Oriente in the Venezuelan Winter League, the 25-year-old is hitting .459/.512/.730 in 37 at-bats, with four doubles and two bombs among his 17 hits.

Is he ready to help an active big league roster, which is what a team would have to envision if it decides to devote a Rule 5 pick on him? There’s an extra factor at play here: Texas is so thin in outfield depth and in power-hitting prospects in general that, if the club thinks Harrison can impact this team down the road, even if not in 2007, Daniels may decide the risk of losing him is too great to leave him exposed to the draft. While teams tend to save those precious roster spots for players who are close to being ready, it’s not always the case.

Nick Masset, who would be part of this conversation had he not already forced his way back to Arlington during the season, remains unblemished in Mexican Pacific League play. The Mazatlan closer has appeared in five games, firing one scoreless inning each time and registering five saves. He’s allowed four hits and no walks, fanning five.

Johnny Whittleman started his Hawaii Winter Baseball League season by going 1 for 17 with no walks and five strikeouts. Since then he’s gone 8 for 15 with two walks and two strikeouts. Interestingly, the first streak took place over four games, all played at West Oahu’s home field, while the big run he’s gone on has come in the ensuing four games, all on the road.

Baseball America’s Chris Kline ranks the top 10 prospects in baseball at each position, plus the top 20 right-handed pitchers, the top 12 lefthanders, and top five closers. The only Rangers to appear on a list were Danks, the number six southpaw, and Eric Hurley, the number 12 righthander.

According to Baseball America and MinorLeagueBaseball.com, the Rangers’ minor league free agents include, in addition to Jimenez, Baldiris, Cruz, and Yan, the following: Jared Abruzzo, Brian Anderson, Jace Brewer, Ryan Bukvich, Michael Bumstead, Jamie Burke, Jesse Carlson, Reese Creswell, R.A. Dickey, Juan Gonzalez, Tom Gregorio, Jason Hart, Adam Hyzdu, Ryan Jensen, Eric Knott, Derek Lee, Jon Leicester, David Meliah (wow), Adam Morrissey, Gerry Oakes, Lou Pote, Erasmo Ramirez, Matt Riley, Cory Vance, Kevin Walker, Shane Wallace, and Jeremy Ward. Miguel Ojeda was also listed on MiLB.com but I think that’s a mistake, unless he was dropped from the 40-man roster this month without it being reported.

Ramirez, Hyzdu, and Dickey have evidently already declared their intentions to explore free agency.

Others on the list include pitchers Ben Kozlowski, Spike Lundberg, Ricardo Rodriguez, Chris Jaile, Rob Bell, Mario Ramos, Justin Echols, Erick Burke, and Joselo Diaz, catcher Nick Trzesniak, infielders Jason Bourgeois, Chris O’Riordan, and Danny Solano, and outfielders Juan Senreiso, Rashad Eldridge, and Ryan Ludwick.

The reports are still all over the map, but the latest I’ve read on whether draft pick compensation will survive this new CBA agreement is that it will remain in place, though fewer free agents will have compensation tied to them from now on. Fine.

Oakland released second baseman D’Angelo Jimenez.

Ian Kinsler, C.J. Wilson, and Kameron Loe will host a World Series watching party tomorrow night at the Fox Sports Grill at 5741 Legacy Drive in Plano. They’ll sign autographs and take questions between innings. The players will be available beginning at 6:30 p.m., and admission is free.

Kenny Rogers apparently apologized to Kat O’Brien yesterday for his childish behavior at Sunday night’s press conference, saying it was nothing personal.

Whatever.

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

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