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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