THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 17, 2007
I’m conflicted about this Sammy Sosa thing. Maybe he can be the 2007 version of 2006 Frank Thomas or 1996 Eric Davis, and there’s no question that the lineup has the appearance of being a dependable right-handed bat short. But maybe I have too much faith that Nelson Cruz is capable of having an Ian Kinsler year, and that Jason Botts can be the 2006 Gerald Laird, so to speak.
Objectively, this move makes a fair amount of sense. Texas brought D’Angelo Jimenez in 13 months ago on a non-guaranteed deal to give Kinsler competition in camp for a job that he was expected to win. Jimenez didn’t cost anyone a spot on the 40-man roster, and while he got 49 spring training at-bats, Kinsler got 58, second most on the team. Nobody plays every day in March, and there will be reps to go around. So from that standpoint, giving playing time to Sosa might cost Victor Diaz and Marlon Byrd some at-bats, but there have historically been two or three outfielders on the Rangers’ non-roster invite list each spring, and there were none on the list announced by the organization last week: no Adrian Brown’s or Adam Hyzdu’s or Chad Allen’s or Jason Conti’s or Andres Torres’s or other non-roster 4-A’s this year.
And again, like Jimenez, if Sosa agrees to whatever the Rangers have offered him, he would certainly be here on a make-good deal. If he proves not to be ready to make an April impact, thanks for the time.
For that matter, if he doesn’t appear to be ready to make a March run at an April impact, Texas can always cut the experiment short. This would be a non-guaranteed deal, in every sense. The upside isn’t nearly what Thomas or Mike Piazza would have brought this winter, but neither is the club commitment. So where’s the downside, the risk?
That’s where my objectivity wanes. One of the things I’m most excited about a month from now is the kickoff of Camp Ron Washington. I think his attitude and his confidence and the fresh air he brings is possibly the biggest story of the spring. I want to see how this team responds to his upbeat, "let the players play" approach.
I’m not concerned that Sosa will be a negative influence. Jon Daniels and Rudy Jaramillo (who goes back 20 years with Sosa) commented on how humble and how hungry Sosa is, after sitting out the 2006 season rather than take a $500,000 offer to play for Washington. This isn’t T.O., it’s not Dennis Rodman. It’s not even Rafael Palmeiro. Sosa isn’t going to be a cancer, even in a worst-case scenario.
But he will be a distraction, regardless of his best intentions. There were a lot more cameras and a lot more dictaphones in the 1989 clubhouse when Nolan Ryan arrived than there had been in 1988. Did it bother Ruben Sierra and Pete Incaviglia, the young stars of the club, that Ryan was getting the attention from much of the local press and all of the national media in camp? My recollection is that it did, but then again Sierra was 23 and Inky was 24, which is a lot different from the 30 and 26 that Michael Young and Mark Teixeira are.
The other difference, however, is that Ryan was a story for all the right reasons. And Sosa won’t be. Regardless of what his attitude is and no matter how well he fits into the clubhouse culture, the national press will vulture in and make the issue of whether he used steroids in his prime a focus. How long will it take before Young and Teixeira are asked to comment on it themselves? Probably the minute the doors are opened to reporters. And that *****.
Again, I don’t have a problem with bringing Sosa into the clubhouse. It’s what will follow him into the room that concerns me. Any damper on the much-needed vibe overhaul that Washington will bring disturbs me.
As for the baseball impact, I had no issue with the Jimenez addition last winter and I have no issue giving Cruz and Botts more competition. I don’t know Cruz, but I know Botts, and I’m not worried one bit about how this might affect his attitude or his confidence. And frankly, it’s a good test. There’s going to be adversity for any young player trying to establish himself in the big leagues, and Cruz and Botts aren’t immune to that. Might as well throw challenges at each of them every chance you get.
And let’s make this point: Sosa is far less of an impediment to Botts’s future here than Thomas or Piazza would have been. Texas would obviously have been committed to those two, probably for two years, had either signed here. There’s no such risk, in terms of dollars or guaranteed term, with Sosa.
Diaz and Byrd? They’ll get their chances. But I certainly wouldn’t refuse to sign a veteran because of their presence here.
Different story with Cruz and Botts. Very different.
Cruz has had a strong run in the Dominican Winter League. Botts was terrific in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Each has one option left, so it’s not irreversible decision time on either of them, but there’s no more they can prove in AAA. Their showing in Texas last year (130 at-bats for Cruz, 50 for Botts) was uneven, but so were Travis Hafner’s 62 at-bats with the Rangers in 2002.
I’m not saying Cruz or Botts will be Hafner. They won’t be. But I want to see them given more of an opportunity here to prove what they are or aren’t than Hafner was. What happens if one or both of them have great camps and outproduce Sosa, but the 38-year-old holds his own and shows better bat speed then he did in his miserable 2005 season, which was the fifth straight year that his OPS and home run and walk rates declined? Does Sosa make the team, sentencing Cruz and Botts to irregular playing time, or tickets to Oklahoma City?
What matters to me, as I hope has become clear to anyone who reads this newsletter, is that the Rangers get better. Better now and better later. If Don Welke saw Sosa in the Dominican Republic a couple weeks ago and thought he saw a guy who could help the club, then I’m prepared to be on board. If Jaramillo (who managed a Sarasota club in 1986 that featured Sosa and Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer and Rey Sanchez and Kevin Brown, all making their pro debuts) saw what he needed to see and Daniels heard what he needed to hear this week, I’m not about to pretend I know better than they do.
And if the organization isn’t as convinced as I am that Cruz and Botts can contribute meaningfully in Texas — now — then obviously I’ll defer.
But a lot of us were really lucky, I guess, when our own instincts told us that Hafner and Aaron Myette for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese was a terrible idea.
I’ll be thrilled if Sosa comes in here and gives the Rangers more than Richard Hidalgo or Phil Nevin did. I’m glad he feels like he has something to prove.
Just as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of opportunities for Cruz and Botts to prove something of their own.