Jones in?

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With two weeks to go in camp, a week longer than most years
and maybe two weeks longer than necessary, there are a few roster spots still in
flux though, in a happy departure from previous camps, we’re mostly talking
about the last couple spots on the bench and the staff.

 

On Friday, my last day in Surprise, there was less morning activity
on the back fields than normal because the bus to Tucson left at 7:30 a.m.  The players in big league camp who didn’t
make the trip were getting their reps in, but it had a different feel since it
was basically the group that would have the afternoon off.  The pitchers gathered on the half-field for a
round of PFP, only nobody manned the mound. 
Two groups got their work in, the first of which featured Kevin Millwood
hitting the fungo ground balls, the second of which had Frankie Francisco and
C.J. Wilson taking grounders at third base, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz at
shortstop, Brian Gordon at second base, and Luis Mendoza at first.  (Feliz was really, really good, and Holland made a sensational
backhand stab and throw going to his left on a ball up the middle.  Vicente Padilla, who worked with the first
group, played a slick first base.)

 

On the BP field, after several rounds of “Did you?” (a game in
which hitters, if challenged by a teammate immediately after making contact,
have to call whether the shot would clear the fence or not – with sets of 10
push-ups the punishment if they call it wrong), right-handed-hitting Andruw
Jones stepped in to hit left-handed.  The
form wasn’t terrible, and he hit several balls on the screws and with some
authority, though nothing with the type of path to prompt a “Did you?” bark
from Marlon Byrd or Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Chris Davis.

 

It’s what Jones can do from the right side of the plate -
optimistically speaking – that has Texas
reportedly considering whether he’s a more viable role player than Frank Catalanotto.  When Texas
brought Jones in six weeks ago for a non-roster audition, he was given a March
20 opt-out date on which he could take his release if not added to the roster.  Jones agreed several days ago not to opt out
on the 20th, moving the date to the 23rd, which is
tomorrow.  This morning, however, Jones reportedly
told Jon Daniels and Ron Washington that he doesn’t plan to opt out tomorrow
even though it’s been made clear to him that under no circumstances will he get
regular at-bats.  At best, Jones would
figure in as the right-handed designated hitter, the fifth outfielder, and a pinch-hitter.

 

Is he a better fit in the first role than Max Ramirez?  The young hitter’s huge three-run homer for
Team Venezuela on Wednesday notwithstanding, his sparse World Baseball Classic
work has been a real disappointment, as he could have had a steady dose of
at-bats in camp had he not committed to play for his country on the premise
that he’d be used regularly.  If Ramirez
might have been such a candidate after his standout 2008 and winter ball
season, any chance of that was erased over the last few weeks of missed
opportunities to win a job.

 

Is Jones a better fit as the fifth outfielder than Brandon
Boggs?  With the four-man bench pretty
much locked in at three spots – catcher Taylor Teagarden, infielder Omar
Vizquel or Joaquin Arias, and fourth outfielder Marlon Byrd – if the question
is between Jones and Boggs, a switch-hitter who had roughly even splits in 2008
(.227/.327/.500 against lefties and .226/.336/.354 against righties), I’d
prefer Boggs defensively at this point in their careers. 

 

But truthfully, with a four-man outfield rotation of Josh
Hamilton, David Murphy, Nelson Cruz, and Byrd, plus Hank Blalock as a
designated hitter whose splits aren’t nearly as lopsided as they once were (he
hit .277 against southpaws in 2008 and actually had a higher slug against
lefthanders [.566] than against righthanders [.480]), playing time is going to
be sporadic, particularly for a young player who might not have his manager’s full
confidence yet.  (Thinking about Blalock
sliding to first and Davis sitting?  Davis has hit
.279/.323/.593 against big league southpaws, .287/.335/.531 against righties.)

 

Bottom line: Boggs has two options left, and I’d rather see
him playing six days a week for Oklahoma City than
getting six at-bats a week with Texas.  (Interesting: Boggs got a look in center
field yesterday, something he did once for Texas
last year and a few times for Oklahoma,
plus more often than not in the Mexican Pacific League this winter.) 

 

If pinch-hitting chops are the key, do you prefer Jones or
Catalanotto?  Jones is a .190/.346/.381
pinch-hitter in 42 lifetime at-bats.  Catalanotto
is a .289/.375/.423 pinch-hitter in 194 lifetime at-bats.  His batting average is second highest among
active players with at least 150 pinch-hit at-bats.

 

As for where the pinch-hitting opportunities will arise on
this club, chances are that, with everyone healthy, the only starter who would
be regularly pulled for another hitter is Elvis Andrus, late in the game.  Depending on what kind of rhythm he’s in, it
might not be strictly a handedness decision, either.  First, he actually proved in 2008 to be
stronger against right-handed pitching (.303/.360/.378) than against lefties
(.258/.307/.323).  Second, it’s likely
that if Washington
chooses to lift Andrus late in a close game, it will be less because of a
particular matchup than because he wants a veteran at the plate to face off
against the opponents’ best relievers.

 

In the West, Texas
will deal with one left-handed closer (Brian Fuentes) and two righties (Brad
Ziegler and either Miguel Batista or Brandon Morrow until fellow righthander Chad
Cordero is ready).  The top eighth-inning
man for each club is a righthander as well. 

 

In the East, there are two left-handed closers and three
righties.  In the Central, all five
closers are right-handed. 

 

From that standpoint, doesn’t the left-handed-hitting Catalanotto
make more sense than Jones?  Both have
traditional splits. 

 

Before answering, consider this: In April, which the organization
knows is a critical month given how the club has gotten out of the gate in
Washington’s first two seasons, 10 of the 22 games will be against a team whose
closer throws from the left. 

 

There are lots of reasons to believe the Rangers will play
far better this April than they did in 2007-2008, when they went a combined 20-33.  First, Texas
opens at home this year, after opening on the road the previous two.  Second, Texas plays more home games than road games
this April, after the opposite the previous two.  Third, only three of the 22 games on the schedule
are against a team that had a winning record in 2008 – Toronto, which won 86 games last year but lost
A.J. Burnett without adding anyone significant. 
Fourth, as alluded to above, Texas
starts the season with its backs against the wall, in a way.  Another bad April, and Washington doesn’t survive the month.

 

If having Catalanotto around rather than Jones to face George
Sherrill or B.J. Ryan – or Rafael Perez or Jamie Walker or Scott Downs or Ron Mahay
or Bobby Seay or Josh Outman – might mean even one more April win, is it worth
choosing him over Jones?

 

Here’s the other thing about the Jones vs. Catalanotto situation.  Texas
will pay $6 million for Catalanotto over the next year ($4 million in 2009 and
a $2 million buyout after the season to void the $5 million club option for
2010).  Unless the Rangers can trade him,
which is unlikely, that expenditure is there whether he’s around or not.  Jones will make $500,000 this year if he
makes the team (negligibly more than the $408,540 Boggs is contracted for).  Jones can start to tack on playing time bonuses
once he reaches 340 plate appearances, but let’s face it – he’s not going to get
to 340 unless he’s extremely productive, that is, hitting at a level that
Catalanotto can’t be expected to hit.

 

So the decision isn’t a financial one.  This appears to be all about roster maximization.  If Jones would accept an assignment to Oklahoma City, he could be given steady at-bats with the
RedHawks (mixing in with Boggs, Julio Borbon, Greg Golson, and Ben Harrison in
an outfield/DH rotation) and serve as a fallback option while Catalanotto (and then
Vizquel) come off the Texas
bench to finish certain close games. 
Give Jones another opt-out date in late April or May and see where
things stand then.

 

In the meantime, even though Jones can opt out of his
Rangers contract tomorrow, it appears that he won’t, and one of the stories for
the next two weeks will be his battle with Catalanotto for what might be the
final spot on the bench – assuming he doesn’t decide to leave for a different
opportunity first.

 

The stiffer competition is in the bullpen, where Francisco
and Wilson have locked down spots but five jobs remain.  Contestants from the left side are Eddie
Guardado and Jimmy Gobble; from the right side, the battle for roles is between
Warner Madrigal, Willie Eyre, Dustin Nippert, Josh Rupe, Derrick Turnbow,
Brendan Donnelly, and possibly Jason Jennings, who is apparently now being
considered in middle or long relief.  (Jennings’s
lone big league relief appearance was a one-inning effort in a 12-3 Astros loss
to Atlanta on August 1, 2007, three days after a disastrous start in which he
gave up 11 San Diego runs and failed to get out of the first.) 

 

It’s too early to really handicap where the bullpen battles are
headed.  For now, keep the following in
mind:

 

Madrigal and Eyre each have two options remaining.

 

Nippert, Rupe, and Gobble are out of options.  Nippert (dealing now with a strained back
muscle) has been outrighted before, which means he can decline an assignment
and take free agency even if Texas
were to get him through waivers.  Rupe
and Gobble haven’t been outrighted, so Texas
can hang onto them if they clear waivers – but Gobble most likely wouldn’t clear.  As for Rupe, an erratic spring from a control
standpoint was compounded today by an ineffective inning of work.  He really needs a strong finish to camp.

 

Of the non-roster invitees, Donnelly can request his release
if not on the roster by March 27 or April 27.

 

Turnbow can request his release if not on the roster by March
31 or May 1.

 

Jennings
can request his release if not on the roster by April 25.

 

I don’t believe Guardado has an opt-out date.

 

But don’t assume Madrigal and Eyre are lagging the group just
because they can be safely sent to the farm without the risk of losing them.  Those two are probably leading the race for
jobs among the righthanders.  For now.

 

Madrigal and Francisco didn’t really have it today.

 

Also consider this: if Andrus and Vizquel make the club, and
Eric Hurley and Joaquin Benoit get transferred to the 60-day disabled list,
that leaves one open spot on the 40-man roster. 
For two of the group that includes Guardado, Gobble, Turnbow, Donnelly, and
Jennings to
make the roster, someone will have to be designated for assignment.  (And don’t say Catalanotto – removing him to
add Jones simply trades one roster member for another.)  That’s probably Rupe if two of the non-roster
relievers stick.

 

A note on Gobble: Although his career ERA is 5.23 (with an
opponents’ line of .279/.344/.470), in Rangers Ballpark he has a lifetime 2.87
mark (.200/.267/.345). 

 

Even if he were to pitch in the big leagues all season, Gobble
will still be short of free agency by a year.

 

He looked interesting enough in his one inning of work today.  Want to see more.

 

Brandon McCarthy has allowed one hit in his last eight
innings.  His ERA in 10 camp innings is
1.80.  He’s scattered three hits and
three walks, fanning seven.  The Cactus
League is hitting .094/.171/.125 off the 25-year-old, and he said after his
last effort – four hitless innings – that he didn’t even have his best stuff .
. . a recipe that too often has meant bad results during McCarthy’s time here. 

 

Though he was facing a bad Padres lineup, hitless is hitless
(hey, if the Padres had ripped him, would their fans have said “Yeah, but it
was just Brandon McCarthy”?), and he needed only 54 pitches to get his four
frames in.

 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

I won’t get too excited. 
It’s only 10 innings.  I won’t get
too excited.  It’s only 10 innings. 

 

Righthander Pedro Strop was brought over from minor league
camp to pitch an inning on Friday against the team from whom Texas stole the fireballing
righthander, and he retired three Rockies in a perfect seventh, getting big
leaguer Ryan Spilborghs to fly out to left, big leaguer Todd Helton to ground
out to second, and big leaguer Tomas Perez to ground out to first.

 

The Rangers don’t play tomorrow, and there are reports
suggesting that the club could use the off-day to make a long-term contract proposal
to Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, who already
had plans to be in the Phoenix
area on personal business.

 

Wilson
fanned two and issued one walk in a scoreless ninth yesterday, with no apparent
blister issues. 

 

There’s evidently been some level of thought, according to
one local report, of converting Wilson back to a
starting role down the road, though Washington
suggested that while he has the repertoire to do it, he probably throws too
many pitches to be an effective starter.

 

Cool moment in Saturday’s game: With Texas facing Colorado, Daniels suggested to Washington
that it might be a nice gesture to get first base prospect Chad Tracy into the
game, as his father Jim was in the opposite dugout as the Rockies’
bench coach.  Washington
inserted Tracy as a pinch-runner for Davis in the sixth inning,
and in the seventh he stepped up in a 4-4 game with the bases loaded, clearing
them with a grand slam.  The younger Tracy sits at
1.000/1.000/4.000 and could finish camp with that maxed-out line.

 

Loved seeing Adam Fox get playing time in today’s Rangers-Dodgers
game, and celebrate it with a no-doubt home run to straightaway left in the ninth
off legitimate big leaguer Cory Wade. 
That’s a good dude who’s paid lots of dues.

 

Click here
to see the “Five Questions: Texas Rangers” column that Scott Lucas wrote for The
Hardball Times.

 

Click here
to see the fourth batch of spectacular spring training photos that Scott took in
Surprise, including five from the above-mentioned Friday PFP session.

 

Hope you caught a lot of 105.3 The Fan’s Ben & Skin Show
from Surprise last week.  If you didn’t,
or even if you did, you can go here and listen to segments
Ben & Skin did with Tom Hicks, Daniels, Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Byrd, Wilson,
McCarthy, Holland, Eric Nadel, and me, plus a half-inning of play-by-play they did
with Jim Sundberg on Thursday. 

 

Boston determined that
righthander Wes Littleton wasn’t going to make its team and placed him on the waiver
wire, off of which he was claimed by Milwaukee
for a two-week audition.  The Rangers, as
a result, won’t receive a second player from the Red Sox to complete the trade
that sent Littleton to Boston for minor league reliever Beau
Vaughan.  Texas will instead receive the Brewers’
$20,000 waiver claim fee to complete the deal.

 

According to Baseball
America
, Texas signed a teenage
righthander from Mexico
named Daniel Rodriguez. 

 

The White Sox traded catcher Chris Stewart to the Yankees
for a player to be named later.  That
makes Stewart’s career progression White Sox, Rangers, Yankees, White Sox,
Yankees. 

 

Kansas City
signed righthander Sidney Ponson to a minor league deal.

 

Righthanders Adam Eaton and Alfredo Simon are in the running
for Baltimore’s
last rotation spot.  Texas plays the Orioles seven times in
April, four more times than any other opponent. 

 

Spring training stats: Philadelphia
outfielder John Mayberry Jr. is hitting .279/.323/.525 with three home runs in
61 at-bats.  Cubs outfielder Milton
Bradley is hitting .391/.440/.609 in 23 at-bats (the same number that Justin
Smoak and Golson have here).  Cincinnati outfielder Laynce
Nix is hitting .235/.333/.500 in 34 at-bats. 
Kansas City
righthander Robinson Tejeda has a 3.86 ERA in 11.2 innings (one start and four
relief appearances), with 16 strikeouts but 12 walks. 

 

I wrote a few days ago that after Carson Leslie was
diagnosed with brain cancer in 2006 and underwent surgery, he had a five-month
course of radiation and chemotherapy.  I
pulled that from another story written about the inspiring 16-year-old, and I need
to correct part of it.  His course of chemotherapy
last 15 months, during which he had radiation treatments every day for six weeks.

 

Does anyone have a copy of Wii Sports (not the system, but
just the game) that you’d trade for a Bound Edition?  Email me.

 

Outfielder Nathan Haynes retired.  The 29-year-old signed a minor league deal in
January but was going to have a hard time finding playing time in Oklahoma given the Boggs/Borbon/Golson/Harrison
mix that figures to begin the season with the RedHawks.

 

The Rangers weren’t going to take at-bats away from four
prospects like that to give playing time to a journeyman like Haynes.  Whether they’d be willing to do so for Andruw
Jones is another question, but not as big as whether Jones would be willing to
accept the arrangement himself.

 


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

 

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