January 2011

Prospects.

Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook is out, ranking the Rangers farm system number 15 in baseball, after having judged Texas as the number 4, number 1, and number 2 system the previous three years.
The pipeline is strongest at the lower levels right now, and the system has been thinned out by promotions and trades, many of which directly impacted the World Series club in 2010 – an almost predictable outcome.  There were four organizations in the last decade to finish first or second in BA’s rankings in back-to-back seasons: the Cubs (second in 2001 and first in 2002), the Dodgers (second in 2004, 2005, and 2006), the Rays (first in 2007 and 2008), and the Rangers (first in 2009 and second in 2010).  All four made playoff appearances either during or shortly after those rankings.
Chicago, after those two years, was ranked as follows since: 3, 7, 10, 15, 18, 18, 27, 15, 8.
Los Angeles: 6, 6, 23, 24, 12.
Tampa Bay: 4, 1, 3.
The Rays have done a terrific job of sustaining their minor league dominance – and should stay in the top tier for years, with 11 of the first 65 picks in next June’s draft, expected to be an unusually strong crop – but most clubs, even those whose systems earn an extended run of accolades, tend to bounce back to the pack as players graduate to the big leagues, move on to other organizations, or drop back due to injury or other struggles.
Here’s BA’s ranking of the Rangers’ top prospects two winters ago, when the organization was ranked number one:
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Derek Holland, LHP
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. Elvis Andrus, SS
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. Taylor Teagarden, C
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. Julio Borbon, OF
10. Max Ramirez, C-1B
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. Blake Beavan, RHP
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. Warner Madrigal, RHP
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. Tommy Hunter, RHP
18. Jose Vallejo, IF
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. Omar Poveda, RHP
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. Joaquin Arias, IF
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. Mitch Moreland, 1B-OF-LHP
In just two years, that 2009 list looks like this once you remove the players who reached Texas and exhausted their rookie status (and thus their eligibility to be considered by BA): 
1. 
2. 
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. 
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. 
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. 
10. 
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. Blake Beavan, RHP
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. 
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. 
18. Jose Vallejo, IF
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. Omar Poveda, RHP
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. 
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. 
And after the players traded for big league help are taken off the list (which didn’t include Josh Lueke, whom BA has as Seattle’s number 12 prospect right now, after he’d been in the 50s or 60s with Texas in 2009):
1. 
2. 
3. 
4. 
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. 
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. 
9. 
10. 
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. 
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. 
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. 
18. 
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. 
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. 
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. 
From the remaining group, some have met or exceeded expectations (e.g., Perez), and others have progressed, if inconsistently (Ramirez).  Some been hurt (Font) or struggled (Kiker), some are trying to make their way in a new organization (Diamond).  
So what we have now is a system considered by at least one reputable source as middle-of-the-pack (ESPN’s Keith Law has Texas 12th, and Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo have yet to weigh in), though I think even the Rangers would admit that the upper levels of their system aren’t as strong right now as the lower levels (based in large part on the graduations and trades we’ve discussed).
Within a couple years the hope will be that David Perez and Jake Skole and Mike Olt and Cody Buckel and Jorge Alfaro and the players taken this coming June at number 33 and 37 overall and a handful of kids out of Venezuela and Japan and points in between will have this system right back in the top tier – at least according to an industry publication.  Texas isn’t interested in a closing window.
For now, here are BA’s top 31 Rangers prospects going into 2011 (with my own November rankings, as they appears in the Bound Edition, in parentheses):
1. Martin Perez, LHP (1)
2. Jurickson Profar, SS (3)
3. Tanner Scheppers, RHP (2) 
4. Robbie Erlin, LHP (5)
5. Engel Beltre, OF (4)
6. Michael Kirkman, LHP (6)
7. Mike Olt, 3B (19)
8. Luis Sardinas, SS (7)
9. Jake Skole, OF (11)
10. Miguel De Los Santos, LHP (18)
11. David Perez, RHP (9)
12. Christian Villanueva, 3B (17)
13. Roman Mendez, RHP (21)
14. Wilmer Font, RHP (10)
15. Leury Garcia, SS (22)
16. Kellin Deglan, C (26)
17. Jorge Alfaro, C (12)
18. Justin Grimm, RHP (33)
19. Robbie Ross, LHP (8)
20. Miguel Velazquez, OF (23)
21. Luke Jackson, RHP (16)
22. Joe Wieland, RHP (14)
23. Fabio Castillo, RHP (13)
24. Barret Loux, RHP (UR: signed after I went to print)
25. Jared Hoying, OF (27)
26. Jose Felix, C (41)
27. Neil Ramirez, RHP (30)
28. Cody Buckel, RHP (28)
29. Josh Richmond, OF (52)
30. Jake Brigham, RHP (38)
31. Carlos Melo, RHP (54)
(Players I had in the top 31 that don’t show up on BA’s list include RHP Matt Thompson [15], RHP Omar Beltre [20], RHP Eric Hurley [24], RHP Pedro Strop [25], SS Hanser Alberto [29], and C Tomas Telis [31].)
While the Rangers sit at 15 overall in BA’s rankings, they sit ahead of the Angels (16, up from 25 a year ago), Mariners (18, down from 11), and A’s (28, down from 12).  
Law sees things differently, putting Los Angeles (6th overall) and Seattle (10) ahead of Texas (12), with Oakland (18) at a much more respectable level than BA had the A’s.
He’s also much higher on Ross and Ramirez than BA is, ranking the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows: Martin Perez, Profar, Scheppers, Beltre, Erlin, Ross, Ramirez, Olt, David Perez, and Sardinas.  (Goldstein’s Rangers top 11 will hit the streets this week.) 
Law ranks Martin Perez as the number 18 prospect in the game (“Perez’s performance this year was one of the most disappointing for any player in last year’s top 20, even though nothing significant changed in his delivery or stuff. . . . Had Perez rolled out a 3.00 ERA and peripherals . . . in Double-A this year, he’d still be in the top ten overall, but the poor results mean he’s not quite the sure thing he appeared to be a year ago, and he’s probably further from major league production than we thought.”), and Profar number 81 (“Profar is toolsy, not off-the-charts like fellow Rangers farmhand Luis Sardinas, but is more mature than most 17-year-olds and shows outstanding instincts that separate him from his peers. . . . He’s a long way off, but comfortably projects as an above-average regular with a lot of star potential.”).  (BA’s Top 100 isn’t out yet.) 
Law noted in a chat session that Scheppers missed his top 100 because he believes he’ll be a reliever in the big leagues, that Beltre didn’t figure in because of his microscopic walk totals, and that he’d be surprised if Erlin were to work his way into the top 100 a year from now.
Righthander Anthony Ranaudo (Boston) and lefthander Drew Pomeranz (Cleveland), both drafted by Texas out of high school in 2007 but unsigned, are number 54 and 60 on Law’s list, respectively.
Mayo, who ranks the top 60 prospects in baseball. has Martin Perez at number 23, Scheppers number 43 overall, and Profar number 57.  As we discussed a few days ago, Mayo ranks Perez as the number five minor league lefthander in baseball and Profar as the number five shortstop.  He also ranks Beltre as the number 10 outfielder prospect in the game.
(Mayo has six Royals in top 37 overall.  A bunch of you may not be old enough to go with me on this, but baseball is better when Kansas City contends.  The Royals are about to be the new Rays, and even better – since that team will draw when it’s winning.)
In a separate feature identifying a sleeper prospect in each system, Law pinpoints David Perez from the Texas system (number 9 Rangers prospect in his rankings, number 11 for BA, number 9 for me), noting that the 18-year-old “hit 97 in instructional league and will show 94-95 on a regular basis.  The Dominican right-hander is long and lean with a clean arm and repeatable delivery.  His secondary stuff isn’t there yet, but you can project at least average on the curve and change.”
Some other stuff:
Peter Gammons devotes his latest MLB.com column to the Rangers’ thought process behind giving Neftali Feliz a shot at the rotation this spring, and includes: (1) this interesting comment – “There is little doubt that if everything goes right in Surprise, Ariz., this spring, Feliz will be a starter”; (2) confirmation that Texas offered Vladimir Guerrero $8 million earlier this winter (Jon Daniels said in a radio interview on Friday that the offer was before Christmas); and (3) a note about the report I wrote evaluating the Mike Napoli trade.
At this point Guerrero is said to be weighing an offer from Baltimore of $3-5 million for one year, without much sign of any serious interest from other clubs.  
Lance Berkman: More, please.  Keep taking shots.  
Randy Levine: Jetes may be the heart and soul of the Yankees, but you, sir, epitomize the organization.  
(And man, I know it sucks that Texas was in the playoffs for like a few minutes and yet . . . never mind.)
Good luck with Andruw Jones, by the way.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post ranks the 30 teams’ off-seasons, placing the Yankees’ winter effort at number 21, citing the failed plan to sign Cliff Lee, the “public hissing” with Derek Jeter, the desperation overpayment to Rafael Soriano, and, “as the offseason neared conclusion, the . . . fending off [of] storylines of dissension in the ranks and falling significantly behind the Red Sox.”  (Tomorrow’s headline: Levine calls Sherman “delusional”?)
Sherman gives the Angels the number 30 spot, suggesting among other things that Los Angeles failed to get Toronto to take on Scott Kazmir (or insist on more of a cash subsidy) in the Vernon Wells deal, and included Napoli in the trade rather than using him in a separate deal.
Sherman had Seattle at number 29, Oakland at number 4, and Texas at number 15 (“Like the Yankees, they whiffed on Lee.  And you can argue that they overpaid for Beltre, especially because Beltre faltered the last time he received a long-term contract.  But the signing of Beltre did serve as a final trigger to get the division-rival Angels to make the foolhardy Wells deal, which has value.”).  And he had St. Louis at number 24, an assessment with which Lance Berkman vehement
ly disagrees.
Joe Sheehan on the Napoli-Francisco trade: “Napoli is much more valuable than is Francisco, is under control for longer and fits the Blue Jays’ needs better than Francisco does. . . . Laugh at the notion, but this trade may help the Rangers more than signing Adrian Beltre did.  They gave up nothing they can’t replace.”
Fun fact: Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. was 32 when the Angels signed him to a five-year, $50 million contract in 2006.  Center fielder Torii Hunter was 32 when the Angels signed him to a five-year, $90 million contract in 2007.  Wells is 32 as the Angels inherit $81 million of the final four years of his contract.  And a 23-year-old making league minimum (Peter Bourjos) could be their center fielder this season.
According to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post, Colorado has not talked to the Rangers about Michael Young since the Winter Meetings in early December.
Lefthander Miguel De Los Santos, who earned a 40-man roster spot in November even though he hasn’t pitched above Low Class A, had a brilliant Dominican Winter League campaign.  After posting a 2.00 ERA in five regular season DWL appearances (nine innings, six hits, seven walks, 11 strikeouts), his playoff work was extraordinary.  In three starts spanning 12 innings, De Los Santos scattered four hits (.100 opponents’ batting average) and five walks, punching out 19.  He’s got to cut down on the walks, but if he does manage to do that, watch out.
Texas signed 28-year-old slugger Brad Nelson to a minor league deal, coming off a standout winter league campaign in which he led the Dominican Winter League with nine home runs (105 at-bats), hitting .295/.402/.590.  After eight seasons in the Milwaukee system (getting brief big league looks in 2008 and 2009), Nelson has spent the last two with AAA Tacoma in the Seattle system.  
Interesting: One local reporter suggests the signing of Jose Julio Ruiz to a minor league deal with a big league invite could be protection in case Texas decides to trade Chris Davis, who has now fallen not only behind Mitch Moreland on the depth chart but also has Napoli and Young ahead of him as first base options in the event of a Moreland setback.  The club has added a number of first basemen to the upper levels of the system in the last six months, bringing Chris McGuiness aboard in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade and signing Nelson and Ruiz.  Chad Tracy remains in the mix as well, having split his AAA time between first base and left field in 2010, when he wasn’t DH’ing.
Assistant GM Thad Levine told reporters that the Rangers were probably the runners-up to sign Ruiz out of Cuba when the Rays signed him in June to the unique low-dollar deal for 2010 ($20,000 per month) with a four-year, $4 million option that they ultimately declined in November, making the 25-year-old a free agent once again.  He’s been described as having a “David Ortiz-type” frame and raw power, though the power didn’t translate in his two months with the Rays last summer (.313/.416/.468 over 139 at-bats between the Dominican Summer League and AA Montgomery, after hitting .305/.408/.467 in Cuba in 2009 before defecting).  He’s shown more athleticism than Ortiz (leading the Cuban National Series with 32 stolen bases in 2007-08), but by all accounts this is an aging prospect whose one tempting tool hasn’t yet turned into results.  
Not that I have an particular insight since I’ve never seen Ruiz play (and am not qualified to really evaluate him even if I had), but I’d equate the signing to a Loux-type risk-reward flier, with Loux (who I’ve also not seen play) having more potential to pay off.
Seems like the signing of 27-year-old catcher Robinzon Diaz to a minor league contract may be similar protection in case the Rangers choose to move Taylor Teagarden.  Diaz (described by Goldstein as a “career .297 hitter in the minors with no secondary skills,” though BA notes that he has “a pretty good arm and crazy hand-eye coordination”) joins Teagarden and journeyman Kevin Cash to boost the Rangers’ AAA catching depth – which became somewhat less of an issue than in most years with the addition of the versatile Napoli at the big league level.
Diaz was considered at least a viable prospect in 2008, when he played at four levels in the Toronto system (including a one-game big league debut) before being traded late in August to the Pirates for third base disappointment Jose Bautista, who had been optioned to AAA a few weeks earlier and cleared league-wide waivers in order to set up the post-July 31 trade.  Two years later, Bautista hit 54 Jays home runs, while Diaz spent the entire season with AAA Toledo in the Detroit system.
Baltimore signed three lefthanders to minor league contracts: Clay Rapada, who pitched for Texas late in the season and in the ALCS against New York; Michael Ballard, who spent five seasons in the Rangers’ farm system and got about as close to a call-up that didn’t happen (in 2008) as you can get; and Nick Bierbrodt, who was the Diamondbacks’ first-ever draft pick (in 1996, with Buck Showalter calling the shots), whose last big league work came with the Rangers (in 2004, when Showalter was Texas manager), and who will once again get a shot with a Showalter-led club.  I don’t think Bierbrodt or Ballard got big league spring training invites, while Rapada definitely did. 
The Orioles are also showing interest in outfielder Kevin Mahar, whose first three seasons as an undrafted free agent in the Rangers system came while Showalter was still around.  His lone big league action came in 2007, when he appeared in seven straight games for Texas in May, the second month of Ron Washington’s Texas tenure.
Baltimore also named Einar Diaz a coach with AA Bowie.
Righthander Dustin Nippert signed with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization.
For the first time in years, there’s not one Rangers player whose lack of options will be an issue this spring (unless you consider Andres Blanco a bubble candidate).  Rapada, Nippert, and Max Ramirez have moved on, and Ryan Tucker slid through waivers and was outrighted.  Among those with one option remaining in 2011: Davis, Teagarden, Pedro Strop, and two players who may never exhaust their options: Tommy Hunter and Julio Borbon.  (Interestingly, Mark Lowe and Eric Hurley still have all three options remaining, having never been optioned since arriving in the big leagues midway through the season in 2006 and 2008, respectively.)
The closest thing to an options-like issue this spring will be Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin, who must be exposed to league-wide waivers (and then, if he clears, must be offered back to the Angels) if he’s healthy and doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.  (However, like left-on-left specialist Ben Snyder a year ago, if Tobin does clear, Texas could make an effort to trade Los Angeles a lower-level prospect in exchange for the right to keep Tobin in the minor leagues.  The Rangers traded 17-year-old lefthander Edwin Escobar to San Francisco just before Opening Day last year, and sent Snyder to Frisco.)
(Escobar isn’t among the Giants’ top 31 prospects, according to BA.  Righthander Michael Main is slotted at number 31 for the club.)
The Mets signed righthander Chris Young and gave righthander R.A. Dickey, at age 36, the first multi-year contract of his career.  (Someone ought to look up how close that is to a record.)
Seattle invited righthander Blake Beavan to big league camp.
Minor league deals: righthander Chris Ray (Seattle); rig
hthander Warner Madrigal (Yankees); infielder Ramon Vazquez (St. Louis); infielder Alex Cora (Washington); righthanders Francisco Cruceta and Casey Daigle and catcher Chris Stewart (San Francisco); righthander Jose Veras (Pittsburgh); shortstop Ray Olmedo (Tampa Bay); and righthander Virgil Vazquez (Angels).
Washington designated outfielder Justin Maxwell for assignment.  
Former Rangers lefthander Mike Bacsik tried out for the independent Fort Worth Cats this weekend and earned a spot on the American Association club.  His father, Mike Sr., also a former Ranger, is the Cats’ new pitching coach.
The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League signed first baseman Freddie Thon.  The Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League extended infielder Donnie Ecker’s contract.  The Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League claimed infielder Chase Fontaine off waivers from the Sussex Skyhawks.   
Florida named Andy Barkett manager at AA Jacksonville.
Houston signed lefthander Wandy Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million extension.  The top tier of next winter’s free agent starting pitchers continues to thin out.  Assuming St. Louis and Philadelphia exercise 2012 options on Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt, the cream of the free agency crop could include C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Pineiro.
Correcting a January 25 note that I ran based on a local report: Brewers play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson is the brother of Rangers pro scout Mike Anderson, not his son.
Plans are starting to come together for the next Newberg Report party, which will be on Thursday evening, February 10, at Sherlock’s in Dallas.  Chuck Greenberg and John Rhadigan are in, Jon Daniels is a good bet, and we should have a key Rangers player with us as well.  We’re planning on a couple hours of Q&A, plus a charity auction of some unique Rangers stuff.  
On the same night, former Rangers GM Eddie Robinson will sign copies of his memoirs, authored by the great Paul Rogers, at SMU.  Tom Grieve and Dr. Bobby Brown will be on hand as well.  If you’re not planning to come to the Newberg Report event, think about making plans to go to SMU that night.  You might even be able to swing both, as the two events are about four miles apart.
We’re thinking about having a Newberg Report gathering at a game in Round Rock sometime this season.  
If you order your 2011 Bound Edition now, you’ll have it well before Pitchers & Catchers, just 17 sleeps from now.  It may not carry the weight of a Baseball America, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, or Jonathan Mayo, but in addition to more than 350 pages telling the story of the Rangers’ World Series season, there’s 30 pages up front that do nothing but rank and comment on the minor league prospects coming up in the Texas system, getting you ramped up on the young players the Rangers will look to in order to keep winning, through graduations to Arlington and trades for veterans counted on to make instant impacts.

Adding Mike Napoli.

Tuesday morning, shortly after I’d sent out my write-up on the Angels’ trade for Vernon Wells, I got an email from a Rangers fan stationed in Germany that ended with him pointing out that “another possible right-handed pinch hitter who could play the outfield is now on the market – well, two right-handed batters, one a C/1B, the other an outfielder.  I’m happy right where the Rangers are, but I suspect more will happen and we have kind of a track record with Toronto, who might want a less expensive prospect – and not a top one – for Rivera.”
My response: “Good grief, no . . . . Rivera is my nemesis . . . but Napoli?  Now he could be interesting . . . .”
Tuesday afternoon, Mike Napoli became a Texas Ranger.  For Frankie Francisco and a little cash.
Wednesday morning, tucked away in a Sports Illustrated column about off-season movement around the league as a whole, we learned a little more about how this trade probably came together.
Jon Heyman noted in his article that Wells told Toronto recently that he would waive his no-trade clause for only two teams: the Angels and Rangers.  Heyman added that “[w]hen Toronto talked to the Rangers about Wells, word is they would have had to pay more money to offset the deal.”  
That’s all we know from the Heyman piece, but we can deduce a few other things:
1. It’s probably fair to say in hindsight that the Blue Jays likely asked for Francisco and maybe another piece (Julio Borbon?) in exchange for Wells.
2. Jon Daniels said to the local press on Tuesday afternoon, regarding his acquisition that day of Mike Napoli: “We were dealing from strength to add a guy that we’ve liked a lot over the years and haven’t been able to get in the past.”
3. Back to the Wells talks between Toronto and Texas: When it became clear that the money wasn’t going to work out (the Jays ended up paying the Angels only $5 million toward the $86 million remaining on Wells’s deal), and presumably knowing that the Angels were the other team potentially in play (given Wells’s no-trade leverage), perhaps Daniels told Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos that there’s a way he could still parlay Wells into Francisco – get Napoli from the Angels and flip him to Texas.
4. That way, without it being a true three-team deal, the Angels would make the splash it was obviously intent on making, the Jays (remaking their bullpen after the off-season loss of Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs) would get their man in Francisco, and the Rangers would get that “guy that [they’ve] liked a lot over the years and haven’t been able to get in the past” in Napoli.
Something like that.
Here’s what I don’t get.  Let’s say the Angels, negotiating the Wells trade with Toronto, refused to include Napoli.  What if they told the Jays they’d part with Frosty Rivera and nothing else (or Rivera plus a lesser piece)?  Would Toronto, given the chance to move that $86 million obligation, really have said no?  
Would the Angels – who on paper would seem to need a guy like Francisco even more than Toronto does – have then gone to Texas and offered Napoli for Francisco?  Would the Rangers have agreed?  (We know they’ve tried to trade for Napoli before.)  Would Los Angeles have been reluctant to give Texas two years of control over Napoli?  If so, by holding Napoli out of the Jays deal, the Angels would have at least been able to increase the odds of keeping him out of Texas.
But enough about the Angels, whose participation in this pseudo-three-team trade was surely the least enthusiastic.  Let’s talk about Texas.
Setting aside for a moment the issue of at-bat distribution, among the things Daniels said about the acquisition of Napoli is that it makes the Rangers better.  That’s hard to dispute.
One reason Vladimir Guerrero was not re-signed after the season, or after an effort to sign Victor Martinez fell short, or after an attempt to add Jim Thome failed, or after Manny Ramirez thinned the market out further by signing with Tampa Bay, was that Guerrero – who Heyman insists Texas offered more than $8 million to weeks ago – fell off dramatically in the second half (seeing his OPS drop from .919 to .748) and provided nothing in the playoffs (.513 OPS).  Another is he’s finished defensively, and while Texas wanted one more veteran bat, versatility was a plus.  
Finally, in spite of the pursuit of Thome, the one left-handed bat that Texas reportedly chased that aggressively, by all accounts the Rangers wanted a hitter who could punish left-handed pitching.  Guerrero used to be that guy, even if he hit a wall midway through the 2010 season.  Right?
Guess what?  There’s a sabermetric measure called “Weighted Runs Created Plus,” a FanGraphs tool I had to read up on myself in the last couple days, one that values a player’s offensive productivity compared to league average, and park-adjusted.  
Forget 2010; look at 2008 through 2010 collectively.  Based on wRC+, who have the best hitters against left-handed pitching been, across baseball?
Over that three-year span, Guerrero is only 90th best in baseball.
Which isn’t as good as Michael Young, who checks in at number 64.  Nelson Cruz is 53rd best.  Ian Kinsler is 24th best in baseball against lefties in the last three years, nearly as valuable as new Ranger Adrian Beltre, who is 19th. 
Paul Konerko, another rumored Rangers target earlier this off-season, is number 10.  Victor Martinez is 7th.
But none of them – none of them – have punished southpaws like Mike Napoli, who has been better since 2008 against lefthanders (according to wRC+) than every hitter in baseball other than Albert Pujols, David Wright, Kevin Youkilis, and Carlos Beltran, each of whom will earn between $12 million and $18.5 million guaranteed in 2011.
Napoli will earn either $6.1 million or $5.3 million this year, with one more year of club control after that.
Super-small sample alert: Napoli is a .286/.474/.571 hitter against Cliff Lee in 14 career at-bats – with three walks.
Fluky?  Take a look at some of the other top lefthanders in the American League.
In 20 at-bats against Oakland’s Dallas Braden, Napoli is a .450/.450/.700 hitter.  
In 15 at-bats against Oakland’s Brett Anderson: .375/.444/.625.  
New York’s C.C. Sabathia: .308/.438/.615 (13 at-bats).
Seattle’s Jason Vargas: .333/.412/.667 (15 at-bats).
New York’s Andy Pettitte, who I bet is not done: .429/.500/.500 (14 at-bats).
Toronto’s Ricky Romero: .429/.556/1.286 (seven at-bats).
Napoli has had a tougher time with Jon Lester (.697 OPS), Mark Buehrle (.413), and John Danks (.308).  But I’m liking what he’s done against Oakland’s lefties (including Gio Gonzalez [dou
ble and three walks in eight trips]), and in general against lefthanders.  His 2010 slash against southpaws was a tremendous .305/.399/.567.  Over his five-year career, it’s .287/.391/.537.  
Napoli is a .292/.394/.573 hitter in Rangers Ballpark.  
If Max Ramirez was the player Texas had hoped it could develop into a Martinez-type hitter, an offensive catcher with enough damage in the bat to play on a corner or at DH, Napoli came a lot closer with Los Angeles.  A late bloomer, he slid through multiple Rule 5 drafts unprotected but unchosen (much like Francisco), and never got much Baseball America love (again like Francisco but even more so), not showing up among the Angels’ top 30 prospects his first four years and then managing to check in at number 29 (in what BA judged to be baseball’s best farm system) before the 2005 season – after hitting 29 home runs and driving in 118 runs in 132 High Class A games in 2004.  
Still, Napoli put that season together at the league-old age of 22, and the Angels left him off the 40-man roster for a second straight winter, a decision that went unpunished as no team spent a $50,000 Rule 5 pick to take a camp look at the catcher-first baseman.  
Napoli then hit 31 AA home runs in 2005 and BA recognized him as the number 11 Los Angeles prospect, prompting the club to give him a roster spot before that winter’s draft.  (Bonus note, from the June 3, 2005 Newberg Report: “Mike Hindman said it all in his report yesterday about [John] Danks’s AA debut Wednesday night.  He didn’t have his best stuff, which makes his 5.2-inning, two-run (one earned) effort even more encouraging.  Danks punched out six Arkansas hitters, issued four walks — he never walked more than two in any of his 10 Bakersfield starts — and showed a much better changeup than he was supposed to have coming into the season.  The lone earned run he allowed was on the first pitch of the second inning, when Travelers catcher Mike Napoli took him deep.  Napoli hit 29 home runs and drove in 118 runs in 132 games for Rancho Cucamonga in 2004, but Danks didn’t face him when the Quakes met Stockton in late July.”) 
(A little meatier than my comment in a July 1, 2009 entry: “Napoli: Italian for ‘bad beard.'”)
Since that 2005 season Napoli’s been a big leaguer, and in each of his five Angels seasons he’s hit double figures in home runs, even though he’s been a part-time player for the most part, exceeding 400 at-bats only once in his career.  In fact, in Tuesday’s report about the trade between the Angels and Jays, I shared this Joe Sheehan comment: “Over the past five seasons – Napoli’s career – Napoli has out-hit Wells . . . I’d bet right now that Napoli will out-hit Wells next year and for the rest of their careers. . . . The Angels have burnt $86 million and done absolutely nothing to make themselves better.”  
Napoli’s not a great catcher, but in Texas he’s unlikely to see much time behind the plate.  Still, he offers that sort of versatility, which is the second key to the deal as far as Napoli’s value is concerned.
Texas went to war last year with a season-opening bench of Taylor Teagarden, Ryan Garko, Joaquin Arias (Andres Blanco started in place of the injured Kinsler to begin the season), and David Murphy.
This year, if the club were to open again with a four-man bench: Matt Treanor, Napoli, Blanco, and Murphy.  If everyone’s healthy, the 13 position players on the Opening Day roster will include three catchers, three first basemen, three second basemen, two shortstops, three third basemen, and five outfielders, three of whom can play center field.  (I am curious, however, who the backup first baseman is at this point.  Who starts at first Opening Day against Lester – Young or Napoli – leaving the other to DH?)
Now, the flip side of the versatility point is the question of how to allocate at-bats.  (The Steve Walsh Conundrum, perhaps.)  The thing to keep in mind is that while (with the exception of Oakland) opposing rotations are generally righthander-heavy, the fact is some of the best starting pitchers that Rangers’ AL opponents will send to the mound are left-handed.  The ability to adjust with a more right-handed lineup without necessarily downgrading the attack is something to look forward to.  Napoli is no Garko, no Chris Shelton, no Jorge Cantu – and no Andruw Jones or Arias, who were both forced into first base duties at times the last two years.
The Rangers face Boston (Lester), Seattle (Vargas), and Baltimore (Brian Matusz) to open the season.  They get the Yankees (Sabathia) in the middle of April, and Toronto (Romero and Brett Cecil) and Oakland (Anderson, Gonzalez, Braden) at the end of the month.  If Napoli is punishing lefties out of the gate, Ron Washington is going to keep his and Michael Young’s bats in the lineup, which means Moreland will sit against lefthanders.  Not an unfair plan, given that Moreland hit just .200/.304/.300 against big league southpaws in 20 regular season at-bats (and .214/.267/.429 in 14 playoff at-bats) – though historically in the minor leagues he’s hit lefties.
As you’ve probably read or heard about on talk radio by now, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggests that Texas should step up effort to trade Young on the heels of the Napoli acquisition.  He points out that Napoli can DH and play first base, like Young.  That Young attains 10-and-5 no-trade rights in May.  That, at $16 million for each of the next three seasons, Young is overly expensive for a part-time DH and super-utility player.  (The size of the contract, of course, militates against the idea that trading Young is all teed up.)
The way I see it, adding Napoli may make it easier to trade Young (from a roster standpoint), but doesn’t make it more necessary.  Napoli and Moreland will end up complementing each other in the lineup for the most part, and there will be plenty of days when Washington gets both of them in the lineup by using Young to give Kinsler or Beltre a day off.  And if either of those two infielders or Moreland were to miss any extended time due to injury, Washington can have Young step in defensively and leave DH to Napoli (or vice versa).
As for potential suitors for Young, Rosenthal identifies the Rockies (who “maintain interest” in Young and who would send at least utility infielder Jose Lopez back) and Angels (lots of bullet points: a need at third base, Young’s hometown team, Vernon Wells – but can they afford to take on any more significant cash?).  Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star speculates that the Jays could be interested in bringing Young back to the organization.  Still, I’m not sure I see it, and I’ve said it before: Young’s importance to this club off the field makes him more valuable in Texas than he is as a trade asset.
Again, I don’t think the Napoli acquisition was necessarily made to set up a Young trade – but it does make it easier than bringing Thome or Ramirez (or Troy Glaus, who doesn’t really hit lefties) or Guerrero aboard would have.  Those other additions, however, wouldn’t have cost the team one of its reliable bullpen pieces.
And to me – at least right now – that’s the bigger story, the impact of the trade on the Texas bullpen.  We don’t have to squint our eyes to imagine what the eighth inning might be like without Francisco around – we saw it in September and Oc
tober.  
The hope is that, behind Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando is ready to take the next step (more success with runners on base would be a good place to start), that Mark Lowe will refind a rhythm, that Tanner Scheppers will make his impact in 2011, that the Darren Oliver-Arthur Rhodes combination will keep those two fresh all year.  (Yes, Feliz and Ogando will be stretched out in camp to see how’d they’d fare going through a lineup multiple times and whether they can go to their secondary stuff in hitters’ counts, just as C.J. Wilson was last year, but I’m betting on both righties settling back into the bullpen in mid-March.  At least this year.)
Toss in the dependable Darren O’Day, a long man from a group that could include whoever among Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, and Matt Harrison doesn’t earn a rotation spot, the possible addition of Scott Feldman a month or so into the season, and maybe some surprise work out of someone like Yoshinori Tateyama, Pedro Strop, Omar Beltre, Eric Hurley, Mason Tobin, or even Fabio Castillo, and the Rangers feel like whatever negative impact the loss of Francisco creates, it’s more than offset by the addition of Napoli to the attack.
Said Daniels: “Obviously, any time you trade a contributing big league piece, there’s going to be some risk involved.  But as we looked at it, we’ve got five or six quality, high-end winning [bullpen] pieces that are established in the big leagues and probably an equal number of guys we feel have the chance to do the same thing and put themselves in that position.”  Still, a couple relievers are going to need to step up.
Francisco was a Type A free agent this winter but was near the bottom of the classification, and if he were to stay in Texas in a set-up role, his two-year measure might well have made him a Type B free agent next winter.  Theoretically, that would make him a better bet to decline arbitration (and give the Rangers a compensatory draft pick), but the counter-analysis is that Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, and Ryan Franklin are all set to become free agents next winter, as could Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan if their clubs were to buy out their 2012 option years.  Francisco could accept arbitration as he did this winter, figuring his one-year payday could be better through that process than it would be on an open market flooded with late relief options.
Bottom line: I doubt Texas would have offered Francisco arbitration a year from now.  This was probably going to be his last season as a Ranger. 
Francisco will be missed, but there was going to be an effort, in my opinion, to start relying on another pitcher to handle the eighth, or at least groom his successor as the season progressed.  That effort now gets accelerated.  Someone among Ogando and Scheppers and Lowe will be called on to take the next step.  They’re all capable of it.
What the Rangers appear to have done with this trade is to deal the Angels another blow, by adding a player they apparently refused for some time to trade to Texas themselves, and to improve their chances to handle Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden in Oakland, not to mention A’s relievers Brian Fuentes and Craig Breslow.  It’s another chess move for this front office, possibly the final one before winter tactics give way to work on the field, as the Rangers begin to take on the formidable challenge of defending their first American League pennant, with a roster that should be better equipped in some areas to get the job done.

Thoughts on the Angels and Vernon Wells.

f you weren’t among the record crowds at Friday night’s Awards Dinner and Saturday and Sunday’s Fan Fest, you’ve no doubt heard and maybe even seen uploaded footage of the highlights.
Friday night, the 1985 El Dorado the club surprised Wash with.
C.J. Wilson’s (“Finish it!!”) acceptance speech. 
Jim Reeves doing what he does best (and what nobody in local sports does better) with his tribute to Tom Vandergriff. 
Engel Beltre’s ascot.
Eric Nadel’s remarks about Colby Lewis.  (And about an Eleno Ornelas radio call that I’m now reminding myself I need to chase down.)
Josh Hamilton’s comments, followed by Wash’s.  
Saturday and Sunday, a Rangers-centric version of the NFL Experience that blows away anything the team has done with its Fan Fest/Winter Carnival in the 12 or 13 years I’ve been going.  Tons of great stuff for the kids, including some who are almost 42 years old:
      
We didn’t have autograph guests at the booth this year – the space was massive enough that the team was able to station something like 30 current and former Ranger players without the need for extra locations like ours (plus, there was no mini-camp coinciding with the event, which in past years has brought a couple dozen minor leaguers in town) – but we did have a few guests drop by unannounced and we put a pen in their hands for a different reason . . . . 
 
. . . and I will tell you this: If you end up buying the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow, there’s no way that you’ll be able to nail as many Pirates trivia questions two years from now as Chuck Greenberg did on our Rangers quiz on Saturday.
Everything about the weekend was first class, a term I heard dozens of you use about the two events.  Friday’s banquet sold out, drawing twice as many fans (1,400) as any of the last few years.  More than 11,000 fans attended Fan Fest, nearly three times as many as last year.  
A whole lot of those Rangers caps and sweatshirts and jackets look brand new, but that’s OK.  I’ve got no beef with a bandwagon fan as long as he or she’s not the type that plans to jump off at the first sign of adversity.  
The front office isn’t all about instant gratification, or else Cliff Lee would be a Ranger right now, and maybe Zack Greinke would, too.  (But Adrian Beltre wouldn’t be, and some significant chunk of a group including Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter and Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Erlin and Engel Beltre and Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia probably wouldn’t be, either.)
The players are resilient.  They proved it over and over again in 2010.
Easier said than done in some cases, but there’s no reason we, as fans, can’t be resilient too, when we need to be, and to resist the urge for the quick fix.
Speaking of which, the most common weekend discussion revolved around Vernon Wells, whom the Angels traded for on Friday.  I can’t imagine what the scene would have been like in Los Angeles this weekend (if the Angels staged some sort of fan event before spring training, which they don’t), but I have yet to run into (or read) anyone who understands what the Angels were doing.  It’s hard to see the long-term benefit, or even some sort of quick fix aspect to the deal. 
You can drill down deep into the numbers, even defensively, to make a case that Wells isn’t worth giving Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera up for, but put it this way:
Adam Dunn signed this winter for four years and $56 million (AAV: $14 million).
Victor Martinez signed this winter for four years and $50 million (AAV: $12.5 million).
Beltre: five years and $80 million guaranteed, which could become six years and $96 million (AAV: $16 million).
Carl Crawford, three years younger than Wells: seven years and $142 million (AAV: $20.3 million).
Jayson Werth: seven years and $126 million (AAV: $18 million).
Vernon Wells over the remainder of his existing contract: four years and $86 million ($21.5 million).
Theoretically, the Angels could have signed both Martinez (four years) and Rafael Soriano (three years) for about the same outlay as they’re going to pay Wells – either to play on a corner or to move Peter Bourjos to a corner, which would decimate his value – and wouldn’t have had to move Napoli and Rivera to do it . . . or more likely, would have allowed them to move those two everyday hitters to other clubs for additional assets (Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star suggests that could be what the Blue Jays now do with one or both right-handed hitters).  
So Los Angeles evidently ducked out of paying Beltre – who would have dramatically upgraded third base from the weak threesome of Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, and Brandon Wood – the annual sum of $16 million for five years.  But the club was willing to go $21.5 million annually for four years of Wells.  The Angels would have had to surrender a second-round pick for Beltre.  Instead, Napoli and Rivera for Wells.
It’s a strange move.
That’s a club that had several black holes in its lineup before Friday, before it traded two moderately productive hitters (who stand to make a combined $11 million or so in 2011, before their commitments end, though Napoli is subject to club control in 2012) for one who’s coming off a very good season, but who, at age 31, has been caught in a year-on, year-off pattern since passing his prime years (though he’s done plenty more than Gary Matthews Jr., whom the Angels will pay another $11 million to in 2011).
As a Rangers fan, I’m happy the Angels made this trade.  Wells killed this team in 2010 (.382/.500/1.147 in 34 at-bats, eight home runs in 10 games), and from that standpoint I’d prefer to see him 10 times a year rather than 19, but I think Los Angeles got worse with this deal, if not in 2011 then absolutely beyond that.
If you think these are merely ramblings of an admitted Rangers homer, here’s a media reaction sample: 
 
Rob Neyer, ESPN: “It’s like the Angels are doubling down on Torii Hunter’s contract . . . . [I]f [rookie center fielder Peter] Bourjos hadn’t been so awful in the majors last year, the Angels probably wouldn’t have traded for Vernon Wells.  If the Angels hadn’t struck out in their bids for Crawford and Beltre, they almost certainly wouldn’t have traded for Wells, if only because there wouldn’t have been room for Wells’ HUGE contract in their budget.  But both of those things did happen, and the Angels overreacted.  Sort of classically.  This might actually work, for a year or two.  But the Angels are now inside one of those hamster wheels, and I really wonder if they can keep their little legs moving fast enough to keep from being flung off before long.”
Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus: “[Angels GM Tony] Reagins’ repeating Bill Stoneman’s massive mistake with Little Sarge may well be the self-capping gesture of a now worse-than-wasted winter for the Angels. . . . They wouldn’t ‘overpay’ to guarantee themselves signing Adrian Beltre or Carl Crawford.  Instead, they wound up paying a very similar price tag over the next four years – one that had to be offset by shedding Napoli and Rivera, which a free-agent signing would not have done – to wind up with 80 percent o
f the ballplayer.  It’s a misunderstanding of both the value of talent and the value of money. . . . [A]s a player now in his 30s with a history for recurring hamstring issues, does it really make sense to bet on his continued good health?  Hell no. . . . He will be what he’s been for much of his Jays career: a nice ballplayer, good enough to help a winning ballclub, but for the expense of employing him and how much that hampers its efforts to buy real star talent.”
Buster Olney, ESPN: “[T]he Angels are committed to paying Vernon Wells – who is two years and eight months older than Crawford – $21.5 million a year, or $2.5 million year more than their decisive offer to Crawford, the younger and better player.  They’re committed to paying Wells – whom they project as a corner outfielder – more than they offered to Beltre, who is coming off a year in which he had an OPS of .918, as one of the best third basemen in the game. . . . Yes, a seven-year deal with Crawford is the longer deal, but it also would have covered the years when Crawford played at age 28 and 29 and 30 and 31 – which might turn out to be the best years of his career.  The Angels are getting Wells on a contract with a shorter term, yes, but they’re paying him more money than they offered Crawford for his work at age 32, 33, 34 and 35 – when Wells’ work at age 29 and 30 was already a concern. . . . There was a running debate among some talent evaluators Friday over how much Toronto would have to eat to make this deal make sense for the Angels. ‘It would have to be at least $30 million,’ said one longtime evaluator. . . . [A] s it turned out, the Jays found a taker in the Angels, who seem to be desperate for some kind of consolation prize near the end of what has been a frustrating winter.”
Joe Sheehan, The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: “I had suggested more than a year ago, when the Blue Jays were shopping Roy Halladay, that the Wells contract was so bad, so debilitating, that the best thing they could do would be to trade Halladay and Wells to a team for nothing in return, that simply saving the money on Wells would be worth more to them than any prospects Halladay could return.  While I remain convinced that such as deal might have been worthwhile, it’s clear that I underestimated the esteem in which at least one team would hold Wells. . . . Over the past five seasons – Napoli’s career – Napoli has out-hit Wells . . . I’d bet right now that Napoli will out-hit Wells next year and for the rest of their careers. . . . The Angels have burnt $86 million and done absolutely nothing to make themselves better.”  
Dave Cameron, FanGraphs: “2007-2010, outfielders with similar [weighted on-base average] to Vernon Wells: Randy Winn, Chris Young, Aaron Rowand. . . . Adrian Beltre produced more value (+7.1 [Wins Above Replacement]) in 2010 than Wells did in the last four years combined (+7.0).”
Keith Law, ESPN: “Vernon Wells isn’t a terrible player – he’s a solid player with a terrible contract.  And he is absolutely the wrong player right now for the Los Angeles Angels, who have made one [of] the worst desperation moves I can remember.”
The move also likely makes Bobby Abreu a fulltime DH, which would theoretically take Los Angeles out of the hunt for Vladimir Guerrero, and there are now reports suggesting Texas could reopen the door for Guerrero to return, albeit in a projected role that would call for less playing time than he’d like.  Baltimore is also said to be in on Guerrero, whose lifetime OPS in Camden Yards (1.011) is actually higher than it is in Arlington (.996).
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez signed with Tampa Bay, a development that generated one of the Awards Dinner’s loudest ovations on Friday night.  (After I sent the COFFEY out on Friday morning passing along the local rumor that Texas was in on Manny, I got nearly 100 responses.  Two were in favor of Manny coming here.  Two.)
Whether Guerrero is in big league camp with the Rangers a month from now is uncertain, but minor league righthanders Tanner Scheppers and Cody Eppley, catcher Jose Felix, and outfielder/bat Chad Tracy will be there, having all been invited by Texas as non-roster players.  Those four join pitchers Seth McClung and Ryan Tucker, catcher Kevin Cash, infielders Brian Barden and Esteban German, and outfielders Endy Chavez and Doug Deeds as non-roster invites so far. 
Scheppers didn’t make Jonathan Mayo’s MLB.com list of the top 10 minor league righthanders in baseball, but Martin Perez checks in at number five on the list of top lefthanders.  Jurickson Profar was Mayo’s number five shortstop.
Ted Price got some really good interview footage at Fan Fest, and it won’t take you long to watch it.
Among those in the upload is Josh Hamilton, who stayed at Fan Fest until about 45 minutes after his autograph session – and the entire event – was supposed to have ended.  He didn’t budge until the last fan with an autograph ticket was taken care of.
The scene just before Hamilton arrived is hard to describe.  He’s a Beatle.  There were hundreds of fans lined up just to be nearby as he entered the building to walk to his autograph station.  I can’t think of another local athlete – ever – who’s been as magnetic a figure as that guy. 
Among the things Nolan Ryan said to reporters over the weekend was that he projects 90-95 wins for the Rangers in 2011.  Last year, just after camp had gotten underway, he threw down 92 – a total that the team matched two games into the first round of the playoffs.
The deal that reliever Darren O’Day signed to avoid arbitration was for either $1.251 or $1.215 million (the latter figure looks more like a baseball salary, but the former one is getting reported more often), either slightly above or slightly below the midpoint between his $1.4 million proposal and the club’s $1.05 million submission.  Notably, the Super Two service time threshold this off-season was two years and 122 days of service, significantly lower than most years, when the cutoff was around two years and 140 days.  O’Day, with two years and 128 days of service, therefore qualified for arbitration, which probably resulted in at least $700,000 more in 2011 than he’d have made had he fallen short of Super Two status.  
San Diego signed first baseman Jorge Cantu to a one-year, big league deal, reported to be for a $850,000 base.  Arizona traded two ordinary pitching prospects for Armando Galarraga.
Colorado signed outfielder Willy Taveras to a minor league deal with a big league invite.  St. Louis signed infielder Freddie Bynum to a minor league league deal after a stint in Japan.
Todd Coffey is a Washington National.
The Rangers released minor league righthanders Johnny Gunter and Aaron Thompson, both of whom had arrived in 2009, Gunter via the draft and Thompson as a free agent signed out of Australia.
According to a local report, Texas talked to Phillies play-by-play man Scott Franzke and Brewers play-by-play man Brian Anderson (son of Rangers pro scout Mike Anderson) during the process that led the organization to hire John Rhadigan to handle television play-by-play duties.  
I did a segment last night on the debut edition of “Talkin’ Baseball with Mike Capps” on 104.9 The Horn/ESPN Radio Austin, radio home of the Round Rock Express.  The one-hour show will air every Monday at 7 p.m. leading up to the start of the season, and each week either Scott Lucas or I will join Capps, the Express play-by-play announcer, and
former Major Leaguer Jerry Grote, the club’s radio color analyst, for a segment to discuss the Rangers at the big league and AAA levels.
Rangers minor league reliever Matt Thompson’s dad Bill is helping organize the “Bad Boy Mowers Celebrity Softball Classic,” a celebrity softball game on Thursday, February 3, benefiting the Tara Sawyer Foundation.  Event information is at www.tarasawyer.org.  The game will be followed by fireworks and a Mark Chesnutt concert, and among those slated to play are Ian Kinsler, Tommy Hunter, Darren Oliver, Rusty Greer, Steve Buechele, Jeff Frye, Matt Thompson, Everson Walls, and Randy White . . . 
. . . and Vernon Wells.
The great Vernon Wells Sr., that is.  
He’s going to have a lot more Rangers games to go to this year, and in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and while Junior will probably make Dad plenty proud, especially if he continues to rake in his hometown with half as much bad-***-ness as he did in 2010 (2.492 OPS), I can’t help but think the Angels’ measured efforts to reclaim their perch atop the AL West, which some felt two months ago could actually bring Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano to Anaheim, were just dealt a pretty severe, desperately self-inflicted blow. 

John Rhadigan, play by play.

When Texas makes a season-defining trade, or calls up its top prospect to make his big league debut, the update I send out announcing the move generates dozens of emails, sometimes hundreds, often with wildly divergent opinions but the same level of energy and intensity.  Yesterday’s midday announcement of John Rhadigan triggered that sort of response, in both volume and vigor.  And many asked me to weigh in on the hire.

First things first: I’m a radio guy.  Tom Grieve knows it, Josh Lewin knew it.  For various reasons I do catch hundreds of innings of the television call each season.  But the TV sound is down in my home for probably more than 1,000 innings each year.  It’s partly because of Eric Nadel, of course, but not only because of Nadel.  I’m a radio guy in baseball and I am in football as well.  Always have been, always will be.  

But I do realize that those hundreds of innings of TV play-by-play I might tune into each season is as many as, if not more than, some segments of the fan base might catch of Rangers baseball all year – fans that the organization would like to convert into thousand-inning consumers.  And, of course, I’m intensely interested in seeing the Rangers striving to make themselves better everywhere they can and at every opportunity: in the rotation, in center field, in scouting, in sponsorships, in the television booth.  Even where I might not be directly affected, I want this organization to be great.

I have no idea how John Rhadigan will sound calling Rangers games.  This I do know: He’s a pro’s pro.  He knows this team and this franchise.  He’s an extraordinarily good guy, and you’ll find nobody who disagrees about that.  He’s been proficient at worst, tremendous at best, at everything he’s done in this market, and he’s done a lot.

But calling an eighth-inning 6-4-3 to end an Angels threat and preserve a one-run Rangers lead with the Texas magic number down into the teens?  Or reacting (and not overreacting) to what turns out to be a routine, bases-empty Adrian Beltre fly to left center in mid-May?  Don’t have an opinion on that.  Feels sort of wrong to fire one up just yet.

A year ago at this time, what would you have thought if you were told Texas would end up sending Chris Davis back to AAA after just 48 at-bats, would trade Justin Smoak during the season, and would give first base to Mitch Moreland, a recent 17th-round pick who just a year earlier had been told by the organization that it was up to him whether he wanted to convert wholesale to the mound, or remain a position player?  Who, in 2010, would be strictly an Oklahoma City outfielder until mid-July, two weeks before he’d be called up to settle in on a first-place Major League team as its starting first baseman?

Last March, Randy Galloway said he asked five Rangers officials who the club’s 2012 first baseman would be: Davis or Smoak?  The leading answer, said Galloway, was Moreland.  

I’d say most of us who heard that, no matter how insane our level of interest in this team was, were pretty skeptical.

Are you as big a fan of Phillies play-by-play man Scott Franzke as I am?  Probably not, but if you are, how did you feel about his potential in that role when he was handling Rangers radio pregame and postgame show duties, just a few years ago?

Maybe John Rhadigan is Mitch Moreland.  Maybe he’s Scott Franzke.  Maybe not – but maybe.

Is it fair to say we just don’t know yet?

One thing we do know is that the scrutiny will be passionate, as it would be if some well-established, nationally renowned play-by-play man were brought in and loyal Rangers fans expected him to be fluent in how special a defender Davis is, how Alexi Ogando was acquired, the primary reason Craig Gentry didn’t make the playoff roster, and the fact that Moreland closed games for Mississippi State in the 2007 College World Series, and to fold all of that information into the broadcast without acting as if it’s the same level of revelation to the viewer as it is to him.  It’s one thing for Jon Miller to relate Josh Hamilton’s unique story when he knows he has viewers in New York and San Francisco, or Pittsburgh and Baltimore, or Denver and Cheyenne, but it would be a problem if a new announcer, with rows of trophies on his mantel, came in here and lacked not only a grasp of Rangers history and talking points, but also a sense of what the viewing audience’s grasp of those things is.

I don’t blame any of you for caring, no matter where you fall on this hire – it fires me up that the interest level is this intense – but for those of you who were disappointed with the announcement, and for those of you who couldn’t be happier, wouldn’t it make sense to wait at least until March 12, when John Rhadigan first relates the starting spring training lineup that Ron Washington is sending out there to take on the White Sox, to really judge it?  
 
I can assure you right now that I’ll prefer the Rangers’ TV play-by-play man to Chicago’s that Saturday afternoon, but as for any more defined opinion than that, other than to tell you there are few guys in the local media who are more likable than John, it’s going to be many months before I’m prepared to, or interested in, giving one.
 

Settlements.

Texas avoided arbitration on Tuesday by agreeing to terms with C.J. Wilson ($7 million) and Nelson Cruz ($3.65 million) on one-year deals, leaving Josh Hamilton, Frank Francisco, and Darren O’Day as the club’s remaining arbitration cases (the club settled with David Murphy [$2.4 million] a couple weeks ago, and Mark Lowe [$1.2 million] in November).

The question is less whether Texas will settle with Hamilton ($12 million player proposal vs. $8.7 million club proposal), Francisco ($4.875 million vs. $3.5 million), and O’Day ($1.4 million vs. $1.05 million) than whether the club could work out multi-year contracts with any of them.

The Rangers have made a routine practice of approaching core players (and some who might be considered non-core, but dependable pieces of the puzzle) to see if there’s mutual interest in an extension that would buy out the player’s remaining arbitration years and a year or two of free agency.  Texas did it in recent years with Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Francisco Cordero, Hank Blalock, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Feldman, and Ron Mahay.

There was talk in the press yesterday that it wouldn’t be out of the question for the club to approach Elvis Andrus, who isn’t arbitration-eligible yet but will have the first of his three arbitration winters arrive a year from now, about the idea of a long-term deal that would knock the shortstop’s arbitration years out, and maybe more.  Such a deal would give the club some cost certainty (perhaps even at a perceived discount, Scott Boras notwithstanding) and the player the financial security that would set him and his family up for life, with the likelihood of plenty of prime earning years beyond the deal.

Young and Kinsler were in the same service time class as Andrus when they signed their initial long-term deals here, as is Carlos Gonzalez (like Andrus a Boras client), who signed a seven-year, $80 million deal with the Rockies last week.

How likely is it that Texas could announce a multi-year agreement with Andrus, or any of its arbitration-eligible players?  It’s a question worth looking at, not only as far as Hamilton, Francisco, and O’Day are concerned, but Wilson and Cruz and Murphy as well.  The Rangers signed Young in March 2004 before announcing a four-year contract that April.  They settled with the first-time arbitration-eligible Feldman last January before agreeing to an extension through 2012 (with a club option for 2013) five weeks later.  Settling on the current year doesn’t eliminate the possibility of an extension shortly thereafter.

To me, the idea of a multi-year deal with Wilson, right now, might be the least likely of any of them.  Theoretically, it’s the most urgent case of the six, as he and Francisco are the only two who will be eligible to test free agency next winter.  But you can imagine that in Wilson’s case, both sides may be reluctant to commit long-term.  The Rangers might want to see the one-year starter deliver another year of results and health before binding themselves at anything close to market level for multiple years – he’d cost far more than Feldman, who agreed last year to a guarantee of less than $14 million for three seasons – and Wilson will probably want to take advantage of the fact that he sits near the top of an unusually thin class of starting pitchers eligible for free agency next winter.  Someone else will emerge during the 2011 season, but at the moment it’s Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Wandy Rodriguez, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Pineiro who stand out (assuming St. Louis and Philadelphia exercise 2012 options on Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt).  There’s no Cliff Lee in the bunch.

Wilson strikes me, and probably you, as someone who will want to see how much (and for how long) the Yankees and Red Sox and Angels and Dodgers might be willing to pay him a year from now to pitch in a big market, which is not to say Texas wouldn’t ultimately be his first choice once his market is defined.  I just can’t imagine he’s making financial security a priority right now.

Cruz, for different reasons, is an unusual case.  People talk about Hamilton’s relatively advanced age – he’ll be 31 when he’s first eligible for free agency (after the 2012 season) – but Cruz will be 33 when he can test the market for the first time (after 2013).  For that reason, he’s probably motivated now to see if there’s common ground with the team for long-term talks (this season’s $3.65 million contract will be his first, due to service time, for more than $500,000), but how long will Texas be willing to commit for a player who’s already 30?  I don’t think anyone expects Cruz, a classic late bloomer, to start to recede in 2011 but, really, how many years do you go?

Which brings us to Hamilton.  It’s sort of bizarre to categorize him as a year-to-year proposition (from a team perspective), but for all his positives, which stack up against anyone’s in baseball, there’s also his track record in terms of his ability to bounce back from injury (or illness), the risk of another 2009-level regression, and, frankly, the off-field issues that everyone hopes are fully past tense.  I can easily imagine Texas floating a three-year proposal, maybe four, that would delay Hamilton’s free agency by a year or two, but would he agree to such a (relatively) short term for what could unquestionably be the one contract in his career of such a length?  Hamilton is motivated in different ways and by different things than most players, and maybe he would be absolutely fine with just a three- or four-year commitment (even though he’s barely made more as a player than the $3.96 million he signed for as an 18-year-old out of high school).  But as with many things as far as Hamilton is concerned, his case is uniquely difficult to predict.

As for Murphy, his situation is probably somewhat like that of Feldman’s a year ago.  Murphy isn’t exactly a core player, just as Feldman wasn’t when he signed his extension coming off a 17-win season, but like 2009 Feldman he’s the type of player that winning organizations have in the middle of the roster, and aren’t hesitant to commit to.  Feldman took advantage of a window to secure his financial situation, and I suspect Murphy (who can’t elect free agency until after the 2013 season, when he’ll turn 32) would be motivated to do so as well.

The 31-year-old Francisco, the lone free agent in the group, made sense to commit an arbitration offer to this off-season, and given the injury that ended his season prematurely, it’s not surprising that he accepted the offer (in spite of a very healthy market for set-up relievers).  But given the Rangers’ bullpen depth (including a couple arms who haven’t arrived but are getting close), anything more than a one-year settlement would be surprising, unless the club were to get Francisco to agree to a 2012 club option that would guarantee a modest buyout.  

O’Day is probably not a candidate for an extension.  The club already controls him for four more years (he’ll have four years of arbitration eligibility rather than three, as he qualified this winter as a Super Two), and the 28-year-old unlikely to elevate into a role (now or in the future) that would generate the kind of statistics which would trigger a massive arbitration payday.

And Andrus?  I’d say the Gonzalez deal that Boras just struck with Colorado gives him the type of model that will simultaneously (1) embolden his ask and (2) lessen the chances of anything getting done.  That’s not a problem.  Andrus is here through 2014, at least, and there will be plenty of chances to make sure his tenure lasts longer than that.  I wouldn’t rule out an extension before the season, but it may be more likely to look like Mark Teixeira’s in 2006, a two-year agreement that didn’t even exhaust his arbitration years but did give Texas a little multi-year cost certainty.

C
ount on the Rangers, who haven’t taken an arbitration case all the way to hearing in 11 years (when a panel found the club’s $3.5 million proposal for Lee Stevens more appropriate than the 32-year-old’s $4.7 million submission), settling in the next couple weeks with Hamilton, Francisco, and O’Day, just as they’ve already done with Wilson, Cruz, and Murphy (and Lowe).  The bigger issue is whether there will be mutual interest between club and player in some cases – including Andrus’s – for a multi-year extension at a number both sides would accept.

I should have known better than to ask yesterday for story ideas.  You guys emailed me with more than 200 of them.  Not complaining – I appreciate the feedback a lot – but I won’t be able to address any of them today.  Several of your suggestions in particular turned up over and over, and I’ll get to those, and a stack of other notes, next time.

Change.

Sometimes the moves work out, like when you traded John Kruk, Eddie Whitson, Mackey Sasser, and a 1991 second-round pick and sixth-rounder for 26-year-old Barry Bonds, Mark Carreon, and an eighth-rounder (which you turned into 20-year-old AA reliever Mark Wohlers in the next week’s draft) and a 13th-rounder.

Or Aaron Heilman, Yorvit Torrealba, and a 2004 first-rounder for Jason Johnson, Jason Grimsley, and AA catcher-turned-first baseman Justin Morneau.

Or, to be sure, Milwaukee center field prospect Dave Krynzel for Boston shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez, firmly blocked by Nomar Garciaparra at the time of your April 2004 trade.

Other times, you spend days, maybe weeks, haggling before finalizing that blockbuster that sends Preston Wilson, Jose Jimenez, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Ricky Ledee away and makes Geoff Jenkins, Mark Redman, Kaz Ishii, and Pokey Reese new members of the Exprestos, not to mention that second-rounder and sixth-rounder that you got tossed in.  In other words, a flashy sizzle-over-steak trade that doesn’t do much good and doesn’t really hurt, but provides the adrenaline fix of making the deal.

I’ll readily admit that when I saw the news yesterday that Jim Thome had decided to return to the Twins, accepting a one-year deal with a $3 million base that’s reportedly less than what Texas offered, I was momentarily deflated.  I love Thome, always have, even if I’m not sure how adding his bat was going to work out in terms of playing time, unless it was setting things up for another domino to fall.  

That’s not to say I question whether Thome would have helped this lineup; I have no doubt he would have.  But if he were to play against righthanders and if that’s the plan for Mitch Moreland, too, is Michael Young suddenly a DH against southpaws only, with two games a week somewhere else in the infield?  And if Young fills in for Moreland against tough lefties, who DH’s?

Not that a right-handed designated like Manny Ramirez makes any more intuitive sense, since that’s what Young is slated to be.  (Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes adds Texas to the Angels, Twins, Rays, and Blue Jays as teams who have asked about Manny.)

Maybe someone like Troy Glaus, a right-handed bat who can play first base?  Sure, unless you’re expecting him to come in and mash lefthanders, which he hasn’t really done since 2007.  You like Marcus Thames?  Who’d play first against Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden and Jon Lester and C.C. Sabathia and Francisco Liriano and David Price and John Danks and Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero and Brian Matusz – Thames or Young?

Change makes things more interesting.  Especially this time of the year, when the sports landscape flags with the fortunes of the other teams that generally hold interest.  The hot stove season in baseball is so awesome that it has a nickname, and television programming named after it, and part of the reason for that is change fires us up, renews hope, stokes new scenarios to dream on.  

In some cases, the idea of adding a player you’ve been in awe of forever, still producing even if his prime years were back when you were able to ship John Lackey, Reggie Sanders, Randall Simons, Royce Ring, Garrett Atkins, and a second-round pick away for young Adam Dunn, Joel Pineiro, and a first-rounder that you turned into the great Guillermo Quiroz, the number 35 prospect in all of baseball, gets you all baseballed up, especially at the time of year when your pro and college football season is over, your basketball team is skidding off the road, and hockey’s just not enough to get you to spring training.

Five days ago, I tweeted: “Not sure how all this would shake out, but gotta say: Seeing Thome stride to plate Opening Day would be almost as great as Vlad a year ago.”

That visceral reaction to player movement will always exist for me, a onetime Rotisserie league baseball owner who, on some days, wishes he were the assistant to an assistant in a real Baseball Operations department.  Even if guaranteed that the end result would be no better and no worse, there’s a part of me that would still vote yes for that one extra Rangers trade, that free agency flier, the ability to trade draft picks.

Because you never know, washed-up Kevin Elster might do a little damage if we just give him a chance, Cancun Lobstermen outfielder Ruben Sierra could be worth another shot, Colby Lewis may translate if we bring him back, maybe longtime nemesis Vladimir Guerrero actually has something left in the tank, and that trade you made, getting 18-year-old Sean Burroughs for 11-year veteran Marquis Grissom, could really pay off.

Hey, quick question.  We’ll have a booth at FanFest next weekend, and one of things we’re thinking of doing is having a Rangers trivia contest on Saturday, one that lasts all day for those interested, with an autographed Bound Edition (signed by Rangers players, not me) or two for the winners.  Shoot me an email if you like the idea, or if you have other ideas we might consider for the booth.

And if you have one of the 2,000 copies of the book sold so far, you can go to Amazon and post a Customer Review if that’s your sort of thing.

Dates.

Some Rangers dates to keep in mind as we’re now down to 33 sleeps:

January 21: Dr Pepper Mid-Winter Awards Banquet

January 22-23: FanFest

February 16: Pitchers & catchers report

February 19: Position players report

February 27: Cactus League opener; first of 10 free spring training game webcasts on http://www.texasrangers.com (Rangers vs. Royals, 2:05 CT)

February 28: First of 10 Cactus League radio broadcasts on ESPN 103.3 FM (Rangers vs. Royals, 2:05 CT)

March 12: First of 11 Cactus League television broadcasts on TXA21 or FSSW (Rangers vs. White Sox, TXA21, 2:05 CT)

April 1: Opening Day, Rangers vs. Boston, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, 3:05 CT

Four hours later, the Angels open in Kansas City, which reminds me of something Jon Heyman (Sports Illustrated) and Joel Sherman (New York Post) each predicted in November – that the Angels would sign Carl Crawford, and Adrian Beltre, and Rafael Soriano this winter.  All three.

Instead, Beltre and Crawford will face off in the Texas-Boston opener 500 miles south, and Soriano will be in the home dugout when the Yankees host the Rangers in a three-game set that ends on April 17, the one ESPN national telecast featuring Texas on the schedule released this week.

Meanwhile, as it stands, as Los Angeles lines up for player introductions in Kauffman Stadium on April 1, the Royals announcer will call either Maicer Izturis’s or Alberto Callaspo’s name as the Angels’ starting third baseman, and Juan Rivera or maybe Scott Podsednik in left field, and hoping to pitch in case L.A. can take a slim lead into the bottom of the ninth will be Fernando Rodney.

(We’ve talked before about how Jason Bay and Nelson Cruz have been traded badly over and over.  Add Soriano to the list: Seattle dealt him for Horacio Ramirez four winters ago, and Atlanta moved him for Jesse Chavez last off-season.  Today, Soriano is a three-year, $35 million set-up man.)  

(One reason I like the Yankees signing Soriano: They now forfeit their first-round draft pick, at number 31, to Tampa Bay.  Texas makes its first pick at number 33.  New York likes to pay well over slot to late first-rounders and supplemental firsts who fall because of signability issues: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Brackman, C.J. Henry, Slade Heathcott, etc.  Someone in this deep draft who might have fallen to New York at 31 will get past Tampa Bay at 31 and 32 [with nine picks among the first 60, the Rays aren’t going to bust slot] on June 6, ripe for the Rangers’ picking at 33.)

(In fact, New York won’t pick until 50th overall [at best].  Texas will have had two picks [33 and 37] before the Yankees are ever on the clock.)

One more set of dates to throw at you:

March 31, 2007:  Texas designates off-season free agent pickup Marlon Byrd for assignment, two days prior to Opening Day.

April 5, 2007:  Byrd clears waivers, and Texas outrights him to Oklahoma.  Having been outrighted once before (by Washington in July 2006), Byrd has the right to decline the assignment and take immediate free agency.  He doesn’t, choosing instead to report to the RedHawks.

May 26, 2007:  Byrd, hitting .358/.415/.568 over 44 games for Oklahoma, is purchased by Texas.

Byrd hasn’t spent a day in the minor leagues since (with the exception of four days on rehab in 2008 when he was coming back from a knee injury), and has earned more than $8 million in that time, with another $12 million coming in the next two years.

Why bring that up now?  Because the player who held off Byrd for the final bench spot in 2007, and could very easily have killed Byrd’s Rangers career before it ever started, was Matt Kata, who managed a .186/.250/.300 slash while spotting at five different positions before his own designation for assignment in early June of that season.

Why bring that up now?  Because Texas has signed Kata to a contract with AAA Round Rock.

Don’t be surprised if Kata, age 32, doesn’t even get a non-roster invite to spring training.  He played for the Express last year (when the club was an Astros affiliate), as did catcher Kevin Cash, also a Rangers minor league signee.  A third AAA player signed recently, infielder Omar Quintanilla, has never played for Round Rock, but he did play for the University of Texas, as did Taylor Teagarden, who is likely to share duties with Cash behind the Express plate.  Two of Round Rock skipper Bobby Jones’s coaches, Scott Coolbaugh and Spike Owen, were Longhorn stars as well.

Others who played for Round Rock in 2010 include Ramon Vazquez, Drew Meyer, Jason Bourgeois, German Duran, Chris Shelton, and Casey Daigle.  None is back for a second go with the Rangers.  Yet.

But if any of them are still looking for work, I understand the Angels have a few roster spots they still haven’t addressed.

Dave Cameron weighs in on Adrian Beltre.

I really enjoyed the excellent Adrian Beltre write-up that Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing, a Seattle Mariners blog, did for Lone Star Ball a few days ago, so I asked the great Dave Cameron, of U.S.S. Mariner and FanGraphs and ESPN, if he was interested in penning his own Beltre piece for the Newberg Report since, you know, he doesn’t have enough on his plate already.

You can follow Dave at the above websites and on Twitter (@d_a_cameron), but in the meantime here are his thoughts on the Rangers’ new third baseman:

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

One of the best things I was ever told was that it takes very little discernment to see what is wrong with a person.  For many of us, our flaws are self-evident, and perhaps with no baseball player is that more true than Adrian Beltre.  Watch him play just one or two games, and you will quickly catch on to a few glaring problems in his game.  

He loves to chase the low-and-away slider, even though he just can’t hit it.  Even when ahead in the count, he’ll chase pitches a foot out of the zone.  He commits to swinging too early, often ending up on one knee when trying to hit a ball in the dirt, because he simply can’t stop his momentum from swinging even by the time he realizes that the pitch is not even close to being a strike.  He’s done all of this his entire career, and to anyone who has watched him for any length of time, it is a complete mystery that he hasn’t corrected any of these flaws.  

If you’re more into the numbers, his flaws can also be spotted quite easily over there.  Despite playing a position where power is usually expected, he’s only hit 30+ home runs in a season once, and that was six years ago.  He doesn’t like to walk, and in fact, he’s only drawn 48 unintentional walks in the past two seasons combined.  He’s posted an OPS under .800 in eight of his 12 full Major League seasons.  In 2009, his OPS was lower than Elvis Andrus’.  And, as is often repeated and you have no doubt been told countless times over the last week, the two best seasons of his career came when he was playing for a new contract.  

Readily apparent flaws.  As I was told, it takes no real skill to identify the problems in Adrian Beltre’s game.  You don’t need to be a well-seasoned scout – anyone can pick apart his game with relative ease.  However, wisdom is often found in looking beyond the obvious and finding the positives in a person, even one with apparent flaws.  When you get past the rough exterior, you often find a pretty good person.  That is also true of Adrian Beltre as a baseball player.  

Just as he has obvious weaknesses, he also has obvious strengths.  He is going to go down in history as one of the best defensive third baseman of all time.  I can’t emphasize enough how much you guys will enjoy watching him charge a slow roller down the third base line or hilariously cutting off Andrus on a ground ball hit right at the shortstop.  His defense is really a thing to behold, and it will quickly become evident just how valuable having a superb defender at the hot corner can be.  

While defense is his calling card, and I listed a bunch of sort-of-scary numbers a couple of paragraphs ago, he’s also a pretty good hitter.  In particular, he does two things well – hit the ball really hard and make decent amounts of contact.  In fact, his offensive profile is pretty similar to that of Ian Kinsler.  Beltre brings a bit more power and a few more strikeouts (while walking about 50 percent less often), but they’re both line drive guys who have enough power to hit them out occasionally while also racking up a ton of doubles.  Neither of these guys are great hitters, but if someone tells you that Beltre can’t hit, ask them if they think Kinsler can hit, because they’re pretty similar at the plate.  

They also share another commonality – unexpectedly good base running.  You don’t look at either of them and expect a ton of stolen bases, but like Kinsler, Beltre is quicker than he appears, and he’s actually a very good base stealer, going 37 for 44 over in thefts over the last four years. He goes from first to third as well as any player in the game who might be expected to hit cleanup, and he’s intelligently aggressive on the base paths.  I’m sure the Rangers are hoping that he can teach Andrus a few things about that.  

Overall, it’s something of an unusual package, especially at the kind of money he received.  Above average hitter, good baserunner, great defender at a corner position – this just isn’t the kind of skillset that people generally consider to be all that valuable, preferring classic lumbering sluggers and generally only giving defense some real credit if it comes from a shortstop or center fielder.  The statistical crowd often derides Beltre for his inconsistent offensive performance and his lack of plate discipline – after all, no group in history has ever been more fond of the ability to stand still as statheads and their affection for walks.  The more traditional sector of fans focus on the other weaknesses in Beltre’s resume, and often buy into the claim that he only puts up numbers when money is on the line.  He has few supporters on either side of the spectrum, making him an easy target for criticism.  

However, both sides should look beyond their prejudices.  The statistical crowd is just now beginning to accept the value of defense, and metrics that incorporate that part of Beltre’s game show that he’s been one of the best overall third baseman in baseball for quite some time now.  As far as the argument about Beltre and contract years go, I showed how that narrative is missing some facts last week (link: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/adrian-beltre-is-not-motivated-by-contract-years/).  While Beltre is not a perfect player, and there are legitimate criticisms to be made about aspects of his game, the overall package is quite valuable, and Rangers fans should be excited about watching him play.  

Beyond just his value on the field, however, Beltre is remarkably easy to root for.  He is quirky in ways that are hilarious and entertaining rather than contrived or just plain weird.  He doesn’t wear a cup.  He absolutely hates having anyone touch his head (link: http://bosoxgifs.imgur.com/beltre_head_rubs/).  He appeals his own check-swings.  On pitches when he really can’t decide whether to swing or not, he shuffles his feet like a 14-year-old at the prom.  He smiles all the time and has no problem laughing at himself.  He plays hurt, he refuses to take days off, and he actively mentors young players.  He’s simply a really likable guy, and yet he commands the respect of his teammates by working harder than everyone else.  

Once you get past the hacking, the rest of Beltre’s game is very easy to enjoy.  He’s also remarkably easy to root for, and that feeling will only grow as you come to realize just how unappreciated he is by a great majority of baseball fans.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself vigorously defending Beltre over the next six years – he’ll earn your affection on and off the field.  He makes the Rangers better, but he also makes them more fun.  It’s a great combination, and you guys are lucky to have him.  

Stuff.

A few things I’m thinking about:

1.    Buster Olney (ESPN) is among those reporting that the Angels’ final offer to Adrian Beltre was $77 million guaranteed, which was $3 million less than Texas guaranteed him.  The clean $80 million figure is good for Scott Boras, good for the Union.  The sixth year at another $16 million is significant, no doubt.  

But I do like seeing that the Angels’ guarantee was just $600,000 a year less than the Rangers’ guarantee, an almost insignificant baseball number when you consider that it’s less than one percent of the Angels’ team payroll, closer to one-half of one percent.  Beltre lives in Los Angeles, too.  

For too many years, the Rangers would be right there with other clubs on big free agents and finish second, often used as a pawn to get the ultimate winner to spend top dollar.  Whether you agree with the contract or not, I like that Beltre picked Texas.

2.    According to Peter Gammons (MLB.com), the Rangers offered Derek Holland, Frankie Francisco, Engel Beltre, Cubs minor league catcher Robinson Chirinos, and cash to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza, before the Rays shipped the righthander (along with outfielder Fernando Perez and lefthander Zach Rosscup) to the Cubs for outfielder Sam Fuld and four prospects: righthander Chris Archer, outfielder Brandon Guyer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, and Chirinos.  

The Chirinos component to the Rangers’ offer obviously meant he was a key for the Rays and that Texas attempted to get the Cubs involved in its own effort to acquire Garza.  Stories from Bruce Levine (ESPN Chicago) and Ed Price (FanHouse) in November and December suggested that the Rangers and Cubs were in talks that might have involved Chris Davis (and possibly Darren O’Day) on the Texas side, and Chirinos (and possibly righthander Rafael Dolis) on the Chicago side.  So to take the Gammons note a step further, the cost from the Rangers – who were “the other team in it to the end” for Garza, along with the Cubs – might have included Holland, Francisco, Beltre, Davis, and cash.  That’s a lot.  (The Yankees also backed off a Garza deal, according to Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News, because the Rays’ ask was too high.)

I’m a Garza fan.  But that package would have made me nervous (maybe the Beltre part more than any), considering Garza wouldn’t have been a clear number one on this team.  He’d have been an outstanding addition to C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis atop this rotation, but removing Holland as part of the deal makes you ask the question of how much better you believe Garza will be than Holland in 2012 and 2013, the final two years of control the Rangers would have with Garza.  I’m not able to answer that question with conviction – plus I’m a believer that Engel Beltre can be an important piece here in those two years.

3.    Then again, top prospects have a tendency to disappoint.  Philip Humber was not only a first-round pick out of Rice but the third overall pick of the draft in 2004.  He was traded by the Mets to the Twins as a key part of the four-player package to get Johan Santana before the 2008 season.  He spent more time the next three seasons (two with Minnesota, one with Kansas City) in AAA than in the big leagues, clearing league-wide waivers in April 2009 and again in August 2009 when the Twins designated him for assignment.  The Royals signed him to a minor league deal last winter, brought him to the big leagues in August, and designated him for assignment three weeks ago.  Oakland claimed him.

And then the A’s designated him for assignment yesterday, without having even seen him in camp – so they give Moscoso a roster spot.

4.    Interesting note from Keith Law (ESPN) about what the Rays got from the Cubs: “Starting with the prospects, I love this trade for Tampa Bay.  They got more for Garza than Kansas City did for Zack Greinke, although their package of players is, collectively, further away than what the Royals got.  It looks to me like the Rays focused less on position and more on overall value.”

In other words: Bravo, Tampa Bay.  Not so sure, Kansas City.

(Part of what I wrote when the Greinke trade went down: “The Royals’ haul for Zack Greinke might pan out well, but I’d have this nagging concern if I were a Royals fan that it has a ‘trade for need‘ feel, and that new Kansas City skipper Ned Yost is more familiar with Milwaukee’s young players than any other club’s, and that the Royals’ ask was reportedly lower for interested National League teams than it was for AL suitors.”)  

5.    Do the additions of Greinke (two years of control), Garza (three years), and Shawn Marcum (two years) to the NL Central accelerate the possibility that Houston would trade Wandy Rodriguez?  Two reasons:
 
     a.    St. Louis and Cincinnati were already going to make things tough for the Astros the next few years, and now the Brewers and Cubs have taken aggressive steps as well.  With Rodriguez a strong bet to go away via free agency next winter (sitting near the top of a relatively thin crop of starting pitchers that could include Mark Buehrle, Wilson, and Edwin Jackson), it would probably make sense for Houston to test his market (in the summer, if not now) rather than bank on two 2012 draft picks, neither of which would be positioned before the back half of the first round.

     b.    With Cliff Lee, Greinke, and Garza off the market, and several contenders still looking for a frontline starting pitcher, Rodriguez could be sold high right now – or in July, but that assumes he pitches as well this season as he has the past three years, which includes a ridiculous second half of 2010 while nobody was paying attention: 5-1, 2.11 in 14 starts, 101 strikeouts and 28 walks in 93.2 innings, .204/.268/.331 opponents’ slash.

Maybe the Astros have been quietly shopping Rodriguez.  They should be.

6.    Speaking of the next few years, every time I think about Adrian Beltre at third base and in the middle of this lineup, I get fired up.  

7.    There’s one thing I worry about as far as Wilson is concerned.  He established a lot of good things in 2011.  He was durable, consistent, at times dominant, and proved he could pitch in big games.  But the contract year concerns me – I think Wilson’s DNA makes him a candidate to try and “do too much” (no matter how you define that vague description, I think you know what I mean), and with the departure of Lee’s minimalist guidance (trust your stuff, make ‘em beat you, no need to trick things up) . . . well, I’m a little nervous.

8.    A few notes on righthander Ryan Kelly, picked up from Oakland yesterday for Guillermo Moscoso, who had been designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Beltre:

     a.    The A’s had just acquired Kelly from Pittsburgh two weeks earlier, sending AAA infielder-outfielder Corey Wimberly to the Pirates for him.

     b.    On Day Two of the 2006 draft, Texas area scout Rick Schroeder successfully recommended 19-year-old lefthanders in back-to-back rounds: Walters State Community College’s Lance McClain in the 24th round, and Wallace State Community College’s Derek Holland in the 25th round.  McClain didn’t sign (eventually transferring to the University of Tennessee and then Cumberland University and going to Boston in the 12th round two years later).  Holland would sign with Texas after one more Wa
llace State season, as a draft-and-follow.

Kelly went in the following round, the 26th, to Pittsburgh, who drafted him out of a South Carolina high school.  The Pirates followed him in the spring of 2007 – a season during which he pitched for Walters State, settling in on Senators staff that had just lost McClain to Tennessee. 

Kelly would sign with the Pirates just before the 2007 draft, for $100,000, which was roughly seventh-round money, rather than return to Walters State for the 2008 season . . .

. . . when he would have been teammates with Rangers lefthander prospect Chad Bell, who starred for the Senators in 2008 and 2009 before signing with Texas in August 2009 as its 14th-round pick.

     c.    Schroeder, who is now a Royals area scout, and Rangers area scout Jeff Wood obviously developed some sort of book on Kelly for the Rangers then.  I doubt Chuck Greenberg has his own book on Kelly, but the righthander did pitch for Greenberg’s State College Spikes club (the Pirates’ New York-Penn League affiliate) in 2008, making six starts and two relief appearances (0-2, 6.75) in a season abbreviated by some minor arm tendinitis.

     d.    Kelly also missed some time in 2010 due to a fractured foot (sustained on a comebacker to the mound), but I don’t even see a week of inactivity looking at his gamelogs this past season for Low A West Virginia.  In 37 relief appearances and one spot start, Kelly posted a 4.20 ERA, stranded 14 of 15 inherited runners, and saved four games in five opportunities.  Pitching mostly in middle relief, the lanky righthander (who pitched all season at age 22) fanned 75 and walked only 14 in 75 innings of work, with fairly even ground/air splits and nine home runs allowed.

     e.    Kelly faced Low A Hickory twice last season.  On May 30, the Crawdads tagged him for four runs (three earned) in an inning and two-thirds on five hits, including one of Joe Bonadonna’s three home runs for the year and an Ed Koncel double.  Hickory won the game, 8-0, on a four-hitter spun by Neil Ramirez, Bell, and Braden Tullis, all three of whom could be High A Myrtle Beach teammates with Kelly this spring.

     f.    The Rangers cite command of a fastball touching 95-96 with life (out of a low-three-quarters slot) and the makings of a power curve (which has replaced his slider) when talking about his upside.  The downside includes several arm issues in his four pro seasons, but only one (in 2007) that cost him a disabled list stint.

     g.    I had Jake Brigham at number 38 on my Bound Edition ranking of the Rangers system’s top 72 prospects, and Mark Hamburger at number 68.  Kelly fits a similar profile and probably sits somewhere in between.  He’s probably slated for Pelicans pen work to start the season, with a chance to get to Frisco by the summer.

     h.    This isn’t a significant trade – you’re not going to make one for a player who has been designated for assignment – but an effort to continue stockpiling power arms (in this case, at almost no cost) in hopes that some of them put it all together.

We’ll have a Newberg Report booth at the Rangers’ 2011 Fan Fest two weekends from now (January 22-23, Arlington Convention Center).  More on that soon.

 

40 sleeps.

We’re down to 40 sleeps until Pitchers & Catchers, which is roughly a haircut cycle for me, which drives home how close we are to getting things rolling once again.  Obviously, I’m not used to this “Can we do it again?” mindset, accustomed instead to “Can we finally do it this time?”

Is Texas done reshaping its roster, once Guillermo Moscoso or someone else is dropped to make room for Adrian Beltre?  Maybe.  Jon Daniels said as much as Wednesday’s Beltre press conference, leaving room for the possibility that some other opportunity to improve the club could present itself before camp opens up.  If not, though?  “I’m comfortable with our club,” said Daniels.

Rafael Soriano?  No, says Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, who reports that Texas never was in on the closer at any point this off-season.  (So the Red Sox can rest assured that they’ll get the Rangers’ first-round pick, 26th overall, for the loss of Beltre, and not a second-rounder instead, though Boston might have to worry instead about facing Soriano in the eighth inning if he’s as open to signing with the Yankees as he says he is.)  (On the other hand, Buster Olney of ESPN writes this morning that New York has flagging interest in Soriano.)

Vladimir Guerrero?  Nope, says Daniels.  That door has closed.

But Jim Thome?  Lots of media talk about that possibility yesterday, though it does raise the question of what the plan would be for Michael Young if Thome were brought in for a year.  

Jeff Francis?  Even after the arrival of Brandon Webb ($3 million base, additional $4 million in workload incentives and another $1 million based on days spent on the active roster), Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated and Jerry Crasnick of ESPN count Texas as one of eight teams interested in the left-handed reclamation project.

Matt Garza?  Tampa Bay wants too much.

Andy Pettitte?  New York or Deer Park, it looks like.

Carl Pavano?  No.

The thing is, we really don’t know what could be in store.  The Rangers’ interest this winter in signing Cliff Lee was well publicized (particularly since he was a player the club was trying to retain, rather than go out and get), but aside from that?  The Beltre move came as a relative surprise, without much in the way of strong speculation until the last couple days of negotiations.  Webb happened fairly quietly.  Arthur Rhodes ($3.9 million in 2011, another $4 million in 2012 if he appears 62 times this season and doesn’t finish the year on the disabled list) came out of nowhere, as did Yorvit Torrealba.  

And the trade for Lee.

And the trade for Josh Hamilton.

Player moves rarely get telegraphed out of Arlington these days.  The Daniels concession on Wednesday that he’s comfortable going to war with the roster he has now is as definitive an answer as we’ll ever get from him on his intentions, and even then he threw in the reminder that he’s always looking for ways to get better.  Maybe this winter, maybe during spring training, maybe in July.

At this time a year ago, Texas had yet to sign Guerrero.  Or Colby Lewis.  Or Khalil Greene.  

During camp, Greene’s decision not to report (and the lackluster showing of non-roster signee Ray Olmedo) caused Daniels to claim Hernan Iribarren off waivers, trade for Gregorio Petit (by sending Oakland reliever Edwar Ramirez, whom he’d traded for two weeks earlier), and trade for Andres Blanco.  Saltalamacchia’s health questions led Daniels to trade Olmedo late in camp for Matt Treanor.  The inability of Matt Brown (who was signed a year ago today) or Max Ramirez to seize the role of right-handed corner infield bat on the bench prompted Daniels to claim Ryan Garko off waivers.

During the season, despite not having any meaningful room on the payroll, Daniels traded for Bengie Molina.  And Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe.  And Jorge Cantu.  And Cristian Guzman.  And Jeff Francoeur.  

And now, Daniels has acknowledged there’s room in the budget for more roster improvement – though he’s quick to point out that he’s not inclined to spend it now just to hit a spreadsheet number.  It’s there, but at this point any opportunity that presents itself will be weighed not only against present roster options, but also against the possibility of various July possibilities, which you know Daniels and his crew have already mapped out, and possibly laid groundwork for.

Lots can happen amidst these next 40 sleeps.  But you can expect Texas to be aggressive with its roster well into the summer, especially if it’s in contention past the midpoint of the season.

A few things from the Beltre presser:

1.    He’s likely to hit fourth, behind Josh Hamilton and in front of Nelson Cruz, according to Ron Washington, who cited Beltre’s experience as a key factor.  (Recall, however, that Washington penciled Cruz in at number six and Chris Davis at number seven going into Cactus League play a year ago – and signaled an intention to flip those two by Opening Day so Davis could break up the Guerrero/Ian Kinsler/Cruz righty party.  Nothing’s etched in stone.)

2.    For what it’s worth, Beltre’s highest career OPS (.830) has come while batting in the cleanup spot (not counting the 1.512 he has in 15 career at-bats hitting ninth).

3.    This caught me off guard: Even though Beltre has played on winning clubs nine times in 13 years, he’s only been to the playoffs once, in 2004 when the Dodgers won 93 games and the NL West but managed only one victory in the NLDS before St. Louis put them away.  

4.    Daniels said that when he called other executives for whom Beltre had played (in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Boston), and Rangers players and coaches and trainers and others called their counterparts who had been with those clubs, there was not a single negative word uttered.  Texas was looking for red flags as part of its due diligence.  Found none.

5.    Not only do the Red Sox come to Arlington as the Rangers’ first opponent when the season opens – the Mariners come in right after them.

6.    Beltre’s first big league home run?  Batting ninth for the Dodgers in his sixth big league game, an interleague affair in Arlington on June 30, 1998.  After fouling off Rick Helling’s first pitch with two outs in the sixth and a man on first, Beltre took two pitches outside the strike zone before taking the Rangers’ ace deep to extend the Los Angeles lead to 4-0.  A Fernando Tatis homer in the bottom of the frame was all Texas would muster off Darren Dreifort and Antonio Osuna.

7.    Beltre has hit for the cycle one time in his big league career – on September 1, 2008 in Rangers Ballpark: home run off Matt Harrison, run-scoring single off Harrison, another single off Harrison, double off Luis Mendoza, run-scoring triple off Josh Rupe.  Warner Madrigal got Beltre to ground out to shortstop Michael Young to end Seattle’s ninth in a 12-6 Mariners win.

8.    Beltre called one Rangers player before signing his contract: Not a former teammate.  Not a Dominican countryman.  Michael Young.

9.    I was struck Wednesday by Beltre’s demeanor, and expect him to be among the primary leaders on this team, eventually.  He’s a little cocky (seeming to toy with the media session at times), but more self-assured than self-righteous, speaks both English and Spanish as if he’s done so his whole life, and given his reputation for playing hard and playing through pain, the formula’s there for Beltre to be a go-to guy in the clubhouse – particularly since he’s going to be here for a very long time.

10. &nbs
p;  Julio Borbon will surrender uniform number 29 to Beltre, taking on number 20 and whatever Beltre deems fair consideration.

I wish I’d had the chance to listen to Los Angeles sports talk radio on Wednesday.

According to Heyman, Beltre’s contract contains limited no-trade protection, though no further details were given.  He’ll earn $14 million in 2011, $15 million in 2012, $16 million in 2013, $17 million in 2014, $18 million in 2015, and $16 million in 2016, while that final year’s contract is voidable by the club if Beltre fails to amass 1200 plate appearances in 2014-15 and also fails to reach 600 plate appearances in 2015.  (The sixth year vests if Beltre reaches either number.)  If the sixth year vests but Beltre finishes the 2015 season on the disabled list and a physician mutually agreed upon determines that he’s unable to play at “normal health” by spring training of 2016, Texas will have the right to defer $12 million of the $16 million owed to Beltre in 2016 at 1% simple interest.

David Murphy agreed to a one-year, $2.4 million contract yesterday, avoiding arbitration.

There’s some talk that Kinsler could be looked at atop the order again.

Webb expects to be 100 percent ready to participate in all pitchers’ drills when camp opens.  The Rangers are cautiously optimistic that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

I’m going to buy a P90X system.  For those who have done it, should I just buy it directly from the company, or are there better ways?  I’m not really a craigslist or eBay guy.

The Rangers are bringing back minor league free agent Elio Sarmiento, likely to catch again for Frisco, but saw minor league free agent Doug Mathis depart.  The righthander signed a non-roster deal with Cleveland, getting an invite to big league spring training.  Colorado signed Iribarren to a minor league deal.

The Rangers signed 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Rougned Odor for a reported $425,000 bonus, and two Dominican teenagers, catcher Fernando Vivili ($300,000) and righthander Jose Leclair ($95,000).  

Odor is easily the highest-profile of the three players, connected in the spring with the Yankees before the signing period opened on July 2.  The left-handed batter hit .538/.545/.857 for the Venezuelan Youth National Team in the World Youth Championships in Taiwan this August, with two home runs, a triple, and a double among his 15 hits (though he’s not expected to hit for significant power).  Odor struck out only twice in 28 at-bats in the tournament, and stole five bases in six attempts, though his run tool, while improving in some scouts’ eyes, is still considered only average.  Odor’s uncle Rouglas Odor is Cleveland’s AA hitting coach.

Texas released the following farmhands: righthander Sam Brown, infielder/outfielder Joe Bonadonna, and infielders Danny Lima and Vicente Cafaro, the latter of whom was a player-coach with the Arizona League squad.

Houston released second baseman German Duran.

The Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League exercised their 2011 option on righthander Dustin Brader.

Righthander Yu Darvish renewed his contract with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for one year, getting more than a 50 percent raise to what will roughly be a $6 million deal for 2011 (which will be the largest salary in the league).  Asked whether he expects to be posted a year from now to make his way to the Major Leagues, the 24-year-old responded: “No comment.”  His ERA’s in Japan the last four seasons have been 1.82, 1.88, 1.73, and 1.78, over which time he’s fanned 807 batters in 791.1 innings with a 58-22 record, and if you thought the posting frenzy over Daisuke Matsuzaka four years ago was maniacal, wait until Darvish posts.

And expect Texas to be heavily in on him, whether there’s a Cashman-like shout from the rooftops or not.

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