June 2011

The time is now, indeed.

No in-game tweets last night, and I apologize for that, but I’d gotten a bucket list invite that there was no chance I was going to turn down.

There’s something about this Mavericks run that brings back memories from eight months ago, aside from the obvious connection of having had both the Rangers and Mavs get to a place nobody expected and earn the chance to play for a ring.

The Blazers series reminded me of the Rays series, especially the way it sequenced out.

The Lakers series reminded me of the Yankees series, and those two teams remind me of each other, too.

I’m not sure the Thunder or the Heat remind me much of the Giants, and neither have either of those series gone the way the World Series did.

The two sports aren’t much alike, either.  The tempo, the nature of the one-on-one battles, the absence in basketball of a different guy to beat every night, and a hundred other things, including the way in which the two sports are officiated, which some nights nearly drives me away from basketball.

But no calls in the AAC last night were as crucial to the outcome as the one Paul Nauert made at second base in the fifth inning in Minnesota or the one Doug Eddings made along the third base line in the decisive ninth.  Those two calls were far from the only reason the Twins walked off with a win over Texas, but when you’re winless in the other team’s ballpark, as the Rangers are in Target Field, they stand out.

Still, the Mariners and A’s lost again, and the Angels were idle.  The Rangers won’t admit to scoreboard-watching, but I will.

I didn’t see Rangers-Twins last night, so I was spared having to watch Alexi Casilla beat Arthur Rhodes, as did Nets guard Deron Williams, who was wearing a Rangers cap as he hugged it out after the game with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.

Dallas 112, Miami 103 was an amazing sports experience for me but didn’t come close to Game Six against the Yankees, Game Three in Yankee Stadium, or Game One in Tampa Bay, probably in that order.  But I do have room for basketball in June when it involves my team, just as a playoff-frenzied town has plenty of room for Rangers baseball, as Texas has averaged a home crowd of 39,856 since that weekend when the Mavericks eliminated the Lakers.  That includes five dates on which both the Rangers and Mavericks played.

There’s something special going on in Texas these days, and as frustrating as the losses in Target Field and the unforced turnovers and the bullpen work and the Shawn Marion isolations and the hitting with runners in scoring position are, it’s easy to take for granted that, especially those of us for whom the Rangers take precedence, runs like the one the Rangers gave us eight months ago and might be on the verge of giving us again, coincident with the one the Mavericks are on, not only haven’t ever happened here before but also may never happen again.

And if there’s one thing that Mavericks-Heat is teaching us in common with what the Rangers taught us in 2010 and are still reminding us this season, it’s that it’s never easy to win, especially at the highest level, and truth be told, in looking back at things, even if not in the instant moment, I’m pretty sure we really wouldn’t want it any other way.

Dirk.

I know many of you aren’t Mavericks fans, if you’re pro basketball fans at all.  I know there’s a significant segment on this list that discounts the effect of character and makeup on results.  Hope you can overlook today’s report.

There are facets of my composition as a fan in which I worship at the altar of the box score, but they’re not the most important parts.  I’m sure there are people whose kids I help coach and some I play softball with who don’t care much for how much I care about competing, no matter the stakes, others who don’t mind it and might be right there with me.

Nolan Ryan had it, and Cliff Lee did, too.  It’s in Michael Young’s DNA, and Alexi Ogando’s and Mitch Moreland’s, and one day we’ll all see that Jurickson Profar has it as well.

It’s the reason the box score could never tell the whole story on Troy Aikman’s contributions, or Jason Witten’s, or Brenden Morrow’s.

What Dirk Nowitzki did last night might not rank up there with Emmitt Smith vs. the Giants in the last game of the 1993 season.  It definitely didn’t look as pretty in the box score.

The will to win, to compete, isn’t one of the “five tools” in the sport that brings you to this newsletter, but it’s one of the things, for me, that separates the thrill of watching the game from the value of breaking down the numbers.  As a sports fan I need both, but there’s only one I can’t do without.

“He wants the ball,” said Rick Carlisle about Dirk after last night’s effort.  “And he wants the responsibility of winning and losing the game.”

Number 41 left it all out there last night – pick your cliché – and put on a physical and mental toughness clinic.  The world knows he’s a transcendent shooter and a work ethic monster, but he rarely gets credited for the other part.  For being a warrior.  A winner.

It was one of those ballgames I probably won’t forget, no matter how this series ends.  I actually did look at the box score this morning, something I almost never do if it’s not baseball, and I did it for one reason: to remind me that even a 6 for 19 shooting night can be absolutely extraordinary, and worth every minute I invested in it.

Day One of the Draft.

Things didn’t start well for Texas last night, as Brennan Boesch connected with the home run porch to give Detroit a 3-0 lead before Colby Lewis had recorded an out.

One minute later, the Mets drafted Wyoming high school outfielder Brandon Nimmo, the first of the players tied to the Rangers in recent mocks, with the 13th overall pick.

Forty minutes after that, Boesch hit his second bomb of the game, something called Andy Dirks hit a home run of his own, and Toronto used pick number 21 on Massachusetts high school righthander Tyler Beede, another player who had been connected with Texas, minutes after which Alex Avila became the fourth Tiger to take Lewis deep, and the third in the third inning alone.

But then, at 8:28 p.m., after Lewis had been chased, Endy Chavez ran down a blast to right center field and Ian Kinsler made a terrific play to his left, firing to Michael Kirkman at first to get an out, as Boston used its second pick (26th overall) on New Mexico high school catcher Blake Swihart, not on Dallas Jesuit outfielder Josh Bell, a player whose reportedly massive price tag and solid commitment to the University of Texas had caused predictions of a first-round free-fall to take shape.  With six more picks to go before the Rangers were on the clock, it looked like only Tampa Bay (at 31 and 32) posed a legitimate threat to keep Bell from being available to Texas.

Then, a Cruz missile and a Yorvit Torrealba double and a run-scoring Kinsler single, with Kirkman throwing the ball well, and Texas was back within four runs, with the game not even half over.

The Rays took LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook at 31, which I figured meant Bell was going to be there at 33 – if Tampa Bay was going to risk one of its 10 Day One picks on a huge signability risk like Bell, you would expect they’d have used 31 to do it, and not 32, since they’d get a compensation pick the next year at the same slot if they failed to sign him.

Tampa Bay took Nevada high school shortstop Jake Hager at 32.  Bell was available to Texas.  As were Travis Harrison, Josh Osich, and Brian Goodwin, all players who had shown up in at least one mock in the last week or two as a projected Rangers selection.

But then the Tigers tacked on another run, again off Boesch’s bat (this time just a double), and the Rangers made their pick at 33, taking not Bell or Harrison or Osich or Goodwin, but Georgia high school lefthander Kevin Matthews.

Washington then took Goodwin at 34, leaving Toronto and Boston once again in the Rangers’ way – and the Jays took a high school outfielder but it wasn’t Bell (it was Jacob Anderson), while Boston went for high school lefthander Henry Owens.

The Rangers did go for an outfielder at number 37, but rather than Bell (the number 15 talent in the draft in Baseball America’s estimation), it was Georgia junior Zach Cone (number 86 for BA).

At the end of the night, after 60 players had been selected in the first and supplemental first rounds, Bell was not one of them, a pretty clear signal that clubs believe him when he says he’s going to college.  Someone will take a flier on him early today, but nobody wanted to use a Day One pick on the power prospect.  (I’m still a bit surprised the Rays didn’t take a shot, since they had 10 of last night’s 60 picks and could have essentially deferred the Bell pick for use on someone else next year if he didn’t sign, thereby giving their 2012 draft more strength, or maybe deferring a couple other of those 10 picks by virtue of paying Bell’s price to sign him.)

As for the players Texas did take, we’ll get to a breakdown on Matthews and Cone in a moment, but it seems to me that before we really know what we have in those two, we do know that Monday was the latest big night for another top prospect in the Rangers system: Georgia/North Florida area scout Ryan Coe.

Texas hired Coe a year and a half ago after he’d coached for 12 years at Kennesaw State University.  Don’t ask me how you decide that a college baseball coach would make a reliable area scout, but Texas brought Coe on just before the 2010 high school and college seasons got underway, and he made an instant impact.  Texas drafted Georgia high school outfielders Jake Skole and Jordan Akins with its initial first-round pick and its third-rounder last year, and then took promising University of Georgia righthander Justin Grimm in the fifth round, all three on Coe’s recommendation.  The Rangers employ between 15 and 20 area scouts responsible for scouring the country for draft talent.  In his first-ever draft as a scout, Coe was responsible for three of the club’s first eight picks in 2010.

And for both of its Day One picks in 2011.

I don’t have any idea whether Matthews and Cone were brilliant finds or questionable reaches, but given that no other team called Josh Bell’s name, I’m not as disappointed not to be writing about him this morning as I would have been if he’d gone to Toronto at 35 or Boston at 36 or 40 or Tampa Bay at 38 or 41 or 42 or 52 or 56 or 59 or 60.

Plus, I suppose it’s not out of the question that Texas could be the team that takes a flier on Bell sometime this morning.  So thinks Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, who said in a late-night chat session: “Gotta say, I think a later-round shot at Bell for the Rangers could be in the cards.”

On to Matthews and Cone, both of whom are now Rangers property by virtue of the departure of Cliff Lee to Philadelphia via free agency:

1st round (33rd overall, pick awarded for loss of Cliff Lee).  KEVIN MATTHEWS, LHP, Richmond Hill High School (Ga.) (scout: Ryan Coe)

(last year’s first-round picks: Jake Skole and Kellin Deglan; recent Rangers first-round picks include Matt Purke, Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Kasey Kiker, Thomas Diamond, Mark Teixeira, John Danks, Carlos Pena; best number 33 pick in last 25 years: Dave Burba [Mariners, 1987])

Rangers Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg said of Matthews, “He’s very athletic and a kid whose makeup is special,” using that word that Don Welke talked about over the weekend.  “We see big upside with him in a small frame,” Fagg continued.  “He’s got athleticism, three-pitch mix, strikes, competitiveness.  There are a lot of things you can say are special with this kid.”

But the most economical, descriptive note I saw on Matthews was Jason Parks’s comment that a scout he trusts called the 18-year-old “a more athletic [Robbie] Erlin.”  That I can get my head wrapped around.

Matthews stands just 5’11” – yet can dunk a basketball (a meme likely to follow him with even more force than the fact that last year’s second-rounder Cody Buckel starred in his high school’s production of “High School Musical”) – and he pitches “with a chip,” says Fagg, working in the 90-mph range with a curve and change that offer promise if not polish.  Baseball America ranked him as the draft’s number 105 prospect, comparing him to Rangers farmhands Robbie Ross and Kasey Kiker (a somewhat lazy comparison that seems apt only in terms of build, given how differently those two have developed) and even invoking a Billy Wagner reference, though he doesn’t feature the same type of velocity.  BA does refer to a “consensus . . . that he’s a future reliever due to the effort in his delivery,” and Keith Law (ESPN) agrees, questioning whether Matthews has the durability to pitch every fifth day.

Yes, Matthews’s Twitter handle is “UVAbound11,” but it looks like the last time he tweeted anything was in February, so I wouldn’t worry too much about whether he’ll sign rather than honor a commitment to the University of Virginia.  The Rangers are confident that he wants to sign and will do so quickly.

Goldstein responded as follows when one Rangers fan challenged the pick since all the projections had Matthews available at least a round later: “[T]eams take guys they like.  Let me [make] this clear.  The Rangers or the Rays or the A’s or whoever really couldn’t give a rat’s @ss what myself, or Keith Law or Jim Callis think about a guy.  That’s who they like.  I understand the Matthews pick, he’s a Rangers kind of guy with a very clean arm who might be undervalued.”

Much of the immediate reaction when Texas used a third-round pick on Erlin in 2009 was that he’d have gone higher if he weren’t under six feet tall.  Erlin’s height is no longer much of a bullet point as he marches toward the big leagues.

If Matthews really turns out to be “a more athletic Erlin,” nobody will question Texas spending the 33rd pick in the draft on him.

Supplemental 1st round (37th overall, pick awarded for loss of Cliff Lee).  ZACH CONE, OF, University of Georgia (scout: Ryan Coe)

(last year’s supplemental first-round picks: Luke Jackson and Mike Olt; recent Rangers supplemental first-round picks include Tanner Scheppers, Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, Colby Lewis, Chad Hawkins; best number 37 pick in last 25 years: Adam Jones [Mariners, 2003])

The draft industry loved Cone after his sophomore year at Georgia – two years after he’d been taken by the Angels with the final pick in 2008’s supplemental third round, 11 spots before Texas took righthander Joe Wieland in the fourth round – but a freak baseball accident derailed his junior season and made him a non-factor on Day One in the eyes of most folks who cover the baseball draft.

Cone hit .363/.403/.627 for the Bulldogs in 2010, leading to pre-season All-America recognition and prompting BA’s Jim Callis to write a year ago that he profiled as a first-round pick this season and that he “[m]ight be the best athlete in the 2011 college crop.”  But he collided with fellow Bulldogs outfielder Jonathan Taylor as they converged on a looping line drive in March, leaving Taylor (who weighed 20 pounds less than the 200-lb. Cone) partially paralyzed with a neck injury after his head struck Cone’s hip.  He may not walk again.  The 21-year-old Cone was fortunate to come away with only a concussion.  He slumped all season at the plate, hitting .275/.331/.385, and scouts believe his arm regressed as well.

Still, BA ranked Cone as this year’s number 86 draft prospect, banking on his “big tools” and “pro body” and noting last night that he remains “[a]mong [the] draft’s best athletes.”  Yet Goldstein (“I just don’t get” the pick) and Law (“Really?”) weren’t crazy about the selection.  The Rangers believe they are buying low, basically.  They believe he’s a plus-plus center fielder (perhaps among the best in the college ranks) whose issues at the plate can be corrected with proper coaching – in other words, the back half of the scouting and player development equation.  The bat speed and raw power are there, and he’s a plus runner (measured at 4.05 to first, 6.45 in the 60).

Don’t bother asking what the selection of Cone says about the organization’s belief in Julio Borbon or Leonys Martin or Engel Beltre or Ryan Strausborger or Café Martinez or Jake Skole.  Texas never drafts for need, the corollary of which is that the club won’t cross a player off the board (particularly a pitcher or a position player who plays up the middle) just because there’s already organizational depth at the position.

Given the suggestion that Matthews and Cone will sign quickly, it stands to reason that neither are demanding signing bonuses much over slot, if at all.  Does that mean Texas is planning to roll the dice today on a signability case or two?  Possibly.  (We should also remember that the club committed $15.5 million to Martin a month ago, and there’s the chance that Texas has some other things cooking in this summer’s July 2 international class that the draft budget has to be weighed against.)

Could Josh Bell be on the Rangers’ radar?  It’s certainly possible.  Someone is going to test the strength of his commitment to play collegiately (especially with the looming spectre of hard slotting in the next collective bargaining agreement).  But even if Texas has Bell near the top of its board as things get rolling this morning, there are rumors that Detroit will use its first pick, number 76 overall in this morning’s second round, to take him.  Texas won’t make its first selection today until number 83.

But Monday’s festivities laid waste to the collection of predraft prognostications to a greater extent than any first round in memory, so it’s not worth assuming that the Tigers are primed to call Bell’s name, or that Bell is high on the Rangers’ board, or on their board at all.  We’ll know what we need to know soon enough.

While I haven’t seen Matthews or Cone play, or Bell or Harrison or Osich for that matter, I’ll be the first to admit, if based on nothing other than the online projections that I’ve read (and the promise of discarded financial handcuffs), that the Rangers’ first two picks seemed a bit surprising.

But if Matthews steps onto the field in a pro uniform and starts to produce like Erlin or Ross, and if Cone takes to coaching and starts to erase all the doubts and realize the potential that his toolbox hints at, then we can get on with putting aside Monday night’s question marks like a three-homer inning served up by one of the leaders of your rotation, and moving forward.

Julio Borbon, and options.

The amateur draft starts in two days, and before we even get to Day Three on Wednesday, there will be grades out there, as there are in every sport, from reliable judges of talent who write about these things for a living.  But evaluating a draft takes years to do, no more evident in the Rangers’ case than by taking a look back at 2007.

In Jon Daniels’s first season on the job in 2006, he traded for Carlos Lee and got huge breakthrough free agent years out of Gary Matthews Jr. and Mark DeRosa, setting things up for an impact draft in 2007, which coincided with the internal decision that spring to tear things down by trading Mark Teixeira (and Eric Gagne, Kenny Lofton, and Ron Mahay) and to step things up internationally, as the club would spend enough that July to sign Martin Perez and others, after its 2006 crop had included Wilmer Font, Geuris Grullon, Wilfredo Boscan, Carlos Pimentel, Kennil Gomez, and Leonel De Los Santos.

The Rangers were compensated with extra 2007 draft picks for the winter loss to free agency of Lee, Matthews, and DeRosa, picks that were used on Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, and Tommy Hunter.

Beavan and Main would later be traded in July 2010 deals for the two players who hugged it out between the mound and the plate in Tampa Bay on October 12 – Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina – as Texas won its first playoff series in franchise history.

Fellow 2007 picks Josh Lueke, Evan Reed, Matt Lawson, and Ryan Tatusko were moved in the Lee trade and deals for Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman.  Mitch Moreland, chosen in the 17th round in 2007, was part of the reason Texas relented in parting with Justin Smoak in the Lee deal, and Hunter and Borbon contributed to the Rangers’ pennant-winning club as well.  Seventh-rounder Tim Smith was traded to Kansas City in a deal for righthander Danny Gutierrez, a higher-risk, higher-reward prospect that didn’t pan out.

It was a phenomenal draft crop, and that’s without five or six key players who were selected but didn’t sign, including two now thought to be among the top pitching prospects in the game, lefthander Drew Pomeranz (Cleveland) and righthander Anthony Ranaudo (Boston).

The thing is, I could have written all of that last year (in fact, I did), and now there are two more reasons to polish the 2007 draft list up and put it in a frame.

The fourth of the club’s five first-rounders, Ramirez, is in the midst of a huge breakout season for AAA Round Rock (despite starting the year with High A Myrtle Beach) and is now probably a top five prospect in the system, a lock to be added to the 40-man roster this November – that is, if he doesn’t reach the big leagues first.

And second-rounder Matt West, a third baseman on the verge of washing out as a pro because he never hit, was converted to the mound in the off-season and is suddenly a legitimate prospect, dialing up fastball readings in the upper-90s at extended spring training.

I’m not among the camp who believes that the Rangers’ decision to activate and option Borbon yesterday is a declaration that the organization has given up on him.  Endy Chavez is 13 for 25 with two doubles, a triple, two homers, one walk, one sacrifice bunt, six RBI, and seven runs since he last struck out, has played solid defense in center field, and can’t be removed from the active roster without being exposed to waivers.  This torrid run he’s on can’t last, but you simply can’t dump him right now while he’s this locked in.

Craig Gentry, like Borbon, can be optioned (in fact, both will have an option next year as well, Borbon because the five-year rule will give him a fourth option [and next year’s would only be his third if he stays on the farm for fewer than 20 days this year]).  But Gentry hits right-handed, making him a better fit in terms of ensuring that Chavez isn’t asked to play seven days a week (both a concession to his surgically repaired knee and an effort to make sure he doesn’t get overexposed).  And Gentry is a better defender and at least as much of a weapon on the bases as Borbon, both of which make him a solid role player even if he hasn’t shown as much with the bat as Borbon has.  Plus, Texas wouldn’t want Borbon to come up just to be a bench asset.  He needs to play.

Borbon was playing his best baseball in two seasons when he injured his hamstring last month.  The Chavez development is the sole reason he’s on option right now.  A Chavez-Gentry tandem makes for a more versatile bench than Chavez-Borbon would, and going with Borbon and Gentry would mean the end of Chavez’s time with this organization, which wouldn’t have made any sense right now, not the way he’s helped ignite this offense and the way the team is playing with him in the mix.

It’s not really the same, but shares a little with the argument against the Mavericks trying to bring Caron Butler back for the Finals.  Sometimes you just don’t want to mess with what’s working, no matter where track records and long-term evaluations might point.

If and when Chavez cools off (he’s hitting .541/.575/.865 in 41 plate appearances since an 0 for 9 start, with as many walks [three] as Borbon has in 98 plate appearances), and that will happen at some point, Borbon could be right back here (he’ll need to stay on the farm for at least 10 days unless he’s summoned to replace an injured player).

Or he could be traded to boost a playoff run, just as so many of his fellow 2007 draftees were last summer.  If the loss of Borbon weakens the Rangers’ center field situation for 2011 (and there’s certainly an argument that it wouldn’t, at least at the moment) but helps Texas strengthen a bigger trouble spot (likely the bullpen), it might be akin – on a much, much different scale – to being comfortable moving Smoak for Lee because Moreland was getting close.  Leonys Martin is going to be a center field factor in 2012, if not late this year, and theoretically that should make Borbon more expendable than he was a few months ago.

That’s the result that makes the most sense to me, assuming of course that the right deal is out there.  You’re not getting Mike Adams or Tyler Clippard for Julio Borbon.  But if Borbon interests a team selling relievers enough that he can be a key part of that sort of trade, it wouldn’t be an indictment on his value as a young player any more than trading Smoak was.

Borbon can still be a legitimate part of a winning club here in Texas (there’s nothing in Chavez’s game that Borbon isn’t capable of providing, if it all comes together), or maybe a part of a trade that makes the Rangers better in another manner.  Either way, it will boost the impact of the 2007 draft even further.

And something similar could happen with the 2008 crop, which so far has sent a first-rounder (Smoak) and a 43rd-rounder (Cody Eppley) to Arlington and has four pitchers at Myrtle Beach (Joe Wieland, Robbie Ross, Matt Thompson, and Trevor Hurley) whose early work this season could conceivably facilitate mid-season trades just as Beavan and Lueke and Main and others did last summer.

Or they could keep marching toward Texas.

And another thing: While Lee is gone and Smoak is coming into his own with the Mariners, nobody in Texas would ever undo that trade (Beavan has struggled in AAA, Lueke has been optioned after starting the season in Seattle, and Lawson was traded to Cleveland for lefty reliever Aaron Laffey), a deal that unquestionably helped make a playoff club a World Series team, plus the Rangers have the 33rd pick and 37th pick in Monday’s draft as compensation for Lee’s departure.  I’m not suggesting you’d trade Smoak, Lueke, Beavan, and Lawson for those two draft picks, but you got four historically important months out of Lee, and you never know what those two picks in the 30’s, in what’s being advertised as a very deep first round, could turn out to be.

That’s an assessment that will begin to be made Monday night, but will probably take several years to fully and fairly evaluate.

TROT COFFEY* for a day.

(* Trade Rumor Offerings To Chew On For Fun, Even Yuks)

Not to be confused with veteran reliever Todd Coffey, the TROT COFFEY is a mailing list-only update on various trade and free agent rumblings unearthed, if not hatched, by the media or player agents.

But for today only, I’m putting the COFFEY here on the blog.  If you want to get future COFFEY reports — and they start to really heat up in June and July — click the Mailing List link on www.newbergreport.com to sign up for the Newberg Report email distribution list.  It’s free.

*     *     *

Tough one, pal.

Two disappointments in Florida.  I needed the basketball game to take my mind off the bottom of the eighth.  I needed to write about baseball to take my mind off the basketball game.

After sleeping it off, I’m starting to feel a little better about both, or at least not as despondent.

The baseball season’s middle third got underway last night.  Texas went into the game on a pace to win 87 games, just short of last year’s 90, despite so much going wrong in the season’s first two months.

But what’s so frustrating is how many more wins over that first third seemed to be in hand before getting spit up late.

Texas relievers went 32-19 last year.

Texas relievers are 6-13 this year.

The disparity between the quality of this team, which remains in first place, and the unreliability of its bullpen makes what’s going on right now feel so much like 1996.

The difference is that in 1996, Texas wasn’t as well positioned to address the problem through trades.  The Rangers had what Baseball America ranked as the game’s number 28 farm system.

There were 28 teams at the time.

The Rangers will makes trades to fix this.  It won’t erase the games that have stacked up in the L column and shouldn’t have, but as long as Texas wins as many games from this point forward as the other three teams in the West, the record over the first two months won’t matter.

  • Bill Ladson (MLB.com) reports that Washington is looking for a leadoff-hitting center fielder and “is willing to overpay to get what [it] want[s].”  According to Adam Kilgore (Washington Post), the Nationals have called Houston about Michael Bourn.

OK, let’s whiteboard this a little.  Do you feel good enough about the combination of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry right now to bridge things over until Leonys Martin is ready sometime in 2012 to part with Julio Borbon?  Is bridging things in a contending season even palatable – if it helps address a massive need somewhere else?

I’m not suggesting that there wouldn’t be a possible dropoff from Borbon (who should be ready soon: he singled twice, walked, and stole two bases for AAA Round Rock last night, seeing 25 pitches in five trips) to a Chavez/Gentry platoon – though Chavez in particular is playing well right now – but if Martin is the long-term answer in center field, and that’s clearly the plan given the investment the Rangers just made in him, then Borbon’s long-term role here is either as a bench piece or a trade asset.  (Chavez, by the way, can’t be optioned – he goes on waivers if dropped from the active roster.)  Isn’t it fair to say trading Borbon, if the right opportunity comes along, would make more sense than having him as your fifth outfielder?

If the answer is yes, the key, of course, is finding and exploiting the right opportunity.

Another thing: Borbon is no Bourn, and I’m not suggesting he’d be as attractive to Washington as the Houston center fielder is.  But it would take a lot more to get Bourn, one of Houston’s few valuable assets as that franchise, under new ownership, looks for ways to improve its foundation.

Borbon and either Robbie Ross or Fabio Castillo or Jake Brigham for Washington right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard.

Recognizing that Clippard is under team control through 2015 – but keeping in mind that Washington is reportedly “willing to overpay” – who says no?

For what it’s worth, Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris was the Rangers’ East Coast Crosschecker in 2007, when Texas made Borbon one of its five first-round picks.

  • Jon Paul Morosi (Fox Sports) tweets that the Rangers are in a mix of teams he expects to seek bullpen help via trade, along with the Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Rockies, and Angels, and Buster Olney (ESPN) reports that the Cardinals (along with Texas) have checked in with San Diego about closer Heath Bell.
  • A scout tells Danny Knobler (CBS Sports) that Francisco Rodriguez is “not reliable.  He’s throwing 88 [mph].  He’s what Roberto Hernandez was at the end of his career.”  The scout adds that his secondary pitches have been unimpressive as well.
  • Apropos of not a whole lot: Mike Napoli caught K-Rod from 2006 until 2008 with the Angels, and Darren Oliver set K-Rod up the last two of those years.  Darren O’Day was teammates with K-Rod with both the Angels and the Mets.
  • Many of you emailed to ask why Texas promoted lefthander Robbie Erlin but not righthander Joe Wieland from Myrtle Beach to Frisco last week.  The duo hung together among the Carolina League leaders in almost every key pitching category, and Wieland is not only close to a year older and a full year more experienced, but also spent half of the 2010 season in High A, while Erlin didn’t reach High A himself until camp broke two months ago.

One theory: I’d say it’s commonly accepted that Erlin is thought of as the better prospect, though both are going to be big league starters as long as they stay healthy.  Extending that thought one step further, I’d be surprised if Erlin were made available in any trade talks that didn’t involve a frontline starting pitcher, while Wieland might be slightly more available in other types of deals.  If that’s the case, do you promote Erlin because, developmentally, he needs a new challenge, while deciding to keep Wieland in Myrtle Beach so he can continue to build on his dominant numbers?

In other words, maybe it’s better to let the promising 21-year-old (who leads the league in ERA and strikeouts and was just named its Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season) pile up gaudy stats than to have a little of the sheen come off with a couple not-so-dazzling acclimation starts with Frisco – assuming Wieland is someone the club would be more willing to deal than Erlin, which would stand to reason.

  • I’m not sure it’s a suggestion that Texas is shopping David Murphy or even listening to offers for him, but one local reporter writes that as “there is a great need for offensive left fielders in baseball, . . . [and t]he league-wide numbers suggest there are plenty of teams that could use Murphy,” who is under team control through 2013.
  • According to a local report, Tanner Scheppers (rehabbing a from a herniated disc in his lower back and a pinched nerve in his leg) is throwing off a mound in Surprise and will embark on a two-week program of throwing bullpen sessions and live BP for two weeks before getting any game action.
  • Brandon Webb gave up five runs on eight hits, two walks, and a hit batsman over 3.1 innings in his rehab start for Frisco, fanning two.  He threw 47 of his 77 pitches for strikes, apparently didn’t exceed 85 mph, and two of the 10 outs he recorded came on the bases.
  • Olney, noting that Webb grew up near Cincinnati and goes back with Reds pitching coach Bryan Price to their days together with the Diamondbacks, “wonder[s] if there could be something worked out down the road between the Rangers and Reds on Webb if Texas doesn’t have a spot for Webb, or doesn’t see his stuff translating in their ballpark.”
  • Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus) writes that “Martin is looking like one of the best international [signings] of the year.  In his first 17 games as a professional, he’s hitting .353/.438/.588, but the most impressive number might be the three (count ’em three) strikeouts in 68 at-bats.  An above-average defender with plus speed and a true leadoff man’s approach, Martin has the potential to be the answer to the center field question in Texas by turning into a better version of what Julio Borbon was supposed to be.”
  • Jon Heyman (Sports Illustrated) said on MLB Network yesterday that Texas and Colorado had a deal completed over the winter that would have sent Michael Young to the Rockies for Eric Young Jr. “and a young player” plus cash, which Texas would have spent on either Vladimir Guerrero or Jim Thome.  The Rockies, according to Heyman, agreed to let the Rangers out of the deal after Young told the club he’d be willing to DH.  There’s no real news there, but as definitive a report on how far along things got as I’ve seen.
  • Every time I hear Mike Napoli talk about his recent surge at the plate, he credits the work that Johnny Narron has put in with him in the cage.
  • Keith Law (ESPN), who had Frisco lefthander Martin Perez number 18 on his pre-season ranking of baseball’s best prospects, installs him at number 7 overall now (third among pitchers).  A number of players ahead of Perez on the pre-season list have graduated to the big leagues, but Perez leapfrogged others still on the farm, with Law observing that “[t]he up-and-down issue with his stuff from last year is gone, and while I don’t love guys who repeat levels, he’s got a 2.01 ERA in a league where he had a 5.96 ERA last year, missing a few more bats and getting more weak contact.”
  • Law identified Hickory shortstop Jurickson Profar among seven players just outside his top 25 who he’s keeping an eye on for his next update.
  • San Francisco purchased catcher Chris Stewart’s contract after Buster Posey’s injury.  Milwaukee outrighted outfielder Brandon Boggs (again).  Lefthander Ryan Falcon retired from the Lake County Fielders (owned by Kevin Costner) of the independent North American Baseball League.  The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association released lefthander Joel Kirsten.  Philadelphia signed reliever Les Walrond to a minor league deal.
  • The latest mock drafts from both BA and Law have Texas taking Wyoming high school center fielder Brandon Nimmo with pick number 33 in Monday’s draft.  Law is “[s]till hearing [Oregon State lefthander] Josh Osich connected with Texas but they could probably grab him with their next pick at 37, and [California high school third baseman Travis] Harrison is probably in the same boat.”

              BA notes that the Mets might consider Nimmo at number 13 but are leery of “his $2.5 million price tag.”

  • John Sickels (Minor League Ball) has Texas taking Irving high school shortstop Trevor Story at 33 and New Mexico high school catcher Blake Swihart at 37.
  • Conor Glassey (BA) tweeted that Dallas Jesuit outfielder Josh Bell recently sent a letter to the Major League Scouting Bureau advising that he doesn’t want to sign and plans to honor his commitment to the University of Texas.
  • We’ve all heard the Billy Beane philosophy that you spend the first third of the season evaluating your team and figuring out what you are, the middle third addressing needs through trades, and the final third finding the next gear.  Though we’re now into that middle third, the war rooms around the league are going to be draft-intensive this week, with the draft starting on Monday.

But you can be sure that Texas has one eye on the developing relief market, especially after another night when the bullpen couldn’t preserve a late lead and close out a game that the team was poised to win.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers