THE NEWBERG REPORT — JULY 21, 2007

Just a few days ago, in more than one article about the possibility of Texas getting together with Eric Gagne on a contract extension this summer, Gagne’s agent Scott Boras offered this, while chuckling:

“‘Extension’ is not a word I, uh, understand.”

Someone should ask Boras sometime if “agent” is a word he understands.

Theoretically, an “agent” works as a representative of another.

We all know examples of Boras getting the best deal for taking his clients that were, in actuality, the best deal for Boras, and anything but for the player.

The latest word is that Texas is now focused more on pursuing an extension with Gagne than on shopping him leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. And he sounds, at the very least, receptive to the concept, telling reporters: “I want to stay here, and they know that. I think we will be a winner next year, not the year after. I wouldn’t want to stay if I didn’t think that. I think we are really, really close.”

Is that Eric Gagne acting as ventriloquist Scott Boras’s prop?

Doubt it.

Now, I’m sticking with my original proposal from a month ago, which is to trade Gagne if the offers are as good as they ought to be, and letting him know we’ll be right there at the front of the line of clubs attempting to re-sign him this winter. The risk is not the draft pick compensation – the most Texas would surrender to sign Gagne if he finishes the season with another team is going to be one second-round pick – but instead that negotiating with him in December gives the Rangers no exclusivity like they have now. So I’m fine with a contract extension rather than a trade, but I wouldn’t refuse to take calls from clubs interested in the 31-year-old.

Let’s say Gagne demands a three-year deal to extend now. (He’d definitely get at least that on the open market.) Do you walk away given his significant injury history? Not if it’s up to me. While the past elbow and low back issues may have affected his velocity, they haven’t resurfaced and they haven’t affected his effectiveness (2-0, 1.23, .157/.246/.216 opponents’ line; 29.1 innings, 16 hits, one home run, 11 walks, 25 strikeouts, 14 saves in 15 opportunities). He’s a different pitcher from the man who claimed baseball history in 2002-2004, but he’s still dominant.

And I love the idea of having Gagne around to be to Frankie Francisco and C.J. Wilson what John Wetteland was to Jeff Zimmerman. Gagne is a leader, a proven winner, and a great teammate. What he could mean to the rest of the relief corps – aside from the obvious, which is that the bullpen has a great chance to continue to be very good as long as he is its anchor – is worth a lot to me.

It’s looking more and more like Akinori Otsuka is not going to be moved this month, as he’ll have only a few appearances at most before the non-waiver trade deadline a week from Tuesday. But relief pitchers who close games or strike guys out or throw left-handed always have more value in the final week of July than they do any other time of the year, and so the reports that Joaquin Benoit is drawing lots of attention from other clubs shouldn’t be surprising. Since June 15, the righthander who turns 30 next week has a 1.10 ERA, scattering 11 hits and three walks in 16.1 innings while punching out 17. All at an ultra-reasonable $1.05 million salary.

I’ve been a critic of Benoit for years but have admitted that he’s been a changed pitcher in 2007. He’s trusting his stuff, not nibbling, and though his tempo isn’t what it was early in the season, he’s still getting batters out. It’s no longer relevant that he’s out of options. What’s significant now is that he has one year of arbitration left before he can be a free agent. After the 2008 season, if he’s as solid next year as he has been this year, he’s likely going to shop himself as a free agent, and chances are that he’ll get a three-year offer from a lower-division team that might consider him a potential closer, or a contender that sees him as its eighth-inning man, as New York did two winters ago with Kyle Farnsworth. Either scenario would involve more dollars than Texas would want to (or should) pay him to set up whoever the closer is.

If there’s an opportunity to trade Benoit now for a young hitter or a legitimate pitching prospect, I think you have to do it.

Same goes for Ron Mahay, though you wouldn’t expect to get the same level of return as you would with Benoit.

Kenny Lofton left Friday’s game in the third inning after fouling a pitch off his right big toe. X-rays were negative and he was diagnosed with a bruised big toe and listed as day-to-day. Terrible break if this keeps him out of the lineup more than a couple days. Until the injury Lofton seemed to be the most likely of the Rangers’ veterans to be traded by the deadline.

There’s at least one report suggesting that Atlanta, which had a scout at last night’s game, may well be in the mix for Mark Teixeira. A package that starts with Jarrod Saltalamacchia would help turn the stakes up as far as Teixeira’s trade value is concerned.

Keep in mind that any team trading for Teixeira not only gets him for two pennant races, but if that club fails to keep him after 2008, it would get two draft picks in the first two rounds in 2009 (almost surely a first and a supplemental first, unless Baltimore signs him) as compensation – mitigating the loss of whatever prospects it would take to acquire Teixeira in the first place.

There have been a couple stories up East that the Mets had minor interest in Sammy Sosa, but even those reports seem to have fizzled out. Ugh.

Frisco’s German Duran is the second baseman on Baseball America’s Minor League All-Surprise Team, published Thursday.

We just stayed in a hotel for a few days, and while it was a little disappointing when we saw that our view included a busy light rail line and some active construction, it turns out that those two things made Max very happy.

Along similar lines, there are people heading out to the ballpark tonight who probably chose to do so because of the pregame Sammy Sosa tribute. Whatever works. For me, tonight is more about seeing whether Jamey Wright can keep us in the game and continue to create possible trade value, and whether we can solve Cliff Lee. Michael Young’s return tonight is more meaningful as far as I’m concerned than the Sosa festivities, which are basically a rail line and a contstruction site to me.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fascinating 10 days.

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

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