THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 16, 2006

So Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune speculated this week that Texas could put Akinori Otsuka, John Danks, and Nick Masset in a deal for either Javier Vazquez or Mark Buehrle, plus center fielder Brian Anderson.

That ain’t happening.

But it sort of crystallized something I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks. There’s no question that Jon Daniels will make at least one impact trade this winter — there are too many holes to fill to rely strictly on what’s once again shaping up to be an unruly free agent market — and while I feel comfortable that there won’t be one that moves Otsuka, Danks, and Masset, we’re going to know a lot more about what the Rangers’ big picture plan is once we see the trade activity make the news rather than the columns.

It was one year ago today (after the GM meetings had concluded) that the first stories popped up suggesting Texas was in “serious talks” with Florida about a deal that would send Hank Blalock and either Danks or Thomas Diamond to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

This year, the list of young Rangers pitchers that other teams will be asking for is significantly longer, because of the stage of development that the organization’s best pitching prospects are at, and that depth might mean the Rangers can get even more aggressive on the trade front than they could a year ago, when Florida ultimately turned to Boston when the Sox agreed to include the player the Marlins really wanted, shortstop (and eventual NL Rookie of the Year) Hanley Ramirez.

But when other teams predictably ask Daniels for Danks or Masset or Wes Littleton or Edinson Volquez or Eric Hurley or Josh Rupe or C.J. Wilson or Thomas Diamond, there are a few things to consider:

1. Don’t be surprised. It stands to reason that at least one of them will be traded this winter, unless Texas relies strictly on free agency to set its 2007 core.

2. Trading Diamond for a starting pitcher or a center fielder, for example, is one thing. But trading Danks plus Masset should tell us something entirely different.

Here’s the point: Michael Young is under control through 2008. Mark Teixeira is under control through 2008. Hank Blalock is under control through 2008 (with a club option in 2009). Kevin Millwood and Akinori Otsuka are under control past 2008 but will be 35 and 37 at that point.

Ron Washington and Jon Daniels are under contract through 2008.

Will the Rangers decide that the time to push all the chips in is right now, while Young and Teixeira are guaranteed to be here? If so, the chips could include prospects that we might otherwise think of as untouchable.

The idea of trading some of the pitchers on that list scares the tar out of me. But I have to keep reminding myself that the reality is that the best players in Major League Baseball are not all Texas Rangers, and so if the opportunity to acquire someone who makes this club better — measurably better — presents itself, then I’ll have to try to adjust my thinking so that the idea of Danks not being a Ranger for 15 years doesn’t send me into a spiraling baseball depression.

I’ll remind myself that Texas apparently could have traded Dave Stewart, Tom Henke, Jeff Kunkel, and Tommy Dunbar 22 winters ago for 25-year-old Rickey Henderson, who was instead traded days later to the Yankees for Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk, and Tim Birtsas. (Instead, Texas ultimately got Rick Surhoff, and nothing else, for its four.)

But I’ll confront that when and if the time comes.

For now, the idea of trading Danks scares the tar out of me.

And Vazquez and Buehrle, incidentally, are under contract only through 2007, I believe.

There were writers whom I trust a lot more than Phil Rogers that reported the Beckett discussions last November 18. Until I see Otsuka, Danks, and Masset for Vazquez or Buehrle plus Anderson in more reliable space, that’s one I’m not going to worry too much about.

But it’s a sure thing that Daniels has laid the groundwork for the trade activity that should pick up over the next few weeks. As he told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, comparing his second GM Meetings to his first: “Probably because I was new, last year we did a lot of kicking the tires. This year we had more targeted conversations.”

Soon enough we’ll learn a lot more about the nature of the deals he’s targeting, and what it says about the big plan.

Texas has done a couple things on the periphery, signing catcher Miguel Ojeda ($430,000, with $300,000 guaranteed) and bringing righthander Franklyn German and infielders Ramon Vazquez and Dave Matranga in on minor league deals. German and Vazquez were given non-roster invites to big league camp.

German was once thought to be Oakland’s future closer. And then Detroit’s future closer, once he was shipped to the Tigers with Carlos Pena and player to be named Jeremy Bonderman in the deal that made Jeff Weaver a Yankee and sent Ted Lilly, Jason Arnold, and John-Ford Griffin to Oakland. Featuring mid-90s gas and a nasty split-finger, he punched out a batter and a half on the farm in 2001 and 2002, advancing in that time from the High A California League to Detroit.

After allowing no runs in 6.2 innings in that 2002 big league debut, German was a disappointment in 2003, walking 45 batters in 44.2 Tigers innings and allowing opponents to hit .333, en route to a 6.04 ERA, while posting a 2.45 ERA at AAA and walking only nine in 29.1 frames. Similar split ugliness ensued in 2004, but in 2005 (out of options) he was solid for Detroit, going 4-0, 3.66 in 58 relief appearances, though he walked 34 in 59 innings and fanned only 38.

Detroit designated German for assignment when finalizing its Opening Day roster in 2006, and Florida claimed him off waivers. In 12 appearances for the Marlins, covering 12 innings, he issued 14 walks (fanning six), and the club placed him on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis on May 10. He would pitch only 11.1 innings the rest of the year, first on rehab and then after Florida got him through waivers in June and outrighted him to AAA.

German has pitched four times this winter for Escogido (where his teammates include Freddy Guzman and Enrique Cruz, not to mention about half a dozen former Rangers, including Ruben Mateo), giving up six runs on five hits and two walks in three innings of work, failing to record a strikeout.

Every team signs a couple Franklyn German’s every winter, setting up spring competition for the back of the bullpen. You just hope that once in a while you hit on a Carlos Almanzar.

The 30-year-old Vazquez has spent at least part of each of the last six years in the big leagues (with Seattle, San Diego, and Cleveland), hitting .255/.324/.335 in 386 games. As a minor leaguer, he’s a .272/.371/.390 hitter, which includes a .242/.377/.343 run with AAA Buffalo in the Indians system last season. The left-handed hitter will get a chance in camp to win a utility infielder role.

Matranga, who is 29, will likely play all over the field for Oklahoma. The Pepperdine product spent seven seasons in the Houston organization and one each in the Angels and Padres systems, hitting a lifetime .250/.341/.379 and getting cups of coffee with the Astros in 2003 (1 for 6) and the Angels in 2005 (0 for 1). His lone big league hit was a pinch-hit bomb off of Rangers starter Joaquin Benoit on June 27, 2003.

According to Sullivan, the Rangers have denied reports that they are talking to Boston about Manny Ramirez but are cautiously optimistic about the state of negotiations with Vicente Padilla.

Baseball America named John Mayberry Jr. (.351/.407/.608) the number two prospect in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, first among hitters, though the publication suggested that his swing remains too long and can be exploited inside. Despite Johnny Whittleman’s lackluster offensive line (.192/.273/.282), BA judged him to be the league’s number 14 prospect, citing impressive bat speed and the judgment that he “profiles perfectly at third [base].”

The Arizona Fall League’s title game is today, featuring the Grand Canyon Rafters, which includes the Rangers’ delegation to the league. Lefthander A.J. Murray is slated to get the start.

The Dodgers signed catcher Ken Huckaby to a minor league contract with an invite to big league spring training.

Kansas City named Darryl Kennedy manager of its short-season Appalachian League affiliate in Burlington. I hadn’t seen that he was let go by the Rangers. He’d managed in the Texas system for nine years, including the last two in Frisco.

I’ll have details very soon about the book release party for the 2007 Bound Edition of the Newberg Report, which will be on Thursday evening, December 14, at a location that will likely be in Dallas. We’ll have Rangers players in attendance.

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

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 64 other followers

%d bloggers like this: