All off-season we crave that glorious day when pitchers and catchers report, for Rangers fans maybe never more so than this winter.
Then a week passes, those first full-squad workouts earn news-cycle mention, and, having had all the “best condition of his life” and “knows he has something to prove” and “ready to take the next step” stories that we can take, we crave baseball games. An intrasquad will do, even a couple Royals tilts. Live BP is cool, but when they roll out the umpires and flip on the scoreboard switch and fire up the grills, then we’re really talking.
Then another couple weeks go by, and we’re tired of box scores weighed down by 40 or 50 player lines. What we need is that video bite of the eighteen-wheelers loading up to leave Arizona. As much as we want Ian Kinsler to start playing the games that count so he doesn’t waste this groove he’s in, we want to erase that .184/.281/.245 next to Nelson Cruz’s name and let him start from scratch. Enough ramp-up work. Let’s get onto the business of defending an American League title.
Yes, there’s still the business of figuring out what Neftali Feliz is going to be asked to do this year – tune in tonight at 8:05 (TXA21) for what ought to be his final appearance before club officials sit down and decide once and for all whether he’s now a starting pitcher or the club’s returning closer, at least for 2011 – and the center field situation still holds as much intrigue as the final few spots on the pitching staff (Pedro Strop pitches in the night game too; I’m almost as interested in his work than Feliz’s), but for the most part this is a roster that’s pretty much set and remarkably healthy, ready for a stop in Myrtle Beach and another in Round Rock before getting back to Texas for half a dozen games to start the season, a stretch that positioned to begin with C.J. Wilson against Jon Lester and finish with Wilson facing off against Felix Hernandez.
The Rangers have a 10-13 record, and aside from the meaninglessness of camp records when you consider how many players who won’t contribute much in 2011 factor into those games, recognize that the best and worst Cactus League records in 2010 belonged to San Francisco (23-12) and Texas (10-19), neither of which gave anyone any more or less reason to believe that those two teams would be the final two standing seven months later.
The fact that a scout told Peter Gammons that Chris Davis (.400/.417/.822) is “the next Carlos Pena” is interesting, but he still doesn’t have a place on this roster. Granted, he has nothing left to prove in AAA, but the one remaining option makes an assignment to Round Rock the safer bet. Not a lock, but a likelihood.
And even if, by some series of events, Davis earns a roster spot and is afforded some semblance of regular work, should we be any more confident that he’s a different guy now than Oakland has the right to be about Brandon McCarthy (20.2 spring innings, zero walks, 14 strikeouts)?
The Davis question, the Feliz question, and the Julio Borbon question exemplify what even the two World Series teams grapple with each winter as they reload and attempt to make sure that the ground gained in the last season isn’t given right back. Most teams go into spring training believing they can be better than they were the year before – whether they’re the Rangers or Red Sox, the Nationals or Royals – and typically hold onto those positive vibes as camp breaks. But that doesn’t mean, at least as far as I’m concerned, that you can assertively call a team like this one a 96-win club, an 84-win club, or something identifiably in between. There are too many uncertainties.
Is Contract Year C.J. going to amp his game up another notch? Or could last season’s 228.1 innings – nearly as many as the previous four years combined (232.2) – catch up with him? Will DH/1B duties move Michael Young’s production needle, and if so in which direction? Center field – if Borbon can’t hold it down, is Josh Hamilton a full-timer again, or does the club entrust a meaningful amount of starts to David Murphy . . . or Craig Gentry or Endy Chavez? Can we depend on Darren O’Day? Will we feel as good about Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver in August and September as we do now? At mid-season is someone going to be re-running that column about Adrian Beltre’s productivity when there’s not a contract on the line?
Can Colby Lewis do it again? Can Alexi Ogando? Can Mitch Moreland? Will Tanner Scheppers be this year’s Ogando? Will Strop? Who will this July’s Cliff Lee be? Will we file Davis in the Cruz column, or the Jason Botts column? And by the way, Cruz’s spring struggles are no big deal – right?
Yorvit Torrealba, Mike Napoli, Thad Bosley – we feel good about those adds, though with the more newsworthy events of the winter there hasn’t been much scrutiny. Will we say the same in four or five months? How’s that nine-game June road trip to Minnesota, New York, and Atlanta gonna go?
Does Brandon Webb contribute in a meaningful way? Does Scott Feldman? Does Eric Hurley? Will the Tommy Hunter-Derek Holland-Michael Kirkman-Matt Harrison quartet make it necessary for a couple of them to step up? Elvis Andrus, at age 22 – is he what he is, or is there more offensively? Mason Tobin is no Ben Snyder, it appears. But is he Fabio Castro, or more? What is Mark Lowe?
What is Feliz?
An argument can be made that every position can be better offensively in 2011 than it was in 2010 (with the possible exception of DH, though even that spot sputtered to the finish), particularly when you consider that Hamilton and Kinsler and Cruz missed an average of 45 games last year. But before any of us can take a guess as to how important those final three games in Anaheim will be, and to which team(s), we have lots of questions to answer, most of which are the type that only real baseball games can sort out. Chuck Morgan and Rob Matwick and their crews are probably thankful for these next eight days as the new video board and the rest of the new Ballpark features get fine-tuned, but I’ll go ahead and say that I’d be just fine if Opening Day player introductions started in about eight minutes.
You can also make plans to stop by the Newberg Report book signing at the Barnes & Noble at the Parks in Arlington on Saturday, April 2, from 1:00-3:00 in the afternoon, hours before Game Two against Boston.
That feels like ages away, but maybe it will take your mind off of the fact that Webb was unable to get his shoulder loose yesterday during a live BP session and was taken off the mound. Dr. Keith Meister examined Webb’s shoulder and reportedly said the tightness was “nothing serious,” but out of precaution the club will apparently put him back on long-toss for now.
even depressing, but no more so (given the expectations) than Bill Simmons’s repeated reference at the SMU Athletic Forum event yesterday to the 2006 Mavericks, a reminder that no matter how wide open the window may seem to be, there are never any guarantees.
None of us wants to think that the 2010 World Series could turn out to be to Texas what the 2006 NBA Finals were to the Mavs, but it’s on the spectrum of possibilities, and one more reason that as much as I was geared up for all the landmark dates that the spring training calendar teases us with each year, enough is enough, and I’m not sure how much more patience I can summon up before the next 162 get underway.