THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 25, 2007

Someone a lot closer to the Rangers than I am engaged me in a discussion after I suggested on Sunday that one of the three keys to a contending season, as far as I’m concerned, is 27 wins out of Brandon McCarthy and Robinson Tejeda. He asked me to show my work.

He first asked what I was counting on out of Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. I said 32 wins, which I thought was a fair expectation — though admittedly, both righthanders set career highs in victories last year and posted a combined 31 in doing so.

We agreed that 10 wins was fair to expect from the fifth spot.

How many games did the Rangers bullpen win last year, he asked? Nineteen, with 24 losses. How about in 2004, the club’s surprise 89-win season? The relief crew went 34-15. On paper, the set of relievers that Texas takes to camp is stronger than it was last year, particularly in light of the addition of Eric Gagne and the extra year under the belts of C.J. Wilson and Wes Littleton. But you certainly can’t expect 34 relief wins. So probably somewhere in between.

In 2005, 2003, and 2002, Texas relievers won 24, 24, and 25 games. Over the last five seasons, then, the club has averaged 25.2 wins. So let’s assume 25 this year, even though most of us would probably agree that this pen should — should — be better than the average Rangers pen since 2002 (especially since added strength in the seventh, eighth, and ninth increases the odds of a comeback effort that stands up). And then again, relief wins are tough to predict and are predicated on a lot more than effective relief pitchers. A team’s bullpen is likely to win fewer games when its rotation has improved, not only because a reliever can only get a win if the club isn’t in the lead when he enters the game, but also because a stronger starting five should mean fewer bullpen innings in general, which means less opportunity for the lead to change with the starter out of the game.

So, acknowledging that there are factors calling for more bullpen wins, for fewer wins, and for abstaining from trying to guess how many wins, we’ll still pencil in 25.

Add it up, and there’s 94 victories. And that’s probably more than you’ll need to win the West in 2007.

The point is this: Of all those variables, to me the pivotal one is the 27 wins out of McCarthy and Tejeda. Getting 32 from the top two, and 10 from the fifth spot, and 25 from the bullpen, are probably all more projectable. McCarthy and Tejeda could win a dozen games between them and force the club to use options on them. They could also win as many combined as Millwood and Padilla do, at about one-20th of the cost.

To me, McCarthy and Tejeda might be the two most important pitchers on the staff this year, in the sense that the team’s fortunes could swing on their performance.

This idea of taking a look at Joaquin Arias in center field is intriguing. While in some cases, relegating a young player to utility duties typecasts him going forward, it’s not always the case. Chone Figgins. Mark DeRosa. Going back a bit, Mark McLemore. There are plenty of examples. If Arias takes to the outfield — and he certainly has the quickness, the speed, the instincts, and the arm to be a pretty interesting project out there — the shortstop genius could be a very interesting 25th man candidate.

Some things to think about before assuming the deal Chase Utley just got from Philadelphia — seven years and $85 million — is a benchmark for the deal Michael Young might expect.

In Young’s favor: the first three years of Utley’s deal would have been arbitration years (and he’s now set to earn $4.5 million, $7.5 million, and $11 million in those seasons, before $15 million annually over the next four), while 2007 would have been Young’s final arbitration year if he wasn’t already under contract. There’s no basis for discounting the front end of Young’s next deal like there was in Utley’s case.

Also, all other things equal, a shortstop will generally command more than a second baseman.

And for those who point to Young’s age, it should be noted that Utley is 28, meaning he’s actually older at a similar stage in his career than the 30-year-old Young, who has nearly three years more service.

In the Rangers’ favor, giving Young a similar term (if the extension were struck today) would take him to age 36, while Utley will be 34.

Then again, given the type of game Young has, I don’t think he’ll necessarily be any less effective at age 36 than he will be at age 34.

Young is under contract for $3.5 million this year and Texas has a club option to keep him here in 2008 for just $4 million. But you’d have to believe that the two sides are going to talk about an Utley-esque deal before it gets to that point.

The Rangers outrighted infielder Drew Meyer to AAA once they slid him through league-wide waivers after designating the 25-year-old for assignment. Since it’s Meyer’s first outright off the roster, he had no right to decline the assignment. Texas has also extended Meyer a non-roster invite to big league spring training.

Texas gave infielder Jose Morban a minor league contract. Originally signed by the Rangers in 1996 out of the Dominican Republic, Morban was swiped by Minnesota in the December 2002 Rule 5 Draft — fascinatingly, the Twins cleared a spot on their 40-man roster just beforehand by releasing David Ortiz — but the 23-year-old failed to stick in camp and Minnesota put him on waivers, as the rules dictate for a Rule 5 pick who isn’t kept on the big league roster. Baltimore immediately claimed Morban, who Baseball America suggested had five-tool potential, and he had the type of season in 2003 that ruins Rule 5 picks from time to time.

At a time when he should have been in Class AA for the first time, Morban instead atrophied in the big leagues, a level he wasn’t ready for physically or mentally. He lasted the whole year in Baltimore and got into 61 games for the Orioles, but they were mostly late-inning appearances. He amassed 71 at-bats, doing very little with them (.141/.187/.225, 21 strikeouts), while seeing spot action at shortstop, second base, and third base. He did manage to steal eight bases without getting caught. It was the only big league action of his career to date.

No longer constrained by Rule 5, Baltimore assigned Morban to the farm in 2004, and he split the season between High A and AA without hitting much. He joined the Cleveland system in 2005, splitting time between AA and AAA, and in 2006 he played briefly for Seattle’s AAA club, with a week-long stint in the Arizona League rehabbing a sprained left wrist that cost him half the season.

I don’t believe Morban got an invite to big league camp from the Rangers, and at this point in his career the 27-year-old will probably be battling in March for a spot on the Oklahoma roster.

The Rangers also signed lefthander Buck Cody to a minor league contract. The former University of Texas reliever was drafted by St. Louis in the seventh round in 2004, after posting ERA’s under 2.00 in each of his first three Longhorn seasons. But he returned to UT in 2005 and saw his ERA bump to 3.81 in the Horns’ national championship season, and San Francisco took him in the 16th round that June.

Cody, who won’t turn 25 until June, split his 2005 summer between the Arizona League and Northwest League, striking out 22 batters in 18.1 innings, and he was assigned to Low A Augusta last year. He held the Sally League to just 27 hits (.196 opponents’ average) in 38.2 frames, but he issued an unacceptable 35 walks while fanning 31, and the Giants simply released him.

Baseball America calls righthander Shooter Hunt the number eight transfer in college baseball this year. The Rangers’ 34th-rounder in 2005, Hunt is leaving Virginia to pitch for Tulane.

I think Sean Payton looks like Lee Harvey Oswald.

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com suggests that Colorado’s signing of righthander Brian Lawrence could free the Rockies up to trade righthander Byung-Hyun Kim, whom he notes Texas showed interest in at the winter meetings.

Philadelphia signed righthander Antonio Alfonseca, and Cleveland agreed to terms with righthander Matt Miller.

Minor league deals: Tampa Bay signed first baseman Chris Richard and is about to sign first baseman Carlos Pena, the Dodgers signed righthander Rudy Seanez and third baseman Fernando Tatis, Toronto brought lefthander Jesse Carlson back into their system, the Cubs signed first baseman Jason Hart and righthander Cory Bailey, the White Sox signed second baseman Jason Bourgeois, Milwaukee signed outfielder Tydus Meadows, Minnesota signed catcher Brad King, Seattle signed lefthander Matt Perisho, and Washington signed third baseman Brandon Larson. Cleveland outrighted righthander Brian Sikorski to AAA after getting him through waivers.

The Mets have named Jack Voigt their hitting coach. The White Sox tabbed Nick Capra as their minor league hitting coordinator and named Rob Sasser the hitting coach of their Pioneer League affiliate at Great Falls.

Kansas City named Kyle Turner trainer for Idaho of the Pioneer League.

The Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent American Association signed outfielder Will Smith.

Some website things:

1. It’s much easier now to sign up for the Newberg Report mailing list. See the instructions at the end of this report.

2. We now have an RSS feed. On the front page of www.newbergreport.com, there’s an orange RSS button just beneath the title story.

3. The online store — accessible from the top menu bar at www.newbergreport.com — is up and running.

4. As a reminder, I’m now flush with a few dozen new copies of the 2003 Bound Edition, which I’m basically selling at a loss, at $15 each. The 2007 book remains $25.

5. A truly complete set of the eight Bound Editions (now that I can include the 2003 book) is $115.

6. Don’t forget that you can now post comments on the website next to my reports. This is different from the message board.

7. Eleanor Czajka has reinstated the Amazon.com link on the Minor Details page. By clicking the Amazon link near the bottom of the Minor Details page, any purchases you then make at Amazon.com produce small referral fees for the Newberg Report, which we use to help upgrade our chat software and other website features.

The Rangers Sluggers of the West Awards Dinner is tomorrow night at Eddie Deen’s Ranch in Downtown Dallas. I’m not sure if it’s too late to take advantage of the Newberg Report special ($40 per ticket rather than $50), but if you’re interested in sitting with fellow Newberg Report fans, call Jessica Cung at 817-273-5203 and see if there’s still space available.

Fan Fest is Saturday at Ameriquest Field. We’ll have a Newberg Report table in the Diamond Club with Bound Editions for sale and, more than likely, some sort of player autograph presence. Whether we have players signing at our table or not, there will be a number of current and former Rangers signing at the event, which lasts from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Other activities include running the basepaths, catching pop-ups, warming up in the home bullpen, taking swings in the indoor batting cage, and having your photo taken in the home dugout.

Admission to Fan Fest is $5 and includes free access to the Legends of the Game Museum and the Coca-Cola Sports Park. A memorabilia sale and auction will be held in the Cuervo Club.

When and if I get confirmation on who will be signing autographs (and where), I’ll shoot you another email.

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

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