Stratego.

It wasn’t the first thought I had when word came down that the Cubs had agreed to pay Milton Bradley’s three-year, $30 million demand, but after imagining the defensive issues that a Soriano/Fukudome/Bradley outfield could present, thinking about the wisdom of a National League giving Bradley his first multi-year contract when he managed to play defensively in only 20 games last year, wondering which player in Texas steps up to bring Bradley’s intensity in 2009, and hoping that Bradley has a really good year in Chicago, it occurred to me that the 2008 season he had, as frustrating as it was from an injury standpoint, can be comfortably placed on this list:

a. Gary Matthews Jr., minor league contract at age 29 + Rangers Ballpark in Arlington + Rudy Jaramillo = five years, $50 million at age 32

b. Mark DeRosa, minor league contract at age 29 + Rangers Ballpark in Arlington + Rudy Jaramillo = three years, $13 million at age 31

c. Milton Bradley, one year, $5.25 million at age 29 + Rangers Ballpark in Arlington + Rudy Jaramillo = three years, $30 million at age 30

Restating the obvious: This may be a tough place to attract premium starting pitchers, but it’s a spectacular landing spot for a hitter to establish (or reestablish) himself.

Texas will be compensated for the loss of Bradley with a supplemental first-round pick in June.  The slot is currently number 41, but that will drop as more unsigned free agents find homes.

Bradley’s right-handed-hitting replacement in the lineup, for now, will be Nelson Cruz, who hit .330/.421/.609 in 115 at-bats after Texas called him up in late August; .362/.417/.638 in 105 Dominican Winter League regular season at-bats; and .447/.488/.632 (so far) in 38 DWL playoff at-bats (including a 4 for 4 night yesterday).  All told, in 258 at-bats since his late-season call-up to Arlington, the rough equivalent of half a season, the 28-year-old with no options left has combined to hit .360/.429/.624 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI, and 31 walks and 54 strikeouts.  

Max Ramirez led the Venezuelan Winter League in regular season home runs, with 15 (in 191 at-bats).  He hit .298/.391/.618, finishing with the second-highest slug and third-highest OPS in the league, and his 53 RBI were also second most, trailing Jesus Guzman by 14 runs driven in (though in 41 fewer at-bats).

In his first three Venezuelan Winter League appearances after being sent to Texas in the Gerald Laird trade, righthander Guillermo Moscoso fanned 12 in seven scoreless innings, scattering four hits and two walks.  Since then, the 25-year-old has made one playoff start, giving up two runs on four hits and a walk in 3.1 innings, setting one hitter down on strikes.

Mercurial righthander Luis Mendoza has been pretty solid in the Mexican Pacific League this winter, going 4-1, 2.68 with a save in 40.1 regular season innings (35 hits and 13 walks, 19 strikeouts, 2.41 G/F).  Mendoza earned a win in his one playoff start, giving up three runs (one earned) on 10 hits and two walks in six innings, punching out nine.  

Two thoughts on the deal Jason Giambi struck to return to Oakland, reportedly for a guaranteed $5.25 million (or $9.5 million over two years at the option of the A’s): (1) not a good development for Hank Blalock’s trade market, as his $6.2 million contract for 2009 (plus whatever a team would have to part with in trade) suddenly doesn’t look like such a bargain, with Giambi coming off an .875 OPS (Blalock had an .846) and hitters like Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Ken Griffey Jr., Ty Wigginton, Moises Alou, Garret Anderson, and Eric Hinske still on the market, and Pat Burrell agreeing to a similarly sensible two-year, $16 million deal with Tampa Bay earlier this week; and (2) I sure like Giambi landing with the A’s more than some of the other names they were rumored to be in on (Rafael Furcal, Burrell, Abreu, Orlando Cabrera).  Fine with me if Oakland signs someone nearing the end of his productivity, and not likely to fetch much in July (like Matt Holliday will).  Anderson, another rumored Oakland target, would have been even better.

San Francisco still needs a corner infielder with power — most of the above names are outfielders — and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this week that Texas is keeping an eye not only on Jonathan Sanchez but fellow Giants lefthander Noah Lowry as well.   

Next to the Giants, Baltimore has probably been linked to Blalock as prominently as any other club this off-season.  The latest word is that the Orioles are considering Richie Sexson as a first base candidate.  

Seriously.  Really?

Really?

At least one local report indicates that Texas is considering third baseman Joe Crede, who has been limited by back problems for a couple years.  Pretty good defensive player when he’s healthy, and he’s had a couple reasonably productive years at the plate.  (His game is actually not entirely different from what Travis Metcalf’s projects to be, if everything breaks right.)

Given Crede’s back issues, he’s probably only going to get a one-year deal (and as a Scott Boras client, that’s probably all he wants anyway), and that fits the ideal profile of any external third base acquisition, given the blueprint in Texas.  Wigginton, who is going to get multiple years from someone and who isn’t a quality defender, doesn’t.

Various reports have Texas in on Chad Cordero, Eric Gagné, Eddie Guardado, Akinori Otsuka, Will Ohman, Jason Isringhausen, Guillermo Mota, Joe Beimel, Dennys Reyes, and Brian Shouse as possible bullpen additions.

Cordero will throw for teams this week.  The list of teams not planning to attend his workout is likely shorter than the list of those who will be on hand.

According to one local report, Texas “made a strong push” to sign Joe Nelson “and almost got something done right before Christmas,” before he opted to sign with Tampa Bay.  The 34-year-old reliever signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Rays.

Nelson’s ERA in 2008 was 2.00.  He struck out 10 batters per nine innings, issuing three unintentional walks per nine.  Opponents hit just .207/.291/.325 off him.  He induced more groundouts than flyouts.  And yet, as a first-time arbitration-eligible who didn’t even pitch in the major leagues in 2007, he was non-tendered by the Marlins.

Say what you want about the economy.  Blow off the impact of the Sabathia and Teixeira and Burnett signings since there were only four or five teams conceivably in play for those guys.  Where deals like those have the most effect on teams all across the league is in the salary levels that their contracts and those on the next tier and the tier after that set, resulting in escalating arbitration projections that cause players like Nelson, Daniel Cabrera, and Wigginton to get non-tendered.  All-Star-level players?  No.  But they can help teams, and the impact that free agency has had on arbitration is the reason a pitcher like Nelson was on the open market at all this winter.

There appears to be mutual interest in Jason Jennings coming back here, this time on a non-roster deal.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald suggests that if the Red Sox don’t sign Rocco Baldelli or Gabe Kapler as a fourth outfielder, they’ll probably turn to the trade market, in which case Marlon Byrd could be a candidate.  Latest word, however, is that Baldelli (who grew up an hour southwest of Fenway Park) could land in Boston as soon as today.

Good grief: If I were Clay Buchholz, I’d begin to question how important I am to the Red Sox, who are apparently about to add John Smoltz to a mix that already includes Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Brad Penny, not to mention Junichi Tazawa, Justin Masterson (who was reportedly being shifted to the rotation u
pon Boston’s acquisition of reliever Ramon Ramirez earlier this winter), Michael Bowden, and Nick Hagadone.  Even if Smoltz is unlikely to pitch before June, seems like a strange move.

Not a great development for Wes Littleton, either.

Could the Smoltz defection inch Atlanta closer to making an offer for Kevin Millwood or Vicente Padilla?  I don’t know.

Yeah, I hated seeing Cleveland getting Mark DeRosa for a seemingly modest price in prospects.

Outfielder Jason Ellison signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia.

Baseball America editor in chief John Manuel, chatting about the publication’s ranking of the Phillies’ top 10 prospects this week, said that outfielder Greg Golson would have been his number nine or number 10 Philadelphia prospect had he not been traded to Texas.  Manuel added that John Mayberry Jr., whom the Rangers swapped for Golson, figures in outside the Phillies’ top 20.

BA executive editor Jim Callis wrote this week that Justin Smoak is his number 19 prospect in baseball.  

BA’s Ben Badler, in an article about the game’s best defensive prospects behind the plate, said of Taylor Teagarden: “Voted the best defensive catcher in the both the Double-A Texas League and Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Teagarden has a solid case as the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues.  He rarely allowed a passed ball and committed only two errors in the minors.  He has all the tools scouts look for in a top-flight defensive catcher: an outstanding arm, quick pop times, good hands, athleticism and strong blocking skills.”

Righthander John Patterson retired.  Texas had signed the 30-year-old to a minor league contract in March, but he never bounced back from nerve problems in his forearm that wiped out most of his 2006 and 2007 seasons and all of 2008.   

Some notes on new Frisco pitching coach Joe Slusarski:

The veteran of seven big league seasons (Oakland, Milwaukee, Houston, Atlanta), he pitched collegiately at the University of New Orleans, pitched for AAA New Orleans in both the Brewers and Astros systems, and, upon retirement, was the pitching coach back at UNO — where his staff included freshman righthander Thomas Diamond.  The Astros then brought Slusarski back to be the pitching coach at AA Round Rock (2003-2004) — where he succeeded Mike Maddux on Jackie Moore’s Express coaching staff (which also included Spike Owen) — and, once Round Rock moved to AAA, he stayed at the AA level as pitching coach for Corpus Christi (2005-2006).  Both farm clubs, of course, were owned by Nolan Ryan.  

Slusarski was reported to be a candidate for the Houston big league pitching coach job that ultimately went to Dave Wallace.  

This, I thought, was a very cool note: Luis Ortiz, who came to Texas in 1994 from Boston, along with Otis Nixon, for Jose Canseco, and who joined the Spokane coaching staff in July before a promotion to roving minor league hitting instructor this off-season, is apparently the only native of the Dominican Republic ever to both play in the major leagues and earn a college degree.  Ortiz, whose .911 career slugging percentage at Union University remains an NAIA record, returned to Union after retiring as a player in 2004 to get his degree.

Grant Schiller did a great interview with Eric Nadel on his blog at http://texasrangerstrades.blogspot.com/2008/12/eric-nadel-interview.html.   
 
ESPN debuts a new hour-long series, “Homecoming with Rick Reilly,” this Friday at 7:00 p.m., with the first episode featuring Josh Hamilton. 

I’ve got some thoughts on what’s happening to the local Rangers newspaper beat, which I’ll get to when the time is right, but for now I’m happy to see Jim Reeves starting to blog baseball for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  The more baseball reporting we’re treated to, the better.

In a blogged interview he gave Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News, Chris Davis said his goal going into 2008, his second full season as a pro, was to hit .315 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI.  Even though he spent more than half of the year getting acclimated to big league pitching and taking on the tall order of making adjustments against the best pitchers in the game, Davis’s combined numbers in AA, AAA, and the Major Leagues were .309 with 40 home runs and 128 RBI.

Read Durrett’s blog entry (http://rangersblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2009/01/qa-with-chris-davis.html).  You might see in Davis’s words a glimpse of why I think he’s on his way to being much more than a fan favorite.  He’s going to be an exceptional leader on this team.  Soon.

The Rangers have announced details on this off-season’s Winter Caravan, which will include over 50 appearances by club executives, players, coaches, and alumni at Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana schools, civic clubs, and military installations over the next month.

Each of the following events are at Academy Sports and Outdoors locations and are free to the public:

Friday, January 9: Town Hall/Autograph Session, 1523 State Highway 114 West, Grapevine, 6:30-8:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: German Duran, Ian Kinsler, Jackie Moore, Jim Sundberg, Josh Lewin)

Saturday, January 10: Autograph Session, 3677 Emporium Circle, Mesquite, 11:30-1:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Chris Davis, David Murphy)

Tuesday, January 13: Town Hall/Autograph Session, 2428 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, 6:30-8:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Jon Daniels, Scott Feldman, Taylor Teagarden, Jim Sundberg, Eric Nadel)

Tuesday, January 13: Autograph Session, 2801 Beene Blvd., Bossier City, Louisiana, 4:00-5:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Ron Washington, Thomas Diamond, Jackie Moore, Josh Lewin)

Wednesday, January 14: Autograph Session, 3201 Lawrence Road, Wichita Falls, 5:00-6:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Thomas Diamond, German Duran, Travis Metcalf, Josh Lewin)

Thursday, January 15: Town Hall/Autograph Session, 7441 NE Loop 820, North Richland Hlls, 6:30-8:00 (scheduled to appear: Jon Daniels, German Duran, Matt Harrison, Kevin Millwood, Jim Sundberg, Tom Grieve)

Friday, January 16: Autograph Session, 2501 South Broadway, Edmond, Oklahoma, 6:30-7:30 p.m. (scheduled to appear: German Duran, Matt Harrison, Tommy Hunter, Bobby Jones, Mike Coolbaugh)

Saturday, January 17: Autograph Session, 4045 North Central Expressway, Plano, 10:30-12 noon (scheduled to appear: Travis Metcalf, Kevin Millwood)

Tuesday, January 20: Autograph Session, 8668 South Broadway Ave.,Tyler, 6:00-7:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Brandon Boggs, Chris Davis, Tom Grieve)

Thursday, January 22: Town Hall/Autograph Session, 1101 West Arbrook Blvd., Arlington, 6:30-8:00 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Ron Washington, Mike Maddux, Josh Hamilton, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jim Sundberg, Tom Grieve)

Monday, January 26: Autograph Session, 210 New Road, Waco, 6:30-7:30 p.m. (scheduled to appear: Andy Hawkins, David Murphy, Taylor Teagarden, Eric Nadel)

TBA: Autograph Session, 5400 Brodie Lane, Sunset Valley (Austin area)

In addition, the Rangers will have autographs sessions at Brookshire’s in Tyler (100 Rice Road) on Tuesday, January 20, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. (Brandon Boggs, Chris Davis, Tom Grieve) and in Lake Worth (6708 Lake Worth Boulevard) on that same day from 6:30-7:30 p.m. (participants to be announced).

Also, the Rangers’ Round Up Caravan will make stops at the organization’s minor league affiliates in Oklahoma City on Saturday, January 17 from 10:00-11:00 a.m. (including a Rangers/RedHawks Clinic; call the RedHawks at 405-218-1000 for more information) and at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco on that same day from 1:00-4:00 p.m. (including a 1:30-3:00 autograph session that is scheduled to include Ian Kinsler, Chris Davis, Thomas Diamond, German Duran, Eric Hurley, and David Murphy).

Finally, t
he Rangers will be visiting military installations at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana; Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma; and Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and will make appearances at a number of elementary and high schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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

 

1 Comment

what has happened to travis metcalf…..i guess i just liked that guy.

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