THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 8, 2008
Not long after Josh Hamilton hospitalized a bases-loaded Chris Capuano pitch in the top of the third inning yesterday, righthander Brandon McCarthy strolled out to the visitors’ bullpen past which the Hamilton missile had soared. Within an hour McCarthy would become an even bigger Friday story for the Rangers than Hamilton was.
McCarthy worked what appeared to be an effective, if not tremendously efficient, bottom of the fourth, facing just four Brewers and retiring three of them. The final batter he faced, Gabe Gross, registered the third flyout of the inning, but when McCarthy snapped off his third curve of the day during the Gross at-bat, he felt a flare-up of the stiffness in his right forearm that had sidelined him from game action until yesterday. Texas decided not to send him back to the mound for the fifth, ending his day after 19 pitches rather than extending him to the planned 30.
And now the inescapable reality is that McCarthy’s availability for the start of the season is in question.
Starting pitching earns some general managers Executive of the Year hardware, and costs others their jobs, because as critical as it is to a team’s ultimate success, there’s not a more fragile resource in sports. Consider the following.
John Danks, Nick Masset, and Jake Rasner.
Edinson Volquez and Danny Ray Herrera.
An argument can be made that the two packages were fairly equivalent when Texas traded them away. That’s not to say that Danks and Volquez, or Masset and Herrera, are similar pitchers, or that they were even similar assets at the time of the trades that sent them to Chicago and Cincinnati. But from a value standpoint, same ballpark.
One package netted McCarthy, a 7-9, 4.39 major league pitcher full of promise but not yet the results to match (plus baby outfielder David Paisano). The other, Hamilton, who hit .292/.368/.554 with 17 doubles, 19 home runs, and 47 RBI in basically half a season of at-bats as a rookie — a player who had finally executed on the massive promise he’d very nearly thrown away.
That Texas would pay as high a price as it did to acquire the unproven McCarthy — and that the Reds would give up what they did in order to get Volquez — proves how costly starting pitching is, even as medically unpredictable as starting pitchers are.
There are risks with Hamilton, to be sure, as we’re constantly reminded by the media. But they’re no greater than the attendant risks associated with any starting pitcher — and yes, that includes Volquez and Danks and Masset — and McCarthy’s 15 months as a Ranger prove the rule.
“This is definitely something that is kind of depressing,” McCarthy told reporters yesterday, a sentiment every Rangers fan obviously shares.
Dr. Keith Meister, the Rangers team physician, travels to Surprise today to evaluate McCarthy’s right arm. Hold your breath.
Incidentally, that Hamilton home run I flashed yesterday and led this report off with? Someone who was at the game, and the previous day’s, said if Hamilton’s traveled 75,000 feet, as I suggested, then the shot Chris Davis hit on Thursday went 75,100.
After a disappointing Reds debut, Volquez bounced back with a better effort on Wednesday, blanking Boston on four hits and a walk in 2.1 innings, and punching out four.
Righthanders Kevin Millwood and Joaquin Benoit will pitch a simulated game on Monday, a preliminary step before getting both back into game action. C.J. Wilson is throwing but probably won’t be cleared to participate in Monday’s simulated game.
The Rangers continue to keep an eye on righthander Sidney Ponson’s workouts. They’re joined by St. Louis, Arizona, Seattle, Houston, and Kansas City, at least, but to be clear, the Rangers’ interest is strictly for AAA depth. Ponson reportedly worked at 93-94 mph, offered a slider touching 88, and featured a frame carrying 20 fewer pounds than it did two years ago.
Hank Blalock is slated to DH today, his first action since February 28.
Minor league workouts officially kicked off yesterday, but they’ve been unofficially underway for weeks.
The Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent American Association released infielder Cameron Coughlan. The Laredo Broncos of the independent United League placed outfielder Orlando Cruz and first baseman Hector Lebron on the suspended list.
Asked to rank the farm systems on pitching prospects alone, Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis pegged Texas at number four, behind Tampa Bay, the Yankees, and Baltimore. Said Callis: “Eric Hurley will pitch in the majors this year, and Matt Harrison may join him, but the strength of the Texas system is very young arms. Neftali Feliz, Michael Main, Blake Beavan, Neil Ramirez, Fabio Castillo, Tommy Hunter and Wilmer Font have yet to reach full-season ball, while Kasey Kiker has advanced to low Class A and Omar Poveda has made five starts in high Class A.”
If the trade of a 21-year-old pitcher, a 24-year-old pitcher, and a 20-year-old pitcher for the 23-year-old Brandon McCarthy isn’t all the evidence you need that building pitching depth on the farm — quality in quantity — is hugely critical, then the fact that McCarthy, who had no health issues with the White Sox, has had multiple physical setbacks in his year-plus with Texas ought to.
I’m certainly not writing McCarthy off. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility that he makes 30 starts this year. If that happens, we’ll all look back and commend Mark Connor for making the decision not to send him back out for a second inning of work yesterday.
But as much as starting pitchers cost, in cash and in trade assets, I look forward to the time when that army of young hurlers kicks open the door, with more behind them, providing the Rangers with enough high-ceiling, big league-ready candidates to offset the loss of those who will have had their own physical setbacks along the way.