August 2008

Stuff.

Lots to get to but I’m short on time this morning.

Vicente Padilla got through a side session yesterday without neck or shoulder problems, but he’s still headed for the disabled list — with soreness in his left hamstring.  Kameron Loe will come back from Oklahoma, which he can do before the requisite 10 days since it’s to replace a player going onto the disabled list.  

Since his 9.1 scoreless innings in two big league appearances earlier this month, Loe has pitched once for the RedHawks, blanking Round Rock on two hits in three innings.  He’s dealing right now.

Luis Mendoza was recalled yesterday, with Bill White briefly optioned to Bakersfield.  The Blaze season ends Monday, after which White can come right back to an expanded big league roster.

Spokane outfielder Mike Bianucci, the Rangers’ eighth-round pick in June out of Auburn, was having a sensational rookie season (.316/.386/.535) before breaking his hand while diving for a catch on Thursday.  

Pittsburgh recalled righthander Jesse Chavez, whom Texas traded to the Pirates at the 2006 trade deadline for righthander Kip Wells.  He debuted with a perfect ninth in a 2-0 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday.

On the same day that the Rangers traded Chavez for Wells, they also traded Joselo Diaz to Kansas City for Matt Stairs.  Toronto traded Stairs to Philadelphia yesterday, and the player that the Jays are getting in return is evidently lefthander Fabio Castro, the former Rangers Rule 5 pick who didn’t survive the 2006 season in Texas.  Castro had gone 8-2, 4.40 for AA Reading and 0-2, 8.10 for AAA Lehigh Valley before Philadelphia recalled him on Thursday.

If you didn’t get last night’s report on Max’s and my experience at the Frisco-Corpus Christi game (lots of imbedded photos has apparently caused some servers to block it) and want to give it a read, you can check it out at http://newberg.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/08/first_pitch.html

Finally, having been pulled into this Facebook thing, I’ve set up a Blog Community for the Newberg Report.  If you’re a Facebooker and want to join the community, go to http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blogpage.php?blogid=33983 and sign up.  Not sure what we’ll be able to do with this, but we’ll figure something out.

When I next get the chance to write a lengthy report, I’ll talk about my next starting pitcher trade target (we’ve already discussed Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, and Scott Kazmir) and chime in on an even bigger issue.


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

First pitch.

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It’s
clear that not much had rattled RoughRiders lefthander Derek Holland from 60
feet, six inches away in Dr Pepper Ballpark since his arrival in Frisco two and
a half weeks ago. 

 

Until
this, perhaps:

 

frisco0829-4.jpg

 

I
didn’t plan on putting any air under my pitch, and Derek knew it.  I just hoped I wouldn’t put one in the dirt
and ding him before his upcoming playoff start, or let one sail and drill
Deuce.

 

It’s
funny.  I remember warming up with Max
and Riders Senior VP Michael Byrnes before the game, just to make sure I was
loose.  I remember walking out onto the field
with Max and hearing P.A. announcer John Clemens’s introduction as we reached the
mound, each with a baseball in hand as Holland settled into his crouch behind
the plate.

 

The
next thing I remember is turning around and telling Max he could scoot up in
front of the mound if he wanted to (but of course that was like asking him to
clean his room while eating a plate full of green beans), and watching him
unleash a pitch, needing just one hop to meet Derek’s glove, experiencing something
that every four-year-old who cares about this game should get to experience. 

 

But
Max’s pitch was after mine.

 

I
don’t remember kicking into the windup, I don’t remember the delivery, I don’t
remember seeing the ball cross the plate (though I’m told I caught the inside
black, and I’m sure there was plenty
of deception and late life). 

 

I
know it was one of the coolest moments this game has given me on a personal
level, but seconds after it went down, I had no memory of it. 

 

Proof
that it did happen:

 

frisco0829-8.jpg

 

Plus
a little evidence that I pounded the zone (check the video board up in the
corner and note where Derek’s glove is as the pitch settles in):

 

frisco0829-3.jpg

 

Max
refusing to pitch from any closer than the mound:

 

frisco0829-6.jpg

 

(I
doubt anyone out there has video of the above, but if you do, please let me know.)

 

There
were plenty of other memorable moments tonight – encounters with several of you
(including an overdue visit with “Brooklun Bill”), Erica running into some of
her friends unexpectedly, catching up with one player’s mother who has raised her
kids right, the 99-mph fastball that Neftali Feliz ended the first inning with
and the diving 81-mph change that he threw to tie up a hitter in the second, watching
Julio Borbon and Elvis Andrus effortlessly defend balls in play that others at
their positions don’t get even to at full effort, and getting to sit in with
Scott Garner and Bill Mercer (who announced Rangers games on radio and TV when I
was Max’s age) for three and a half innings of the television broadcast in the
middle of the game – but the ones that will stick with me will be the moments
just before the game started (the parts I remember, at least) and the one right
after it, when Max could barely keep his eyes open but still managed to wear the
smile of a kid who’d just had a really good night:

frisco0829-1.jpg

My
thanks to Michael and to Baseball Operations and Communications Manager Brian
SanFilippo, and to Scott and Bill in the booth, and to Neftali and Julio and
Elvis for doing what they do.

 

And
to Derek Holland, not only for signing Max’s baseball and Max’s glove but,
maybe more importantly, for being on the other end of the first pitch I’d
thrown off a mound in 21 years . . . for framing it perfectly . . . and for not
getting hurt.

 

Sweeping KC: A second story line?

I thought to myself this afternoon that it would be a very good thing if Matt Harrison came up big tonight, after Joaquin Arias and Nelson Cruz had done so earlier in the series.  

He did tonight, and so did Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  

Against exactly the right team.

Saltalamacchia is now hitting .373/.458/.529 in his last 51 at-bats (and, incidentally, is a .316/.430/.462 left-handed hitter this year, and a .158/.220/.224 hitter from the right side).

In June I proposed an offer of Saltalamacchia, Eric Hurley, John Mayberry Jr., and Warner Madrigal for Royals starter Zack Greinke.  

Let’s make it Saltalamacchia and Harrison (who were both products of the Atlanta system that Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore helped oversee), unless the Royals would prefer Hurley instead of Harrison; Mayberry (and his Kansas City legacy) or Cruz, their choice; and Arias rather than Madrigal.  

We’ll also toss in a graduate of the Surprise complex that the Royals share with Texas, perhaps a pitcher out of a group including Zach Phillips, Carlos Pimentel, Miguel De Los Santos, Geuris Grullon, Julio Santana, and Matt Nevarez.  Kansas City has seen a ton of those kids over the last few years, certainly as much as any organization other than the Rangers themselves.

We’ll toss one of those kids in because now I want set-up man Ramon Ramirez, too.  He’ll turn 27 in a few days, and should have one pre-arbitration year left.  By time the Royals might be good again, Ramirez will be pushing 30 and earning arbitration-driven dollars.  Not sure if that makes him expendable, but I’m working that angle.

So:

Saltalamacchia.

Harrison or Hurley.

Mayberry or Cruz.

Arias.

Phillips or Pimentel or De Los Santos or Grullon or Santana or Nevarez.  

All for Greinke and Ramirez.

Are we talking?

Finally, this:

frankie0827.jpg                                                                                       (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Go.  Go and tell your friends I let you live.  That Mr. Eko let you live.

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

 

Things.

A few things:

On Friday night, after Max and I get the chance to throw out the first pitch in Frisco, I’ll do a few innings of color commentary on the KTXA (Channel 21) telecast of the RoughRiders’ 7 p.m. series finale against the Corpus Christi Hooks.  Tune in, if for no other reason than Neftali Feliz is slated to start for Frisco.

Does anyone have a baseball card set of the 2000 Savannah Sand Gnats?  I’d like to borrow the Jovanny Cedeno card, and will get it back to you within a week — along with a free Bound Edition, any year of your choice.  It needs to be unaltered, though (i.e., unautographed).

Thanks for the feedback on last week’s Top 20 Prospects feature on MLB.com.  I’ll update the list every Thursday through the season (and monthly during the off-season), incorporating some of your suggestions on the format of the column.  By the way, while the updated edition will show up every Thursday in the main “Headlines” rotation on the Rangers’ official site, you can always find the latest version of the Top 20 in the “Features” section in the bottom left corner of the front page of the site.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who participated in the honor system program and sent in a contribution in support of the Newberg Report this month.  I’m grateful, and I know the rest of the crew is as well.  

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

Eddie Guardado for Mark Hamburger.

If there was a scout who thought enough of Mark Hamburger’s low-90s fastball at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College to turn in a recommendation prior to Draft Day in 2007, he didn’t make a strong enough case to convince his scouting director to make Hamburger one of the 1,452 players chosen in the draft.  

Even though Hamburger packed fewer than 200 pounds on his 6’4″ frame, which at least hints at projectability.  Even though the kid — who had gone 11-0, 0.65 and earned NJCAA All-Region, All-State, All-Division, and All-American honors the year before, in 2006 — was obviously signable, as his other option was reportedly a transfer to Wayne State in Nebraska, a program that has never had a player reach the big leagues.

Shortly after the native of Shoreview, Minnesota made the 15-mile drive with a buddy to the Metrodome for a Twins tryout camp in June 2007 and earned the only deal that the club gave to the 110 participants (which was probably no more than a plane ticket to Fort Myers, Florida), the 20-year-old fared well against teenaged hitters in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, posting a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings that were logged over eight appearances.  Among the dozen hits he allowed (.203 average) were three doubles and nothing more damaging, and he walked four while fanning 12, coaxing 1.85 as many groundouts as flyouts.

Still, in the 2008 edition of Baseball America’s annual Prospect Handbook, in which the publication’s top 30 prospect lists for each team are expanded to recognize a lot more minor leaguers than that, Hamburger’s name didn’t show up among the 71 Twins players who turned up in the book, 35 of whom were pitchers.  

But chances are Hamburger didn’t feel slighted in the least, given where he’d come from and where he’d gone, getting the chance to wear a uniform that he didn’t have to pay for that said “Twins” across the front.  Even if he was in Fort Myers wearing it.

As Hamburger, who waited tables at Champps in the off-season before reporting to spring training, told Seth Stohs of the Twins-centric SethSpeaks.net over the winter: “I would rather play for the Twins . . . than any other team in the Major Leagues.”  He earned an encore after that intriguing first summer.

Held back in extended spring training this season, Hamburger was assigned to the age-appropriate, short-season Appalachian League in June.  Despite having pitched in middle relief in 2007 (he got only one save opportunity and didn’t convert it), he was entrusted by manager Ray Smith with Elizabethton’s ninth-inning job.  In 14 save opportunities for the Twins this year, Hamburger nailed down 13 saves.

His ERA has jockeyed around the four-run mark all season, but if you zero in on the walks column you see something interesting, and hard to diagnose.  

In his first nine appearances this season, spanning 16 innings, Hamburger didn’t walk anyone, striking out 19.

In his next seven appearances, spanning nine innings, he issued 13 walks, striking out 11.

In the remaining 11 games he pitched for Elizabethton, spanning 11.2 innings, Hamburger once again walked nobody, striking out 10.

A closer look at that final game, and Hamburger’s usage before it, may help you get into his head a bit.

Hamburger never got to negotiate a Draft Day deal, may never have had an agent show interest in him, probably wakes up each day thinking about that day’s game, not about how soon he’ll get promoted and not about endorsement opportunities and not about organizational politics.  But even he had to think something might have been up when he got the call on Sunday to get loose.

Going into Sunday’s game, with his club nursing a five-game Appy West division lead, Hamburger had pitched 26 times this season.  Not once had he come in with the Twins behind.

In fact, the last time he’d entered a game in which his club was losing was more than a year ago, his seventh game as a pro, on August 15, 2007.  

Princeton extended its lead over Elizabethton on Sunday to 6-3 in the fifth inning, and Smith called on his third reliever to pitch the sixth, a fourth reliever to work a quiet seventh, a fifth reliever to breeze through three hitters in the eighth.  As the Twins were hitting in the bottom of the eighth, failing to close the 6-3 deficit, Hamburger was warming up.  

There’s no telling whether he knew there was a Rangers scout among the 922 in attendance, but he had to know something was going on when he was asked to get ready to pitch the ninth inning of a game that his team was trailing by three runs.

Texas placed Eddie Guardado on the revocable waiver wire sometime in the last three to five days.  Minnesota — who had reportedly tried trading for Guardado in July but balked when the Rangers asked for Brian Duensing or Jeff Manship or Anthony Swarzak (if not Boof Bonser or the currently rehabbing Tyler Robertson), says La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune — placed the prevailing waiver claim, opening a 48-and-a-half-hour window during which the Twins and Rangers could work out a trade.  

Whether Hamburger knew it or not, he was going to pitch on Sunday, whether Elizabethton was up 6-3, down 6-3, or getting run-ruled.

Hamburger made short order of the Rays, needing just nine pitches.  Setting the Rays down in order (extending a month-long walkless streak), he coaxed groundouts to his shortstop and second baseman and got his final out as a Twin by recording his 40th strikeout of the season.

The strikeout victim?  

Tim Beckham, who signed as the top pick in the nation two months ago for $6.15 million.  At age 18.  

He and Hamburger couldn’t have more disparate baseball backgrounds.

I’m not sure if Hamburger (who should have low wear on his arm given the part of the country he comes from) hit 96 on the gun — as Neal reports he did at least once — as Beckham swung through strike three, or if he got the uberprospect out on an increasingly dirty slider, but Hamburger is no longer the kid who was undrafted and signed with his hometown team out of an open tryout.  He’s now a guy who was just named the 10-team Appalachian League’s Closer of the Year and made the league’s post-season All-Star squad.  And a guy who was traded straight up for a former All-Star in a deal meant to help his former team get to the playoffs and win.

If you’re wondering what the cost would be to bring Guardado back to Texas this winter, should there be mutual interest, he stands to classify as a Type B free agent at best, meaning Texas (or whoever signs him) will not have to forfeit a draft pick to the Twins under any circumstances.  

In the meantime, Frankie Francisco gets his shot to claim the closer’s role, and Bill White comes up from Oklahoma to get key lefties out.

Amazingly, Guardado had all of one save opportunity in the three weeks since he closed out an 8-6 win over the Yankees on the day C.J. Wilson last pitched.

Could there be more on the trade front before Sunday’s deadline to freeze playoff rosters?  There are reports that Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Frank Catalanotto have cleared waivers (and that the Yankees expressed interest in Milton Bradley — without clarification as to whether he cleared waivers or was claimed by New York — but didn’t offer enough to persuade the Rangers to give up on the opportunity to either extend Bradley or collect two draft picks for him this winter), and those are three interesting names.  

Jim Molony of MLB.com speculates that Boston, reacting to Josh Beckett’s inflamed elbow (and tingling in his pitching hand), could be interested in Millwood or Padilla, but the Rangers surely wouldn’t dump either one without a significant return.  As for Catalanotto, he stands to lose signifi
cant playing time with the arrival of Nelson Cruz and the supposedly imminent return of David Murphy.  It stands to reason that any team offering a Hamburger-level prospect, possibly less, could acquire Catalanotto.

As for Hamburger himself, it may be true that he’d rather play for the Twins than anyone else, and who can blame him?  But he’s on his way to Clinton now, where he’ll pitch in Low A for the first time, moving from one playoff opportunity to another, and getting the chance to give Texas another strike-throwing power pitcher to groom in a late relief role.  He’s not a blue-chip prospect, but he’s also not a longshot, at least not nearly to the degree that he was a year ago at this time.

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

Guardado traded.

Texas has traded left-handed reliever Eddie Guardado to his original
club, the Minnesota Twins, according to MLB.com and the Dallas Morning
News.  No word yet on the return.

Because the Twins have acquired the 37-year-old before September, he’s eligible to appear for them in the post-season.

More when there’s an update to pass along.

Hanging in there.

Eric Hurley probably isn’t thrilled about the news that, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, he’s finished for the season, but the silver lining is that, after a solid showing in his first big league look, Hurley’s shoulder won’t be pushed over the final month and he can go into 2009 with an extra month of rest.

But tidbits like that, as a fan, do bring the finality of the season a little more into focus.  

Ian Kinsler’s injury — especially when it first appeared that it would put an end to his phenomenal year — felt like 2008′s catastrophic moment, just as much as the 19-17 loss in Boston that Texas suffered five days earlier.

Kinsler is this team’s engine, and maybe even those of us who lead the David Murphy charge didn’t appreciate how much of a lineup sparkplug he’s been as well.  

I’m looking forward to Kinsler’s and Murphy’s return to the club sometime in September, and how they revitalize the lineup.
 
I’m looking forward to more from Brandon McCarthy, who was far from flawless last night but who, after the first inning, showed more command and more presence on the mound, even if part of the tradeoff as far as his modified mechanics are concerned was a difficulty holding runners.

This is the time each year when you being to think about and look forward to a handful of deserving minor leaguers joining the club’s expanded roster for the final month.  But how many teams have a 40-man roster featuring only two players (Thomas Diamond, coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Julio Borbon, who signed out of college 53 weeks ago) who haven’t already contributed in the big leagues in 2008?

Stated another way, this might have been the time for us to ask whether we might be about to get our first looks at Hurley and Matt Harrison and Brandon Boggs and Max Ramirez, and maybe Taylor Teagarden and German Duran and Doug Mathis, who would be in line for 40-man roster addition this coming winter, and possibly even Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter, whose roster decisions would have been over a year away and over two years away but whose emergence has outpaced Rule 5.

But we’ve already seen all of them, in some cases because the organization decided they were better equipped to help than the veterans they displaced but in many cases because of the huge rash of injuries this team has withstood in 2008.  Injuries have completely changed what September roster expansion will look like.

But not nearly as much as injuries altered April, May, June, July, and August. 

Texas is in second place in the division and on pace for 79 wins.  How many more wins might there have been if injuries hadn’t robbed the Rangers of a month, maybe more, of Kinsler, a month of Gerald Laird, a month of Kevin Millwood, a month of David Murphy, several Vicente Padilla starts, two months of C.J. Wilson (more than that, if you take into account how long he pitched in pain), three weeks of Eddie Guardado, nearly four months of Hank Blalock, over four months of McCarthy and over three months of Kason Gabbard and over a month of Luis Mendoza, a month of Marlon Byrd, a month of Joaquin Benoit, three months of Hurley, Jason Jennings, a general hitting of the wall by the bullpen that five months of rotation issues have helped to bring on, and no disabled list time but what seems like a full year of day-to-day-ness of Milton Bradley?

Surely Texas would have a winning record had the club been forced to deal with an average year of health issues.

Amazingly, only seven players from the Opening Day roster who are still with the team have not spent time on the DL this year: Bradley, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Frank Catalanotto, Ramon Vazquez, Josh Rupe, and Jamey Wright.

A winning record obviously isn’t out of reach, especially with the possible returns of Kinsler and Murphy.  And who knows, maybe Nelson Cruz will give the club a lift against lefthanders in September?  Kameron Loe will be back, and the way he pitched twice in this last call-up, I’m eager to see more.  Teagarden or Ramirez will be back, and there will probably be another couple players added to the expanded roster as well.

I’ll be out there tonight, watching to see if Padilla can nail down his 13th win, and I still believe he’s the type of player who will have an even better 2009, pitching in what is virtually a contract year since Texas holds a club option for 2010.

I’m eager to see more of Davis at third base.  I still believe he starts at first base in April, but I think the media idea that he cannot play third is a little short-sighted.

I’d like to see Blalock tested at first base.  It can only be a good development if he can defend at that position like I bet he can.

I’ll be out there, hoping to see this team add another one to the win column, because I think a winning record and a second place finish, while not satisfying, will at least be progress. 

It’s still baseball season, a different brand than it was a month ago, but it is still baseball, and I’m not finished with it for the year.

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

 

Second chance at Kazmir?

In yesterday’s report, aside from the primary focus on Roy Halladay, I listed the names of Shawn Marcum, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Zach Duke, Edwin Jackson, Boof Bonser, and Brian Burres as young starting pitchers cited by our local beat writers as possible winter trade targets.  

Set all those names aside, even Greinke’s, and consider another.

Scott Kazmir.

In November, when the then-23-year-old was headed toward his first arbitration deal, I wrote this: “Eric Hurley, Taylor Teagarden, and Tampa Bay’s choice of Joaquin Arias or Omar Poveda.  The Rays won’t do it.  Would you?”

In January, the Rays and Kazmir avoided arbitration by settling on a $3.785 million contract for 2008.

On May 14, with Tampa Bay shockingly clinging to a half-game lead over Boston atop the AL East, the club agreed with Kazmir on a three-year extension with a club option for a fourth season: $6 million in 2009, $8 million in 2010, $12 million in 2011, and $13.5 million in 2012 (or a $2.5 million buyout).  

On May 26, I wrote this: “It may not be for a few years, but the Rangers could be in a position some day to do what they were almost able to do with Josh Beckett — use a deep farm system to come out ahead in an effort to get the best young pitcher (like Beckett, a Texan) available on the trade market.  I want that guy here.  

“There’s no question that if Texas can maintain the horizontal and vertical depth in prospects that it has right now, it will be able to compete with anyone when it comes to loading up for a blockbuster trade.  For a guy like Kazmir.”

Think the season the Rays have had makes Kazmir untouchable?

Consider this:

Over the same four seasons that Kazmir is guaranteed $28.5 million — $39.5 million if the Rays pick up the 2012 option — James Shields is guaranteed just $10.25 million ($15.25 million if the Rays pick up his 2012 option).  Tampa Bay can also control Shields in 2013 ($9 million option, $1.5 million buyout) and in 2014 ($12 million option, $1 million buyout).

The Rays control Matt Garza over those same four years before he’ll have the right to explore free agency.  If he continues to pitch the way he has this season, he’ll probably earn close what Shields is contracted to earn over those four years.

Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine have had solid seasons, but even setting those two aside, the Rays have blue-chip starters David Price, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Jeremy Hellickson all at AA or higher, not to mention Jake McGee, who had Tommy John surgery two months ago but remains a frontline prospect.

And this may surprise you.  Since Kazmir’s two dominant starts against Texas on May 26 and June 6, after which he stood at 6-1, 1.40 for the season, he’s had three quality starts in 13 times out, posting a 3-5, 4.37 mark in that span.  

Even with this amazing season, and regardless of how it ends, is it possible that the Rays entertain the idea of moving Kazmir this winter?  Unlikely (as is Toronto moving Halladay before he earns 10-5 rights about this time next year), but I’m not sure it can be ruled out.

Now, for the price.  Stealing a line from the great Will Carroll: “Trading with the Rays is like buying something for the person who has everything.”  They’re young, and with very few holes, now or in the foreseeable future.  And they’re notoriously difficult to deal with.

But you can be sure that, unlike Kansas City with Greinke, or San Francisco with Cain, or Pittsburgh with Duke, the Rays will eliminate the Yankees and Red Sox from the list of calls to return if they do decide to shop Kazmir.  There’s no chance Tampa Bay will trade the 24-year-old to either of the two teams they figure to battle with for playoff position for the next 100 years.

Elvis Andrus, Kasey Kiker, Andrew Laughter, and either Carlos Pimentel or Mitch Moreland.  

Wouldja?

Would they?

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

Halladay wishes.

There’s no dancing around it any more.  It’s becoming more and more clear what Action Item One is this off-season.  Consider the following:

1. Nolan Ryan, on Norm Hitzges’s radio show last week, suggested the objective in the off-season is to find a starter to front the rotation, stay healthy, and give the team 200 innings.  Two would be great, said Ryan, but that’s probably a longshot.  Asked whether the Rangers would consider trading some of their better prospects in order to get a solid young starting pitcher, Ryan said it’s something the club would certainly have to look at, as long as it didn’t put a void in the farm system.

2. Tom Hicks told reporters on Saturday that he’s disinclined, based on input from Jon Daniels and Ryan, to go out and offer a long-term, massive-dollar contract to a free agent starting pitcher on the wrong side of age 30, calling such a practice “the biggest gamble in sports.”  If Daniels and Ryan recommend action on a unique case, Hicks is open-minded, but it sounds like all three of them agree that free agency is not the first answer when the question is how to improve the rotation.

3. On Monday, T.R. Sullivan wrote in his MLB.com mailbag that among the young starters who could be available around the league are Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Zach Duke, Edwin Jackson, Boof Bonser, and Brian Burres.

4. Evan Grant suggested in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News “Inside the Texas Rangers” newsletter that Texas might be able to add two veteran starters this winter, one via free agency and one by trade.  On the trade front, he proposes that Kansas City, San Francisco, Toronto, and San Diego are potential matches.

5. Mike Hindman revisited his impressive study of where effective starting pitchers come from in a Morning News blog entry yesterday — and it’s not free agency.  They are drafted and developed, or traded for.  That’s a theme I’ve been pounding for years in this space, but Mike shows that every team would be wise to adhere to it.

6. To slam the point home, consider the case of lefthander Nate Robertson.  A relatively late bloomer, Robertson won 12 games in his first full big league season (2004), went 7-16 the following year, and posted a 13-13, 3.84 record in the Tigers’ magical 2006 season.  The arbitration process produced a $3.26 million contract for Robertson in 2007, and though he proceeded to produce a pedestrian 9-13, 4.76 record last year, Detroit chose to lock the 30-year-old this winter up on a three-year, $21.25 million deal.  

No discredit to Travis Metcalf, Brandon Boggs, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, and Milton Bradley, all of whom took Robertson (7-10, 6.09) deep in his 3.2 innings of work last night, but the veteran southpaw — who will pull down $7 million next year and at least $10 million in 2010 — is Exhibit A as to why spending free agent money on 90 percent of the veteran starting pitchers out there borders on foolish.  The system is set up so that pitchers rarely reach free agency until age 30 or very close to it, and for the vast majority of them, even the good ones start to level out at that age.

7. The strength of the Rangers’ farm system, considered for the last 13 months to be among the best in the league, is no longer found at the lower levels.  The system is loaded from top to bottom.

Piece it all together?

There’s a lot of reason to believe that there will be a trade for pitching this winter.  Possibly a big one.

Back in June, I suggested it might take a package of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, John Mayberry Jr., Eric Hurley, and Warner Madrigal to get the 24-year-old Greinke, who is 30-43, 4.45 in his five-season Royals career.  Many of you responded that I was out of my mind.

So what would it take to get 31-year-old Roy Halladay, who is set to make $14.24 million next season and $15.75 million in 2010?  Grant suggests that he or Shawn Marcum could be at the center of any discussions with Toronto — though Sullivan points out that there’s possibly a disconnect between the two front offices, evidently dating back to a disagreement as to the worth of Kevin Mench.  (Strange, if true.  Texas traded Mench to the Blue Jays for cash considerations in May.)  

Sure, Halladay’s career ERA in Rangers Ballpark is 6.14, and in Angels Stadium it’s 6.35, but never mind that.  This is a proven rotation horse, a guy who chews up innings, strikes out a ton more hitters than he walks, and wins games.  To borrow a scouting phrase: He’s what they look like.

I discussed that idea with Grant yesterday, and my thought was that the cost — if Toronto were truly willing to explore the idea at all — might look something like Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus, one of the Four Catchers, and someone like Beau Jones, Brandon Boggs, or Omar Poveda.  (A year from now, if Holladay is still with the Blue Jays, Justin Smoak enters the equation.  For now, would Mitch Moreland interest them as a fourth piece?)  The Blue Jays are less in need of left-handed relief than most teams, but maybe C.J. Wilson enters talks as well, though Texas would obviously be selling low on him given his health situation.  

Consider the points at the top, in reverse.

A strong, deep farm system, poised to attract any team shopping an impact veteran.

A way to get a pitcher who has proven to be worth the cost, with just a two-year guaranteed commitment.

Avoiding the free agent market.

A pitcher in his 30′s who qualifies as a special case.

Then there’s Ryan’s comments.  A starter to front the rotation.  A healthy one.  One who pounds innings.  One who, if acquired by trade, wouldn’t leave a void in our farm system.

That’s the question.  Would the 14-9, 2.64 Halladay fit here?  No question.  Probably better than any other veteran pitcher conceivably acquirable this off-season.  Healthy?  Yes.  Workhorse?  He leads the league in innings pitched (191), and it’s not close.  

Would it leave a developmental void?  I have no way of knowing whether Toronto would take Holland, Andrus, a catcher, and Jones or Boggs or Poveda — or if Texas would part with that package — but let’s think about what it would do to the system.

Holland (number nine on Baseball America’s Hot Sheet this week) is virtually untouchable, without question.  But to get a legitimate ace?  Nobody is untouchable.  

(And make sure to think about this from Toronto’s perspective.  If you dare trade Halladay, you can’t let the other team keep its best two pitching prospects, can you?  This is where that theory I’ve thrown out there a couple times the last few months comes in: I think it could be difficult to make an impact trade because of our prospect depth.  Let’s say the Jays would take this package, fronted by Holland.  Let’s also say that Texas didn’t have Holland or Neftali Feliz at all, and that Toronto would still make this same deal, only with Hurley at the top.  Does that mean the Rangers can get it done with Hurley rather than Holland or Feliz?  Doubt it.  Again, if you’re the Jays, how can you trade one of the game’s most dependable horses and allow the other team to keep any young pitcher off-limits?)

Andrus?  Another core prospect.  Can Joaquin Arias recover the arm strength to play shortstop every day?  Can Marcus Lemon be a full-time big league shortstop?  Is there a good reason that Jose Vallejo couldn’t slide over from second base?

Could Texas afford to move Saltalamacchia or Gerald Laird or Taylor Teagarden or Max Ramirez?  Of course they could, and they will.

Someone like Jones or Boggs or Poveda or Moreland?  Sure, in a deal like this.

Don’t get me wrong: Nobody is more excit
ed about Holland than I am.  I’ve seen Andrus do things defensively that no Rangers shortstop has ever done, and show an advanced ability to handle the bat despite being the youngest position player in the Texas League.  

But imagine where we are right now if Florida had chosen John Danks (or Thomas Diamond, depending on who you believe) and Hank Blalock for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, rather than Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, and another pitching prospect.  When you get the chance to add a number one — a Number One — you have to be willing to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t.

Things that could cost you your job if they don’t work, or bring you significantly closer to holding up a trophy if they do.

All that said, I don’t know if I’d make that hypothetical deal, primarily because I’d have to be convinced that the 31-year-old Halladay wouldn’t be starring in 2009 and 2010 for a team just coming together, primed to win big in 2011 when Halladay will no longer be under contract.  Is this the time to go get someone at Halladay’s career stage?  Beckett was 25 when traded.  Greinke will be 25 before the Winter Meetings.  Different situation.

But man, I’d think about it.  A lot.

If it’s even more than an Internet hallucination.

Lots of fans are griping about the plan to move Chris Davis to third base when Blalock returns tomorrow.  Do you remember that Mark Teixeira played 25 games in the outfield in his rookie season (2003) and seven more in his second season.  Really?

Don’t worry about the position switch.  It has nothing to do with Smoak, and everything to do with Blalock.

If Blalock puts up a 900 OPS like he did last year, or even an 800 OPS like he did much of this spring, then no matter what that leads to, this move will have been worth it.

Blalock has gone 6 for 12 with two doubles, two walks, and three strikeouts in his three rehab games for Frisco this week.  

Huge night for Hamilton, who fell a double short of the cycle.  I’m not sure if this means anything, but I’m also unsure that it doesn’t (thanks to reader April Lok for the catch): As a center fielder this year, Hamilton is hitting .274/.340/.492.  As a right fielder, he’s hitting .372/.416/.664.  (As a designated hitter, he’s nestled in between, hitting .302/.413/.623.)

I’m trying not to get too fired up about Brandon McCarthy’s start this Saturday.  I know it’s better to temper expectations and just see if he can handle Cleveland in his first big league start of the season after absolutely dominating Nashville and Omaha, two of the four weakest offenses in the 16-team Pacific Coast League.  

But I’m anticipating this start like it’s the big league debut of a blue-chip first-rounder who’s blown through the minor leagues.  A strong five weeks out of McCarthy would be the biggest story of the season’s final quarter, as this team begins to look to 2009.

If we could get a start like last night’s from Kevin Millwood once a month, I’d suggest that he doesn’t need to pitch 180 innings next year to lock up his 2010 option.  That’s what a pitching leader looks like, even if he’s not a classic number one.  Locate, pound the zone, mix up your looks, let the defense do its job, give the bullpen a night off going into an off-day.  Solid.

Ian Kinsler was leading the major leagues in hits and runs (102, in just three-fourths of a season) and the American League in total bases when he was placed on the disabled list on Monday with a sports hernia.  He was also second in the league in extra-base hits, doubles, and multi-hit games, fourth in hitting, and seventh in stolen bases.

The last leadoff hitter to lead the league in total bases?  Zoilo Versalles in his MVP season of 1965, 17 years before Kinsler was born.

Kinsler has actually amassed enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, whether or not he returns to action in September.  His .319 average currently trails league leader Joe Mauer (.324) and two others.

Joaquin Arias was hitting .375/.403/.641 in 64 August at-bats for Oklahoma when Texas called him up on Monday.  He’d fanned only four times in 15 games.  These six weeks are big for him.

The arthroscopic procedure on Wilson’s left elbow went well, with no complications, last Wednesday.  He should be ready for spring training, no longer hampered by bone spurs and chips.

Injured Oklahoma sluggers Max Ramirez (single, double, and walk in three trips) and Nelson Cruz (double and two walks in six trips) got their Arizona League rehab assignments underway yesterday.

RedHawks left-handed reliever Bill White in April: 7.00 ERA, .306 opponents’ average, 11/8 K/BB

In May: 5.40 ERA, .292 OBA, 13/4 K/BB

In June: 2.79 ERA, .212 OBA, 13/7 K/BB

In July: 2.13 ERA, .209 OBA, 17/7 K/BB

So far in August: 1.00 ERA, .138 OBA, 7/4 K/BB

The Rangers probably need to clear a 40-man roster spot in September not only for Cruz but also for White, who will be a free agent this winter otherwise, don’t they?  The 29-year-old still has command issues (his 30 walks have come in just 52 innings), but a lefthander who strikes out more than 10 batters per nine innings out of the bullpen is a commodity this team needs.  I don’t know how much of White’s steady 2008 improvement he’d credit Andy Hawkins for, but he probably needs another chance to show Texas whether he’s figured some things out.

Third baseman Johnny Whittleman, hitting .257/.370/.392 for Bakersfield (including .333/.390/.500 in August), has been promoted to Frisco.  The 21-year-old, whose 86 walks were eighth-most in minor league baseball last year, already has 81 bases on balls this season, tied for the sixth-highest total in the minors.

First baseman Ian Gac, in his sixth season but still just 23, is hitting .295/.373/.537 between Clinton and Bakersfield, with 30 home runs and 101 RBI.

Second-round pick Robbie Ross, whom Texas signed last week (paying the highest bonus any second-rounder in the league got), will not appear for a minor league club down the stretch.  He’ll instead report to fall instructional league next month in Surprise.

So will Tae-Kyeong Ahn, the 18-year-old righthander signed out of Korea earlier this month.

In addition to Smoak and Ross, Texas came to terms at the deadline with 33rd-round pick Ben Petralli, a catcher like his father, Geno.  The younger Petralli was drafted five times: in 2004 (Dodgers, 26th round) out of Weatherford High School; in 2005 (Tigers, 15th round), 2006 (Tigers, 17th round), and 2007 (Rangers, 47th round) out of Sacramento City College (where Geno played collegiately and where Ben caught Bakersfield lefthander Zach Phillips), and this year out of Oral Roberts University.  

I screwed up.  On Saturday, I suggested that Seattle will get a bonus pick in the first round next June for failing to sign 2008 first-rounder Josh Fields.  Not so fast.  Since Fields was a college senior, the August 15 deadline didn’t apply.  The Mariners will retain his rights until a week before the 2009 draft.

MLB and its umpires agreed yesterday on a plan to institute instant replay on a limited basis.  Installation of equipment is underway in all 30 ballparks.

Baseball America is rolling out its Best Tools feature.  In its survey of AAA coaches and scouts, Teagarden was ranked as the Pacific Coast League’s best defensive catcher.

Check out the Rangers’ radio and TV broadcasters Eric Nadel, Victor Rojas, Josh Lewin, and Tom Grieve blogging baseball at http://rangersannouncers.mlblogs.com/.  Good stuff.

Pittsburgh traded righthander Franklyn German to the White Sox for a player to be named later.  The Chico Outlaws of the independent Golde
n League signed righthander Kevin Altman.  The Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League signed lefthander Matt Smith.

The New York Football Giants placed running back Kay-Jay Harris on the waived-injured list.  The West Virginia University product was the Rangers’ 10th-round pick in 1997 (known then as Kevin Harris), hitting .186 in three pro seasons.

Scott Lucas has some must-see work posted on his blog at http://rangers.scottlucas.com/, including a rundown of all players in the Rangers’ system eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft if not protected on the 40-man roster, and some spectacular photos from Frisco, specifically, Holland’s and Feliz’s starts earlier this week.

Thanks to 12-year-old genius Grant Schiller for pinch-hitting for Scott the last two mornings on the minor league game recaps.

My new column for MLB.com, a weekly ranking of the top 20 prospects in the Rangers farm system, debuts on http://www.texasrangers.com later this morning.  Would love to hear your feedback.

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

Feliz no-hitter…sort of.

Frisco righthander Neftali Feliz has just thrown a no-hitter against San Antonio.

Sort of.

Feliz went five hitless innings and was lifted, having thrown 62 pitches.  (Recall that he’s been on a pitch count since late July, throwing 57, 58, 79, and 74 pitches in his last four starts.)  Trey Hodges came out for the bottom of the sixth, protecting a 7-0 RoughRiders lead, and got an out before rain delayed, and ultimately ended, the game.

I’m not sure whether the sixth inning counts statistically since the home team Missions didn’t get the chance to complete their at-bat, but if it doesn’t and the game rolls back to a five-inning contest in the books, then it’s presumably as if Hodges didn’t appear, and accordingly Feliz has fired a no-hitter.

But whether it’s a no-hitter, a combined no-hitter, or asterisked in some other way, who cares?  One of the best pitching prospects in baseball just added a notch.

Here’s the box score: http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?sid=milb&t=g_box&gid=2008_08_19_friaax_sanaax_1

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