April 2009

Three sleeps (and an addendum).

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The team has said farewell for another year to Surprise,
Arizona, leaving behind 20 wins, only the third time in the franchise’s 38
years that it has reached that number: the other two times were the 1995 club (which
started the spring with replacement players) and the 1998 club, which turned in
a 21-10 camp effort that was followed by an 18-7 opening month and the Rangers’
second division title in three years.

 

The Rangers’ penultimate home-half Cactus League inning went
like this, as the big leaguers packed up one final time for the spring: Marcus
Lemon flies out to left.  Johnny
Whittleman destroys a pitch over the right field fence (on a full count,
naturally).  Craig Gentry triples to
center.  Steve Murphy strikes out.  Adam Fox, who had homered two innings earlier,
draws a walk.  Chad Tracy singles up the
middle.  Justin Smoak doubles to
right.  Emerson Frostad strikes out.

 

All the damage came off of big league veteran Roman Colon.  The Royals righthander, whose 14 innings were
among the most of any Kansas City reliever, hadn’t allowed a home run all
spring until Whittleman’s blast. 

 

There’s plenty to get fired up about when you train your
sights on the Rangers’ future (these three new Baseball America links ought to help feed your excitement: http://tinyurl.com/djkmad
and
http://tinyurl.com/czzkxt and http://tinyurl.com/dflcbp),
but at the moment I’d suggest setting those thoughts aside and thinking for now
about the big league team’s home-heavy and contender-light April schedule.  And the Angels’ rotation.  And fewer distractions for Josh Hamilton and a
healthy Ian Kinsler and David Murphy. 

 

And a rotation without
injury issues, and 10 unbroken fingers on the third baseman’s hands.  And the way Chris Davis ended camp.  And the way the catchers and Nelson Cruz played
all spring.  And C.J. Wilson.

 

And Ken Rosenthal’s pick
for American League Rookie of the Year
.  And Derek Holland, who may be the best
second-half rookie pitcher in the league.

 

And ribbon panels
and new scoreboards and cheaper bottled water. 
And better defense.

 

And red-white-and-blue
bunting, a capacity crowd, 65 degrees, and a flyover. 

 

And those 20 wins, and what exhibition momentum has meant in
the past.

 

Three sleeps.

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

Can’t
contain myself today.  Few more things:

 

The
great Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus shared a bunch of those
golden-gold scouts’ notes in today’s “Future Shock” article, all coming out of Arizona.  Snippets:

 

Another 2008 first-round
pick earning glowing reports is Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit
.280/.357/.600 over 25 at-bats in big-league camp.  “He’s just fun to watch — he certainly looks
like he belongs in big-league games, and the team doesn’t miss a beat with him
out there,” said one scout, who had even stronger words for the former South
Carolina star when the subject of Smoak being blocked by Chris Davis came up.  “He’s going to be better than Davis,” the scout
concluded.  “He’s going to be an
All-Star, no question about it.”

 

The scout was also
impressed with Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden, who has hit .300/.364/.700
this spring, re-kindling the debate over whether he or Jarrod Saltalamacchia
should be the team’s everyday option behind the plate.  “Teagarden is just an unbelievable defender,
and he really shuts the running game down,” said the scout.  “And I think he’s going to hit,” he added.  “He’s narrowed the gap offensively more than
Salty, who has gotten better behind the plate defensively. It’s a nice problem
to have.”

 

Elvis Andrus, SS,
Rangers: “He’s been much more consistent with the glove, and the Rangers don’t
need much from him offensively. He’ll hit .255-.260 with seven home runs and be
fine.”

 

[Neftali] Feliz: “Every
bit as good as advertised — he was up to 98 mph when I saw him.  If I have to find something not to like,
sometimes he’s a little flat through the zone and he needs to learn how to
adjust to getting hit and for now, he just tries to throw harder.”

 

[Derek] Holland: “I saw him all list year and he just
looks more and more polished each time I see him.  He topped out at 96 mph for me and his
breaking ball was much better.”

 

As
for that Fox Sports article that I linked to in this morning’s report, in which
Ken Rosenthal predicts Andrus will be the AL Rookie of the Year (not Price, not
Wieters, not Snider), Rosenthal also has this note in his discussion of his AL Cy
Young pick, Roy Halladay: “Granted,
Halladay might be traded to an NL club at midseason and become this year’s CC
Sabathia, a Cy Young without a country.  But
he also could get dealt to a prospect-rich AL contender such as the Red Sox or even the
Rangers, keeping his candidacy intact.”

 

What
would it take?

 

Way
back on August 21, I wrote this:

 

I discussed that idea
with [Evan] Grant yesterday, and my thought was that the cost — if Toronto were
truly willing to explore the idea at all — might look something like Derek
Holland, Elvis Andrus, one of the Four Catchers, and someone like Beau Jones,
Brandon Boggs, or Omar Poveda.  (A year
from now, if Halladay is still with the Blue Jays, Justin Smoak enters the
equation.  For now, would Mitch Moreland
interest them as a fourth piece?)  The
Blue Jays are less in need of left-handed relief than most teams, but maybe
C.J. Wilson enters talks as well, though Texas
would obviously be selling low on him given his health situation. 

 

I
would never offer that package today. 
First, Holland
and Andrus are more valuable today than they were in August, and Halladay – who
will be one year older and one year closer to free agency – is less
valuable.  (Stated another way: Mark
Teixeira was a less valuable trade piece for Atlanta
last summer than he was for Texas
the summer before, even though he was every bit as productive.)

 

The
Blue Jays will insist on Holland
or Neftali Feliz, and they will insist on Smoak.  Count on that.

 

I
would refuse on the pitchers.

 

Smoak
or Davis.  Michael Main or Martin Perez.  And Wilson.  That’s my offer, and it would be a difficult
one to make.  But it gets you Halladay, one
of the game’s very few absolute aces, for the remainder of 2009 (a $14.25
million season) and for 2010 ($15.75 million). 
And then you’d hope to lock him up beyond that, when he’ll be 33 and should
still have a multi-year deal in him.

 

There
is that 6.14 ERA in 63 Rangers Ballpark innings.  And 6.35 in Angel Stadium.  His two worst venues.

 

But
he is what they look like.

 

Still,
hmm.

 

OK,
I’ve talked myself out of it.  Smoak or
Davis, plus Wilson, plus Wilfredo Boscan or Kennil Gomez.

 

But
Toronto won’t
do it.

 

Enough
of that, for now.

 

One
more note for the future, and one for the present:

 

One
of those Baseball America links I sent
out this morning had BA ranking the Rangers
number one in its 2009 Organizational Talent Rankings.  More detail:

 

1.
Texas Rangers

3.
Oakland
Athletics

24.
Seattle
Mariners

25.
Los Angeles
Angels

 

And
this, from Ian Kinsler, courtesy of T.R. Sullivan:

 

“We’re just as good as
any other team.  Somebody has to win it,
why not us?  We’re very talented,
everybody knows it.  It’s just a matter
of us doing it on the field.”

 

Ready
for all this to count.

 

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

 

The Curiosity killed the Cat.

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Derek Holland’s final act in an impressive spring training
was a well-deserved victory, as he pitched the last four innings in today’s 5-4
win over the Angels, giving up one run (a solo homer, his first long ball
surrendered since his first appearance of camp) on three hits and a walk while
punching out four and picking off another. 
Scrape that first outing (two solo homers and two walks in one inning of
work) off Holland’s
ledger, and his first big league camp went like this: 10.1 innings, 11 hits,
three runs (2.61 ERA), two walks, nine strikeouts.  Solid.

 

Frank Catalanotto’s final act, not only of spring training
but of his second stint as a Ranger, was a pair of two-out F-7’s in today’s ninth
inning, one that he hit in the top of the inning and one that he squeezed in
the bottom of the frame, just before Holland finished the game with his fourth
strikeout.  Following the game, the
Rangers gave Catalanotto, who hit .317/.349/.439 in 41 camp at-bats after a run
with Team Italy
in the World Baseball Classic, his unconditional release.  He’s being placed on irrevocable release
waivers, and if he goes unclaimed (which he will), he’ll become a free agent as
of Opening Day.

 

Meanwhile, it was Andruw Jones’s home run in the top of the ninth,
minutes before Catalanotto’s final at-bat, that made a winner out of Holland and punctuated a camp
in which, perhaps as an upset, Jones ensured that his own final act as a Ranger
wouldn’t come in Surprise.  After
starting exhibition play with eight strikeouts in his first nine at-bats, he
went on to hit .327/.365/.633 from that point forward, striking out 10 more
times in 49 at-bats.

 

Speculation that Cincinnati
and Philadelphia were interested in Jones went
nowhere, because Texas
decided it wanted his right-handed bat around to give Hank Blalock or Chris
Davis an occasional day off against a tough lefthander.  Speculation that Florida was interested in Catalanotto died
when the Marlins acquired left-handed-hitting Ross Gload from the Royals (who
will reportedly pay $1.5 million of his $1.9 million contract) earlier in the
day.

 

Jones will take the roster spot vacated by the release of
Catalanotto, but there remains roster work to be done.  After the game, Texas
sent Holland, Neftali Feliz, and Doug Mathis to
minor league camp, optioned Joaquin Arias and Brandon Boggs to Oklahoma City, and optioned Tommy Hunter to
Frisco.  The roster now has 38 players on
it, but effectively only 35, as Eric Hurley and Joaquin Benoit will be transferred
to the 60-day disabled list and Joe Koshansky will be designated for
assignment. 

 

But five open spots won’t accommodate Jones, Elvis Andrus,
Omar Vizquel, Kris Benson, Jason Jennings, and Eddie Guardado, all six of whom
are in line to make the Opening Day roster, so one more move is yet to be
made.  A possible trade of Arias was
surely among the alternatives – his (uneventful) three-inning look at third
base today was clearly a showcase effort, coming at the end of a six-week camp
during which he reportedly never even took ground balls at the position – but he’s
too valuable to trade simply for the sake of creating a roster spot.  Should the Reds or some other team step up
with a strong trade offer between now and Sunday, something could happen with
Arias.

 

Otherwise, Luis Mendoza and Travis Metcalf are probably the remaining
candidates for a designation for assignment. 
If placing Hunter (groin strain) on the 60-day disabled list were an
option, the Rangers wouldn’t have used him this afternoon for an inning
(preventing the club from backdating the move to March 27, not to mention
serving as an admission that he’s healthy enough to go).  Dustin Nippert’s and Willie Eyre’s injuries are
apparently not serious enough to risk disqualifying them from big league work
for two months.

 

Catalanotto will undoubtedly find work next week.  He’ll earn $4 million from Texas this year and another $2 million after
the season when his 2010 option (for $5 million) is bought out by his new
team.  There’s something left in his bat,
and he’ll end up as the key left-handed bat on somebody’s bench, costing that
team close to the league minimum.

 

As for Jones, it’s still hard for me to get behind the idea that
his role as a Ranger will be as big as the media coverage might suggest it will
be – believe it or not, Blalock and Davis each had a higher OPS against
left-handed pitchers last year than against righties, both in the healthy .900
range, and Nelson Cruz, whose fitness to clean up against lefties is considered
less than a lock despite a 1.288 OPS against southpaws last year – but it’s still
hard not to get the sense that Jones has enough of Ron Washington’s and Rudy
Jaramillo’s support that he’s going to factor in significantly during
April. 

 

In any event, on to a more important point:

 

Five sleeps.

 

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

 

Valuing Joaquin Arias.

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As the job of finalizing the 25-man roster – which is less tricky
a matter than adjusting the 40-man roster – nears its deadline, word is leaking
that:

 

1. The Phillies (who are looking for a backup outfielder that
hits right-handed, as we discussed yesterday) are showing interest in Andruw
Jones as well as the newly released Gary Sheffield, both of whom are going to
get paid massive amounts of money this year by their 2008 clubs and therefore
will play for almost nothing as long as they get a chance to contribute.

 

2. The Reds, who traded infielder Jeff Keppinger to Houston yesterday, are showing
“strong” interest in Joaquin Arias, and, according to some accounts, are
kicking the Jones tires, too.  A Cincinnati scout has
reportedly been showing up at the Surprise South complex for a week now, intently
watching Arias and Jones.

 

Contrary to how the national (and maybe local) media will
prioritize those two stories, I’m far more interested in the Arias situation. 

 

Yes, Arias can hit and Arias can fly.  There’s never been much doubt about that, and
he’s spent the entire month of March driving it home, hitting .415/.419/.488 in
camp and making contact, striking out only five times in 41 at-bats (with just
one walk), right in line with what he’s always done.  He’s an asset, and under different
circumstances with the rest of the roster (i.e.,
a veteran at every infield spot), he’d be a lock to make this squad.

 

But:

 

1. Can he throw?

 

2. With this infield, how much will he ever play here – not just
in 2009, with Omar Vizquel here to help bring Elvis Andrus along, but for the
next few years, with players at second and third base who never take a day or a
late inning off?

 

3. Arias’s value may never be higher – and he has only his
2009 option remaining.

 

4. Jose Vallejo is coming. 
A little less bat (though maybe more pop), but just as much speed, just
as much glove, and, these days, considerably more arm.

 

Wouldn’t this be the right time to move Arias, if a useful
trade offer comes along, giving Texas
either (1) a right-handed bullpen boost or (2) a non-roster prospect that would
allow the club to clear a spot on the 40-man roster?

 

Texas
is giving Arias a start at third base today. 
Bet there’s a reason for that beyond evaluating his fitness to make the
throws from the hot corner, and that that Reds scout will still be around,
making the same trip to Tempe
as the Rangers bus.

 

It could also mean that the Rangers still need to see for themselves
whether Arias is passable at third base, in case they’re considering exposing
Travis Metcalf to waivers to create one of those 40-man roster spots. 

 

This one’s worth keeping tabs on.

 

Here’s some good news: Derrick Turnbow has agreed to accept
an assignment to Oklahoma City
rather than exercise his Thursday opt-out and take his release to find an
opportunity somewhere else.  Turnbow is
willing to go to AAA to work with pitching coach Terry Clark on his command and
mechanics (willing, presumably, because there are no big league opportunities
anywhere else right now), and this could work out well for Texas. 

 

Recall that Dustin Nippert posted a 16.62 ERA for Texas over
the first three weeks of the 2009 season (he was acquired from Arizona a few
days before the season opened), then pitched for the RedHawks for two months
(first on rehab and then on an outright assignment), going 6-2, 3.98 with a
no-hitter as he found his rhythm, earning a return to Texas.  Turnbow has been erratic this spring, but there’s
a track record there, and extending his audition further with a stint in AAA
could help him regain what once made him an effective late reliever.

 

Texas
has released 23-year-old outfielder K.C. Herren, the 2004 second-rounder who
hit .249/.337/.366 in five pro seasons, all in Class A or lower.

 

Hopes were high in the summer of 2004, when Herren hit
.297/.381/.389 in the Arizona League, coming off a spring in which he was a second-team
High School All-American, according to both Baseball
America
and USA Today, an extraordinary
athlete who’d been invited to play both outfield and defensive back for the University of Washington. 

 

But they were far higher for Joaquin Arias, who had been
acquired from the Yankees three months before Herren was drafted, half of the Rangers’
return (along with Alfonso Soriano) for Alex Rodriguez.  The 19-year-old shortstop hit .300/.344/.396
for High A Stockton and made every play, and every throw. 

 

Arias is virtually that same player today – though his plus-plus
arm strength was stripped from him due to a 2007 shoulder injury – and while
the injury and a reconfiguration of the Rangers’ infield has changed his place in
the organization, he’s once again a valuable asset.

 

If he follows Herren out of the organization shortly, it
will be to make this organization better, even if not in the way envisioned
when Texas singled him out as New York tried to disguise him on the back fields
when the Rangers were zeroing in on the player to be named later in one of the
most significant trades the franchise has ever made.

 

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

 

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