September 2009

Hamilton done for the year.

According to local reports, the Rangers have decided to shut Josh Hamilton down for the season due to the pinched nerve in his lower back.  

Hamilton finishes his 2009 campaign with 365 plate appearances – about half of what he amassed in 2008 (704) – and a line of .268/.315/.426 with 10 home runs and 54 RBI, after a .304/.371/.530-32-130 line last year.  Interestingly, after torching righthanders in his breakout season in 2008, Hamilton did an inordinate amount of damage against southpaws this year, roughing them up to the tune of .327/.361/.536, with more home runs (6) than he had in more twice as many plate appearances against righties (4).  

Still, it’s been a massively disappointing year for the 28-year-old, and it’s hard to keep from wondering what might have been on the line for this team over these final six games – which could still produce 90 wins if the Rangers can pull off five wins – had he put up anything close to the production he gave Texas in his first season with the club.

Hamilton goes into his first of three arbitration-eligible seasons this winter.

The next Newberg Report and several after that will come to you from sunny Surprise, Arizona, where I’m going to spend a few days planted on the back fields, immersed in Fall Instructional League baseball.  For those of you whose friends expect you to forward Newberg Report emails to them whenever they land in your mailbox, now would be a good time to suggest they get off the schneid and sign up for themselves.  Instructions below.

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http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

Dear Sirs.

Dear Elvis, Feldy, Michael & Marlon . . . Nellie, Kins &
Murph . . . Frankie, Darren & C.J. . . . Milly, Pudge, Omar & Josh . .
. Neftali, Derek, Tommy, Taylor & Julio . . . CD, Grilli, B.Mac, Harry
& Salty . . . Dustin & Doug . . . Hank, Smiley, Eddie & JJ . . . Esteban,
Craig, Guillermo & Pedro . . . K.Rich . . . Willie, Boggs, Warner &
Joaquin . . . Kris, Rupe, Mendy & Greg . . . and Vicente,

 

Thanks.

 

Chester_Roller_Coaster_72dpi.U4797b06da1c1d.jpg 

 

 

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Twitter  @newbergreport

 

One helluva ride.

Just as I was taking the Ballpark Way exit yesterday, Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” started up on the radio.  

I’m not a fan of Boston and never was, but “More Than a Feeling” always throws me back to my senior year in high school, because (even though the song was more than 10 years old then) it seemed like Coach Schrantz played it on the way to every Hillcrest Panthers game.  The song is still classic rock caricature to me, but it never fails to generate that hard-to-replicate mix of adrenaline and jitters that I felt when it was my day to pitch, and for that reason I typically leave the dial right where it is, against my better judgment.

Yesterday, the adrenaline-jitters mix worked for me even more.  I usually try to get to the final regular season home game in Arlington every year, and this year things were different.  There was a strange feeling, knowing that this would probably be the final time I’d be at a Rangers game in 2009 – but maybe not.  

I half-smiled and turned “More Than a Feeling” up a bit, noticing as I circled the exit ramp that the cars on the Six Flags roller coaster that fringes Ballpark Way were moving up, and appreciating the simplicity of the whole arrangement like the melody in Green Day’s “21 Guns,” or Michael Young’s throwing mechanics, or Saturday night’s moment when Max, as always, held his hand over his heart during “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

I walked up to the Ballpark in perfect Sunday afternoon weather, already sad that it was home game number 81.  Historically for this franchise, Fan Appreciation Day is, in part, a mourning, but this year, given what the team has accomplished and the fact that the schedule ended the home 81 with another seven games still on tap, there was the chance – especially with a win and an Angels loss – that the sendoff might have been along the lines of “looking forward to seeing you in six months . . . unless we see you in a week and a half.”

When you think about it, the phrase “Fan Appreciation Day” can be taken two ways.  The idea is generally the organization showing its appreciation for us, the fans, an effort this year that began as the gates opened at 12:30 with most of the Rangers players standing inside the ticket gates, greeting Sunday’s crowd.  

But yesterday, there was a vibe in the building that the “Fan Appreciation” was just as much appreciation by the fans as it was appreciation for the fans.  The 2009 Rangers have given us a ton.

You don’t need me to write about the game itself.  You probably saw it, you’ve probably read plenty about it, and don’t want to read more.  Brandon McCarthy answered the bell, Elvis Andrus and Marlon Byrd and Nelson Cruz came up big, and the trio of Darren O’Day, C.J. Wilson, and Frankie Francisco – who have collectively retired 75 percent of the hitters they’ve faced this season – were asked to protect a 5-0 lead, and recorded two outs in the span of 11 Rays.  Those three came into the game with a combined ERA of 2.67, and allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning (67.51).  McCarthy needed 97 pitches to get through 7.2 innings.  The bullpen threw 57 pitches in an inning and a third.

A friend of mine and I were talking from our seats about the game on September 30, 2004, when the team emerged from the dugout seconds after a home win over the Angels to close out the home schedule, and circled the entire warning track, shaking the hands of the fans who had been behind them for that surprising season that ended with 89 wins.  We agreed that the team wouldn’t do the same on Sunday, not when there was still a chance to extend the season past 162.  

And we had that conversation before what seemed to be a safe lead disappeared.  Celebrating 2009, understandably, wasn’t going to happen right after such a gut-wrenching loss.

It was one loss, just one, but a big one.  Texas is in Anaheim for four, and any Rangers loss eliminates them from playoff contention, forcing the players to sit in the road dugout and watch Los Angeles celebrate on the field.  There will be something to be gained from that experience, not that that’s any carpe diem consolation.

Despite all that this team has been through in 2009 – several massively significant injuries, problems at the top of the rotation, reliance on an extraordinary number of rookie players – if the Rangers win five of these last seven, they’ll get to 90 wins for just the fourth time in the franchise’s 38-year history.  Someone pointed out to me on Sunday that Nolan Ryan was only fortunate enough to play for three 90-win teams in his 27-year career, Jim Sundberg only two in his 16 big league seasons.  Seasons like this don’t come along as often as we’d like.

As I made the annual regular season finale walk out of the ballpark, always a strange walk, lonely in a way, I had to remind myself how many times this team’s resilience has surfaced this season like smelling salts.  

I drove away from 1000 Ballpark Way yesterday afternoon looking forward not quite yet to 2010, but instead to the Angels series that starts tonight, and I saw the cars on that same roller coaster diving down.  But at least the roller coaster wasn’t empty.  

It’s been a helluva ride.  One that’s not quite over, though the end is now very much in sight.  

One helluva ride.
 

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http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

Saturday in the Park: Twitter style.

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o\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
w\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);}
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Tonight’s Twitter posts
(@newbergreport):

 

        
CD in line for
season’s biggest kangaroo court sanction

 

        
Pitch hit ground
before he hit it (Please explain!!
@NewbergReport: CD in line for season’s biggest kangaroo ct sanction
(via@StephBloom)
)

 

        
Craig Gentry’s
first big league hit: a 2b that screamed “Yep. I got more jets than
Julio.”

 

        
Giving Guardado
the 9th, next to last home game of season and maybe career — kick-*** gesture

 

        
LAA was up 9-2
over Oak. Now it’s 9-9. Conversation fear.

 

        
LAA jumped back
ahead, 10-9. And then OAK bounced back with two in the 8th. Now 11-10, A’s, T8.

 

        
Now make it
12-10, OAK, T8.

 

        
Ellis takes
Palmer deep. Now 15-10, OAK, still T8.

 

        
TX scores 14
fr/5th inn. on, LAAA allows 13 fr/5th on; 5 out/8 left/4 head2head; let’s take
care of biz Sun., get the final week we deserve

 

 

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Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the
newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News
Flashes, go to www.newbergreport.com
and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

 

 

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http://www.newbergreport.com

 

30-30, and something even more exciting.

I’m happy for Ian Kinsler.  Really happy.  Becoming just the third second baseman ever to put together a 30-30 season is a very cool thing.

But more importantly, as far as I’m concerned, he saw a ton of pitches tonight (26 in four plate appearances, more pitches than anyone else saw for either team), and drew two walks, in both cases starting the at-bat behind in the count.

What I’d really like to see over these final nine games for Kinsler, with the 30-30 pressure off and, as a result, maybe a more relaxed approach and less of an inclination to try and do something with the ball up in the zone, is for him to turn that groundball-flyball rate around.  

Two pitches before Kinsler turned a Grant Balfour fastball around for the historic homer, he popped a 2-1 fastball above the belt straight up and was fortunate to have it land three rows behind the Rangers dugout, keeping the at-bat alive.  For the most part, Kinsler did a solid job laying off the high pitch tonight.  Maybe without thinking home run the rest of the way, he can do an even better job of letting those pitches go by for the next nine days, forcing the pitcher to come down in the zone, as Balfour regretfully did on 3-2.

Let’s mark it down.  Kinsler sits at 250 flyballs and 139 ground balls for the season, a 1.78 ratio that is the worst in all of baseball.  Let’s see if he can even things out.  Doesn’t need to be the reverse (Derek Jeter’s 0.39 and Elvis Andrus’s 0.40 ratios are top five in the game this year), but maybe something closer to an even split would look really good.  

Even something resembling Kinsler’s 2008 level (1.40) or 2007 mark (1.27) would give me confidence that 2010 is going to be a better year for the 26-year-old, whose 2009 slash line (.250/.322/.484) has to be one of the strangest ever put together during a 30-30 season.

But what I’m looking forward to even more next season is Julio Borbon and Andrus setting the table, all year.  Borbon put on an absolute clinic tonight, out-Rays-ing the Rays, and while Kinsler will dominate the headlines and highlights from tonight’s game, and not undeservedly so, it was Borbon without whom we probably don’t win that game.

The Angels are down to Oakland in the seventh inning, 3-0, and if the A’s hold on, the Angels’ lead over Texas narrows to six games.  That’s still a huge hill to climb with nine games to go, but it would be pretty cool if the series in Anaheim were to start on Monday with an even slimmer deficit than that.  

It was good to see Chris Davis get his effortless cannonade stroke back, and to see Derek Holland fight through command issues to keep Tampa Bay off the scoreboard in four innings out of five, and to see the Rangers’ top four relievers – all of whom will be back in 2010 – methodically nail things down with one scoreless inning each.  And it was great to see Ian Kinsler make a little history.

But in truth, Texas 8, Tampa Bay 3 was the Borbon-Andrus show, one that ought to air night after night in 2010 and for many years to come, and that’s what really has me fired up about what we were treated to tonight.

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Twitter  @newbergreport

Off base.

Long before Ian Kinsler spilled his bat, head down, a few long seconds before his pop-up settled into the second baseman’s glove a few feet behind the mound for the Rangers’ final out yesterday, I got to thinking.

The Rangers’ team ERA is down a run per game this year.  The team RA is down a run and a half.  The team fielding percentage has improved.  Really, the pitching and defense is as solid as it’s ever been for this organization.  The running game, too, in hard numbers as well as efficiency.

But the batting average and on-base percentage are way down from 2008.  The slug is down, too.  The offense, as a whole, is pushing across nearly a run per game fewer than last year.

It’s arguable, isn’t it, to suggest that a year at the plate anywhere close to what we’ve come to expect from this team – with all the other improvements we’ve seen – would have us holding down a playoff spot right now, or in a dogfight for one at worst?

Texas already has 21 more home runs than it had as a club last year, 36 more than in 2007, 32 more than in 2006.  The stolen base numbers are not even in the same stratosphere.  So why are the Rangers crossing the plate so less often?  Because the Rangers just don’t reach base.  Only Kansas City and Seattle have had fewer baserunners.  

The Rangers are on pace to strike out 1,261 times, which would set a franchise record.  The only other times the team fanned more than 1,200 times?  The previous two seasons.  You sure would like to make more contact to take advantage of the speed weapon the offense now features.  You don’t need to be Elvis Andrus or Julio Borbon to score on a .245/.285/.480 hitter’s round-tripper.

Lots of home runs, yes.  But an inordinate amount of solo shots, I’d guess.  It’s a very inefficient offense, which is almost as foreign for this franchise as its suddenly stalwart work on the mound and in the field.

So where does the base-reaching improvement come from?  The lineup seems fairly well intact.  

Certainly more will be expected at catcher and first base.  

After Kinsler’s first 303 plate appearances this season (.266/.341/.528), he was on pace for a career low reaching base and nearly his career low hitting, but that slash line would be far more welcome than his ensuing 297 plate appearances this year (.231/.298/.429).  But man, if he could lay off the pitch up in the zone (his 1.77 flyball-to-groundball rate is the highest in the major leagues) and find a way to become the .319/.375/.517 hitter he was in 2008 . . . .

Borbon should lead off every day in 2010.

Is it fair to expect Andrus to take the next step offensively?  I think so.

Can Michael Young replicate .322/.375/.523?  I’m not betting against it.

If Josh Hamilton is healthy – certainly not the type of slam dunk odds you’d place on Young being ready to go – he’s not a .318 on-base guy.  Not again.

There’s base-reaching help on the way, too, as Justin Smoak is a lock to arrive at some point in 2010, and I’m still holding out hope that Max Ramirez regains his form, in what will be his final option year – though it’s more difficult to see where he fits in.

But why is it that so many Rangers hitters regressed this year in getting on base?  

I don’t know the answer.  Some will blame Rudy Jaramillo – that comes with the position, just like an offensive or defensive coordinator who units don’t get the job done – and here’s the interesting part.  Jaramillo’s contract, which I believe is the most lucrative hitting coach deal in the league, expires at season’s end.  Will there be a team out there prepared to pay for Jaramillo at an even higher level?  Remember, Milwaukee didn’t want to lose Mike Maddux last winter, either.  If another team comes in with a quick, aggressive offer to Jaramillo, we may find that he’s in a different uniform in 2010 – whether Texas wants him back or not.

What about the Rangers’ other significant free agent, outfielder Marlon Byrd?  Could he end up somewhere else the next three years?  It wouldn’t be because Texas doesn’t want him here.  But he’s a player who, at age 32, has never played under anything but a one-year contract.  The same was true for Mark DeRosa before his career year in Texas, who couldn’t match the Cubs’ offer (in dollars or playing time) when he left after the 2006 season.  (Same was true with Gary Matthews Jr., also in 2006, and Milton Bradley in 2008 – neither had ever landed a multi-year deal before parlaying a huge season in Texas into a monster deal on the open market.)

Byrd’s going to have to take care of his family with this next contract, conceivably his one and only shot at a multi-year deal.  I hope it’s here, not only because of his productivity and ability to play all three outfield positions (including center field to begin the 2010 season) but also because his value as a vocal team leader is huge.

It’s looking like Byrd will qualify as a Type B free agent, so if he does leave, Texas will recoup a supplemental first-round pick in June.  DeRosa and Bradley were Type B’s as well, and the Rangers did well with the compensatory picks, turning them into Tommy Hunter and Tanner Scheppers.

If he fits the budget, I wouldn’t mind at all seeing DeRosa back here.  It would probably mean a trade of Nelson Cruz.

As for Bradley, whose Cubs career seems unsalvageable despite the two years and $21 million remaining on his contract, every national columnist has written since his recent suspension by the club (for publicly criticizing the organization) that a return to Texas would be a natural fit.  Chicago is reportedly hoping to trade Bradley for an equally bad contract – which Texas doesn’t really have – but even if the Cubs were left with no choice but to eat Bradley’s remaining two years (either by trading him for a prospect and sending enough cash in the deal to subsidize Bradley’s contract in nearly its entirety, or simply firing Bradley as the Dodgers did a year ago with Andruw Jones), I’m not sure how good I feel about the idea.

I want to believe Bradley can be the brilliant .321/.436/.563 hitter that he was in Texas in 2008, when he led baseball in OPS, but I have a hard time dismissing the idea that the Rangers were fortunate to get a career year out of Bradley not only on the field but maybe also off of it, as his lapses in 2008 were relatively minor given what we know about the rest of his time as a big leaguer.  

Remember these Bradley remarks to Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in March, having secured his three-year, $30 million contract from the Cubs?

“If I’m being paid, and I’ve got the commitment to me that I give to [the team], you make more of an effort to be out there every day.

“When you’re on one-year deals constantly, you’ve got to put up as good numbers as you can.  When you have days where you’re not feeling like you can contribute, you’re not going to go out there, because you’re not going to want your numbers to [be really bad].

“So, if you’re in a situation like I am now, if they want me to go out there when I’m feeling a little banged up, I’ve got no problem doing that because they’ve made the commitment to me.”

Nobody’s ever questioned Bradley’s intensity between the lines, but he gave the Rangers some more-than-circumstantial evidence with those March comments that his intensity as a teammate was far less reliable.

That .321/.436/.563 line sure is a seductive, fresh memory, but if Bradley’s year here was a round of roulette that the Rangers escaped, is it a good idea – especially without a contract on the line – to take another chance on him?

Plus, a two-year commitment to Bradley (assuming a trad
e rather than a dump-and-sign), who certainly can’t be depended on to answer the bell defensively, makes no sense with Smoak on the doorstep.

As this team heads toward 90-win territory, there’s one aspect of it heading into the off-season that we couldn’t have expected.  Every fan, every journalist, and even some in the organization acknowledged coming into 2009 that while things were looking up for the Rangers, the idea that they should be viewed as contenders was probably a year away, and that regardless of what happened this year, there’d be room for natural improvement going forward.

But nobody could have guessed that the greatest room for improvement, for this (or any) brand of the Texas Rangers, would lie with the offense.

A few other quick notes:

According to local reports, Nolan Ryan has acknowledged some level of interest in joining the group being gathered by Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg to bid for an ownership interest in the Rangers.  In 2002, Greenberg involved Penguins great Mario Lemieux and Steelers star Jerome Bettis (both active players at the time) in his ownership group with the Altoona Curve, the Pirates’ AA affiliate that Greenberg has since sold.  His relationship with Lemieux was forged when he helped put together the deal that helped the hockey legend purchase the bankrupt Penguins back in 1999.  Greenberg currently owns the High A Myrtle Beach Pelicans (for whom Andrus played in 2007) and Short-Season A State College Spikes (a Pirates affiliate) and formed Greenberg Sports Group, a sports management, consulting, and marketing services provider, last November.

According to a local report, former Oakland, San Diego, and MLB exec Sandy Alderson is apparently trying to put together a group of investors to enter the mix for the purchase of the Rangers as well.

Lefthander Eddie Guardado is considering retirement.

Kinsler has a 1.77 flyball-to-groundball rate, the highest in the major leagues.

Borbon, Cruz, Chris Davis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Neftali Feliz are among those planning to play winter ball.  Surely Ramirez is in that mix as well.

Based on a survey of Arizona League managers, Baseball America ranked 17-year-old righthander Richard Alvarez as the circuit’s number 12 prospect, and 18-year-old catcher Tomas Telis number 16.  Just missing the top 20 were righthander Carlos Melo (who came over with Guillermo Moscoso in the Gerald Laird trade with Detroit) and lefthander Edwin Escobar, with righthander Ezequiel Rijo and lefthander Juan Grullon also earning mention.  

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reports that the Rangers are among the teams expected to be in on 21-year-old Cuban lefthander Aroldis Chapman, who has defected and established residency in Andorra.  Nothing earth-shattering there.  All 30 teams will be interested.

The Cubs designated righthander Thomas Diamond for assignment without him ever making an appearance, and got him through waivers.  He’s been outrighted to AAA Iowa.

The Cubs also purchased righthander Ezequiel Astacio from the San Angelo Colts of the independent United League but, after three September appearances for Iowa, released the 29-year-old former Ranger.

Wide receiver Riley Cooper, who signed with the Rangers as the club’s 25th round pick this summer, leads the Florida Gators with 212 receiving yards through three games.

LSU righthander Anthony Ranaudo, who is expected to figure in somewhere in the top five or 10 picks in the first round of the draft in June, has hired Scott Boras to advise him, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.  Ranaudo was the Rangers’ 11th-round pick in 2007, but Texas was unable to convince the New Jersey high schooler to forgo his LSU commitment.  

The World Cup Gold Medal game will be televised Sunday on MLB Network, at 9 a.m. local time.  Lefthander Kasey Kiker gets the tune-up start for Team USA today, and Smoak – hitting a ridiculous .341/.481/1.049 with nine home runs in 11 games, plus 11 walks and six strikeouts in 41 at-bats – will headline the club’s lineup Sunday morning.  

Smoak isn’t going to headline the Rangers’ offensive attack when the 2010 season kicks off, but his anticipated arrival, not so much for his potential to inflict damage as for his ability to get on base, is something that shockingly falls into a category that now ranks higher on the priority list for this franchise than better starting pitching, or tighter defense.

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Twitter  @newbergreport

Reuters: Three prospective buyers identified.

From Ben Klayman of Reuters this evening (this Greenberg fella is fascinating):

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Potential buyers of the Texas Rangers baseball team include a freight-forwarding executive and a minor league baseball team owner who helped hockey star Mario Lemieux purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, sources familiar with the sales process told Reuters.

The three potential buyers are Jim Crane, a Houston businessman who runs his own freight-forwarding company; Chuck Greenberg, a minor league baseball team owner and sports attorney who helped negotiate the Penguins deal in 1999; and Dennis Gilbert, whose sports agency once represented baseball home run king Barry Bonds, according to three sources familiar with the sales process.

Gilbert, a special assistant to the owner of the Chicago White Sox, confirmed through the baseball team that he was bidding for the Rangers but declined further comment. Crane could not be reached and Greenberg declined to comment.

Texas billionaire and sports tycoon Tom Hicks is selling the team to satisfy creditors who declared his sports group in default. Hicks Sports Group (HSG) also owns the Dallas Stars hockey team. Hicks could not be reached and a team spokesman declined to comment.

The Rangers are expected to draw bids of around $550 million, sports bankers and baseball officials have said.

“Identifying a winner should occur before year end,” said one of the sources, all of whom asked not to be identified.

The three groups are doing their due diligence, studying the team’s financial data, sources said.

Another group that had eyed a bid for the Rangers but dropped out was led by Harvey Schiller, the president of the International Baseball Federation and CEO of Global Options Group, a security investigation company, a source said.

After building an insurance business, Gilbert became a top agent in baseball before retiring in January 1999. In addition to Bonds, his firm represented such star players as George Brett, Mike Piazza and Jose Canseco.

Crane, the former CEO of freight-forwarding company EGL Inc, re-entered that industry in August 2008 with the formation of Crane Worldwide Logistics. He also bid for the Chicago Cubs, which bankrupt media company Tribune Co has agreed to sell for $845 million.

Crane was a star pitcher for the University of Central Missouri in the 1970s. In a 1974 college World Series game in what is now Division II, he struck out 18 batters, including 11 consecutive strikeouts, in a 2-0 win.

Greenberg, 48, owns minor league baseball teams in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and State College, Pennsylvania, and sold another team in Altoona, Pennsylvania, last December. He owns Greenberg Sports Group, a sports consulting firm.

In April, 40 creditors — banks and institutional investors — declared HSG in default on $525 million of loans after Hicks withheld a quarterly interest payment.

Hicks also owns half of the English Premier League’s Liverpool Football Club, which is held separately from HSG.

Former agent reportedly bidding to purchase Rangers.

According to at least one local report, former baseball agent Dennis Gilbert is heading up a group that has apparently submitted one of six bids to MLB for the purchase of the Rangers franchise.  The report notes that Gilbert, with the assistance of consulting group Game Plan LLC, was in Dallas two months ago recruiting local investors to join the prospective ownership group. 

One source, however, claims that Gilbert’s group is not considered a frontrunner among the suitors who have presented offers to the Commissioner thus far.

Among the ideas Gilbert would propose to implement if he were to own the club are the creation of a regional network to televise Rangers broadcasts and a baseball academy in Mexico featuring amateur players from Japan.

Gilbert, a former minor league outfielder in the Red Sox, Mets, and Royals systems, was probably the game’s preeminent agent before ceding that title to Scott Boras.  Gilbert holds the distinction of establishing the richest contract in baseball history three times in a two-year period: Jose Canseco (1990, five years/$23.5 million), Bobby Bonilla (1991, five years/$29 million), and Barry Bonds (1992, six years, $43.75 million).  Gilbert is now employed by the White Sox, as a Special Assistant to Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

In other news: (1) Justin Smoak hit 18 home runs today in Team USA’s win over Australia (or maybe it was just his ninth bomb in the club’s 10 World Cup games); and (2) Kevin Millwood is set to take the mound for Texas, 4.1 innings away from locking in his $12 million contract for 2010.  He’s been staked to at least a one-run lead.

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Twitter  @newbergreport

Magic Number = 2010.

The Rangers came home, having just scored 11, 10, and 10 runs in a three-game sweep over Cleveland that raised their record to 79-60.  It was the first time since the 1999 playoff season that Texas had been 19 games over .500.
 
The club came home from that Indians series for its most important homestand in a decade, 4.5 games back in the division and two back in the Wild Card chase, set to face the AL West for nine straight in Rangers Ballpark.
 
And they won twice.
 
Hit .204 as a team, and scored only 19 times over those nine games, largely because the team average dipped to .135 with runners in scoring position.  Had a rotation ERA of 6.00.
 
The deficit is now 7.5 games in the division, 8.0 games in the Wild Card standings.
 
The Rangers’ Magic Number: 2010.
 
It’s easy to watch Ian Kinsler pop up time after time after time and forget that his .999 OPS after a sweep of the Angels on May 17, capping the club’s season-best seven-game win streak, was a huge reason that Texas had extended its division lead to 4.5 games.  The club wouldn’t cede its perch atop the West for another six weeks.
 
It’s hard to shake the image of Michael Young in his deactivation gear, sentenced to the role of onlooker for most of the season’s final month by a hamstring injury on a harmless 6-3 groundout, but that unjustly overshadows what he gave this club on the field, turning in one of the most productive seasons of any third baseman in the league this year, and an OPS, to date, that’s one point short of his career best .899.

Focusing on Kevin Millwood’s July, August, and September (2-5, 6.29 ERA, .303/.380/.512, averaging 5.1 innings per start) ignores his April, May, and June (8-5, 2.64 ERA, .237/.306/.390, 7.0 innings per start).

Know what?  I take that one back.  I think Kinsler can figure things out and be back next year.  I know Young will.  But I’m out of confidence that Millwood can ever be that first-half pitcher again.

As for Josh Hamilton, I’m not sure what to make of his place on the dependability scale going forward, either.

Derek Holland: 0-5, 12.38 in his last five starts?  He’s a 22-year-old rookie who also had a brilliant 4-1, 1.85 run over the preceding five starts that obviously helped keep his team in the race.  Don’t lose sight of that, and don’t lose any faith.  Draw on what you remember of Tommy Hunter in 2008 (0-2, 16.36 in three starts) and what you’ve seen from him in 2009 (8-4, 3.25 in 16 starts).  Stuff generally gets here before command, and a little aptitude helps a young pitcher put it all together.  Holland and Hunter, three months apart in age, both have it.  And accelerating things so that Holland’s (and several others’) acclimation preceded 2010 will pay off.

Yes, Young and Hamilton and Millwood and Holland factor in significantly as to why things have so epically gone south in the last week and a half — as does Kinsler, whose batting average/on-base/slug since July 1 (.231/.293/.443) looks disturbingly like lame duck Hank Blalock’s season (.237/.277/.471).  (I’m not prepared to say Kinsler is on a Blalock path at the plate, just as I’m not ready to call Terence Newman “Kevin Smith,” but I hate it that the thought has occurred to me.)

But lost for the moment in that absolute mess of a homestand is the fact — the fact — that 2009 has been a terrific, rewarding year of Texas Rangers baseball.

To deal with my disgust over a football game like last night’s, I remind myself that it’s just a game (a realization that’s taken almost all of my 40 years to accept).  I’m not there yet with baseball, and doubt I ever will be.  Don’t really want to be. 

Maybe it was an amazing weekend, lifted by the convergence of Those Who Dig and a lot of great friends, that’s helping me forge past such a demoralizing nine days of baseball.  Even though the calendar, and the math, haven’t shut things down on this season yet, September 12-20 basically ended 2009.

But it didn’t kill 2009, because to view it that way would be to disregard Scott Feldman and Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon and Young and Nelson Cruz and Hunter and Holland and Neftali Feliz and Darren O’Day and Mike Maddux, all of whom arrived or stepped things up to a new level in 2009, and all of whom are under control here for years.  It didn’t kill 2009, which still has a shot to produce 90 wins over a season that most believe is a stepping stone toward bigger things.

I’m not turning my back on the final two weeks of the season – my wiring won’t allow it – but the way Games 140 through 148 played out, a macro view of things settled in for me, not only looking ahead to what should be a better team in 2010, especially with so many young players having fought through a pennant race, but also looking back on 2009 for some perspective on what the first 139 games gave us, and how they made us care so much about the last nine days.

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

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Seriously.

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