Stuff.

Sometimes the agate type nudges us with a familiar name, reminding us that the train never slows down and that some players, in spite of the prospect rankings and minor league All-Star and even MVP honors, are fortunate to get that chance to jump aboard, and even more fortunate if they’re able to stay on half as long as we might have envisioned when they were having their way in the minor leagues.  In the last few days, Toronto designated outfielder Kevin Mench for assignment and the White Sox ran infielder Jason Bourgeois through waivers and outrighted his contract to AAA.

Other times the agate type quietly says a lot more.  Just a few days ago the transactions wire offered this:

Los Angeles Angels:  Purchased the contract of righthander Rafael Rodriguez from Double-A Arkansas.  Sent righthander Darren O’Day outright to AAA Salt Lake.

The interesting part is not that O’Day was outrighted after blazing through the Angels’ system to win an Opening Day spot in their bullpen in his second full pro season.  He suffered a torn labrum late in the year and is a question mark for 2009.  What caught my eye was the purchase of Rodriguez, a 24-year-old who posted a 1.86 ERA in his third run at AA hitters this year, followed by a 6.28 ERA after a late-season promotion to AAA.

There’s nothing about Rodriguez’s performance in particular that stands out.  He doesn’t have six fingers on each hand, as far as I know.  I don’t think he pitched in France or defected from Cuba.  But he was originally signed in 2001.

Why does that matter?

Because of his service time, if the Angels had waited until November to put him on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, that might have been too late.

Los Angeles learned that important lesson a year ago, when the club tried to add Warner Madrigal to the roster on November 6, nine days after the World Series had ended.  

In other words, nine days after Madrigal had earned six-year free agency rights.  

And several days before Texas opportunistically signed the converted outfielder, coming off a huge breakthrough season on the Class A mound.  

The Angels had every intention last summer to put Madrigal on the roster after the season, but by submitting the paperwork on November 6, they were asking for a procedural reassignment on a player that, as of one year ago today, they no longer controlled.

The Angels, I suspect, are the last team these days who would unwittingly fail to put a six-year-plus minor leaguer on its 40-man roster before the end of the World Series.  By adding Rodriguez to the roster on October 20 — two days before this year’s World Series even began — they made very sure that they weren’t going to lose another young reliever due to a paperwork screw-up.

Baseball America, evaluating a 2008 Rangers draft crop that added depth to what it says “may be baseball’s best farm system,” issued the following assessments yesterday:

BEST PURE HITTER: 1B Justin Smoak (1B Clark Murphy, OF Mike Bianucci, 1B/OF Jared Bolden, and OF Joey Butler also recognized)

BEST POWER HITTER: Smoak (whose “prodigious power from both sides of the plate” and Gold Glove-caliber defense trigger a Mark Teixeira comp)

FASTEST RUNNER: OF Rafael Hill

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Smoak (C Doug Hogan also recognized)

BEST FASTBALL: LHP’s Robbie Ross and Tim Murphy, and RHP’s Joe Wieland, Matt Thompson, and Justin Gutsie (with a nod to Wieland as the best bet to separate himself in this category)

BEST SECONDARY PITCH: Ross’s hard slider or LHP Corey Young’s 11-to-5 curve

BEST PRO DEBUT: Wieland, Clark Murphy

BEST ATHLETE: Butler, Hill

MOST INTRIGUING BACKGROUND: C Ben Petralli (unsigned picks RHP Jack Armstrong and OF John Ruettiger also noted)

CLOSEST TO THE MAJORS: Smoak, Young, Tim Murphy

BEST LATE-ROUND PICK: Butler, Young  

THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY: “The Rangers, who went over slot to sign Smoak, Ross, Clark Murphy, Thompson and Bianucci, also made a serious run at both Armstrong and 3B Harold Martinez.”

Lots of good stuff in the feature, which is available online if you have a BA subscription.  Which you should.

Of all the arbitration-eligibles that Florida has, the three that Miami reports suggest the Marlins are shopping most aggressively are lefthander Scott Olsen, right-handed reliever Kevin Gregg, and first baseman Mike Jacobs (a low-average, .514-slugging DH-type heading into his first arbitration winter).  There’s an argument that any of those three could fit here, to varying degrees, and the Marlins need a catcher.

So stay tuned.

But also recognize that the analysis is not whether we have a catcher who can fetch what Florida is offering (and of course there are other pitchers on that club worth chasing).  It’s whether Jon Daniels chooses the right trade partner — or partners — to reallocate the Rangers’ unique depth behind the plate to improve the club’s pitching inventory.

We’ve now read in the past couple weeks, incidentally, that Boston made a trade offer for Gerald Laird last winter (Boston Globe) and for Taylor Teagarden in July (Boston Herald) and that some in baseball operations for the Red Sox covet Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Boston Globe).  

It’s going to be a fascinating Rangers winter, maybe in no case more so than in terms of the league-wide interest in the Rangers’ catchers.

A website that covers Japanese baseball reported last week that the Hanshin Tigers “are planning to aggressively pursue” outfielder Nelson Cruz this offseason.  Doubt Texas would be interested in moving Cruz at this point, especially in a cash move.

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman suggests that the “Phillies, Yankees, Blue Jays, Mets, Orioles and Rangers are all seen as potential suitors” for Manny Ramirez.  

Nah.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if Scott Boras said so.

Heyman also says the Mets, Rangers, and Indians are looking at left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes, and suggests that Texas might be among the American League clubs that righthander Jake Peavy has already indicated he wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause for.  

Still no word out of Milwaukee whether Mike Maddux will return as pitching coach — the Rangers (who don’t yet have Doug Melvin’s permission to interview Maddux) obviously have serious interest or else they would have named someone else pitching coach by now — and that surely won’t be settled until the Brewers name a new manager.

Kenny Rogers wants to pitch at age 44 in 2009.  He’s a free agent.

Not a whole lot of impact stuff in this report, but the general manager meetings begin in six days in Dana Point, California.  There’s going to be a lot of trade groundwork laid — if not trade activity itself — during those four-day meetings.  

That’s when it’ll be time, as a Rangers fan, to buckle up.

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

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