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.

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