THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 9, 2006

Karl Malone. Randy Moss. Frank Thomas. Barry Zito.

The four biggest Draft Day could’ve-been’s, locally, of my generation.

(I’m counting the Scott Kazmir mistake as Erica and Max’s generation.)

The Mavs drafted Detlef Schrempf in 1985 over Malone, who wanted to be in Dallas. The Cowboys chose Greg Ellis in the 1998 draft instead of Moss, whose off-the-field reputation scared them off because of some image problems the team was having. The Rangers took Donald Harris instead of Thomas in 1989 because, said Rangers scouting director Sandy Johnson, “all Thomas can do is hit.” Zito, the Rangers’ third-round pick out of Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles in 1998, went ahead with his transfer to USC because Texas and his father couldn’t bridge the negotiating gap between $350,000 and $287,500.

The Rangers are evidently trying to make amends, in a way.

Widespread reports suggest that Texas made contact with the agents for Thomas (Arn Tellem) and Zito (Scott Boras), following calls that the two players made to Rangers manager Ron Washington, who was with them in Oakland. Both called Washington to congratulate him on getting the job; apparently both also expressed an interest in exploring the idea of coming to play for his new club.

While Texas reportedly got serious with Thomas, he has evidently decided to sign with Toronto for three years (the third possibly being a club option) for a package worth close to $30 million.

There’s an obvious upside in both Thomas’s and Zito’s case, with each near the top of the market at his position, capable of filling a significant hole for the Rangers. There’s the added benefit of further weakening the A’s; it’s a foregone conclusion that Zito will pitch for someone other than Oakland next year, but the A’s were apparently trying hard to keep Thomas, who was their best player in 2006.

I don’t let myself get too excited about these annual flirtations that some free agents engineer, showing some level of interest in Texas in what is often no more than an effort to leverage a higher offer from a team they’re really hoping to sign with. Roger Clemens is the most common example; I can’t convince myself that Zito — with Boras orchestrating things — doesn’t really want to be up East and knows that, by creating a perception that Washington’s arrival has made Texas a player in his decision, he can get the Mets or Yankees or whoever to step up more quickly.

As for Thomas, I went back and forth on him. The idea of him in this lineup, batting fourth behind Mark Teixeira, was beyond tantalizing (bad wheels or not). But at the same time, if the $27 million that Texas reportedly bid for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka is an indication that Tom Hicks and Jon Daniels want to follow up last winter’s Kevin Millwood signing with another major impact addition, I’d rather see the money it would have taken to bring Thomas in spent on starting pitching, and let Jason Botts make a run at claiming the designated hitter role here, with a veteran like David Dellucci around as insurance.

I sorta feel this way: I know if word came down that Texas had landed Thomas for a two-year deal, I would have been pumped. But with him not signing here, I’m OK with that, basically happy that we didn’t spend that kind of money on a DH. This club needs an impact bat, but I’d much rather see it in left field than at DH, where Botts deserves a shot.

As for the Matsuzaka bid, I can’t fault the Rangers for the level of their bid and the financial commitment they were prepared to make for the 26-year-old righthander. Still can’t believe Boston is paying Seibu a $51.1 million dowry. Is Matsuzaka really a good bet to be worth a $100 million investment?

Quashing speculation that ESPN’s Buster Olney was throwing out there leading up to Seibu’s announcement, MLB has said the Red Sox are not permitted to trade the rights to Matsuzaka that they just secured — but they could sign him and then trade him. (I’m pretty sure the rule that prohibits teams from trading signed free agents until June 15 — assuming it even survived the CBA modifications — applies only to standard free agents, i.e., players with more than six years of big league service, which Matsuzaka is six years short of.

I’m glad the Angels didn’t get him. Not only because I don’t want to face him six times a year, but because it would have increased the chances that Los Angeles would have put Ervin Santana in a deal to get Vernon Wells.

I don’t want Toronto to trade Wells. To anyone. I want them to win 88 games this year, staying in the hunt all summer so that Wells stays in a Blue Jays uniform.

Until this time next year.

Mark DeRosa became the first big league free agent to change teams this winter when he agreed to terms with the Cubs on a deal worth approximately $13 million over three years on Tuesday. That’s a guy you hate lose, but I’m happy for DeRosa, who flourished under the tutelage of Rudy Jaramillo and earned this one big payday of his career. The Rangers made an effort to keep him (reportedly offering $6 million over two years with an option for a third valued at around $4 million more), but the Cubs were able not only to offer a lucrative financial package but also a starting job (at second base), something that Texas couldn’t offer, the way the roster is set up right now.

DeRosa is a Type B player, meaning Texas will get a compensation pick between rounds one and two for losing him before having to offer arbitration. The modified CBA benefited the Rangers significantly in DeRosa’s case; even assuming that the Cubs would have signed him under the old rules before the arbitration tender date (which would have forced them to forfeit a draft pick), they would have surrendered their second-rounder to the Rangers, which might have been around pick number 45 or 50 (depending on how many supplemental first-round picks are awarded) — and that’s only if DeRosa ended up being the free agent with the highest Elias ranking that Chicago signs this winter. Say they were to also sign Alfonso Soriano and DeRosa’s best friend, Jason Marquis, this off-season. Suddenly Texas would have gotten not the Cubs’ second and not their third, but instead their fourth-rounder, which could sit at around pick number 110.

But under the new CBA, the draft pick the Rangers will recoup for the loss of DeRosa will probably be somewhere around 40th overall.

Another silver lining on the DeRosa development is that it happened early, and as a result there’s one less unknown that could conceivably have held Texas up from making some other move.

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com identifies Texas as one the four teams showing the strongest interest in Carlos Lee, along with Houston, Baltimore, and San Francisco. If he were to sign with the Astros, the Rangers would get the 17th pick in the draft as compensation. But if the Orioles or Giants sign Lee, Texas would get the fifth or tenth pick in the second round, respectively. In any case, the Rangers will also get a sandwich pick after the first round if Lee signs with another team.

Jon Daniels laid the groundwork for several trades at last year’s GM meetings, and you can be sure he’s doing the same right now in Naples, Florida. The White Sox and Detroit have been mentioned multiple times this week as teams that Texas might be talking to about starting pitching (Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Mike Maroth, Wil Ledezma) and possibly an option in center field (Brian Anderson) should the Rangers fail to keep Gary Matthews Jr. Young Ranger arms C.J. Wilson, Wes Littleton, Josh Rupe, Nick Masset, Scott Feldman, and Frankie Francisco and shortstop Joaquin Arias have been identified as players other teams are asking about.

Colorado is evidently open to discussing Jason Jennings, whose sinking fastball and Metroplex ties make him a likely Texas target. He won’t come cheap, though.

Tampa Bay reportedly gauged Philadelphia’s interest (unsuccessfully) in a deal that would send center fielder Rocco Baldelli to the Phillies for lefthander Cole Hamels. Love Baldelli (who is apparently being shopped as an indirect result of Tampa Bay winning the rights to negotiate with Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura for $4.5 million), but if you’re wondering whether the Rangers could get in on him, realize the demand would probably be John Danks plus something, or Robinson Tejeda plus. No thanks.

The Angels might shop longtime object of Rangers envy Chone Figgins, seeking bullpen help or a power bat.

According to various reports, Texas has met with Mark Mulder’s agent, is interested in Jeff Suppan and Ted Lilly and Randy Wolf, and has stepped up efforts to retain Vicente Padilla.

The way the middle reliever market is shaping up, it’s becoming clear that the Rangers’ decision to pick up lefthander Ron Mahay’s $1.2 million option last week made perfect sense, even if Texas hasn’t concluded that he’s a favorite for a 2007 job. That contract could be exceedingly tradeable.

The Denver Post suggests that Texas is showing interest in versatile outfielder Jay Payton, “who has strong ties to new manager Ron Washington.”

The accounts are so consistent that it’s not really news when someone else raves about Washington, but it’s still great to read that Michael Young was “absolutely floored” when he met his new manager yesterday.

While in Naples, Daniels interviewed Milwaukee’s AAA hitting coach, former Texas center fielder Gary Pettis, for the Rangers’ first base coach position.

Oakland general manager Billy Beane plans to hire a manager this week, either A’s bench coach Bob Geren, Colorado bench coach Jamie Quirk, or Orel Hershiser. Trey Hillman was eliminated from consideration, and yesterday he signed a one-year contract to continue managing Nippon Ham.

Hillman’s Fighters club defeated Taiwan’s La New Bears by a score of 1-0 on Sunday to win the Asia Series, a tournament that features the champions each year from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China.

Lefthander Erasmo Ramirez, who was a minor league free agent, has signed with Oakland, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. It’s a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp.

Sullivan adds that Texas has signed Matt Merricks, a short lefthander who was developed by Atlanta and then shipped at the 2004 trade deadline to the Dodgers for veteran southpaw Tom Martin. He was Rule 5’d after the 2004 season by Colorado, landed on the disabled list with shoulder tightness at the start of the 2005 season, and briefly pitched on rehab for High A Modesto in the Rockies system before they returned him to Los Angeles at mid-season.

The 24-year-old has a career mark of 26-37, 3.70 in seven minor league seasons, striking out nearly a batter per inning. In 2006, he pitched in nine games for High A Vero Beach, seven of which were starts, scattering 29 hits (.225 opponents’ average) and 17 walks in 35 innings while punching out an impressive 48. He was advertised as wielding a low-90s fastball that touched 95 when he was coming up in the Braves system. Merricks arrives on a minor league deal, and there’s no indication as to whether he’s been extended an invite to big league camp.

Finally, according to Sullivan, the Rangers have reworked catcher Miguel Ojeda’s contract, which featured a $500,000 club option for 2007 with a $25,000 buyout. He goes into the winter as the Rangers’ top candidate to back up Gerald Laird.

Toronto signed righthander Matt Roney, and the Mets claimed righthander Jason Standridge off waivers from the Reds.

Minor league contracts: lefthander Ben Kozlowski (Yankees), lefthander Ryan Cullen (Mets), righthander Jonathan Johnson (Atlanta), first baseman Josh Kreuzer (Toronto), and outfielder Jason Fransz (Baltimore).

Cincinnati has hired Frisco hitting coach Ronnie Ortegon as their minor league hitting coordinator. The Reds had already brought Brook Jacoby, who was the Rangers’ minor league hitting coordinator, over to serve as their big league hitting coach.

San Diego’s AA Texas League affiliate in San Antonio will have Glenn Abbott as its pitching coach, Arnie Beyeler as its hitting coach, and Greg Harrel as its trainer in 2007.

Second baseman Micah Furtado has joined the Honolulu Sharks of the Hawaii Winter Baseball League with about a week to go on the league’s schedule.

The independent Golden Baseball League announced the retirement of the league’s greatest player, former Rangers farmhand Desi Wilson.

Adam and Kristy Fox are the proud, new parents of Brayden Gunnar Fox, who was born on November 6 and weighed in at a sturdy 8 pounds, 15.5 ounces, measuring 21 1/4 inches.

Stay tuned for breaking news with free agency now in full swing, and, as far as the trade landscape is concerned, with Jon Daniels in the on deck circle, locked in and pine tarring away.

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

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