August 2011

Trading for Lance Berkman: A longshot.

We recorded a rocking episode of Rangers Podcast in Arlington in front of an audience of some of you at Sherlock’s until about 9:30 last night (wait until you hear the unnerving tension between host Ted Price and featured guest Mike Rhyner) and then I rushed home to do a 45-minute podcast at 10 p.m. with the Phil Naessens Show out of Corfu, Greece.  After that I was flipping through the day’s email messages, with an eye on the tremendous Seattle 5, Los Angeles 3 finish (daps, Blake Beavan), when it hit me that my baseball night wasn’t done.

I was going to wait another day to write about Lance Berkman, but realized I probably shouldn’t.  If Texas is going to trade for Berkman – which is a considerable longshot – it will happen today or tomorrow.

Before getting into why a deal is probably unlikely, let’s start with the procedurals:

1. St. Louis, somewhat surprisingly, was able to get Berkman through revocable trade waivers this month.  His one-year, $8 million contract does not contain a no-trade clause.  By virtue of those two facts, he can therefore be traded to any team.

2. If he is traded by tomorrow’s 11 p.m. deadline, he’s eligible to play in the post-season.  If he’s traded in September, he can’t appear on a playoff roster.

3. Berkman is reportedly teetering between Type A and Type B free agent status (though Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com suggests, based on Eddie Hajek’s reverse-engineering efforts, that Berkman’s Type A status would actually gain footing if he were traded to the American League).  If he’s a Type A, the team he finishes the season would get two premium draft picks if they were to offer him arbitration this winter and he declined it to sign elsewhere.  If he’s a Type B, the compensation would be one supplemental first-round pick.

4. Any member of a 40-man roster that a team wished to offer St. Louis in a deal for Berkman would need to get to the Cardinals on waivers.  If Texas were the interested team, any such players would have to get by all 13 other American League teams and the 10 National League teams (possibly 11, depending on Tuesday’s results) with worse records than the Cardinals.

5. A player not on the 40-man roster can be traded without waivers.  So Neil Ramirez or Robbie Ross or Leury Garcia: tradeable.

6. A player to be named later cannot be on an active big league roster between the time of the trade and its ultimate culmination.

a.         So the only way that someone like Mitch Moreland, for instance, could be part of a Berkman deal would be (1) if Texas got him through waivers until St. Louis claimed him (or got him through waivers altogether earlier this month, as St. Louis managed to do with Berkman) or (2) if the Rangers optioned Moreland first – and left him on the farm throughout September and October if he didn’t get to St. Louis on waivers.  (Interestingly, Texas would have already had to run any such roster member who might be in play with St. Louis out on waivers, since there’s a 48-hour claim period that would need to expire before tomorrow’s deadline to make a trade for a playoff-eligible player.)

b.         Roster members Michael Kirkman or Pedro Strop or Engel Beltre, on the other hand, could be players to be named later, as long as they didn’t come up to Arlington in the meantime.

OK, enough facts.  Let’s talk about likelihood.

Assuming he’s a Type A, if the Cardinals believe Berkman wants to play with them in 2012, trading him now would mean they’d have to surrender their 2012 first-round pick to the team he finishes 2011 with – and right now that pick stands to be 19th overall.  It’s not as if it will be at the end of the round.

If the Cardinals believe a Type A Berkman wants to play somewhere else in 2012, they’d basically be forfeiting the first-round pick and supplemental first-rounder that they’d get as compensation if he stayed until the season ended.  (I don’t even leave room for the slim possibility that the first could be a second, because Berkman has said that if he plays in 2012, it will be for a contender – in fact, he told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this weekend that the Rangers and Phillies fit the profile.  I suppose it could be a team that signs multiple Type A’s and thus could have its second-rounder tied to Berkman instead of its first, but in all likelihood – assuming he’s a Type A – he’s going to bring a first and a supplemental first.)

So the Cardinals have no incentive to move Berkman (unless it’s simply to give him a shot at a ring, as Texas did with no-compensation players Eddie Guardado in 2008 and Matt Stairs in 2006: not happening) without getting prospects in return that they believe (scenario one) more than offset the value of the first-rounder they’d forfeit to bring him back or (scenario two) have more value than the draft pick compensation they’d stand to get by keeping him.

So the Cardinals aren’t going to trade Berkman without getting something back they prefer to their own 2012 first-round pick (roughly 19th overall) (if they want to bring Berkman back) or to what would probably be a late first and a supplemental first (if they expect they’d lose Berkman this winter).

If you’re Texas, what does that mean the price would be?  St. Louis won’t waste time asking for Martin Perez or Jurickson Profar or Leonys Martin (who is expected to be recalled today as Nelson Cruz’s roster replacement).  The next tier: probably Mike Olt, Tanner Scheppers, Ramirez, David Perez, Jorge Alfaro, Luke Jackson, and Roman Mendez.

Would you give up Ramirez and Alfaro?  Absolutely not.

Jackson and a next-tier kid, maybe Tommy Mendonca or Barret Loux or Hanser Alberto?  I’d be surprised if the Rangers would part with Jackson for a rental bat.

Justin Grimm and Christian Villanueva?  That’s where it gets interesting.  That pair feels like it might be a little more than Texas would be willing to give up for a month (and hopefully two) of Berkman – and probably also a little less than St. Louis would insist on.  (Remember, the Cardinals can trade Berkman anywhere since he wasn’t claimed.)

But here’s the other thing: If Texas trades for Berkman and he leaves for another club this winter, the Rangers would be the team recouping the draft pick compensation.  If the Rangers’ intelligence suggests Berkman would go right back to St. Louis, an offer of arbitration would net Texas that number 19 pick in June plus a supplemental first-rounder.  Could you replace the righthander Grimm and third baseman Villanueva with those two picks?  Theoretically, yes (setting aside the fact that it would take at least a couple million bucks to sign the two draftees).

But I still doubt that offer would be enough to get a deal done.

Could the Rangers re-sign Berkman (who shares an agent and certain values with Josh Hamilton) for 2012 themselves?  Suppose so, but that’s true even if they don’t acquire him this season – and it would only cost a first-round pick, rather than a couple prospects.  Texas has shown that it’s willing to divert amateur signing dollars to the international market if it prefers that playing field to the draft in a particular year.

Another point about trading prospects that gets overlooked too often, I think: Let’s say Texas decides that Ramirez or Jackson or Grimm is fair value for what Berkman would give this lineup in Cruz’s absence and in the post-season.  You can bet that the Rangers will be aggressive this winter, next July, and the next winter and July and the ones after that as well, in their relentless effort to acquire top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers.  Move Neil Ramirez now, and you can’t move him then.  Have to be careful about when you trade your key prospects.

If Texas could get a deal done for Strop (who I believe will be out of options at season’s end) and Beltre, who has exhausted only one of his three options but now sits firmly behind Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon, and Martin in the center field pecking order, with Ryan Strausborger and Jake Skole coming, I’d make that deal in a second.  But St. Louis?  Doubt it.

I’d love to get Berkman here.  I know his three-month American League run was underwhelming a year ago – but so was the four-month stint that preceded it, and he’s been a completely different player this season, hitting in a lineup in which he’s had to be pitched to.  The guy has the highest Adjusted OPS in baseball next to Jose Bautista in 2011.

Is he a potential liability in right field?  He’s not great out there, but he’s played it virtually every day this season (unlike Vladimir Guerrero a year ago), and you can always move him in to first base, moving Moreland out to right field – or to the bench in favor of David Murphy while Cruz is out for what’s expected to be about three weeks.

(Martin is not going to see much action, other than as a late-inning defender or runner, though I’d expect maybe a spot start or two while the pennant race is still alive.  A theory on why he’ll reportedly be up today rather than accelerating Adrian Beltre’s return: Texas faces righthanders Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields tonight and tomorrow, so there’s arguably less of a need to rush Beltre back since Texas can run Murphy out there to attempt to make up for some of the lost offense.  If Texas were running into David Price, for example, Cruz’s absence might have prompted the Rangers to get Beltre back into the lineup that was already a bit more vulnerable to lefthanders than righties, and in that case Martin wouldn’t have been added until roster expansion on Thursday.  A theory, at least.)

Moreland’s bat has awakened a bit the last couple weeks, but overall he’s been fairly ordinary at best since May.  Berkman’s been a force all year.  A switch-hitter who’s been better this year (and in his career) against right-handed pitching but still capable against lefthanders (certainly far more productive than Murphy or Moreland), he’d help the lineup in Cruz’s absence (and keep Beltre, with any luck, from thinking he has to do too much on his return), and when the club returns to full health . . . good grief.

You definitely place the phone call.  Texas is entering a huge week and a half of games against the Rays and Red Sox, without Cruz and not knowing what kind of rhythm to expect from Beltre.  Berkman is likely the best available bat, considering that we know he’s cleared waivers and that he’s playing out an expiring contract on a team out of the race.  You absolutely turn that rock over.  Due diligence is the fancier term.

Rangers management has a “go for it” mentality (without severely compromising the long term), and I do, too.

I just doubt the two sides will agree on an exchange before tomorrow’s 11 p.m. “post-season” trade deadline, and I have greater expectations that Texas will make a smaller trade or two today or tomorrow, to add something like a right-handed outfield bat, a left-on-left reliever, or maybe even a veteran catcher.

Do I care about Berkman’s goofy January comments about his decision to sign with the Cardinals rather than the Rangers because he believed Texas would be “an average team” without Cliff Lee?  Entertaining, but a non-factor.

Love the player.

I have several other frontburner issues I’d like to get to, but they’ll have to wait a day or two.  I didn’t get much sleep last night, despite the first off-day for the Rangers in nearly three weeks, and now I’m off to work, taking care of business before tonight’s Tampa Bay series opener just as I suspect Jon Daniels and his crew will spend their morning and afternoon doing.

Sunday night from the Twitter Sports Bar.

The seventh inning – for the time being – was our Trumbo moment.

A round from tonight’s Twitter Sports Bar:

Ominous: two breaking balls to Bourjos poorly located.  If LAA able to sit on the fastball, bad news.

Fastball: double.  Fastball: RBI single.

Regardless of result of the [first] inning, promising pitch count.  Weaver command already wobbly.

Whether you mean tonight or the pennant race: Yes.  [@theoldgreywolf  More and more I think this is all going to come down to Josh.]

No command on curve to Callaspo.  Grooved 86 mph fastball to Aybar: triple.

Jeff Mathis and Yorvit Torrealba scoreboarding early.  Following the script.

Two good breaking balls to start Kendrick off: Promising.  Then an 0-2 HBP.  Sigh.

[top of third inning] Yorvit’s already had his best game in a long time.

Lewis scored on in each of his first four innings last time out.   Each of the first three (so far) tonight.

When facing a force like Weaver, your most important player is your own starting pitcher, giving your offense some sort of chance to win.

Nadel notes that Mark Hamburger lifted after one (clean) inning of his @RRExpress start – and got high fives in the dugout.

Likely that he’s coming up, or has been traded.  [@Dmcdougle @rrexpress  What does that mean?]

Hello, Josh.  #ANationStaresYouDown

The last time I wanted a Colby Lewis inning to go well this much was in October.

Michael Young Kendrick.

A solid “heat” point:  Buzz talking about how it impacts pitchers in their between-starts conditioning work.

Not sure if Berkman has NTC, but if so would he agree to come to a team that’s just average without Cliff Lee?  #halfkidding

Absolutely have to get Murphy home this inning.  This is a division leading club trying to return to World Series.

Like THAT.  #IKLD

#JeredWeaverStaresDownAmerica

Tell ya the truth, I gave Josh little chance against Downs, who often makes him look awful.  Love it.

Not crazy about Endy for Gentry.  Weakens defense.

Dump that last tweet.  Brilliant chess move.

Prediction: Mike Adams will record a save this October.

#SDI  #Cerberus

I’ve believed that every day this year.  [@danhilldallas  Jamey Newberg has just predicted the Rangers will win the AL West!]

MikeBacsik: Most pitchers will tell u it’s not the short rest start that you feel bad, it’s the next start.  Let’s see how Santana and Weaver recover.

Also according to script tonight: Jeff Mathis offensive force, defensive liability.

Nadel was shocked at the call – and he also thought Elvis left early.  [@lonestarball  I’m pretty sure Elvis was safe.]

Ballgame.  BALL.  GAME.  #offtothecomputernow

#Cerberus  #didialreadysaythat?  #whocares  #Cerberus

Playoff intensity.

Blake Beavan, you’ve contributed here in different ways, and they’re all very much appreciated.  But you could do us another solid by shutting a flight-weary Angels club down 22 hours from now.  We’re all just taking the night off back home, so we’ll be (scoreboard) watching.

There are five weeks left in the season, and I want more.

Like the back of the T-Shirt says:

162+.

Magic numb.

There will be no talk of Magic Numbers in this space.

Because of the way a handful of Rangers games and Angels games have turned around in the late (or extra) innings over the last five weeks, this thing’s going to go right down to the end, and there’s now a real chance that Texas will be the one doing the chasing at some point.

Canceling out opponents/sites in common, here’s what the two clubs have left on the schedule:

Texas: Tampa Bay and Cleveland at home (plus tomorrow’s Boston series finale), and Boston and Tampa Bay on the road

Los Angeles: Minnesota and New York (plus tonight’s White Sox series finale – which Los Angeles leads in the second inning, 3-0) at home, and Baltimore and Toronto (plus one more game in Seattle than Texas has) on the road

And then there are the six games left between the two teams, three in each place, including a set in Anaheim to conclude the season for one of the clubs while the other moves on to the ALDS.

There will be no Magic Numbers, because the way the schedules set up, and the way Texas and Los Angeles are playing ball at the moment, it seems that the key formula will be a much simpler one to calculate:  Which of the two teams fares better in the six faceoffs that remain.

The Chicago fire.

There has been a ton of writing and sound over the last week or so tossing around the idea that Michael Young is an MVP candidate and asking whether it has legs.  A surprising number of you have requested that I weigh in.  So I will.  Sort of.

I tweeted this two days ago:

My 1st & only comment on whether MY should be “in conversation” for AL MVP:  It doesn’t matter to me.  At all.  All I care about is team wins.

Honestly don’t care about MVP, All-Star vote, Gold Gloves, HOF, etc.  Just wins.

Now, if you want to talk about whether I think Texas has won more games in 2011 than it would have had Young been shipped in the off-season to Colorado for Eric Young Jr. and a prospect, that would be a more interesting discussion, if it weren’t a silly one.

I don’t frown on any of you who get fired up about the MVP issue one way or the other.  I don’t watch the Home Run Derby, have little use for the annual All-Star “snubs” debate, couldn’t tell you who won the Cy Young Awards last year without really thinking about it.

The selection process that I have far more interest in, exponentially so, is the one that’s getting underway on the North Side of Chicago, where Cubs ownership dismissed General Manager Jim Hendry yesterday and announced a preference for Hendry’s successor to demonstrate “a commitment to player development” and “have a little stronger analytical background than maybe some of the guys we have here” and, ideally, be “someone who’s been in a winning culture and who can bring the lessons of that over and [who] has a track record of success.”

Whether Thad Levine (or A.J. Preller, for that matter) wins that job or not, I have more interest in that possibility than I do about Michael Young’s chances of succeeding whoever it is that won the AL MVP Award last year.  (It was Josh, right?)

I’d be happy for Young if he won it, but if you were to ask me which I’m thinking more about – whether Young is worthy of being crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player or whether Texas can get on the scoreboard early against John Danks tonight – well, that’s not even something I can force myself to contemplate for more than about two seconds.

As for whether I’d be happy for Thad Levine if he were to take the baseball operations reins of the Cubs or any of four or five other clubs whose GM positions may open up this winter, of course I would, because he’s qualified and deserving and ready, but at the same time I’d prefer to see him announce to reporters this afternoon: “No, I’m not interested in that job.  I’ve reached my life’s goal in filling a key role on this crew in Texas, and I could not be happier.  I hope to have this position for 100 years.  How dare you ask if I’d want to work somewhere else!  How dare you, I say!”

That’s not going to happen, Levine’s going to run his own team someday, maybe someday soon, and we’ll all be glad he was here for the time he was, essential to the process of getting this team from where it was to where it is.

Cliff Lee moved on, too, and the Rangers have managed to pitch just fine without him, which isn’t to say “good riddance,” but instead to make the point that the personnel game in baseball is a fluid and itinerant thing, on the field and off, and to recognize that the reality that Levine and possibly Preller are going to get interviews to move into a higher post with another franchise is, for now, a reminder that a lot of people who don’t have their own baseball cards or shoe deals or weekly radio segments have played a large, instrumental, noteworthy role in this thing, and will be rewarded for it in ways that may hurt here a little bit.

A lot more than if Michael Young doesn’t win the AL MVP.

Loss. Leader.

Before the final pitch of last night’s game, the Texas bullpen had allowed two runs (both by Koji Uehara) in its last 28 innings of work, over 11 games.

Colby Lewis padded the Rangers’ American League-leading total of 78 quality starts, already two more than they had in all of 2010.

Texas lowered its Major League-leading road ERA of 3.09 – a mark that would be baseball’s lowest since Montreal posted a 2.69 road ERA in 1992, and now right there with Toronto’s 3.07 mark in the strike-shortened 1981 season that is the lowest AL figure since 1973.

And now, tonight, as the team gets it on again after last night’s extraordinary baseball game, a disappointing ending to what was nonetheless a simply great series, Texas gets a chance to run its record to 20 games above .500 for just the second time since 1999.

As I’m sure many of you are, I’m running on fumes this morning, feeling like I took my own red-eye flight to Friday morning, so I’m going to cop out of writing a full-blown report today and cut corners by dropping a sample of last night’s in-game action from the Twitter Sports Bar (don’t worry – this isn’t going to become a daily exercise):

Kins makes another tough play look easy.  We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Kins?  Rumor is he’ll retire one day.  [@KatyLou_Martin  is he dying?]

I’d answer but your name is Thong_n_Cheese.  [@Thong_n_Cheese  When do you think that will be?!]

This is exactly the kind of game non-baseball fans point to for why they don’t like the sport.  They’re stupid.

If I were Scioscia, it would at least cross my mind to pinch-hit for Mathis in the 5th inn of this Aug game.  Well, maybe if I were LaRussa.

I want so badly to issue a tired joke about Torii’s kid going back to school next week.  Nah.

Napoli Ever After.  #overwellshead  #appropriate

Napoli’s plate admiration of that shot (& Weaver watching first 90 feet of his trot) creates one helluva subtext.

Seriously?  [@dallasportsmind  Weaver watched all 360 feet of that trot.  Didn’t take his eye off him til he touched home plate.]

RT  [@billplunkettocr:  Angels Weaver gave Napoli staredown as he rounded bases, barked at him.  Weaver has appointed self Commish of HR trots]

Secs-y.

Outstanding.  Hat tip, Sir.  [@dallasportsmind  twitvid.com/SCWSJ - Napoli homer w Weaver staredown]

[@dallasportsmind  twitvid.com/IZB1S - Nap sayin’ somethin’ to Weaver]

Lowe’s 8th tremendously secs-y, too.  #Wow  #LetsBuildSomethingTogether

About two months ago I tweeted that I’d love it if Mark Lowe, then the set-up man, were a 6th-inning weapon.  He is absolutely that now.

The secondary stuff for Lewis and Lowe tonight was silly-great.  [@barrytheprince  what is secs-y?]

What a fantastic baseball game.  Credit to Trumbo.

Hey @RangersRadioBD (Bryan Dolgin) – first caller complaining that Lowe should have been left in for the 9th gets hung up on….deal?

[@RangersRadioBD  deal - no question.]

Click.  Dial tone.  [@ScottGrayTweets  What happened to stickin to the hot hand?  Dude just pitched best inning in his life & u pull him?  Really?]

[@kmarchelle  Hahahahahaha.  He hung up on the first guy.  He really did it.  Couldn’t hang up on second cause no deal made.]

…then we’d face NYY or BOS in Round One.  Wait… [@gilebreton  Rangers bullpen now has 23 losses.  If they’d just won half of those.....]

Three more in Chicago on this 6-1 road trip and 9-2 run, one that has seen Texas stretch its division lead from one game to six.  Then 10 at home starting on Monday, with Boston in for four, the Angels in for three (which should conclude with a Lewis-Weaver rematch on Sunday, assuming Los Angeles skips starters on its two intervening off-days), and Tampa Bay in for three, after which we’ll be in the final month before playoff baseball.

Don’t mope about last night’s final pitch.  The team won’t.  This is one of the greatest stretches of Rangers baseball in what is the best period in this franchise’s 40 seasons.

It continues, thankfully, in 11 hours, rather than 13.

Falling Angels.

The success of a pro franchise is typically cyclical, with some organizations markedly better (or worse) than others at extending the boom periods for a healthy stretch.

I would not want to be an Angels fan right now.

Understand: I’m not burying their 2011 season yet.  But looking at the larger picture, there’s a somewhat big bag of bleak coming into view.

Jered Weaver will be a free agent after the 2012 season (when he’ll make an eight-figure salary via the arbitration process).  You’d expect he’ll test the market rather than lock up long-term before that.  He’s at least a $100 million pitcher.

Dan Haren is guaranteed through 2012 ($12.75 million) and the Angels then have to decide whether to pay him $15.5 million in 2013, or a $3.5 million buyout to cut ties.  It would stand to reason that he’d be around in 2013 if Los Angeles can’t keep Weaver – or paid to leave if the decision is made to load up for a Weaver extension.

Ervin Santana is also guaranteed through 2012 ($11.2 million) and the Angels then have to decide whether to pay him $13 million in 2013, or a $1 million buyout to move on.

They’ll be competitive as long as that trio is around, but they’re a good-not-great team even with those three at the top of their games in 2011.  And how long can they keep those three paid?

Torii Hunter: $18 million in 2012.

Vernon Wells: $21 million in 2012.  $21 million in 2013.  $21 million in 2014.

Still can’t believe the good Rangers’ fortune that the Angels didn’t spend enough to sign Adrian Beltre, which would have meant no Wells in Los Angeles, no Beltre in Texas, and, theoretically, Mike Napoli remaining an Angel.

Wells, as Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News points out, is reaching base at a clip (.233) that’s lower than any player has finished a season at in 22 years (Atlanta shortstop Andres Thomas, .228, 1989, salary of $510,000).

$21 million.  $21 million.  $21 million.

Los Angeles will finally be able to stop paying Gary Matthews Jr. and Scott Kazmir when this season ends.

Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar will be free agents after 2012.  (So will Maicer Izturis, but he’s not as big a commitment.)  Can the Angels give them long-term deals in the same off-season?

Los Angeles can try to squeeze one more productive year out of the declining Bobby Abreu, but it would cost the club $9 million to exercise the contract option to do it.  More likely: $1 million to go away.

The Angels are relatively old.  And their farm system isn’t great (though the extraordinary Mike Trout stands out).  Trout and Peter Bourjos will redefine the team, but will they be enough?

The Angels have a terrific owner and a great manager and will probably be smart enough to retrench.  But they don’t seem deep in potential difference-making prospects, and for whatever reason they’ve been hesitant to move kids for big league help since last summer’s Haren deal – their inactivity this July was shocking – so you have to wonder if GM Tony Reagins would have the go-ahead (or the stomach) to make any sort of impact trade this winter.

The last trade of any kind Reagins made was on January 21, when he sent Napoli and Frosty Rivera to Toronto for Wells, a shocking maneuver even before the Jays shipped Napoli to four days later to the Rangers, who had reportedly chased Napoli for years only to be told by the Angels that they wouldn’t consider trading him to Texas.

Napoli, as Sam Miller (Orange County Register) notes, has as many extra-base hits in 2011 (36) as Los Angeles catcher Jeff Mathis has base hits.  The other phase: You can look at the measurables (Napoli has cut down 42.1 percent of would-be basestealers) or any intangible you want, and Napoli has been a tremendous asset defensively.

With last night’s win, Texas has a 27-10 record with Napoli starting behind the plate, including eight straight and 14 of 17 since he came off the disabled list on July 3.  And, as Eric Nadel pointed out during last night’s radio broadcast, Napoli has largely been drawing the assignment of catching the Rangers’ young starters, so he’s not getting the win-loss benefit of working behind the plate when the club’s number one and number two starters, veterans C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, are on the mound.

And what a hitter that guy is.

I have no idea what Los Angeles was thinking.

Scioscia reportedly had a closed-door meeting with his team after last night’s second straight loss to the visiting Rangers, a pair of games that LA Times writer Mike DiGiovanna summed up curtly: “It’s like the varsity against the junior varsity.  The standings say both teams are in the same division, but the Angels don’t appear to be in the same league as the Texas Rangers right now.”

If I’m an Angels fan, it’s been one heck of a run, but I’m probably sensing the window closing on this winning cycle, an impressive run that’s basically lasted for nearly a decade.

And wondering if this year’s Halos club has enough of a grip to keep the thing from slamming shut on 2011 before too much longer.

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

CORRIGENDUM: Whoops.  Made a mistake.

Bobby Abreu’s $9 million option for 2012 vested 17 days ago.  It’s now a guaranteed commitment for the 37-year-old, having his least productive season since his rookie campaign in 1997.

 

A less mighty pen, and other stuff.

Texas is now five up on the Angels, matching the largest division lead of the season, a perch the Rangers held for one day in July – at the conclusion of their 12-game win streak and the day before they squandered a sixth-inning, 8-3 lead in Anaheim and lost, 9-8.

The great Hunter Covitz noted that, despite the surface fact that this series has the Angels at home, Los Angeles had to travel across the country from Toronto to face a Rangers club that was already on the West Coast heading into the series.  And the old baseball maxim is that the physical effects of a demanding travel schedule like that often hit a team in the second game after arrival, not the first.  So there’s that.

The Angels are expected to recall two minor league relievers for tonight’s game, after burning through the bullpen for 8.1 innings last night.  Here’s another good (likely) fact: Joel Pineiro looked outstanding over the final three innings, but the likelihood is that he’ll move back into the rotation to replace Garrett Richards, who exited with a groin strain after facing four Rangers last night.  So essentially, the Angels pen not only gets watered down with the arrival tonight of two new relievers, but Pineiro is probably done for the series as he prepares to make the Los Angeles start this Sunday (against Baltimore’s Tommy Hunter), emasculating the Los Angeles relief corps even further (though Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver shouldn’t need much help tomorrow and Thursday).

No matter what happens over these next three, Texas assured itself last night that it will emerge from this series still alone in first place.

See you tonight at the Twitter sports bar for another Game-Watching Party.

4 of 162.

On Saturday, the Angels sent Jered Weaver to the mound, on seven days’ rest.  He and his teammates got drilled by Toronto, 11-2, while Texas caught fire late in its game to punish Oakland, 7-1.

On Sunday, Los Angeles handed the ball to Dan Haren, the club’s second putative Number One.  Closer Jordan Walden coughed up a ninth-inning lead and the Jays won the game in the 10th.  Meanwhile, Texas squandered its own lead against the A’s but beat closer Andrew Bailey in the ninth.

The division lead is once again four games, the first time it’s been that large since the Rangers’ 20-6 win over Minnesota on July 25, three weeks ago today.  That same day, an hour before Texas polished off its demolition of the Twins, Walden blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of another Haren start, and Cleveland scored twice to walk off with a 3-2 win.

Texas and Los Angeles have each played 18 times since then.  Weaver, Haren, and Ervin Santana (4-0, 0.76 in that stretch, with 30 strikeouts and six walks in 35.1 innings, and an opponents’ slash of .183/.228/.258) started 11 of the Angels’ 18, but they’ve gone 10-8, matching the Rangers’ win-loss in that timeframe and resulting in the four-game separation that isn’t really just treading water since it now exists 18 games closer to the finish line.

Alexi Ogando-Garrett Richards.

Derek Holland-Tyler Chatwood.

C.J. Wilson-Ervin Santana.

Colby Lewis-Jered Weaver.

0, 2, 4, 6, or 8.

It’s only 4 of 162.  But I’m gonna be very tired by Friday morning.

Changing seasons.

When the Rangers played their 120th game in last year’s World Series season, they lost their fourth straight, a shaky Colby Lewis start (four Baltimore runs on nine hits in 6.2 innings) in which the Texas offense got three runners to second base all day en route to a Brian Matusz-Koji Uehara shutout.  Texas fell to a terrible Orioles team, 4-0, and was 67-53.

Yesterday, the 120th game of this season, saw Lewis in better form, the offense in a better groove, and Uehara in a different uniform.  Texas drilled a terrible A’s team, and is 68-52.

The record is one game better this year.  The dogfight that wasn’t there a year ago (that August 19, 2010 loss to Baltimore dropped the Rangers’ division lead to seven games for the first time in 25 days) is all about the Angels, who along with Oakland was limping along at .500 this time a year ago, yet goes into play today at 65-55, having hung within two games of the Rangers every day for the last two and a half weeks until yesterday’s loss dropped them to three back.

Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz and Neftali Feliz haven’t been as productive this year as they were in 2010, there’s no Cliff Lee around, and there’s certainly not the same air of cautious confidence going into the season’s final quarter, but the Rangers have won more games at this point than they did last year.

Primary blame for the different feel this season has should be assigned to Los Angeles – and to the reasonably heightened expectations of a team no longer trying to wipe out a history of dashed hopes but instead trying to defend an American League pennant.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors ran a list a couple days ago of baseball’s top 20 GM candidates.  Number three on the list was Thad Levine.  Number nine was A.J. Preller.

Want to imagine a scenario in which Jon Daniels might have shown up on that list himself?

A week ago on MLB Network, Daniels said that Padres GM Jed Hoyer beat him out for an internship with the Red Sox a year before Daniels would land an internship of his own (in 2001) with the Rockies.  A season later John Hart called his old protégé Dan O’Dowd in Colorado seeking a bright young baseball operations prospect to bring aboard in Texas, leading to Daniels joining the Rangers’ front office.  If Boston had hired Daniels rather than Hoyer, Daniels wouldn’t have ended up with the Rockies – nor with the Rangers (at least not under the same circumstances).

Maybe Daniels would have established himself with the Red Sox the way Hoyer did.  (Hoyer earned the title of co-GM from mid-December 2005 through mid-January 2006 [during Theo Epstein’s brief resignation] and eventually interviewed for the Pittsburgh and Washington jobs before getting hired in 2009 by San Diego.)  But Daniels, had his career gotten underway with Boston rather than Colorado, wouldn’t have joined Texas in 2002 or become Assistant GM in 2004 or General Manager after the 2005 season.

Maybe, like Ben Cherington, who served as co-GM in Boston with Hoyer and now sits at number four on Nicholson-Smith’s list, Daniels – the sixth longest-tenured GM in the American League – would be poised now to get interviews around the league to run his own team.  I’d suggest he’d have gotten a GM post somewhere else by now, but it most likely wouldn’t be here.

And that might mean no Hamilton or Cruz or Feliz or Elvis Andrus or Matt Harrison in Texas, no Uehaera or Mike Adams, no Levine or Preller or Don Welke or Scott Servais or Scott Littlefield, no Lewis or Jurickson Profar or Martin Perez or Leonys Martin.

I’m glad Boston hired Hoyer.

Incidentally, Hoyer recently told Darren Smith of XX1090 Sports Radio in San Diego: “No one liked watching Mike Adams pitch the eighth inning more than I did.  [But y]ou can’t have the back end of your bullpen taking up a third of your payroll space.”

Robbie Erlin has made two starts for AA San Antonio since the trade, fanning 15 and issuing one walk in 12 innings while allowing one run (a Mike Bianucci home run when Erlin faced his former Frisco teammates on Monday) on seven hits.  Joe Wieland has started twice for the Missions as well, yielding five runs (four earned) on nine hits and one walk in 11 frames, fanning nine.  Solid early returns for the Padres on the Adams trade.

And again, as I said back on July 31, “setting aside a personal wish that those guys pitch in the big leagues for a long time, from a pure baseball standpoint we want them to succeed.  The last thing you want is for your team to start to get a reputation for moving overhyped prospects with inflated statistics who don’t pan out.  Better to be known as an organization that knows how to scout – and develop – so that other clubs continue to want your players.  That’s a good thing.”

For what it’s worth, Chris Davis is 8 for 36 with a double and a homer (.222/.243/.333, one walk, 11 strikeouts) for the Orioles.  Tommy Hunter has a .333 opponents’ batting average and 6.94 ERA in two starts and one relief appearance, with three strikeouts and no walks in 11.2 innings.

To catch up on what last July’s traded prospects are doing with their new clubs, check out Scott Lucas’s outstanding writeup if you didn’t catch it in Wednesday’s farm report.

Leonys Martin’s numbers since joining the Rangers organization a month into the season:

May (Frisco): .353/.438/.588

June (Frisco): .350/.458/.550

July (Frisco): .333/.407/.542

July (Round Rock): .274/.338/.301

August (Round Rock): .267/.298/.311

I’m not that discouraged.  We need to remember that this isn’t only Martin’s introduction to pro ball, it’s also a situation in which he’s being asked to play every day after an extraordinary layoff from baseball (one that lasted nearly a full year after he defected), not to mention learn a new culture on the fly.  Martin dealt with a back issue that cost him two weeks in mid-June, and maybe he’s wearing down a little bit under the relentless demands of his first pro season.  It wouldn’t be shocking.

Do I expect that we’ll see Martin in Arlington in 2011?  I sorta do.  Probably the last week or two of the regular season.

Round Rock is going to make the Pacific Coast League playoffs, and Daniels said a couple weeks ago that while he expects to recall a third catcher when September rosters expand (assuming Taylor Teagarden returns to the Express between now and September 1) as well as “a couple pitchers” (Darren O’Day would seem to be a lock, and Michael Kirkman close to it; others already on the 40-man roster include Pedro Strop, Cody Eppley, Eric Hurley, and Ryan Tucker), but that beyond that he wanted to respect Round Rock’s post-season run and not disrupt up it too much.

I bet Martin plays out the string with Round Rock and then shows up in Arlington.  The first round of the PCL playoffs will be played September 7-11.  The league’s championship series could go until September 18, and a PCL-International League Championship game is played September 20.  Should the Express be in that final game, about one week would remain on the regular season schedule for Texas to get Martin up.

Why bring him up at all?  It seems very unlikely, unless Martin were to find a second wind and absolutely tear things up over the next month, that he’d be a legitimate candidate to be part of a post-season roster here, especially because it can’t reasonably be expected he’d be any more of a weapon right away than either Endy Chavez (left-handed bat, defender) or Craig Gentry (runner, defender).

But Texas expects Martin to compete in March for the Opening Day spot in center field, and just as getting used to playing every day this summer has been a key part of the acclimation process, having him travel with this club to Oakland and back to Texas for a series against Seattle and then go to Anaheim for what could be a huge season-ending stretch could be an invaluable experience for the 23-year-old.

By the way, there’s a Scott Lucas photo of Martin now up in the photo rotation on the front page of the website, replacing the Erlin photo.

Arthur Rhodes signed a prorated minimum-salary deal with St. Louis (relieving Texas of its commitment only to that small extent).  The veteran says he chose the Cardinals over proposals from the Yankees and Red Sox plus a minor league offer from the Phillies, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Probably not coincidentally, St. Louis has released lefthander Ron Mahay from his AAA contract.

After missing 10 days with a left thumb injury, Justin Smoak returned to action on Friday night only to suffer fractures of the nose and cheekbone on a bad-hop line drive off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  No telling how much time Smoak will miss, but he’s been placed on the disabled list.

Tomorrow is the signing deadline for 2011 draft picks.  The three most prominent unsigned picks for Texas are probably Pennsylvania high school outfielder Derek Fisher (sixth round), Georgia high school catcher Max Pentecost (seventh round), and Mississippi high school righthander Brandon Woodruff.  Fisher and Woodruff are expected to forgo the opportunity to go pro, opting instead to honor commitments, respectively, to the University of Virginia and Mississippi State.  Aside from those three, every other one of the Rangers’ picks in the first 18 rounds has signed.

Baseball America surveyed league managers and scouts in its annual “best tools” rankings, with the Rangers showing up as follows:

American League: Josh Hamilton has the second-best power (tied with Miguel Cabrera, behind Jose Bautista) and is the second-most exciting player (tied with Jacoby Ellsbury, again behind Bautista).  Elvis Andrus is the best defensive shortstop and second-best baserunner (behind Ellsbury).  Adrian Beltre is the best defensive third baseman and has the best infield arm.  Ian Kinsler is the third-best defensive second baseman (behind Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia).

Pacific Coast League (AAA): None.

Texas League (AA): Tommy Mendonca is the best defensive third baseman.  Steve Buechele is the best manager prospect.

Carolina League (High A): Leury Garcia is the fastest baserunner.  Mike Olt is the best defensive third baseman.  Ryan Strausborger is the best defensive outfielder.  Former Myrtle Beach starters Erlin (best changeup) and Wieland (best control) factored in as well.

South Atlantic League (Low A): Jurickson Profar is the best defensive shortstop and has the league’s best infield arm.  Christian Villanueva is the best defensive third baseman.

If it weren’t for Bryce Harper, it’s safe to say Profar might have been tabbed as the circuit’s best batting prospect and most exciting player as well.  (Said BA’s J.J. Cooper about Profar: “I think he would be [in my overall top 10 prospects].  I can’t find a scout who doesn’t love him.  Hard to put any limits on a guy doing what he’s doing at 18.”)

What he’s doing: .290/.397/.501, with an OPS over .900 in four of five months.

Jurickson Profar is good at baseball.

The Orioles released righthander Josh Rupe from their AAA bullpen to make room for recently signed righthander Willie Eyre (who has since been brought up to Baltimore).  Rupe and Eyre were AAA Oklahoma City teammates in 2007 and 2009.

After two very good starts for AAA Iowa (following three bad ones), righthander Dave Bush opted out of his minor league deal with the Cubs.

I neglected to mention a month ago that Pittsburgh added righthander Jason Grilli to its big league bullpen, after he’d spent the first half with Philadelphia’s AAA club.

Thanks again to those of you who have responded with “honor system” contributions to the Newberg Report this past week.  If you’re still interested in participating, you can find details here.  But again, this is voluntary.  Please don’t feel compelled to partake.

Matt Harrison against Rich Harden this afternoon, while Dan Haren faces Brett Cecil in Toronto, and then the next four late nights will see Texas in Anaheim for what some will refer to as no more than 4 of 162.

Here we go.

I’m wrong.

After Texas blew an 8-3 lead over the Angels on July 20 and lost, 9-8, allowing Los Angeles to cut the division gap to four games rather than six, with a week and a half to go before the trade deadline, I tweeted (among many other things):

Remember this one (if you dare put stock in the significance of one baseball game).

That comment and a few others set off various dialogues, one with a media member and others with big sabermetric brains.  I was told that if I thought that was an “impact loss,” then I “[didn’t] know [the] club as well as [I thought I did]” – though I think that misunderstanding might have worked itself out when I clarified that I didn’t see that game as a potential impact loss for the Rangers but instead as a potential impact win for the Angels (who are now 12-6 since improbably turning that game around) – and was lectured by the numbers set, pitying the egregious extent to which I was Wrong.

I will never believe that last year’s August 13 win over Boston, when Texas overcame an 8-2 deficit to tie the game in the eighth (with Josh Hamilton scoring from second on Vladimir Guerrero’s infield single) and win it in 10 (on Nelson Cruz’s bomb), didn’t make a difference.  Texas went just .500 the rest of the regular season but, in my (Wrong) opinion, developed something that night that it was able to draw on at times the rest of the summer, and into the fall.  Something extra to further activate the steady winners’ mindset that Ron Washington had instilled in this team.

Momentum is either real or it isn’t.  I think it is.

I believe a player’s wheelhouse is more than just a set of points plotted on a graph.  Maybe I’m wrong about that.

I believe in confidence and rhythm and that Ervin Santana is a better bet right now than Ricky Nolasco, despite what the conventional or sabermetric numbers say.

And that Jason Terry was more likely to hit his next three in Game Four against the Lakers than he was in Game Two against the Thunder.

And that Ian Kinsler was more likely to produce big the first half of July than he has been since.  (And that he’s capable of being that early July player again and, even if he’s one of the two or three most productive players on the team right now, that he has the unique natural abilities to be significantly better still.)

The ironic thing, I guess, is that I think mathematically.  It was my strong suit as a student.  I’m not dismissive of the numbers in baseball, and the power they have of explaining what happened and predicting what might.

But I can’t watch a baseball game that way – math first, math last – and I don’t want to.  If that makes me Will Leitch’s Dad – I can live with that.  In baseball parlance: I’ll wear it.

Will wrote this in June:

Like most sons, I really wish I were like my dad.  I know how the sausage is made now, and I cannot force that out of my brain.  I understand Win Expectancy, and BABIP, and how everyone fights about who has the correct WAR calculation.  This has made me a smarter, more knowledgeable baseball fan.  I have a better understanding of the game of baseball than I’ve ever had before, and if there’s something I’m confused about, I have instant access to a bottomless pit of information that will enlighten me.  If you want to learn more about baseball, like everyone who has ever loved baseball wants to do, this is the best time in human history to be a baseball fan.

And I sort of hate it.

*     *     *

I sometimes wonder if he’s having more fun at the games than I am.  I’m smarter.  I’m more educated.  I’m still obsessed by the thirst for more knowledge.  But the search for enlightenment, as it has for countless philosophers before me, has made me sadder than it has made me happy.

It just, again, makes me long to be like my father, blissfully unaware and uncaring about advanced statistics, average annual value, and no-trade clauses.  There is a game on the field, and he is watching it and cheering for his team.  I can’t ever do that again.  I don’t know how he does it, but dammit, he does.

There are clearly numbers that help drive my love for this game and how it works, but if I’m wrong about Angels 9, Rangers 8 on July 20 having no more meaning for Los Angeles than 1 of 162, and wrong about the potential payoff of what the Rangers managed to do in all three games of this weekend’s Indians series (if only Cruz had held onto that baseball – for that matter, if only Darren Oliver had done the same), then for those of you convinced that I’m Wrong, you can either use that conviction to fire you up,* or ignore me altogether.  It doesn’t really matter to me.

[* Hey, like a comeback win!]

I still believe July 20 is a game we’ll have to look back on if the Angels end up playing in October and the Rangers don’t, not because it crippled Texas but because it galvanized a flagging Los Angeles club that had lost four of five and was staring at a season-worst six-game deficit in the West.

Or maybe all a game like that one does is make a fan feel better about his or her team, and has no effect on the guys in uniform once they’re getting taped up for the next one.

I’ll concede that I don’t know the club as well as I think I do (though I’m not sure what the point was there and think it was mutually misconstrued), and I’d never suggest I “know the club” like those who cover the team, and yet that doesn’t make me any less likely to believe in the power of confidence in this game of failure, in the power of feel in a sport that drills itself down every few seconds to an intensified moment of one-on-one combat, in the faith I have right now in an inning in which Mike Napoli is going to get a chance to swing at strikes and let the other pitches go by.

You won’t change my mind.  And I have no intent to try and convince you to change your yours.

I’m going to keep watching baseball the wrong way, respectful of the human element that, for me, can be the difference between a relief pitcher who seems at times unable to rediscover his feel and one who comes in and fires seven pitches, all located, all strikes, sending me home fired up and hoarse after another potentially galvanizing pennant race win, maybe even blissfully unaware of the way this game is supposed to be handled by a team, or analyzed by an enlightened fan.

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