February 2007

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 28, 2007

In nine years of Newberg Reports, I’ve talked about steroids only slightly more often than I’ve mentioned Pete Rose. It’s a topic I hate, and so I prefer to bury my head in the sand rather than get into a discussion about regulations or ethics or politics or asterisks. I depend on baseball as an escape from things like that.

I sure hope this Gary Matthews Jr. story is wrong.

There’s been lots of talk early in camp that the Rangers could be bullpen sellers toward the end of camp, as the addition of Eric Gagne has created not only extra depth but also a situation in which some relievers are theoretically overqualified for their roles — which is a very good thing going into a season. If Frankie Francisco is truly back, and if someone like Francisco Cruceta or Franklyn German has a big camp, Texas will have to move somebody. Rick Bauer and Joaquin Benoit are out of options, as is Cruceta, and with Akinori Otsuka and Wes Littleton going in with jobs from the right side, and C.J. Wilson and Ron Mahay entrenched from the left, a guy like Scott Feldman is a near-certainty to be optioned in a month, if not traded, regardless of how well he pitches in Arizona.

It also helps explain why Nick Masset was almost certainly bound for Oklahoma City to start the season, which probably factored a little bit into the Rangers’ willingness to deal him this winter.

Trading a big league piece at the end of camp can pay dividends. Esteban Beltre for Scott Eyre. Dave Burba for Sean Casey. When teams feel like they’re a player short going into a season, they may part with a better prospect than they’d been prepared to over the winter — even if the targeted player isn’t a potential difference-maker.

Righthander Kevin Millwood was limited in weekend workouts due to a sore right calf, but the club isn’t too concerned about it. He is expected to pitch in Friday’s B game.

Utility player candidates Joaquin Arias and Drew Meyer missed yesterday’s workout, Arias with a sore throwing shoulder and Meyer with either a sore shoulder or low back pain. Lefthander John Rheinecker continues to deal with back spasms.

Leading backup center fielder candidate Marlon Byrd is being praised as the best all-around defensive outfielder in camp. Considering Nelson Cruz’s skills, that’s saying something.

Ron Washington is telling reporters that he’s seeing better defensive work out of Jason Botts, who has been working extensively with new outfield coach Gary Pettis.

No contract extension yet for Michael Young — who has said that once play starts on Friday, he plans to shut talks down — or for Ian Kinsler, though negotiations reportedly continue between the Rangers and both infielders.

According to a story posted late last night by Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, Young and the Rangers are "expected to settle on one of two deals," one that would pay Young $80 million over five years or another for $90 million over six years, either of which would kick in after his current deal expires following the 2008 season. Heyman notes, as local reports have, that "a couple hitches" remain but that a deal is likely.

Kinsler is one of four pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster who remains unsigned, though he and Wilson, Botts, and John Koronka are expected to come to terms this week. Texas got six players done over the weekend, signing Littleton, Cruz, Brandon McCarthy, Kameron Loe, Gerald Laird, and Victor Diaz to one-year contracts ranging from $382,000 to $400,322, based on the club’s service time-based formula.

A couple publications have made comparisons between Young and Paul Molitor this spring. You might recall that a few years ago, at a roundtable discussion in Cooperstown, several Hall of Famers were asked to identify the young player they’d trade their futures for. While some chose Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera, Molitor selected Young. (See the July 29, 2004 Newberg Report if you have the 2005 Bound Edition).

Washington says he will get righthanders Thomas Diamond and Eric Hurley into both A and B games this spring before they are reassigned to minor league camp. The earliest that players can be reassigned is March 12. Diamond is expected to start the season at Oklahoma, Hurley at Frisco.

Outfielder Ben Harrison, who had one of the top breakthrough seasons in the Rangers system in 2006, is expected to be sidelined until May due to the separated shoulder he sustained playing in Venezuela this winter. After hitting .289/.379/.510 between Bakersfield and Frisco, with 26 homers and 101 RBI in 494 at-bats, Harrison hit .311/.414/.477 in 132 winter league at-bats until suffering the shoulder injury, which led to late-November surgery.

Outfielder John Mayberry Jr., not surprisingly, is reportedly slated for Bakersfield to begin the season.

Texas has hired venerable scout Larry Barton Jr., who had spent an incredible 38 seasons in the Cincinnati organization before departing this winter.

The Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent American Association acquired infielder Craig Ringe from Fargo-Moorhead of the independent Northern League for future considerations.

This is greatness: Exhibition play kicks off in two days, and you can catch the Rangers’ first four games — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on KRLD 1080 AM (all against the Royals, all at 2:05 CST) and Monday against the Rockies on Fox Sports Southwest (2:05 CST — set your DVR).

Until then, we’re in the 11th hour as far as Michael Young’s contract talks are concerned. Big couple days.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 25, 2007

The fact that ESPN has Pedro Gomez assigned to Rangers camp to cover Sammy Sosa’s arrival speaks volumes. Gomez was an instant tune-out for me the last couple years in his role as Barry Bonds’s shadow. And now the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports has attached him to Sosa.

While stories on how many autographs Sosa signed were being compiled in Surprise and filed in Bristol, Rangers management and Michael Young’s agent spent some meaningful time away from the cameras and the microphones and the notepads, getting down to business and discussing the parameters of a deal that would extend the shared identity between franchise and player well into the next decade.

T.R. Sullivan reports this morning that the two sides have made “significant progress” on a contract that would keep Young right here for the next seven years.

Now that’s a story.

Neither the Rangers nor Young are commenting on the negotiations — bravo — but according to Sullivan, the dialogue that has transpired over the last two weeks could lead to a resolution sometime this week. Sullivan suggests the deal could be in the neighborhood of $15 million per season from 2009 through 2013, taking into consideration the below-market salaries Young is contracted to receive in 2007 ($3.5-$4 million) and 2008 (club option for $4-$5 million). That means the seven-year pact would equate to about $12 million per year.

Can’t tell you how much this fires me up. Get ready. If I get to write about Young locking up here long-term, you will see the most fired-up Newberg Report you’ve ever seen.

Pedro might even squeeze it in as a footnote at the tail of a story on how many minutes Sammy took batting practice, or how many officers are in his security detail.

I’m fired up.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 20, 2007

Every written report and news story I’ve read the past few days refers to some sort of “circus” coming to Surprise today, coinciding with the Rangers’ first full-squad workout. The club expects more than 100 media members to show up this morning, an unusually large contingent. That’s really cool.

It’s cool that the national press is so fired up about the reinvigorated Rangers clubhouse, intrigued by the club’s decision to approach Ian Kinsler about a multi-year deal that would extend into his arbitration-eligible years, fascinated by the news that C.J. Wilson could become one of the first MLB pitchers to tinker with the fabled gyroball (though not off a mound for now, at his coaches’ behest), concerned that John Rheinecker has been shut down tentatively due to back spasms, curious about whether Frankie Francisco might be reasserting his bullpen role, interested in Jason Botts’s outfield work with coach Gary Pettis, and determined to get club comment on ex-Rangers outfielder Kevin Mench’s announcement in Brewers camp that he’ll “pitch a fit” if he is asked to go into the season starting only against left-handed pitchers.

Looking forward to weekend coverage on all of that.

Today’s a great day, Baseball Fan. The opening bell is about to ring.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — FEBRUARY 21, 2007

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Rangers have offered Michael Young a long-term contract extension. Neither the team nor Young nor his agent are commenting, which is as it should be. Young has made it clear that he doesn’t want negotiations to continue once he reports to camp — which will be today or tomorrow — and exposing the talks publicly would do nothing but serve as a needless distraction. Everybody involved, happily, seems to understand that.

As I’ve said a few times lately, even though Young is under club control for two more years, this is a huge, huge thing, on several fronts.

More as developments warrant.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 20, 2007

The good news about Sammy Sosa not being a pitcher is that the dozen or so local television reports filed so far from Surprise have focused largely on Ron Washington’s positive energy, which is what, from a media standpoint, this camp should be about. Sosa is expected to report to camp by Thursday’s deadline for position players to do so, and with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Friday, you can bet that next weekend’s Sunday packages on the local news will be Sosa-intensive. And probably not for the reasons Sosa was brought in.

But for now, the stories are about the good vibe going forward, and we should get a few more days of that before reporters start to dredge up the past.

Washington has rearranged the Surprise clubhouse. Pitchers and position players are no longer grouped with each other, and players aren’t sorted by native tongue, either.

Their lockers are all marked with nameplates done in a very good-looking late-’90s Rangers red.

Though Texas is taking things slow with him, righthander Eric Gagne has had no issues with his back or elbow. He threw 37 low-intensity pitches off a mound yesterday with no residual soreness or stiffness. He’ll throw again tomorrow.

Righthander Kameron Loe cut a cold, rainy workout short yesterday with stiffness in a glute muscle. Righthander Thomas Diamond has a mild case of elbow tendinitis and an ingrown toenail and was held out of the first round of bullpen sides. He’s scheduled to throw off a mound tomorrow. Lefthander A.J. Murray, added to the 40-man roster in November, is on a limited regimen as he comes back from shoulder surgery.

As expected, righthander Wes Littleton goes into camp with an inside lane in the race for bullpen spots. Gagne, Akinori Otsuka, C.J. Wilson, Ron Mahay, and Littleton are penciled in for jobs, meaning righthanders Rick Bauer, Joaquin Benoit, Frankie Francisco, Scott Feldman, Willie Eyre, Franklyn German, and Mike Wood are battling for what is likely just a pair of jobs.

As for the fifth spot in the rotation, righthanders Josh Rupe, Loe, Edinson Volquez, Jamey Wright, and Francisco Cruceta and lefthanders Bruce Chen, John Koronka, and John Rheinecker go in as candidates, and it’s possible that a couple of them could enter the bullpen mix as they fall out of contention for the starting role.

Righthanders Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando, as you know, remain in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues, and righthander Jose Vargas was delayed by the visa process as well.

Outfielder Brad Wilkerson reported early, telling reporters that he thinks it will take all of camp and part of the season before he feels 100 percent following August surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

Other position players who have shown up despite not having to do so until Thursday include Hank Blalock, Ian Kinsler, Kenny Lofton, Jason Botts, Marlon Byrd, Drew Meyer, and Nate Gold.

Righthander Vicente Padilla spoke yesterday. Actually had a lot to say.

With lefthander Ron Villone returning to the Yankees, the Rangers’ draft pick stash in the first three rounds sits as follows:

FIRST: 17, 24
SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST: 35, 44, 54
SECOND: 81 (will be 80 if Arizona signs its 2006 first-rounder, righthander Max Scherzer)
THIRD: 111 (110 if Scherzer signs)

ESPN’s Peter Gammons asked about 70 executives, coaches, and scouts around baseball to submit their choices for breakout seasons in 2007. The player who received the most nominations? Rangers righthander Brandon McCarthy: “there are many, many people who believe McCarthy is Jack McDowell II.”

And lest you think McCarthy merely topped a list of fringy, anonymous young players whom those polled were predicting would start to garner moderate notice, the next four were Felix Hernandez (12 wins last year), Matt Cain (13 wins last year), Delmon Young (the top prospect in baseball, many say), and World Series star Adam Wainwright.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, when the Indians signed righthander Keith Foulke a month and a half ago, they got in on the veteran closer late because they were convinced he was headed for Texas. It wasn’t until the Rangers signed Gagne that Cleveland moved on Foulke — who retired over the weekend.

The White Sox are not only giving righthander Nick Masset a real shot at winning a big league job out of camp, they’re evidently going to give him an opportunity to audition for a rotation spot.

Notes on a few players Texas signed last week: 31-year-old lefthander Randy Williams has a 6.68 ERA in big leagues stints with Seattle (2004), San Diego (2005), and Colorado (2005). He went 1-2, 6.41 in 47 relief appearances for AAA Colorado Springs last year, permitting Pacific Coast Leaguers to hit .306. He was not given an invite to big league camp.

Vargas, who went 6-4, 1.36 with 27 saves in the Mexican League last season, pitched only briefly in the Dominican Republic this winter but fared well. The 29-year-old gave up one run (0.84 ERA) on nine hits and four walks in 10.2 innings between the winter league regular season and the Caribbean Series, fanning six and saving three games in three opportunities.

Infielder Desi Relaford hit .221/.296/.305 for Kansas City in 2004 and .224/.308/.319 for Colorado in 2005 before failing to make the Orioles bench out of camp last spring, hitting .171 in 35 exhibition at-bats. The 33-year-old will compete with Jerry Hairston Jr., Ramon Vazquez, Meyer, and Joaquin Arias for utility infielder work.

Half a year before the Rangers popped righthander Cain Byrd in the 18th round, Baseball America ranked him as one of the 10 best high school prospects in the country. A forearm injury as a senior backed teams off from using a premium pick in 2003 to steer Byrd away from a commitment to LSU. The Rangers took a shot late in Day One of the draft, and retained draft-and-follow rights when Byrd scrapped his LSU pledge and instead enrolled at San Jacinto Junior College. Baseball America called him the number four draft-and-follow candidate from the entire draft.

Texas signed Byrd after his 2004 junior college season but an MRI then revealed a torn ligament in his right elbow. The Rangers voided his contract and promptly re-signed him to a new deal, and he underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the 2004 season and was held back until late June in 2005. He would throw only 32.1 innings that summer — but that was 29 frames more than he’d log in 2006, still limited by arm problems. He retired last week, with a professional record of 2-1, 5.88 in 21 relief appearances, scattering 33 hits and 21 walks in 35.2 innings while fanning 37.

Fellow righthander Adam Schaecher retired as well, after going 2-3, 4.83 in 22 relief outings for Spokane last summer, following his selection by Texas in the 31st round. The Northwest League hit safely 73 times in 54 Schaecher innings, drawing 10 walks and striking out 28 times.

According to Baseball America, Texas signed righthander Chris Baker. The Rangers signed the 29-year-old last winter, too, after seven seasons in the Toronto system. He pitched once for Oklahoma in April before Texas traded him to Houston, and he was very good for AAA Round Rock, going 9-4, 2.68 in six starts and 20 relief appearances, permitting 77 hits and 28 walks in 84 frames while setting 40 down on strikes.

Minor league deals: the Dodgers signed third baseman Marshall McDougall and righthander Agustin Montero, San Diego signed outfielder Juan Senreiso, Colorado signed second baseman Adam Morrissey, Oakland is giving lefthander Mario Ramos a third shot, and St. Louis signed infielder Edgar Gonzalez.

This is what Ron Washington told reporters his attitude is about his team’s clubhouse: “They run things in there. They can do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t cause the police or the fire department to come out. They can blast their music or dance on the tables. Everyone is accepted as an individual. It’s their home away from home.”

It’s an early, refreshing theme in Camp Washington: What you see is what you get. Players are encouraged to be exactly who they are, nothing more, nothing less. In that sense, and others, the manager is leading by example.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 17, 2007

Born on this day:

* **** Bosman (1944)
* Dave Roberts (1951)
* Jim Umbarger (1953)
* Danny Patterson (1971)
* The Texas Rangers Baseball Season (2007)

Happy Holidays.

Time to rip the wrapping paper off the first gift. C.J. Wilson is reprising his role as spring training reporter for the Newberg Report, which began three years ago (as he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), when he put teammates on the Newberg Report Hot Seat.

We’re going to post these on Eleanor Czajka’s Minor Details page as C.J. files them this spring, but I’m sending this first installment of “Cactus Tracks: Bell Road Adventures” out by email. Enjoy.

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Feb 16

My annual stroll into the Surprise Sports Complex for the first time feels like the equivalent of a blessing from a holy person. I feel cleansed, renewed, and invigorated. Spring training is literally starting this weekend – uniforms are hanging in lockers, equipment fills the floor, and sounds of…wait – where’s the Frank Sinatra?

Bizarro behind the scenes factoid from spring training – clubhouse manager Zack Minasian has nothing but Old Blue Eyes jammin’ over the speakers starting day one. So today when I walked in, hearing some rap music playing was shocking. When you expect “start spreading the news…,” and you’re greeted by “bringing sexy back…” – it’s very disorienting.

Suiting up into my grey pants for the first time in 2007 is a great feeling, kinda like being a little leaguer all over again. Christmas comes in February for me each year – size 13 running shoes and size 12 cleats await in my locker. I’ve always preferred really tight cleats when I pitch; it makes me feel more athletic, I guess.

When I sat down in my seat, I noticed that I was flanked by “the Pirate” – A.J. Murray. Not too many people have any idea who he is, but not only is he a new 40-man roster addition, he’s also lefthanded. I’ve always really liked A.J., and was really happy that he’s kept positive and fought so hard to regain a foothold with the team after missing a lot of time with shoulder issues the last few years.

When we both signed in 2001, he was cast as more of a David Wells type, and I was cast as a Tom Glavine type. It’s kinda funny how those things turn out – we both have turned out to be much more physically blessed than those comparisons, although the hardcore success has yet evaded us. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him as a competitor and really see him being able to contribute either as a starter or a long reliever.

Just a few lockers down is Nate Gold, fresh off the best award acceptance speech at the Sluggers of the West banquet. He’s got a big smile on his face, and he’s got that really humble, best buddy kind of personality that really deserves rewards like coming to camp with the big team.

A lot of new faces and names this spring…

–xthecjx

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 16, 2007

Some things that bother me:

1. Kat O’Brien’s story in yesterday’s Star-Telegram that righthanders Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando are once again expected to be denied entry into the United States for what amounts to their gullibility. There’s no denying that both were guilty of involvement in a marriage-visa scandal in the Dominican Republic two winters ago. They, along with dozens of other young Dominican ballplayers, were allegedly offered a few thousand dollars by a Dominican crime ring to say they’d married women they didn’t even know, effectively permitting those women to enter the U.S. on the players’ work visas.

But two years later, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the punishment had sufficiently fit the crime? It’s not as if Beltre or Ogando or any of the other players caught up in the scheme are threats to society. Naïve and guilty of terrible judgment, yes. But were their bad decisions worthy of the restraint of a livelihood for two years and who knows how many more?

Would we even be talking about this in a baseball blog if the 25-year-old Beltre wasn’t considered capable of contributing in the big leagues right now and if the 23-year-old Ogando wasn’t touching 100 mph with command, less than a year after converting from Athletics outfielder to Rangers pitcher?

Probably not. If Beltre or Ogando weren’t talented enough to make news as pitching prospects, they probably wouldn’t be making news locally at all. And that’s sorta sad.

But it bothers me that the story on those two, it seems, is that their quarantine continues, without any hint of better news.

2. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES-Agreed to terms with LHP Fabio Castro on a one-year contract (Feb. 15).

That should have been a Texas Rangers move.

3. This weather. Enough already.

4. That I sent a news flash out Wednesday that, among other things, reported that Texas signed righthander Jose Vargas to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp. I’d already reported the Vargas signing — three and a half months ago. The only news yesterday was the invite.

5. That NBC is all but canceling “Studio 60,” shoving it aside indefinitely after two more episodes air. The “Sports Night”/”Carnivale” trifecta is complete.

6. That Pitchers and Catchers, many of which have already migrated to Surprise, haven’t actually Reported yet.

Tomorrow.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — FEBRUARY 12, 2007

The doors of Vincent & Moyé, P.C. opened this morning. There was a lot of packing and unpacking last week and over the weekend – a lot – but this morning we were up and running and practicing law.

If you plan to order a Bound Edition of the Newberg Report or otherwise need to send me something in the mail, please make note immediately of my new address:

Jamey Newberg
Vincent & Moyé, P.C.
2001 Bryan Street, Suite 2000
Dallas, TX 75201

And the vialaw.com email address is no longer active — my email address at work is now jnewberg@vimolaw.com.

(You can also still reach me at jamey@newbergreport.com or gjsneaker@sbcglobal.net or jamey.newberg@gmail.com).

In the past few days, I’ve answered many of your emails asking about the types of legal matters we will handle at Vincent & Moyé. Here are our areas of practice:

* Banking litigation (including contractual disputes and workouts/collection for lenders)
* Bankruptcy and debtor-creditor litigation
* Commercial litigation
* Constitutional litigation
* Construction litigation
* Consumer law/Texas Deceptive Trade Practices–Consumer Protection Act (“DTPA”)
* Contractual disputes (including breach of contract, interference with contract, and fraud)
* Corporate client representation (including cross-border transactions, corporate compliance, and governance matters)
* Creditors rights and collection matters
* Election Law
* Estate planning and probate
* Fiduciary litigation
* Insurance coverage and bad faith
* Insurance defense
* Labor and Employment (including breach of employment agreements, breach of non-compete agreements, Title VII and analogous state law litigation)
* Mergers & acquisitions
* Municipalities and governmental entities
* Partnership disputes
* Premises liability
* Property insurance subrogation
* Real estate and landlord-tenant litigation (including option agreements and purchase and sale agreements)
* School Law
* Securities litigation
* Sports law

Thanks for all your good wishes the last few days. It’s an exciting time for us.

– Jamey

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 11, 2007

Less than a week until the glorious pop of stitched cowhide against stitched full-grain leather, and the squeak-scrape of metal cleats, a sound that should be aversive but is anything but. For some of us it’s classical music.

So was this, in Gil LeBreton’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram column this morning, recounting Ron Washington’s meeting with Michael Young and Mark Teixeira shortly after he was named the Rangers’ new manager in November:

“This is your team,” Washington told his two stars.

It’s the players’ clubhouse, he was telling them. The players swing the bats. They win or lose the games.

Washington wasn’t dodging any responsibilities. Instead, he was empowering Young and Teixeira to take charge — to be the team leaders that they need to be.

If reading that doesn’t get you going, it’s doubtful that spikes and mitts will, either. Can’t wait for Camp Washington to get underway.

So there are some people close to the game who think Alex Rodriguez may exercise his contractual right to void the final three years of his deal after this season. While I have a hard time believing A-Rod would opt out of a guaranteed $81 million that would leave him at just age 35 at the conclusion of the deal, set that discussion aside for now: How great would it be if voiding his current deal relieved Texas of its continuing financial obligations? It probably wouldn’t if this is just Scott Boras posturing to get the Yankees to extend the existing deal, but this could get interesting.

MLB has changed its draft rules for the sandwich rounds to ensure that all supplemental picks awarded for the loss of Type A free agents are made before any Type B supplemental picks. Makes sense. And if I’m interpreting the provisions correctly, the Rangers will pick as follows in the first three rounds:

FIRST: 17, 24
SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST: 35, 44, 54
SECOND: 81 (could move up a spot if Arizona’s 2006 first-rounder, righthander Max Scherzer, signs with the Diamondbacks; could drop a spot if a team other than the Yankees signs Ron Villone)
THIRD: 111 (same contingencies)

The Rangers’ draft power is accentuated by the common assessment that this stands to be one of the best draft crops in years, particularly at the high school level. The Texas farm system, through graduations and trades, has gone lately from being considered middle of the pack to among the league’s thinnest, but the organization has a real chance to change that with an impact draft in June and a continuation of its resurgence in Latin America.

John Sickels grades Rangers prospects as follows in his “Baseball Prospect Book 2007” (listed alphabetically within category):

A- : Eric Hurley (number 11 pitching prospect in baseball)

B : Thomas Diamond, Kasey Kiker, John Mayberry Jr., Edinson Volquez (number 40 pitching prospect in baseball)

B- : Wes Littleton, Taylor Teagarden, Chad Tracy

C+ : Joaquin Arias, Jason Botts, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, German Duran, Emerson Frostad, Danny Ray Herrera, Marcus Lemon, Josh Rupe, Anthony Webster

C : Brandon Boggs, Jake Brigham, Francisco Cruceta, Armando Galarraga, Craig Gentry, Grant Gerrard, Nate Gold, Daniel Haigwood, Ben Harrison, Tug Hulett, Kevin Mahar, Travis Metcalf, Steve Murphy, Omar Poveda, Johnny Whittleman

Hurley is the first Rangers prospect to earn more than a B+ from Sickels, a notoriously tough grader, since he gave Mark Teixeira an “A” before the 2003 season.

Sickels’s book, as usual, is loaded with great information and analysis. You should buy it.

A little clarification on that Mets deal with Chan Ho Park, first reported to be worth $3 million: Park is guaranteed only $600,000, with an opportunity based on innings pitched to earn an additional $2.4 million.

Lefthander Jeff Fassero retired.

There will be a pot of coffee brewing on the 20th floor at Bryan Tower in downtown Dallas in about 15 hours. I won’t drink any of it myself, but it’s gonna be really cool that there will be a pot of coffee brewing, nonetheless.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 9, 2007

When I moved to a new neighborhood at age nine, I became friends with a kid in my class that I didn’t really have too much in common with. We came from very different backgrounds. He was a musical genius, I was into sports. Our reading habits were nothing like each other, by which I mean he devoured all kinds of books, and I read basically only what was required of me, plus a lot of sports stuff.

There were a couple areas in school, however, in which Daniel and I competed against each other, day to day, it seems, for about nine years. In retrospect, I know it played a big part in shaping who I am. I think my work ethic was forged then. I developed an intense competitiveness that developed into a deep hatred of finishing second.

And the weird thing is that, in some of the competitions, we were actually teammates, first while at Preston Hollow Elementary and then at E.D. Walker Middle School and finally at Hillcrest High. But I still couldn’t stand it when Daniel won and I didn’t.

While Daniel, if he thinks back on those days at all, probably either wonders how Sartre might have weighed in or toys with the idea of writing a concerto about it or curing a disease in its honor, my baseball brain scares up a stretch tie-in to the Rangers. I think about whether Sammy Sosa is going to be good for Jason Botts, whether Jamey Wright and Bruce Chen will be good for Josh Rupe, Kameron Loe, Edinson Volquez, John Koronka, and John Rheinecker.

It’s doubtful that Sosa or Wright or Chen will make the younger players work any harder than they would have otherwise, but maybe there’s that extra, infinitesimally heightened edge that the added competitors will inspire in the younger players looking to make a greater impact in 2007. Maybe they won’t even notice it, and won’t appreciate what good it might do for them. Until years later.

Or maybe not even that long. I bet Ian Kinsler looks back on the introduction of D’Angelo Jimenez to the spring mix a year ago and sees how good that was for him.

Chen was 0-7, 6.93 ERA (12 starts and 28 relief appearances) for Baltimore last season, a year after going 13-10, 3.83 in rotation for the Orioles. He bounced back from his ugly 2006 campaign with a solid showing in the Puerto Rican Winter League, posting a 0.72 ERA and holding opponents to a .114 batting average — though Puerto Rico is not the strongest of the winter leagues.

The thing that struck me about the Chen signing was not so much a question as to why Texas would bring him in — it can’t hurt to have another candidate around, particularly a lefthander who has had big league success. What I couldn’t figure out was, instead, why Chen chose Texas. A flyball pitcher, he doesn’t seem particularly well suited for Ameriquest Field (in two Arlington appearances, by the way, he’s allowed nine earned runs on 14 hits in 5.2 frames), on top of which he’s fighting a half dozen competitors for what is likely one rotation spot. After such an effective winter season, why wouldn’t he choose a better situation for himself?

Someone a lot smarter than me made a very good point along those lines: eight big league clubs have suited Chen up. There’s probably another half dozen that have pitching coaches who were with one of those other eight clubs at the same time as Chen. That’s likely close to half the league that has been there, done that with the enigmatic 29-year-old, with probably no inclination to go back down that road. Think of it this way: the Rangers are probably the last team that would give Rob Bell his next shot.

It’s almost certain, with the depth that Jon Daniels has introduced to the rotation battle, that he isn’t going to have to trade for 40 percent of his rotation at the end of March this time around.

According to local reports, the Rangers have reached out to Michael Young’s agent to start negotiations on a long-term contract extension. Young reportedly doesn’t want talks to drag into the season. This is a very, very important thing to keep an eye on.

The Rangers have signed 10 of their pre-arbitration roster members to 2007 contracts (which will apply only while they are in the major leagues): Pitchers Robinson Tejeda ($389,446), Scott Feldman ($388,203), Volquez ($382,000), Rupe ($382,000), A.J. Murray ($380,000), Alexi Ogando ($380,000), and Omar Beltre ($380,000), catcher Chris Stewart ($381,000), shortstop-center fielder Joaquin Arias ($381,000), and outfielder Freddy Guzman ($382,000).

According to Baseball America, Texas signed 24-year-old righthander Tony Pluta to a minor league contract. The former Houston farmhand used to throw in the mid-90s but couldn’t sustain any success in the high minors, and he eventually ended up in the independent leagues. The Rangers also signed infielder Anthony Roth, a Creighton product who spent two years in the Yankees system after consistently hitting for high averages collegiately, and outfielder Kevin West, a 27-year-old whose power was his standout tool as he developed in the Twins system.

The organization also released outfielder Julio Estrella and placed righthander Cesar Rojas (who was acquired with Guzman in the John Hudgins/Vincent Sinisi trade) on the restricted list.

Baseball Prospectus ranks the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows:

Excellent Prospects
1. Eric Hurley, RHP

Very Good Prospects
2. Volquez

Good Prospects
3. Thomas Diamond, RHP
4. Kasey Kiker, LHP

Average Prospects
5. John Mayberry, RF
6. Botts
7. Marcus Lemon, SS
8. Taylor Teagarden, C
9. Arias
10. Chris Davis, 1B

BP calls righthander Jake Brigham the system’s sleeper. Go to www.baseballprospectus.com for Kevin Goldstein’s commentary on the 11 players.

Baseball America’s top 30 Ranger prospects:

1. John Danks, LHP (since traded to White Sox)
2. Hurley
3. Volquez
4. Diamond
5. Mayberry
6. Arias
7. Kiker
8. Nick Masset, RHP (since traded to White Sox)
9. Botts
10. Rupe
11. Davis
12. Lemon
13. Teagarden
14. Omar Poveda, RHP
15. Armando Galarraga, RHP
16. Chad Tracy, C
17. Ben Harrison, OF
18. Johnny Whittleman, 3B
19. Fabio Castillo, RHP
20. Francisco Cruceta, RHP
21. Wes Littleton, RHP
22. Daniel Haigwood, LHP
23. Guzman
24. Michael Schlact, RHP
25. Anthony Webster, OF
26. Jesse Ingram, RHP
27. Doug Mathis, RHP
28. Danny Ray Herrera, LHP
29. Jose Vallejo, IF
30. Jake Rasner, RHP (since traded to White Sox)

BA’s ranking of the top 50 freshman in college baseball this season finds Louisville third baseman Chris Dominguez, a redshirt freshman, at number 22. He was the Rangers’ 17th-round pick in 2005. Tulane righthander Shooter Hunt, the club’s 34th-rounder in 2005, is the number nine sophomore. TCU righthander Sam Demel, drafted by Texas in the 35th round in 2004, is the number 48 junior. Auburn righthander Chris Dennis, the Rangers’ 40th-rounder last summer, is the number 32 senior.

Cincinnati gave righthander Aaron Harang, whom Texas traded to Oakland (along with lefthander Ryan Cullen) for Randy Velarde a year and a half after Texas had drafted him and days before he was going to do an illustration for the inside cover of the 2001 Bound Edition, a four-year, $36.5 million contract (plus a 2011 option worth $12.75-13 million, with a $2 million buyout). Harang went 9-2, 2.30 in his debut summer with short-season Pulaski after being drafted by Texas in the sixth round in 1999, and 13-5, 3.22 for High A Charlotte in 2000 before being dealt.

The Mets are about to sign Chan Ho Park to a one-year contract, reportedly worth $3 million with a club option for a second season.

Minor league contracts: righthander Danny Kolb (Pittsburgh), righthander Jason Standridge (Kansas City), utility player Donnie Sadler (Arizona), righthander Rosman Garcia (Baltimore), righthander Victor Santos and outfielder Tyrell Godwin (Cincinnati), righthander Geremi Gonzalez (Toronto), and righthander Gerry Oakes (San Francisco).

Right-handed warrior Rick Helling retired.

Not every Billy Beane trade is suitable for framing. The December 2004 trade of Tim Hudson to Atlanta netted righthander Juan Cruz, lefthander Dan Meyer, and outfielder Charles Thomas, and none of the three has measured up to expectations. The A’s ultimately traded Cruz for lefthander Brad Halsey. Meyer, who had reached the big leagues with the Braves in 2004, has spent the last two seasons posting ERA’s in the fives for AAA Sacramento. And Oakland designated Thomas for assignment yesterday, making roster room for veteran outfielder Shannon Stewart, whom the club signed to a one-year deal.

Grant Schiller does a great interview with lefthander C.J. Wilson at http://texasrangerstrades.blogspot.com/.

The trucks are loading up at Ameriquest Field this morning, preparing to head 1,000 miles west for Surprise. This day gets my adrenaline going every year. But this year, it’s different.

That’s because the trucks are also loading up today at the firm I’ve been at for the entirety of my 12-plus years practicing law, preparing to head a couple blocks north to the space that, on Monday, will be the site of the opening of Vincent & Moyé, P.C. My adrenaline has been at full-tilt for some time now, and I’m not sure I can predict when it will subside.

Whether that intense competitiveness that was forged in me nearly 30 years ago helped lead to this day for me, professionally, is hard to say, though I’d call it likely. Where it takes me from here is equally unpredictable, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

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

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