March 2007

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 5, 2007

A year and a half ago, when Jon Daniels was entrusted with the top baseball operations job in the Rangers front office, he was obviously aware of the opportunity he had to repair a disconnect between organization and fans, and possibly even between management and players, that his predecessor’s relative inaccessibility had caused, and of the importance of taking advantage of that opportunity. He did something about it, immediately.

Twelve months later, Daniels obviously recognized that there was a brewing issue in the clubhouse revolving around the level and type of communication between manager and players, and the team’s overall attitude. More important than his recognition of those problems was the determination to go to his boss and recommend that he write Buck Showalter a check for more than $5 million to step aside and make room for another manager.

Daniels then put Ron Washington on his list of managerial candidates, a man nine years older than any of the others who interviewed for the job but, through the initial round of interviews, the frontrunner for the job as far as Daniels was concerned. He didn’t tell that to Tom Hicks, however, conceding it only after Hicks told him that Washington was his first choice as well — during Washington’s second interview, which concluded with a job offer.

The heart and soul of the Rangers franchise has just signed on to be here for the next seven years, and if you think that would have happened without those changes having taken place, think again. Michael Young has said it, and so have Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock and plenty of others — this team is experiencing a complete culture overhaul, a new attitude and an upbeat intensity that had been missing. Bringing in guys like Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton have helped in that regard, but unmistakably the key to the renovated vibe has been the hiring of Washington.

Imagine if this were happening in Boston or Oakland or Chicago. ESPN would be calling the 2007 Executive of the Year race before the season even began, handing the award in March to Theo Epstein or Billy Beane or Kenny Williams, if not ticketing them for Cooperstown with a “This Is SportsCenter” commercial appearance or two already in the can.

But not Jon Daniels. Because as much of an effort as he’s made to reach out to the columnists and the talk shows and the Sunday night sportscasts, and to be exponentially more accessible than his mentor had been, he’s not a self-promoter. And that’s not to knock Epstein or Beane or Williams, who have done great jobs. It’s just interesting that while all the talk this month (save for the occasional Sammy Sosa interlude) has been about the Ron Washington Effect, little has been said about Jon Daniels and his role in tabbing Washington as his man, not to mention Daniels’s success in repairing the communication lines between management and the players.

Speaking of Young, ESPN’s Keith Law wrote on Friday that the deal Texas gave the 30-year-old was “the wrong move for this franchise.” Several of you have asked me to take Law on and rebut his points. Nah. My stance on the contract (a “prebuttal,” I guess) is already pretty clear. But more to the point, I know I’m not going to talk Law or anyone else from the hardcore sabermetric crowd into believing in Young the way I do. There’s also probably a subset of the old-school scouting camp that might note a thing or two that Young could be better at.

But I also have friends who tell me that Steve Nash was flawed and I was wrong to hate seeing him leave Dallas. Keith Law probably thought the six-year, $63 million deal that Phoenix gave the 30-year-old Nash was “puzzling,” and “the wrong move” for that franchise. I’ll stick with my belief that this was exactly the right move for the Texas Rangers.

In the meantime, someone clip the Law column and slap it up on the wall of Young’s Surprise locker.

Brandon McCarthy made his Rangers debut yesterday, blanking Kansas City on one hit and a walk in two innings of work, setting four Royals down on strikes, getting one to fly out, and sawing another off on a weak groundout to third. Couldn’t ask for a whole lot better.

Meanwhile, John Danks made his second White Sox appearance on Sunday, keeping the Cubs off the board in a one-hit frame. In his two Chicago outings, Danks has allowed one run on three hits and no walks, fanning three. Solid.

Nick Masset pitched two innings in his one White Sox appearance thus far this spring, giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in two innings, fanning one. The idea of having Masset audition for a rotation spot seemed to give way to the original plan — to have him compete for a bullpen spot — a plan that takes on added importance now that Bobby Jenks is complaining of a little bark in his shoulder.

I’ve never wanted more for a trade to work out for both teams than the McCarthy deal.

Danks gets Baseball America’s nod as the game’s number 56 prospect in its new Top 100 Prospects list. Eric Hurley is number 68.

After McCarthy’s impressive work yesterday, the quartet of Bruce Chen, Scott Feldman, Franklyn German, and Mike Wood shut Kansas City out on two hits and a walk over the final seven innings, fanning five.

Sosa homered yesterday, and is now 2 for 6 in A games. Last spring, Phil Nevin reached base his first seven times up, hit five bombs in 58 trips, and led the team in spring walks. Nevin held Jason Botts off last year, at least until two months into the season, and the organization sure seems to want Sosa to follow suit. Botts has another option, but there’s not a whole lot left for him to prove in Oklahoma.

In spring training 2005, Joaquin Arias went 8 for 9 with the big club. In 2006, he hit .417 and slugged .750 in Arizona during the time that Young was off playing in the World Baseball Classic early in camp. Arias finished the AAA season with base hits in seven straight RedHawk at-bats (six singles and a double) before grounding into a fielder’s choice in his final minor league at-bat last season, after which he made his big league debut in September and went 6 for 11.

So far in this camp, Arias is 3 for 3.

Vicente Padilla drilled the first batter he faced on Saturday.

Last year’s last-minute pitching pickups, lefthanders John Koronka and John Rheinecker, are in the mix for the fifth rotation spot but both might have fallen off the pace. Koronka gave up six Royals runs on six hits and a walk in an inning and a third in his camp debut on Friday, and Rheinecker continues to be slowed by back spasms. Each southpaw has an option.

Kameron Loe, on the other hand, was extremely impressive in his first bid for the number five spot, throwing two shutout innings on Friday, allowing one hit and coaxing almost nothing but grounders.

Nelson Cruz will play center field today. A.J. Murray isn’t scheduled to pitch but will reportedly be available out of the bullpen.

Ozzie Guillen is baseball’s Mark Cuban.

Hicks and Royals owner David Glass were inducted into the first class of the Surprise Recreation Campus Hall of Fame on Saturday. Hicks is also a member of the University of Texas Business School Hall of Fame and the Port Arthur Hall of Fame.

The Newberg Report is the Cowley County Community College of baseball websites. After two installments of his “Cactus Tracks” blog for our site, C.J. Wilson has been Mike Groused by MLB.com and is taking his blog to a bigger stage. You can now catch the continuation of “Cactus Tracks” here.

Victor Rojas is blogging again. If “The Spoils” turns out to be like Rojas’s short-lived blog from last year, we’re in for a treat.

The Newberg Report website recently went through a major overhaul as we redesigned the site, changed host companies, and started running the forum from the website itself instead of routing it over to another server. Now, the final piece of the transition is at hand. The site is currently located on a shared server with hundreds of other websites also being hosted from the same server. This shared server arrangement, although typically normal for small- and medium-sized websites, ties up computer resources as literally tens of thousands of users may be trying to access a site on the same server that the Newberg Report is located on. Dokati Interactive, the web development and hosting company that has taken over the running of the site, is now ready to move the site to a new, dedicated server with a dedicated database.

The hope with any dedicated server is that the lack of other websites being served from the same computer will reduce the user load on the server with the result being that database queries run faster and pages load quicker. The downside is that when the switch is made from one Data Name Source to another, the website may be unavailable for a period of up to 12 hours. We apologize in advance for the inconvenience but this is unavoidable. We decided to make this switch as early as possible so we could minimize the site’s downtime as the season gets closer.

The switch to the new dedicated server will take place at approximately 7:00 this evening. Please be patient during the NewbergReport.com outage. If all goes as planned, we’ll be back up and running in the morning.

In the meantime, Rangers-Rockies on Fox Sports Southwest, today at 2:00 Central.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 2, 2007

If Tom Hicks or Jon Daniels or Ron Washington tell you they think the Texas Rangers are poised to win, part of that is because they’re in charge of seeing that through. It doesn’t mean you should disregard what they say, but then again no owner or GM or manager doesn’t think his team can win.

If I tell you the same thing, you have to understand that I’m a homer, which doesn’t mean I blindly endorse every decision this organization makes or that I see a silver lining in games lost — but filter what I say through the recognition that I tend to see the glass three-fifths full and will support this club, passionately, as long as I live.

But this is different. Michael Young has just told you that he thinks the Texas Rangers will win. This contract, barring career-changing injury, is one he could have gotten from any team in baseball in a year and nine months. He gets an extension of five years and $80 million that will kick in after the 2008 season, meaning he will be under contract for the next seven years for $88.5 million. A significant chunk of the money is deferred, however, and the result is an AAV between $11.5 million and $12 million.

The list of teams that wouldn’t get in on Young as a free agent is very short. He’d basically be able to choose where he wanted to play, where he intended to hang his shingle and add a championship or more to his legacy.

He’s made that choice. He’s hitchin’ onto your team, his team, for the long haul.

Why? Why would Young make this decision now? Wouldn’t he be better off waiting a year, to see what direction things take in Texas?

Probably so.

And that’s why there’s almost no other way to interpret what has just happened: Young believes Texas can win. He’s “100 percent convinced” that Texas will win, and soon. His words, not mine.

Young said last week, “Winning is the only option. Talent-wise, we are ready. All we need to do is stay healthy and have the young guys really step up.”

“Winning is the only option.” It’s a Michael Young mantra that applies just as much to every game as it does to every season, and make no mistake: it also applies to the way in which he views his career and defines his baseball goals, and deciding now, at age 30, that he wants to be a Texas Ranger for the next seven years is a message to you and to me and to management and to everyone else wearing a Rangers uniform. Winning is the only option.

And this: “We’ve been through some rough times, but I think we’re due to turn it around. And I want to be a part of it.”

He knows he will be more than “a part of it” when Texas wins. Team comes first for Young, and the responsibility is shared. But even if he’ll never say it, he understands that he has the ability to set a tone in the clubhouse, now more so than ever. Nobody carries more weight with what he says and does in a Rangers uniform, and now nobody in the organization is locked in to be here longer than he is.

Michael Young is Roger Staubach. A substantial part of his greatness is that unique combination of humility and absolute confidence, and the sense that everything he says is genuine, selfless, reliable. If he were in Boston, he’d be praised every bit as much as David Ortiz is as being the consummate teammate. If he were a Yankee, he’d be the national media’s poster child for playing the game right. As a Texas Ranger, he’s still a bit of a local treasure despite the growth his national reputation enjoys each year.

But that’s the thing about Michael Young. He’s as happy to be thought of in those ways even if baseball fans in Philadelphia or Seattle aren’t aware of it; it’s enough that he’s earned the utmost respect of his peers in the game as a ballplayer’s ballplayer, on the field and in the room. He’s not in this game for the limelight or the personal awards. He’s in it to compete, and to come out on top, whether it’s a 1-2 slider on the outer half or the race to win the AL West.

We all know that Young, year by year, finds himself in increasingly singular company as he extends his run of 200-hit seasons. But he exemplifies that achievement’s clubhouse equivalent as well. Young doesn’t change, but each year he finds himself on more and more lists of the singular people in the game.

Let me pose the question one more time: Why?

Why is Michael Young choosing to stay? If the answer is that he believes Texas can win, why is that? What is it about this club, which has yet to finish higher than third in the West in his seven seasons here, that makes him think it’s poised to win over the next seven?

In a recent interview for Athlon Sports, Young had this to say about his new manager: “He brings out the enthusiasm in everybody. I’m going to try and run through walls for him. I may not make it, but I’m going to try.”

Now, admittedly, that’s the approach that Young has always taken, no matter whether his manager was Johnny Oates or Jerry Narron or Buck Showalter. But he’s been extremely vocal about the positive change that Ron Washington has brought about. Everyone believes in Washington. But Young may be his most important proponent.

It’s interesting. The two most important things Daniels had done this winter were to add Washington — who embodies positive energy and magnetism, honesty and commitment, and the power and importance of expectations — and to continue to develop a starting rotation — locking in the type of stability and continuity that hasn’t been around in Texas for years. Those two moves have now been punctuated by the deal with Young, who himself exemplifies every one of those same traits.

There’s a message sent by Hicks and Daniels by virtue of this move, not only to Young’s teammates but perhaps around the league as well. A team with Young on it for what amounts to the duration of any potential free agent’s marketability can only help draw players to Texas. Between Young, Kevin Millwood, and Ron Washington, there are some lures here.

Young receives a full no-trade clause through 2009, and a limited no-trade (which will permit him to designate eight teams to which he’d accept a trade) that will cover the 2010 season and the first two months of the 2011 season — after which he’ll have a vested right to veto any trade by virtue of the collectively bargained 10-5 rights.

Will the man who follows Young in the lineup follow him in locking up in Texas long-term? Certainly not now. It wouldn’t make sense for Mark Teixeira to use his 2006 season as a springboard for long-term contract talks — it’s almost a lock that he’ll have a more productive 2007 season, more in line with the second half he had last year. Add the Scott Boras factor, and it stands to reason even more that talks with Teixeira, who has two more seasons before he can become a free agent, are probably at least a year away.

But if the issue is whether Young’s decision to be here long-term makes it more likely that Teixeira will want the same thing, of course it does. We just don’t know how much. A contending season in 2007 will help, too.

Young has given my kids Erica and Max great moments, both on television and in person, and this is another gift to them. Erica was too young and Max wasn’t yet born when Ivan Rodriguez was allowed to leave, but I know from talking to so many of you four years ago how much it affected your kids for Pudge to continue his career in a different uniform. I don’t know how I was going to explain it to my children if Michael Young were to step into the batters’ box at Ameriquest Field wearing Red Sox or Angels gray rather than the home whites, and I’m thrilled that I won’t have to do that. He’s not only the face of the franchise, a marketing concession that the club has referred to more than once in the past week, but also its heart and soul, a more important distinction as far as I’m concerned.

Young knows so many of us pour our hearts into the fortunes of this franchise, and you can bet there’s nothing contrived when he says: “This team is about an inch away from taking off. We’ve got great players and we’ve got great fans, and we all know how excited they’re going to be when we really start winning. I think that time is coming.”

If there’s a better role model in sports, I haven’t seen him. Maybe it’s overly Norman Rockwell of me, but I’m convinced that having Michael Young around, in some small way, is going to make my two young baseball fans better people.

He’s also going to make the Rangers a better baseball team than they’d be without him, and the confidence in the team — his team — that he has demonstrated by virtue of this commitment is enough to build mine in it as well.

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

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