January 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 30, 2008

The trendy thing for a baseball blogger to do today is come up with his team’s equivalent to Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey, setting up a strawman argument that his team’s general manager surely could have outbid the Mets to land Johan Santana, the world’s best pitcher.

I promised half a dozen of you who asked me yesterday to go down that path that I’d tackle it in today’s report, so here goes: Josh Hamilton or Elvis Andrus; Luis Mendoza or Omar Poveda; Neftali Feliz; and Matt Harrison.

Now forget about all that.

Because this has nothing to do with whether the Rangers were willing to give up a better package than New York has reportedly offered Minnesota for Santana, and everything to do with a contract provision that the 28-year-old secured three years ago: a limited no-trade clause that permitted him to block trades to 10 teams in 2007 and 12 teams in 1008 and would convert to a full no-trade clause for those two years if he were to finish in the top three in the American League Cy Young vote in 2006 or 2007.

Santana won the award in 2006. Full no-trade.

Dismiss your Rangers-centric viewpoint for a second. Cincinnati and Tampa Bay (like Texas) are thought to have two of the top farm systems in baseball. Although you can be sure that Minnesota would take it in a second, you can be sure that the Reds would never offer Jay Bruce plus Homer Bailey plus Joey Votto to the Twins — and you can be sure that even if Cincinnati made such an offer, Santana would bang the deal because he has no interest in pitching for the Reds.

Evan Longoria, Jake McGee, and Wade Davis from the Rays? Same thing.

Assume for a moment that Santana would be willing, given the choice between finishing out his current deal with the Twins or spending 2008 in Texas, to waive his no-trade and accept a trade to the Rangers. Think he’d extend here for six or seven years?

I tend to doubt it. Maybe he’d entertain the thought after a year of pitching here, but not now.

The no-trade clause (combined with a Teixeira-esque vibe that he’s not going to stick around past 2008) gives Santana enough leverage to essentially engineer his way out of Minnesota, and while he can’t name his team, chances are the Twins were told long ago which few teams he’d accept deals to. And it’s conceivable that the playing field might have been reduced further, eliminating any clubs on his list that were not interested in extending the lefthander long-term.

That part is crucial. Nobody is going to give up 20-plus years of control over four or five blue-chip prospects in order to get one year of Johan Santana.

Including the Mets, who are reportedly in the midst of a 72-hour window to get a long-term extension done. If they can’t reach an agreement with Santana in the next couple days, the trade dies.

Part of the wisdom of trading Mark Teixeira last July was that no team (including Atlanta) was going to give Texas as much as the Braves did if it was for just two months of Teixeira, or even one full season. John Schuerholz took a huge shot at one last title as GM, and he presumably had the blessing of everyone whose blessing he needed because it wasn’t going to be for merely a two-month rental.

What the Mets are giving up for Santana (assuming they close the deal) isn’t a mind-boggling package. It’s hard to compare what the Braves gave up for Teixeira (and Ron Mahay) with the Mets foursome, but I’ll say this: If Minnesota and New York make this deal and the Twins turn around and offer me Gomez, Humber, Guerra, and Mulvey for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andrus, Harrison, Feliz, and Beau Jones? There’s no way I make that trade.

In fact, I’m not so sure that Oakland didn’t get more for Dan Haren than the Twins are getting for Santana.

The immediate reaction I had to this supposedly imminent deal was not disappointment that Texas wasn’t the team on the other end, because I think that was unrealistic (and out of the Rangers’ control). Instead, my first instinct was to do a dance because the Twins found a way to get Santana out of the American League.

I wish Baltimore would find a National League to move Erik Bedard to (he doesn’t have a no-trade clause), but there aren’t a whole lot of Adam Jones types available on the trade market. If Seattle makes this deal (that is, if Peter Angelos doesn’t kill it), it’s a very good deal for the Rangers if the Mariners don’t manage to lock Bedard up long-term.

But it’s not going to be a lot of fun on March 31 and April 1, when the Rangers send Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, presumably, out to face Bedard and Felix Hernandez in Seattle.

If the Bedard trade goes through, there are reports suggesting that the Mariners will then sign Brad Wilkerson to assume the right field slot opened up by Jones’s departure.

Remember a month ago when I noted that six publications and blogs had coming up with five different number ones when ranking the Rangers prospects (Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, Eric Hurley, Engel Beltre, and Feliz)? I followed that note with this:

“Baseball America won’t disclose its Rangers rankings for another couple weeks. I doubt Elvis Andrus will emerge as BA’s number one, because Jim Callis admits his skeptical take on the shortstop creates more internal debate at BA than on any other prospect in baseball — but Andrus is nonetheless the type of prospect who could conceivably top a respectable ranking of this franchise’s minor league talent.”

Well, what do you know — BA revealed on Friday that Andrus will be its number one Rangers prospect when it discloses its list next Monday.

And Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News just put Andrus on top of his ranking as well.

ESPN’s Keith Law ranks baseball’s top prospects by position, making Teagarden his number three catcher, and Andrus and German Duran his number two and number three middle infielders in the game (wow).

Baseball America lists 23 minor leaguers whose peak velocity has been clocked at 98 mph or better. Feliz shows up at 99, while 17-year-old righthander Wilmer Font (the youngest pitcher on the list) comes in at 98.

Yes, Tom Hicks met with Nolan Ryan last week. I certainly don’t mind if this works out — we’re talking about Nolan Freakin’ Ryan — but I’m hopeful that if he does return to the organization, it will be in a strictly business-oriented role, with his baseball input coming into play only if Jon Daniels decides to ask for it (and I expect that in certain situations, he absolutely would).

Dangerous, otherwise, I think. Ryan would be good P.R. for the franchise, and he could be a hugely significant factor in marketing and sponsorships, but I don’t think his presence would improve the way in which the baseball operations department is run. I think the club is in very good hands there, and for the first time in years, it seems, there is a unified direction. Not sure I’d want to mess with that.

Nolan Ryan. Dave Campo. Jason Kidd.

According to Grant, the Rangers declined a Cubs offer of outfielder Matt Murton for outfielder Marlon Byrd, insisting on the addition of one or two Chicago pitching prospects to any deal.

T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that Texas and Ian Kinsler’s agent Jeff Frye have suspended talks on a possible five-year contract extension with a club option for a sixth season. Such a deal would lock Kinsler up through one year of free agency and possibly two.

I still think the designation for assignment of righthander Armando Galarraga is a little curious, given that he has an option remaining and righthander Robinson Tejeda doesn’t. Maybe Texas feels that Tejeda has found himself again this winter (2-2, 2.96 in five Dominican Winter League regular season starts, a stingy .151/.264/.226 opponents’ line, 25 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27.1 innings; 1-3, 4.03 in the playoffs, 20 hits allowed in 22.1 innings ,23 strikeouts and eight walks). Otherwise it’s hard to imagine he’s anything more than a longshot to win an April job in Texas, which he must do to avoid being lost on waivers or traded.

Mike Hindman tackles the ranking of the Rangers’ top five corner infielders in his blog.

Cool plug from Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.

Many of you have asked, and Chuck Morgan, Rush Olson, and Kaylan Eastepp have come through. You can now view the video introduction to the 2008 Rangers season that was shown at Friday night’s Awards Dinner.

Eric Nadel will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Rangers’ April 8 home opener. He’s being honored as he embarks on his 30th year of broadcasting Rangers baseball.

Toronto signed Rod Barajas. Sorta funny, sorta irritating.

Boston signed righthanders Dan Kolb and Dan Miceli to minor league contracts and invited them to big league spring training. Either St. Louis or Pittsburgh signed six-year minor league free agent outfielder Anthony Webster to a minor league deal. Houston signed utility player David Newhan and righthander Ken Chenard. Washington signed outfielder Juan Senreiso (purchasing him from the Laredo Broncos of the independent United League) and righthander Sam Marsonek. The Joliet Jackhammers of the independent Northern League signed righthander Shannon Wirth.

C.J. Wilson is hosting a Guitar Hero 3 Benefit Tournament this Friday, February 1, at the Landing Cafe at the Southwest Airlines Corporate Headquarters, 2702 Love Field Drive. The event will benefit Cook Children’s Hematology and Oncology Outpatient Treatment Room, where Wilson has undertaken an effort to build a new video game lounge and entertainment room stocked with gaming systems, TV’s, and DVD’s for young patients and their families to enjoy.

You can sign up to compete in the Guitar Hero tournament or just come to watch. Doors open at 6:30, admission is $20 at the door, and there will be food. You’re encouraged to donate any DVD movies (G or PG rated) or XBOX 360 games that you no longer need, and if you’re interested in contributing to the effort, you can make checks payable to the “Texas Rangers Foundation c/o C.J. Wilson.” There will also be opportunities to bid on auction items and get player autographs, and there will be Stars ticket and Southwest airline flight giveaways.

The following weekend, Wilson will appear at Ticketstock to sign autographs. As will Nolan Ryan.

Wouldn’t surprise me if Ryan has something else calendared for his weekend in Dallas, too.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 27, 2008

In one area of the Diamond Club, overlooking a major league baseball field that has rested for nearly four months and has another two months to go, sat Rangers senior advisor Mel Didier, who with T.R. Sullivan has co-authored a fascinating account of his more than 60 years in the game (“Podnuh Let Me Tell You a Story: A Baseball Life”).

A hundred feet away sat 19-year-old Blake Beavan, who has yet to throw a professional pitch.

More than 5,000 Rangers fans gathered at Rangers Ballpark yesterday, some 18 years younger than Beavan and in their Rangers onesies, and others who have been fans of the Great Game since before the 80-year-old Didier pitched and played linebacker and center at LSU.

Even if those weeklong 30-degree days and gray skies hadn’t given way to sunshine and temperatures near 60, as they did, it still would have felt like spring, because the Awards Dinner/FanFest weekend always serves as a marker for me, a signal that baseball is thankfully just around the corner.

It’s obviously not just the fans who feed off a weekend like that. Friday night at Eddie Deen’s and Saturday at the Ballpark provided the setting for lots of the players and coaches to see each other for the first time in months, and for newcomers to be in a room for the first time with their new teammates. And new fans.

Said new Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton: “If not for the fans, we wouldn’t have a job. A lot of guys don’t realize that sometimes. Any time I can go to a FanFest, I get personal with the fans.”

Hamilton did that, along with Ian Kinsler, Marlon Byrd, and Ben Broussard, in a pull-up-a-stool roundtable moderated by Josh Lewin Friday night. He did it again in a half-hour Q&A session with Victor Rojas in the Legends of the Game Museum Saturday morning. And then spent an hour signing autographs in the Diamond Club after that.

Two dozen current Rangers players (not to mention just as many coaches, former Rangers, and club announcers) were on hand to sign autographs on Saturday, including seven prospects stationed at the Newberg Report table: Chris Davis, Johnny Whittleman, Doug Mathis, John Mayberry Jr., Beavan, Taylor Teagarden, and German Duran.

Eleanor Czajka made things perfect all day, as she always does. She’s posted photos.

I used to spend time in this space praising guys like Jeff Zimmerman, Chad Hawkins, Ben Kozlowski, Thomas Diamond, Justin Hatcher, and Nate Gold for the way they conduct themselves with wide-eyed young Rangers fans situated somewhere on the spectrum between speechlessness to giddiness, but there’s no sense in doing that any longer. I don’t know if it’s because I’m now the father of two, or because the organization is actually making character more of a factor in its Draft Day decisions, but it seems like, more than ever, these guys are, almost without exception, really great with kids.

It helps you believe in them as people and root for them as players, and it has the added benefit, on weekends like this, of seeing children who can barely see over the tabletop rewarded for their attachment to the game, and to this team.

There are moments that have an impact even on a 38-year-old. It’s funny how you can meet a player’s *in-laws* and it starts to fill the picture in even more on why he’s one of the best people you’ve ever met, in the game or otherwise.

I’m pretty easy. You could have emailed me the video introduction to the 2008 season that Chuck Morgan and his crew put together for Friday night’s Awards Dinner, and I’d be ready for the season.

But there’s something more gripping about a weekend on which an organization and its fans congregate to share energy, to talk and trade signatures and catch pop-ups and eat ice cream.

From personal experience, I think that’s especially true if you have young kids. But even if you don’t, you’re probably like me in admitting that this is the weekend each year that has the power to make a baseball fan legitimately feel like a kid again.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 26, 2008

If you’re like me, you read as many accounts as you could find of Josh Hamilton’s story once the Rangers acquired him from the Reds five weeks ago. Some were written in North Carolina papers. Others in Tampa. Others in Cincinnati. One particularly gripping one in ESPN The Magazine, authored by Hamilton himself last July.

Listen up: Whether you’ve tracked down Hamilton’s story one time, or twice, or 20 times, you’re not done.

You must read Evan Grant’s Hamilton story, which will appear in tomorrow’s Dallas Morning News sports page, and which is now posted online.

This one’s a can’t-miss.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 25, 2008

Starting at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, we’ll have a steady parade of autograph guests at our booth at FanFest. Josh Lewin is going to come by during the 1:00 hour to sell and sign copies of his books.

The Newberg Report lineup:

10:00 a.m. Chris Davis, Johnny Whittleman
11:00 a.m. Doug Mathis, John Mayberry Jr.
11:30 a.m. Blake Beavan
12:00 Noon Taylor Teagarden
1:00 p.m. Josh Lewin
2:00 p.m. German Duran

I expect each player to be with us for about an hour. Lewin is probably only going to have 30 minutes for us, though.

Here’s the entire autograph and Q&A schedule for tomorrow’s event.

We’ll be situated in the Diamond Club, right alongside the big league autograph stations. Not sure whether the organization has promotional photos for the minor leaguers, but if not we’ll have Newberg Report notecards you can use for signatures, and I’ll also have Bound Editions on hand if you’re interested.

With yesterday’s announcement of nine new invitations to big league camp, the Rangers currently have 60 players slated to participate, though that number will be reduced to 59 once the Rangers trim the 40-man roster by one to account for the signing of Jason Jennings. The group does not include Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando, who remain on the restricted list and are not expected to have their visa issues resolved in time for camp.

The current 60 players:

PITCHERS (22): Joaquin Benoit, Thomas Diamond, Scott Feldman, Frankie Francisco, Kazuo Fukumori, Kason Gabbard, Armando Galarraga, Eddie Guardado, Matt Harrison, Jason Jennings, Wes Littleton, Kameron Loe, Warner Madrigal, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Mendoza, Kevin Millwood, A.J. Murray, Vicente Padilla, John Rheinecker, Josh Rupe, Robinson Tejeda, C.J. Wilson

CATCHERS (3): Gerald Laird, Max Ramirez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia

INFIELDERS (7): Joaquin Arias, Hank Blalock, Ben Broussard, Ian Kinsler, Travis Metcalf, Ramon Vazquez, Michael Young

OUTFIELDERS (9): Brandon Boggs, Julio Borbon, Jason Botts, Milton Bradley, Marlon Byrd, Frank Catalanotto, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, David Murphy

NON-ROSTER INVITES:

PITCHERS (7): Jason Davis, Franklyn German, Eric Hurley, Kea Kometani, Elizardo Ramirez, Bill White, Jamey Wright

CATCHERS (3): Adam Melhuse, Chris Stewart, Taylor Teagarden

INFIELDERS (7): Edgardo Alfonzo, Elvis Andrus, Chris Davis, German Duran, Nate Gold, Ryan Roberts, Chris Shelton

OUTFIELDERS (2): Jason Ellison, John Mayberry Jr.

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

Autograph lineup for Jan. 26 FanFest

The Rangers have announced the schedules forplayer and staff appearances at Saturday’s Fan Fest at Rangers Ballpark
in Arlington. Although the schedule is subject to change without
notice, here is where it stands (the seven players who are appearing at
our booth are likely there for one-hour stints, but that’s up to the
players).

Autograph Schedule

Diamond Club – Line A                      

10:00 a.m.    Michael Young            

11:00 a.m.      Josh Hamilton and AJ Murray                        

12:00 Noon    Ben Broussard and Brandon McCarthy            

1:00 p.m.       Ian Kinsler                                                      

2:00 p.m.       Luis Mendoza and Jarrod Saltalamacchia       

3:00 p.m.       Kevin Millwood                                              

4:00 p.m.       Kason Gabbard                                             

Diamond Club – Line B            

10:00 a.m.       Marlon Byrd

11:00 a.m.       Ron Washington

12:00 Noon    Frankie Francisco and David Murphy

1:00 p.m.       Dom Chiti and Rudy Jaramillo

2:00 p.m.       C.J. Wilson

3:00 p.m.       Jason Jennings

4:00 p.m.       Kameron Loe and Travis Metcalf

The Newberg Report Booth (in the Diamond Club)    

10:00 a.m.           Chris Davis, Johnny Whittleman                     

11:00 a.m.           Doug Mathis, John Mayberry Jr.

11:30 a.m.           Blake Beavan                                                                           

12:00 Noon             Taylor Teagarden                                           

2:00 p.m.            German Duran 
                                             



Majestic Grand Slam Gift Shop            

10:00 a.m.  Rusty Greer, Ray Burris, Tom Grieve and Mickey Tettleton 

11:00 a.m.      Mark McLemore, Victor Rojas, Kenny Suarez, and Ellis Valentine

12:00 Noon    Josh Lewin, Jeff Russell, Jim Sundberg

1:00 p.m.       Rich Billings, Mike Jeffcoat, Pete O’Brien

2:00 p.m.       Eric Nadel, Dan Smith, Curtis Wilkerson

3:00 p.m.       Dave Hostetler, Steve Buechele

Q&A Schedule

All Q&A Sessions are located in the Theater of the Legends of the Game Baseball Museum located in Home Run Porch.

                      

10:05 a.m.       Rangers Outfielder Josh Hamilton

11:05 a.m.       Rangers Shortstop Michael Young

12:05 p.m.       Rangers Assistant General Manager Thad Levine and

                              Rangers Manager Ron Washington

1:05 p.m.          Rangers Wives

2:05 p.m.          Batting Tips with Rangers Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 23, 2008

John Sickels recently put together a Top 100 Prospects list for a fantasy baseball site, and on that list he included eight Rangers. The Rays also had eight. No other team had more than six.

After the Top 100 he listed another 34 prospects “worth your consideration.” Three Rangers, one Ray.

And the 11 Rangers on the two lists didn’t even include Chris Davis, whom I’ve ranked number one in the system.

Or Engel Beltre, Mike Hindman’s number one.

Or Michael Main or Blake Beavan.

The eight Rangers on Sickels’s list:

26. Elvis Andrus, SS (” . . . Excellent defensive skills and developing offense make him a premium investment if you are patient.”)

28. Eric Hurley, RHP (” . . . Above average stuff across the board. Will have to watch home run tendencies in Texas.”)

43. Taylor Teagarden, C (“The more we study him, the more we like him. He’s an underrated hitter and a terrific defensive catcher.”)

66. Matt Harrison, LHP (” . . . Could contribute sooner than expected in Texas rotation.”)

70. German Duran, 2B (” . . . Sleeper prospect who has surprising pop, a touch of speed and a reliable glove at second base.”)

80. Max Ramirez, C (“He has one of the best bats in the minors, but questionable defense hurts his rating. He will hit at any level.”)

93. Kasey Kiker, LHP (” . . . Explosive stuff, comparable to Scott Kazmir or Billy Wagner if his command sharpens up. High upside but will need time.”)

97. Omar Poveda, RHP (” . . . Has always had command and his stuff took a step forward in ’07.”)

The honorable mentions were righthander Neftali Feliz, outfielder John Mayberry Jr., and third baseman Johnny Whittleman.

Oakland landed six players on the Sickels Top 100 — five of whom the A’s acquired in this winter’s housecleaning trades. Anaheim and Seattle had just three each.

Regarding the omission of Davis, Sickels points out that in his Baseball Prospect Book 2008 — which is less roto-driven and more in tune with real baseball — he has Davis as the number 41 hitting prospect in the league. (His book is set for a February be release.)

The Davis issue prompted him to offer to write a guest article for the Newberg Report about the Rangers system and where it stands league-wide. He hopes to get that done in the next few days, and I’ll distribute it by e-mail.

Nothing official yet, but it looks like at least six of the players I’ve named in this report — and one who I haven’t — are going to be at the Newberg Report booth to sign autographs at FanFest at the Ballpark on Saturday. I promise to shoot you full details once I have them.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 20, 2008

Lou Piniella, Ryan Zimmerman, and Placido Polanco.

Josh Beckett.

Russ Martin (who attended the same Montreal high school as Eric Gagné: who knew?) and Edgar Gonzalez.

Ted Lilly, Trading Places.

Howie Kendrick.

Mark Redman.

King Felix.

And, thanks to thoughtful Minnesota reader Charles Hodgson, a 2005 Fleer Michael Young discreetly slipped by Dad into yesterday’s pack of 2007 Topps from Nick’s Sports Cards.

King Max.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 19, 2008

Boston’s 2003 draft is marked by the fact that the Red Sox stole Mississippi State righthander Jonathan Papelbon in the fifth round, not that its haul was led off by Baylor outfielder David Murphy in the first round and Georgia Tech outfielder Matt Murton in the supplemental first. Five years later, is it conceivable that Murphy and Murton could share a job in Texas?

T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com published a story last night suggesting the Cubs have called the Rangers about Marlon Byrd — who finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year vote the year that Murphy and Murton were drafted — and could be willing to give the 26-year-old Murton up to get the 30-year-old Byrd. I have my doubts that Texas could make that deal one for one.

Murphy and Murton teamed up for Wareham in the Cape Cod League as standout college freshmen in 2001 and 2002, for Short-Season A Lowell in 2003, and for High A Sarasota in the first half of 2004 before Boston shipped Murton to the Cubs at the trade deadline, along with fellow Georgia Tech alum Nomar Garciaparra, in a four-team deal that brought Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera to the Red Sox.

A year later — two years to the day after he signed out of the draft — Murton was in the Chicago starting lineup, putting together a perfect day in a 9-6 Cubs win over Florida: a single and a walk off Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, followed by an RBI sac fly and a double off reliever Randy Messenger.

Coming into that 2005 season having never played above Class A, Murton hit .342/.403/.498 for AA West Tenn (313 at-bats), .353/.421/.500 for AAA Iowa (34 at-bats), and .321/.386/.521 for the Cubs (140 at-bats) that year, not only slugging higher in the big leagues than on the farm but also posting a better walk-to-strikeout rate in the majors.

As Chicago’s regular left fielder in 2006, Murton hit .297/.365/.444 with only 62 strikeouts in 455 at-bats, but the Cubs’ acquisition last winter of Alfonso Soriano relegated Murton to fourth-outfielder duties, and in 235 at-bats he hit .281/.352/.438, spending a month and a half at mid-season back in AAA, where he hit a robust .331/.407/.570.

A right-handed hitter, Murton has proven to be markedly more effective against left-handed pitching (.326/.399/.510, as opposed to .280/.346/.425 against righties), which would theoretically make him a suitable candidate to share time with Murphy, who (in spite of some impressive reverse splits in his 127 Rangers at-bats last summer) has historically fared better against righthanders. In terms of tools, Murton has generally projected to hit for a higher average than Murphy but doesn’t throw nearly as well. While Murphy has the defensive chops to play anywhere in the outfield, Murton is probably out of position anywhere other than left.

That defensive limitation is the only reason I can conceive of that the Cubs would entertain the idea of moving Murton for Byrd, who is adequate in center field. While both players can probably help a contending team in 2008, the four-year age difference would be significant for a team looking not so much at what sort of noise it can make this season but more at a longer-term fit, like Texas.

Whether you believe Byrd’s breakout in 2007 (.307/.355/.459, 70 RBI in two-thirds of a big league season, but .269/.310/.417 after the All-Star Break) was a mirage, it’s hard to argue that at age 30 he’s a player to build with (especially now that his ability to play center field is no longer pivotal here). On the other hand, with Chicago believing it can win now and wanting a right-handed hitter capable of sharing center field duties with 22-year-old lefthander Felix Pie, Byrd makes some sense. I just can’t imagine the Cubs would trade Murton for him without demanding a legitimate prospect tossed in.

Think about it this way: Byrd was a career .263/.327/.373 hitter before busting through with that .307/.355/.459 line last year, on the wrong side of age 30. Murton’s career line is .296/.365/.455, remarkably similar to Byrd’s 2007.

I wonder if Texas can interest the Cubs in whoever the 41st player on its roster is. Someone needs to come off the roster to make room for Jason Jennings — Robinson Tejeda? Scott Feldman? — and if the Rangers can add that player to Byrd to get Murton, it would have the same effect here of designating the player for assignment (unless Texas were able to get that player through waivers in order to outright him to the farm, which in Tejeda’s case in particular would be unlikely).

Still not sure that gets a Byrd-Murton deal done.

The deal Byrd agreed to with the Rangers to avoid arbitration earlier this week was for $1.8 million. Gerald Laird settled for $1.6 million.

Laird’s first arbitration-driven deal comes six years and four days after the six-player trade that sent him from Oakland to Texas, as does the three-year, $24 million contract that Carlos Pena signed yesterday with Tampa Bay, his fourth club since his six-month stint with the A’s.

Jennings’s Rangers deal is for $4 million base, with another $4 million available for reaching a series of innings pitched levels, topping out at 200 frames.

Atlanta avoided arbitration with Mark Teixeira by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $12.5 million contract. This is his final year, of course, before he can be a free agent.

According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, Sammy Sosa and the Rangers both acknowledged yesterday that the 39-year-old, who continues to seek a job that could lead to 400-500 at-bats, will not return to the Rangers. Not really news aside from the on-the-record finality it offers.

Meanwhile, St. Louis is kicking Juan Gonzalez’s tires.

Ron Washington says he doesn’t foresee a platoon at first base, where he plans to use Ben Broussard against all pitching. Jason Botts and perhaps German Duran will get looks at first nonetheless, as the club assesses its backup options there.

Mike Hindman has completed his ranking of the Rangers’ outfield prospects at http://rangersfarmreport.mlblogs.com/.

St. Louis named Bryan Eversgerd its pitching coach at AA Springfield and Derek Lilliquist its extended spring training pitching coordinator.

The White Sox named Rob Sasser hitting coach for High A Winston-Salem.

The independent Fort Worth Cats released infielder Marc Mirizzi and signed righthander John Maschino, the Rangers’ 17th-round pick in 2006 who reportedly signed as a draft-and-follow out of Seminole Junior College last May but never appeared on the field.

I’ll update you when Texas gets its roster down to 40 players.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — JANUARY 16, 2008

Looks like Jason Botts, happily, isn’t in danger of ceding his roster spot to Jason Jennings.

In an article just posted on TexasRangers.com, T.R. Sullivan reports not only that the Rangers are expected to announce the signing of Jennings tomorrow – which will require the removal of another player from the 40-man roster – but also that the organization plans to give Botts a spring training look at first base, where he’ll have the opportunity to win a platoon job alongside Ben Broussard.

Botts played primarily first base in 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004 in the minor leagues, but since that time he’d played only 18 games at first (in 2006 with Oklahoma), seeing the rest of his time in the outfield and at designated hitter.

Even if the club doesn’t opt to go into April with a Broussard-Botts platoon, if the 6’6” switch-hitter (who is out of options) plays a competent first base in camp then his versatility obviously gives him a significantly better chance of breaking camp with the club, rather than on the designation for assignment wire.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 16, 2008

The reason, I think, that seeing Travis Hafner and Aaron Harang do what they do hurts even more is the same reason the loss of Laynce Nix stung more than the loss of Ryan Ludwick, even though Ludwick has been more productive since leaving. There’s been more fan outcry over the loss of Nick Masset than Justin Duchscherer, and for now that’s not justified. You never hear much about Texas mishandling Luis Vizcaino or Esteban German, at least not as much as you hear that about Edwin Encarnacion.

I’m not sure who is going to have a more productive big league career between Chris Shelton and Jason Botts, but as a Rangers fan I’m a lot more invested in one than the other because of how the player got to this point, and my reaction to the potential loss of Shelton, whom Texas designated for assignment on Monday to make roster room for Kaz Fukumori, registers little more for me, as a fan, than the departure of Daniel Haigwood did nine months ago.

The Rangers are going to drop at least one more player from the roster in the next few days, when righthander Jason Jennings gets his one-year deal done, and Botts (who was drafted 1,359 spots after Jennings in 1999) could still be a candidate to lose his spot. But I sure hope not, not only because I think there are a couple pitchers who have less chance to contribute but also because I want to believe that Botts is that guy who has created so much AAA and winter ball damage and who typically crawls a bit before walking and then running through walls at each level.

I want Botts to make it. And, as a fan, I want it to be here.

With the signing of Fukumori, the Rangers have said that there are four relievers with guaranteed bullpen jobs: C.J. Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit, and Fukumori, leaving three spots for Frank Francisco (who apparently has an edge on everyone else), John Rheinecker, Wes Littleton, Scott Feldman, Josh Rupe, Kameron Loe, Robinson Tejeda, Jason Davis, and Jamey Wright. Rheinecker’s left-handedness and lack of options probably give him a leg up, all other things equal, theoretically leaving one final spot for righthanders Littleton, Feldman, Rupe, Loe, Tejeda, Davis, and Wright to battle for. Hard for me to imagine Tejeda, despite also being without options, winning that competition.

Lefthander Bill White cleared release waivers, and Texas is interested in re-signing him to a minor league deal.

Predictably, catcher Taylor Teagarden is getting a non-roster invite to big league camp, just as he did a year ago.

The Rangers increased some ticket prices for 2008, though it looks like mostly in high-end seating areas that aren’t held by season ticket accounts. Less expensive tickets were held flat, as were all season tickets (which also came with free parking for early payment). We all know that the best way to boost ticket sales has nothing to do with increasing prices here and discounting them there: winning ballgames is the key.

Texas gave minor league contracts to righthander Jim Wladyka and catcher Joseph Hulett, who is Tug’s brother and Tim’s son. Hulett, an undrafted free agent out of McNeese State, played last summer with the Pensacola Pelicans of the independent American Association. Wladyka pitched in the Mets and Royals systems from 2005 through 2007, posting a 2-4, 3.77 record, primarily in relief.

Minor league deals: outfielder Nick Gorneault (Houston); lefthander Erasmo Ramirez (Milwaukee); outfielder Ramon Nivar (San Diego); outfielder Andres Torres (Cubs); lefthander Matt Riley and righthander Alfredo Simon (Dodgers); utility man Jason Bourgeois (White Sox); catcher Ken Huckaby and infielder Dave Matranga (Kansas City); infielder Cody Ransom (Yankees).

San Diego promoted Glenn Abbott from AA pitching coach to AAA pitching coach.

Pittsburgh named Wilson Alvarez pitching coach for its Short-Season A club and Gary Green its Low A manager. Tampa Bay hired Jayson Durocher as an area scout.

Durocher is another one of those Vizcaino types who had some big league success in his first stop after the Rangers let him go (1.88 ERA for Milwaukee in 2002). But that generated no more talk show fury than Gorneault will if he makes Houston’s club and hits .310 with 14 home runs this year.

If you’re like me, Shelton could hit .320 and go deep 24 times for the Royals and it wouldn’t resonate half as much as if Botts were to hit .290 with 16 bombs for the same team. Those attachments we form as fans of our team and the players it develops are strong.

I’m a big enough Jason Botts fan that I’d rather see him succeed somewhere else than fail here. I’m just not convinced yet that those are the only two possible outcomes.

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

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