THE NEWBERG REPORT — NOVEMBER 17, 2007

There are two fascinating situations occupying the baseball corner of my brain right now, and neither has anything to do with Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez.  One involves a player who could become a Ranger for an unprecedented fourth time, and the other involves the possibility that Texas could acquire a third center fielder from Boston in less than four months.

When Kenny Rogers left Texas after the 1995 season, Scott Boras convinced him to go to New York, which seemed to be a potentially bad fit (and not for a meaningfully larger sum of money, given state income tax consequences) and proved to be an awful one.   

When Rogers left Texas after the 2002 season, Boras had convinced him to decline a two-year, $10 million contract to remain a Ranger (Texas proposed a performance-based option for a third year, while Boras insisted that the third year be guaranteed).  Rogers instead took the best deal he could get on the open market: a one-year, $2 million deal with Minnesota.

Boras, of course, had nothing to do with the circumstances surrounding Rogers’s departure from Texas after the 2005 season.

Whether Boras factored into Rogers’s inability to get a contract done with Detroit so far this off-season — or, more importantly, whether Rogers perceives Boras to have been such a factor — is unclear, but what’s certain is that Boras isn’t going to get a Rogers deal done with the Tigers now.  Or with any other team.  Rogers has dumped Boras, the man lovingly dubbed in a recent New Yorker article as "The Extortionist."

Rogers says that his first choice is still to reup with Detroit.  He adds that he’s confused by the Rangers’ insistence that a 2008 reunion would require, at the outset, an apology from the pitcher to the organization for the events that ended his last tour here.   

But Rogers and his wife Becky still live in Westlake in the off-season.  When the 2008 season begins, their daughter Jessica will be 14 and their son Trevor will be 11.  You’d think Rogers has to be at least considering the thought of coming back to Texas.

Rogers reportedly declined a one-year, $8 million Tigers offer (and one other undisclosed Detroit proposal) before firing Boras.  You can make the argument that his decision to go forward pro se could make a return to Detroit more likely or less.  We’ll see.

Is there an argument that he’d owe Boras his commission if a deal gets done with the Tigers substantially similar to the one he’s already turned down, but wouldn’t owe him if he signs elsewhere, assuming it’s with a team Boras never initiated negotiations with?

It doesn’t matter from a Rangers standpoint whether Boras put one of those "can’t offer arbitration" clauses in the Rogers deal that just expired with the Tigers.  Rogers is a Type B, meaning a team other than Detroit that signs him wouldn’t lose a pick; instead, Detroit would get a supplemental first-rounder if another team signs Rogers before the arbitration tender date or if the Tigers offer him arbitration (assuming they can do so contractually).

Of all the center fielders who began the 2007 season in the Boston system, the one who caused the most angst among Rangers fans was Jacoby Ellsbury, a pure leadoff-hitting center fielder whom Texas passed on in the 2005 draft.  As it turns out, Ellsbury’s development this season made both David Murphy and Engel Beltre expendable and made them Rangers, and there is mounting speculation that it could do the same with regard to Coco Crisp.

Texas has a similar situation on its own hands, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes Gerald Laird a player who is likely more valuable to Texas as a trade chip than as a member of the club going forward.  Like the 28-year-old Crisp (who is owed a guaranteed $11 million the next two years, or $18.5 million over three should his 2010 option be picked up), the 28-year-old Laird is affordable (he’s under club control through arbitration for the next three years) and in demand.

There are rumors gaining steam that Texas and Boston could engineer a one-for-one swap of Laird and Crisp, which would seem at first glance to benefit both teams.  But there’s more to this.

We talked four days ago about timing, and it comes into play here.  With Jorge Posada and Yorvit Torrealba landing with the New York clubs this week, the market for Laird becomes more defined (the Mets were reportedly a strong suitor if they’d been shut out on both Posada and Torrealba), but Crisp’s value is nowhere near at its height, from a timing standpoint.  Center field is easily the strength of this winter’s free agent class, and the Red Sox don’t need to be in any rush to move Crisp until a few center fielders sign and teams are forced to turn to Plan B, which could include a phone call to Boston.

That is, unless the Red Sox have decided that Laird is their man to back Jason Varitek up and keep him fresh for October.  Varitek will be a free agent after 2008 but it’s hard to imagine Boston letting him leave.  Still, the club’s interest in Laird is less about finding Varitek’s eventual successor than it is about extending Varitek’s career by adding a capable sidekick who can give him 30 days off each year.  As unlikely as it might sound, backup catcher is among Boston’s primary needs this winter.

I’m skeptical that Boston would trade Crisp this early without getting more than just Laird, but if that deal is put on the table for Texas at some point, I’m interested.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean I’d tell Torii Hunter or Aaron Rowand that I’m no longer interested.

Unless Hunter is going to stick to his demand for seven years.

For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that a baseball executive "with some knowledge of [Hunter’s] discussions predicts he will sign with Texas for six years and $90 million."

Surprise plays in the Arizona Fall League championship game today.  For the most part the Rangers’ delegation fared well for the Rafters during the six-week season.  Shortstop Elvis Andrus — the youngest player in the league by more than one year — led the club in hitting (.353), reaching base (.411), and OPS (.881), committing no errors in 15 games.  Infielder German Duran hit .281/.385/.422 and showed up at second base, shortstop, and third base.  Catcher Taylor Teagarden hit .271/.345/.479, hitting safely in 10 of his 12 games.  Right fielder John Mayberry Jr. hit a team-leading five homers (one short of the league lead) but managed just a .214/.306/.405 line.  Third baseman Chris Davis was shut down early to rest a stress fracture in his left foot, going deep once among his three hits in 13 trips, adding three walks.

Lefthander Matt Harrison was one of the league’s most effective pitchers, going 5-0, 2.00 in seven starts and limiting the prospect league to a pathetic line of .174/.230/.261 in 27 innings of work, racking up 19 strikeouts while issuing seven walks.  Righthander Kea Kometani was brilliant out of the bullpen, giving up two runs (1.80 ERA) on five hits (.143/.189/.200) in 10 innings, setting an impressive 17 down on strikes and walking only two.  Get this: the 24-year-old faced 18 right-handed hitters.  He no-hit them.  He walked one, and punched out 12 of the other 17.  Lefthander Danny Ray Herrera posted a 2.53 ERA and 1.90 groundout-to-flyout ratio in 10.2 innings, scattering seven hits and six walks while fanning five.  Righthander Scott Feldman, working on the three-quarters delivery that he unveiled late in the big league season, posted a 4.24 ERA in 17 innings, giving up 16 hits and walking eight while fanning 16.

Based on discussions with scouts and front office personnel around the league, Baseball America ranked Teagarden as the number 10 prospect in the AFL and Mayberry as number 19.  I’m stunned that Mayberry outranked Andrus, and a bit surprised that Harrison wasn’t among the seven pitchers recognized in the top 20 list.

In a chat session tied to the AFL rankings, BA associate editor Chris Kline noted that Texas is "[a]rguably the most improved system [in the league] with what they were able to do via trades, the draft and the way they work Latin America every year. . . . Watching [the Rangers’ Fall Instructional League] was enough to make at least two-thirds of all clubs envious.  They’re definitely on the rise."

The Rangers have to add Rule 5-eligibles to the 40-man roster by Tuesday to protect them from being drafted at the Winter Meetings in December.  My prediction: Texas will add Harrison, catcher Max Ramirez, righthander Thomas Diamond, and outfielder Brandon Boggs to the roster.

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, among the free agent pitchers Texas is interested in are righthander Hiroki Kuroda and right-handed relievers Eric Gagné, Kerry Wood, Scott Linebrink, and LaTroy Hawkins.

Sullivan adds that talks with Ian Kinsler on a five-year contract aren’t close to producing a deal.

The deal that A-Rod apparently agreed to with the Yankees will reportedly guarantee $275 million over 10 years, with incentives for passing Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Bonds on the all-time home run list that could push its value to more than $300 million.   

Major League Rule 3(b)(5) states: "No Major League Uniform Player’s Contract or Minor League Uniform Player Contract shall be approved if it contains a bonus for playing, pitching or batting skill or if it provides for the payment of a bonus contingent on the standing of the signing Club at the end of the championship season."

That provision permits contract incentives based on games started, games finished, innings pitched, and plate appearances, but not, for example, home runs or RBI or strikeouts or saves.  The rationale is that rewarding "skill" (as opposed to usage) could inject a disincentive to hit behind the runner rather than swing for the fences, or lead a pitcher to dial up for a one-out, bases-loaded strikeout when what’s really needed is a ground ball.

Allowing "historical achievement" bonuses like A-Rod is apparently getting sure sounds like the contractual equivalent of erasing the back line of the batter’s box with your spikes.  Slippery slope, is it not?

Curt Schilling will reportedly get a $1 million bonus if he gets a Cy Young vote.  Not a first place vote.  A vote.   

Wonder which scorched-earth writer will approach Schilling after he goes 13-16, 4.78 and offer him a third-place vote for $50,000.

Righthander Chan Ho Park has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.

Roberto Kelly, one of the more underrated members of the Rangers’ 1998 and 1999 division winners, was named first base coach of the Giants.  He’d managed San Francisco’s Low A affiliate in Augusta to 92-47 and 89-51 records the past two years.

Free agent righthander Travis Hughes has allowed one run in 19.1 Venezuela innings this winter, fanning 19 and walking four on his way to a dozen saves.

Tentative date for the Newberg Report Bound Edition Release Party: Thursday night, December 13, at the Rangers Dallas Office on McKinney Avenue just north of downtown.  We’ll have food, and three of the Rangers’ top prospects have already committed to attend.  More details soon.

The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association released outfielder Alan Moye, who would have become a Ranger if Rogers had not vetoed a trade to Cincinnati in July of 2002.

That decision extended Rogers’s second tour with the Rangers by two months.  We’re about to find out whether the 43-year-old’s decision to fire his agent will lead to a fourth stint with the club.

And who knows?  Maybe if Rogers had fired Boras a long time ago, he’d still be on his first.

 

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

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