THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 5, 2006
JD: Need one or two starting pitchers and either a center fielder, an impact bat, or both; talk to agents (including those representing those Type A’s who weren’t offered arb), talk to every GM, squeeze in a talk or two with the press.
The Rangers came to terms last night with Vicente Padilla, agreeing to a deal that guarantees the righthander $33-34 million over three years, with an option for a fourth season worth $12 million.
Consider every deal that a free agent starting pitcher changing teams has landed this winter:
Adam Eaton: 3 years, $24.5 million (missed four months in 2006)
Kip Wells: 1 year, $4 million (missed four months in 2006)
Woody Williams: 2 years, $12.5 million (missed two months in 2006)
Randy Wolf: 1 year, $8 million (missed four months in 2006)
Given the market, the Padilla one is solid, both from the player’s standpoint (he’ll get as much annually as he’s earned in his six big league seasons combined, and has the opportunity to pitch in a place he’s familiar with and likes) and the team’s (the 29-year-old went 15-10, 4.50 in 2006, logging 200 innings and posting 20 quality starts, fifth-most in the American League).
Should there be a concern that Padilla’s career year happened to come in his “contract year” (his first opportunity to pitch for a multi-year contract) and that the security of a long-term deal could dial down Padilla’s day-to-day, pitch-to-pitch focus, which was already an issue to some degree (one, however, that he put to rest for the most part as far as his first season in Texas was concerned)?
Yes. But that’s the price of poker. Let those worries overcome your belief in the player every time, and you’ll sentence yourself to turning your pitching staff over every year to a collection of young arms who are still figuring it out. This is not so much a leap of faith as it is a willingness to pay market value and a trust that the player, having had success here, will continue to pitch to his ability every time he gets the ball, that he’ll be no less motivated to post up for his team.
Texas traded righthander Ricardo Rodriguez to Philadelphia 51 weeks ago to get Padilla. The Phillies released Rodriguez during spring training. Compare that to what Texas gave up to get Eaton, for instance, or even Wells. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Next? Maybe Michael Young can place a recruiting call to his 1997 Cal Santa Barbara teammate, Barry Zito. Both left the Gauchos after that season, Young for the Blue Jays organization and Zito for Los Angeles Pierce Junior College (from which the Rangers would draft him in 1998, before he transferred to USC). Pitch it, Michael: your own little 10-year college reunion.
The idea that Zito might actually end up here – still far from likely – is invigorating, mostly because the thought of Millwood-Zito-Padilla fronting the rotation, with Robinson Tejeda next and a fifth spot that could go in any number of directions in April but, beyond that, has C.J. Wilson and Josh Rupe and John Danks and Eric Hurley and Nick Masset and Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond and Kameron Loe and A.J. Murray as candidates, fires me up. It fires me up because that’s a lot of near-ready, high-ceiling arms, with every single one of them – from Millwood-Zito-Padilla to all the pre-arbitration pitchers – under Rangers control for years.
Think about the trading firepower that would give Texas.
Not that Jon Daniels doesn’t have that already, even without Zito. According to Kat O’Brien of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, teams are showing significant interest in Masset, Danks, Hurley, and Joaquin Arias, and there have been repeated suggestions that teams are interested in the Rangers’ stable of young relievers. And the Mets evidently want Akinori Otsuka, but rebuffed Daniels’s demand for Mike Pelfrey or the duo of John Maine and Brian Bannister in return. Gutsy on Daniels’s part, I think, but a GM has to have some guts.
As far as Zito is concerned, Daniels is operating just as he did last year, when he acquired Padilla and Eaton and Otsuka before sitting down at the negotiating table with Millwood. He’s beefing the rotation back up before trying to close a deal with the big target, the 28-year-old lefthander who hasn’t missed a start in his seven big league seasons and has a career record of 102-63, 3.55, including 24-11, 3.58 against the Angels and Mariners. It’s an added selling point to a guy like Millwood, or a guy like Zito, that he’d be joining a rotation set up to compete right now.
This team, especially with Zito, is a team that should compete, and if that’s the case, it increases the chances that Young and Mark Teixeira will want to be here for life, that rare phenomenon of wearing one big league uniform that’s exemplified by their hero, Don Mattingly.
If Zito doesn’t work out? Time to step up talks with Andy Pettitte.
And then there’s Jason Botts. If a Zito signing means Texas gives Botts a shot to DH at the league minimum to balance the money put into the rotation this winter, good. Doesn’t matter to me how that door gets opened. If center field in 2006 needs to be addressed on the cheap, too, fine. Or maybe some of that pitching inventory gets parlayed into a long-term answer in center, or perhaps a more veteran stopgap than Texas has right now. (A story on the Phillies’ official site last night, for instance, suggests that Aaron Rowand continues to be linked to Texas, “for a combination of pitchers Joaquin Benoit, Josh Rupe or Ron Mahay.” I don’t get anywhere near that deal if Rupe is part of it.)
Now I’m getting way ahead of myself. There’s a method to all of this, one that by now we all understand Daniels doesn’t telegraph through the media. Ever since he was labeled a year ago as coming into the job with a plan to be “creative and aggressive,” there have been countless trade rumors involving the Rangers, almost none of which came to fruition, and a handful of impact trades (some that turned out well, others not so much), almost none of which were even speculated on ahead of time.
Stay tuned. I get the sense that Daniels has just flicked the first domino.