[The next report – on what is now heavily rumored to be a deal coming down right now that will send Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to San Diego for Mike Adams – will come down later. Wow.]
It wasn’t the biggest trade Jon Daniels has made, and would arguably have a fight on its hands to squeeze into the top 10. But judging by the email response I got after passing along news that Texas had sent Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to Baltimore yesterday afternoon for reliever Koji Uehara, both in volume and in range of effusive opinion, one might have thought that it belonged up there with Volquez for Hamilton, Smoak for Lee, Danks for McCarthy, or Teixeira for lots of minor leaguers.
A lot of you are upset. I get that.
But if your mind is open to taking a step back for a second, here’s a bit of unsolicited advice:
Be very happy for Chris Davis, and very happy for Tommy Hunter.
Feeling good about this trade, from a baseball standpoint, shouldn’t be very difficult.
Last night, Jon Daniels gave us three reasons that he feels good about it:
1. The Rangers “really, really like” Uehara, and trust him in big spots.
2. Uehara will probably be back with Texas in 2012.
3. The club likes Davis and Hunter, but neither was filling a critical “now” role and the trade didn’t cost any “high-end” prospects.
Let’s look at those one by one.
“We really, really like Uehara.”
When word broke around 4:30 yesterday that Texas had acquired Uehara, Dayn Perry of FanGraphs tweeted: “The best reliever on the market just got traded.”
That’s what seems to be getting lost in all of this, at least for those who refuse to lose grip on the hope that Davis can actualize all that crazy talent in the big leagues, who saw Hunter take the ball in almost every role imaginable and succeed, who like both of those guys on a personality level, and who focus on the fact that Uehara is 36 years old.
This club is trying to win right now. It didn’t matter last year that its closer was 22. And it doesn’t matter that the man now being asked to get the game to him is 36. If you’re Houston and trying to put together a foundation for a few years down the road – like Texas was doing four years ago – you don’t go chase Uehara. But when you’re a team able to say that every game counts, that every match-up matters, Uehera is a guy who unquestionably makes you better.
Would you rather have a 36-year-old who seems to be getting better each year, or a 33-year-old showing signs of decline, especially when the 33-year-old would have cost key prospects to acquire? Uehara is a better pitcher right now than Heath Bell, as Perry and Kevin Goldstein and Keith Law and plenty of others pointed out yesterday, a proven pitcher against American League competition, in baseball’s best division.
That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in seeing Bell here (which remains a possibility). But even without taking the respective costs to get each into consideration, there are reasons to believe Texas got the better pitcher on Saturday.
While Uehara’s upper-80s fastball makes him something other than a “power pitcher,” don’t mistake the connotation. The righthander, who offers a wipeout splitter and a plus change, has struck out 62 batters in 47 innings this year, a rate that’s fourth best among all big league relievers (minimum 40 innings, behind David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonathan Papelbon – and fifth best if you count Mariano Rivera, who sits at 39.1 innings). He’s issued only eight walks this year (one was intentional), and his ratio of 7.75 strikeouts for every walk is best among AL relievers, trailing only Giants reliever Sergio Romo and Phillies ace Roy Halladay among all pitchers in baseball.
You know what happened on July 16, 2010? Uehara walked Toronto outfielder Fred Lewis in a six-pitch at-bat.
It was the final walk of the season for Uehara, who threw another 34.1 innings that year, striking out 44 and walking none, an 11-week stretch in which he served as the Orioles’ closer about half the time.
Profiling what the Rangers most needed to add to the bullpen, it was a righthander for the eighth-inning, or more specifically someone to come in and get right-handed hitters out. Uehara has faced 78 right-handed hitters in 2011.
He has walked zero of them.
(After he issued a free pass to only one right-handed batter in 93 matchups in 2010.)
That group of 2011 righties have managed to hit a feeble .171/.169/.316 against Uehara this year (yes, the on-base is lower than the batting average – because of one sacrifice fly). But how does he fare against left-handed hitters?
Better. Their slash, in 96 plate appearances, is .136/.208/.261. And his strikeout rate against each is about the same.
Overall, opponents are hitting .152 against Uehara this year, with an OPS of .477. Sick numbers.
The ERA is 1.72, but of course relievers’ ERA’s don’t tell the whole story (not that anyone’s ERA tells the whole story) because of the lack of accounting for inherited runners, right?
Uehara has inherited 10 runners this season, allowing four to score. The last to cross the plate was on May 10.
Since the last run of any kind that came across on Uehara’s watch (or his ledger), he’s pitched 13 times, spanning 15 innings. In that stretch, he’s scattered five hits and two walks, punching out 23, with an opponents’ slash of .100/.135/.140.
Thinking maybe those 13 games came against inferior competition? The Pirates, Reds (twice), Braves (twice), Red Sox (twice), Indians (three times), Angels, Jays, and Yankees. Every single one of them a contender, other than Toronto.
For that matter, as pointed out by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Uehara’s has allowed one 2011 run (on a Kevin Youkilis home run) against the strongest candidates for the AL post-season – the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Indians. His composite numbers against those five teams: 16 innings, five hits, one run, four walks, 21 strikeouts.
The one potential flaw in his profile is a flyball tendency that has resulted in a fair amount of home runs (18 in 157.2 big league innings) but also generates one of the highest pop-up rates in the game. He’s had four disabled list stints – a left hamstring strain and elbow issue in 2009 and the same two ailments in 2010 – but has been healthy this year. There’s also an apparent issue he claims to have with hot weather, but it’s not as if Baltimore is mild this time of year.
Uehara hasn’t pitched in Arlington this year. In 2010, he pitched twice, allowing an unearned run on two hits and a walk in 1.2 innings, fanning three. He pitched in Rangers Ballpark once in 2009, getting ripped in the second big league appearance of his career. Getting the start on April 13, he yielded seven runs on seven hits and four walks in five innings, striking out three (though he managed to get the win in a 10-9 Orioles victory). Two of the seven hits Uehara permitted left the yard, one off the bat of Michael Young – and the other by Chris Davis.
But Uehara isn’t that guy any more. He’s no longer a starter, not the guy that the Orioles gave two years and $10 million to in January 2009 to be their number two after a career in Japan that included two Eiji Sawamura Awards, the equivalent of the Cy Young. (According to NPB Tracker in December 2008, Texas was considering a three-year proposal to Uehara for at least $10 million.) He’s a lockdown late reliever, more so than Bell has been this year – more so than Neftali Feliz has been, for that matter – and he makes this bullpen, and this team, a better one. He’s deceptive, he locates, he’s a strike-thrower and an out-generator.
“Back in 2012.”
This is obviously a huge factor. The Rangers not only would have had to give up more to get Bell – they would have lost him this winter, getting two draft picks back as compensation. (The likelihood of him re-signing with Texas, even if told the club planned to look at Feliz as a starter in 2012, would seem to be slim.) But Uehara will be here next year, an eighth-inning answer with experience closing games.
Once Uehara appears in 12 more regular season games, a $4 million option for 2012 locks in. He is set to make a base of about $1 million more the rest of this season, and Texas somehow got Baltimore to kick in about $2 million to help cover the reasonable cost of paying him to pitch.
Interestingly, Uehara’s original Orioles contract (2009-10) contained a provision that gave him the right to sidestep the typical arbitration/free agency rules and become a free agent at the conclusion of his deal. That provision was carried over to his current deal, and so he’ll be a free agent after 2012 (despite just four years of service) if not locked up further by Texas at that point.
But this deal is about 2011 and 2012. In a way, Uehara is perhaps the most stable name you can whiteboard when looking at how next year’s bullpen might shape up. And that’s something Bell obviously would not have been.
And another thing about Uehara being here next year, just as his high school classmate Yoshinori Tateyama will be. Uehara wasn’t Yu Darvish’s teammate in the Japanese leagues (like Tateyama was), but they did pitch together for Team Japan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Having Uehara and Tateyama here won’t help the Rangers land the rights to negotiate with Darvish – if he’s posted by his Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters club at all – but if Texas does put itself in that position, having those pitchers here can’t hurt in the recruitment process.
Davis and Hunter.
There’s no need for me to go too deeply into what Davis and Hunter gave this team. We all know what they contributed. Davis offered unlimited promise and couldn’t put it all together here. Hunter probably overachieved, and certainly gave this team a lot.
But the key is that Davis will be out of options at the end of this season, without a clear role to envision for him here, even if he’d shown some progress after returning to Arlington this month. And Hunter, given this club’s present makeup, wasn’t going to show up in 2011 or go into 2012 as part of the rotation, or in a defined role as a reliever. He was tremendous insurance for any number of roles, and an unquestioned big leaguer, but someone whose departure frankly doesn’t cripple the staff, given how he was being used.
Remember, it was Hunter’s (second straight) spring training injury that led to Alexi Ogando getting a shot in the rotation. Ogando’s success in that role blurred Hunter’s utility. Scott Feldman and Eric Hurley become the next in line if the club needs another starter, though Daniels said yesterday that he wouldn’t be against giving a young pitcher a chance.
Going to Baltimore will be a terrific opportunity for both Davis and Hunter. The Orioles traded Derrek Lee to Pittsburgh last night, paving the way for Davis to play first base every day so that the club has a good handle on what it has going into 2012, when he can no longer be farmed without clearing waivers (which he wouldn’t). Hunter will go right into Baltimore’s rotation, given a chance to establish that he can be a mid-rotation innings-eater on a club that’s still developing as a whole.
I still believe Hunter can be that, and pitch in this league for a long time. And that Davis still has a chance, maybe with less pressure and a different set of expectations, to translate his AAA prowess into an acceptable level of big league productivity. I hope so, at least, for both of them. They were blocked here. Not so in Baltimore.
When I suggested, hypothetically, on June 26 that it might take Davis and Neil Ramirez to get Uehara, and on July 19 (before Davis probably blunted his trade value upon his return to Arlington) that Davis for Uehara was a one-for-one idea, I didn’t imagine it would take both Davis and Hunter to get the Orioles reliever. It’s a good trade for Baltimore, who won’t yet be competitive when Uehara’s current contract expires.
But it’s a very good one for the Rangers, because they got an eighth-inning weapon without parting with anyone from the club’s deep stable of prospects, who are still available now to get another reliever, or starter, whether now or in December or next July. That’s important.
Davis told reporters yesterday that he’s excited about this opportunity but still hopes to get a 2011 World Series ring from the Rangers. Losing Davis and Hunter hurt for a bunch of you, but neither had a core role here in 2011, or a clear one in 2012. Their greatest utility was to help Texas get that ring, and it’s hard for me to find any reason to believe this trade didn’t just make that a much greater likelihood.
I finished last night’s report with an inference that what Joe Wieland did in his game last night reminded me of something Rick Helling had done 15 years earlier.
What Derek Holland just did reminds me of what Derek Holland did two years ago, to the day.
Thirty-one batters. Twenty-six balls.
And a fourth 2011 shutout, matching Cliff Lee for most in baseball.
A thing of beauty.
Reprinting the July 30, 2009 Newberg Report:
July 30, 2009
It’s been a profoundly sad baseball day for me.
First, with each couple hours as the day progressed it seemed that Texas was emerging as the leading candidate to acquire Roy Halladay, an acquisition that would rank with Nolan Ryan and Alex Rodriguez in this franchise’s history in terms of instant impact.
That prospect in and of itself didn’t sadden me – I’m on record saying I’d love to have Doc here in 2009 and 2010 – but when word developed that the price would start with two of Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, and Justin Smoak, supplemented by Ken Rosenthal’s FoxSports note that Toronto sent a scout to Arlington to watch Holland start tonight “on short notice,” I started to get a pit in my stomach.
And then tonight, July 30, 2009, a baseball game was played that, years from now, may be talked about (at least in this space), a game in which Holland was so good that the Jays scout might as well have stopped taking notes.
Over Holland’s first eight innings, he permitted one hit (a fifth-inning, broken-bat single busting up a perfect game) and no walks, striking out 10 Mariners with command not only of his fastball but a crisp breaking ball. The ninth inning wasn’t as clean – walk, F-9, fielder’s choice, single, depriving Holland of his first big league complete game – but there’s something almost poetic about that walk to the dugout after handing the manager the ball following a performance like that. The kind he dazzled the Texas League with last summer.
Only I didn’t see that stroll off the field.
Or anything else.
I was away from a television tonight and saw only a Gameday account of what was going on. And I didn’t set the DVR.
I’m going to have to get a copy of that game.
As for the Halladay talks, I want to believe that Holland’s opus may have saved Texas from doing something it would later regret. Of Holland, Feliz, Smoak, and Martin Perez, I just can’t bring myself to feeling good about parting with two to get Halladay, as great as he is. The only pair I’d even be willing to think about is Feliz and Smoak, and even then it would give me indigestion to do it.
A Twitter post from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale after the game: “Nolan Ryan just said they actively are seeking Toronto [pitcher] Roy Halladay, but suggested that LHP Derek Holland won’t be part of any deal.”
I’d like to think that position had been taken four hours ago (Jon Daniels said after the game: “We didn’t have any more interest in trading him at 7 p.m. than we did at 10 p.m.”), but it doesn’t matter now. What matters is Holland is going nowhere.
Ryan added: “It’s still premature to make a prediction [as to] whether it will happen. Obviously, we’d like to have [Halladay].”
Me too. But only on our terms.
Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi told ESPN’s Buster Olney tonight that Halladay trade talks are “dead.” Not sure I believe Ricciardi, but whatever. He hasn’t played his hand particularly well this week, but he’s got half a day to salvage things.
But I can never get Thursday back. I missed the game, finishing off a day of baseball sadness.
And I couldn’t be happier.
If I’d started the Newberg Report back in 1993, a time in this franchise’s history when focusing at least partly on the farm system was necessary to maintain sanity, I would have written a lengthy bellyache over the July trade of Kurt Miller and Robb Nen for Cris Carpenter, a deal that would be the rough equivalent today of Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers for Jon Rauch.
But I didn’t start this thing up until 1998. Here are some of the things I’ve written over the years in reviewing the club’s July trades:
July 17, 1998 – Texas trades Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel to Pittsburgh for Esteban Loaiza: It’s got some risk, but Morris is not the kind of prospect that made anyone think he would blow through every level. He may very well hit his ceiling short of the bigs, and if so, congrats to Melvin and Nichols for judging him accordingly and turning him into a legit big league starting pitcher. Loaiza is not filler by any means, and maybe he will make Pittsburgh as sorry as Boston is about giving up on Sele or Florida on Helling.
Loaiza is not Clemens and not even Harnisch, but he’s got a little upside and he is clearly an improvement over Van Poppel in the current rotation.
I had seven recipients on the mailing list when I sent that out. Thank goodness.
(To be fair, the Clemens reference was made because he and Harnisch were rumored to be available that month. It wasn’t a comment on lifetime body of work.)
July 19, 2000 – Texas trades Esteban Loaiza to Toronto for Michael Young and Darwin Cubillan: Almost two years ago to the day, Texas acquired a swingman named Esteban Antonio Veyna Loaiza from Pittsburgh for two minor leaguers, Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel. His finest game in that 1998 season, and probably the finest game he has tossed at this point in his career, came against Toronto on July 30, his third start for Texas, when he allowed one run in eight innings on four singles and two walks, punching out nine Blue Jays, but he lost the game, 1-0. (If memory serves, the game’s only run scored on a roller up the middle that anyone not named Kevin Elster would have gotten to – and Elster was released the next day in conjunction with the July 31 acquisition of Royce Clayton.) Five days later, Loaiza faced Toronto again, allowing two runs in eight frames on five hits and two walks, fanning five, taking a no-decision.
The work he did against the Jays must have left a lasting impression. Toronto acquired Loaiza yesterday, sending AA middle infielder Mike Young and AAA righthanded reliever Darwin Cubillan to the Rangers. My opinion? This is not a watershed trade for either club, but one that I think each team will look back on favorably.
Yeah. Never mind all that.
July 11, 2003 – Texas trades Ugueth Urbina to Florida for Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Snare, and Will Smith: As I walked out of my depositions yesterday afternoon, I turned on the ignition to the sound of Grady Fuson’s voice on the Ticket, and before I was out of the parking garage I realized this was no State of the System interview. There was news. By time I’d reached a traffic light I’d heard who the three prospects were that we were importing from Florida, but I hadn’t heard yet who we sent the Marlins.
Know what? I couldn’t conceive of an answer to that question that would have upset me, because I now have faith that we aren’t going to be shopping Blalock or Teixeira or Nix and of course the nature of a July trade like this never means the contending club sending three prospects away is getting kids back anyway. It didn’t matter to me if it was Juan Gonzalez or Rafael Palmeiro or Ismael Valdes or John Thomson or Ugueth Urbina. Or two of them.
It wasn’t until the Fuson interview concluded that I heard it was Urbina, and I was stunned.
Adrian Gonzalez, someone else, and someone else, for a rental reliever. Fuson’s finest moment here.
July 18, 2003 – Texas trades Ryan Ludwick to Cleveland for Ricardo Rodriguez and Shane Spencer: What concerns me a little is why the Indians, rebuilding just as Texas is, would make this deal. When Florida sent three promising kids to the Rangers for Ugueth Urbina, it was at least defensible from the standpoint that the Marlins wanted to give the post-season a run.
But Cleveland is in much the same position as Texas, and with a handful of interesting young outfielders (Milton Bradley, Matt Lawton, Grady Sizemore, Jody Gerut, Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard, Alex Escobar, Luis Garcia) it seems odd that the Indians would move a young starter for another outfield candidate – on the other hand, we do know that they were zeroing in on Kevin Mench before he got hurt earlier this month. It’s also true that Cleveland has a wave of young pitchers on the way, but you don’t generally deplete pitching inventory to build outfield inventory.
The bottom line from the Indians’ standpoint, according to Shapiro, is that they felt they needed a big league boost in right-handed power, and Ludwick has proven at every minor league level that he might be ready to provide it.
Man, that trade sure looked good for a while.
July 28, 2006 – Texas trades Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, and Julian Cordero to Milwaukee for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz: The Rangers-Brewers deal is again controversial on Melvin’s end, but less so in Texas. The Rangers added the best player in the deal, the 30-year-old Lee, who is among the most productive hitters in baseball this year (.286/.347/.549, 28 home runs, 81 RBI). They also added, arguably, the most valuable young player in the deal, the 25-year-old Cruz, who will be under the Rangers’ control for six years and was hitting a robust .302/.378/.528 with 20 homers and 73 RBI for AAA Nashville. The Brewers get Cordero, in addition to outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and Clinton lefthander Julian Cordero.
* * *
Don’t think for a minute that that’s going to be the biggest trade Daniels makes as Rangers general manager. I think we learned this past week that, in addition to favoring the creative and aggressive approach, Daniels is never going to be outworked, and I can’t think of any combination of qualities I’d rather have in my team’s GM.
As for that last part, we hadn’t seen anything yet.
July 31, 2007 – Texas trades Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to Atlanta for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones: I know this, though: a Teixeira trade had become virtually inevitable, and from that standpoint I’m excited about what Jon Daniels pulled off. I’m looking forward to checking those Elvis Andrus box scores in Bakersfield and those Neftali Feliz short-season pitching lines, and to imagining what my team’s roster could look like two years from now, when Saltalamacchia could be part of the Rangers’ identity, and Teixeira may very well be in pinstripes or adorned by an orange and black bird, as the Braves work to try and sign the two draft picks they received when Teixeira left for the Coast.
It’s pretty obvious that sometime between July 2006 and July 2007 is when Michael Chabon’s writing style (specifically, the comma-to-period ratio) started rubbing off on me.
July 9, 2010 – Texas trades Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke, and Matt Lawson to Seattle for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe: That Texas landed baseball’s best left-handed pitcher, a proven big game warrior on a short list of the league’s best pitchers, period, without giving up Perez or Scheppers or Holland or Hunter or Ogando is sort of stunning. I understand that Seattle was targeting a young hitter. But I’m still having trouble getting my head wrapped around a deal for a pitcher like this where you part with a young blue-chip position player but don’t have to dip into what is a very deep top tier of your pitching prospect stable — and that’s without even considering that you had to have the Mariners put cash into the deal, something other teams wouldn’t have insisted on.
* * *
I’m repeating myself, but drafting Smoak in 2008 set things up for a Matt LaPorta/C.C. Sabathia trade down the road. From the April 23 Newberg Report:
When Texas chose Smoak on June 5, 2008, Davis was less than two weeks into his AAA promotion, having hit his way out of the Texas League with a monstrous .333/.376/.618 two months. There was every reason not to pop the 21-year-old Smoak with the 22-year-old Davis barreling in toward the first base job that Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton were attempting to hold down. The Rangers could have taken the second player on their board, Georgia high school righthander Ethan Martin, and avoided the possible Davis-Smoak conundrum.
You never draft for need. You take the best player available. With ownership willing to spend what it would take to pay Smoak’s expected signing bonus demands, Texas did take the best player available on Draft Day 2008.
And they had the best player available, at least in Seattle’s eyes, again yesterday, enabling the execution of Step Five, for which It was Time.
As a result Texas now suits up the best big league pitcher available, the latest incredible development in what has been, and promises to continue to be, an extraordinary baseball season in Arlington.
Yeah, that was a pretty good day.
And then there’s this, from a column I wrote for MLB.com on August 9, 2007, looking back 11 years to a trade Texas made with Florida just after the 1996 trade deadline.
On August 8, the two teams agreed in principle on a deal that would send [John] Burkett to Texas for Ryan Dempster, a 19-year-old righthander whom the Rangers had drafted the summer before in the third round, plus a player to be named later from an agreed list of prospects that included [Rick] Helling. Texas didn’t need to run Dempster – the key to the deal for the Marlins – through revocable waivers since he was not on the 40-man roster.
Helling was having an outstanding AAA season, but Melvin thought Florida was going to choose AAA reliever Danny Patterson as the player to be named. At least until August 13, when Helling threw the first perfect game in Oklahoma City history.
The Rangers couldn’t alter the parameters of the deal. But they were hardly remorseful buyers. Two days earlier, in his Rangers debut, Burkett had authored a complete-game, 6-0 shutout, stretching the Texas division lead back to five games.
The Rangers placed Helling on revocable waivers in early September, when post-season rosters were already set, and he reached the Marlins without being claimed, allowing the teams to complete the trade on September 3. (Presumably, had he been blocked, Texas simply would have pulled him back and conveyed him to Florida after the season.) With the minor league season over, Helling, who had gone 12-4, 2.96 for Oklahoma City, posted a 1.95 ERA in four Marlins starts and a relief appearance, scattering 14 hits and seven walks in 27.2 innings while punching out 26 National Leaguers.
Again, though, Texas had no regrets. Burkett went 5-2, 4.06 in 10 Rangers starts as the club nailed down its first post-season berth, and earned what remains the only playoff win in franchise history with a complete-game gem in Yankee Stadium, a 6-2 victory to kick off the series before it turned sour.
It’s that particular piece of Rangers trade history that I was reminded of earlier tonight.
It was our best Newberg Report Night yet, by any measure other than the score of the ballgame, an awesome and sometimes overwhelming display of baseball acumen and generosity, and I couldn’t say it any better than Jason Parks did, and so I won’t try.
You look at the path that Jon Daniels and Thad Levine took to get where they are, and that Kevin Goldstein and Jason took themselves, and you might be reminded of the trajectory the Rangers franchise itself is on right now, after so many years, having reached a level once and for all that puts it in that preferred tier with the added promise of some staying power. Having the four of them in the room at once, connecting with us, made for a tremendous day, outdone only by the kindness of the nearly 400 folks who were there not only for baseball but for something much bigger as well.
For recaps of the Goldstein/Parks and Daniels/Levine Q&A’s, check out the review written by Grant Schiller and the two-parter by Tim Darley. For thoughts on the day itself, I point you to the words that Jason shared on his extraordinary www.texasfarmreview.com site, reprinted here with his permission:
Newberg Night in Arlington
I arrived at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington a little after 2:30CT on Sunday afternoon, nervously anticipating my role in the now ubiquitous fan event. It was over 100 degrees outside with enough humidity to keep your skin damp, and I was wearing long-sleeves, long pants, and cowboy boots. I was sweating for multiple reasons.
Before I jumped into the “baseball industry,” I was a fan of the Texas Rangers; I grew up in North Texas, and some of my fondest memories of childhood revolved around watching the team. As I advanced in age, the subsequent advancement of technology allowed me to follow the team in stunning detail, and by the early 2000s, I was freebasing online Rangers content with every available second. Jamey Newberg was (and still is) the face of that content, encouraging and guiding fans of the team in their exploration of all things Rangers, starting at the minor league level and climbing the professional chain to the major league team. With his (Jamey) website, his daily email blasts, and his annual book, fans of the team were given a new window of information to digest, turning casual fans into true fanatics and some fanatical fans into true lunatics. I was hooked from jump street, and I used the aforementioned resources to push myself forward in the field, with Jamey (and Mike Hindman, Scott Lucas, Joey Matschulat, etc) standing behind me, encouraging my search for the source. Basically, I owe a great deal to Jamey, his reports, the people who help (have helped) with those reports, and the people who read those reports.
I was nervous coming into the day because this was a homecoming of sorts for me, and I didn’t want to let my fellow Texans down. I wanted to shine on the big stage with my new national title, and I wanted to keep my “rise” in proper perspective. Just a few years ago I would have been one of the 300+ people trying to get a ticket to such an event, and now I’m on the panel, talking to Jon Daniels, receiving questions and compliments, shaking hands and feeling like I belong. It’s been a strange voyage. Anyway, with my nerves and self-inflicted responsibilities on my sleeve, I walked from the parking lot to the stadium to meet up with Kevin Goldstein, my podcast partner and good friend. He was smoking a cigarette in the humid blowtorch that is a Texas afternoon, sweating and exhaling smoke like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now*. It was an interesting start to the day’s events.
[*Kevin often makes the Apocalypse Now reference for this scenario, so I’ll go ahead and give him credit for it.]
The queue was already forming outside the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame entrance, with a sea of red blanketing the backs of the loyal participants. These were the kind of fans that every organization in professional sports covet. These fans were engaging in an Alamo-esque display of loyalty and defense. These are the fans that stand on the wall and fight to the death with the barrel of their ammo-free musket. Yes, I just compared Rangers’ fans to those that died at the Alamo. It seemed fitting to me. I was so impressed with the turnout (from my initial perspective) that I was in awe. The game wasn’t set to begin for almost five hours, yet the fans were lining up to pack an auditorium in order to show support for their team. It was incredible.
After finding friendly faces likes Jamey, Scott, and Ted Price, I found more comfort in the surroundings, and in only a few short minutes, the jam packed room would erupt with questions and flash bulbs, with a focused attention on Kevin and me standing at the podium. Right before we stepped to the microphone to begin our makeshift comedy hour, Jamey gave us a more than proper introduction, one that still sits with me as I type this. As I mentioned, Jamey has been very instrumental in my career, pushing me to follow my dreams and supporting my decisions and accomplishments at every turn along the way. After he inflated my ego with his charming intro, Jamey walked to my location on the panel, extended his hand, and we engaged in an unspoken conversation about the events unfolding. His handshake told me his thoughts, and my return volley told him how much I appreciated his support. It was a very cool moment that will get lost in the process of writing, so I’ll just leave it as it is. It meant something to me.
The questions started with one nervous hand and quickly dominoed into a crowd of extended hands, asking detailed question after detailed question. The time flew by and before I realized it, we were down to the final exchange. After our segment, I was exhausted and exhilarated, moved by the response and impressed by the intelligence of the questions being asked. These were RoboFans, fans with detailed knowledge of the Rangers’ farm system and the passion to demand a quality response. You couldn’t fool these people with misdirection or surface responses. They wanted the goods. They expected the goods. For our little section, I hope we delivered.
The rest of the event was equally effectual, especially when baseball took a back-seat to personal tales of survival and hardship, as several voices stood up to share their brush with tragedy and struggle, putting all of our hearts in our throats, and making us all realize how lucky we are to be healthy. The room found a common pulse in the heartfelt moments, and I’d personally like to thank the people associated with the Hello Win Column foundation for everything they do in this world. If you have the means and are looking for a charity to support, I can’t speak highly enough about who they are and what they do for people.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur for me, as my adrenaline reserves were spent, and I was lost in a cloud of my surroundings. I was out in the hall shaking hands and meeting people who took the time to extend their over-the-top courtesy, when Rangers general manager Jon Daniels walked up and extended his own hand and his own courtesy. I’ve had the privilege of meeting JD a few times in the past, but this was different, and the cloud I was in grew more opaque. Seriously? I’m on a panel with Kevin Goldstein and Jon Daniels, in front on a frenzied and intelligent crowd of Rangers fanatics, and I was asked to be here? Seriously? In a word, that’s awesome.
After Jon Daniels held the room captive for more than an hour, the crowd eagerly lined up to ask more questions and offer more thoughtful greetings, making the conclusion to the Q&A all the more memorable. It was time to move into the suites to watch the game, but I was still drifting above the scene, trapped in my own head. What a day so far, and the game was still a few minutes from first pitch. I didn’t want it to end. Along with my lovely wife Arden and my lovely podcast partner Kevin, I found my way to the Johnny Bench suite to join good friends for an evening of baseball.
The night continued to find a way to trump itself, as chili dogs and beer soon graced my plate, followed by more beer and more great conversation. As people continued to find their way into the suites and into the discourse, the level of said discourse continued to escalate, as I eventually found myself discussing art and music as well as baseball. I stumbled upon a longtime Newberg Report supporter, Michael Durkin, who owns two pizzerias in the metroplex and I can’t hype him enough. Seriously, the next trip to watch the RoughRiders needs to feature a stop at Durkin’s Pizza. This isn’t optional.
It’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I still can’t find the right words to describe my experience(s) at Newberg Night. It’s not an adventure I want to force myself to digest with reckless abandon, especially for the purpose of delivering it using this medium. I was very touched by the fan reaction to my appearance, but also to the fans themselves, as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was alive with energy and emotion, and it was a very hot Sunday night in late-July. Some of my thoughts are going to remain inside, as I selfishly want them for myself, but the ones I can properly articulate were delivered to the best of my ability here. I can’t thank Jamey enough for his support over the years, or for his belief that I could sit on a panel with the likes of Jon Daniels, and Thad Levine, and Kevin Goldstein without standing out as the one that didn’t belong. For that, and everything else, I tip my cap and offer my most heartfelt respect and appreciation for what you do. That goes for all the fans in attendance as well. The Rangers might have the best fans in the business, and I never thought I would be able to say that. Impressive.
Here are the final details for Sunday’s events. If you want to be sure that you’re seated with someone in particular during the game and haven’t already told me, please let me know by Friday.
And a few more seats have opened up (both suites and Upper Reserved seats). I’ll give you details tomorrow in case you’re interested (or have friends who might be interested in going with you).
This year’s Newberg Report Night events are sponsored by Murphy Custom Homes.
3:00 Doors open
I’m checking to see if we can open the doors at 2:30. I’ll let you know.
The entrance to the Rangers Ballpark Hall of Fame is on Randol Mill, which is the road that borders the south edge of the ballpark grounds. The door to the Hall of Fame is between the ballpark’s first base entrance and center field entrance.
Parking information: Lots B and C are open without an attendant all day until 4:00 PM. At 4:00 PM, all lots will be attended. (North, West, and East valet stands open; South valet stand opens at 5:30 PM.)
- If you’re attending the pregame events, you’ll get your game tickets once you enter the Hall of Fame. Please bring some form of ID.
- If you’re not attending the pregame events, your game tickets will be at Will Call no later than 3:00.
The front lobby of the Hall of Fame is also where you can make your donation to the Memorial Account established by the Rangers Foundation in Honor of Shannon Stone. (Checks should be made payable to “Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation Memorial Account in Honor of Shannon Stone” – if you would like contribution acknowledgements from the organization, it’s important that your checks are made out specifically that way, or to the Foundation with “Shannon Stone Memorial Account” in the note section.)
You may donate any amount; for every $10 you donate, you will get one ticket for the raffle. Cash or checks only, please.
We’ll also have a small supply of Newberg Report T-Shirts, courtesy of Brian Maines of Johnny Velvet Tees and Julie Granberry of Graphic Solutions Group, Inc., available for $15 each (100 percent going to the Stone Family memorial account). Each shirt purchased will come with a raffle ticket.
Come early and grab a seat; it’s going to be a standing-room-only event. In any event, please arrive early enough to make your donations no later than 4:15 – we’ll begin the drawing shortly after that.
3:30 Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks Q&A
Baseball Prospectus prospect experts and podcast tag team Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks are set to join us as the opening act. They’ll conduct a Q&A session officially beginning at 3:30 p.m., as the theater starts to fill up – though typically this part gets rolling earlier than that if they’re ready to get started.
4:30 Raffle/auction, charitable presentation
As we’ve always done, a big part of Newberg Report Night is raising money for a charitable effort, including through your purchase of raffle tickets that day.
This year’s contribution from the event, including 100 percent of the proceeds from the raffle and auction, will go to the Shannon Stone Family via the memorial account set up by the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation.
As always, the Hello Win Column Fund, established in July 2005 in memory of Mark and Alice Holtz by Mark’s daughter Cindy Kuster and her husband Jeff, will host a couple families from Cancer Care Services and the Ronald McDonald House at the event.
Again, for every $10 you donate to the Memorial Account set up for the Stone family, you will get one ticket for the raffle. Whoever makes the largest donation on Sunday (in the form of raffle tickets bought) will get his or her choice of any of the raffle prizes. The remaining prizes will be raffled off by drawing.
Here’s the raffle prize lineup:
• An autographed, game-used C.J. Wilson baseball (courtesy of Allen Cordrey)
• An autographed Derek Holland baseball (courtesy of Pam Lunk)
• Another autographed Derek Holland baseball (courtesy of Jeremiah Jackson)
• An autographed Tommy Hunter baseball (courtesy of Jeremiah Jackson)
• An autographed Leonys Martin baseball (courtesy of Allen Cordrey)
• Painting of Nelson Cruz and autographed, hand-painted floorboard of Jason Kidd (courtesy of artist Jason Adams)
• A copy of Carson Leslie’s book “Carry Me,” autographed by Michael Young (courtesy of Annette Leslie)
• A 2011 Newberg Report Bound Edition signed by Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, Don Welke, Chuck Greenberg, and John Rhadigan (courtesy of Allen Cordrey)
• Two season tickets to the Artisan Center Theater mainstage shows and children’s playhouse shows for the 2012 season and remainder of the 2011 season (courtesy of Lindsay Hardisty)
• Autographed baseball cards of Ian Kinsler and David Murphy (courtesy of Grant Schiller)
• Autographed 8 x 10 multi-image photos of Martin Perez, Robbie Erlin (autographed), and Joe Wieland (autographed) (courtesy of Bryan Hoctor)
• An autographed 8 x 10 print of C.J. Wilson (courtesy of artist Pat Payton)
• An autographed 8 x 10 photo of Michael Young (courtesy of Grant Schiller)
• An 8 x 10 action photo of Neftali Feliz (courtesy of Rangers team photographer Brad Newton)
• An 11 x 14 five-photo progression of Mitch Moreland’s June 21 walkoff home run against Astros (courtesy of Rangers team photographer Brad Newton)
• An 11 x 14 action photo of Elvis Andrus (courtesy of Rangers team photographer Brad Newton)
• An 11 x 14 action photo of Josh Hamilton (courtesy of Rangers team photographer Brad Newton)
We’ll also have a few special items to put up for a quick live auction (conducted as always by Luther Davis of Davis Auctioneers), with all proceeds going to the Memorial Account set up for the Stone family, including the following:
- An ALCS baseball signed by Nolan Ryan and Jim Sundberg (courtesy of Christopher Navarre)
- An autographed Ozzie Smith baseball (courtesy of Allen Cordrey)
- An autographed Derek Jeter baseball from the 1998 World Series (courtesy of David McLean)
- Free Chick-fil-A for a year (can be used at any location) (courtesy of Traci Siler)
- A 2010 World Series print signed by Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, and Thad Levine (courtesy of artist Pat Payton)
- An autographed, framed Ted Williams photograph (courtesy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas)
• An autographed Reggie Jackson Yankees helmet (courtesy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas)
• A framed, autographed Alex Rodriguez Rangers jersey (courtesy of David McLean)
- An autographed Rafael Palmeiro Rangers jersey (courtesy of Matt Swaim)
- An autographed Hank Blalock Rangers jersey (courtesy of Lesley Perry)
- A Vernon Wells Sr. limited edition “All-Time Rangers Hits Leader” lithograph of Michael Young, autographed by Young and Wells (courtesy of Annette Leslie)
- An autographed Ian Kinsler jersey with World Series patch (courtesy of Lesley Perry)
- An autographed Josh Hamilton World Series jersey (courtesy of VanBreed Management)
- An inning in the TV booth with Dave Barnett and Tom Grieve (a visit, not an on-the-air segment) (courtesy of Dave and Tom)
• An 8 x 10 photo of George W. Bush throwing out Opening Day Ceremonial First Pitch (courtesy of Rangers team photographer Brad Newton)
- A 24 x 36 poster featuring Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, and Rickey Henderson, signed by Ryan and authenticated by Steiner Sports (courtesy of Rick Canale)
• A 16 x 20 collage of seven action shots of Josh Hamilton with “Photoshop painting” effects applied (courtesy of Rangers team photographer Brad Newton)
5:00 Jon Daniels Q&A
Rangers GM Jon Daniels will join us, as he has the seven previous Newberg Report Nights, for a lengthy Q&A session with seven days remaining before the trade deadline. He should arrive at 5:00 and take your questions (and maybe a deadline-related call or text) for about 90 minutes.
6:30 To the game
At about 6:30, we’ll conclude in the theater and head to our seats and suites for Alexi Ogando’s 7:05 first pitch. (Again, you’ll pick your game tickets up just inside the Hall of Fame entrance when you arrive.)
Note: Sunday’s game is part of a “Red-Out Weekend” (in case you want to dress accordingly), and the first 10,000 fans aged 13 and under will receive a Dr Pepper/Albertsons Josh Hamilton Blue Jersey.
I’ll blast the list again if there any new details between now and Sunday.
It’s axiomatic that there are two key forms of currency in pro baseball: cash and prospects. You can make some noise from time to time as long as you have one of them. Don’t stand much of a chance if you’re broke on both counts. But if you’re flush in both, you’re in business.
A deep minor league inventory, however, differs from deep pockets in one very important manner: Only one is fungible.
There’s risk in throwing millions at Milton Bradley or Brandon Webb. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Dollars are dollars, and if your ballclub has a healthy balance sheet and a committed ownership group, it’s understood that capital expenditures carry with them some degree of acceptable risk. But if the deal bombs, there’s nothing (other than a pesky exercise of good sense) stopping a club from spending again, on someone else, to cure the mistake or ramp the roster up in some other way.
You can’t trade a player twice, though (with apologies to Ruben Sierra Sr.) – so you have to take extra care when the expenditure comes in the form of baseball players. And that’s something that I think occasionally gets missed.
Could Texas outbid the Phillies and Angels for Padres reliever Mike Adams, or beat a Giants’ offer to get Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, or come out ahead of the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and Indians and end up with Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda?
In most cases, the answer is probably yes, and maybe even without having to blow the selling team away.
But prospects, unlike cash, are single-use commodities.
Could you offer Robbie Erlin, Chris Davis, and Luis Sardinas to San Diego and get Heath Bell? Maybe you could.
But what if you know Florida covets Erlin and, a year from now (when Bell has signed elsewhere as a free agent, leaving you with two draft picks), just might back off its current stance that it won’t trade Anibal Sanchez or Ricky Nolasco – or a once-again-healthy Josh Johnson?
And maybe you know that about Erlin because the Marlins are asking for the Frisco southpaw plus Jose Felix, or Joe Wieland plus Jorge Alfaro, in exchange for closer Leo Nunez. A reasonable demand in this market, perhaps, but again, if you’re going to move Erlin or Alfaro, doesn’t it have to be in a trade that alters the top of your rotation, even if the deal is a year or two from now?
Let’s say Houston would give you Michael Bourn and Sergio Escalona for David Murphy, Michael Kirkman, Roman Mendez, and Hanser Alberto.
But maybe in talks with the Dodgers about Kuroda, you’ve learned that Kirkman and Mendez are players of interest there, and if things get even worse off the field with that franchise, there are a couple players on that team that sure would fit nicely in Texas a year from now. One of whom would be even easier to dream on than Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who I still can’t believe will be traded.
Especially if the ask from the Yankees really did include Jesus Montero, and Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova. (You in the mood to give up Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, and Matt Harrison for Jimenez?)
Surgery on Julio Borbon’s ankle has crushed my will to piece together a Tyler Clippard scenario (Peter Gammons reports this week that Washington was one of several teams interested in Borbon before the injury), but sticking with the Nationals: Engel Beltre or Matt West for Todd Coffey?
Do you really want to sell low on either of those two in a deal like that? Do we know that Coffey would be a better bullpen weapon than Tommy Hunter?
Before even considering what pitching prospect Oakland would want as the third piece in a deal for closer Andrew Bailey, the fact that the demand would start with Perez and Davis makes that an easy idea to move on from. (Not that I blame the A’s. If I were a small-market team checking around to see what Neftali Feliz might bring, for instance, I’d set my sights on a package like that as well, particularly in the division.)
Christian Villanueva plus Pedro Strop for Brandon League?
Even if you’d trade both, one because of depth and the other because of options, and even if that’s fair July market value for League, is that really how you want to deploy those two?
Davis for Koji Uehara?
For Jim Johnson, under control through 2013, maybe. But the 36-year-old Uehara? Risky way to push in the Davis chip.
Ramirez and Leury Garcia for Joakim Soria?
I’m convinced that if Ramirez doesn’t force his way into the rotation picture within a year, he’s going to be able to advance the ball on a bigger trade target than Soria, this winter or next summer.
A year ago, or two? Soria had much greater value then, and Ramirez had much less.
But that’s how it goes. Consider the value of Bell and Adams, two of the hottest properties on this month’s trade market. As we discussed on June 26, Bell was drafted (as a junior college shortstop) in the now-defunct 69th round but didn’t sign, then signed with the Mets the following year as an undrafted free agent, was designated for assignment a few weeks into his first season on a 40-man roster, cleared league-wide waivers, and three years later was part of a unremarkable four-player trade with the Padres.
Adams was also an undrafted free agent (out of Texas A&M-Kingsville) and pitched for four organizations’ AAA clubs in 2006 alone, waived once and traded twice for journeymen (and former Rangers), first Jeremi Gonzalez and then Brian Sikorski, then was released – by San Diego – and a year later re-signed with the Padres on a minor league deal.
Now consider what San Diego might be able to pull in exchange for the two righthanders. If you ask ESPN’s Buster Olney, Texas is the favorite to trade for one of them. Darren Smith of San Diego’s XX1090 AM thinks Adams will end up with the Rangers. They say that because of fit, and also because the Rangers are very, very deep in prospects.
Look, I’d love to see Texas land Adams in the next 12 days, and have that guy own the eighth inning into October, and give the Rangers a perfect candidate to assume closer duties in 2012 should Feliz be moved into the rotation.
But if it would take Ramirez, Davis or Mike Olt, and David Perez to make the deal? Sure, you’d be thrilled if Ramirez ended up developing into an Adams type, and yes, Davis’s greatest value to the club is probably as a trade piece at this point and Olt will be big league-ready long before Adrian Beltre’s time in Texas is done, and while Perez is an exciting arm with a massive ceiling, the system is full of them and Perez is at least three years away, which happily feels like an eternity when you’re a contender.
But all that is a short-sighted view of things, and ignores the next layer of consideration. Trading Travis Hafner was defensible, and objectively speaking, without the benefit of hindsight, maybe Adrian Gonzalez fell into that category, too. Trading them when they were traded can even be justified. But – well, you know.
The problem is that even if there are dozens of players in this organization (1) that other teams want and (2) that you wouldn’t mind trading, for one reason or another, you only get one shot. Prospects aren’t stacks of cash, and even if one asset is as important as the other, a decision on whether the time is right to deal Robbie Ross, or Odubel Herrera, or Luke Jackson as a player to be named later, is more nuanced, and in some ways loaded with more risk, than deciding whether to give a free agent pitcher that extra year, or another million or two to the veteran bat that might make your offense a tougher proposition on left-handed pitching.
When cash is the cost, the question is whether you’re willing to give it up to get the deal done. With the outlay of prospects, though, the analysis goes further, as you have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to give it up now.
“The teams most certain to do something are Texas and St. Louis,” says one National League GM. “The Rangers have a really good team that can win in October. They have built their farm system. Most of all, they have proven that they will try to do what it takes.” (Peter Gammons, MLB.com)
“Seems other clubs expect the Rangers to be ‘very, very aggressive’ on the trade market again this year. [Starting pitcher] the No. 1 target, then [relief pitcher].” (Jason Churchill, ESPN)
“We will look at anything that will improve our club,” Daniels said. “The bullpen is still the focal point, but if something comes along that allows us to improve the club in another way, we will look at it.” (local report)
“Our scouts have been out there grinding. None of this is going to catch us by surprise. . . . You hate giving [up your better, young players], but that is part of the game. Our objective is winning in Arlington.” (Daniels, on Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket)
“We understand the risks,” says [Jon] Daniels, “but there is risk in everything we do.” (Gammons)
“What we do know is that [the Rangers] are established as a legitimate Major League threat, with ownership and management that cares and tries and isn’t afraid to be wrong.” (Gammons)
“The [Rangers’] system is getting stupid with talent.” (Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus)
Something will happen this month. Other teams know it, the situation calls for it, the track record promises it. And teams out of the race are going to look for opportunities to get together with Texas and exploit the Rangers’ motivation to improve the club before July 31 – primarily because of this system, a talent breed that just stays stupid with talent.
Consider this: Texas had what was considered a thin minor league system going into 2007, but that season’s overhaul via the June draft (including Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, Josh Lueke, and Mitch Moreland, not to mention 2006 draft-and-follow Derek Holland), the July 2 international crop (Martin Perez, Tomas Telis, Leury Garcia), and the late-July trade season (Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Murphy, Engel Beltre, Max Ramirez) vaulted Texas into the top tier, according to Baseball America, which ranked the Rangers system 4th in 2008 and 1st in 2009 and 2nd in 2010, and Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein, who had the Rangers 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd those three years.
Taking a look back at that top ranking by BA going into 2009, the crop that staked Texas to that honor has almost fully vanished. Of the top 31 prospects in the system, according to BA, the only ones with any chance of showing up on such a Rangers list today are Perez (5th in 2009), Beltre (7th), Neil Ramirez (15th), Joe Wieland (16th), Wilmer Font (20th), and Robbie Ross (25th). Where have the other 25 gone?
- Graduated to the big leagues: Feliz, Andrus, Holland, Borbon, Eric Hurley, Hunter, Moreland, Taylor Teagarden
- Traded: Justin Smoak, Main, Beavan, Jose Vallejo, Guillermo Moscoso, Omar Poveda, Greg Golson, Joaquin Arias
- Waived: Max Ramirez, Warner Madrigal, Thomas Diamond, John Bannister
- Regressed: Wilfredo Boscan, Kasey Kiker, Kennil Gomez, Clark Murphy
- Injured: Tim Murphy
The experts recognized the attrition a year ago, ranking the Texas system in the middle of the pack (BA: 14th, Goldstein: 10th) going into 2011, but unless they move several top-tier prospects in trades this month or in the winter, the Rangers will be right back near the top going into 2012.
BA’s Jim Callis was asked in a chat session this week to speculate on which organization’s farm system will get the publication’s nod this winter as baseball’s best. His response: “[I]t might be the Rangers or Rays.”
Again: at least 25 of the 31 prospects that made the Texas system baseball’s best just two years ago, according to Baseball America, won’t be on the list this winter. But the system may be back in the number one perch anyway.
The mid-season individual prospect rankings are dropping now as well. BA ranks Perez as baseball’s number six prospect, Jurickson Profar number 12, Leonys Martin number 25, and Robbie Erlin number 34. No other club had as many as the Rangers’ four in the top 50. The Angels had one (the transcendent Mike Trout, who should come off the list entirely by time the off-season gets here), and so did the Mariners (righthander Taijuan Walker, who at number 38 trailed all four of the Texas honorees). The A’s had none.
ESPN’s Keith Law has Perez 10th (up from number 18 before the season) and Profar 22nd (up from 81st).
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) ranks Perez fourth on the list of AA or AAA pitchers capable of developing into top-of-the-rotation starters in the big leagues. And the lefthander just been promoted to AAA Round Rock, where he’ll be the youngest player in the 16-team Pacific Coast League – by 15 months.
Goldstein said this week that Profar, the youngest of the 49 players invited to last weekend’s Futures Game, is “the best shortstop prospect in the game.”
Callis says one scout he talked to compares Martin (who, going into Thursday, had swung and missed at five of 118 July pitches he saw in AA and AAA) to Jose Reyes.
Erlin, the second-youngest pitcher (by two days) in the Texas League, sits at 5-0, 3.70 in seven Frisco starts (including a 1.37 mark in his last three) and one relief appearance, fanning 48 in 48.2 innings while scattering six walks.
High A Myrtle Beach has three of the Carolina League’s eight youngest players (Garcia, Santiago Chirino, Joseph Ortiz). Profar is the youngest player in the South Atlantic League, and righthander Cody Buckel is 10th youngest. Short-Season A Spokane has the five youngest players in the Northwest League, and six of the seven youngest (Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, David Perez, Victor Payano, Hanser Alberto, Richard Alvarez).
What does all of this mean?
That when San Diego insists on “one of baseball’s very top prospects for Mike Adams” (Jon Heyman, Sports Illustrated) and the Mets seek a “big-time prospect” for outfielder Carlos Beltran (Buster Olney, ESPN), Texas can compete – if it wants to.
That if the Rangers have in fact “checked in with the Marlins about their pitching” (Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports), Florida isn’t going to do anything with Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, or Leo Nunez before making sure there’s no potential for a deal with the Rangers, with whom they “engaged in more serious trade discussions – about pitching – during last December’s winter meetings.”
That if “the most interest [in Heath Bell] has come from the Rangers, Cardinals, Angels and Phillies” (Bill Center, San Diego Union-Tribune), that list may be exaggerated by at least one, given that the Angels “don’t appear willing to budge much from the $140 million payroll they started with this season” (Mark Saxon, ESPN Los Angeles), largely due to “$26 million in dead money to Scott Kazmir, Gary Matthews Jr,. and the injured Kendry Morales” (John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus), and the Rangers have greater depth to consider dealing from than St. Louis or Philadelphia.
That if the Padres did ask for Profar in discussions about Bell – just as the Mets reportedly did in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez before he was moved (Bowden) – Texas has enough on the farm to redirect talks away from the 18-year-old shortstop without cutting off the conversation.
That the cash- and future-strapped Dodgers won’t move Clayton Kershaw (or Matt Kemp) “without having replacements at the ready or getting them back in trade” (Ken Gurnick, MLB.com), but if you were going to draw up a profile for a trade partner, should Los Angeles be whiteboarding scenarios, a club that could conceivably dangle Derek Holland or Matt Harrison backed up by the deepest farm system of any club able to take on a financial commitment like Kershaw’s stands to be on a short list.
That the same concept applies in the unlikelier context of Felix Hernandez and the Mariners.
That if “it would require the ideal scenario for [Kerry Wood] to waive his no-trade clause” (Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun-Times), you can certainly imagine Texas qualifying for the Metroplex native and the Rangers’ inventory being of interest to the Cubs, as it reportedly was over the winter when Chris Davis (and Darren O’Day) kept showing up in trade rumors.
That any Wood discussion would probably be expanded (conceivably by either team) to see if Matt Garza, a winter Rangers target, can be part of an expanded deal.
That there’s enough crazy depth in this system to momentarily distract me from the disappointment that Julio Borbon’s ankle and Engel Beltre’s season are not helping the July effort.
That if the Rockies are in fact listening on Ubaldo Jimenez (Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports), Daniels and Thad Levine have probably each picked up the phone to chase down their former colleagues at 2001 Blake Street for a series of little stay-in-touch chats.
That spending prospects for controllable pitching now, rather than free agent money on it in the winter, might make a lot of sense if Texas believes the Nippon Ham Fighters will post 24-year-old righthander Yu Darvish (12-2, 1.47 this season and 87-34, 2.05 over seven years, with regular rates of 10 strikeouts and fewer than two walks per nine innings).
That teams trying to close trades with other teams could call Texas to put a prospect or two into the deal that they need, and lack. That creates opportunities.
That Joakim Soria’s no-trade list (Morosi: Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Rockies, Braves) should be no more of an impediment to a deal than the Rangers’ pile of trade assets, if that’s a direction Daniels would want to go.
That the step-out signing two weeks ago of 16-year-old Dominican outfielders Nomar Mazara ($5 million) and Ronald Guzman ($3.5 million) should theoretically make it more palatable for Texas to discuss its growing stock of outfield prospects, much of which sits in the lower half of the system, and that the rumored signings of Venezuelan lefthander Yohander Mendez ($1.5 million) and Dominican righthander Pedro Payano ($650,000) are just another reminder that the Rangers’ stable of pitching prospects has the systemic durability of the Hydra.
That even though the Angels are right on the Rangers’ tail, they play 14 of their 17 games leading up to the trade deadline on the road (with the only three at home coming next week when Texas visits), and sometime in that stretch I fully expect the Rangers to make an impact trade or two, which could threaten as much damage to the Angels’ run as that club’s suitcase stretch for the rest of the month. Yes, Los Angeles gets the Rangers 13 more times, hosting Texas for 10 of those games (including a season-ending three-set), but the Baseball Prospectus metrics still generate an 83.2 percent chance that the Rangers hold the Angels off for the playoff berth that a division title guarantees.
Finishing up with another quote:
Know what makes me baseball-sad?
That when Florida put 24-year-old Miguel Cabrera on the trade market in 2007, the type of hitter that’s available at that age about once a decade, our farm system wasn’t in the shape that the top of Detroit’s was then, and that ours is now.
Sports timing drives me crazy. (Newberg Report, April 26, 2010)
Neither Andrew Miller nor Cameron Maybin, both of whom the Marlins shipped away less than three years after the Cabrera trade, panned out the way Florida had hoped, but that drives home another point. It’s not always necessary that every key prospect in your farm system fulfills expectations and becomes a core Major League piece. It’s a really big deal, however, if they establish themselves as advancing minor leaguers whom other teams can dream on, and other teams covet, and right now it stands to reason that the Rangers have lots of those players, something they were just starting to put together when Cabrera was made available in 2007 but not to the extent to which things sit right now.
Something will happen in the next 16 days.
The stories say Texas is a lock to get something done, certain to be super-aggressive with a group upstairs “that cares and tries and isn’t afraid to be wrong.” There’s a crew of scouts out there killing it right now while the execs at 1000 Ballpark Way work the smartphones, armed with a system that’s stupid with talent and a mindset that there’s something out there to be won, not only in October but in July as well.
Details are still coming together, but I wanted to get an update out on the auction and raffle for our eighth annual Newberg Report Night, on Sunday the 24th. We’ve had a bunch of cool things donated by many of you since the announcement that this year’s charitable contribution from the event, including 100 percent of the proceeds from the auction and raffle, will go to the Shannon Stone Family via the memorial account set up by the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation.
First, I’ve had dozens of emails asking the question, so let me go ahead and answer it here: You have to be at the event to buy raffle tickets or bid on auction items. It’s a benefit of attendance. There’s no perfect solution – if you aren’t attending I would encourage you to contribute to the Stone Family at the Ballpark or online or at PlainsCapital Bank locations across the Metroplex (details on all of this available at this Rangers website link) – but to be fair to those who paid to attend our event, we’re giving them the exclusive opportunity to participate in the raffle and auction. Hope that makes sense.
That said, even though the pregame events (including the Q&A sessions with Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus and with Rangers GM Jon Daniels) are closed, if you’re interested in sitting with the Newberg Report group during the game, tickets are available for $100 if you want to watch from a luxury suite, or $15 if you want to sit in the Upper Reserved sections we’ll be in. We’ll close sales of those tickets Friday so we can get final numbers to the Rangers.
This year’s Newberg Report Night is sponsored by Brett Murphy of Murphy Custom Homes.
The live auction (presided over as always by Luther Davis of Davis Auctioneers) and raffle will include:
- An autographed Josh Hamilton World Series jersey
- A Vernon Wells Sr. limited edition “All-Time Rangers Hits Leader” lithograph of Michael Young, autographed by Young and Wells
- An ALCS baseball signed by Nolan Ryan and Jim Sundberg
- A 2010 World Series print signed by Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, and Thad Levine (artist Pat Payton)
- An autographed Ian Kinsler jersey with World Series patch
- An autographed Alex Rodriguez Rangers jersey
- An autographed Rafael Palmeiro Rangers jersey
- An autographed Hank Blalock Rangers jersey
- A 24 x 36 poster featuring Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, and Rickey Henderson, signed by Ryan and authenticated by Steiner Sports
- A 2011 Newberg Report Bound Edition signed by Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, Don Welke, Chuck Greenberg, and John Rhadigan
- Hand-painted floorboards of several Rangers players and one of Jason Kidd, which is also autographed (artist Jason Adams)
- Several autographed baseballs, including Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Round Rock outfielder Leonys Martin, and Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith
- A copy of Carson Leslie’s book “Carry Me,” autographed by Michael Young
- An autographed 8 x 10 print of C.J. Wilson (artist Pat Payton)
- An autographed 8 x 10 photo of Michael Young
- An autographed 8 x 10 photo of Ivan Rodriguez
- Free Chick-fil-A for a year (can be used at any location)
- Two season tickets to the Artisan Center Theater mainstage shows and children’s playhouse shows for the 2012 season and remainder of the 2011 season
- Some really, really cool stuff from Rangers team photographer Brad Newton
When we have final details, I’ll identify who donated these items to the effort. Uplifting stuff.
And a reminder: Brian Maines of Johnny Velvet Tees and I are donating 100 percent of the proceeds on all Newberg Report T-Shirts this week to the Rangers Foundation’s memorial account in honor of Shannon Stone. The shirts come in blue or pink, and in nine sizes. You can check them out and order them here.
You might recall that when the trade for Cliff Lee went down a few days before the All-Star Break last year, the common sentiment was that Lee probably wasn’t necessary to help Texas reach the post-season for the first time in 11 years, that the trade was basically made with October in mind. The fact that the Rangers nailed down the division comfortably despite getting only four Lee wins in 15 regular season starts proved it out.
If you were told in camp this year that the Rangers would go into the Break with 51 wins – one more than the club had at the Break last season – and that they would finish the first half on a season-high seven-game win streak, in contrast to the demoralizing four-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles that Texas took into the Break a year ago, you probably would have felt pretty good.
Here’s the difference. Last year, the Angels came off a 2-1 series win over Texas by winning only two of their remaining 10 games going into the Break (against the collectively underwhelming Royals, White Sox, and A’s). This year, they’re winners of a remarkable 19 of their last 25 games. Last year, Texas led the Angels by 4.5 games at the Break. This year, the lead is just one game, and the disparity between Los Angeles winning 13 of 18 in interleague play and Texas splitting its own 18 looms large.
But the Rangers are playing their best baseball of the year right now.
On this date a year ago, I sent out a terse report that listed the final scores of the four Texas-Baltimore games followed by the words: “Gimme a Break.”
This year, the three-day disruption before big a trip to Seattle and Anaheim couldn’t be more unwelcome, given that Texas is playing baseball right now like a team defending its American League pennant.
It’s a safe bet that the Angels will add offense before the month is up and that Texas will add pitching of some sort, and that’s not including Scott Feldman, who should be back when action resumes on Thursday as a member of the bullpen – a no-brainer assignment that was far from being so before Derek Holland and Matt Harrison fired a combined 16.2 scoreless innings in their final starts of the first half.
Trade activity ought to start up pretty soon, now that we’re within three weeks of the trade deadline and clubs are starting necessarily to define themselves as buyers or sellers. Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests that the Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, A’s, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, and Padres “should be no-doubt trade deadline sellers.” I’d add at least Houston and Washington, and maybe Seattle. The list will only grow.
Some potential buyers might sell as well. Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated believes Atlanta could listen to offers for righthander Derek Lowe (perhaps to make payroll room for the addition of an impact bat), and he speculates that the Rangers, Yankees, and Red Sox could be interested. The Mets may think of themselves as still in the race, but it’s pretty clear that New York is pushing Francisco Rodriguez, as well as fellow veteran relievers Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak.
Texas continues to be tied in the media to players like K-Rod and San Diego closer Heath Bell and set-up man Mike Adams and Florida starter Anibal Sanchez, and as well as Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome (huh?) and another dozen players, which seems like a decent time to note that this organization’s trades for players like Lee and Josh Hamilton came virtually out of nowhere. I haven’t seen any reports tying Texas to Cubs starter Matt Garza, whose name is starting to show up in trade rumors elsewhere, but recall that – at least according to Peter Gammons in January – the Rangers had been willing to part with Holland, Engel Beltre, Frankie Francisco, and Chris Davis (to acquire Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos, who would have been flipped to the Rays) before Tampa Bay shipped Garza to Chicago instead.
One problem, revisiting a theme we’ve brought up here for a couple years, is that there appears to be a relative shortage of impact players who will be available this month, but sellers will still try to hold Texas and everyone else up for their best prospects regardless. It could prevent deals from getting done.
I have a ton to discuss about the Rangers’ top prospects, on several fronts, some related to all of this, but that will have to wait one more report.
For now, we have a few days to decompress – not that we really want to – and think about what the next three weeks will bring in terms of trades, and what the next three months will bring in terms of the standings. The Baseball Prospectus “Playoff Odds Report” still makes the Rangers heavy favorites in the AL West, giving Texas an 80.7 percent chance of reaching the post-season and Los Angeles only an 18.8 percent chance.
I wish Texas had another game to play tonight, a chance to extend this season-best run of wins. Instead, we have three days of nothing but one game that doesn’t count, but sort of does, but not really, and while I don’t get nearly as interested in the All-Star Game as I did when I was a kid, I am looking forward to seeing the American League dugout lined not only with a group of some of the game’s best baseball players, but also with Ron Washington and his staff, a reminder of where this team went in 2010, a place it has itself positioned to chase again in 2011.