November 2011

Black Friday.

If your idea of doing your part to stimulate the economy on this Black Friday is to kick it from the comfort of your desk, you can click this book cover image and, in about a minute, take care of the Rangers fans on your holiday shopping list (and yourself):

Included in the book:

  • A ranking of the top 72 prospects in the Texas farm system and the best tools among Rangers prospects (in 39 categories), my 2011 series of MLB.com columns putting together a hypothetical 25-man roster using only Rangers minor leaguers, the annual 40-Man Roster Conundrum chapter, predictions for 2012 breakout seasons, and other stuff.
  • 323 pages on the greatest season in Rangers history, highlighted by:
  • The off-season: The hottest stove the Rangers have been part of in many years, featuring the Cliff Lee dance, the efforts to trade for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, the Michael Young/Rockies saga, the signing of Adrian Beltre when he seemed certain to sign with the Angels, the trade for Mike Napoli
  • February/March: The camp story lines, including Neftali Feliz as a starter early and Alexi Ogando late and the new roles for Beltre and Young, Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez on the back fields (breakouts that would carry into the season) 
  • April/May: Sweeps of Boston and Seattle to start the season, a 9-1 record after Ogando beat Justin Verlander in a 2-0 shutout of the Tigers, a broken Josh Hamilton shoulder and broken bullpen that at one point was manned by Dave Bush, Cody Eppley, Darren Oliver, Arthur Rhodes, Pedro Strop, Brett Tomko, and Ryan Tucker, responsible in part for a division lead that had disappeared by late May 
  • June/July: Leonys Martin, the Draft, a change at hitting coach, Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman, a 12-game win streak that pushed a tie atop the division to a five-game lead, an overload of COFFEY during a wild trade season that had Texas in on every key player and culminated in deals for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara 
  • August: A seven-game AL West lead that, starting with a Mark Trumbo walkoff that saved the Angels from getting swept at home by Texas, was chipped down to two games a week later, the dance with St. Louis that looked momentarily like it might have resulted in Lance Berkman becoming a Ranger 
  • September: The Guzman/Jordan Akins show at Fall Instructs, a .429/.518/.843 month from Napoli and 1.21 ERA in six starts from C.J. Wilson, a 14-2 finish to secure ALDS home field by a one-game margin 
  • October: Beltre’s ALDS Game 4 and Nelson Cruz’s ALCS Game Two and ALCS Game Four (captured on the cover of the book) and the ninth inning of World Series Game Two and Derek Holland’s World Series Game Four and Napoli’s World Series Game Five . . . the greatest month in Texas Rangers history, recounted over 33 pages, starting with Eleven Things and ending with one 
  • All 109 TROT COFFEY’s that went out by email from November 2010 through October 2011

(Another thing: If you’re going to do any of your holiday shopping at Amazon.com, here’s a way to help us out a bit at zero cost to you.  If you click the Amazon link on the top of any page on www.NewbergReport.com first, any purchases of any kind you then make at Amazon will kick a small referral fee to the Newberg Report [at no cost to you], which we’ll use to help upgrade our website features.)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and best wishes for a productive holiday season.

Make the 2012 Bound Edition your Joe Nathan.  The long lines will still be there later today.

The signing of Joe Nathan.

As C.J. Wilson, his agent, and the Angels braintrust of Jerry Dipoto, Scott Servais, and Mike Scioscia got ready to meet up for dinner last night in Los Angeles, the Rangers were busy altering Wilson’s landscape going into 2012, at least to a degree.

And busy altering another Rangers pitcher’s immediate future far more clearly.

I’ve seen Joe Nathan pitch forever.  He’s faced the Rangers 30 times in his career, pitched in eight post-season games, been named to four American League All-Star Teams.  At some point I’m going sit back and find it odd to imagine Nathan wearing a red Rangers cap.

But for now, the image that I can’t shake is not picturing Nathan in a Texas uniform but instead trying to imagine Neftali Feliz trotting out to the mound from the dugout rather than the bullpen, envisioning the 23-year-old working out of a windup, wondering what will happen when he necessarily takes a little off the fastball and throws more offspeed pitches and the opposing lineup sees him three times a night.

Nathan sat out in 2010 due to Tommy John surgery, and after a crummy start to the 2011 season (decreased velocity, a .274/.370/.500 slash, nine walks and 15 runs allowed [13 earned] in 15.1 innings), he was shut down for a month due to a strained muscle in his elbow.  But he came back from that injury around mid-season and pitched very well for a Twins team that was already buried and out of contention.

In 29.1 innings after his June 24 re-activation, the big righthander scattered 21 hits and five walks (putting together an anemic opponents’ slash of .193/.239/.367) while setting 28 down on strikes, saving 11 games in 12 chances.  That miserable pre-injury stretch resulted in overall numbers for the year that don’t dazzle, but viewing Nathan’s second half alone – often a useful exercise for pitchers in their return season from Tommy John – at least suggests that the veteran was back in the form that made him one of the game’s most dependable closers for the better part of a decade.  His velocity was better (though not quite at pre-surgery levels) and his fastball-slider command was back, as was his effectiveness, though it went largely unnoticed since the Twins were irrelevant in the second half.

Adding Nathan (who passed a club physical last night) keeps Mike Adams in his set-up role, and makes Feliz a starter.  Before Thanksgiving, which is a big deal.  The decision to take Feliz to camp last year as a starter wasn’t finalized until much later in the winter, and the experiment never gained real momentum.  The righty’s already issued a statement about his motivation to start.  His new running regimen is already in place.  Enrique Rojas of ESPN reports that Feliz may get some Dominican Winter League work in as a starter as well.

Can Feliz pull this off?  I have my doubts, for the reasons stated above, but I have faith in the Rangers’ decision-makers.  If they believe Feliz can be a front-of-rotation starter – or at least merits a serious look – I’m certainly willing to suspend my uncertainties and see how this thing plays out.  I totally buy into the theory that a number one (or two or three) starter is worth more than a closer, and is certainly dramatically more expensive to acquire as a free agent or via trade, so it makes tremendous sense to take a guy arguably capable of both and put him in the rotation.  Whether Feliz is capable of both, I don’t know (and it’s fairly clear he’d regressed in some ways as a reliever).  But he’s going to get the ball every fifth day in 2012, and we’re going to learn a lot about the kid.

Contrary to what you may read today from various national columnists, the Feliz move happens even if he gets David Freese out in the ninth.  There’s no reason for me to even devote another sentence to the flimsy premise that Feliz’s Game Six performance is what led Texas to make him a starter.

Jon Daniels said the acquisition of Nathan, who turns 37 today, doesn’t mean the Rangers will withdraw from the mix on Wilson or forgo opportunities to acquire another frontline starter, even though the club now has Feliz, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando as starters, with Scott Feldman in place as the first reinforcement.

When asked on Twitter if he thought this meant Wilson will not be back and the Rangers are done setting up the rotation, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said: “Bet for another new name still.”  As late as this morning, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggests that the Cubs are willing to trade Matt Garza, whom Texas tried trading for last winter.

Nathan became a free agent when the Twins declined a $12.5 million option on him for 2012, instead paying him a $2 million buyout.  If you have misgivings about the acquisition here, you shouldn’t point to Minnesota’s decision as support.  Paying a closer $12.5 million (the amount Philadelphia is giving Jonathan Papelbon for four years) is hard to defend in the first place, and in Nathan’s case we’re talking about a 37-year-old, and we’re talking about a team coming off a 99-loss season, a team that may not have meaningful games to save in the last two weeks of the season for the couple years that Nathan wanted guaranteed.

The Twins wanted Nathan back.  Just not at $12.5 million for 2012.  According to Rosenthal, who spoke to Nathan’s agent Dave Pepe, the Twins offered their longtime closer a two-year deal to stay, and on top of that “the prospect of a better deal [than what the Rangers offered] was out there” from an undisclosed team.

But Nathan wanted to be a Texas Ranger.

And the Rangers, preferring a shorter-term deal with a proven closer than what Papelbon received and what Ryan Madson and Heath Bell are likely to get, and preferring not to part with the prospects it would take to get someone like Andrew Bailey or Huston Street, decided to jump out ahead of the developing market and make this deal happen before the Winter Meetings free-for-all.  The club’s focus can now shift, not only accelerating the process to get Feliz conditioned physically and mentally to be a starting pitcher but also moving to whatever the next item on the off-season blueprint happens to be.

Nathan will get $7 million in 2012.  And $7 million in 2013.  And $9 million if Texas wants to pay him that in 2014, a cost the club can avoid by paying him a $500,000 buyout.  The Rangers’ expense does not include any draft pick forfeiture, as Nathan was a no-compensation free agent.

Last winter Texas signed Adrian Beltre, even though he reportedly wanted to sign with the Angels, who apparently fell just short in negotiations with the third baseman.

Then Texas acquired Mike Napoli from Toronto, days after the Jays had acquired him from the Angels, who had consistently resisted trade overtures from the Rangers regarding the slugging catcher.

This winter, there were reports that the Angels wanted Nathan.  As I tend to do when grading prospects or evaluating player moves, I ask myself how I’d feel if Los Angeles made this deal, and Nathan were settling in as that club’s closer for the next two years at that money.

I wouldn’t like it.

There’s another theme with the Nathan acquisition that brings Beltre and Napoli to mind.  He hasn’t won.  Nathan’s Twins reached the playoffs three times (2004, 2006, 2009).  They won one game – the first playoff game of his Minnesota career (he’d appeared in two playoff games for the Giants in 2003, both losses), a 2-0 Johan Santana gem against the Yankees that Nathan saved.  The Twins then lost nine straight playoff games with Nathan suited up – 12 straight if you count the Yankees sweep in Nathan’s Tommy John season of 2010.

Nathan played on a lot of very good Twins teams.  They had winning records all but twice during his tenure, averaging 88 wins before last year’s 63-win disaster.  But they never got anything done in the post-season, and give the current state of that franchise and Nathan’s age, it makes sense that he’d want to move on for a chance to win.

The Rangers have said that among the reasons they targeted Beltre and Napoli was that both would be hungry, having never won a ring.  Nathan fits that profile, too.

And he’s also a fit in terms of makeup.  One thing Texas used to say about Eddie Guardado – the man Nathan replaced as Twins closer in 2004 – is that he provided tremendous leadership while he was in Texas.  Adding a leader like Nathan to the current bullpen will pay dividends beyond his time here.  He’ll help Mike Adams (who, interestingly, will be a free agent a year from now and might be difficult to re-sign if Nathan is healthy and effective, since Adams might attract closer money on the open market).  He’ll help Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara.  He’ll be a role model for Mark Hamburger, who developed his fastball-slider mix while in the Twins system.

Tanner Scheppers and Matt West and Fabio Castillo and Justin Miller.  Neil Ramirez and Roman Mendez and Jake Brigham and Justin Grimm and even lefties Michael Kirkman and Miguel De Los Santos.

And Wilmer Font, coming back from Tommy John surgery.  Without question, Wilmer Font.

In ways that Guardado helped Feliz and Wilson and Frankie Francisco, Nathan is going to help a lot of young pitchers while he’s here, young pitchers who will go on to play big roles for Texas once Nathan is gone, if not before.

In his six full seasons with the Twins (2004 through 2009), Nathan saved 246 games, most in baseball (ahead of Mariano Rivera’s 243).  Nathan’s 1.87 ERA over that span was best in the game (ahead of Rivera’s 1.90).  Nathan struck out 518 batters in 419.1 innings.  He was historically great over those six years.

He’s not the same pitcher now.  If he were, he gets a better deal than Papelbon’s four years and $50 million.  His arm has been operated on, and he’s 37.  This is no Beltre signing.

His career Rangers Ballpark numbers are very strong (.245/.333/.377, 22 strikeouts and five unintentional walks in 13.2 innings, one home run), though all but one of those innings were pre-injury.  (The exception: last July 26, when he saved a 9-8 Twins win that ended with swinging strikeouts of Mitch Moreland and David Murphy.)  And he finished 2011 healthy.  This is no Brandon Webb signing.

This may not work.  It’s not a Webb-level risk, but there’s risk that a 37-year-old with a repaired arm will hit a wall at some point during his guaranteed stay.  But Texas is poised to win now, which makes a veteran closer like Nathan a good fit for the Rangers, and the Rangers an obvious fit for Nathan.

Whether Feliz is going to be a good fit getting the ball every fifth day, in the first inning rather than the ninth, is a substantial unknown, and carries plenty of risk itself.  But the time to figure out if this is going to work – whether Feliz will be conditioned to start and whether he can locate his secondary stuff and whether he can succeed three times through a lineup and whether he’s mentally ready to do this – is now, and a two-year commitment to a proven closer who showed in the second half last year that he can still get the final out makes the Feliz transition a cleaner one.

And the fact that that transition is underway in late November, just weeks after the end of the season and nearly three months before pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, feels like one important way to enhance the chances that Feliz-to-the-rotation works out for the best, starting in 2012.  It’s still difficult for me to imagine Feliz throwing his first pitch out of the windup, after the Anthem, rather than in the stretch after whatever that walk-up music was.  But I’ve got extra time this year to fix that image in my head, and now it absolutely feels like the 2012 season is underway.

The new West.

I watched a couple dozen seven- and eight-year-olds take ground balls and hit live pitching and get clocked home-to-first and first-to-third under gloomy skies and plummeting temperatures late Sunday afternoon, a bunch of kids impervious to the spitting rain and chill-gusts as they played a little baseball, each with an obvious spirit for the game that, as parents, we know will only bring them more great experiences as they get older.

I was the genius out at the fields in gym shorts and a T-shirt, having set out earlier in the day when it was 20 degrees warmer and dry, but in a fleeting moment of temporary thaw and clarity, I thought about Matt West.

When the Houston native was seven years old, and eight, and 18, I’m sure he was the best player on the field just about every time he laced up.  Going into his senior season with the nationally ranked Bellaire High School program, he was a Rawlings Preseason All-American shortstop.  He had scholarships lined up to play collegiately at both Arizona State and San Jacinto Junior College (where he’d be eligible for the draft after just one season if he went that route), though most figured college wasn’t in the plans as he was thought to be a potential supplemental first-round pick.

After hitting .545 with power and speed that season, West wasn’t taken that high but was popped in Round Two by the Rangers in their landmark 2007 draft, which ultimately helped produce Cliff Lee (Blake Beavan [1st round], Josh Lueke [16], Matt Lawson [14]), and Mitch Moreland [17], and Bengie Molina (Michael Main [1]), Julio Borbon [1s], and Jorge Cantu (Evan Reed [3]), and Cristian Guzman (Ryan Tatusko [18]), and Koji Uehara (Tommy Hunter [1s]), and Neil Ramirez [1s].

West signed quickly with Texas and, shifted primarily to third base, would hit .301 his rookie summer.  The Rangers had had years of difficulty in the second round, for whatever reason, and was having no luck developing prospects at third base.  West had the chance to erase both runs of disappointing results.  He was still one of the best players on the field, a familiar place for the kid to be.

But things went downhill for West, whose numbers at the plate decreased every season after that and who had to deal with considerable adversity off the field as well.  Going into 2011, it’s safe to say that the 22-year-old was more likely to be released than to ever reach Class AA.

That’s certainly not to diminish the ups and downs that righthanders Ramirez and Jake Brigham fought through to earn the 40-man roster spots they were awarded by Texas on Friday, or to downplay what the addition to the roster might mean to a kid like Roman Mendez to be traded from the organization he’d chosen to leave his home land for, or to overlook chronically overlooked reliever Justin Miller, or even to take for granted the fact that Martin Perez, like Ramirez and Brigham and Mendez and Miller, has landed a roster spot of his own.  It doesn’t always work out that way, even for the high-profile prospects.  Just ask Kasey Kiker.

Or Matt West.  Pre-2011 Matt West.

Things hadn’t worked out for the handful of third base prospects brought into the system by the Rangers immediately before West – Johnny Whittleman (2005), Johan Yan (2006), and Emmanuel Solis (2006), the first of whom was moved to the Royals for a return that has never been identified and the latter two of whom were moved to the mound.  It wasn’t working out either for West, who had been passed in the system by 2009 draftee Tommy Mendonca, and with the emergence in 2010 of Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva, any hope that the Rangers had for West seemed to be fading into baseball oblivion.

That is, until the Rangers approached him in camp eight months ago with an invitation to climb the mound (a tuckaway thought that assistant director of player development Jake Krug, for instance, had held onto since scouting West at Bellaire), just to see.  Without so much as a mechanical tweak, the lifelong infielder tripped mid-90s on the gun, flashing a wipeout slider.  If a career wasn’t reborn at that moment, it was certainly about to be overhauled.

West had a sensational extended spring training run, locating a fastball that was suddenly touching 99 to go along with that swing-and-miss slider.  The Rangers assigned him to Short-Season A Spokane in June, where the competition was only one year behind in age and well ahead of the new pitcher in experience, and he was scored on just five times in 23 appearances.  In 26 innings of work, West allowed 23 hits (.242 opponents’ average) and one walk, striking out 35 and leading the club with nine saves.  Left-handed hitters (.194/.219/.387) were less effective than righties (.286/.299/.422), and he coaxed three times as many groundouts as flyouts.

Northwest League managers helped Baseball America conclude after the season that West was the league’s number five pitching prospect (number 13 prospect overall), and there was enough of an assumption that the industry was onto his considerable upside – with an arm having zero wear on it – that Texas wasn’t going to risk exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft.

West pitched at the fifth of the Rangers’ six levels in 2011 (not counting a season-ending opportunity to help High A Myrtle Beach in its playoff run), but Texas couldn’t rule out the idea that some club might not only take a camp flier on the 6’1” righthander but also find a way to keep in the big leagues for all of 2012.  For instance, one of the men responsible for the decision to make West a pitcher, former Rangers senior director of player development Scott Servais, is now part of the decision-making crew with the Angels.  A year after Texas had Rule 5’d Mason Tobin from Los Angeles, it wouldn’t have been a shock to see Servais’s Angels call West’s name on December 8 – if the Rangers had left him off the roster.

But they didn’t, and he’s now one of an extraordinarily large number of Texas pitchers currently holding roster spots who would be longshots at best to win a roster spot coming out of camp – Ramirez, Brigham, Mendez, Miller, Perez, Fabio Castillo, Miguel De Los Santos, and Wilmer Font, along with West, figure to be auditioning in Surprise for big league work later on down the road – but it speaks to the tremendous pipeline of young pitching the Rangers have developed and still have coming.  And most of them – including West with those two plus pitches that profile to show up late in the game – have a real chance, if everything falls into place, to force their way to Arlington at some point in 2012.

Every one of those guys, along with most players fortunate enough to play this game professionally, spent most of their lives as the best player on the field.  But the reality is that, in this game of failure and cruel attrition, most never get to the point at which all the kids who shared the Little League fields with them could so much as flip the TV on to see them suited up.

On occasion, though, there’s a player who goes from a lifetime of being The Best, falls precipitously off that perch and very nearly out of the game altogether, and not only gets an opportunity to revive his career, to fully redefine it, but also converts on that chance.

In the case of West, who turns 23 today, I’m betting the game is a whole lot of fun again, maybe as much as it was when he was seven or eight years old and didn’t care if it was 50 and raining and almost Thanksgiving, playing the game and dreaming of that day when he might have a nameplate in a big league clubhouse.

Growing the roster.

Teams must finalize their 40-man roster by 11 p.m. tonight (Central time) in preparation for the December 8 Rule 5 Draft.  Any minor leaguers not added today, if they have enough pro service time, are eligible to be drafted by another team.

In the six-page “40-Man Roster Conundrum” chapter in the 2012 Bound Edition, I try to explain the process facing Texas this winter, weighing any inclination to load the roster up with prospects to ensure they’re shielded from the Rule 5 hounds against the need to keep the roster flexible for off-season big league additions, with specific reference to the pool of prospects in the Rangers system who will be eligible for next month’s draft if not protected on the roster.  I also explain Rule 5 and the constraints that result for teams drafting a player.

At the conclusion of the Conundrum chapter, I predict that Texas will add five players to the roster today – even though the Jon Daniels front office has added that many players only once in JD’s six previous Novembers at the helm of the team.  The five I’m going with are lefthander Martin Perez (number 2 on my Top 72 Rangers Prospects list in the book) and righthanders Neil Ramirez (8), Matt West (17), Roman Mendez (23), and Johan Yan (34).

As for the book itself, preorders are off to a tremendous start, but I’ve heard from a few of you who have said you just can’t bring yourself to read it because of the way the 2011 season ended.  I get that.  But I assure you: I’ve read the book, and there are only four pages out of 392 that deal with the difficult finish.  Tear those out if you’d like.  The other 388 pages tell the story of the greatest Texas Rangers season yet.  It’s a pretty good time.  And it might be a little baseball-therapeutic over the holidays.

Back atcha today or tonight with word on how the Rangers adjust their 40-man roster.

My position on Mike Olt.

There were about 90 hitters assigned to the Arizona Fall League this year, many of them among the game’s best prospects.  One man leads the league in OPS (1.225), slug (.800), home runs (13, with nobody else in the league at more than seven), total bases (76), and RBI (40 in 24 games).

He’s the reigning AFL Player of the Week.

And he won the award the previous week, too.

Rangers third base prospect Mike Olt sits at .347/.425/.800 through 95 at-bats, with only days left in the AFL season.  He’s been on a run reminiscent of the one another former Rangers third base prospect had in the prospect league, nine years ago.

Mark Teixeira had an AFL slash of .333/.437/.616 in 2002, with seven home runs over 99 at-bats that wrapped up his first full pro season, one that had been cut in half due to a fluke injury, just as Olt’s was this year.

At the time, Teixeira was a third baseman, having played the position at Georgia Tech and then in 2002 with Charlotte and Tulsa and the AFL’s Peoria Javelinas.  He was adequate at the position, and Texas believed he would be good enough to figure in a solid everyday player there.

But the club had just broken Hank Blalock in at third base the year before – and Blalock was half a year younger, and widely considered the top hitting prospect in baseball when he arrived.  Teixeira was not going to play third for Texas.

The Rangers broke Teixeira in at first base (where Rafael Palmeiro was being phased out) in 2003, playing him 116 times at the position (plus 15 games at third, 14 in left field, 11 in right field, and five at DH).

Olt is not the transcendent hitting prospect that Teixeira was.

And Teixeira was not nearly the defender at third base that Olt is.

But I’ve been thinking about this idea some have that Olt is a lock to be traded, because his value as a plus defender at third base would be emasculated by a shift to the less important position across the diamond.

We don’t yet know what Mitch Moreland is.  But what if he struggles again in 2012?  Or what if a team shopping a frontline starting pitcher insists on Moreland in a deal that makes sense for Texas?

Ichiro Suzuki broke in as a Mariner in right field rather than center because of Mike Cameron, even though he wasn’t a classic corner outfielder offensively.

A 2011 example, on a smaller scale: Mike Trout working his way in on an outfield corner more often than in center.

Was left field really the ideal spot for Albert Pujols defensively, rather than third base (Placido Polanco and then Scott Rolen) or first (Mark McGwire and then Tino Martinez)?

The presence of Grady Sizemore meant that Franklin Gutierrez broke into the big leagues primarily in right field, rather than in center.

If it weren’t for Mike Lowell, Florida likely would have broken Miguel Cabrera in as a third baseman, not a left fielder.

Because of Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera started his big league career at second base.

Because of Orlando Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez was initially a second baseman as well.

And let’s not forget the one-game experiment that Texas launched with Adrian Gonzalez in right field, just to see if there was another way to get his bat into the Teixeira-led lineup.

Here’s the thing: I’m certainly not opposed to trading Olt.  Nobody is untouchable, and he’s going to be ready for the big leagues years long before Adrian Beltre’s tenure here expires.  He might be ready before the 2012 season is over.  It’s a pretty clear case of a great player blocking a great prospect.

But this is a kid with middle-of-the-lineup potential who was headed for Carolina League MVP honors when he went down with a broken collarbone in early June, and seems poised to land the AFL MVP award as well.  (One more home run and he’ll tie the all-time AFL mark of 14, set by Brandon Wood in 2005.)  There’s still some swing-and-miss in the bat (Teixeira’s, too), but Olt has the chance to be a versatile, productive offensive player (he led the Carolina League in walks when he broke his collarbone) whose plus tools at third base could certainly translate to plus tools at first as well.

We all remember what it’s like, from the Teixeira days, to have a weapon on defense at first.

Left field is a possibility for Olt, too.  No questions about the athleticism or arm strength, and the quickness is there, but the footspeed, a tick below average, could be an issue.

All those things led Texas to give Teixeira and Gonzalez looks on the outfield corners.  Brief looks.

That’s not to say Olt couldn’t do it.  Pujols and Cabrera did it early on.  Matt Holliday moved from third base to the outfield.  Paul Konerko was raised by the Dodgers as a third base bat, but his defensive limitations – and the presence of Beltre, whose path to the big leagues was a half-step behind Konerko’s in the Los Angeles system – led to rookie work in left field and first base in addition to third.

Don’t misunderstand me: Olt is a better third baseman than Holliday or Konerko was.  Far better.  No prospect is Adrian Beltre’s defensive equal, but Olt is probably right there with Florida’s Matt Dominguez as far as hot corner chops are concerned throughout minor league baseball.  And Olt is a massively more promising hitter than Dominguez is.

If you believe Olt’s value is greater as a trade piece than it would be as a Texas Ranger, because of the Beltre roadblock, that’s fine.  But that was probably true with Gonzalez as well (especially since the decision to trade him came three years before Teixeira could be a free agent), and he was traded badly.  Moving Travis Hafner after the 2002 season made sense (with Teixeira ready and Palmeiro still around), but he wasn’t traded particularly well, either.

Now, I trust Jon Daniels more on the trade front than I trusted him three months into the job (when he traded Gonzalez) and more than any other Rangers GM before him – Kevin Goldstein remarked at one point this year that Daniels is among the best in baseball at knowing when to deal his prospects – but even if 1B Mike Olt (or LF Mike Olt) is a less valuable commodity than 3B Mike Olt, shouldn’t we leave room for the possibility that the Rangers believe Olt, who has proved in 2011 that his ability to play premium defensive may be matched by an ability to do lots of damage offensively, could be a heck of an answer at first base should Moreland give the club an opportunity to add an impact starting pitcher . . . or should Moreland (who will be evaluated later this month for possible surgery to relieve right wrist tendinitis) fail to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore season?

Imagine a defensive infield featuring Beltre and Olt on the corners (you don’t have to trust me on Olt’s ability with the glove – read Goldstein or Baseball America or Jason Parks or Jason Cole), and Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler up the middle.

You might prefer to imagine Olt in another uniform, playing third base at a level just short of Beltre, having moved in a deal making Texas stronger on the mound.  Trading Olt doesn’t have to be a bad thing, no matter what he becomes.  Justin Smoak can have the same career as Adrian Gonzalez, and the trade that sent Smoak away won’t hurt anywhere near as much as the one that made AG a Padre.

Edinson Volquez vs. John Danks.

If there’s something to one opposing Class A manager who told Baseball America a few months ago that Olt’s Myrtle Beach season reminded him of Evan Longoria’s first full minor league season, is that someone you want to ship away just because his defensive value wouldn’t be exploited at first as much as it would be at third?

I have no idea how other teams value Moreland vs. Olt, setting aside the positional needs those clubs might have, or the handedness at the plate.  There are likely some teams that would prefer Moreland, others who would ask first for Olt, who arrived in pro ball as the Rangers’ second first-round pick in 2010 as an outstanding defender with plus power, and has since demonstrated a tremendous approach at the plate, using all fields and showing signs of uncommon selectivity despite holes in the swing.

And for that matter, I don’t know who Texas values more, long-term, between the two.  But I’ve never trusted the organization’s self-evaluation process more than I do now.

I’m OK if Olt moves on in a deal that reshapes that way this team lines up its playoff rotation.

But I’m also OK if, two years from now, we’re looking at the most complete first baseman this club has had since Teixeira.

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

ADDENDUM:

That moment when you send out a report and, seconds later, remember another point you meant to make . . . .

For those of you who believe Mike Olt has to be traded, because his value as a third base asset is greater than it would be as a Rangers first baseman or left fielder:

Have you similarly decided that Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar (you know, the 18-year-old shortstop whom one scout described to Peter Gammons this summer, perhaps hyperbolically, as having “Hanley Ramirez ability — minus speed — and Pedroia makeup”) can’t both be in the Texas lineup, that one will have to go?

Responding to losses.

I’m thawing out from a weekish-long writing hibernation, and should be back at it in a day or two with a more regular routine of reports and COFFEY’s.

In the meantime, today’s the day that Mike Maddux, who pulled his name out of consideration for the Red Sox manager’s job on Monday, is set to interview for the Cubs post.

Said the Rangers pitching coach about the Boston decision: “My wife and two daughters are together in the same state for the first time in three years and words cannot describe my happiness.  The game of baseball has many sacrifices but being apart from family is the toughest.  I feel there is too much distance between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Boston to see my family as much as I’d enjoy.”

Maddux will be Chicago’s third interview, following Pete Mackanin and Dale Sveum.

In the days following the World Series, the Rangers lost Senior Director of Player Development Scott Servais and Four Corners area scout Andy Pratt.  They could be on the verge of losing a key member of the big league coaching staff and the lead starter in the rotation, too.

The involuntary delayering, to some degree, has been inevitable.  Texas is one of the formidable organizations in baseball right now, having gotten there with adherence to a paradigm that most reloading clubs like to think they’ll be able to commit to.  Maybe the only surprise about the fact that clubs are targeting Rangers personnel is that it didn’t happen to this extent sooner.

And relationships are key.  Servais is the new Assistant General Manager/Scouting & Player Development for the Angels, whose new GM, Jerry Dipoto, was Colorado’s director of player personnel when Servais served as a pro scout for the Rockies.  Dipoto, a pitcher, and Servais, a catcher, were also both with Colorado in 2000, near the end of their playing careers.

Pratt will be a pro scout for the Brewers, whose baseball operations department includes Doug Melvin, Reid Nichols, and Dan O’Brien, all of whom were with Texas when Pratt was drafted and developed by the Rangers as a left-handed pitcher.  Pratt will report to Milwaukee director of professional scouting Zack Minasian Jr.

Relationships are one key reason not to fear that the loss of Servais and Pratt, and possibly Maddux and C.J. Wilson, will put the Rangers up on cinder blocks.  Nobody wants to see guys like that go away.  But the Rangers are always prepared.  There are capable folks internally, perhaps ready to be entrusted with greater responsibility themselves.  There are also relationships around the league, undoubtedly, upon which Texas might be able to draw to bring in people from the outside, if that’s the direction the club wants to go.

Losing premium talent, on the field and off, is a necessary cost of being really good.  But Texas will carry on, caught off guard by none of it, prepared to move on with a different lineup if that’s what it takes, in uniform and in the front office and on the back roads of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.  It’s a natural step for a winning franchise.

There were Plans A, B, and C when Cliff Lee decided not to come back last winter, and as a result Adrian Beltre is here for five or six years, having helped Texas get to the World Series for a second straight season, and for the first time himself.

Rest assured that the Rangers have Plans A, B, and C in place to deal with the loss of just about any key figure in the organization.  We won’t find out today, but soon enough we should know whether those plans need to be fired up to address the loss of a pitching coach.

With the book now in the hands of the publisher and the printing process underway (thanks for the really cool head start we’ve gotten off to on preorders), I’ll be back with a little more regularity going forward, as the Rangers’ off-season starts to really get cooking.

Thanks for your patience.

Stuff.

There’s a weekend each November when Devin Pike, Marty Yawnick, and I have to hole up in front of our respective computers and kill it to knock out the final production tasks on the Bound Edition, so that the book goes to print in time to be available for mid-December delivery.  This is that weekend.

I’m really excited about this year’s book cover.  Really excited.  When it’s in the can – next day or two – I’ll send out an image of it.

I’m sending this email for two reasons:

1.  To thank the huge number of you who have already preordered the book.  It helps the publisher a lot to get orders lined up now so that they can be prepared for mass delivery right when the books come off the press.

If you haven’t preordered but want to, you can click here.  Very easy process.  Books will ship mid-December, and like last year, for those who preorder I’ll send out an email in advance of our book release party (date undetermined, but could be Thursday, Dec. 15) to find out which of you would prefer to pick your books up at the party rather than have them shipped.

2.  There are lots of important Rangers notes to get to, primarily on the baseball operations, coaching, and roster management fronts, but I’m still bunkered down for another couple days to put the book to bed.  Promise I’ll get to everything soon enough.

Thanks for your patience.

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