December 2008

My top 72 Texas Rangers prospects.

 

My
top 72 Rangers prospects, as laid out (with detailed commentary on each player)
in the 2009 Bound Edition – which was released less than four weeks ago but has
already had more copies sold than any of the previous nine books, thanks to you
all:

 

 

1. Derek Holland, LHP

 37. Zach Phillips, LHP

2. Neftali Feliz, RHP

 38. Johnny Whittleman, 3B

3. Justin Smoak, 1B

 39. Manny Pina, C

4. Michael Main, RHP

 40. Tomas Telis, C

5. Elvis Andrus, SS

 41. Jared Hyatt, RHP

6. Taylor Teagarden, C

 42. Joseph Ortiz, LHP

7. Martin Perez, LHP

 43. Jake Brigham, RHP 

8. Max Ramirez, C

 44. Geuris Grullon, LHP

9. Engel Beltre, OF

 45. Joaquin Arias, IF

10. Blake Beavan, RHP

 46. Chad
Tracy,
1B-OF 

11. Julio Borbon, OF

 47. Andrew Laughter, RHP

12. Neil Ramirez, RHP

 48. Mark Hamburger, RHP

13. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP

 49. Mike Ballard, LHP 

14. Eric Hurley, RHP

 50. Mike Bianucci, OF 

15. Kasey Kiker, LHP

 51. Kyle Ocampo, RHP 

16. Wilmer Font, RHP

 52. Tim Smith, OF 

17. Omar Poveda, RHP

 53. Jose Felix, C

18. Jose Vallejo, IF

 54. Brennan Garr, RHP

19. Tommy Hunter, RHP

 55. Matt West, 3B

20. Joe Wieland, RHP

 56. Joey Butler, OF 

21. Mitch Moreland, 1B-OF-LHP

 57. Evan Reed, RHP

22. Tim Murphy, LHP

 58. Leonel De Los Santos, C

23. Kennil Gomez, RHP

 59. Glenn Swanson, LHP

24. Robbie Ross, LHP

 60. Miguel De Los Santos, LHP

25. Doug Mathis, RHP

 61. Ben Harrison, OF

26. Fabio Castillo, RHP

 62. Richard Bleier, LHP

27. Cristian Santana, OF

 63. Josh Lueke, RHP

28. Carlos Pimentel, RHP

 64. Ian Gac, 1B

29. Clark Murphy, 1B

 65. Steve Murphy, OF

30. Thomas Diamond, RHP

 66. David Paisano, OF

31. John Mayberry Jr., OF

 67. Michael Schlact, RHP

32. Marcus Lemon, 2B

 68. Emerson Frostad, C-IF

33. Renny Osuna, IF

 69. Juan Polanco, OF

34. Beau Jones, LHP

 70. Jared Bolden, OF-1B

35. John Bannister, RHP

 71. Tanner Roark, RHP

36. Corey Young, LHP

 72. Reinier Bermudez, RHP

 

 

A few notes:

 

Only players who still have rookie
eligibility were considered, which is why Chris Davis, Matt Harrison, and
Warner Madrigal, for example, don’t show up.

 

Free agents at the time I went to
print (examples: A.J. Murray, Brian Gordon, Bill White, and Kendy Batista) were
not considered.  Neither were Pedro Strop
or Greg Golson or Guillermo Moscoso or Carlos Melo, each of whom was acquired too
late to include in the book’s rankings. 
(Similarly, John Mayberry Jr. shows up on the list.)

 

Neither was 27-year-old righthander
Casey Daigle, the veteran of 20 big league appearances for Arizona whom
Baseball America
reports has signed a minor league deal with the Rangers.  If there wasn’t already enough pressure on the
two-year-old son of Casey and his wife – the Most Famous Softball Pitcher in
the World Jennie Finch – the couple named him
Ace Shane Daigle.

 

Twenty-three-year-old righthander
Ryan Tatusko was eligible, but he wasn’t mad enough about the snub to refuse to
carry the torch lit by Spike Lundberg in 2000 and later passed on to John
Hudgins, C.J. Wilson, Jason Andrew, and most recently Michael Schlact.  Ryan, who pitched for Spokane
in 2007 and Clinton
in 2008, has agreed to write a Minor Leaguer’s Diary for the Newberg Report.  He’ll kick it off as spring training gets
underway, and if you’ve ever met Ryan, you know this is gonna be good.

 

I was the only one among all the national
publications and local papers and blogs to have Chris Davis number one this
time last year (see http://rangers.scottlucas.com/site/08prospects.htm
for a rundown of everyone’s rankings).  I’m
not going to be alone having Derek Holland number one this year, but I’ll be in
the extreme minority. 

 

To me, the first tier of this group
goes seven deep.

 

And yet you could probably make an
argument that the players who sit at eight, nine, 10, and 11 could conceivably be
the number one prospect in some other organization.

 

There are lots of reasons to get
excited about the names on this list.  Here’s
one we don’t talk about enough: With the notable exception of Justin Smoak, who
one year from now could find himself on lists of the best 10 prospects in
baseball, notice that every player in the top 20 above fits the “strength up
the middle” model.

 

The biggest jumps from my Top 72 a year
ago are Martin Perez (from 55 to 7), Derek Holland (40 to 1), and Wilfredo Boscan
(39 to 13), three pitchers who didn’t appear on
BA‘s top 30
list or anyone else’s list this time last year. 
Who could make that dramatic a leap in 2009, moving from column two to
the top half of column one? 

 

Tough to predict, of course, since
not an inning has been played since I decided to put the column two players in
column two, but let’s go with Richard Bleier, Tomas Telis, Mike Bianucci, and
Tim Smith, plus two righthanders who weren’t on my list at all – Melo (who was
acquired in the Gerald Laird trade but probably would have landed somewhere in
the late 30’s for me) and Matt Thompson, the 2008 seventh-rounder whose
8.1-inning introduction to pro ball (11.88 ERA, .481 opponents’ average, seven wild
pitches) was rough but whose upside began to show itself at Fall Instructs.

 

Happy New Year to you and those
close to you.  Thanks for helping make
2008, for me, easily the most rewarding year yet for the Newberg Report. 

 

 

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

 


Clay Buchholz, all the time.

According to Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci, Boston  – after losing out to the Yankees on Mark Teixeira – engaged Florida in some level of dialogue over the last few days regarding Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez (who of course was originally Red Sox property before the Josh Beckett trade three winters ago).  The discussion reportedly centered on righthander Clay Buchholz, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and “others” (I presume including Jed Lowrie and Lars Anderson).  Talks, however, according to Heyman and Verducci, have broken off, as Florida isn’t inclined to trade one of the game’s best young players.

This means one of two things:

1.  The reason Boston has refused until now to discuss Buchholz with the Rangers is that he was a necessary component of any serious offer for Ramirez.

2.  Nothing.

Thank you.

The only thing that has been annoyingly beaten into the ground more than the
Boston media’s coverage of the possibility of a Red Sox-Rangers
pitcher-for-catcher trade this winter has been my incessant, uninvited ranting
about the football team I care about.

But other than a suggestion that
Jerry Jones could add another chapter to his legend by firing some people before
halftime ends, I have nothing left to say about the Cowboys season, other than
they have done me a huge favor today by laying down and spitting up, making way
for the anticipation of a season where the players don’t underachieve so
lifelessly, and predictably.

Plus, the words “overmatched,”
“undisciplined,” “pathetic,” and “nauseating” are worn out beyond recognition on
my keyboard.

Forty-eight days, friends.  Forty-eight days.

Thinking ahead seven months.

I was thinking the other day, after reading Jon Daniels’s acknowledgment in a local column that it’s a realistic expectation for this club to contend in 2010, that if the Angels, stripped of Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez, come back to the pack a bit in 2009, and if the improving A’s aren’t quite there yet, and if the Mariners are still trying to figure out who they are, the expiring guarantees belonging to Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Marlon Byrd, and Hank Blalock could play out in one of two ways, the first of which we’ve all already thought about.

Yes, if Texas finds itself in a longshot position or worse in July, any of those four should be in greater demand at trade deadline time than they were a year ago, as the two righthanders will have less than $6 million payable each plus the prospect of draft pick compensation if their club wants to risk an arbitration offer (assuming, of course, that they don’t choose to pick up the pitchers’ respective $12 million options for 2010, which in Millwood’s case automatically vests if he reaches 180 innings in 2009); Byrd should also be a compensation player as he enters his first winter of free agency (he would have been a Type B this winter); and Blalock, if healthy, could be one of those valuable left-handed power bats that have July value every year, at about $2 million and with likely draft pick compensation attached.

On the other hand, with all four essentially playing for new contracts (the last time they were in that position, Millwood won an ERA title and Padilla won a career-high 15 games), and the prospect of players like Chris Davis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden and Nelson Cruz and Max Ramirez and pitchers like Matt Harrison and Eric Hurley and Warner Madrigal each taking the next step in what could be his first full big league season, which is to say nothing of the possibility that Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus and Thomas Diamond and John Bannister and Tommy Hunter and Beau Jones and others could make an unexpected impact, who knows what could happen in this division?  

A full, healthy year out of Ian Kinsler and David Murphy.  Michael Young playing without two broken fingers.  Josh Hamilton staying strong in the second half.

And what if Ben Sheets is here?  

The thought that occurred to me when reading the Daniels comment was that, come July, if the standings call for it, Texas could be in a position to go get an impact arm or a bat at the trade deadline, obviously having as much prospect ammunition as any club in the league.  

So I checked, eager to make a list of this summer’s C.C. Sabathia’s and Mark Teixeira’s and Casey Blake’s.

It doesn’t look like as strong a class this summer.

Among starting pitchers, the best — John Lackey (who could sign a long-term extension this winter), Rich Harden, and Brett Myers — are with teams likely to be in contention, looking to add rather than subtract.  If Erik Bedard finds his form again and if Justin Duchscherer repeats, you can include them, but even if Seattle and Oakland were willing to trade within the division, the more important question is whether Texas would be willing to pay a division rival the high price in prospects it would take to land either one of them, and surely the answer is no.

Todd Wellemeyer?  Doug Davis, coming back home and reuniting with Mike Maddux?  OK.  But neither one is a guy who figures to pitch Game One or Game Two of a playoff series.  Jose Contreras, Brandon Backe.  Meh.

Brandon Webb, Cliff Lee, and Josh Beckett each have club options.  Forget it.

There are some interesting relievers (Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Hideki Okajima, Jose Valverde) and hitters (Vladimir Guerrero, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, Rick Ankiel, Adrian Beltre, Hideki Matsui), but several of them won’t be traded and others like Holliday and Beltre fall into the same category as Bedard and Duchscherer, likely taking the Rangers out of the mix.  You want to make Justin Smoak an Athletic or Mariner?  No thanks.

But maybe that’s a blessing.  With no Sabathia to be tempted to trade Smoak, Hunter, and Joe Wieland for, maybe you instead add a Wellemeyer for Omar Poveda, Kyle Ocampo, and Cristian Santana, or Davis for Bannister, Zach Phillips, and Tomas Telis.  And then pull in another haul of draft picks by offering arbitration to some of Millwood, Padilla, Wellemeyer or Davis, Byrd, and Blalock, with the expectation that they decline the offer and sign a multi-year deal somewhere else.

And then there’s that flip side.  A relatively weak 2009-10 free agent class means a relatively weak July 2009 trade market, and if the Rangers are positioned to be sellers rather than buyers, Millwood and Padilla and Byrd and Blalock — if healthy and productive — could be more valuable then than they are now.

Getting ahead of myself, I know.

Daniels told the same columnist that he predicts that Hurley will win a spot in the big league rotation out of camp.  Daniels added that Diamond is a candidate to break camp in the Rangers bullpen, but would work as a starter for Oklahoma City if he doesn’t make the club.  

There are probably still too many free agent starting pitchers still on the market to expect Millwood or Padilla to be drawing serious interest right now (though one local reporter suggests Milwaukee has approached Texas with an interest in starting pitching), but Teixeira’s decision to sign, by a number of accounts, could make Blalock a player in trade talks now.  According to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, for example, the Orioles, losing out on Teixeira, have discussed Blalock and free agent Eric Hinske as fallback options.

Randy Johnson signed a one-year contract with San Francisco.  Could that make the Giants more likely to consider a deal with Texas centered around Blalock and lefthander Jonathan Sanchez?  With a rotation headed by Tim Linecum and Matt Cain, plus Johnson and Barry Zito — and the possibility that Noah Lowry is healthy again — that’s a team poised to win now but with needs in the lineup, with the best opportunity to do that at an infield corner (with Pablo Sandoval able to play first or third, whichever slot isn’t addressed).  

And here’s the other thing.  Even though Johnson’s deal is for just one year, Lincecum and Cain and Zito are in place for at least three more seasons each (barring an unlikely trade of one of the two righthanders), and blue-chippers Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson are on track to arrive in 2010, give or take.  Trading Sanchez (who can’t be a free agent until after the 2012 season) is probably an inevitability, and for Giants GM Brian Sabean it becomes a matter of timing, not unlike what Texas was faced with at catcher for the last year.  The addition of Johnson and Lowry’s health situation could make the timing right to trade Sanchez for offense now, and there have been reports since the summer that Blalock has piqued San Francisco’s interest.

The Rangers have not yet made an offer to Sheets.

Saltalamacchia’s Dominican Winter League run is over.  He comes back home with a final Escogido pinball-machine line of .364/.506/.848 in 66 at-bats, with almost as many home runs (nine) as singles (10), and more walks (17) than strikeouts (13).  Mixed reviews on his defense, though more accounts were positive than not.  And the switch-hitter continued to show a lopsided split, hitting .158/.273/.368 against lefthanders and .447/.587/1.043 against righties, and while that might seem to set up a straight platoon with Teagarden, it’s unusual to see that with catchers since their pairing with certain starting pitchers frequently takes precedence over who they’d be facing that day.

Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe suggests that Teixeira’s decision not to sign wit
h Boston could lead the Red Sox to seek more offense at catcher than they might have otherwise, and she pinpoints Saltalamacchia and his winter production in the discussion.

Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News writes that the Rangers (and Angels, A’s, and Braves) could discuss with the Yankees their interest in moving two of Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher, and Hideki Matsui.

Texas is not interested in bringing Sammy Sosa back.

Word out of Chicago is that Mark DeRosa is available but Minnesota can’t satisfy the Cubs’ need for a left-handed outfield bat.  Do you trade Murphy for DeRosa?  I’ve said more than once that I’d love to have DeRosa back here, to play third base in 2009 and then all over the field beyond that, but if he were to have another year at age 34 like he did in 2008 (.285/.376/.481, 30 doubles, 21 home runs, 87 RBI), then you might not be able to prevent him from exploring free agency a year from now for one last, multi-year opportunity to play every day.

Brian Hoch of MLB.com suggests that Andy Pettitte could entertain the idea of pitching for the Rangers or Astros if the Yankees decide not to meet his price.

Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker reports that Akinori Otsuka will throw for big league scouts in Arizona in January.

R.A. Dickey signed a minor league contract with Minnesota.  The Twins waited until after the Rule 5 Draft to do so this year, after signing the knuckleballer to a minor league deal a week before the draft last winter, only to lose him to Seattle.  The Mariners wanted Dickey back this winter but he felt he had a better chance to contribute in Minnesota.

This is as close to complimenting the Rangers as Gerry Fraley can manage:  “Five organizations did not lose a player [in any phase of the Rule 5 Draft]:  Arizona, Boston, Oakland, Texas and the New York Mets.  Those clubs are either low on minor-league talent or did a great job of protecting what they have.”

Great article by MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan on the Great Grant Schiller: http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20081223&content_id=3727322&vkey=news_tex&fext=.jsp&c_id=tex  

Colorado hired Scott Fletcher to be its roving minor league infield coordinator.

The Rangers made a number of changes in the organization’s scouting staff, the most prominent of which was the promotion of Jake Krug from Manager of Baseball Operations to East Coast Crosschecker, replacing Doug Harris, whom Cleveland hired away to become a pro scout.  The Rangers promoted two of their own into pro scouting roles, area scout Russ Ardolina and Spokane pitching coach Mike Anderson.  

The organization also hired Jay Heafner to serve as a Northeast area scout.  The 24-year-old was the Rangers’ 23rd-round pick in 2006 out of Davidson College in North Carolina (where he was a .448-hitting third-team All-American shortstop, class salutatorian, and student body president).  In two minor league seasons, he hit .245/.316/.328 for Spokane and Clinton.  

Texas also hired Pedro Avila to serve as Venezuelan Scouting Supervisor.  He was instrumental in the Mariners’ signing of Felix Hernandez as an amateur.  Joel Ronda was hired to scout in Puerto Rico after doing so previously for the Dodgers (at a time when Don Welke was a senior scouting advisor for the club) and Cardinals.  

I’m late on getting you the Baseball America rankings of the Rangers prospects.  Here goes.

BA’s assessment of the organization’s best tools:

Best Hitter for Average      Max Ramirez
Best Power Hitter         Justin Smoak
Best Strike-Zone Discipline     Justin Smoak
Fastest Baserunner         Greg Golson
Best Athlete             Greg Golson
Best Fastball             Neftali Feliz
Best Curveball             Martin Perez
Best Slider             Warner Madrigal
Best Changeup             Derek Holland
Best Control             Derek Holland
Best Defensive Catcher         Taylor Teagarden
Best Defensive Infielder     Elvis Andrus
Best Infield Arm             Elvis Andrus
Best Defensive Outfielder     David Paisano
Best Outfield Arm         Greg Golson

Nice to see that a lefthander who touches 98 is touted for having the best control and the best changeup in the system.  

If Golson really is faster than Jose Vallejo and has a stronger arm than Engel Beltre, I’m suddenly a lot more interested.

BA’s projected 2012 lineup:

Catcher          Taylor Teagarden (same as last year’s 2011 projection)
First Base         Justin Smoak (last year: Saltalamacchia)
Second Base     Ian Kinsler (last year: Young)
Third Base         Michael Young (last year: Davis)
Shortstop         Elvis Andrus (same)
Left Field         Julio Borbon (last year: Beltre)
Center Field     Engel Beltre (last year: Borbon — interesting)
Right Field     Josh Hamilton (same)
Designated Hitter Chris Davis (last year: Kinsler)
No. 1 Starter     Neftali Feliz (last year: Hurley)
No. 2 Starter     Derek Holland (last year: Feliz)
No. 3 Starter     Martin Perez (last year: Main)
No. 4 Starter     Michael Main (last year: Beavan)
No. 5 Starter     Matt Harrison (last year: McCarthy)
Closer         Blake Beavan (last year: Kiker)

There’s a ton of good stuff in the Rangers feature, written by Aaron Fitt.  You should check out the AL West issue, which is on bookshelves right now.

BA executive editor Jim Callis also revealed his own list of baseball’s top 10 prospects this week, and Feliz is number five (behind Tampa Bay lefthander David Price, Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, and Oakland lefthander Brett Anderson and righthander Trevor Cahill, and ahead of Tampa Bay shortstop Tim Beckham, Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer, Boston first baseman Lars Anderson, Toronto outfielder Travis Snider, and Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas).

More prospect ranking talk next time.

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

Everything happens for a reason.

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We’re caught up.  We’d
started “Lost” in the spring, committed to watching every episode, from Season 1
through Season 4, before the 2009 season arrived.  We finally got it done on
Tuesday, the same day that Mark Teixeira signed with the New York
Yankees.

 

For us, like for Jack
and Kate and rest of the O-Six, and for Teixeira, deliverance took awhile.  But
this isn’t the end of the story.  All it means is that we’re ready for what’s
next.

 

It all led to Tuesday,
but we’re just getting started.

 

C’mon, man: The Island
moved.

 

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Who knows where this all
goes from here?

 

I think we all knew it
would probably go this way, with Teixeira landing with the most storied
franchise in American sports, the franchise of his boyhood idol Don Mattingly
(too bad number 23 has been retired) and of his father’s high school buddy Bucky
Dent.  Legacies are made in Yankee Stadium.

 

Getting Boston and Washington and the Angels in the mix helped
Teixeira get the number he got, but I’m not sure it was strictly about money. 
If the Nationals had offered $20 million more over the life of the contract (and
Boss Jr. didn’t match), would Teixeira have signed with Washington instead of New York?  $40 million?  I’m not so
sure.

 

Teixeira’s career path
is following Jason Giambi’s in more ways than one.  Besides replacing Giambi at
first base and in the middle of the lineup, Teixeira – like Giambi – made his
way to New
York as soon as the Collective Bargaining Agreement
permitted, set to spend the prime of his career in pinstripes.  Giambi didn’t
win a World Series in his six-and-a-half years in Oakland or his seven in New York.  Teixeira hasn’t in his six years in
Texas, Atlanta,
and Anaheim. 
Will his eight years as a Yankee include a title?  He and Alex Rodriguez are in
the same boat now.

 

My hatred for the
Yankees is as strong as it’s ever been.  Short of Max suiting up for them one
day, I’ll never be able to pull for them.  I’m still a Mark Teixeira fan, and
the team he plays for doesn’t change that.  I have plenty of respect for Derek
Jeter and Mariano Rivera, too.  But I absolutely love seeing that team lose -
and by “lose” I mean failing to win the World Series.  With the way that team is
allowed to operate, anything short of a championship amounts to catastrophic
failure.

 

I wrote this on May 8,
2007:

 

Of course, I hate that my team seems to be
behind the eight ball the minute the lineup cards are exchanged with that team. 

 

But that hatred is merely on the level of
my distaste for peanut butter, jogging, reality TV, and the decision to let
Steve Nash go.  It’s nowhere near the hatred I have for the Evil Empire (not the
players, but the team), whose authorized tilt of the playing field makes it so
easy to crave for them to fail miserably, by which I mean to fall short of
reaching the World Series.  Because it’s plainly inexcusable for a roster like
that not to be one of the last two standing, every single
year.

 

Second to the elation I’ll feel when
Texas next makes the playoffs will be the next
time that New
York doesn’t.

 

I’m happy for Teixeira
because I think he’s gotten himself (out of our division and) where he always
wanted to be.  But at the same time, I hunger for Yankee
losses.

 

Final offers,
reportedly:

 

Yankees: eight years,
$180 million

Red Sox: eight years,
$168 million

Nationals: eight years,
$178-184 million (and an apparent willingness to go to nine or even 10
years)

Angels: eight years,
$160 million

Orioles: seven years,
$150 million

 

And the Rangers: eight
years, $140 million – and that was a year and a half ago.  It was a solid offer
to a player still a year short of free agency, and a smart decision by Teixeira
to turn it down (without a counteroffer, incidentally). 

 

And of course, it was a
good thing, in retrospect, for Texas that Teixeira declined it.  Would you
trade Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, and
Beau Jones – right now – for eight seasons of Teixeira at $22.5 million per
year?  Of course not.

 

As for all those columns
talking about how disgusting New
York’s lineup is now, sure.  But . . .

 

Would you trade
Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden for Jorge
Posada?

 

Ian Kinsler for Robinson
Cano?

 

Josh Hamilton, Marlon
Byrd, David Murphy, and Nelson Cruz for Melky Cabrera, Xavier Nady, Johnny
Damon, and Nick Swisher?

 

Hank Blalock and Max
Ramirez (less than $7 million combined) for Hideki Matsui ($13
million)?

 

Michael Young ($16
million) for Derek Jeter ($20 million)?

 

And think about this one
a minute before answering:

 

Would you trade Chris
Davis ($400,000) for Teixeira ($20 million)? 

 

Mark Teixeira will make
50 times more than Davis in 2009.

 

Fifty times.

 

And in
2010.

 

And in 2011, unless by
that time Texas locks Davis – who is represented
by Scott Boras – up on a long-term deal that takes care of his arbitration years
and maybe a year or two of free agency.  (I won’t start wishing yet for
Davis to be a
Ranger for life, though I’m hopeful that he’s thinking along those
lines.)

 

Look at this
line:

 

40 doubles, 36 home
runs, 121 RBI, 331 total bases, .290/.378/.541

 

And this
one:

 

47 doubles, 34 home
runs, 111 RBI, 328 total bases, .285/.331/.549

 

The first is Teixeira’s
162-game average for his career.

 

The second is Davis’s 162-game average, extrapolated from his half-season
in Texas last
year.

 

I’m not suggesting we
have the same player here that the Yankees just shelled out $180 million for
(despite the minor league comparisons between the two that are all over the 2009
Bound Edition), but all things considered, do you want five years of control
over a 22-year-old Davis, or the 28-year-old Teixeira at the contract he just
signed?

 

There are more than 25
teams out there that presumably would have matched the Yankees’ $180 million
offer if their answer to that question would have been Teixeira. 

 

Can you name one club
that wouldn’t take Davis right now, whether they could have
Teixeira at his price or not?

 

Don’t get me wrong. 
Teixeira was one of my favorite players when he was a Ranger, and the day it
struck me that he wasn’t ever going to extend long-term here was a sad day. 

 

But while I’ll concede
the third base side-by-side, of course, looking at the rest of the starting nine
I won’t concede that New
York’s $126 million group is a better one than the
Rangers’ $30 million lineup. 

 

Yes, there’s that
pitching thing.  We’re working on that (the right way – by developing it).  But
the point of this is not that Texas should be
considered right there with New
York in terms of contention for a 2009
pennant.

 

On paper we’re not the
Yankees – nobody is – but as has been the case the last eight seasons, those
paper championships in New
York haven’t won them a
thing.

 

Peter Gammons points out
that the Yankees now “have the highest-paid first baseman, the highest-paid
third baseman, the highest-paid shortstop, the highest-paid catcher, the
highest-paid starting pitcher and the highest-paid reliever in the history of
the game.”  The praise they’ll get for being World Series champions should pale
in intensity to the embarrassment of being anything else.

 

I wish the best for
Teixeira, but he’ll understand if all his old teammates and fans here in Texas
look forward to every year in which he and his Who’s Who teammates fail to raise
the trophy that the Yankees are trying to buy.

 

 

lost_Widmore.jpg

   

lost_nyy.jpg

     

 

 

 

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

The Westing Game.

It stands to be a quieter day than it was one year ago today, when Texas traded a resurrected Edinson Volquez and 45th-round find Danny Ray Herrera for Josh Hamilton, a player whose beta at the time may have been greater than that of any baseball player in recent memory.

It was a unique trade the day it was made but even more so six months later, as Volquez and Hamilton’s explosions made the deal one of the great win-wins in a generation of trades marked mostly on one end or the other by contractual issues or mid-summer pennant volleys.

With apologies to Garza-Bartlett-Morlan for Young-Harris-Pridie, pretty much gone are the days of the good old-fashioned baseball card-esque trade.  Even the three-team deal involving J.J. Putz, Aaron Heilman, and Franklin Gutierrez earlier this month had more filler in it than punch.

I still remember pulling trays of baseball cards off the shelf when I was eight years old the minute I heard this, in December 1977:

The Rangers trade Adrian Devine, Tommy Boggs, and Eddie Miller to the Braves; a player to be named later and Tom Grieve to the Mets; and Bert Blyleven to the Pirates, getting Al Oliver and Nelson Norman from the Pirates and Jon Matlack from the Mets.  

(The Braves also sent Willie Montanez to the Mets as part of the trade, and the Mets shipped John Milner to the Pirates, and to make things even more awesome for a kid like me, Montanez and Milner were traded for each other four years later.)  

I remember hoping that player to be named wouldn’t be someone like Bump Wills or Len Barker or Claudell Washington.  Actually, hope isn’t the right word.  I was worried.

And then relieved, when on March 15, 1978, Texas sent inconsequential outfielder Ken Henderson (one of those players whose card seemed to litter almost every pack of Topps I opened) to the Mets to complete the really cool trade.  

Two weeks ago I threw myself back to that time in my life, not so much out of intent as out of desperation.  I’d signed up months ago to read to Erica’s class on a Friday in early December, an automatic ritual for me for both of our kids since their pre-school days.  But Erica’s in third grade now, and she’s reading chapter books.  Not only could I not remember how long it’s been since I’ve actually read to her at home, I couldn’t figure out what type of book I could read to her and her friends that would approach keeping their attention for a fraction of the 20-minute block — and just as crucial, I had to come up with something that wouldn’t embarrass her.  Not too childish, not too boring, not too uncool.

I polled a couple dads who’d already read to the class this year, and was bummed that I did.  The ideas they’d come up with were right on the money, and the eight- and nine-year-olds in the class would never let me get away with recycling them.

So I decided that since I couldn’t come up with an idea that I was sure would entertain the kids, I’d fight through those 20 minutes by at least entertaining myself.  I pulled from the shelf at home my favorite book ever — one that I first read when I was Erica’s age.  I wasn’t at all sure how Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” would hold up 31 years later, but I was prepared to give it a shot, unable to come up with a better plan.

It was a home run.  After reading parts of Chapters Six and Seven to Erica and her class, six of her friends rushed up to the front at the end of our time together to make sure they had the title right so they could tell their parents they needed to add one more thing to their holiday wish lists.

That was a good day.  The first time I read “The Westing Game,” Reggie Cleveland was closing games for Texas, and Mike Hargrove was leading off.  Texas had just made that Grieve-Blyleven-Oliver-Matlack trade, and I’m sure the names Samuel W. Westing and Otis Amber and Theo Theodorakis were still as fresh in my mind as the theme song to “The Rockford Files,” or the sound of Darth Vader’s breathing, or the words to “We Will Rock You,” or the image of the 1977 Topps Robin Yount, bunting for a hit.  Reading the book again two weeks ago (admittedly, not my first time to pick it back up, but probably the first time in 20 years), just saying the words “Alexander McSouthers, doorman,” and narrating Edgar Jennings Plum’s reading of the rules to the Game from the Westing will, took me way back.

Back to a time when the name “Pulaski” meant painted crutches and Polish shorthand, rather than Sixto Urena, Chris O’Riordan, and Charlie Bilezikjian.

The lull in Rangers activity over the last week or two, to the alarm of some columnists (either forgetting or ignoring the confirmed fact that the Rangers and Reds exchanged more than a dozen different trade proposals over a period of weeks before settling on Volquez and Herrera for Hamilton a year ago), doesn’t bother me, because I know how hard this front office works, how many balls are being juggled at any given time.  The general columnists and talk show hosts and anchors who shape more baseball opinions than they should, in a market where the real baseball writers are finding their job security endangered, don’t value patience (or exploit the sense that the casual sports fan doesn’t), but trying to grade an off-season based on what happened or didn’t over four days in Las Vegas is sort of dumb.

Texas didn’t come away with Hamilton at last winter’s Meetings.  But they laid groundwork then for the trade that was made on December 21, and unquestionably laid plenty of groundwork at this month’s Meetings, too.  Take a look at a list of all of Jon Daniels’s major off-season trades and free agent signings since he became general manager.  Almost all of them have happened late in December, or in January.  After the Winter Meetings.  His restraint and his patience are calculated.  Ours should be, too.

Grade this off-season on Valentine’s Day.

Every year when we make our trip to Clear Lake for the holidays, I bring a new book.  Aside from the relaxation of being away from home and from work and being with family, these few days come annually at a time when I’ve just finished writing the Bound Edition and shipping hundreds of them out.  It’s a break that I really look forward to each year, and reading something that has nothing to do with the practice of law or with baseball is part of my routine.

This year, inspired by those 20 minutes in Erica’s class on December 5, I brought “The Westing Game” to Clear Lake.  I read it yesterday, cover to cover.  When I read it in 1978, at Erica’s age, the biggest stress point in my life was probably making sure I got home in time from boring back-to-school shopping to catch all of Jon Miller and Frank Glieber’s TV call of that doubleheader sweep in Cleveland (3-2 and 6-5, with Doc Medich and Steve Comer getting the wins).  I miss not having anything more important to worry about.

But I also make sure to devote one corner of my brain these days to relative trivialities like Jon Leicester signing with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, Kevin West signing with the independent Winnipeg Goldeyes, Brian Gordon leading the Venezuelan Winter League in ERA, and Pittsburgh naming Matt Walbeck its new AA manager and P.J. Forbes its new High A manager and Gary Green its new Low A manager.  

And to reading a book written for eight-year-olds, before handing it over to my own eight-year-old to read herself, after which she and I can talk about it.  

It will take her more than a day.  Maybe more than a month.  But I’ll be patient.

I might even have a Rangers trade to write about in the meantime.  And I might not.

The pace isn’t nearly as important as the result.

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

Stuff.

Not a lot of time today, which is not so problematic since there’s not a lot of news to write about, but there are a few things I didn’t want to get stale.

There was word a couple days ago that the Rangers have entered the mix for two free agent righthanders, starter Tim Redding and reliever Derrick Turnbow.  This follows news on Monday that Texas is one of a large number of teams in on righthander Daniel Cabrera, who was non-tendered last week by Baltimore.

Boston has reportedly withdrawn from the Mark Teixeira hunt, despite widespread speculation over the last week that the club had emerged as the favorite to land the free agent first baseman.

I’ll believe Boston is out of it when Teixeira signs with someone else, and not before that.

Which actually means “signs with someone else,” as opposed to “exchanges terms sheets with someone else.”  If you need some entertainment today, let Google guide you to a story or two about Atlanta president John Schuerholz’s reaction to Rafael Furcal’s last-minute decision to back out of a verbal agreement with the Braves and instead re-sign with the Dodgers.

Max Ramirez homered twice in Venezuelan Winter League action Wednesday night, adding a double and driving in seven runs while lifting his season numbers to .277/.364/.587 in 41 games.  Ramirez’s 12 homers are one short of the league lead, and his 45 RBI are also second in the league despite the fact that he has significantly fewer at-bats than anyone else in the top seven.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has homered in two straight Dominican Winter League games.  He now sits at .349/.494/.841 with nine home runs in 63 at-bats, plus 17 walks to go along with 13 strikeouts.  Saltalamacchia is tied for second in the league’s home run race — the two hitters he’s tied with each have more than twice as many at-bats.  (Everyone trails former Rangers outfielder Victor Diaz, who has gone deep 17 times in 180 at-bats.)

Nelson Cruz, who has one fewer homer than Saltalamacchia, is hitting .362/.417/.638.  

Josh Hamilton has declined an invitation to play in the World Baseball Classic.  Sounds like a mature, focused decision.

The minor league deals that Texas gave lefthander Joe Torres and righthander Brian Gordon included invites to big league camp.  Torres, at the moment, stands to compete, chiefly with Kason Gabbard, for the second southpaw spot in the bullpen behind C.J. Wilson.  

Cincinnati signed outfielder Laynce Nix to a minor league contract, with plans to give him an opportunity to win the fourth outfielder job (replacing Ryan Freel, whom the Reds traded to Baltimore).  Nix’s deal is for $600,000 if he makes the big club and contains incentives that could pump it up to as much as $1.1 million.  

Seattle signed first baseman Chris Shelton to a minor league contract.

The Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League named Phil Nevin manager.

Philadelphia signed outfielder Kevin Mahar to a minor league contract.

Baltimore outrighted catcher Guillermo Quiroz.

Righthander Jason Davis and lefthander Les Walrond will pitch in Japan this year.

You can go here to see artists’ renditions of the various Rangers Ballpark changes announced this week:
http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/tex/photogallery/year_2008/month_12/day_16/cf3719465.html

Will Carroll said the following in a Baseball Prospectus chat, when asked who among Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, and Milton Bradley would end up as the Rays’ designated hitter in 2009: “I’d rank them in precisely the opposite order you did.  I’d be very curious to see whether Dunn would respond to Joe Madden’s style.  Speaking of Bradley, I had a long but off record conversation with Ron Washington where I came away amazingly impressed with Washington.  There are people in the game (and in life) that just have ‘it’ and Washington is one of them.”

Finally, the great John Sickels has posted 24 of his top 25 Rangers prospects at http://www.minorleagueball.com/, seeking message board input on who number 25 ought to be.

Before you read the following, you need to know how tough a grader Sickels is.  In last year’s Baseball Prospect Book, he gave 17 players in all of baseball an “A” or “A-” grade.  That’s all.  About half a player per team.

He and I have some significant differences on the ranking, starting with who should be number one, but what fascinates me about this list is the top three grades.

The Sickels list, with his player comments:

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

1) Neftali Feliz, RHP, Grade A: I don’t give out Grade A’s lightly, especially to pitchers.  I might go down to A-.  [For what it's worth, Sickels handed A's out to five minor league pitchers in all of baseball a year ago, with two others getting an A- grade.]

2) Justin Smoak, 1B, Grade A-: I like him better than [Yonder] Alonso and [Eric] Hosmer, and frankly I can’t believe the Rangers got him.

3) Elvis Andrus, SS, Grade A-: Should I go with B+ here?  Athletic, very young for Double-A, I think the [Edgar] Renteria comparisons are apt and Andrus could be better.

4) Derek Holland, LHP, Grade B+: He’s great, but I worry that sometimes a step backward can follow such a breakout.  Can he maintain late-season velocity?

5) Taylor Teagarden, C, Grade B: Excellent glove with power, could hit anywhere from .230 to .280 though.

6) Julio Borbon, OF, Grade B: I was too hard on him last year, and I buy into the idea that he can refine his game.

7) Engel Beltre, OF, Grade B: Read the comment below.

8) Michael Main, RHP, Grade B: Impressive Midwest League performance, and if instructional league reports are accurate he is primed for a huge breakout.

9) Max Ramirez, C-1B, Grade B: I love this bat.  Glove might not be QUITE as bad as everyone says, but it isn’t good enough for him to rank higher.

10) Martin Perez, LHP, Grade B-: Very young, very high ceiling, will need time.

11) Kasey Kiker, LHP, Grade B-: Almost reduced to C+ but something is holding me back.  Not sure what, need to think about it.

12) Neil Ramirez, RHP, Grade C+: Almost a B-. Another young pitcher with breakthrough potential.  Another changeable grade.

13) Guillermo Moscoso, RHP, Grade C+: Nice pickup from the Tigers.  Durability and role are issues.

14) Kennil Gomez, RHP, Grade C+: Breakthrough candidate if his arm is OK.  I think he is right up there with some of these other guys who get more press.

15) Blake Beavan, RHP, Grade C+: Loss of velocity is disturbing, but other skills got better.

16) Wilfredo Boscan, RHP, Grade C+: Yet another breakthrough candidate.  Low-A is gonna be loaded in ’09.

17) Tim Murphy, LHP, Grade C+: Nice pick from 2008 draft, could advance quickly as an inning-eater if his command is there.

18) Wilmer Font, RHP, Grade C+: Huge upside, could easily rank as high as 12 if you prefer youth.  Worried about injury nexus and command.

19) Tommy Hunter, RHP, Grade C+: He was rushed, but could still be a nice strike-throwing inning eater.  Could rank as high as 12th if you want guys close to the Show.

20) Eric Hurley, RHP, Grade C+: Worried about health here.  I held onto him too long as a higher-ranked prospect, but could do better with a change of scenery.

21) Robbie Ross, LHP, Grade C+: Young high school pick with no pro track record yet.

22) Omar Poveda, RHP, Grade C+: In danger of getting lost in the shuffle, but still interesting.

23) Joe Wieland, RHP, Grade C+: Sleeper high school arm from ’08 draft, breakthrough candidate.

24) Jose Vallejo, 2B, Grade C+: Speedster added some pop t
his year, good glove at second.

*     *     *
 
SYSTEM IN BRIEF:

   The Rangers have three of the best prospects in baseball, several others who project as major league regulars, and a whole bevy of Grade C+ type guys, some of them breakout candidates for higher grades next year.  I love the way they have run this farm system in recent years: they have mixed raw and polished talent in the draft, and have made a big push in Latin America.  The Rangers are looking at every source of talent: college, high school, other countries, guys with tools, guys with skills.  The result is a system with both depth and breadth, and the future of this organization is quite bright.

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

Sickels adds that Feliz will “probably” end up as his number two pitching prospect in his book, behind post-season hero David Price.

You should buy the book.

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

I could use some of this.

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THE
NEWBERG REPORT

 

You
squint a bit, like you would looking at Justin Smoak and seeing Mark Teixeira, like
looking at Chris Davis and seeing Lou Ferrigno, like looking at a bundled up Wade
Phillips and seeing Ralphie’s little brother.

 

You
squint, ignoring the sheen of ice glazing the outfield grass, and you can
almost make out those LED ribbon panels stretching across the façade of the home
run porch and above the left field wall and from foul pole to foul pole, activating the game presentation, not in
a gaudy, misplaced, hockeyized way, but spiking the atmosphere created each
night by the brilliant Chuck Morgan with moments of high energy, audio-visual adrenaline.  Chuck will do it right, as he always does, with
the stretches of ribbon (longest in sports next to Dolphins Stadium and the new
Yankee Stadium), finding the right balance.

 

You
squint, imagining that manual out-of-town scoreboard in left field giving way to
an in-house, league-wide Gamecast of sorts, an LED video display greater in
length than an NFL red zone, feeding us not only scores from around the league
but also how many are out and on the bases in each game in real time . . . plus
replays from the Rangers game in progress.

 

Something
like this:

 

[there's a photo here that you saw if you're on the mailing list]


All
of that’s good.  I’m excited about it.  I like the idea of making Rangers Ballpark more
energetic, however that can be done.  There’s
a fine line between turning the electricity up a bit, and sensory overload, and
I know Chuck will always engineer things on the right side of that line.  He’s a baseball fan, a baseball purist, and
part of the soul of this franchise, and the game will always be the thing.  The stadium will never light up like a
pinball machine under his watch, but there’s nothing wrong with a well-placed,
well-timed A/V assault. 

 

But
here’s something completely different, and it has me equally excited.

 

We
were driving down the highway the other day – in fact, coming back from the
Extreme Makeover site in Keller – and Max recognized a billboard with Josh
Hamilton on it. 

 

Hamilton was wearing a black T-shirt.  No uniform, no cap, no blue and no red.  No tattoos visible, no eyeblack.  Just Hamilton’s
head and shoulders, in black and white, in a calm pose, on a billboard that
didn’t have his name or any hint of baseball anywhere on it.

 

And
my four-year-old recognized him.

 

For
years one of my frustrations about how this team was marketed was that the advertising
firms steered the Rangers to sell the sport rather than the team, concepts to
the exclusion of the players.  Yes, I
could use some baseball, but not because “first base has nothing to do with
kissing,” or because “fond memories are not created in strip malls.”

 

I
could use some Rangers baseball because of this:


[photo]

 

And
this:


[photo]

 

And
this:


[photo]

 

And
this:


[photo]

 

And
this:


[photo]

 

For
a while there seemed to be a reluctance here to market this team’s players, but
that seems to have gone away, I’m happy to say. 

 

My
kids love the dot race, and the nachos, and the fireworks, but they really love watching Michael Young and
Chris Davis play baseball.

 

Last
Wednesday we had our book release party, which 500 of you attended.  Young and his wife Cristina were among the
first of our five Rangers guests to arrive at Sherlock’s in Arlington, and three hours later, as we were
shutting down, they were still there. 

 

Nobody
from the Rangers told them to be there, or even asked them if they would show
up.  In fact, nobody from the Newberg Report
asked them, either.  They asked me if
they could be there that night.

 

I’m
serious.

 

When
Cristina and Michael got to Sherlock’s, they didn’t walk in hand-in-hand,
though.  Because they couldn’t.  Each of them was loaded down with toys they’d
bought to donate to the Toys for Tots drive we were helping with that night. 

 

There
were no TV cameras at our event.  No reporters.  There was no P.R. stunt in mind – and not
even a P.R. opportunity – Cristina and Michael just did what they do, consistent
with everything I’ve come to know about them. 
They were guests at our event, and yet among the first to set a haul of
toys down for our collection, which ended up exceeding 100 toys for the night -
a fraction of the 2000 toys (and over $2,500 in cash) that the Rangers collected
for the holiday drive in conjunction with the Marine Corps, but a fraction I’m
proud to say our little community contributed to the cause, which was chaired on
behalf of the organization by brand new parents Tess and Ian Kinsler.

 

Earlier
that same day, Young and Davis and Derek Holland, each of whom spent the entire
evening with us, signing autographs and sitting for a Q&A, had been at Cook
Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, along with a handful of their
teammates and other Rangers representatives, hosting a party for the kids there
and visiting their individual hospital rooms, brightening the day of so many
who are teeing it up against something much more formidable than the Angels or
Red Sox or Rays.  You probably didn’t
catch a glimpse of that on the news, as each local affiliate had probably
dispatched every one of their cameramen to Valley Ranch, just to be sure they
didn’t miss a T.O comment from L.P. Ladouceur, or Bruce Read, or Rowdy.

 

When
my family spent some time at the Extreme Makeover event on Saturday, we learned
that Kevin Millwood had been invited to come to the construction site on Thursday
to help build the house.  ABC asked for
an hour of Millwood’s time.

 

Seven
hours later, he wasn’t ready to stop.

 

Saturday
afternoon, at the construction site, the Rangers presented a check to the
Keller Community Storehouse, a check that will go to provide food, clothing, health
care, school supplies, and holiday gifts to a host of children in need in the
Keller community.

 

Yesterday,
as a media luncheon was finishing up at the Ballpark, I watched as Davis hosted a Christmas Party for dozens of kids from Dallas’s Promise House, an
organization that supports homeless, runaway, and at-risk teenagers. 

 

A
veteran of all of three months in the big leagues, Davis has given a ton of his time this winter
to this community.  He gets it.  It’s inspiring.

 

A
simple Google search and a look at a site like Cot’s Baseball Contracts will
tell you that most of the Rangers’ veteran players donate portions of their
contracts to the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation.  I asked and found out that, in 2008, Rangers
players personally contributed nearly $600,000 of the $800,000 that the Foundation
raised, a figure at or near the top mark in the league.  That of course says nothing of the time and
energy that the players give to the causes and efforts that the organization sponsors.

 

Or
the toys that Cristina and Michael brought to an event at which they were featured
guests, toys they brought when nobody was looking, basically. 

 

There
aren’t many words that Max can read yet, though when he saw the “You could use
some baseball” billboards a year or two ago, the instantly recognizable Rangers
logo caught his attention nonetheless.

 

But
so did Josh Hamilton’s face a few days ago. 

 

I’m
fired up to see this franchise – this improving franchise – marketing its
players more so than catchphrases these days. 

 

And
I’m humbled when I see what these players are willing to do for their
community, even when there’s no marketing going on, no image boost to be
gained.  To be able to see these things
happen with my kids there to experience them too?  Can’t put a price tag on that.

 

Those
moments are ones I remember, moments that this game gives me and my family, just
as sure as those moments in 2009 when a Chris Davis missile into the visitors’
bullpen or a Michael Young leaping pivot to turn an inning-ending 4-6-3 – or,
who knows, maybe a shutdown eighth from Ben Sheets – sends those ribbon panels into
an adrenaline launch that matches our own, as we continue to pour our own passion
into this ballclub that helps define not only the players in uniform and in the
community, but so many of us as well.

 


Thoughts on the book release party.

This is where I beg off, like I do most years, from writing up a Newberg Report event in much detail, on the theory that if you were there, you don’t need a recap, and if you weren’t, it would be sort of difficult to describe what went down — especially since I’m always on fumes after the week of getting the book back from the printer, packaging a few hundred for shipping, setting up for the party, riding a heavy supply of adrenaline to get through it all (including my real job), and then sitting here in this chair as the evaporation of all that adrenaline has me absolutely wiped out.  

Let me share a couple things, though.

Thanks to all of you who were there.  We guessed that 400-500 showed (though one person from Sherlock’s suggests to me that I’m light on that estimate), but in any event it’s more than twice the showing that we’ve ever had at a book party.  I greatly appreciate the support.

Some people have an ability to say things that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, to give interesting answers without sleepwalking through clichés.  

Others have a knack for getting it right.  For “getting it.”

Michael Young has both.  

It’s his stature as a human being that makes me as big a fan of his baseball career as I am.  I couldn’t be more proud that he’s the player my kids consider their baseball hero (or in one case, his hero).

I wrote this a year ago, after the last book release party:

“Forgive me if this borders on sacrilege, but [Chris] Davis reminds me of Tony Romo.  He’s confident but not brash, has that self-deprecating sense of humor (‘You might have noticed I have no problem talking ― I’m the guy who everyone tells to shut up before I can get to my point’), and is always smiling.  Davis is magnetic, and there’s nothing off-putting about him.  He’s a leader.”

Wait a couple years, when Davis is as far into his career as Ian Kinsler.  Leader.  Leader.  Leader.  

I also got it straight from the source last night: The creator of “Crush” Davis is apparently typing this sentence.

But back to the important stuff: Ask anyone who was there last night what kind of impression Davis made on them.  It’ll be as if they’re all reading from the same script.

Funny thing about Derek Holland.  He’s got this “Aw, shucks” manner, and I’m telling you: it’s not humility.  That’s not to say that the 22-year-old isn’t humble — he is — but I’ve gotten to know hundreds of players in the last 10 years, and I don’t think there’s anyone who has ever been as . . . how do I say this? . . . .

This kid really has absolutely no idea how big a deal he is.  It almost seems confusing to him: he’s out there loving the game, doing his job, working his tail off, and getting (very) good results.  But when he saw the cover of the book last night, he probably figured I had about 200 different covers made, one for each Rangers minor leaguer.

Really.

One of the night’s Grant Schiller questions during the Q&A was for Holland: “What was the most challenging thing about playing at three different levels in five months?”  Holland’s answer: “When I got to Frisco, it was amazing how much better AA hitters are than Class A hitters.  How much more patient they are.  That was tough.”

Holland gave up three earned runs in 46.2 AA innings (regular season plus playoffs).  Three earned runs in seven starts.  

Yeah, that was tough.

You know that optical illusion that looks like a duck looking to the left, no, a rabbit looking to the right, no, a duck, no, a rabbit?  Taylor Teagarden has this look in his eyes (even in recovery from successful Tuesday LASIK surgery) that you can convince yourself is no-nonsense, all business, totally focused.  Or, maybe, as you think about it some more, is actually the look of someone guarding a secret that everyone is in on but you.

It’s hard for to put this into words, but it struck me as exactly the look I want out of my catcher.

And then there’s Jeff Zimmerman.  

Zimmerman, who cursed me this summer for bringing all those memories back to him with a column I wrote, those days he’d been trying for years to forget, and who then, giving in, agreed not only to write what I consider the greatest foreword of the 19 written for my 10 books — basically a tribute to Rangers fans and the Metroplex in general — but also to fly in from Vancouver with his family to be at last night’s event.

What more is there to say than has been said since he arrived on the scene 10 years ago?  Few have experienced greater highs or greater lows in this organization, but Zimmerman is as even-keeled and humble and self-deprecating and genuine as they come, and just being around him — whether you’re a Rangers fan or, I suspect, a former teammate or a college buddy or a family member — feels like a privilege.

The players, as they always are, were great with all the kids and their parents who came last night.  Inspiring.

Thank you to Eleanor Czajka and Devin Pike.  The best.

And to Sherlock’s Pub and Grill, particularly Adrianne and Steve and Tabitha and Stacy.  

Thanks to Taunee Taylor and Jenny Martin and Kate Jett and Rush Olson from the Rangers.  And to the Marines for their presence, and your contribution of five huge boxes of toys, plus two brand new bicycles, toward the Rangers’ Toys for Tots Drive — which continues tonight at the Ballpark.  Please consider taking new, unwrapped toys to the Ballpark to help some needy kids in North Texas experience the joy of the holidays.

And thank you to the 41 of you who asked Erica and Max to autograph page 276.  (I know the number is accurate because they were keeping a very proud count as the night went along.)  That means a lot to Ginger and me.  

Soon I’ll have some links with photographs from the event, plus a few blogs and message board threads discussing what went down.  Thanks for a great time.

A few more things:

Josh and Katie Hamilton were at the White House this morning to participate in a roundtable meeting on drug use reduction (through prevention, treatment, and enforcement) hosted by President Bush.  The Hamiltons were asked to share their story about the challenges of drug addiction and how Josh is overcoming it.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Ben Sheets “had his house in Dallas for sale but took it off the market, perhaps in anticipation of striking a deal with the Rangers.”  Melvin believes the Yankees and Rangers are the two teams most squarely in on Sheets — and of course New York, having signed C.C. Sabathia and seeking one more free agent starter, is targeting several others besides Sheets as well.

The Rangers and the organization’s charitable foundation will actively participate in ABC’s latest “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project, the building of a new home for an amazing Keller, Texas family, Amber and Peter Augustin and their kids.

Victor Rojas is leaving the Rangers’ radio broadcast for a high-profile position with the new MLB Network, which launches January 1.  He’ll be a studio host on the live MLB Tonight and Hot Stove programs.

Happy for Victor.  Sad for me.

Pittsburgh is zeroing in on a two-year deal with Ramon Vazquez.

Trading a catcher to Florida for outfielder Jeremy Hermida makes no sense to me unless the reason was to flip Hermida right away to a club that has a pitcher we want.

You should have received a Meetings-ending Rule 5 Draft update from Scott Lucas in your mailbox by now.  Good day for Texas.

That’s all I’ve got in me today.  Thanks again for making last night
really cool.

Back with more as baseball developments warrant.

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

Trades & timing.

When the Padres had young catchers Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar Jr., they traded the latter in a deal (with Carlos Baerga and Chris James) to get Joe Carter.

And when the Reds had young shortstops Barry Larkin and Kurt Stillwell, they traded the latter as the key player in a deal for Danny Jackson.

On the other hand, Boston had third basemen Jeff Bagwell and Scott Cooper and, instead of moving Bagwell to first base (where Carlos Quintana held things down), shipped him to Houston for reliever Larry Andersen.

Minnesota, with Joe Mauer ready, traded fellow catcher A.J. Pierzynski well, sending him to San Francisco for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser.

The Dodgers, blessed with blue-chip third base prospects Paul Konerko and Adrian Beltre, did reasonably well by moving Konerko (with Dennys Reyes) to the Reds for closer Jeff Shaw.

Toronto, however, would probably like to have rethought its decision to take its four middle infield prospects at the start of the decade and trade Michael Young (and Darwin Cubillan, for Esteban Loaiza) first, while waiting too long to move Brent Abernathy (for Steve Trachsel and Mark Guthrie), Cesar Izturis (with Paul Quantrill for Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts), and Felipe Lopez (in a four-team deal) for Jason Arnold.

The Rangers and Expos both did just fine when Montreal, with third baseman Tim Wallach ready, traded Larry Parrish and Dave Hostetler to Texas for Al Oliver.  

Even in hindsight, Texas sending Rich Aurilia (with Desi Wilson) to San Francisco for John Burkett doesn’t seem unreasonable, unless you consider that (1) Aurilia ended up having an exponentially better career than the Rangers’ more heralded shortstop prospect, Benji Gil; and (2) the Rangers, um, non-tendered Burkett when the players’ strike ended and he never suited up here (until two years later, when it took Rick Helling and Ryan Dempster to get him again).

Got Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh?  Flip Walsh to New Orleans for three draft picks, which would ultimately turn into Erik Williams, Dixon Edwards, Jimmy Smith, and a few others.  Cool.

A young Steve Nash shut out of Phoenix minutes by Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson?  Send him to Dallas for three roster-fillers and a first-round draft pick that would become Shawn Marion.  That worked out well.

More so than when Toronto solved its first base “problem” by selling Cecil Fielder to the Hanshin Tigers because of Fred McGriff’s arrival.

The great thing about depth, especially in young players with bright futures, is not just the obvious accumulation of talent, but also the opportunities it creates to get better in other areas through trades.

But you have to trade well, which means to time things right and evaluate properly.

The timing may have been right, for instance, for Texas to trade Travis Hafner six years ago.  The problem was in the evaluation.

The challenge facing Jon Daniels over the last 12 months or so has been a lot more complicated than deciding which of Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez was the catcher he wanted to build with.  Payroll impact came into play.  Service time and nearness to free agency factored in.  Age, too, of course.  And versatility.

And maybe most of all, trade value.  

Which, unlike the other factors listed above, can be a moving target — in either direction — and must be timed.  

Time will tell whether Guillermo Moscoso can make the leap that some think he’s on the verge of, taking his ability to miss bats and command the strike zone to the big leagues in one role or another.  And whether Carlos Melo can be the new Neftali Feliz in two years, or if he’s just another Melvin Brazoban.

Who knows how close the timing was to giving Texas a chance to sell high enough on Laird at a time when Cincinnati was at least reportedly open to the idea of selling low on Homer Bailey, an exchange that would have been inconceivable at any other time since Bailey was drafted number seven overall in 2004?  If you believe the reports coming out of Las Vegas, that trade would have been made, maybe with sweeteners, had the Reds been willing.

Who knows whether Texas had opportunities to trade Laird for a better return before now?  Maybe two winters ago, when he was coming off a .296/.332/.473 season as the outgoing Rod Barajas’s backup, but Texas was going into 2007 with a 40-man roster that included Laird, Miguel Ojeda, Chris Stewart, and Guillermo Quiroz, with non-roster invites Salomon Manriquez and Kevin Richardson.  Saltalamacchia was still with Atlanta, Ramirez still with Cleveland, and Teagarden was 38 games into his minor league career.  Laird was basically untouchable then.

When Daniels made the three July 2007 trades that have a chance to redefine this organization, netting Saltalamacchia and Ramirez and Feliz and Elvis Andrus and David Murphy and Matt Harrison and Engel Beltre and Beau Jones and Kason Gabbard, Laird — hitting in the .230’s — was not much of a candidate to be shipped off along with Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagné, Kenny Lofton, and Ron Mahay.  

After the 2007 season Laird was probably available, but as a .224/.278/.349 hitter heading into his first arbitration year, his market couldn’t have been very strong.

During the 2008 season, Texas apparently shopped Laird — there were reports of an offer to Florida for righthander Chris Volstad, with the Rangers padding the deal with a prospect — and as many as eight teams were identified in July as having some degree of interest (even though Laird was sidelined with a hamstring strain from June 21 until July 26), but Daniels didn’t get the deal he wanted, and gambled that Laird’s value would hold up into the winter.

Again, we don’t know whether Texas was offered something more attractive than Moscoso plus Melo in the last six months — even if not at the level of a Volstad — and we can probably assume that there have been offers for Saltalamacchia and Teagarden that were better than what Texas accepted for Laird.  But Laird was a short-timer here, and you can’t say that about the other three with nearly the same degree of certainty.

Laird has two more years as an arbitration-eligible before he can take free agency in the winter of 2010, at age 31.  Teagarden is four years younger, Ramirez five, Saltalamacchia six.  Laird’s at-bats dropped from 407 in 2007 to 344 (partly due to injury) in 2008; had he remained in Texas, they probably would have dropped again, dragging his trade value down in the process.  If Laird was in a backup role, his history suggests he would have been vocal about his frustration, and that’s not something this young team needs.  If he were to get starter-level playing time, Scott Boras was going to take Laird to the market two years from now, where he’d probably cash in.  

That should be around the time that the Rangers are where they want to be, with Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis and Saltalamacchia (and maybe Ramirez) right in their prime, Michael Young still producing, Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon and Justin Smoak and Engel Beltre arriving, and Derek Holland and Feliz and Michael Main and maybe Martin Perez and any number of their fellow pitching prospects learning how to pitch in the big leagues.  It makes sense to have a long-term catcher in place to help in that process, not a situation where the starter at that crucial position is about to leave for a richer deal.

Now, if Boston had said Clay Buchholz was available?  Sure, I’d be open to moving Saltalamacchia in that case (even if that opportunity were to present itself now, with Laird gone — Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal each suggest that Daniels will still listen to offers).  Saltalamacchia is going to hit, and m
aybe really soon.  But I don’t regret trading Edinson Volquez, either — there’s nothing wrong with a win-win deal, and the Rangers would be fine at catcher with Teagarden and Ramirez (or a veteran backup) going forward, and Manny Pina on the way.

But Boston wouldn’t trade Buchholz to Texas, evidently, just as the Reds wouldn’t trade Bailey for Laird.  

Again, trade value is a moving target, and as Daniels and his crew internally set price tags on each of the club’s four catchers (possibly one that said “not for sale” on Teagarden), the job became sorting through trade partners to find the right deal, or deals, and be fine with things if no team stepped up acceptably, as in July.

Yes, Jay Bruce arguably made Josh Hamilton expendable a year ago.  But if the offers for him looked more like John Rheinecker than Edinson Volquez, the Reds would have found a way to go forward with Hamilton, at least to start the season.

Was the trade of Laird just as much about clearing payroll space as it was about adding two more arms to the system?  Maybe.  We’ll have a better answer in a month or two.  Especially if there’s also a trade of Hank Blalock or Marlon Byrd or Frank Catalanotto, or maybe even Kevin Millwood or Vicente Padilla.  Getting cheaper at catcher may just be step one in an effort to make room for a big splash somewhere else on the roster.

Dial back to July 2007.  Texas was struggling in the West, which had prompted a front office decision to implement a wholesale, methodical long-term effort to get stronger and deeper on the farm.  Coming off the high of the huge June draft that produced Main, Borbon, Blake Beavan, Tommy Hunter, and Neil Ramirez in the first round, and whiteboarding the different trade scenarios that would reshape this organization dramatically at the end of that month, the Rangers were squarely focused on the big picture.

Meanwhile, Detroit was 20 games over .500 and atop the AL Central, so it was probably lost on Tigers fans, understandably, that on July 11, the club signed Melo, a flamethrowing 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, for $165,000, and that four days after that, Moscoso fired a perfect game for Short-Season A Oneonta in the New York-Penn League (for manager Andy Barkett, the former Rangers farmhand).  

Melo wouldn’t throw a professional pitch that summer.  Moscoso would go 8-2, 2.18 between Oneonta, Low A West Michigan, and High A Lakeland but, logging only 90.2 innings (79 strikeouts, 16 walks) as Detroit continued to ease him back after 2005 shoulder surgery, that performance wasn’t enough to land Moscoso a spot as one of the top 30 prospects in what Baseball America ranked as the number 29 farm system out of 30 coming into 2008.  Neither righthander had pushed his way onto the Tigers radar, at least as far as national experts were concerned.

Different story a year later.  Melo debuted in the Dominican Summer League, posting a 5.14 ERA over 49 innings but registering 61 strikeouts (11.2 per nine innings) while walking 20 batters (3.7 per nine).  But that’s less meaningful than the 93-96 that Melo was reportedly triggering on the gun, at age 17 with a projectable 6’3″, 180-pound frame.

Feliz had only 66.1 pro innings to his credit when Texas insisted he be part of the Teixeira trade.  Beltre had only 125 pro at-bats when the Gagné trade went down.  The Rangers know the Latin American landscape better than most, and when you see a name like Melo tacked onto a trade like this one, the club gets the benefit of any doubt that may be out there.

As for Moscoso, his 2008 workload was once again light — 86.2 innings between High A Lakeland and AA Erie — but his results started attracting attention.  The 6’1″, 160-pound righthander scattered 60 hits (.194 opponents’ average, eight home runs) and 21 walks (2.2 per nine innings) while setting 122 down on strikes (12.7 per nine), locating a lively, deceptive low-90s fastball and mixing in a solid curve and developing change.  The Tigers added him to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and BA just ranked him as Detroit’s number 10 prospect, suggesting a possible Jair Jurrjens upside.

A few splits jump out.  While at Lakeland, after missing the season’s first six weeks with shoulder soreness, Moscoso posted a 3.72 ERA in relief — yet an impossible 29 strikeouts and one walk in 19.1 innings — and a 1.65 mark in six starts.  He appears to be flyball-prone, which is obviously a red flag in this ballpark.  But get this: with runners on base in 2008, Moscoso struck out 41 batters in a span of 112 at-bats — and walked two.  

In his career, Moscoso not only has more strikeouts than innings pitched, but has five times as many strikeouts as walks.  He’s a strikethrower who the club thinks could come quickly.  The plan is evidently to use him in a minor league rotation to begin the season, but a transition back to the bullpen at some point is certainly conceivable.

Incidentally, according to multiple reports, there was a deal in the works last week between Texas and Detroit that would have involved a third team, which would likely have sent a pitching prospect to the Rangers.  No word on who that team was or the parameters of the near-deal, but it would stand to reason that it might have been an effort on the part of the Tigers to find a way to satisfy Texas without having to part with Melo.  

ESPN.com reports that Detroit tried to trade for Angels catcher Mike Napoli first but found Los Angeles’s price to be too high (I’m guessing it probably involved righthander Rick Porcello or lefthander Casey Crosby), before getting serious with Texas about Laird.

I’ll have to get to the Baseball America ranking of the Rangers’ top 10 prospects, and all the good stuff that comes with that feature, another time.  Hank Blalock and Michael Young and Kevin Millwood and Ben Sheets and Brad Penny and Kerry Wood and Chad Cordero and Edwin Jackson and Freddy Garcia and Cory Sullivan and Milton Bradley, too.  

I’m out of gas and would be selling low.  Timing counts.

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

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