February 2007

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — FEBRUARY 5, 2007

Journeyman lefthander Bruce Chen is reportedly close to agreeing with Texas on a non-roster deal that would give him an opportunity to win the fifth spot in the Ranger rotation. See Friday’s Newberg Report for more on the enigmatic 29-year-old.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 2, 2007

Sammy Sosa now has a deal with Texas, but he’s guaranteed nothing but what amounts to a tryout. His base salary of $500,000 kicks in only if he makes the team.

If he wins a job but, after two months is hitting the ball out but doing very little else, Texas can cut him loose and owe him nothing more, just as the club rid itself of Phil Nevin on May 31 after he hit .216/.307/.415 with nine bombs in his 199 plate appearances, trading him to the Cubs for Jerry Hairston Jr. Sosa has to reach 200 plate appearances before his incentives kick in.

If Sosa breaks camp with Texas and produces, but serves primarily as the right-handed-hitting half of a DH platoon, let’s say he reaches 300 plate appearances and is very productive. He’ll earn $1.1 million for the year in that case. That’s a little more than what Joaquin Benoit’s contract calls for, a little less than Ron Mahay.

Should Sosa come back the way Frank Thomas and Eric Davis did, playing the way he hasn’t since 2003, plugging in every day at the number five slot in the lineup and making Frank Catalanotto a fulltime outfielder, and has a massive, healthy season, he’ll earn $2.7 million. But that assumes he logs 600 plate appearances, which Mark DeRosa didn’t even reach last season. Only Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, Gary Matthews Jr., and Hank Blalock reached that level for the Rangers in 2006.

Put it this way: for Sosa to get to 600 plate appearances, or even 550 ($2.4 million) or 500 ($2.1 million) or 450 ($1.85 million), he’s going to have to be really, really good. Stated another way, if he earns that many plate appearances, he will be one of the biggest bargains in baseball. Even if you throw in that extra $200,000 that he’ll get for being Comeback Player of the Year.

But I’m not counting on it. The bat speed and the look in Sosa’s eye in the underground batting cages last month are probably about as predictive as a woodchuck’s shadow in Punxsutawney.

If Sosa comes in here and makes the lineup better, great. If Jason Botts does so, better (in my opinion). I don’t mind the competition (as long as Botts gets a legitimate shot to hold Sosa off, which the organization is saying will be the case). What I’m concerned about, again, is that Sosa’s presence in the clubhouse in Surprise changes the national story from Camp Ron Washington to Sammy Sosa and all that that implies. It doesn’t so much bother me that SportsCenter will be talking about Sosa rather than Washington; it bothers me that the reporters who descend on the Rangers’ clubhouse, when they approach Young and Teixeira and Blalock and Kevin Millwood and everyone else, will likely make Sosa the headline issue rather than the new vibe and positive energy in the room.

Sosa’s contract allows him to request his release if not added to the roster by March 15.

The Rangers signed righthander Jamey Wright to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp. The 32-year-old has a 67-98, 5.14 record in 11 big league seasons with five clubs. He had a spin through the Rangers system in 2003, when he went 2-1, 4.12 in seven starts for Oklahoma.

Reports that summer indicated that Wright’s non-roster contract contained a clause permitting him to secure his release if he was not in the big leagues by June 15. After his sixth RedHawks start, on June 7, he sat at 2-1, 2.73 and Texas reportedly wanted to bring him up, but only if he agreed to surrender his right to take free agency in the event that the club tried later to return him to AAA by outright assignment. He refused, gave up eight runs in 6.1 innings on the 12th, and was released on the 16th.

Wright evidently goes into camp with a shot at the fifth spot in the rotation (he’s an extreme groundball pitcher, which of course is a plus in Arlington), but there’s an added wrinkle. Wright is an Oklahoma City native, which sets up a possible win-win should he end up pitching for the RedHawks (similar to R.A. Dickey’s decision to sign with Milwaukee, whose AAA club is in his hometown of Nashville). He does have the right to request his release, however, if he’s not added to the big league roster by March 28.

There are reports that the Rangers are also interested in bringing lefthander Bruce Chen to camp on a minor league deal. Chen has had a spectacular winter season, going 5-0, 0.72 in eight starts for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League with 59 strikeouts in 50 innings, while scattering only 19 hits and eight walks. On the other hand, the 29-year-old has pitched for eight big league teams and, last year, was tuned up by Teixeira at a rare OPS of over 3.000. In 11 at-bats against Chen, Teixeira hit .636/.667/2.364 with six homers and a double for his seven hits, adding a walk. Kinda hope he ends up on an American League pitching staff other than our own.

Among the players who have been in town for a mini-camp with Washington and his staff are righthanders Millwood, Brandon McCarthy, Robinson Tejeda, Kameron Loe, Edinson Volquez, Francisco Cruceta, Franklyn German, Eric Hurley, and Thomas Diamond, lefthanders C.J. Wilson, John Koronka, A.J. Murray, and Matt Merricks, catchers Chris Stewart and Kevin Richardson, infielders Blalock, Chris Davis, and German Duran, outfielder Nelson Cruz, and shortstop-center fielder Joaquin Arias.

In addition, 33-year-old utility player Desi Relaford has been in town working out with the Rangers, though the club has not signed him. If he does sign, he’d be competing with Hairston, Ramon Vazquez, and Matt Kata for a utility infield job.

Hairston has the same March 15 out clause that Sosa has.

The Rangers reportedly had a scout on hand to watch free agent outfielder Shannon Stewart work out for a number of clubs in Miami last week.

Cruz has been picked up by Aguilas, the champion of the Dominican Winter League, to play in next week’s Caribbean World Series in Puerto Rico. Cruz hit .283/.400/.522 for Cibao during the DWL season and .296/.387/.593 for the club in the playoffs, with five home runs and 18 RBI in 73 at-bats.

Former Rangers minor league righthander Matt Kosderka says that Stewart has the quickest release of any catcher he’s ever seen. The two were teammates with the semi-pro Aloha Knights the summer that Stewart ultimately signed with the White Sox. Stewart was named MVP of the Pacific International League that summer.

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, the Frisco rotation could include righthanders Hurley, Kea Kometani, and Doug Mathis, and lefthander Daniel Haigwood. While some are arguably ready for AAA, the usual downward pressure created by veteran depth could keep them all in the Texas League to start the season.

Sullivan adds that right fielder John Mayberry Jr. will likely be assigned to Bakersfield rather than skip the High A level, and that third baseman Johnny Whittleman will probably return to Clinton to begin the season.

Righthander Luis Mendoza went 2-4, 7.75 in seven Frisco starts after Texas picked him up from Boston for righthander Bryan Corey, but club officials are excited about the winter season the 23-year-old is having. Pitching primarily in relief for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League, Mendoza has gone 4-2, 3.05 with four saves, allowing 36 hits and 13 walks in 44.1 frames while fanning 29.

Either MLB.com’s Michael Echan doesn’t check his email, or he doesn’t believe those who have told him (for nearly two months now) that lefthander Derek Lee became a free agent at season’s end and is not Rangers property. The Rangers’ official website, once again, has an article on Lee’s winter ball success as its lead story.

Tom Hicks is getting into soccer. He’s reportedly entering into a partnership with Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett Jr. on a $450 million purchase of the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League.

Detroit signed lefthander Joey Eischen to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp. Oakland gave outfielder Ricky Ledee a similar deal, and Pittsburgh gave one to lefthander Michael Tejera. The Mets signed outfielder Ruben Sierra and righthander Aaron Sele to non-roster deals and designated righthander Jason Standridge for assignment but were unable to hang onto him when he refused an outright once he cleared waivers. The Cubs released lefthander Glendon Rusch.

When I wrote last week that the Mets had named Jack Voigt their hitting coach, what I meant to say was that they’d tabbed him as their AAA hitting coach.

Former Rangers catcher Chad Kreuter was hired to be the head coach at USC.

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League hired former Rangers minor league pitching instructor Lee Tunnell to scout for them in the United States.

In its pre-season rankings, Baseball America tabs TCU righthander Sam Demel as the number 55 prospect eligible for this June’s draft, based on input from major league scouting directors. Demel was the Rangers’ 35th-round pick in 2004, out of Spring High School.

Kat O’Brien is leaving the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Newsday has hired her to cover the Yankees beat, an astounding, well-deserved opportunity.

She’ll be missed around here. Especially in the off-season, when her human interest stories always stood out, particularly those involving Rangers players who hail from Latin America. I bet she would have come up with the best local story on Sammy Sosa this spring, the least sensational, the most interesting. There will be dozens and dozens of Sosa stories to read in March, and I’m betting most of them will attempt to take all of our eyes off the ball.

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

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