THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 27, 2008
When Texas tees it up with Kansas City at lunchtime today, it will be the professional equivalent of heading out the door for the final day of school before summer break. After the 27th out, the Rangers will toss their textbooks and spelling tests and book reports in the air and board a flight to Dallas, leaving Arizona behind for another year. A game against the White Sox in Oklahoma City tomorrow night, a game in Frisco against the RoughRiders Saturday afternoon, and it’s off to Seattle for three that count against the Mariners, another three in Anaheim against the Angels, and back to Texas for an eight-game homestand against Baltimore, Toronto, and Los Angeles.
A handful of games out of 162 doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it sure would be nice to build some momentum out of the gate. Coming home to open with a more encouraging record than last year’s 0-3 is obviously important. In recent years Texas has made a bad habit out of starting poorly, which can’t be good for morale and certainly takes the wind out of the fan base. Last year it was a 10-win April. In 2006, the team got off to a 1-5 start. In 2005, Texas was over .500 (10-9) for one day in April.
The Rangers’ 0-2 start in 2004 was quickly forgotten when they went on a tear late in the month and, starting April 24, would spend 11 straight days in first, sitting atop the division at some point in every month of the season until September and finishing with 89 wins. April wasn’t the club’s best month in 2004, but it set a tone and Texas would have a losing record only in July (13-14) (if you lump October’s three games in with September). April does mean something to a team that isn’t expected to win.
Friday’s trip to Oklahoma City will be more than a one-night stand for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Frankie Francisco, Kameron Loe, Kevin Mench, and Jason Ellison, and for Luis Mendoza as well, and while Mendoza’s assignment to the RedHawks to start the season comes as no surprise, the manner in which it will happen is a bit different from what was expected. A blister on the right middle finger will park Mendoza on the disabled list to start the season, but he’s still expected to return to Arlington to start against the Blue Jays on April 12, the first time that the fifth starter will be needed. There’s actually some potential benefit to Texas this way — by sending Mendoza to Oklahoma on a rehab assignment for the first 12 days of the season, that’s 12 days that won’t count toward the 20 days on the farm in 2008 that would exhaust an option.
The pronouncement yesterday that Josh Rupe nailed down a bullpen spot (on the strength of allowing just two earned runs in his last eight Cactus League innings, spanning six appearances) leaves Robinson Tejeda (who is out of options) and Wes Littleton (who has one left) vying for the final spot on the pitching staff. Keep in mind, however, that a reliever will end up being dropped when Mendoza is activated April 12, which almost certainly means that Littleton (if he makes the club) or Rupe will return to AAA at that time, since Tejeda and Franklyn German and Jamey Wright have no options.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Nelson Cruz will be designated for assignment today, while the transactions wire indicated that that happened on Tuesday. The distinction isn’t critical; whenever the move is or was made, the Rangers will have 10 days from that point to trade Cruz or attempt to slide him through waivers in an effort to outright his contract to Oklahoma (a move that he wouldn’t be able to refuse since it would be his first outright). Seems unlikely that he would clear.
Before you get all up in arms about the decision to option Saltalamacchia and decide for yourself that the organization is burying him, keep in mind that he’s 17 months younger than Taylor Teagarden, who has all of 102 at-bats above Class A, and seven months younger than Max Ramirez, who has none. Chances are that Texas will trade Laird at some point and turn the frontline catching duties over to Saltalamacchia, but now is not the time.
The likelihood that Saltalamacchia, Francisco, Loe, and Mench will be in Texas at some point in 2008 is probably little consolation to those four, but the news was more harsh for a handful of minor leaguers, as the Rangers have handed down a wave of releases in the process of sorting out season-opening assignments. Let go were pitchers Eric Cyr, Daniel Hoben, Jon Hollis, Ivan Izquierdo, Marc Major, Michael Wagner, Ace Walker, Jim Wladyka, and Brett Zamzow, catcher Kevin Gossage, first baseman Jim Fasano, and infielders Micah Furtado and Matt Smith.
In Furtado and Smith’s case in particular, I hope they’re not finished with the game.
Texas signed righthanders Mark Alexander and Caleb Moore to minor league contracts. Both are pretty interesting. I can’t figure out why the Dodgers were so quick to dump Alexander, whom they drafted out of the University of Missouri in 2004. The 27-year-old was the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2006, going 3-2, 0.96 with 26 saves for AA Jacksonville and 2-1, 3.14 with one save for AAA Las Vegas, allowing just 37 hits and 23 walks while fanning 85 in 61.1 innings. He was less effective at the same two levels in 2007 (5.90 ERA) but did manage to punch out 95 batters in 79.1 innings, though his walks jumped to 54 and he allowed 12 home runs after surrendering just two in 2006.
A.J. Preller was in baseball operations with the Dodgers when they drafted Alexander, as was Don Welke.
Moore was Minnesota’s fourth-round selection in 2005, the highest pick the Twins had devoted to a catcher since taking Joe Mauer at the top of the 2001 draft. The East Tennessee State product, who also closed games for the Buccaneers, hit just .258/.310/.356 in three pro seasons and never got out of Class A, and Minnesota decided last year to give him a look on the mound. In 13.2 innings for rookie-level Elizabethton, Moore posted a 2.63 ERA, fanning 13 hitters and issuing four walks. Texas signed him as a pitcher.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that John Patterson has a June 15 out clause in his minor league contract that allows him to force his release if he’s not in Texas by that point.
The reason Patterson chose the Rangers over his hometown Astros was, according to Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Patterson’s past relationship with Mark Connor, who was with the Diamondbacks when they signed Patterson out of West Orange High School. Said Connor: “He was the best-looking high school pitcher I’d ever seen. . . . The ball just jumped out of his hand, [and] he had a hook from ****. It was as good a curveball as you want to see.”
Milton Bradley feels fine after Tuesday night’s defensive debut, in which he wasn’t tested in right field but did leg out a first-inning triple. He’ll be back in right field this afternoon.
The Mets released Andy Cavazos and Ryan Cullen. Washington released Rob Bell.
Colorado’s release of Marcus Giles paves the way for Jayson Nix to start at second base.
Kansas City released 6’6″ first baseman Brett Amyx, the club’s 30th-round pick last summer out of Coppell High School. I mention this only because Amyx caught my eye when he took C.J. Wilson deep last week during a Class A game on the back fields.
The Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League re-signed Ruben Mateo. The York Revolution of the same league signed righthander Pete Munro.
Despite a strong camp, utility player Jason Bourgeois (.333/.440/.452) was sent back to minor league camp by the White Sox a couple days ago. Meanwhile, Nick Masset, who is out of options, is battling sidewinder Ehren Wassermann for the final spot on Chicago’s pitching staff. Both are slated to pitch today.
St. Louis placed Juan Gonzalez on the temporary inactive list. He’d been sidelined since March 10 with an abdominal strain.
Colorado is going to war with Mark Redman in its rotation.
And the Angels are starting the season without John Lackey or Kelvim Escobar in theirs. Scot Shields, Chris Bootcheck, and Gary Matthews Jr. could all join them on the disabled list.
I don’t know if there will be any water balloon fights this afternoon as the Rangers break camp and head toward the plane, but I think everyone’s been waiting for this day for a few weeks now. School’s out, and the real fun is about to begin.