THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 29, 2006

Scott Boras is a magician. Barry Zito is going to pull down a guaranteed $126 million, which is exactly half of what Boras secured six years ago for Alex Rodriguez, but considering that Zito plays only every fifth day and the contract covers seven seasons rather than 10, there’s this staggering fact:

If Zito doesn’t miss a single start over the next seven years, at the end of which he’ll be 35 years old, he’ll earn more than half a million dollars every game he plays.

Half a million dollars a game.

Good grief.

The Rangers’ offer of $88 million over six years (which includes a $4 million buyout if Texas opted not to pick up a $15 million option for a seventh year, which would have vested if Zito pitched 200 innings in the sixth season of the deal), while not close to the $18 million AAV that the Giants committed, was in line with the Mets’ reported offer of five years at $75 million. Seattle apparently never made a formal offer but was rumored to be willing to match New York’s proposal. The Yankees, having not yet moved Randy Johnson, never jumped in.

For that much more guaranteed money, Zito would have been crazy to go anywhere else, and of course he basically gets to stay home. But considering that the Giants won 76 games in a weak National League last season and, if anything, have gotten older this winter, I’m not sure it was the brightest baseball move. No player in the starting lineup will be under 32 this season, and their farm system is thin. Will Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, Jonathan Sanchez, and Tim Lincecum get it done alone over the next few years?

The Rangers’ focus at this point, as far as free agents are concerned, would seem to be on Mark Mulder alone. He’s reportedly weighing three or four offers, including a two-year proposal from Texas, and could make his decision soon (he’s on his honeymoon right now).

Texas did sign three players yesterday, one to a big league contract (catcher Guillermo Quiroz) and two righthanders (Mike Wood and Willie Eyre) to minor league deals with invites to big league camp. Quiroz is the most interesting pickup.

Three years ago, there were several catchers, all American Leaguers, among the top prospects in baseball. Most lists of the 50 best prospects in the game included four backstops: Joe Mauer, then Jeff Mathis, then, interchangeably, Dioner Navarro and Quiroz.

Gerald Laird was in the next tier. Quiroz now has an opportunity to win a job as Laird’s backup.

Quiroz’s rise in stature came after a breakthrough 2003 season in which the right-handed hitter, at age 21, hit a robust .282/.372/.518 against AA pitching, blasting 20 homers and adding 27 doubles in just 369 at-bats. And this was a player who, when he signed out of Venezuela at age 16 for $1.2 million — with Boras as his agent — was considered a potential star defensively. With plus pop times to second, a strong arm, and good agility, that 2003 season at the plate — even when a collapsed lung ended his season early — made Quiroz (who was the World Team’s starter at catcher in that summer’s Futures Game) an absolute lock to move in as Toronto’s starter within a couple years.

But Quiroz has had nothing but adversity on the field since then. He missed nearly two months early in 2004 with a broken glove hand, hitting .227/.309/.404 before getting a brief big league look in September. He strained his throwing shoulder and suffered a second collapsed lung in 2005, getting just 121 at-bats between High A and AAA, in addition to 36 at-bats with the Blue Jays over the season’s final six weeks.

Toronto tried to sneak Quiroz through waivers at the end of spring training in 2006, as he was out of options and failed to beat out Jason Phillips to serve as the backup to Gregg Zaun, who actually had to start the season on the disabled list with a pulled calf muscle. Seattle put in a waiver claim, however, and Quiroz was suddenly the Mariners’ backup catcher. He got a start for Seattle on April 9, striking out in each of two trips to the plate before being lifted in the eighth inning for a pinch hitter.

It would be the only appearance Quiroz made with the Mariners, who were able to slide him through waivers and outright him to AAA Tacoma on April 16. He hit well for the Rainiers (.304/.359/.428) in 138 at-bats but was reassigned in July (largely because the Mariners promoted uberprospect Jeff Clement to Tacoma) to AA San Antonio, where he hit just .188/.235/.375 in 64 at-bats.

Off of the Mariners’ 40-man roster as the season came to an end, Quiroz (who just turned 25 a month ago) exercised six-year free agent rights to shop himself on the open market, and there was obviously enough interest in him around the league that Texas had to offer him a 40-man roster spot to get him to sign. He’ll battle Miguel Ojeda for the backup catcher job, but since he’s out of options, there’s a good chance he won’t remain with the organization if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. Even if Texas designates him for assignment and is able to get him through waivers, since he’s been outrighted before he’ll have the right to decline any subsequent outrights and trigger immediate free agency.

Quiroz (whose hometown of Maracaibo is where the Rangers used to base their Venezuelan Academy) has been catching for Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League, hitting .200/.280/.311 in 45 at-bats. Among the other catchers on the Lara roster is Einar Diaz.

Pretty intriguing, low-risk acquisition. Considering the tools Quiroz brings to the catcher position, not to mention his potential to hit with power, the upside is that he develops into a Rod Barajas-type backup, which is exactly what Texas had three years ago when Laird last went into a season as the starter.

The Quiroz signing brings the Rangers’ roster to a full 40 players (not including Omar Beltre, who is on the restricted list), which means that if Texas were to sign Mulder or someone else to a big league contract, the club will need to concomitantly drop someone from the roster, which currently includes Francisco Cruceta, Drew Meyer, and Victor Diaz. (Surely Armando Galarraga, Daniel Haigwood, and A.J. Murray are safe, as is Alexi Ogando, though he might end up on the restricted list himself.)

Texas had claimed Wood off waivers from Kansas City in October, but non-tendered him just over two weeks ago at the deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The 26-year-old Wood, originally drafted by Oakland in 2001, was traded to the Royals with Mark Teahen in the three-team deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston. He’s a 13-20, 5.52 pitcher in parts of four big league seasons but has been brilliant in the minor leagues, going 40-17, 3.11 over six seasons.

Eyre, whose brother Scott was originally Rangers property (traded for Esteban Beltre days before the 1994 season) and now makes a lot of money pitching in middle relief for the Cubs, made his big league debut last season at age 27, when he pitched all year in middle relief for Minnesota. Eyre went 1-0, 5.31 in 42 games for the Twins, allowing opponents to hit .309/.376/.494 and fanning only 26 batters in 59.1 innings while walking 22. He finished 20 games but never had a save opportunity (and only the one decision), and was left off Minnesota’s playoff roster and ultimately non-tendered.

The Twins drafted Eyre in the 23rd round of the 1999 draft, the same draft in which Texas drafted his Junior College of Eastern Utah teammate Richard Gilbert in the 38th round. In 2005, Eyre had a AAA mark of 10-3, 2.72 in 56 relief appearances, saving seven games and punching out 74 International Leaguers in 82.2 frames.

Willie’s middle name is Mays.

A little background on David Paisano, the 19-year-old outfielder whom Texas received from the White Sox in the weekend deal that sent John Danks, Nick Masset, and Jake Rasner to Chicago for Brandon McCarthy. The Venezuelan hit .338/.430/.477 for Chicago’s Venezuelan Summer League squad in 2006, playing all three outfield spots (primarily center field) while leading off most of the time. In 195 homerless at-bats, the league All-Star struck out 37 times while drawing 22 walks, and among his 66 hits were an eye-opening seven triples. A right-handed hitter, Paisano was equally effective against right-handed pitchers (.338) and lefties (.340).

In 2005, Paisano’s debut season, he played for Chicago’s Dominican Summer League entry, hitting .272/.321/.377 with three home runs in 151 at-bats.

Years away from threatening to break into the big leagues, Paisano goes into the Rangers’ mix of internal candidates to develop into a leadoff-hitting center fielder. He’s gone 2 for 12 for Tiburones de La Guaria in the Venezuelan Winter League, which is impressive not so much in terms of the numbers as from the standpoint that he’s competing in that league as a teenager.

Here’s something you shouldn’t miss. It’s Lorrie Masset’s message to Rangers fans in the aftermath of the trade that sent her son Nick to Chicago, after five and a half years of growth in the Rangers system.

My brief segment on KRLD’s Sports Central talk show last night, mostly regarding the McCarthy trade, can be found here.

Texas signed outfielder Todd Donovan and infielder Jared Sandberg to minor league deals last week. Neither was invited to major league camp.

Donovan, age 28, is a .268/.350/.369 hitter in eight minor league seasons, with very little power but significant speed. Sandberg, also 28, was a .221/.297/.406 hitter in parts of three big league seasons with Tampa Bay, hitting 25 homers and driving in 92 runs in 630 at-bats, and is a lifetime .247/.333/.433 hitter in 11 minor league seasons. He split the 2006 season between AA Corpus Christi in the Houston system, AA Akron in the Cleveland system, and Somerset of the independent Atlantic League.

Sandberg’s uncle is Ryne.

And Barry Zito’s uncle is Patrick Duffy. Which is about as close to Dallas as the lefthander is gonna get, having landed the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, eight years after he was a reported $62,500 short of signing with the Rangers out of Los Angeles Pierce Junior College.

Half a freakin’ million Bay Area bucks a start.

Stunning.

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

1 Comment

Quiroz’ defence has taken a huge step back in the last two or three years. Where as he used to be a good glove, no hit catcher in his early days, that can no longer be said. In brief MLB appearances, Quiroz struggled to catch the ball, control the runners on the bases and his footwork wasn’t great. The arm is still there. I agree, though, that this is a good low-risk signing.

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