THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 1, 2008

Mike Lamb was an accomplished minor league hitter, a
doubles machine with a career line of .310/.372/.495 on the farm.  He broke into the big leagues at age 24, the
first of four straight seasons that he would split between Texas
and Oklahoma. 

The third of those seasons was 2003, the first full year
of Hank Blalock’s big league career and of Buck Showalter’s tenure as Rangers
manager.  After averaging more than 360
big league at-bats in 2000, 2001, and 2002, Lamb got only 38 at-bats with Texas in 2003, when he
spent the majority of the year in AAA on his final option.  In those 38 at-bats, he hit a punchless
.132/.190/.132.

With Blalock entrenched at third base, Mark Teixeira at
first, Herbert Perry under contract, and Adrian Gonzalez getting close, Lamb’s
fate was virtually sealed following the 2003 season.  About two weeks before pitchers and catchers
were to report in 2004, the Rangers designated the 28-year-old Lamb for
assignment so that they could put righthander Carlos Almanzar on the 40-man
roster to prevent him from taking an offer to pitch in Japan. 

Seven days later, Texas
traded Lamb to the Yankees for minor league righthander Jose Garcia.  Lamb didn’t even finish spring training with New York, which traded him late in March to Houston for an equally
forgettable minor leaguer named Juan DeLeon. 

It was at that point that Lamb carved out a meaningful
major league career, averaging 12 home runs in just 323 at-bats annually over
four years with the Astros.  He’s not
Wade Boggs, but he’s now in his ninth season as a major league ballplayer and
has been a factor in the post-season (slugging .675 in 40 at-bats). 

Jason Botts probably won’t be Travis Hafner — but then
again Hafner wasn’t supposed to do what he has done, either — but he doesn’t
need to be.  If he’s Lee Stevens or Jack
Cust, that’s fine.  Maybe he’s even Lamb,
a selective, professional hitter who hasn’t nailed down a defensive position
and who hasn’t slugged at the big league level the way he looked like he might
as he was coming up, but who could contribute for a long time. 

What I don’t understand is why the 38 at-bats Botts got in
April were considered conclusive.  Yes, he
has had 282 big league at-bats and hasn’t been productive enough with them
(.230/.325/.344), but that half-season equivalent has been spread out over four
years, with the at-bats coming in fits and starts.  It stands to reason that a hitter whose game
is built on the handling of the strike zone probably depends on rhythm and consistent
work more so than a see-it, rake-it type would. 

Has Botts been too selective, letting too many strikes go
by?  Unquestionably.  But why commit to giving him regular work for
just two weeks and then decide the audition isn’t worth continuing?  That aspect of this move resembles Lamb less
than it does Doug Davis, who was designated for assignment at age 27 (to make
room for bullpen lefty Erasmo Ramirez) after one ineffective emergency start in
April 2003 — with the team four games under .500, five games out, and in last
place — that had followed four years of ups and downs with Texas (along with
very good results in Oklahoma).  In each
of the four seasons after Texas dumped Davis, he has won in
double digits, on teams that had only one winning record in those four years.

Given where this team stands (the Rangers have the worst
record in the league), I don’t get the deference to Ben Broussard
(.173/.244/.293, zero RBI’s since the season-opening road trip, subpar defense
at first base), especially since he’s almost certain to be somewhere else next
season.  There’s a point to figuring out
what you might have in Botts, whether or not the club has decided it knows that
answer.  Is there a point to seeing
whether Broussard can break out of this slump that started in Surprise and
hasn’t let up?  (Seattle decided yesterday that it no longer
needed Brad Wilkerson and his guaranteed $3 million around.)  With Chris Shelton up in conjunction with the
Botts move, Broussard hasn’t played.  Why
keep him?

Going with Sidney Ponson rather than Doug Mathis at this
point is more understandable, because it doesn’t cost you Mathis.

I get the .158/.304/.395 Botts line.  I get that it’s not a good set of numbers and
that there might be issues with mechanics or approach or something else which might
be as convincing to a seasoned scout as they are lost on most people who aren’t
seasoned scouts.  Maybe baseball people think
that Botts not only won’t be Hafner but won’t be or Cust, either, or Stevens,
or Lamb.

The reason, I think, that the fan reaction to the removal
of Botts from the roster has been more vocal than it was four years ago with
Lamb is that Botts physically looks so much like what an impact,
damage-creating, offensive monster is supposed to look like.  (Lamb, on the other hand, some say, has the
misfortune of looking like me.)  I think
what I’d always hoped the switch-hitting Botts could eventually provide was
what the Stevens/Mike Simms duo gave Texas
in 1998: a combined line of .275/.345/.547 in 530 at-bats, with 36 home runs and
105 RBI.  But even when it started to
look like Botts projected to be something else, I was optimistic.  Partly because I wanted to be.

As diehard fans of a baseball franchise we want the
products of our own system to make it. 
Familiarity is a factor, as is the payroll containment that the influx
of young players permits, but there’s more to it.  Seeing the players that your team signed as
amateurs get to the big leagues and establish themselves is evidence.  It’s evidence that your team is skillful at developing
major league baseball players, and the more, the better.  Nothing provides more confidence to a fan,
especially of a team in a building phase, than seeing that its scouts and
coaches can find a 17th-rounder like Ian Kinsler and make him what he is today,
or a Day Two draft-and-follow like Hafner or Botts or A.J. Murray or Zach
Phillips or Derek Holland.

I’m a fan of Botts as a person.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not
objective about him (and I’ve said that in writing many times), and that if
he’d had 2,820 major league at-bats rather than 282, I’d still hold out hope
that he was just another week or two away from really locking in and doing to big
league pitchers what he’s done to AAA pitchers (.302/.401/.541 over three
seasons).  I’m biased.

I don’t know what league perception is of Botts, but I’m
not pulling for him to clear waivers.  Why?  Because even if he did clear and the Rangers
outrighted him to Oklahoma, he’d certainly be behind the unconscious Nelson
Cruz in line to get another shot in Texas, even if he were to rake like he
always does in AAA.  Plus, Chris Davis
could be a RedHawk before long.

The reality is that management here — right or wrong –
doesn’t think Botts fits or that he will, and so it seems unlikely that he’d command
a return spot on the 40-man roster later this season or immediately after it,
and if he’s not on the roster in mid-October he’ll be able to leave the
organization as a six-year minor league free agent (and, given the circumstances,
he’d obviously do exactly that).  I’d
like to see Botts traded or claimed on waivers, landing with a new team intent on
giving him a fresh start.  (That can be
short-lived, of course — Tampa Bay, for instance, claimed first baseman Dan Johnson
on waivers on April 18 after Oakland
designated him for assignment, and the Rays then designated him for assignment
just five days later.)

I don’t pretend that I see things that scouts don’t
see.  I don’t pretend that I see things
that scouts do see.  Maybe the Botts
swing is irreparably long and maybe his patience at the plate has become so pronounced
that it’s a flaw rather than an asset.  But
I’ve never been objective about that player and can’t start to be now.

I believe in the people who make personnel decisions for my
team, and I always count on the decisions they make to be the right ones –
even if at times I don’t understand them. 
But at the same time, there are a handful of other teams’ players that I
pull for who got their starts in this organization, this organization that was
smart enough to draft them and skilled enough to develop them, and Jason Botts
goes right to the top of that list.  It makes
me no less of a fiercely loyal Rangers fan to hope that wherever Botts lands, something
will click and he’ll become the player that I’d always imagined he’d become
here.

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

3 Comments

This shacks the core fibers the muscle of your love of a team. Because if your team can’t develop the talent in their farm system then where will we ever go. Look at the opening day line up. How many are home grown. Our best player (who I believe is Mike Young) came in on a trade, but even then only stayed here because the old GM could trade him fast enough. Remember the Hank on 2nd base try out. They bring in old free agents every year. The best current examples are Frankie last year and Ben this year. How do they fit in? I won’t even go into the lost list of talent drafted and traded away. Think back do we even remember the name of the catcher we got for Travis Hafner? That we had to get because Pudge was let go, because he could work with pitchers and couldn’t be an everyday catcher anymore. WOW !
I am not saying Botts will be a hall of fanner, but maybe the over patience at the plate comes from the worry of being sent down year after year. Maybe this organization caused his game to suffer, because of that. This year is already lost. As a fan that pains me to say in May, but we could have used it to see if he was going to be an everyday DH and part time 1st basemen one day or not. The farm system is stock right now Chris Davis, Eric Hurley, and Elvis. As a fan you love to see that and it gives you hope, but only if you know the organization can make them the stars that you think and hope they should be. This move shacks the core fibers of that hope. It’s a sad day.

Great article, Jamey. I’m like you in that when I look at the previous days boxscores, I’m looking for former Rangers, especially draftees. Although I’ve been outspoken about the need for the Rangers to part ways with Botts, I’m still hopeful he’ll be successful wherever he ends up. I’d be astonished if he were back with this club at some point but, the non-pitching prospects are usually big league-ready by his age. Once in a while there’s a late bloomer but, I think we’ve seen the big league Botts at his best. Again, hopefully, for Jason’s sake, I’m wrong because he’s a good guy.

“I believe in the people who make personnel decisions for my team . . . .” Buck used to quote Billy Martin saying that you have to correctly evaluate your own personnel. Personally I don’t have a problem with the Botts move, although it was a bit of sharp practice, like with Melhuse. What bothers me is the number of pitchers that we seem to have mis-evaluated. I know Daniels doesn’t eye-ball Eaton-Young or McCarthy-Danks (and many other decisions involving pitchers traded or released) and decide to make the trade based on his own wealth of experience. Who does he rely on, and why do they seem often to get it completely wrong? I know it’s not just pitchers, but they seem to be involved in most of the questionable moves.

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