December 2007

THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 10, 2007

In this club’s playoff years, the outfield was never a question. Although completely different players, Juan Gonzalez and Rusty Greer were lineup fixtures, and in center field Darryl Hamilton and Tom Goodwin gave the Rangers solid defense and, on occasion, a spark offensively.

Since then, the Rangers outfield has been nondescript and largely ineffective, presenting an annual off-season issue to address.

John Hart arrived after the 2001 season. Each winter since then the club has brought in at least one veteran to nail down a key spot in the outfield and the lineup, and every time there were questions with the acquisitions:

Before the 2002 season: Carl Everett. Makeup and health issues headlined every story the day after Texas acquired Everett, an unquestioned talent, from Boston for Darren Oliver. Turns out he was a model citizen here, praised by some for being an early mentor to Mark Teixeira when Rafael Palmeiro eschewed the role. Produced in his year and a half here before being traded to the White Sox for Frankie Francisco, Josh Rupe, and Anthony Webster.

2003: Doug Glanville. In almost every way the opposite of Everett. A makeup star, a perfect health history, but three unproductive years in a row. In Texas he got off to a fourth straight bad year, missed almost two months due to a hamstring tear, and was shipped to the Cubs at the trade deadline for a minor league soldier.

2004: David Dellucci and Brian Jordan. Both were coming off of injury-marred second halves, punctuating disappointing seasons. Dellucci’s history with Buck Showalter apparently factored into his decision (and the club’s) to strike the one-year deal. Dellucci and Jordan combined for a great moment on September 23, 2004, but otherwise only half of this pair of moves worked out.

2005: Richard Hidalgo. The 21 home runs he hit in the final three-and-a-half months in 2004 with the Mets disguised what was otherwise a bad year, raising concerns that a career decline had begun. The Rangers were hoping for a little bottled lightning. They didn’t get it.

2006: Brad Wilkerson. The widespread perception was that this was a relatively young, virtually anonymous, versatile player ready to break out. Lots of pressure for him to do so, since he was the key return for Alfonso Soriano, who was the key return for Alex Rodriguez. Whether it was the pressure or the bad shoulder or something else, Wilkerson’s stay here was a monumental disappointment.

2007: Kenny Lofton, Frank Catalanotto, Sammy Sosa. All three past their prime years, Lofton was solid offensively but not very good in center field, Catalanotto was bad in the first half and good in the second half, and Sosa did a lot more offensively than expected (on a club where very few players did that) and was good in the clubhouse, but overall didn’t have a great season. Lofton begat Max Ramirez, Catalanotto’s strong finish makes him a candidate to start at first base in 2008, and perhaps Sosa helped Texas advance its effort to reestablish its presence in Latin America.

In what category does Sunday’s agreement with Milton Bradley on a one-year deal (reportedly $5 million plus incentives, pending a physical) fit?

Can he be Everett, not only producing here but shaking the character and injury questions while doing so?

Can he be Dellucci, a player who comes here, at least in part because he wants to play for the manager, and finally puts it all together for a full season?

Or will Bradley’s time here ultimately be marked by his inability to get and stay healthy and his lack of production when he does manage to get on the field, like Glanville and Jordan and Hidalgo and, to a large extent, Wilkerson?

Or will he end up somewhere in the middle, offering good and bad like last winter’s three outfield pickups did?

Bradley has suited up for six teams, but before you start to think of him as a Lofton-esque vagabond staving off retirement every winter by finding one more team to give him a job, realize that Bradley is actually seven months younger than Joaquin Benoit, eight months younger than Marlon Byrd, 10 months younger than Wilkerson. He’s a year and a half older than Francisco, and Gerald Laird. This is not an old player.

But he has been a fragile one. He’s missed time in his career with injuries to his left oblique, left hand, right quad, left eye, right hamstring, abdomen, lower back, left ankle, right shoulder, right ring finger, left knee, right knee, left shoulder, left hamstring, and right calf.

In that way, he’s sort of like Gonzalez and, maybe more on point, Greer, going all-out on every play with virtual disdain for the physical consequences.

The torn ACL that Bradley suffered with a week to go in the season last year took him out of San Diego’s playoff push and endangers the beginning of his 2008 season. Texas knows that and plans to administer a physical before making the signing official (someone on the 40-man roster will have to be dropped to make room), and even if he passes there’s a possibility that the right knee won’t be healthy enough for Bradley to make the Opening Day roster. Even when he is ready to go, he might have to DH for a month or more before the Rangers entrust an outfield spot (likely right field) to him.

Theoretically, that could mean Nelson Cruz has until Bradley is defensively healthy to fend off a designation for assignment, as the Rangers are out of options on Cruz and likely just about out of patience. The Bradley signing could mean one last audition, lasting a month or two, for Cruz.

I’m not sure what it means for Jason Botts, who has also exhausted his final option.

Despite the ugly incident in which Bradley tore the knee ligament — during a heated argument with umpire Mike Winters, who by most accounts said some things to Bradley that he shouldn’t have to get the altercation started (Winters was suspended by the league thereafter) — the Padres didn’t decide to cut ties with the 29-year-old. On Thursday there were reports that San Diego and Bradley had agreed in principle on a one-year, $4 million contract, but for whatever reason that deal didn’t get finalized and Texas swooped in and reached the tentative agreement.

The Padres didn’t offer arbitration to Bradley — meaning the Rangers won’t surrender a second-round pick for the Type A outfielder — but they wanted him back. He was a key factor in the club’s second-half lineup, having been acquired from Oakland on June 29 for minor league righthander Andrew Brown. In 42 San Diego games, he hit .313/.414/.590, with a sturdy 11 home runs and 30 RBI. He fanned only 27 times while drawing 23 walks.

The switch-hitter, historically better from the right side though solid from both, is a lifetime .273/.358/.439 hitter, including .289/.380/.470 since his breakthrough 2003 season (a span in which he’s never had an on-base percentage lower than .350) — and .307/.399/.494 on the road over those five seasons, as he played most of his home games in pitchers’ parks.

Bradley has played more center field than the corners in his eight-year big league career, but the last time he spent a considerable amount of time in center was 2005, when he split the season evenly between center and left for the Dodgers. He did appear 15 times in center for Oakland in 2007, but at this point he’s probably more of an emergency center fielder than a starter there.

Texas is obviously counting on Bradley to play more than 101 games for just the second time in his career. He’s immediately the best outfielder on the roster and someone who could very well hit third in this lineup, sliding Michael Young back up to the two slot.

As for the character issues, this will be a test for Ron Washington, who has said this winter that Bradley, who was with him in Oakland in 2006, is someone he believes he can handle. There have been well-publicized arguments with managers and teammates, confrontations with fans, domestic violence allegations (though no charges filed), and a couple run-ins with the police. Yet surely the Dodgers weren’t kidding when they nominated Bradley in 2005 for the league’s Roberto Clemente Award, given annually for outstanding community service.

There are a dozen ways the Bradley story could play out here. But given the upside that he brings as a healthy player, and the idea that the off-field issues are something that the manager here is equipped to manage, and the modest contract (and lack of draft pick) that it’s costing to get him, I can’t see how this is a risk you don’t take.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 8, 2007

Jon Daniels told the local press on Thursday that he expected “closure on a few things” in the ensuing two to four days, with free agent acquisitions more likely than trades.

And yet I could have made it through the weekend just fine without seeing this in a San Diego Union-Tribune article: “If [Kosuke] Fukudome chooses the Padres, he must adapt to an extreme pitcher’s ballpark, yet will draw less scrutiny than he would in Chicago. Former Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka, who retained a San Diego residence after the club traded him to Texas, recommended the Padres to Fukudome.”

Disappointing. Really disappointing.

Fukudome is supposed to announce in the next few days whether he intends to play in the United States or remain in Japan in 2008.

The Rangers have said that they’re backing out of the bidding for Eric Gagné, who has been seeking a guaranteed two-year deal. Texas, whose offer to Gagné (according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) was for $6 million and might have included an option for a second year, remains interested in LaTroy Hawkins. The Yankees have reportedly offered Hawkins $3.5 million for one year. Texas reportedly has a one-year offer with an option for a second season on the table.

Gagné declined Boston’s offer of arbitration last night, but under the current CBA that doesn’t preclude the Red Sox from continuing to negotiate with him if they so choose.

Not unexpectedly, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier’s name is popping up since the arrival a few days ago of Andruw Jones. Texas and Tampa Bay are reportedly showing interest.

The Rangers apparently made a late run at Jones before he agreed to a two-year, $36 million deal with Los Angeles, but Scott Boras insisted it would take a longer deal for Jones to transition to the American League.

According to a story by Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, Texas also contacted Florida about Miguel Cabrera before the Marlins hooked up with Detroit, but talks broke down when Florida refused to give the Rangers permission to speak with Cabrera’s agent about a long-term contract.

Multiple stories on Thursday indicated that outfielder Milton Bradley was set to re-sign with San Diego for one year and $4 million, but now Bradley is putting that deal on hold. Whether he’ll give Texas an opportunity to change his mind is unclear.

The Rangers are apparently interested in a one-year match with Corey Patterson. I’d rather give David Murphy a chance in center field. Patterson’s speed on offense is emasculated by the fact that he reaches base only 30 percent of the time, and he doesn’t throw nearly as well as Murphy, whose range may not be what Patterson’s is but is still better than average.

If you’re imagining a platoon of Frank Catalanotto (or Ben Broussard or Mike Lamb or Sean Casey) and Chris Shelton at first base, recognize that Shelton has reverse splits, hitting righthanders at a better clip (.286/.342/.498) than lefties (.269/.363/.420) in the big leagues. The disparity was even more pronounced in Shelton’s big 2005 season (.306/.364/.536 vs. .278/.345/.433).

Texas lost nobody in the Rule 5 Draft, including the minor league phase. The Rangers, with a full 40-man roster, did not participate in the major league phase but drafted four players in the AAA phase and one in the AA phase of the draft. As Scott Lucas flashed on Thursday, the players Texas selected were righthanders Levi Romero and Clayton Hamilton, outfielder Dustin Majewski, and infielder Jaime Trejo in the AAA phase, and righthander Francisco Cordova in the AA phase. There are no roster requirements in the minor league phases, so those five players are now Rangers property regardless of where the organization chooses to assign them out of spring training.

Seattle drafted R.A. Dickey, days after Minnesota had signed him to a minor league deal. In the AAA phase, Tampa Bay made former Rangers minor league outfielder Rashad Eldridge the first pick, selecting him from Minnesota’s system.

Philadelphia brought Jake Blalock back on a minor league contract.

Righthander Travis Hughes signed with Japan’s Yokohama BayStars.

Maybe Hughes can somehow get the word to Kosuke Fukudome that he’d attract less scrutiny in Texas than he would in Chicago, and that he’d get to adapt to an extreme hitters’ yard here.

Disappointed in Aki.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 6, 2007

The addition of Chris Shelton isn’t a blockbuster move, but it’s also one that has zero downside and some chance to pay dividends. Freddy Guzman’s 40-man roster spot was almost surely going to be surrendered as the winter progressed and, in any event, without any options, he wasn’t going to be around in April even if he survived the off-season.

The fact that Guzman was not brought to Arlington when rosters expanded in September — especially with Texas evaluating center field possibilities for 2008 — was pretty telling as far as the organization’s plans were concerned for Guzman, who was acquired in May 2006 from San Diego, with righthander Cesar Rojas, for first baseman-outfielder Vincent Sinisi and righthander John Hudgins.

As for Shelton, a lifetime .281/.348/.477 hitter in parts of three seasons with Detroit (and a .533/.588/1.467 hitter in 15 Rangers Ballpark at-bats), he could turn out to be anything from someone else’s property in April (he’s out of options as well) to the Rangers’ starting first baseman and a guy who fits somewhere in the middle third of the lineup.

My gut tells me he could end up as productive as Mike Simms (.281/.352/.555 in 299 at-bats over three seasons) was for Texas. Nothing wrong with that. Simms was a role player, but a key component to the 1998 playoff team in particular. I’m not sure Shelton is a core contributor on a playoff club, but I can see him helping. Surely more than Guzman was ever going to help here.

Shelton was unseated as Detroit’s first baseman when the Tigers acquired Sean Casey at the 2006 trade deadline. Casey, ironically, is among the free agents that Texas reportedly continues to kick the tires on as a potential first baseman as the Winter Meetings draw to a close.

The Meetings will conclude with this morning’s Rule 5 Draft. Among the Rangers eligible to be chosen are righthanders Jesse Ingram and Kendy Batista, catcher Chris Stewart, infielders Tug Hulett, Nate Gold, and Emerson Frostad, and outfielder Kevin Mahar.

Two former Ranger farmhands generating a little buzz among draft-eligibles are righthanders Paul Abraham (San Diego) and Johnny Lujan (White Sox).

According to several reports, the Rangers have offered free agent reliever LaTroy Hawkins a one-year contract with a club option for a second season, while Hawkins continues to look around for a two-year deal. The Yankees and Tigers are among the other suitors for Hawkins, as are the Rockies, for whom he pitched very well in 2007.

Eric Gagné remains a potential Rangers target.

So does mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley, a high-ceiling talent with career-long makeup and health questions. I’m interested, and so is Ron Washington, who was with Bradley in Oakland in 2006.

Billy Beane traded prospects Andre Ethier and Antonio Perez to the Dodgers for Bradley two winters ago. If the Dodgers’ signing of Andruw Jones yesterday makes Ethier available (Los Angeles reportedly offered Ethier, first baseman James Loney, and reliever prospect Jonathan Meloan to Texas for Mark Teixeira and Joaquin Benoit in July), I’m interested. Juan Pierre, not so much.

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Minnesota told Texas that to deal Johan Santana to the Rangers, the package would have to start with righthanders Edinson Volquez and Eric Hurley and first baseman Chris Davis.

The only minor leaguer with more home runs than the 36 that Davis hit in 2007 was 27-year-old Chris Brazell, who hit 39 in the Royals system and has signed with Japan’s Seibu Lions.

Milwaukee reportedly worked out an agreement with outfielder Laynce Nix on a minor league deal with a big league invite to spring training if the Brewers, who designated him for assignment yesterday, can get him through waivers.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that the Cardinals have brought Kevin Millwood’s name up. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Rangers have spoken to several teams about Vicente Padilla.

According to one published report, the White Sox tried to get in on Miguel Cabrera late in the game, offering third baseman-outfielder Josh Fields, lefthander Gio Gonzalez, and either lefthander John Danks or righthander Gavin Floyd.

Kansas City released righthander Colby Lewis.

By the way, the contract that Detroit gave righthander Francisco Cruceta (who pitched for Oklahoma in 2007) was a big league deal. It was the Tigers’ need to make room on the 40-man roster for Cruceta and Kenny Rogers on November 30 that prompted Detroit to designate Shelton (and outfielder Timo Perez) for assignment.

Baltimore signed catcher Guillermo Quiroz to a big league deal.

The Dodgers purchased catcher Kelley Gulledge, the son of Rangers P.A. man Chuck Morgan, from the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association.

It’s going to be sad to see the bat taken out of Dontrelle Willis’s hands.

It’s far from the main reason that I’d like to see Minnesota ship Santana to the National League, but I’d sure like to see him hit.

The Astros gave up on Santana first as a hitter and then, in a manner of speaking, as a pitcher, when they declined to shield him from the Rule 5 Draft in 1999 and the saw that risky decision blow up in their face.

Don’t expect another Santana to emerge from this year’s draft class — or any ever again — but if anything notable and Rangers-related happens at this morning’s draft, we’ll fire off a news flash.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 4, 2007

While there was a story here and there that Texas had engaged in some level of discussion with Florida on Miguel Cabrera before the Marlins shipped him, along with Dontrelle Willis, to Detroit in one of the most fascinating trades in years, the most interesting Rangers-related angle as far as that deal is concerned, in my opinion, is that Cameron Maybin is essentially a year ahead of Elvis Andrus in development, and Andrew Miller is basically a year ahead of Eric Hurley. Maybin and Miller were probably considered a little higher up in the league-wide prospect pecking order a year ago than Andrus and Hurley are today, but not by a lot.

Next year at this time, assuming Andrus and Hurley each take a step forward in 2008, it might be Texas who can swoop in and initiate talks on a blockbuster trade like that on a Tuesday morning, and close the deal that same night.

In the meantime? Love that Cabrera won’t be an Angel for the prime years of his career.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 2, 2007

“The price of doing business in the Bronx means having the highest-paid player, pitcher, reliever and catcher and a couple of very talented young players — a price only two or three other teams can even think about paying, even before the new Yankee Stadium opens. If you’re in Toronto or Tampa, think about that . . . and then apply for a green card in the National League Central.”

– Peter Gammons, in a December 1st column for ESPN.com

This winter, it’s going to be Johan Santana who will end up with the Yankees or Red Sox, just like last winter it was Daisuke Matsuzaka. Next winter it will be C.C. Sabathia and Adam Dunn, it could be Jake Peavy (if not one year earlier or one year later, as the Padres have an option for 2009), and there’s one other guy, as Gammons points out:

“Don’t even think about signing Mark Teixeira, Braves fans.”

It’s interesting — given the fact that Atlanta didn’t get to October in 2007, new Braves general manager Frank Wren may find himself under pressure this July to make an impact trade to get to the playoffs with Teixeira around, especially if Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Elvis Andrus or Matt Harrison takes a big leap forward in the first half for the Rangers. That last-hurrah package that John Schuerholz gave Texas stands a chance to earn a chapter in Braves history if Teixeira’s 18 months there don’t coincide with a post-season appearance.

And if Atlanta struggles at all over the first three-and-a-half months, it may turn out that Wren’s big July trade involves Teixeira himself.

But here’s the problem for Wren: Assuming there are only two teams that can really go into 2008 thinking they are favorites to employ Teixeira going into 2009 — the Yankees and Orioles — will the Braves be able to hold one of those two teams up for a package that rivals Saltalamacchia-Andrus-Harrison-Feliz-Jones? Atlanta’s leverage is that it can bank on two draft picks if it doesn’t move Teixeira, but if Baltimore ends up signing him, all the Braves would get would likely be a supplemental first-rounder plus a second — they’d only get a first if the Orioles end up with a record among the top half of teams in 2008.

And let’s be honest: Once New York moves Philip Hughes and Melky Cabrera, and maybe caves on Alan Horne or Austin Jackson, to get Santana, can the Yankees really match the package Atlanta gave Texas? They obviously won’t move Robinson Cano or Joba Chamberlain, and once you start getting to Ian Kennedy and Jose Tabata and Dellin Betances, you’re essentially asking New York to empty its farm system, which — unless Hank Steinbrenner really is his dad — that franchise is not going to do, having learned something in 2007. Especially since they’ll figure on having no worse than a 50-50 shot at landing Teixeira four months later as a free agent anyway.

Same with Baltimore. Are the Orioles going to part with a couple players from among Brandon Snyder, Billy Rowell, Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz, and Nolan Reimold? Can they afford to do that and expect to surround Teixeira with any more talent than Texas did, and make any noise long-term in that division? Especially since Erik Bedard will be in New York or Boston before long.

If the Orioles think they can make Teixeira their next franchise player, why would they strip their farm system a few months before he’ll be a free agent, particularly since they probably won’t have a pennant race to gun after in 2008, like Atlanta did in 2007? (Of course, they could change the makeup of their system entirely if they move Bedard this winter, and to a lesser extent Miguel Tejada.)

I expect Atlanta to be in the mix in July, and to make a large trade to try and win with Teixeira.

And then I hope (but doubt) that he’ll sign with Baltimore.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it when the Yankees or Red Sox don’t win. It’s unquestionably the greatest non-Rangers-related thrill the Great Game gives me.

This quote, gathered this weekend from a Yankees official by George King of the New York Post, sort of sums it up: “The only way to keep (Santana) from the Red Sox is to get him. You can’t hope some other team does it for you.”

Repulsive.

The league has converged on Nashville at the Gaylord Opryland for the Winter Meetings, which kick off officially on Monday and last through Thursday morning’s Rule 5 Draft. If I were Billy Beane I’d probably dangle Dan Haren, too, just to give me something to do until New York and Boston finish bloodying each other up to win the Twins’ momentary affection and allow the rest of the baseball world to resume spinning.

The Boston Herald, somehow finding time to devote a little coverage to the “minor leagues,” i.e., stories that don’t involve the Red Sox or Yankees, reports that talks are hot between Pittsburgh and Cleveland regarding outfielder Jason Bay, with Indians backup catcher Kelly Shoppach involved in the package being discussed.

(Man, has Bay been badly traded in his career:

March 24, 2002: Traded by Montreal with righthander Jimmy Serrano to the Mets for utility man Lou Collier.

July 31, 2002: Traded by the Mets with lefthander Bobby Jones and minor league righthander Josh Reynolds to San Diego for righthanders Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook.

August 26, 2003: Traded by San Diego with lefthander Oliver Perez and a player to be named later (lefthander Corey Stewart) to Pittsburgh for outfielder Brian Giles.)

Cleveland (which once traded Giles badly) could put righthander Adam Miller and outfielder Trevor Crowe in the deal and Texas, even if it can out-Shoppach the Indians with Gerald Laird, can’t match the pitcher or the outfielder, but here’s the thing: Would the Indians really move Miller when Sabathia may be a year away from a New York-Boston tug of war? Love Bay, but this isn’t Santana, or Bedard, or Miguel Cabrera.

Righthander Akinori Otsuka has been throwing without pain or setback for a month.

Boston offered Eric Gagné arbitration, but since he’s a Type B it won’t cost a draft pick to sign him. The Sox will get a supplemental first if Gagné signs elsewhere, but not a forfeited pick.

Same with San Diego and Mike Cameron, and Atlanta and Ron Mahay.

Cleveland didn’t offer arbitration to Type B Kenny Lofton.

Speculation persists that Seattle will decline to offer pre-free agency arbitration by the December 12 deadline to first baseman Ben Broussard, a frequent mention as a candidate to join the Rangers. Same with the Dodgers and center fielder Jason Repko, who missed 2007 with a torn hamstring and battled an ankle injury at Fall Instructs.

Andrus, Harrison, and second baseman German Duran were each voted to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospects squad by league managers, coaches, and administrators. Two players were selected at each position — including starting pitcher, where Harrison joined Twins prospect Nick Blackburn as the two honorees.

Man, the Mets sending outfielder Lastings Milledge to Washington for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church is a weird trade.

The Pirates named Lou Frazier first base coach.

Cleveland signed righthander Rick Bauer to a minor league contract and Detroit did the same with righthander Francisco Cruceta — and also designated 2007′s Bob Hamelin/Joe Charboneau Award winner Chris Shelton for assignment.

October 24, 2005 Newberg Report, tagged onto the end of a reference to the great “Inside the Actor’s Studio”: “If some network would create a Lipton-esque show that focused solely on songwriters, we’d never miss an episode.”

Found it: “Talks with Dave Fanning” on Rave HD is outstanding. Great episode today with Chris Cornell.

Tim Hulett will return to manage Spokane.

According to local reports, Tom Hicks has retained a headhunting firm to lead a national search for Jeff Cogen’s replacement as Rangers club president, a process that could delay the hiring until the first of the year.

Stay tuned for news flashes the next four days, as non-Yankee and non-Red Sox developments warrant.

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

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