THE NEWBERG REPORT — FEBRUARY 12, 2008

When all the talk surfaced the last couple weeks that Texas was interested in bringing Kevin Mench in on a non-roster deal, I was instinctively opposed to it, since his usefulness to this team would be in his ability to hit left-handed pitching, which further endangers Jason Botts’s chances of making the team coming out of camp. But while Mench’s presence does give Botts another hurdle to clear, the terms of the Mench deal make it a bit more palatable if you’re a Botts fan.

The reason is that Botts (like Nelson Cruz) must make the Opening Day roster or else he’ll be with another team, either by way of trade or a waiver claim, since he is out of options. There’s virtually no chance that Botts or Cruz is playing for Oklahoma on April 3. There’s a very good chance that Mench will be.

Texas gave Mench a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp to fight for a job. The sticking point had reportedly been the Rangers’ insistence that he agree to report to Oklahoma if he failed to make the club coming out of Surprise. Some players are able to negotiate March outs if not added to the roster by a certain date (Sosa, Hairston, Wright, and Guillermo Quiroz had them a year ago). Mench (who also considered overtures from the Yankees and Royals) agreed to a June 1 out, allowing him to declare free agency if not added to the big league roster by then. In that sense, he’s not an impediment to Botts or (Cruz) since, if all else is equal, he can be sent to AAA as camp ends, while Botts (and Cruz) cannot.

As far as Botts getting his opportunity to win a job and stave off a designation for assignment is concerned, Mench’s arrival shouldn’t present a huge problem.

The Rangers have 31 scheduled games this spring (plus at least three B games), meaning there should be more than 600 at-bats to give to the outfield and designated hitter. Last spring the Rangers had eight outfielders on the roster, plus another nine off the roster (including Sammy Sosa) who got camp at-bats. Ten of them got at least 20 at-bats.

Ian Kinsler and Brad Wilkerson had 66 and 64 plate appearances last spring, respectively, and 11 other players were in the 50s. Botts had 42, which was 15th-most on the team and eighth-most among outfielders.

This year there are nine outfielders on the roster, and only three (Mench, John Mayberry Jr., and Jason Ellison) off of it who have been invited to camp. To be fair, last year’s nine non-roster outfielders who appeared in games included several “just in cases” who were brought over from minor league camp for spot duty without being on official invites (Mayberry, Kevin Mahar, Steve Murphy, Craig Gentry, and others), and there will be some of those this spring as well. But those players aren’t going to get more than 20 trips to the plate, and their work will come in the eighth and ninth innings, not affecting Botts, or Mench or Cruz or David Murphy.

Last year Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton, Marlon Byrd, Jerry Hairston Jr., Sosa, Frank Catalanotto, and Cruz saw more plate action than Botts did. Of this year’s nine rostered outfielders and three non-roster invites, it’s a certainty that Brandon Boggs, Julio Borbon, and Mayberry will get fewer at-bats than Botts, and Jason Ellison probably will, too. That leaves Milton Bradley (who will probably be limited when games get underway), Josh Hamilton, Byrd, Catalanotto, Cruz, Murphy, and Mench. Botts will get his chance, and Mench’s arrival doesn’t change that.

Mench hit .314/.343/.558 against left-handed pitching in an otherwise disappointing 2007 season with Milwaukee. He’s a lifetime .305/.361/.563 hitter against southpaws in his six big league seasons, and a career .284/.353/.503 hitter in Rangers Ballpark. That’s a good insurance-type player to have in Oklahoma City. But unless he has a massive camp and there are unforeseen injuries among those on the roster, I’d be surprised if he were to make the team.

Mench is a better player than Matt Kata, but hopefully the Rangers realize how fortunate they were last March 31 when they designated Byrd for assignment to make room for the purchase of Kata, got Byrd through waivers, and assigned him to Oklahoma, where he obliterated Pacific Coast League pitching for nearly two months before working his way back to Texas. Mench, at age 30, shouldn’t beat out Botts and Cruz and make a club that is still posturing itself to be very good in a couple years, unless the determination is made that Botts and Cruz (both 27) are not part of that picture themselves. He’s basically a solid safety net to stash in AAA in the event that neither Botts nor Cruz claims a job in March — since in that case they’ll be with another organization in April.

The bottom line is that this is a non-roster deal given to a 30-year-old player who has had declining use the last three seasons. It doesn’t change much, other than it gives Texas some potentially useful depth in AAA.

Here is the 40-man roster and the group of 20 non-roster invites that Texas opens camp with:

40-MAN ROSTER:

PITCHERS (21): Joaquin Benoit, Thomas Diamond, Scott Feldman, Frankie Francisco, Kazuo Fukumori, Kason Gabbard, 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

RESTRICTED LIST (2): Omar Beltre, Alexi Ogando

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 (3): Jason Ellison, John Mayberry Jr., Kevin Mench

Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer writes that the Rangers intend to bid for the All-Star Game to return to Arlington in 2015, which would be 20 years after the last time the game was hosted here.

I’ve received my copies of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook and John Sickels’s Baseball Prospect Book 2008, but I’m sick and don’t have the energy to write about the Rangers coverage in them today. I’ll get to that next time.

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

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