THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 5, 2006

A half a week from now, we’ll probably know who the new manager of the Rangers is, and what big league club Daisuke Matsuzaka will almost surely pitch for in 2007. The thing that has my adrenaline in full force right now is that, as significant as those two things could be for the long-term shape of this franchise, even with the process chugging along in both situations, we don’t really know how either of them will turn out.

As far as the managerial decision is concerned, Don Wakamatsu came into the process as the frontrunner and certainly hasn’t done anything to hurt his candidacy.

Trey Hillman, who was strongly considered for the job four years and one Japanese title ago, came into town for a 10-hour interview last week that included a visit with Tom Hicks, and the Arlington native also met with Oakland and San Diego officials while stateside, reportedly knocking it out of the park in his interviews with those two playoff teams. The Padres, in fact, will talk to Hillman a second time, as owner John Moores and CEO Sandy Alderson will visit with him in Japan tomorrow.

And Ron Washington emerged as the third Rangers finalist when his October 17 interview in Arlington was followed by an October 26 visit to his New Orleans hometown by new Rangers senior director of baseball operations Don Welke and then a second interview with Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, and Hicks, which is taking place today.

I could make a case for any of the three being the favorite at this point. All indications are that the legwork is now complete, and all that stands in the way of an official announcement is a final decision.

As for Matsuzaka, the 26-year-old righthander was posted by his Seibu Lions club on Thursday, giving interested MLB clubs until 4 p.m. Metroplex time on Wednesday to submit blind bids. All reports indicate the Rangers will bid for the exclusive right to negotiate with Matsuzaka (as will both New York teams, Boston, and the Cubs, if not others), and the consensus is that it will take more than $20 million to secure that right, which says nothing about how much it will take to sign the player during the 30-day window that the two sides will then have to hammer out a deal.

Ed Price of the Newark Star-Ledger reports that at least three teams have attempted to strike illicit deals with Seibu, allegedly offering non-cash inducements to the Lions in exchange for the Japanese club’s agreement to accept only a portion of the winning bid, returning the balance to the MLB team — in other words, permitting the MLB team to make a larger bid on paper than it would actually remit to Seibu ultimately.

According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees plan to wait until about five minutes before Wednesday’s deadline to submit their bid on Matsuzaka.

Cute.

That is, it’s cute unless you’re a little paranoid.

Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher of the Year Francisco Cordero concludes that because Carlos Lee is a free agent, the Rangers “made stupid changes that didn’t make sense. . . . That’s why the manager isn’t there anymore.”

Cute.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Texas is among the five teams (along with Houston, San Diego, Cleveland, and Detroit) showing the most interest in trading for Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield. Sherman suggests that among the players “who could intrigue” New York is catcher Gerald Laird. Sherman fails to add that the Rangers “could be intrigued” if the Yankees were to sweeten the trade offer by adding Philip Hughes, Jose Tabata, and Tyler Clippard to Sheffield and agreeing to relieve the Rangers of any future payments toward Alex Rodriguez’s contract.

Texas ain’t trading Laird for Sheffield.

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that Texas is believed to have offered Gary Matthews a two-year contract but that Matthews “is expected to command a three- or four-year deal that would pay him $6 million a year or more.”

I think the word “more” must have been edited down from the phrase “more likely $2 or $3 million more than that.” If the price for Matthews really is just $6 million per year, then I feel a lot better about the Rangers’ chances to keep him.

According to USA Today, the Rangers have until 15 days after the completion of the World Series — which is November 11 — to decide whether to pick up the 2007 options on lefthander Ron Mahay ($1.2 million) and catcher Miguel Ojeda (undisclosed amount).

The Rangers signed 25-year-old righthander Alfredo Simon to a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp. The Armando Benitez clone went 0-6, 6.75 in 10 starts for Fresno in the San Francisco system last year, his first taste of AAA in his six pro seasons. Simon also went 2-4, 6.44 in seven starts and 11 relief appearances for High A San Jose, after missing five weeks with elbow tendonitis. Interestingly, the results of his work out of the bullpen in San Jose were dramatically different from his effectiveness as a starter; in 14.2 innings of relief, he posted a 3.07 ERA with an opponents’ batting average of .204, while the California League hit .356 off him in his seven starts (including three against the Rangers’ affiliate in Bakersfield), in which his ERA was 8.72.

Simon, known as Carlos Cabrera before AgeGate altered his identity and added 21 months to his age in 2003, was dealt by Philadelphia just before the 2004 trade deadline to San Francisco (with outfielder Ricky Ledee) for righthander Felix Rodriguez. He features a power fastball that sits in the mid-90s.

John Mayberry Jr. is hitting .377/.431/.660 for West Oahu in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, with 15 RBI in 14 games. If it’s all coming together for the Rangers’ 2005 first-round pick, and the last four months suggest it very well might be, watch out.

Cincinnati hired Rangers minor league hitting instructor Brook Jacoby to be its big league hitting coach. Jacoby, who filled in with the big club during Rudy Jaramillo’s health-related absence this spring, spent four seasons in the Texas organization, after three years as a minor league hitting coach with the Reds.

San Diego named Greg Riddoch (who once managed the Padres) the manager of its Northwest League affiliate in Eugene. Riddoch managed the Rangers’ Spokane affiliate in the same league in 2005, winning the circuit’s title.

Atlanta righthander John Thomson (a former Ranger) and Danys Baez (who has been rumored be a Rangers target for years) filed for free agency. Thomson is a no-compensation free agent, while Baez is a Type A, which means he’d cost the Rangers their first-round pick to sign if Atlanta offers him arbitration.

Stay tuned. Before the week is up, the Rangers will be front page news.

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

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