THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 5, 2008
T.R. Sullivan posted an article yesterday on TexasRangers.com about the state of the catching depth on the Rangers farm. In it he shared the following remarks from Jon Daniels:
"If you look at the industry and the quality of catching at all levels — big league, minor league, amateur — it’s all over the place. For us, it’s a strength. Some people may look at it as a logjam or that we have decisions to make, but I look at it as you can’t have enough of a good thing."
The Daniels summation:
"Catching certainly is the strength of our organization. We’ll just let it play out."
I’ve got a mild Saturday morning stomach ache thinking about how nice it would have been if Daniels’s three predecessors did as good a job emphasizing developmental depth behind the plate — a Moneyball-esque exploitation of a market weakness — and doing so as skillfully.
Perhaps seduced by the fact that the club had baseball’s best catcher durably playing 150 games a year, the Rangers signed the following catchers in the top 10 rounds of the draft from 1992 until 2002, which were the Ivan Rodriguez years in Texas:
1992: Scot Sealy (10)
1994: Kevin L. Brown (2)
1995: Juan B. Rivera (9)
1997: Jason Grabowski (2); Mike Lamb, sorta (7)
1999: Chris Jaile (4)
2000: Scott Heard (1)
Not counting Lamb’s experimental cameo in 2002 (four appearances in AAA, three in Texas [including one start]), the only player from those eleven drafts to get past Class A with the Rangers as a catcher was Brown. That’s awful.
Outside of Cesar King, signed by Omar Minaya in 1994, the Rangers didn’t do a very good job of supplementing the position internationally during that time, either.
Texas was able to trade Brown in March 1998 for reliever Tim Crabtree (a onetime catcher himself, incidentally). That trade alone should have driven home the point. You can never have too many catchers, even if you have the world’s best at the big league level. Because he won’t be there forever. And because catchers make very good trade ammunition.
The Rangers’ unpleasant inventory led to the following two unpleasant moments in franchise history:
October 28, 2002: Ivan Rodriguez declares free agency.
December 6, 2002: Texas trades hitter Travis Hafner and righthander Aaron Myette to Cleveland for catcher Einar Diaz and righthander Ryan Drese.
Rangers general manager John Hart made that deal with the Indians the day before the club did this:
December 7, 2002: Texas declines to offer salary arbitration to Ivan Rodriguez.
Leaving aside the issue of whether the Rangers should have made a different effort to keep Rodriguez, the absolute absence of internal fallback options led to one of the worst trades in franchise history.
Daniels, who had been with the Rangers since January 2002, saw all of that unfold. My guess is he would have hatched his own plan when his time as GM came to develop aggressively at catcher, both to build depth and facilitate trades, and didn’t need to live through the Hafner experience to get there.
Look at how things have changed.
In 2004, Texas signed Manuel Pina out of Venezuela. Drafted Mike Nickeas in the fifth round.
In 2005, Texas drafted Taylor Teagarden in the third round. Signed Cristian Santana out of the Dominican Republic.
In 2006, Texas drafted Chad Tracy in the second round. Moved Emerson Frostad from the infield to catcher. Signed Leonel de los Santos ("Macumba" to some) out of the Dominican Republic. Got San Diego to add Billy Killian to the end of the Chris Young trade.
In 2007, Texas traded for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Traded for Max Ramirez. Traded for Chris Stewart. Signed Tomas Tellis out of Venezuela and Jose Felix out of Mexico. Drafted Jonathan Greene in the eighth round.
Five years ago, Texas was unprepared to replace Ivan Rodriguez, a direct result of which is the fact that Travis Hafner is a star in Cleveland. Jon Daniels has thankfully taken things to the opposite extreme, posturing this organization so that it can take advantage when other clubs are similarly unprepared behind the plate.
Daniels decided that trading Gerald Laird to this point wasn’t right, but not because of a lack of organizational depth at catcher. The fact is that he’d be selling Laird low right now, coming off of his awful offensive season in 2007. If someone gets hurt in another club’s camp in March, or if Laird starts to hit like he can in the first half, the idea is that Texas can get more for Laird then than the club could now.
So for now, Laird is one of three Rangers players (Marlon Byrd and Ben Broussard are the others) who can file for arbitration, starting today. They have until January 15 to do so, after which an exchange of arbitration figures will begin on January 18.
Texas also signed 27-year-old catcher Patrick Arlis to a minor league deal. Arlis, who finished the 2007 season with the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League, was Florida’s 11th-round pick in 2002 and spent six seasons in the Marlins system, hitting .225/.303/.308. Strong defensively, Arlis cut down 34 of 53 would-be basestealers while with the T-Bones last summer.
Arlis said the Marlins scout who signed him is who sold him on joining the Rangers. I suspect he’s referring to Scot Engler, whom Texas recently hired away from Florida.
The Rangers, on the recommendation of new director of Pacific Rim scouting Jim Colborn, have also signed 18-year-old Australian righthander Tim Stanford. I believe Stanford is not only the Rangers’ first Colborn signing but also their first-ever venture into Australia. Colborn also played a part in Seattle’s signing of Chris Snelling, Travis Blackley, and Craig Anderson out of Australia.
Eric Chavez has to be disgusted at what Billy Beane is doing to the A’s roster, given where he is in his career, but coming off of two awful seasons Chavez isn’t exactly in a position to get himself traded. If he weren’t contracted to make $11 million this year, $11 million in 2009, and $12 million in 2010, with a $3 million buyout of a $12.5 million salary in 2011, Beane probably would have found away to trade him already.
Piecing together all those rumors coming out of Milwaukee, what about this scenario? Chavez (a devoted Ron Washington disciple) to Texas, Vicente Padilla to Oakland (owed $24.75 million over the next two years, if bought out of the third, as opposed to Chavez’s $37 million over the next three, if bought out of the fourth), and Hank Blalock to Milwaukee for one of the middle-rotation starters that have been rumored (David Bush, Chris Capuano) — or even high-profile rookie Manny Parra. Sweeteners added where necessary.
Actually, I doubt the A’s or Rangers make that deal.
There are reports that the Angels and White Sox are discussing a trade that would send Paul Konerko to Los Angeles, with Howie Kendrick and Ervin Santana as possibilities to go to Chicago. I really hope that happens.
Boston signed lefthander Michael Tejera to a minor league contract. The Mets signed righthander Andy Cavazos to a minor league contract. San Diego named Shane Spencer hitting coach for High A Lake Elsinore.
Don Titus has updated the photo section on the front page of NewbergReport.com. Check it out.
Of the five players depicted, one is a catcher, and deservedly so. If only we could have said the same thing five years ago.