November 2008

Foreign relation(ship)s.

According to NPB Tracker and Yahoo! Japan, Texas is one of several clubs in on 33-year-old Japanese righthander Kenshin Kawakami, and under the surface there’s some reason to believe the Rangers could have a competitive edge if the player’s demands square up with the organization’s evaluation.

Kawakami sports a lifetime 112-72, 3.22 record in 11 seasons with the Chunichi Dragons (including one [2003] in which his teammate was Akinori Otsuka).  In his career, he’s fanned 7.3 batters per nine innings and walked just under two per nine.  

One report says the crafty Kawakami features “the best cutter in Japan” and “exceptional control” of his low-90s fastball, though it lacks life, and mixes in a slow curve, a slider, and a relatively new forkball that has boosted his groundout rates.  The 5’10” “bulldog” is credited not only with good command but the type of tenacity that could make him a dependable back-of-the-rotation fit.  He did miss some time in September with back trouble.

In five relief appearances for Japan in the Beijing Olympics this summer, Kawakami posted a 4.70 ERA.  In the Bronze Medal game against Team USA, he surrendered a two-run double to Taylor Teagarden that busted up a 4-4 tie.

Interestingly, Kawakami’s agent is Dan Evans, who was the Dodgers’ General Manager from October 2001 through February 2004.  During his entire tenure in Los Angeles, among those who worked for Evans in baseball operations were A.J. Preller and Don Welke.  During that same time period, the Dodgers’ big league pitching coach was Jim Colborn.

That’s Preller, the Rangers’ Director of Pro and International Scouting.  And Welke, Senior Director of Baseball Operations.  And Colborn, Director of Pacific Rim Operations.  Basically the franchise’s front line as far as Far East talent acquisition is concerned.

Stay tuned.

Kawakami has a blog at http://kk11.jp/top.html.  You might enjoy it.  If you can read Japanese.

I found this interesting: Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been playing every day for Escogido since arriving in the Dominican Winter League in mid-November, working two games out of every three at catcher, and the third at either DH or first base (with either Miguel Olivo or Danilo Sanchez catching on those days).  

Saltalamacchia was home for Thanksgiving, during which Escogido played four times.  Olivo caught the first three of those games, Sanchez the fourth.

Saltalamacchia returned to the Leones today, and of course manager Luis Natera immediately got his smoking bat (.435/.594/1.043 coming into Sunday) back in the lineup.

But rather than assuming his spot behind the plate, Saltalamacchia played first base, and Olivo caught.

Who knows?  Maybe Natera didn’t want to thrust Saltalamacchia back into the more demanding defensive duties after a four-day layoff.  Maybe there’s been a sudden directive to have Olivo catch on days his Royals organization-mate Dusty Hughes is pitching, which has been the case the last two times Hughes has been given the ball (though Saltalamacchia caught Hughes the time before that, Sanchez the time before that, and Anthony Recker the time before that).

Maybe Olivo, as a hitter, owns Licey righthander Matt Wright — though Wright is Royals property as well.

And maybe — most likely — there’s no story here at all.

But hey, it’s a week before the Winter Meetings, which is journalistic and bloggy turf for speculation wherever it can be shoehorned in.  

Saltalamacchia, incidentally, struck out three times before doubling in the decisive run in the eighth inning of a 4-1 Leones win, which qualifies as a deep winter league slump for the 23-year-old switch-hitter.  

Righthander Dustin Nippert didn’t pitch for Licey in the game (and hasn’t in eight days), but he’s been solid when he has gone to the mound, going 2-2, 3.48 in seven starts, yielding 30 hits (one home run) and 18 walks in 33.2 innings and striking out 33.  League opponents are hitting .236 off the 27-year-old and are grounding out 1.34 times as often as they fly out.

Outfielder Julio Borbon, coming off a solid .287/.404/.425 Arizona Fall League campaign that featured a walk for every five at-bats — nearly four times the rate he’d posted at Bakersfield and Frisco in 2008 — has shown up for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League.  In his first two at-bats in that league (on Friday), he doubled (past Azucareros center fielder Ramon Nivar) and tripled, eventually coming around to score both times.

One local journalist got to the bottom of the discrepancy between the Texas and Boston reports of the trade return for Wes Littleton.  The Rangers reported it as one player to be named later or cash, the Red Sox two players to be named later or cash.  According to the local scribe, as we guessed on Friday, the ultimate return could depend on whether Littleton (who is out of options) makes Boston’s Opening Day roster — which could net Texas one or two players — or doesn’t — which might result in the Rangers receiving one player but more likely means the trade will be consummated by a transfer of cash.

Teams must decide whether to offer arbitration to their free agents by Monday night.  Texas is expected to tender an offer to Milton Bradley, which means he’ll get a one-year contract if he accepts by a week from today and, if he doesn’t, the Rangers will get a compensatory supplemental first-round pick if he signs elsewhere (since he’s a Type B free agent).  No surprise with this news.

The Rangers are not expected to make arbitration offers to Ramon Vazquez, Jamey Wright, or Jason Jennings, none of whom were classified as Type A’s or Type B’s and thus would not entitle Texas to draft pick compensation.  

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports speculates that if Kerry Wood doesn’t find a multi-year deal he likes, he could accept the Cubs’ offer of arbitration, but that Chicago could turn around and trade him (and his one-year commitment) to a team such as Texas.

Ken Davidoff of Newsday notes that the Mets have asked about catcher Gerald Laird this off-season, just as they did last year.

Want to get fired up for Texas Rangers baseball 2009?  Click: http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/tex/fan_forum/excitement_video.jsp#excite_video

Nine very solid minutes.

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

Wii.

One of the more dangerous hitters that Erica and Max have created on Wii baseball is a dude named “Mac,” but even Mac can’t put up the video game damage that Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Angels first baseman Kendry Morales are inflicting on the Dominican Winter League.

Current stats for the Gigantes del Cibao teammates:

Cruz            .426/.476/.870, seven home runs and 25 RBI in 14 games (last three games: 9 for 13, four HR, 15 RBI); seven walks and six strikeouts in 54 at-bats

Morales        .418/.472/.785, six home runs and 18 RBI in 20 games; eight walks and nine strikeouts in 79 at-bats

I couldn’t be happier, in either case.

Littleton to Boston.

Texas has traded righthander Wes Littleton to Boston for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
 
No, the PTBNL will not be Clay Buchholz.

=============================

For what it’s worth, the Boston press release indicates that the trade considerations owed by Boston actually call for *two* players to be named later, or cash.

Also, in checking on Littleton’s career numbers against the Red Sox, he’s faced them only three times, twice in Fenway Park, and has a 6.00 ERA any way you break it down (home, away, overall).  In Fenway, Boston hit .273/.429/.364 against the 26-year-old, a really good guy who is out of options and joins a club that already has veteran relievers Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and David Aardsma, plus lefthanders Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez, on board.

By rule, Texas and Boston have six months to complete the deal.  Jon Daniels told reporters that it’s a trade that might not be completed until close to Opening Day, which suggests the return could be dependent on Littleton’s success in making the Boston roster and avoiding a designation for assignment.

 

The Daily Saltalamacchia & Tazawa Report.

The
Dominican Winter League took Thursday off in observance of Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Day. 

 

(Or
maybe for some other reason.)

 

According
to Chad Finn & Daigo Fujiwara of the Boston
Globe
, the Kyodo Wire service out of Japan is reporting this morning that 22-year-old
Japanese righthander Junichi Tazawa has in fact declined offers from the Rangers
and Braves, confirming speculation that he intends to sign a three-year contract
with the Red Sox, with an official announcement expected Monday.  High on the list of factors, if not foremost,
is Tazawa’s desire to team up with his idol Daisuke Matsuzaka, who hails from
the same hometown of Yokohama.

 

If
it’s raining where you are, too, and you’re planning to knock out some holiday
shopping at your computer today, you’ll be shocked to learn that I have a
couple ideas for you:

 

1.  Take care of your Rangers-loving family and friends with a
shiny new Newberg Report Bound Edition. 
The book costs $25, which includes shipping, and it will ship around
December 8 (or you can pick yours up at the December 10 Book Release Party at
Sherlock’s in Arlington).

 

If you buy at least two 2009 books – one for you and one for
someone on your holiday gift list – you will get a free copy of any previous
year’s edition (your choice).

 

A gift set of all ten years of the Bound Edition is
available for $125, which is a $35 discount.

 

To order, you can pay by credit card at www.PayPal.com,
sending payment to the gjsneaker@sbcglobal.net
account.  That should take about 30 seconds, or even less if you go to http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp
and click the “Pay with PayPal” button.

 

Or you can send payment by check or money order to:

 

Jamey Newberg

Vincent & Moyé, P.C.

2001 Bryan Street, Suite 2000

      Dallas, TX
75201

 

2.  Doing some holiday shopping at Amazon.com?  If you click the Amazon link on the top of
any page on www.NewbergReport.com first,
any purchases you then make at Amazon will kick a small referral fee to the
Newberg Report (at zero cost to you), which we’ll use to help upgrade our
website features.

 

Thanks.  Hope you and your family had a great Salty
Day.

 

 

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

Power.

As
you see a red flag pitched onto the field today and settle in for 20 minutes of
booth review suspense, if your turkey-tired thoughts wander to the Rangers’
need for a boost in right-handed power, check this out from last night’s winter
ball action:

 

Venezuelan Winter League

Cardenales de Lara 22,
Tiburones de La Guaira 20

 

Tiburones
DH Max Ramirez doubles in the first inning.

 

Singles
in the third.

 

Lines
out in the fifth.

 

Flies
out to the opposite field in the sixth.

 

Walks
in the seventh.

 

Hits
a two-run home run in the ninth.

 

Ramirez
is hitting .265/.368/.541 in 98 VWL at-bats, with seven home runs in 26 games.

 

Dominican Winter League

Gigantes del Cibao 21,
Tigres del Licey 13

 

Gigantes
right fielder Nelson Cruz hits a grand slam in the first inning.

 

Hits
a three-run homer in the third, off a different pitcher.

 

Singles
in the fifth, off a different pitcher.

 

Walks
in the sixth, off a different pitcher.

 

Singles
in a run in the seventh, off a different pitcher.

 

Grounds
out to second in the eight, off a different pitcher.

 

Draws
a bases-loaded walk in the ninth, off a different pitcher.

 

Overall
on the night: 4 for 5 with two walks, nine RBI, three runs scored.

 

Cruz
is hitting .400/.458/.800 in 50 DWL at-bats, with six home runs in 13 games.

 

Have
a great day.

 

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

Solstice.

Since we last visited, Jarrod Saltalmacchia has played three more Dominican Winter League games – last night at first base, interestingly – going 4 for 11 with a home run, a double, and three walks (though 0 for 3 in gunning would-be basestealers down).  

He’s now sitting at .435/.594/1.043 in 23 Escogido at-bats.  Among his 10 hits are two doubles and four home runs, and he’s drawn nine walks while fanning only four times.  He’s 0 for 5 against lefthanders.

While Boston appears on the verge of signing 22-year-old Japanese righthander Junichi Tazawa, moving its top-end pitching prospects further down the depth chart (and presumably higher on the trade availability list), the club is also ramping up efforts to sign Jason Varitek.  With the Winter Meetings two weeks away, the Rangers-Red Sox talks could come to a head in Las Vegas.

If the Red Sox re-sign Varitek, don’t assume that that would eliminate their interest in adding a young catcher like Saltalamacchia.

Eric Ortiz of NESN suggests that if Boston signs Mark Teixeira and moves Kevin Youkilis to third base permanently, the club could try to move Mike Lowell to the Rangers along with a young pitcher for Saltalamacchia.  Lowell is owed $12 million in each of the next two seasons and has no-trade protection in his contract.  Love Lowell (right-handed power, solid defense, makeup), but a huge Boston infusion of cash into such a deal would be necessary, obviously.  If Texas is going to bust significantly out of budget this winter, it will be for pitching.

A local writer says Texas isn’t interested in San Diego’s Kevin Kouzmanoff or Cincinnati’s Edwin Encarnacion as a third base solution.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says the Mets and Braves are not interested in Kevin Millwood or Vicente Padilla.

One local columnist thinks outfielder Greg Golson, whom Texas acquired from Philadelphia last week for John Mayberry Jr., “may soon be a piece in an upcoming trade for pitching help.”

Milwaukee gave Jason Bourgeois a minor league deal.  San Diego’s Grady Fuson hired Adam Bourassa, whom he drafted while with Texas (sixth round, 2003), to work as an area scout for the Padres.

Tuesday: news of Rick Adair’s imminent departure for Seattle and the final episode ever of “The Shield.”  

It was great – great – while it lasted.

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

Mariners raid in the works?

According
to at least one local reporter, the Mariners are interested in hiring Rangers
minor league pitching coordinator Rick Adair to join new manager Don Wakamatsu’s
staff. 

 

A baseball blog
called Prospect Insider suggests Adair would be targeted to serve as bullpen
coach, while the Mariners are also expected to pursue Dom Chiti, currently a special
assistant to Atlanta GM Frank Wren, to serve as pitching coach, as well as Rangers
minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator Wayne Kirby as first base
coach and former Rangers minor league field coordinator Mike Brumley as third
base coach.

 

The idea of
Adair in particular being hired away – while virtually inevitable at some point
given the job he has done in overseeing the explosive development of pitching talent
on the Rangers’ farm – gives me a stomach ache. 
It would a terrific career move for Adair, but with Andy Hawkins already
moving from AAA pitching coach to big league bullpen coach, the loss of Adair
would equate to the loss of a second key pitching instructor from the organization’s
minor league structure. 

 

The same
local report that cites the Adair note also suggests that the Padres have asked
Texas for
permission to speak to Victor Rojas about their vacant TV play-by-play job.  The Rangers have not confirmed the San Diego request.  Same thing: Good for Victor, not good for us.

 

Finishing
up with a more encouraging note: Asked by a Baseball
America
reader to comment about the Rangers’ catching depth on the farm
behind the players who have already gotten to the big leagues, executive editor
Jim Callis began his answer with this: “The Rangers have the best farm system
in baseball . . . “ 

 

Callis
doesn’t decide alone what organization the publication will soon anoint as
having baseball’s number farm system, but at least we know what his vote is
going to be.

 

Jamey

 


 

Tazawa update

The Japanese baseball-centric website NPBtracker.com reports that, according to various Japanese media sources (namely, Nikkan Sports, Mainichi, and Sponichi), 22-year-old righthander Junichi Tazawa is “set to sign with the Red Sox,” possibly as early as a week from today. 

Pair this with the usual grain of salt.

The website reports that Tazawa has received the following offers (all major league contracts — which just means 40-man roster inclusion rather than a guaranteed April assignment to the big league club):

    *  Boston: 3 years, $3 million
    *  Seattle: 3 years, $3 million
    *  Atlanta: 4 years, $4-5 million
    *  Texas: 4 years, $7 million

Jamey

Rangers make lucrative offer to Tazawa?

According to a local report, citing a story out of Tokyo, 22-year-old Japanese righthander Junichi Tazawa has received a multi-year contract offer from Texas that exceeds any other offer he has received, both in dollars and length of term.  Tazawa has generated a lot of print lately for his trailblazing decision to pursue a major league career and his success in talking every Japanese baseball club out of selecting him in this year’s draft for that reason.  

Tazawa had reportedly received a $6 million offer from Boston (rumored in different places to be for either two or three years) late last week, and the Red Sox are still thought to be the frontrunners, according to the story.  A couple online sources are reporting this morning that Tazawa has in fact decided to sign with Boston and will do so in December.

Tazawa has also reportedly received offers from Atlanta and Seattle (interest from Philadelphia, Detroit, and Cleveland evidently did not rise to the level of concrete offers), but the Texas offer is apparently more lucrative than any of them, including Boston’s.  

Tazawa’s Nippon Oil manager, Hideaki Okubo, was present at the meeting with the Rangers and was quoted in the Tokyo article to say that Tazawa will make a decision within three or four days, adding: “It seems to me that Tazawa does not necessarily need to meet any further teams.”  Chances are this all means we’ll learn this week that Tazawa is going to Boston.

Think about this, though: as we discussed on Thursday, Boston has Daisuke Matsuzaka under contract through 2012, Josh Beckett under contract through 2010 (assuming the club option is picked up), and Jon Lester under control through 2012, plus Tim Wakefield on a year-to-year option, Justin Masterson thought to be a rotation candidate now that the Red Sox have acquired set-up reliever Ramon Ramirez, and A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe possibly on the Boston radar as well.  

The addition of Tazawa – even though he’d almost certainly begin his stateside career in the minor leagues – should make Clay Buchholz (and Masterson, Michael Bowden, and Nick Hagadone) more likely to be available in trade.

Stay tuned.

Jamey

Saltalamacchia en fuego.

According to this morning’s Hoy Digital (Republica Dominica):

“El refuerzo norteamericando Jarrod Saltalamacchia sacó la bola del parque en dos ocasiones y Abraham Nuñez agregó su primer jonrón de la temporada para que los Leones del Escogido se impusieran 13-5 a las Estrellas Orientales, en el estadio Tetelo Vargas.

“Saltamacchia disparó su primero en la misma primera entrada con dos hombres en base y agregó su segundo en el noveno con un hombre en base para terminar con cinco impulsadas y dos hits, además de cuatro boletos.”

According to this morning’s El Caribe:

“El estadounidense Jarrod Saltalamacchia conectó dos cuadrangulares con cinco impulsadas, y el derecho Julio Mateo lanzó cinco episodios de dos anotaciones, para conducir a los Leones del Escogido a un triunfo 13-5 sobre las Estrellas Orientales, en la jornada del viernes del campeonato de béisbol invernal dominicano.

“Saltalamacchia conectó su primer “tetrabase” con dos embasados en la primera entrada, frente al abridor Vladimir Núñez, y disparó  su segundo en el noveno con uno a bordo.”

According to this morning’s Listin Diario:

“Jarrod Saltalamachia descargó dos jonrones kilométricos y remolcó cinco carreras y los Leones del Escogido del Escogido quebraron una racha de cuatro derrotas, tras imponerse anoche a las Estrellas Orientales 13-5 en el estadio Tetelo Vargas.

“Saltalamachia conectó un jonrón de tres carreras por encima de la verja del jardín central en la primera entrada, coronando un rally de cinco y en el noveno también sacó la bola del parque con uno en base, disparando otro palo enorme entre los jardines central y derecho y agregó a eso cuatro pasajes grati que recibió.”

According to the industrious Jason Parks of BBTiA.com, here’s what those three online outlets are evidently telling us:

Saltalamacchia hit two more home runs last night for Escogido, driving in five runs, and he drew four walks.

That would raise his four-game Dominican Winter League numbers to .500/.667/1.333 (6 for 12 with a double and three home runs, plus six walks), with at least two would-be basestealers gunned down out of three.  On Tuesday, Saltalamacchia’s first night behind the plate for Escogido, Kendry Morales stole second base on Saltalamacchia’s watch.  On Wednesday, Saltalamacchia threw both Erick Aybar and Jake Fox out trying to swipe second.

There are other notes I could tack onto this report, but I’d rather not.  This one deserves to stand on its own, whether the Rangers’ priority is to see Saltalamacchia seize catcher tandem duties with Taylor Teagarden in 2009 or to hold the line in trade talks with the Red Sox (or whomever else) until they give us what we want for the 23-year-old switch-hitter.  

Saltalamacchia is obviously healthy again and, man, is he producing.

Don’t make too much of four games.

Unless you feel like it.

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

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