November 2006

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.

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.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 12, 2006

It’s November 12. The doors are unlocked, the signs have been flipped from “Closed” to “Open,” and the window shopping is over. Free agents and the teams they didn’t finish the 2006 season with can start officially selling themselves to one another, and the mystery now becomes not which baseball writers had the best run of prognostication in the last month but instead which agents will allow their players to set the market and which will sit back, waiting to dive in once the relevant market gets marginally defined.

And then there’s one agent who, as always, will do plenty of both, as he gets set to peddle his Japanese trophy, the equivalent of the one-of-a-kind grand prize in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, leveraging his client as only he can with the one team he can talk to (on the surface, that is), meanwhile sitting pretty with some of the high-end merchandise that all 30 teams can haggle over. (“Do you have that in a Barry Zito?” “Why yes, it turns out I do. And might I interest you in a Jeff Weaver, or a Greg Maddux? And don’t let me forget to take you over to see my J.D. Drew and my refurbished Eric Gagne.”)

By tomorrow at this time, according to baseball’s best winter prognosticators, we should know which team gets to sit down with Scott Boras and haggle over Daisuke Matsuzaka for a month. By tomorrow at this time, I’ll know if the next month of Newberg Reports will be dominated by Matsuzaka talk – and all its ramifications – or if instead the focus will be squarely on Gary Matthews Jr., Vicente Padilla, Mark DeRosa, Carlos Lee, and the players that Jon Daniels will target to fill the vacancies that the departure of any of them would leave.

(According to baseball’s not-so-great winter prognosticators, hey, the White Sox still covet Michael Young!)

Just hope, along with me, that the Angels didn’t place the high bid to negotiate with Matsuzaka. For two reasons.

Nagging thought: Why hasn’t anyone pointed out that the Rangers can safely offer arbitration to Rod Barajas under the new collective bargaining agreement, which will give them an extra sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the June draft? It was risky under the old CBA, because any team signing a Type B (which Barajas is) that has been offered arbitration would have had to surrender its first- or second-rounder or to do so, a major disincentive for a player at Barajas’s age and production level. But now, a team signing a Type B forfeits nothing; instead, the player’s old team gets the supplemental pick, but it’s not one taken away from the player’s new team.

In other words, if Boston or Colorado or whoever decides it wants Barajas, whether or not he’s offered arbitration will make absolutely no difference to them. And surely Barajas will attract a multi-year deal for more guaranteed money on the open market than the one-year deal he would get by accepting an arbitration offer. His primary market competition is the trio of Mike Lieberthal, Bengie Molina, and Gregg Zaun, unless you want a guy who plays with his hair on fire. Someone will pay Barajas.

Anyway, there’s a tangential ramble from a guy whose college football season ended last night and whose heavy lifting on his next book on the Rangers has now been finished, a guy who is ready to play ball with zero distractions.

Not that there was a whole lot of ball to be played before the calendar landed on November 12.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — NOVEMBER 9, 2006

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Don Wakamatsu has agreed to remain with the Rangers and will serve as third base coach on new manager Ron Washington’s staff. Terrific news.

Texas, Sullivan writes, is also expected to hire Gary Pettis as first base coach and baserunning and outfield instructor, rounding out Washington’s staff.

Sullivan also notes that Buck Showalter is expected to join the Cleveland Indians as a special assistant to GM Mark Shapiro.

There have been no developments yet with regard to which club’s bid was presented yesterday to the Seibu Lions for the rights to negotiate with righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka. Seibu has until Tuesday to accept the bid, but there are reports that the club will have a board meeting on Friday, which could be in the next few hours, and an announcement could be made shortly thereafter.

Updates as they become available.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 9, 2006

Things are happening.

Art Howe brings 14 years of big league managerial experience — in both leagues — to the Rangers dugout, where he will be Ron Washington’s bench coach. Howe’s first coaching job was as Bobby Valentine’s hitting instructor and first base coach for the Rangers in 1985. Since then, he’s managed the Astros (where Washington played his final big league season, in 1989), the A’s, and the Mets, and of course, he had Washington on his own staff for his six seasons at the helm of the A’s.

One writer from another market told me yesterday that Oakland is going to be even more concerned about Howe being in their division rival’s dugout than about Washington being there. That makes me happy.

Washington is apparently interested in bringing former Rangers center fielder Gary Pettis in to serve as his first base coach and outfield instructor. Pettis was Milwaukee’s AAA hitting coach last year.

If Pettis joins the staff, that signals a return to AAA for Bobby Jones, who managed the RedHawks from 2002 to 2005.

Washington and Jon Daniels want Don Wakamatsu to remain in Texas, and as the staff is shaking out it would probably be as third base coach and catching instructor. No word on whether Wakamatsu (who is under contract for 2007) is interested in that role.

Steve Smith is not expected to return as third base coach and infield instructor, but the latter is already covered. Howe will work with the club’s infielders.

With one exception. “Hank Blalock is mine,” Washington said. “I’ve got Hank. I’m going to make Hank better.”

According to published reports, Barry Zito and Torii Hunter and Jermaine Dye are more interested in becoming Rangers now than they were last week, simply because Washington is here. Love that development, not just because of those three (the latter two of which won’t be free agents for another year) but because of what it represents in the larger picture.

Washington met fourth grade students at a Dallas school for disadvantaged children yesterday and met Rangers fans at ******* in the West End last night, will meet more fans at Academy Sports in North Dallas tonight, and next week starts out on a junket to see his players. After meeting with Kevin Millwood and Mark Teixeira here in town, Washington will start his travels by visiting Gary Matthews Jr., Blalock, and Michael Young in California. He eventually plans to hop down to the Dominican Republic as well.

Texas picked up lefthander Ron Mahay’s $1.2 million option for 2007.

The deadline for sealed bids to negotiate with Seibu Lions righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka was yesterday afternoon, and the Japanese club has until Tuesday to decide whether to accept the prevailing bid (the club is evidently not told by MLB which team submitted it). But when Ichiro Suzuki was posted by the Orix BlueWave six years ago, the BlueWave announced the day after bidding closed that it had accepted the high bid (Seattle’s $13.125 million), and MLB revealed just hours later that the Mariners had secured the negotiating rights.

So we may know which team made the prevailing bid any time.

San Diego hired Angels pitching coach Bud Black to be its new manager, yet another move that weakens an AL West bunkmate. Oakland is the final MLB club that Trey Hillman remains a candidate to manage in 2007, and the A’s apparently have five candidates on their list: Hillman, Orel Hershiser (who interviewed yesterday), Oakland bench coach Bob Geren, Colorado bench coach Jamie Quirk, and Mets bench coach Manny Acta. There’s been no official indication yet that the A’s plan to interview Wakamatsu.

Philadelphia hired Charley Kerfeld as a special assistant to GM Pat Gillick. Kerfeld had served in a similar role with Texas last year.

Ricardo Rodriguez, David Dellucci, Fabio Castro, and Kerfeld for Vicente Padilla, Robinson Tejeda, Jake Blalock, Daniel Haigwood, Don Welke, and Howe. Sorta.

Looks like the Phillies are conceding that they won’t be able to keep Dellucci from leaving as a free agent this winter. That’s a trade they surely regret making.

Castro fired five shutout innings on Monday for Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. He’s allowed three unearned runs on six hits and five walks in 11 innings, fanning 12. That’s a trade Texas surely regrets making.

The Rangers signed 28-year-old outfielder/infielder Matt Kata to a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp. He played for Arizona and Philadelphia in the 2003 through 2005 seasons, spending 2006 with AAA Louisville in the Reds system.

Righthander Joselo Diaz, whom Texas traded for Matt Stairs at last season’s trading deadline, is reportedly close to signing with Japan’s Yokohama Bay Stars.

Baltimore signed Ruddy Yan and Jon Leicester to minor league deals. The Nationals signed Colby Lewis, Mike Bacsik, Chris Michalak, and Danny Ardoin to minor league deals. Erick Burke reupped with San Diego.

Boston hired Dave Klipstein, who had been the Rangers’ Central crosschecker, as an area scout.

The Dodgers named former Rangers scouting director Tim Hallgren their new director of amateur scouting.

I’ll fire off a news flash when there are developments in the Matsuzaka process.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — NOVEMBER 7, 2006

T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that Texas has hired Art Howe to serve as new manager Ron Washington’s bench coach.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 7, 2006

I still remember my immediate reaction in 1995 when I heard that the Cowboys had signed Deion Sanders. It wasn’t that Prime Time’s arrival would result in a shutdown of the opponent’s go-to receiver or would give Dallas a weapon on punt returns. Though those things would sink in a minute later, the first thing that came to mind was less about what the Cowboys were adding than what we were taking away from the nemesis Forty-Niners.

That’s a big part of what I was feeling before yesterday’s press conference introducing Ron Washington as the Rangers’ new manager. What I knew about Washington’s reputation made me think that maybe the thing that distinguished his candidacy to replace Buck Showalter from Don Wakamatsu’s or Trey Hillman’s was that hiring Washington would effectively weaken a division rival.

I still like that aspect of the Washington hire a lot. But it’s no longer the key factor for me.

I’d heard from a number of people that my appreciation of Ron Washington would grow exponentially once I had the chance to be around him.

They were right.

Tom Hicks said before an unusually large crowd of reporters yesterday afternoon that on Sunday, a few hours into Washington’s second interview with the Rangers (and the first in which Hicks was involved), he pulled Jon Daniels aside and asked, “What am I missing? Why isn’t this our guy?” It was then that Daniels told Hicks for the first time that Washington was his number one recommendation. Hicks and Daniels spontaneously scrapped plans to meet the next day to make a decision, and instead walked back up to Washington right then and made him an offer.

What was supposed to be a 5:00 meeting on Monday between Hicks, Daniels, and Thad Levine instead turned out to be a much larger meeting, with reporters from every local outlet, representatives from every department of the Rangers organization, plus Mark Teixeira and Kevin Millwood and Rudy Jaramillo in attendance.

And as advertised, Washington blew everyone’s socks off.

Daniels said that his checklist when the process of finding the club’s next manager began a month ago started with five traits: winner, teacher, optimist, communicator, and hard worker. He went into the search very familiar with Wakamatsu and Hillman. He knew Washington only by reputation, but after his first interview on October 17, Daniels realized he had a candidate who embodied all five qualities.

When Daniels dispatched new Rangers senior director of baseball operations Don Welke to meet with Washington in New Orleans on October 26, Welke asked the question that had been on my mind: Would you prefer managing in Oakland or in Texas? “Offer me a job and you’ll see,” Washington replied.

Eleven days later, the Rangers did, and Washington accepted. It’s reportedly a two-year contract (which Daniels pointed out is how much longer his own deal lasts), with two additional option years.

In many ways, Washington couldn’t be more different from Showalter. One is a high-profile baseball manager who got his first team at age 35, the other a baseball grinder who gets his first head gig at age 54. One addressed the media with as much polish and finesse as you’ll ever see; the other is as refreshingly blunt and unvarnished as you could ever imagine. One batted and threw left, the other batted and threw right.

One had a number of catchphrases that made their way into most interviews, among the most common of which was a player’s “sincerity.” The other is simply as sincere as it gets. Washington’s reputation is that he will say whatever is on his mind, good or bad, with no artifice and no veneer. Was he supposed to say at yesterday’s press conference that he’d like to bring Art Howe in to be his bench coach, especially when Wakamatsu’s future with Texas remains unresolved? If you were there, you would agree that Howe’s name probably wasn’t supposed to be mentioned. But it was, and that’s just Ron Washington being Ron Washington.

Daniels called Washington authentic, a class act, one of the most contagious personalities he’d ever been around. I saw Washington interact with people for two hours yesterday, and came to the same inescapable conclusion. His character and enthusiasm are infectious.

Washington was almost apologetic in classifying himself as a “player’s manager,” a cliché label that nonetheless can’t be avoided when describing his coaching style. “We’ve all got to have each other’s backs, through thick and thin,” Washington said, and it was impossible not to believe he meant it, and lives it.

I came away from the gathering believing we will win with this man in charge. On the one hand, what do I know? But on the other, isn’t that sort of the point?

I wrote this on October 5:

“It just looked like the players weren’t enjoying playing for Showalter. There was a palpable disconnect.

“So what? Shouldn’t millionaire ballplayers be expected to **** it up? Of course.

“But at the same time, if the idea is to give the players the best possible environment to win, it seems that having a manager that they want to play for (whether they ‘like’ him or not is not really the question) should be important. Right?

“I have no doubt that every man wearing a Rangers uniform gave it everything he had every night, but I believe in the ‘extra gear’ that some coaches and managers and bosses can get out of their people. I began questioning this season whether Showalter was bringing that out in the team.”

Whether I believe Texas will win under Washington doesn’t matter. Whether the players believe they will is vitally important. It’s been an unmistakable hallmark of the A’s teams of the last 11 years, during which there have been ace pitchers and closers and run producers and managers who have come and gone, but two constants: (1) a relentless, confident looseness among the players, and (2) Ron Washington. The two aren’t unrelated. A baseball team on which Washington has a say is a family, says the Rangers’ new skipper, from the top to the bottom. A group of men who not only have a common goal, but who work toward it as one.

Washington said his approach is simple: come in with a good attitude and a commitment, take care of the fundamentals, be prepared, and let the talent do the rest. He believes in players, and he instills in players a belief in themselves. “I’m good at communicating with players because I was one,” Washington said. “I’ll always be a player at heart.”

As refreshingly authentic and unpretentious as Washington is, don’t mistake it for a lack of self-confidence. He noted that the last thing he said during his first interview with Texas — which he said got off to a great start because of the class Daniels showed by personally picking him up from the airport — was this: “You’ve really impressed me. And I **** sure know I’ve impressed you.”

Daniels said that he made countless calls around the league during the interview process to try and find someone who would give him pause about hiring Washington, someone who might point out a negative, even a small one, that Daniels ought to factor into the decision process. He never found that person, never heard a negative.

Does Washington’s arrival mean Texas now has a shot at Barry Zito? “Don’t know,” Washington said, adding with more honesty than you’d expect, “I haven’t really thought about that.” How about you, Mr. Daniels? “Free agents and trades aren’t something we’ve discussed yet. Until a couple hours ago, Ron was still in the green and gold.”

More Washington honesty, when asked how he plans to handle the Rangers’ pitching staff: “I don’t know much about handling pitchers, but I know I sure could hit them.” He admitted that he will lean heavily on Mark Connor, who is staying aboard as pitching coach (and on Jaramillo, who remains as hitting coach).

And he wants to lean heavily on Howe, who was hired by Philadelphia just three weeks ago as a third base coach and infield instructor. Clearly, Howe’s name wasn’t going to be part of yesterday’s press conference before Washington mentioned it, but Daniels confirmed that he’s received permission from the Phillies to talk to Howe and that the former A’s manager will be in town today for that purpose. Daniels intends to make a decision on Howe quickly.

It seems like an inevitability at this point. Howe, whose first coaching gig was on Bobby Valentine’s Rangers staff in 1985, managed Washington in his last big league season (1989 in Houston) and managed six Oakland clubs with Washington on his staff. He seems perfect for this job: a steady, veteran big league manager with no ego, and a history and trust level with Washington.

As for the rest of the staff, there’s less predictability. Connor and Jaramillo stay, and bullpen coach Dom Chiti evidently stays, but while Daniels said he’d like Wakamatsu to stay (if he doesn’t get the Oakland managerial post), the fact is that if Howe is hired as bench coach then Wakamatsu would be asked not only to work for a man who beat him out for the job he wanted, but apparently to do so in a role of less stature than the one he’s had here for four years.

With Washington’s background as an infield instructor (for that matter, Howe’s as well), third base coach Steve Smith could be one of the incumbents who’s susceptible to being replaced by a Washington import. First base coach Bobby Jones’s 2007 role is also hard to predict.

Will the profile of player that Daniels targets this winter shift because of Washington’s arrival? Will the team add more speed than it would have otherwise? Not necessarily. Washington said he’ll adapt his managing style to the type of personnel he has. But one thing is certain: Don’t expect him to start taking the bat out of his players’ hands . . . unless a guy is struggling, in which case he’ll absolutely look to “create” offense in order to help get the player out of his rut.

The two keys to winning, in Washington’s estimation, are pitching well and catching the ball, and those are two areas he’s committed to improving (though he’s very comfortable with the bullpen and with Millwood as the anchor of the rotation). He did note that the club “may start infusing young talent and let them grow,” which sounds like a bit of a campaign for DH Jason Botts, and possibly center fielder Freddy Guzman, who Mike Hindman points out is leading the Dominican Winter League in stolen bases (and hitting .289/.360/.356).

But Botts’s name and Guzman’s name aren’t the ones you’ll see discussed the most this off-season in terms of which current Rangers stand to benefit most from Washington’s arrival. That player will be Hank Blalock, and it won’t be close. A number of factors are in play, not the least of which is the sense that Eric Chavez, the sweet-swinging, left-handed-hitting third baseman drafted out of a Southern California high school, is the Athletic most closely identified with Washington’s ability to make young players better, not to mention Washington’s most vocal proponent among the A’s. An effort to get Blalock to the next level — to unlock him, some will say — will be a common bullet point in the papers and on the talk shows this winter.

Until now, Blalock’s name has been the one pinpointed in most articles discussing what veterans the Rangers might have to trade in order to get the pitching they need, fed in part by the fact that he was on the verge of being dealt a year ago to Florida in a package for Josh Beckett. But I bet you a theme begins to develop in the papers that, even if Blalock is a player whose name pops up in trade discussions more frequently than anyone else’s, the truth is that he might have more value to Texas as a Ron Washington mission than he does as a trade chip.

Should it be a concern that Washington wasn’t hired by Oakland once Ken Macha was fired (as some players were lobbying for when Macha was temporarily let go a year ago)? Maybe the real story there is that Washington has too much personality — or too much popularity with the players — for a Billy Beane club.

Other bits and pieces:

Washington played at Manatee Junior College, just like Rangers outfield farmhand Larry Grayson, who was drafted by Oakland in 2000 before enrolling at Manatee.

Smith managed Washington in 1990, his final year as a player, with AAA Oklahoma City. That club boasted a roster that not only included Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer but, fascinatingly, featured Rangers managerial candidate John Russell and future big league pitching coaches Brad Arnsberg, Randy St. Claire, and Wayne Rosenthal.

Washington was a teammate of Johnny Oates with the 1977 Dodgers.

Washington and Beane both played for the 1986 Twins.

On the 1988 Cleveland squad were Washington, Julio Franco, and Brook Jacoby.

On May 28, 1988, Washington busted up the no-hit bid of Brewers righthander (and former Ranger) Odell Jones with a one-out, pinch-hit single in the ninth.

After retiring as a player following the 1990 season with the 89ers, Washington coached in the New York Mets organization for five years (managing Low A Columbia to a 64-77 record in 1993 and a 59-76 mark in 1994). He then joined Oakland’s staff in 1996, serving as first base coach for one year and then infield and third base coach for the next 10. He’s been credited for the dramatic defensive improvement made by several A’s infielders, including six-time Gold Glove winner Chavez, who gave Washington his 2004 trophy, with the inscription: “Wash, not without you.”

That trophy and most of Washington’s baseball memorabilia are gone, as his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Washington will appear at ******* in the West End tomorrow night and at Academy Sports at Forest and Central on Thursday night. You have to go. You’ve got to be around this guy.

Eric Nadel’s pregame manager’s show, always a can’t-miss, will be pure gold with Washington around.

And you know what? The three hours every night that follow the pregame show could be pretty cool, too. Washington said more than once yesterday that he’s only going to be considered a success if his players get the job done. The important point underlying that statement is that he was brought aboard because the Rangers think he’s best equipped to enhance the players’ chances of doing just that. He’s old-school, he’s genuine, he’s energetic.

But maybe most importantly, he’s unabashedly confident, and if his style of management helps his players take on some of that same confidence, then ultimately it may be more than just a throwaway expression to suggest that Oakland’s loss will have been, most assuredly, the Rangers’ gain.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 6, 2006

From Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle:

1. Ron Washington’s deal with the Rangers will be for two years.

2. Washington believes he will be able to hire two coaches for his staff, but not at the pitching coach or hitting coach positions.

3. One thing that might have factored in for Washington — in case you’re wondering why he didn’t insist on waiting for the managerial search in Oakland to play out before accepting the Texas offer — is that in Arlington he’ll be two hours by flight or eight hours by car from his family and home in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina apparently destroyed Washington’s house and most of his possessions last year, and he’s rebuilding in his old neighborhood.

4. And this Washington quote, which gets my day started off well: “I feel like I have an idea about what we can do to keep the A’s from beating us so much.”

Much more on all of this tomorrow.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — NOVEMBER 5, 2006

T.R. Sullivan reports on his MLB.com blog (http://trsullivan.mlblogs.com/) that Oakland third base coach Ron Washington, who had a second interview with the Rangers today, will be named the new Rangers manager at a press conference tomorrow.

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

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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