Endy Chavez and how the roster competition might shake out.

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Monday’s signing of outfielder
Endy Chavez doesn’t belong in the same discussion as Vladimir Guerrero or Rich
Harden.  This isn’t a Caron Butler or
Brendan Haywood pickup, or Kari Lehtonen. 


But Chavez isn’t necessarily Jason Ellison or Ryan
Christenson, either.


Consider the thoughts of the great Dave Cameron, co-force
behind the great U.S.S. Mariner website,
via his Twitter account:


Chavez to Texas.  Another good move for a
club that is making a habit of making them.  AL West, best run group of teams in baseball.


Texas signed Chavez, who is rehabbing from major knee
surgery, to a minor league contract that (according to Jon Heyman of
) will reportedly pay $1 million (half of what he earned last
year) while he’s in the big leagues and includes a $1.25 million option for
2011.  After Chavez tore the ACL in his
right knee in a mid-June collision with Seattle teammate Yuniesky Betancourt, some
expected his 2010 season to be jeopardized as he recovered from surgery.  But there are reports that Chavez is dramatically
ahead of schedule and could be ready for action as soon as a month into the


Cameron, a Mariners expert, saw Chavez firsthand in 2009,
when he broke camp as a starter in the Seattle outfield.  Starting every one of the club’s first 13 games
(10 in left, two in right, one in center), and hitting first (while Ichiro
Suzuki recovered from a bleeding ulcer) or second in the lineup, Chavez sat at
a healthy .392/.446/.471 in 51 at-bats.  While it was out of character for the career
.270/.312/.367 hitter (he managed to hit only .171/.234/.186 in his next 80
at-bats), it wasn’t completely a fluke, according to Cameron.


“He’s been wildly underrated for years,” Cameron suggests.  “A completely healthy Endy Chavez was
probably in the top two or three best defensive outfielders in baseball, and
the bat is just below average, not terrible. 
Good contact skills, good bunter, good runner, great glove – he’s an
average-ish major league player at full strength. . . . [I]f he recovers, he’s
a high quality role player, and good enough to start in the outfield for a lot
of teams.”


For what it’s worth, Chavez was a procedural grab bag early
in his career, signing with the Mets out of Venezuela at age 18, getting
selected by Kansas City in the 2000 Rule 5 Draft; clearing waivers at the end
of 2001 spring training but remaining in the Royals system when they traded
minor league outfielder (and future Frisco RoughRider) Michael Curry to the
Mets for the right to keep him; making it to the big leagues with Kansas City
later that 2001 season, after which he landed with Detroit on a December waiver
claim; ending up back with the Mets on another waiver claim in February 2002; hitting
the waiver wire again just three weeks later and getting snapped up by Montreal;
spending three seasons with Montreal/Washington and a month into his fourth
when he was traded to Philadelphia in May 2005 – straight up for Marlon Byrd; getting
non-tendered after the season and returning to the Mets as a free agent; establishing
himself with New York in 2006 and earning $1.725 million for the 2007 season
and then a two-year, $3.85 million deal for 2008-09; and getting traded to
Seattle midway through that contract in the three-team, 12-player deal highlighted
by reliever J.J. Putz going from the Mariners to the Mets and outfielder Franklin
Gutierrez going from the Indians to the Mariners.  Chavez missed the second half of the 2009
season with the torn ACL and was a free agent this winter.


In a way, Chavez and Byrd have something else in common.  Texas signed Byrd as center field depth in
December 2006, as insurance behind Kenny Lofton.  Chavez and Byrd are very different offensive
players, of course, but Byrd was no more of an impact signing three years ago
than Chavez is now.


The Rangers were set to feature Craig Gentry, Brandon Boggs
(returning from a shoulder injury), and likely Mitch Moreland in the AAA outfield,
but since the loss of Greg Golson when he was designated for assignment last
month (and traded to the Yankees), the club decided to go out to add another outfielder
to the mix, targeting the versatile 32-year-old.  An insurance policy in the event that Borbon
struggles to hold center field down all season, Chavez can also serve as a
mentor to the three young outfield prospects bound for Oklahoma City.


Chavez gets the 15th non-roster invite to Rangers
camp (and there will probably be at least one more – there are reports that
Texas is interested in veteran catcher Jose Molina, for instance).  Toss in restricted list occupants Omar Beltre
and Alexi Ogando and a full 40-man roster complement, and Texas is bringing at
least 57 players to camp, which officially opens in two days.


The 57:




PITCHERS (24): Scott Feldman, Neftali Feliz, Frankie
Francisco, Rich Harden, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Eric
Hurley, Michael Kirkman, Colby Lewis, Warner Madrigal, Doug Mathis, Brandon
McCarthy, Luis Mendoza, Guillermo Moscoso, Dustin Nippert, Darren O’Day, Darren
Oliver, Zach Phillips, Omar Poveda, Chris Ray, Ben Snyder, Pedro Strop, C.J.


CATCHERS (3): Max Ramirez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor


INFIELDERS (6): Elvis Andrus, Joaquin Arias, Chris Davis,
Khalil Greene, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young


OUTFIELDERS (7): Brandon Boggs, Julio Borbon, Nelson Cruz,
Craig Gentry, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, David Murphy


RESTRICTED LIST (2): Omar Beltre, Alexi Ogando




PITCHERS (5): Willie Eyre, Geoff Geary, Kasey Kiker, Clay
Rapada, Tanner Scheppers


CATCHERS (3): Emerson Frostad, Toby Hall, Kevin Richardson


INFIELDERS (4): Matt Brown, Esteban German, Ray Olmedo, Justin


OUTFIELDERS (3): Endy Chavez, Mitch Moreland, Chad Tracy


Setting aside the inevitable injury or two going into the
season, here are the near-locks to break camp on the active roster:


PITCHERS (9): Scott Feldman, Neftali Feliz, Frankie
Francisco, Rich Harden, Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis, Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver,
C.J. Wilson


CATCHERS (1): Jarrod Saltalamacchia


INFIELDERS (4): Elvis Andrus, Chris Davis, Ian Kinsler,
Michael Young


OUTFIELDERS (5): Julio Borbon, Nelson Cruz, Vladimir
Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, David Murphy


That leaves, in all likelihood, spots for three pitchers, one
catcher, one infielder who can play shortstop, and one right-handed hitter who
ideally can play first base and somewhere in the outfield.


As for the three pitchers, if Feliz and Wilson end up in
relief (Jon Daniels has suggested, at least in Feliz’s case, that the starter
vs. reliever determination should be made by March 15-20), the open spots will
be the number five starter, one middle reliever, and the long man.  Of the 20 remaining pitchers in camp, you can
safely pencil in options for Kirkman, Phillips, Poveda, Beltre, and Ogando, and minor league
assignments for Geary, Kiker, Rapada, and Scheppers.  Expect Hurley to begin the season on option,
if not the 60-day disabled list.


Let’s categorize the rest further.


Fifth starter candidates: Harrison, Holland, McCarthy


Middle relief candidates: Madrigal, Mendoza, Ray, Snyder, Strop,


Long man candidates: Mathis, Moscoso, Nippert

Do McCarthy and Ray have an edge in their categories since they’d
have to be exposed to waivers in order to be sent to the farm?  Not really, as we’ve discussed before.  The type of service-time-related waivers
involved for the two righthanders, each of whom still has two options, would be
revocable and are rarely blocked.  Still,
assuming health for each, they might be the pitchers to beat for the number five
and middle relief roles.  But not because
of their procedural status.


Holland has three options and (depending on what he shows in
March) could benefit from some extra minor league seasoning.  (Cameron on Holland in a piece
he wrote yesterday for FanGraphs.com
: “In an organization with a lot of
good young arms, in a division with a lot of good young arms, Holland gets
overlooked, but he may be the single most important player in the AL West in 2010.
 If he’s as good as I think he is, Texas
has a legitimate shot at winning 90 games.  This kid can really pitch. . . . There should
be way more excitement about a kid with these tools . . . . Forget the ERA –
Holland can pitch, and could easily emerge as the ace of the Rangers rotation.”)  Harrison, returning from thoracic outlet
syndrome, has two options.


In the bullpen, Madrigal has an option, and Strop has
two.  Mendoza is out of options, Snyder
would need to clear waivers and be offered back to San Francisco for $25,000 if
he doesn’t make the active Opening Day roster, and Eyre is off the roster to
begin with.  (For what it’s worth, this
is as good a place as any to let you know that righthander Joaquin Benoit
signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay yesterday.)


The only procedural issue with regard to the three long
relievers belongs to Nippert, who is out of options and would surely be lost on
waivers if he doesn’t make the club. 
Mathis has three options left, Moscoso two.


So is the prediction here that McCarthy, Ray, and Nippert
round out the Opening Day staff?  If they’re
healthy, and if they pitch satisfactorily in Surprise, I’d at least give them
the pole position.


At catcher, Teagarden (two options) is the favorite to
stick, while Ramirez (one option) is a certainty not to – and he could even be
dealt to Boston if Mike Lowell proves to be healthy and the two clubs revisit those
trade talks.  But a Molina arrival could
push both Teagarden and Ramirez to the RedHawks, where there’s already an
interesting logjam of capable backstops.


The utility infielder is likely to be Greene, with Arias a
good bet to be traded.  (Jon Daniels
hinted at it last week, acknowledging that Arias proved enough with his
shoulder this winter that he probably wouldn’t clear waivers.)


The right-handed hitter? 
Ramirez figures in there, but probably lags behind Brown, and maybe even
Gentry.  (Boggs may not be ready physically.)  Don’t rule out the Lowell idea, or someone like
Rocco Baldelli.  But don’t count on
Smoak, even if he destroys Cactus League pitching from the right side.  With Guerrero at designated hitter, the role
we’re talking about is likely to get sporadic work, and that’s not a good idea
for Smoak.


Let’s say one non-roster player (Brown?) makes the
club.  Will finding a 40-man roster spot for
him be difficult?  Not at all.  Mendoza is likely to be off the roster by Opening
Day.  Arias, too, unless he wins a job,
in which case Greene would probably be dropped from the roster.  The way things shape up, Snyder is probably more
likely to relinquish his roster spot than to win a left-on-left job in the
bullpen.  Hurley could be placed on the
60-day disabled list, too.


If Mathis or Moscoso (or one of the two among Harrison,
Holland, and McCarthy who don’t win a rotation spot) were to beat Nippert out for
the long relief role, Nippert’s lack of options means he’d come off the 40-man
roster as well.


(There would be no need to create room for Lowell, as he’d just
take Ramirez’s roster spot.)


A pitcher like Madrigal could conceivably pitch his way into
a designation for assignment with an awful camp.


Yes, two more spots will need to be created so that Beltre
and Ogando can be reinstated from the restricted list and optioned to minor
league clubs to start the season, but the way the roster is set up right now,
it’s simply not going to be much of a problem.


Now, if the club decides a month into the season that Chavez
would help?  If Smoak forces his way to
Arlington during the season?  Scheppers
(whose fastball is top five in the minor leagues, along with Feliz’s, says
Baseball America‘s Jim Callis
same thing?  Then it gets a little trickier,
not to mention in November, when the club has to figure out whether (and how)
to find room on the roster for Moreland, Kiker, Wilmer Font, Danny Gutierrez, Engel
Beltre, Wilfredo Boscan, and Carlos Pimentel, among others.  That’s going to be difficult, and is one
reason (among several) that I think a major trade in July (several prospects for
an impact veteran) makes a huge amount of sense.


Of course, everything you just read is grossly premature and
sort of worthless, since before the roster is set at the end of March there
will be injuries and there could be another non-roster veteran or two added and
there could even be trades.


It’s also the exercise of a crazy baseball fan who pretty
much can’t wait any longer for spring training to get rolling.





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(c) Jamey Newberg




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