February 2011

Stuff.

I wasn’t there and so this is based only on a box score and a couple game recaps, and I don’t wish I’d been in Surprise yesterday rather than at our last Peanut basketball game of the season (a 31-27 barnburner that cost me my voice), but I know just enough about Royals 4, Rangers 2 that I’m hoping Tanner Scheppers and Pedro Strop will bottle some of that stuff up until I get therein 11 days.
The video on (new leadoff hitter) Ian Kinsler’s play up the middle was enough of a reminder that, among the many Rangers players who have a legitimate chance to improve his production in 2011 (more of whom exist than those who had what could be considered career years in 2010), the 28-year-old could help things out quite a bit if he can avoid the disabled list for the first time in his big league career.  He’s too important to this lineup and defense to miss another 40 days this year, which is what he’s averaged on the shelf. 
Chris Davis’s defense, this time at third base, makes me aggressively crave a breakthrough at the plate for the 24-year-old.  
In 2008, Davis went into the season judged by Baseball America to be the number 65 prospect in baseball and was number 74 on Kevin Goldstein’s equivalent Baseball Prospectus list, rankings that seemed light eight months later after he’d smacked big league pitching around that summer at a .285/.331/.549 rate, stacking up 17 home runs and 23 doubles in a mere 295 at-bats.
It serves as a reminder that prospect rankings may be persuasive but are never conclusive, not when BA had Franklin Morales at number 8 on that same 2008 list and Joey Votto at 44 (Goldstein: 13 and 21), not to mention Taylor Teagarden at 80 and Neftali Feliz at 93 (though Goldstein put Feliz at 30).
But that’s not to say we should close our eyes to the rankings, which I’d certainly pay more attention to than a home run served up by David Bush on February 27 (or one hit two innings later by Doug Deeds), and with that I share with you that BA and Goldstein each have three Rangers on their freshly unveiled Top 100/101 Prospects lists for 2011: lefthander Martin Perez (BA 24, KG 33), shortstop Jurickson Profar (BA 74, KG 78), and Scheppers (BA 84, KG 79).  
For what it’s worth, BA projects the big league arrivals for those three to be 2012, 2013, and 2011, respectively.  The Profar evaluation is particularly interesting, as he won’t turn 20 until after pitchers and catchers report that season.
Jim Callis identifies lefthander Robbie Erlin among six players who, for him, “didn’t make [BA's] 2011 Top 100 [but] could rise the highest on our 2012 list.”
Goldstein will have a monster chat session today regarding his Top 101, and I’ll share any Rangers-related comments when I next write.
Despite some national media reports suggesting he could miss a month, Adrian Beltre and the Rangers are sticking to their estimation that his Grade 1 right calf strain won’t keep him out any more than 10-14 days, which signals a return to play sometime next week.  He continues to take batting practice and throw, and should start taking grounders in the next couple days.
Brandon Webb threw 28 pitches in a 10-minute bullpen session yesterday, his first work off a mound in 10 days, and if he reports no unusual soreness today, he could be back on a mound tomorrow and resume his effort to be ready in time for Opening Day.
We know Wilson is slated to get the ball that day, and now it looks like Matt Treanor will be the club’s Opening Day catcher, as the Rangers want to keep those two together in spite of the plan to have Yorvit Torrealba serve in 2011 as the club’s primary backstop.  
Rangers players will receive their American League Championship rings in a ceremony before Game Two against Boston (Saturday night, April 2).  Every player who appeared in a game for Texas in 2010 will receive a ring, even if they didn’t make the post-season roster.
Michael Young will start at first base today, something he has never done.  Even when he was Mateo’s age.
A Philadelphia Daily News article suggests that while the Phillies checked with Texas on Young last month because of Chase Utley’s knee issues, there’s not much of a chance that the two teams move those talks any further.
Check out Scott Lucas’s drill-down into the idea that Nelson Cruz isn’t ready to handle cleanup duties, which will go to Beltre.
The unusual arrangement that Texas has with 25-year-old Cuban first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz is similar to the one he had when signing with Tampa Bay in June.  Ruiz’s deal with the Rays was for the balance of 2010 with a four-year, $4 million club option that they declined in November.  The Rangers signed him to a one-year deal with a three-year option (at a lower figure) that they must act on when the season ends.
Cleveland signed righthander Chad Durbin.  Tampa Bay signed utility player Joe Inglett to a minor league deal.
The Mets named Jack Voigt their minor league outfield/baserunning coordinator.
Need a book?  Need a T-shirt?
Eric Nadel and Dave Barnett broadcast today’s Rangers-Royals game (2:05 CT) on ESPN 103.3 FM.  The sound of Eric’s voice, like the first spring training box scores and the BA and Goldstein Top 100/101’s, will be yet another signal that the real thing is gaining on us, and quickly.  Bring it on.

Two cents on two quotes.

Springboarding off a couple recent quotes from camp:
* * *
 
“Don’t go to sleep on Chris Davis.” – Jon Daniels, in a radio interview 
Easier said than done, maybe, considering that of the eight Rangers infielders on the 40-man roster, seven are locks to make the team barring injury (Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Andres Blanco, Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, Michael Young) and one is a lock not to (Davis).  
And that Davis was rumored at different times this winter to be traded in something short of a headline deal (perhaps to the Cubs for catcher Robinson Chirinos, who might have then been flipped to Tampa Bay as part of a package for Matt Garza – the Rays ended up getting Chirinos from the Cubs in the eventual Garza trade).  
And that the Rangers are so committed to Moreland that Davis, the club’s best defensive first baseman, has reportedly been fully transitioned back to third base.
Yet the general manager is singling Davis out as a guy to keep an eye on.
He’s still just 24, eight months younger for instance than non-roster invite Chad Tracy, a corner infielder with some possibilities and one year of AAA ball under his belt.  Davis has parts of three years in the big leagues.
Where Davis distinguishes himself from, say, Jason Botts is not only in the glove and arm tool, pluses both, but also in the sustained run of big league success he’s had.  In 2008, a mere two years after signing with the Rangers out of Navarro Junior College, Davis hit a robust .285/.331/.549 in 317 Texas plate appearances, with 17 big league home runs in half a season (to go along with 23 bombs in the first half between AA Frisco and AAA Oklahoma City).  Compare Moreland’s .255/.364/.469 slash in his 173 plate appearances for the Rangers last summer.
Moreland’s six months older than Davis himself.
This is not to suggest that Davis should be the Rangers’ first baseman.  Moreland has earned the position, at least as a job to lose.  The way the roster is constructed, Davis isn’t really an ideal fit, even on the bench.  Young and Napoli provide depth at first base, Young and Blanco at third.
But even if Davis never fulfills all that Ryan Howard promise at the plate, as a player with 70 raw power (conservatively) and the versatility to make plays at two corners and maybe four, he could have a lengthy big league career contributing to good teams.  And there’s more to dream on, to not sleep on.
The Rangers have Davis hitting daily in a group in camp with Beltre, Josh Hamilton, and the player who should serve as his supreme inspiration.
Nelson Cruz was older than Chris Davis is now before he made his big league debut.  He got to Milwaukee in 2005 but spent most of his time that year in AAA, just as he did in 2006, 2007, and 2008 (1,058 AAA plate appearances, 603 Rangers plate appearances).  While Davis has one remaining option, Cruz had exhausted his in 2008 when Texas decided it nonetheless couldn’t carry him on Opening Day (opting for Botts instead), designating Cruz for assignment and succeeding in getting him through league-wide waivers, as a 27-year-old with all the tools but no real big league success.  
 
Cruz, whether or not humbled by the 30-team neglect, was in the midst of his second straight insane Oklahoma City season in 2008 (.342/.429/.695) when Texas purchased his contract in late August, dropping Jason Ellison from the big club.  Any subsequent effort to get Cruz to the minor leagues – ever – would entail not only another designation for assignment but also, if he were to slide through waivers again, a certain departure for another organization, as a player outrighted more than once in his career can refuse subsequent outrights and take immediate free agency.  The August 2008 chance that Texas was giving Cruz would be his and the club’s one final shot at avoiding divorce.
He hit .330/.421/.609 over those last five weeks with the Rangers.  Only one hitter in the entire American League (Shin-Soo Choo) had a higher OPS in that stretch.  
The Hanshin Tigers came calling that winter, asking the Rangers if they’d be interested in selling Cruz.  They weren’t, obviously, but you have to wonder how that conversation might have gone a year earlier.
Before he settled on an approach at the plate that worked and before he figured out how to adjust to big league pitching in his fourth run at them, Cruz was a 28-year-old, .316/.402/.602 AAA hitter.  At the moment, fighting for a chance to make his own fourth run at big league pitchers, Davis is a 24-year-old, .328/.395/.547 AAA hitter, with an option remaining.  
Davis has plenty of work to do on the approach and the adjustments, and has a third big league hitting coach in three years who will attempt to unlock all that offensive potential, but I still believe in that guy.  With Beltre’s calf injury and the importance of getting Young extensive work at first base and second base in camp, Davis is going to get a good amount of third base starts early on, which is key since big league pitchers tend to work early in games at the start of the exhibition schedule, giving way to jerseys with “87” on the back in the late innings.  He’s got an opportunity here to make people reevaluate what he might be.
Don’t forget what Davis was able to do against big league pitching just two years out of junior college, don’t forget how young he still is, and don’t go to sleep on him.
* * *
“It wasn’t fun.  It buckled me, actually.  It’s a good pitch.  I’m glad I’m on his side now.  I thought he had good arm action on the slider today.  Last year he would kind of slow up a little bit and give it away.  I couldn’t tell any difference in the arm speed today.” – Mike Napoli, assessing the slider that Neftali Feliz froze him on down and away for strike three (and in fact had him walking back to the dugout before the umpire’s call) in a Friday intrasquad game at-bat
Everyone else has written about The Pitch, so I figured I might as well pile on.
No, the crippling back-fields pitch didn’t have quite the impact of the Feliz breaking ball that froze A-Rod and ended the Yankees’ season four months ago, and it didn’t cement a spot in the starting rotation for the 22-year-old closer.  But given where the Feliz-to-starter audition ranks among the stories early in camp, and the fact that the pitch was fired past (1) a teammate, that is, someone willing to offer wordy praise to reporters afterwards and (2) someone who has faced Feliz the past couple years, the Napoli appraisal was very interesting. 
If David Murphy had been the victim of the pitch, his comments would have been worth noting (as they were a week ago when he talked to reporters about the Feliz breaking ball and changeup he stood in against in live BP).  If Matt Treanor talked about the progress Feliz was making with his secondary stuff, I want to hear that, too.
But to hear from a player who has hit against Feliz when it counted, and who had developed a book on how to cheat a bit on that breaking ball – suggesting it might have been an issue others in the league were in on – it carr
ies extra weight, no?
Just for fun, Napoli’s five lifetime at-bats against Feliz:
August 7, 2009 (Feliz’s third big league appearance), bottom of eighth:
Pitch 1: fastball (99 mph), called strike 
Pitch 2: slider (86), ball (low and away)
Pitch 3: fastball (100), ball 
Pitch 4: fastball (100), called strike 
Pitch 5: fastball (101), foul 
Pitch 6: slider (85), swinging strike three
September 18, 2009, top of sixth: 
Pitch 1: slider (77), ball (low and away) 
Pitch 2: slider (76), ball (low and away)
Pitch 3: fastball (94), called strike 
Pitch 4: fastball (94), ball
Pitch 5: fastball (96), ball four
May 17, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (96), flyout to center
July 22, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (97), called strike
Pitch 2: fastball (96), flyout to center
September 30, 2010, top of ninth:
Pitch 1: fastball (96), swinging strike 
Pitch 2: (after throw to first) fastball (96), swinging strike 
Pitch 3: (after throw to first) fastball (94), ball
Pitch 4: slider (79), foul
Pitch 5: (after throw to first) fastball (96), foul
Pitch 2: fastball (95), swinging strike three
Now that you’ve skimmed over that waste of time (though it does illustrate that Napoli isn’t unwilling to take a bunch of pitches . . . and may also be a reminder that the punishment he tends to deliver comes off left-handed pitching), recognize that one pitch doesn’t make much difference, especially in an intrasquad game in February, but a similar one made history for Texas in October, and if Feliz truly is adding consistent location to (and confidence in) his breaking ball, and subtracting a significant tell, and if the changeup is staying down with some deception, and if he proves into mid-March that he can sustain his velocity and mix up his looks a third time through a lineup, then maybe this year’s rotation audition will end the way last spring’s C.J. Wilson trial did, and turn out just as well.
It’s a bunch of if’s, but February isn’t the time of year when a whole lot of if’s go away.

Pop the corn. Or, you know, something.

Hours from now the first competition of the 2011 Rangers season gets underway, with C.J. Wilson taking the ball for one intrasquad group not because he’s already been awarded the Opening Day start against Boston but because Mike Maddux’s schedule for Wilson based on that April 1 assignment makes today an excellent day for him to pitch an inning.  
Dave Bush’s pitch for a roster spot gives us more than just manager and pitching coach and catcher quotes to overreact to consume today, as he starts for the opposing squad in what is slated to be a 5.5-inning game.  
Wilson will throw again on Sunday, when Texas opens the exhibition schedule against Kansas City.  So will Bush.
Today Wilson will be followed by a group that is supposed to include Tanner Scheppers, one of the It Guys from the first week of camp, as well as Ryan Tucker, Seth McClung, Zach Phillips, and Zach Jackson.  Mark Lowe (who (1) has wowed Mike Napoli and (2) was a dealbreaker in July for Texas, who wouldn’t have put Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee trade unless Seattle included the righthander, according to John Hickey of AOL FanHouse) headlines the relief group behind Bush, joined by Pedro Strop (who has been singled out in praise by Yorvit Torrealba, who was in the Rockies system along with Strop from 2006 through 2009, though their only conceivable work together would have been in spring training), Yoshinori Tateyama, and Cody Eppley.
Among those who aren’t slated to pitch today are Colby Lewis and Michael Kirkman, who will work in another intrasquad game tomorrow; Darren Oliver, who will go against the Royals (along with Lewis and Kirkman) on Monday; and Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin, who’s dealing with a bout of “general arm soreness.”  Others limited at the moment are Eric Hurley (hamstring), Miguel De Los Santos (biceps), Fabio Castillo (foot), and Scott Feldman (knee), not to mention Brandon Webb, whose prescribed course of long toss may already be the most notable (most noted, at least) in franchise history.
Much will be made of today’s 11 half-innings.  The action won’t be broadcast, the stats won’t “count” (not that Cactus League game numbers do, but intrasquad results really don’t count), and there may be innings that roll over because of pitch counts.  
But it’s the first semblance of baseball since Nelson Cruz’s very slow walk to the southwest 115 days ago, so cue up the overreactions, and feel free to embrace a little over-the-top.  It’s very likely that nothing that happens on the field today will have any more of an impact on the 2011 season than the bullpens, live BP, and infield drills that have led up to it, but you can bet the players are looking forward to a little umpire chitchat, a pine tar turn in the on-deck circle rather than behind the cage, and that underrated moment when the third base coach first flashes the signs, so it’s probably OK with everyone in Surprise if we play along and get our popcorn ready (for a handful of beat writer tweets telling us Zach Jackson fanned Jose Felix on six pitches).
</melodrama>
We’ve all been around this game long enough to concede that the anticipation of all these spring training mileposts is what counts, not the moments themselves, and so while it’s not advisable to pull the kids from school in time for first pitch of the Wilson’s against the Bush’s, I’d say we all have a good excuse for feeling a little keyed up this morning for yet another spring training piece to cross off the punch list as we get closer to Wilson’s April 1 trot to the mound, followed by eight exhilarating warmup pitches as Jacoby Ellsbury gets set to march from the visitors’ on-deck circle to the batter’s box, six weeks after reporting to Boston camp in what I’ve been told is the best shape of his life.

Long toss for Brandon Webb.

The fact that Cliff Lee has been dealing with a mild oblique strain is a reminder, overlaid against the reports that Brandon Webb is being taken off a standard mound routine to throw long toss for now, that: (1) devoting six years and $120 million (and possibly $135 million) to a 32-year-old is scary, but so is giving one year and $3 million (and possibly $8 million) to a 31-year-old coming off a major injury – pitchers are risks – and (2) this is the time of the year, with baseball in session but no game performances to overreact to, when every single physical issue is made into news (Lee is reportedly at 100 percent, and Webb could still be on schedule to take the ball on April 5 against Seattle).
But given Webb’s immediate history, this can’t just be written off like a John Wetteland spring training neck strain.  Like Josh Hamilton’s bruised shoulder this time last year, Webb’s arm strength, deemed after his first bullpen session to be insufficient at this stage for throwing off a mound, is going to be a story for several weeks, at least.  Even if he’s allowed to throw downhill soon, he’ll be behind others, and it’s probably a fair bet that he starts the year on the disabled list, even if briefly and only as a precautionary measure – and that may be optimistic.  
Michael Young (who addressed his teammates before the club’s first full-squad workout yesterday) is expected to sit down with Ron Washington and infield coach Dave Anderson today to outline his workout schedule for camp, mapping out his drills at first base, second base, and third base.  He won’t be considered a backup at shortstop or in the outfield.
Chris Davis will work primarily at third base in camp.  
Tanner Scheppers is working on a starter’s schedule and will pitch out of the Round Rock rotation, unless he makes the Rangers’ Opening Day bullpen.
Righthander Alexi Ogando is throwing without pain, fully past the strained abdominal muscle he suffered in Game Four of the World Series.
(Given the good news on Ogando, I don’t mind saying the last part of that sentence was pretty cool to be able to write.)
Texas is hopeful that Scott Feldman, who had microfracture surgery on his right knee in November and is throwing on flat ground, will be able to throw off a mound late in March.  He won’t be ready for Opening Day.
Righthander Omar Beltre, diagnosed last week with spinal stenosis, a genetic disorder marked by abnormal narrowing of the spine, will undergo surgery tomorrow and won’t resume baseball activities for another two months.
Outfielder Craig Gentry isn’t yet at full strength after right wrist surgery in August.  He had a cortisone shot a couple days ago and should get rolling this week.
First baseman Chad Tracy won’t work in the outfield for now, limited after “clean-up” surgery on his right shoulder this winter.
Of the four prospects added by Texas to the 40-man roster in November, three are dealing with injuries.  Righthander Fabio Castillo is sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left foot.  Lefthander Miguel De Los Santos is recovering from off-season biceps tendinitis.  And Wilmer Font had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season.  Only outfielder Engel Beltre is fully healthy.
Righthander Brett Tomko, signed over the weekend to a minor league contract (without an invite to big league camp) (and arguably the longtime Face of the Hardline’s “Future Ranger” Franchise), was singled out many years ago as perhaps the only free agent starting pitcher Texas ever approached only to be told he wasn’t crazy about the idea of pitching in Rangers Ballpark.
Kevin Millwood rejected the Yankees’ offer of a minor league contract.
Rich Harden has been shut down for a couple weeks by the A’s, complaining of pain in his right side.
The Mets signed first baseman Chris Shelton to a minor league deal.
Righthander Chris Ray says he turned down another club’s big league contract offer before agreeing to a minor league deal with Seattle, claiming he did so because he believes the Mariners will give him a shot at closing games or at least setting up late.
San Diego released infielder Gregorio Petit, who had injured his knee in winter ball.
The Dodgers signed righthander Geoff Geary to a minor league deal.
The Baltimore Showalters signed righthander Ryan Drese to a minor league contract, which I found strange.  The club also signed outfielder Joe Gaetti to a minor league deal.
The Mets gave righthander Johnny Lujan a non-roster invite to big league camp.  San Francisco signed infielder Edgar Gonzalez to a minor league deal but with no invite.
The great Jason Parks has launched his new website, offering scouting-based analysis of the Rangers farm system, at http://www.texasfarmreview.com.   Sign up, and you’ll learn a lot.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman, asked by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times whether trading for Cliff Lee in July might have led the lefthander to sign long-term with New York this winter, said: “Maybe.  Or maybe he would have hated it.  Who knows?  It goes both ways.  He went there (Texas) to help them win a World Series, but he lost two games in the World Series to the Giants.  You just don’t know how this stuff plays out.”
Cashman’s not very good at quotes.
Seattle and New York both screwed up on that trade.  The Yankees should have thrown Eduardo Nunez or Ivan Nova into the deal, and the Mariners should have taken Jesus Montero – regardless of the secondary pieces – instead of Justin Smoak.
It’s sort of amazing how badly Lee has been traded in his career.  All four times the team getting Lee (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Texas) won the deal handily (which of course means that the first three of those clubs, along with Montreal in 2002, were guilty of being on the other end).  
The Phillies have acquired Lee a second time, and like every other team that has added the lefthander, they probably won’t regret it, at least for a few years.  But given the level of their investment, when his muscular issue led the club to shut him down for a week in January (after he’d missed time early in the 2007 and 2010 seasons with abdominal strains), you can understand how there might have been a sleepless night or two in the Philadelphia front office.
Even with nothing but minor dings and occasional barks, no team can ever expect to get through a season with fewer than eight or nine starting pitchers.  Brandon Webb’s early-camp setback, if it can be termed that, shouldn’t come as a great surprise, given what he’s coming back from, and that’s one reason that this club, even with a decent amount of depth in back-of-rotation candidates, has made agate-type news the last few weeks with veterans like Dave Bush and Brett Tomko, and theoretically may not be finished.

Express delivery.

They were both disappointed that things had become so public, but Jon Daniels and Michael Young each took a turn speaking publicly once more on Saturday, in separate press conferences, declining to get into the details and preaching closure, preferring to move on with the business of getting ready for Rangers baseball.  
It’s a very different situation from the one last March in which the manager made a staggering admission, and he and his bosses and his players talked about getting it out there and moving on, though like that story, this one won’t go away over the next six weeks – but I do expect the players and coaches and club officials to stay focused on what they’re supposed to be focused on.
There were stacks of interesting comments on Saturday from Daniels and Young, which all of the local beats thoroughly delivered yesterday and today, so I’m not going to take up the space to lay them out here, but I will say that for all of the versatility and depth that the Rangers have built this winter, no team has more versatility and depth in its Team President than this one.

Close of business.

2009walkoff.jpg
The team had just won a 10-inning, 6-5 game on April 19, 2009, then a franchise with one playoff game victory in 37 seasons, yet 18 months away from a World Series that nobody could have imagined would come so quickly.
Moments like that one make us forget, as they should, that this is a business.  A business in which an mind-blowing amount of money is tied up, in which different people, in spite of sharing an ultimate goal, have very different jobs to do in pushing toward that goal, and are paid very well to do those jobs.  Different jobs, different agendas.
Since that photograph was taken, Vladimir Guerrero arrived, and left.  Cliff Lee, same thing.  Bengie Molina.  Clint Hurdle.  Matt Purke hadn’t yet been drafted, hadn’t yet not signed, hadn’t yet been Baseball America Freshman of the Year, hadn’t yet thrown four innings of one-hit ball in TCU’s 2011 season opener to kick off his sophomore, draft-eligible season.  
When Michael Young took Kyle Farnsworth deep in the bottom of the ninth on April 19, 2009 and sprinted across 355 feet of baseline, leaping to cover the final five, C.J. Wilson was in the Rangers bullpen, and in fact entered in the seventh inning that day, with Texas behind, 5-3.  Neftali Feliz was in the Oklahoma City rotation.  Alexi Ogando was in extended spring training in the Dominican Republic.  Colby Lewis was in Japan.  
Chuck Greenberg hadn’t even met Nolan Ryan.
Take a look at the photo.  
Frankie Francisco, gone.  Brandon McCarthy, gone.  Kris Benson, gone.  Hank Blalock, gone.  Andruw Jones, gone.  Marlon Byrd, gone.
Taylor Teagarden, then in his first full big league season and a key part of the club’s catching tandem, now faces the likelihood that his final option will be exercised before Opening Day, with an assignment to AAA Round Rock, in the shadow of the college town where he’d established himself as a strong bet to carve out at least a steady big league career as a backup catcher.
Chris Davis, also then in his first full big league season and the number five candidate in all of baseball to put together a breakout season (according to 60 big league execs that Peter Gammons talked to in spring training), now also stares at a final option to Round Rock.
There were Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison, the Braves’ number two and number three prospects (per Baseball America) when they came over in the July 2007 trade, one 10 games into a career that’s going to last a very long time (without an option ever being used), the other now an outside candidate to earn a roster spot in camp and more likely to be pitching to Teagarden in April, 200 miles south. 
We pretty much knew what Ian Kinsler and David Murphy were, but Josh Hamilton?  More than 50 plate appearances into the season, he was hitting .229, with a slug at the time (.354) less than his batting average would be a year later (.359).  And Nelson Cruz?  Coming off a season in which he had cleared waivers and was outrighted to AAA, 2009 was supposed to be (and was) the year in which he’d turn the corner.  
Today, those two could be on the verge of talks that would replace their current contracts with lengthier, more lucrative ones, as could Wilson and Andrus, keeping them in Texas for many more years, even as nearly half of their teammates in that 2009 photo have already moved on.
Things change in baseball, routinely and sometimes significantly, often purely on merit but other times as necessarily dictated by the business of the game.
Say what you will, based on the reporting that’s out there, about how Young and the organization have handled their business with each other this winter, but the consensus from the clubhouse, with something closer to expectation than hope, is that when he arrives today he’s going to be the same teammate, with the same motivations, the same approach, no matter what his role is on the field and whether or not it’s what he wanted it to be.
Kinsler and Andrus are counting on that from him, at least.  And that’s what he needs to do.  
The slogan has come and gone, but for a World Series club coming off what’s been a noisier winter than anyone hoped for, I think we can all agree that we could use some baseball.
The business aspect of this off-season is largely over with.  The front office will probably continue to address roster depth, as it did in spring training a year by adding Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco and others during camp.  While Omar Beltre and Craig Gentry and Fabio Castillo probably weren’t going to make strong pushes for Opening Day roster spots, their setbacks affect depth, always a management focus.  But for Treanor and Blanco’s teammates, the focus shifts.
The writers aren’t going to let the Michael Young story die, and they shouldn’t.  But for the players, cell phone and Twitter season is over.  It’s fungo and L-screen season now.  What the Rangers need from everyone who wears the uniform, starting with Michael Young, who has always set the tone for his teammates, is to go about the business of preparing to contribute to notches in the win column, because that’s what the game asks baseball players to do.

Gonna be in Surprise March 12-17?

For those of you who plan to be in Surprise between March 12 and March 17: If I were to try and organize a “Chalk Talk” type of gathering one evening in that stretch, maybe at the stadium, would you be interested in attending?
My thought was making it similar to the Sherlock’s event we had last week – a group of maybe three-to-five folks from among the players, front office, and TV/radio broadcast teams for an hour or two of fan Q&A with us.  
I’m pitching the idea to the team but first need to get a very general sense of how many of you might be there.  If you’ll be in Arizona and would be interested in attending, let me know how many would be in your group.
In the meantime, if you need a 2011 Bound Edition to get your head right with ball going into the season, you can handle up on that in about 30 seconds here: http://www.newbergreport.com/buythebook.asp 
And if you need an extra T-Shirt:
Thanks.

No trade.

On Michael Young’s 34th birthday, he singled in a third-inning run in Yankee Stadium to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead in a game they eventually won, 10-3, to give Texas a 3-1 advantage in the ALCS.
When Texas hosts New York this May, Young will reach another milestone.  If my math is right,* he’ll attain 10/5 rights on Sunday, May 8, when the Rangers and Yankees wrap up a three-game set with an afternoon game in Rangers Ballpark.
[* I've seen at least one article suggesting the vest date is instead May 25.  Not sure what the correct date is, but I'll try to find out.]
The day Young’s 10/5 rights (10 years of big league service, the last five years of which have been with the same team) lock in, he’ll have a full no-trade hammer the rest of his career.
Now, if Young is not traded before then, and he still wants to play somewhere else, there’s certainly an argument that ultimately he wouldn’t use his no-trade rights to impede a deal.  But it could also, theoretically, handcuff Texas from the standpoint that Young could slash the club’s leverage with potential trade partners by dictating which teams it can do business with – the flip side of which is that his demand for a trade could then go unfulfilled.
It’s more likely that Young is traded before whatever the key date in May is than afterwards.  But there’s not a great probability that he gets dealt in March, April, or May, either.
In the past few days, as national columns and local beats around the league were expected to turn over as many stones as possible (and maybe scatter a few that needed turning over) with the reporting of pitchers and catchers, we got this story any number of times:
[Team] is interested in Michael Young but, because they would need Texas to kick in [some multiple of A Whole Lot] dollars, talks have [stagnated] [broken off] [never really materialized in the first place].”
The list of teams about whom that basic story has not been written this month is probably shorter than the list of those who have been linked loosely to Young.   
It’s been widely reported that the Rangers are talking to clubs (at least the eight to which Young can’t block a deal per his contractually set partial no-trade clause, if not more clubs than that) in an effort to accommodate his request to be moved – as long as the deal makes Texas better.  It would stand to reason (and I think it’s been reported) that the Rangers will de-prioritize that effort once the full squad report date arrives this Saturday, after which the business of getting the team ready for Opening Day, with Young as the DH and super utility infielder, will take precedence.
At the moment, agent Dan Lozano is in the news because of yesterday’s apparent breakdown in contract extension talks between his client Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, and because Nick Swisher (who will be a free agent next winter if the Yankees don’t exercise a $10.25 million option for 2012) just fired his representative Joe Bick in order to join Lozano’s stable.  
But Lozano could be busy with Young these next couple days, too, as you’d think that if he’s going to be traded before the next off-season – an exceedingly big “if” – it will happen before this weekend, when Young is expected in camp with the rest of his teammates, focused as the front office is on putting this friction behind them and moving forward with preparations to defend an American League title. 

Good Morning.

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                                                                                     Courtesy of Brad Newton.

Coach.

You know well enough what Chuck Greenberg and John Rhadigan bring to expect that they’d be as solid, as easygoing and energetic, as they were last night.  Ben Rogers and Jeff “Skin” Wade: consistent awesomeness.  Luther Davis running an auction, Ted Price live-streaming things, Norma & George & Ryan Wolfson helping move things along seamlessly, you guys generously stepping up to help raise thousands of dollars to help local kids – if you’ve been to any Newberg Report events, there are certain things that are known quantities.
But, for me, what stood out last night like an excessively red sportcoat was the presence of Don Welke, who was establishing himself as one of baseball’s most well-respected scouts and advisors before many of us, including the Texas Rangers franchise, were born.  
I’ve been around Don (who even the people he works with every day refer to as “Coach”) a lot the last six years, and if I had to put together one of those dream dinner tables and the category was people to talk baseball with, he’d be there.  But all those times I’d been around him, he was almost invisible, in a stadium seat or pacing on the back fields behind a chain-link fence, wearing standard issue scouts’ attire and watching, quietly.  I’d never seen him speak to a group of 10 people, let alone the couple hundred we packed into the room last night. 
But Coach was the star of the show.  I didn’t count but I bet he ended up fielding as many of your questions as Chuck or John did.  He talked about the Rangers’ farm system as a whole and about specific prospects, about scouting philosophies, about what he thinks this team needs, about Michael Young.  In holding forth about Elvis Andrus and what he gave the team in October, one of the things he keyed on was a young player’s capacity for stepping up when the lights go on.  
It may be strange to say the same thing about someone who has had 45 years in the game, but for me, Coach was the one who put things into a gear last night that I didn’t realize he had.  In a jacket that ought to keep our local optometrists’ phone lines busy today.

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In a couple days, I believe Ted will have the video of the two-hour Q&A with Ben & Skin, Chuck, Rhads, and Coach uploaded at http://dallassportsnetwork.tv/.  I’ll let you know when it’s up.
Thanks as always to Marcus White and his staff at Sherlock’s, to Karin Morris of the Rangers Foundation and Brad Newton and Allen Cordrey and Pat Payton, who provided most of the auction items, to Fox 4 News, who came out and grabbed some footage for last night’s sportscast, and to all of you who were out there with us.
I’m more ready than ever for some Rangers baseball.
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By the way, here’s a writeup that blogger Brandon Wilson did from last night’s event:
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