THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 1, 2007

The Opening Day roster is set, and while there are no particular surprises if you’ve been keeping tabs the last week or so, there are certainly some names on the 25 who, six weeks ago, would have seemed like longshots at best.

The roster:

Pitchers (12): Joaquin Benoit, Bruce Chen, Scott Feldman, Kameron Loe, Brandon McCarthy, Ron Mahay, Kevin Millwood, Akinori Otsuka, Vicente Padilla, Robinson Tejeda, C.J. Wilson, Mike Wood

Catchers (2): Gerald Laird, Chris Stewart

Infielders (5): Hank Blalock, Matt Kata, Ian Kinsler, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young

Outfielders (6): Frank Catalanotto, Nelson Cruz, Jerry Hairston Jr., Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa, Brad Wilkerson

Five members of the squad (Chen, Wood, Kata, Hairston, and Sosa) were non-roster invites, and in order to make room on the 40-man roster for them, the club designated righthander Ezequiel Astacio, catcher Guillermo Quiroz, and outfielder Marlon Byrd for assignment. Texas has 10 days to trade them, try to get them through waivers (though Quiroz and Byrd have been outrighted before so they can become free agents even if they clear waivers), or release them. Baltimore is among the teams rumored to have interest in Byrd, but don’t expect the Orioles, who will have high waiver priority, to offer much in trade for the 29-year-old unless they get nervous that another club is zeroing in on a deal.

Texas optioned Ojeda to Oklahoma, and made official a few moves that had been determined earlier: placing Gagne on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to March 28) and outrighting righthander Francisco Cruceta to the RedHawks and infielder Adam Fox to Frisco after getting those two through waivers.

Righthander Jamey Wright will remain off the roster until April 10, when he is slated to start in Tampa Bay, and Gagne is expected to be activated April 13 for the club’s series in Seattle. At that time, two pitchers will be trimmed from the active roster but at least one of them will have to be removed from the 40-man roster as well, and if Chen is dropped, it will be relatively expensive: the lefthander’s non-roster deal called for a $1.1 million salary if he made the club, and if he is released even just a week into the season, the Rangers would owe him 45 days’ worth of his salary, or about $275,000.

Interestingly, Chen has reportedly agreed to accept an outright assignment to Oklahoma if he is exposed to waivers and clears.

Kata’s versatility and his big camp offensively (plus Hairston’s solid showing in center field) enabled him to beat Byrd out for the final bench spot. Stewart, a tremendous catch-and-throw type behind the plate who was acquired from the White Sox for righthander Johnny Lujan in January, earned praise for his game-calling ability and handling of pitchers. The 24-year-old spent September with Chicago, getting eight at-bats and throwing out two of three would-be basestealers (Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore both times) in what was his first big league start. Still looking for his first big league hit, he was productive in camp, hitting .450/.455/.550 in 20 trips.

Wood was probably the biggest surprise on the staff, but the 26-year-old earned the spot with a sparkling camp, giving up two runs (1.29 ERA) on nine hits (.176/.208/.196) and two walks in 14 innings while fanning a dozen, and perhaps most importantly showing he could stretch out to two or three innings consistently. He’s certainly a candidate to be dropped when Wright and Gagne join the staff, but not a lock.

Gagne threw 15 pitches in a minor league game yesterday.

Sosa hit .408/.444/.816 in camp and will hit fifth in the lineup. It will be fascinating to see whether this productivity, or a level close to it, will carry over.

My weekly MLB.com column this year will change focus. Rather than zero in on the explanation of a procedural rule as we did last year, this season’s column will be a retrospective on Rangers trades from the past. Each week I’ll focus on a notable deal from the franchise’s history that took place the same week on the calendar, a “This Week in Rangers Trade History” type of thing.

The title will be “Swapping Stories,” with a subtitle such as “The Sosa Trade of 1989,” depending on what that week’s trade subject is. Look for it on Thursdays each week of the season, beginning this week, at texasrangers.com.

Scott Lucas has posted all Rangers minor league schedules on his blog page.

The Mets optioned righthander Chan Ho Park to AAA, but want to trade him (Seattle?). Baltimore released righthanders Rob Bell and Jon Leicester and outfielder Jason Dubois. The Dodgers released righthander Agustin Montero and signed lefthander Matt Riley and shortstop Juan Gonzalez. Boston released righthander Chris Jaile. San Diego released lefthander Erick Burke. Minnesota released catcher Brad King.

Oakland traded catcher John Baker to Florida for Coppell-raised first baseman Jason Stokes.

The Coastal Bend Aviators of the independent American Association signed lefthander Derrick Van Dusen.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus has authorized me to distribute the “How the Rangers Can Win the World Series” article that I wrote for BP and that was published Thursday for BP subscribers. I will send that out to the mailing list later today.

And this is not an April Fool’s joke: Joe calls Texas the number four team in baseball in 2007 and predicts an 89-win division title.

Is he crazy? Only one way to find out. Do the same thing that most of the Rangers’ opening 25 will do tonight — grab a couch for Glavine-Carpenter, and gear up mentally for tomorrow.

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

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