May 2012

Judging Roy.

When Scott Feldman took the mound in the top of the fifth inning, word came down that there would be an in-game press briefing about 15 minutes later.

By time the presser was over – following a groundout to second, a double dumped down the left field line, a five-pitch walk, a double steal on a strikeout, an intentional walk, and a throwing error by Adrian Beltre – there had been a pitching change.

In more ways than one.

With injuries the last few days to Jered Weaver (Angels), Roy Halladay (Phillies), and Ted Lilly (Dodgers), the Rangers’ announcement on Tuesday that they had come to terms with Roy Oswalt on a one-year deal – which will basically amount to a half-year deal – had all the appearances of a quick strike, perhaps even preemptive, to make sure they landed the veteran starter before another newly decimated contender beat them to it.

Yet it was a different injury, and the scare of another, that prompted this deal, the terms of which were actually agreed to on Sunday, according to Jon Daniels.  Texas had seen Oswalt throw before Neftali Feliz got hurt, and before Alexi Ogando took a Sunday afternoon line drive off his wrist in a low-leverage situation, but it was those two events (certainly the former more than the latter, which turned out to be harmless) that led to a pact that many felt as long as six months ago was bound to come together eventually.

Texas was never really tested in 2011 as far as rotation depth was concerned.  The club is being tested now – and there’s no guarantee it won’t be tested further.  Feldman is valuable in his role as a swingman, good for a handful of starts to keep a rotation in order due to doubleheaders or blisters or minor injuries, but this is different.  And neither Martin Perez nor Neil Ramirez nor Michael Kirkman had put themselves in a position to come up from Round Rock in Feliz’s place.  The idea of adding a veteran starter, when Feliz will not only miss a quarter to a third of the season – at least – but also need to be eased back into action, was inviting, and the opportunity to do so without forfeiting key prospects or draft picks made Oswalt an even more attractive option.

Could Texas have gone out and traded for Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke?  To convince the Phillies or Brewers to do business over the next month would have cost an added premium – neither team is out of the race – and remember, under the new CBA, giving up three or four blue-chip assets is not nearly as tolerable when the rental player you’re getting back in return won’t net you any draft pick compensation if they leave in the winter.

Knowing you’d have two first-round picks on the back end if you weren’t able to re-sign the player once made rental deals far more palatable risks than they are now.

Let’s say you have to give Milwaukee a package that looks like Perez, Cody Buckel, Victor Payano, and Hanser Alberto for Greinke.

Greinke is part of your playoff rotation, but who does he start ahead of?

You sure?

(Take a look at his post-season history.)

You want to give all that up, and pay the $9 million left on Greinke’s deal, with no guarantee that you’ll have anything to show for it at season’s end?

Or does it make more sense to take your chances with Oswalt, and keep the prospects and added cash?

Is Matt Garza worth that sort of cost in prospects, given that the Cubs are selling a year and a half of his services and thus aren’t going to take whatever the market for a half-season rental might be under the new CBA?

Is Ryan Dempster a real upgrade?

Back to Hamels.  You want him, and maybe you can bundle that Greinke package up and tack it onto the back of Mike Olt.

Then he signs with the Dodgers in December.

At which point you no longer have Hamels or Olt or Perez or Buckel or Payano or Alberto.

Or maybe Hamels is still in play, because no other team will package a pitcher with the track record and controllability of Matt Harrison with a couple prospects like Chad Bell and Rougned Odor.  Maybe.

Or maybe Philadelphia, even with the loss of Halladay, is in no mood to think about moving Hamels at all, motivated to try and win anyway with what remains a championship-caliber roster (and recoup two draft picks if Hamels leaves).  Tellingly, the Phillies were reported to have made an offer to Oswalt themselves, half a year after they’d paid him $2 million to avoid having to pay his $16 million option for 2012 and also declined to offer him arbitration (he was the only Type A in the league not offered arb), fearing he’d take them up on it and land a greater one-year deal than they wanted to pay.

The point is that Philadelphia decided this month that it wanted Oswalt back.  That club isn’t selling pieces off just yet, and may not at all.  (The extra Wild Card in each league is going to make fewer teams get in the sellers’ line in June and July.)  Waiting for that possibility, especially since every fifth day would be earmarked for Feldman in the meantime, with no real guarantee of when Feliz might return, wouldn’t have been the wisest course of action.

The point is also that this move doesn’t necessarily foreclose the potential for something bigger later this summer, at least based on something Daniels said the day before the Oswalt announcement: “We’re trying to forecast not just now but into July what we might need,” Daniels told Ben & Skin (ESPN Dallas).  “We want to make sure that we have the ability to go out and address those needs throughout the year.”

And in the meantime, Oswalt wanted to be in Texas and reportedly spurned more lucrative offers from the Phillies, Dodgers, and Cardinals – three teams that should contend most of the year, all in his familiar National League – to make it happen.  One national report suggested he told the Dodgers it would take $7.5 million to sign him, while he reportedly instead accepted something between $4 million and $5 million (which suggests an $8 million contract that will be prorated down based on when his contract is purchased from Round Rock) plus another $1 million in incentives to join the Rangers.  At one level or another, the Red Sox, Orioles, and Brewers were also said to have kicked the tires, while Detroit did before the season.

Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) adds that the righthander “spoke with several other clubs during the winter and spring, including the Angels, who, according to sources, were very close to signing Oswalt.”

Whether it’s because of Nolan Ryan or Mike Maddux or a two-time World Series club or simple geography, we have a case of a starting pitcher that was coveted at some level, and who had lots of choices, and who wanted to be a Ranger.

Cool.

And sorta new.

Resisting the temptation to sign Oswalt in December and displacing Harrison in the process made sense.  (Partly because he reportedly spent much of the winter chasing a three-year contract that nobody was offering.)  The loss of Feliz for a meaningful period of time changes the story.  As for whether Oswalt can still pitch and help this club, Ryan believes he can, the Rangers’ scouts who watched him throw recently (including Mike Anderson) must believe he can, and these days the organization is certainly entitled to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to talent evaluation.

We’ll start to see how sharp Oswalt is and whether he can sustain his command and his stuff more than a couple times through a lineup as he tunes up in Round Rock, where he played for manager Jackie Moore and pitching coach Mike Maddux (and owner Ryan) in 2000, his last full minor league season.  Optimistic estimates suggest he could be ready for the club’s June 22-July 1 homestand against Colorado (who he has dominated in his career, going 8-2, 1.94 in 12 starts with a .218/.269/.349 opponents’ slash), Detroit, and Oakland.

Meanwhile, Feldman will likely continue to get the ball every fifth day.  The Angels will turn to Garrett Richards to fill in for Weaver, the Dodgers will recall Nate Eovaldi, and the Phillies could attempt to resurrect Dave Bush or Scott Elarton.  But none of those clubs have a guy like Roy Oswalt getting ramped back up to reinforce things.

Yes, Oswalt had back problems in 2011 and has been on the disabled list five times in the last six seasons.  No, he’s never pitched in an American League pennant race.  (A thought: Not hitting and not running the bases might be a good thing for his back.)  Granted, his last two starts in Arlington (in 2008 and 2010) weren’t pretty: 13 earned runs (10.97 ERA) on 18 hits (including four home runs) and five walks in 10.2 innings.  There was reportedly a level of resistance from some in the Rangers organization to signing him at all.

But he could come in here with a little something to prove after not getting the deal he thought he deserved in the winter.  He might be fresh in October after having sat out the first two months of the year.  Like Beltre and Mike Napoli when acquired, he ought to be very hungry for that ring that has eluded him in an otherwise distinguished career.

If you’re having trouble thinking of him as anything other than (1) heyday Roy Oswalt or (2) a washed-up veteran desperately trying to hang on, if there’s no in-between you can crystal-ball, maybe think of him as a poor man’s version of Colby Lewis.  What Texas is getting is probably a poor man’s Roy Oswalt, but if that’s tough to imagine, he’s probably going to fire a couple gems while making us question on other nights whether he even fits in a tightened playoff rotation.  Like Lewis.

He’s not going to come in here and be Cliff Lee – who went 4-6, 3.98 as a Ranger before the playoffs started.  But he’s not costing Texas any prospects, either.

Maybe, like it did with Lee, the way that Oswalt prepares and competes and handles himself will rub off on one or two of the younger pitchers all over this staff, simply by example.

But otherwise, Texas isn’t bringing Oswalt in here to be Cliff Lee.  Or to be Oswalt in his prime.

And here’s something else to think about.  It’s not so much that the window is closing here as that it’s so wide open right now that it makes some amount of sense to be super-aggressive.  Not all of the club’s key free agents will be back after this year.  When opportunities to boost your chances to win right now present themselves – particularly at no prospect or draft pick cost – going for it has to be on the table.

Texas will be a playoff team with or without Oswalt’s back-of-the-rotation contributions.  But maybe he helps the Rangers win an extra game or two, which this summer could mean home field advantage or this October could mean something even more important.  Maybe he won’t.  But the only prospect affected by his addition could be the shift of injured righthander Matt West from the 40-man roster to the 60-day disabled list, once Oswalt is deemed ready to have his minor league contract purchased and to have his Rangers career get underway.  There’s no Blake Beavan lost, no Robbie Erlin, no Cody Buckel.

It does almost certainly mean Feliz is not going to rejoin the rotation in 2012, and I’m OK with that.  I wasn’t sold on Feliz as a starter to begin with, and as Jeff Passan (Yahoo! Sports) points out: “Forget Oswalt in the rotation.  The Nathan-Feliz-Ogando-Adams-Uehara-Ross-Lowe bullpen is what truly makes the Rangers Freddy-level scary.”

Throw Feldman back into that mix, too.  Having a dependable long man, which Texas doesn’t have at the moment, can be critical, not only in games that pitcher is needed but also in the two or three that follow.

We learned last year how important the bullpen is in October, particularly in National League parks.

Whatever you think Roy Oswalt has left, ask yourself this: Is he better than whoever the least useful pitcher on the staff is?  The answer is probably yes, and potentially hell-yes.  It’s not as if Texas just signed Sid Ponson.

So it comes down to money.  Ownership stepped up on this deal despite media reports that the payroll is already over-budget, but then again the fan base has stepped up in a big way over these first two months as well, giving Texas the best attendance numbers in baseball behind the Phillies, and maybe that altered budget plans.  Take a look at that Daniels comment and think about whether this means the Rangers now have to back away from the trade market in July.  I don’t think it does.

As I’ve stated a hundred times, for me the barometer for judging a Rangers trade or signing is sometimes as simple as asking myself how I’d feel if the Angels had made the same move.

In this case, it’s not that hard to imagine that exact scenario, and I know that if the Angels (winners of eight straight and now closer to Texas than they’ve been at any time since April 17) had announced yesterday that they were recalling Garrett Richards to face Harrison this Sunday in Anaheim, but after that only to hold things down for another two or three weeks while Oswalt tuned up with AA Arkansas or AAA Salt Lake (assuming the Weaver injury lingers) – well, it wouldn’t have been my first choice.

Instead, Oswalt is a Ranger, which he wanted all along and which Ryan apparently wanted all along and which so much of the media expected all along, and while the downside is relatively minimal – especially if you believe it doesn’t take Texas out of the mix for any other deal that might materialize and that was on the whiteboard beforehand – the upside is that he could really help this team if he in fact has something left, with that added upside that he won’t be doing it for another team that Texas is going to have to beat.

Party.

Last night was the Park Place Dealerships Triple Play Game Show Spectacular, a huge fundraising event the Rangers put on each year to support their Foundation’s efforts in the community.  It was the 10th year of the event, the sixth during Ron Washington’s tenure as Rangers manager.

It could have been the fifth straight without him.

But there’s something kinda cool about what this team tends to do with Triple Play looming on the schedule.

In 2007, Texas – with the second-worst record in the American League – swept a three-game series against the Blue Jays going into the Sunday evening event.

The 2008 event will always occupy a footnote in franchise history.  As the story goes, Washington was apparently on the verge of being fired that weekend, as the club had baseball’s worst record and had lost seven straight, and 12 of 14.  But management reportedly didn’t want to cast a pall on the April 27 charity event, which was also two days before Washington’s birthday, and so the decision was tabled.

The Rangers then won two of three that weekend against the Twins, including a Sunday afternoon 10-0 pasting of Minnesota, a game that featured Vicente Padilla’s lone complete-game shutout as a Ranger and home runs from Milton Bradley, Jason Botts, and Josh Hamilton, the latter of which accounted for the first run that Twins closer Joe Nathan had allowed all season.
Washington earned a stay of execution.

Those two wins out of three turned into six of eight, 11 of 15, and 15 of 21.

In 2009, the Rangers swept home series against both the Mariners and Angels, maintaining a seven-game win streak and season-high 4.5-game division lead as they showed up for the Triple Play event.

In 2010, Texas lost back-to-back one-run games to the White Sox going into the Sunday night party, after having won five games in a row – four of which were by one-run margins – including home sweeps of the Angels and Orioles.

Last year, Texas won on the day of the event, culminating a stretch of three wins in four games in which the club allowed a combined total of one run.

This year: A sweep of the Blue Jays leading up to Triple Play.  Two blowout wins sandwiched around the first walkoff victory of the season.  Three packed houses and 34 runs, and a season-high-matching 6.5-game lead.

Yu Darvish didn’t have an awesome day, but man, he had an awesome night.

You’ll see footage of it eventually.  Don’t miss it.

Don’t.

If Darvish vs. C.J. Wilson this Saturday night is better than Darvish was yesterday afternoon and is as awesome as Darvish was last night, then . . . .

I have no idea how to finish this report, because I refuse to shoehorn in a “business up front, party in the back” reference.  Get me out of this mess and let’s just punish Kevin Millwood tonight.

The long, hard road to moments.

He was dizzy, seeing stars for the final eight of those 13 innings, many of which had me on the ropes myself.  And he ended it like that.

It’s easy when thinking about what Josh Hamilton is and what he does and what faces him and this team leading up to the winter to take our eyes off the ball and get overly emotional . . . .

. . . says the guy who preaches not-too-high and not-too-low and marathons and sprints and yet was sitting there tweeting a litany of frustrations during the bonus innings of a baseball game that felt like it should have been won half a dozen times.

There’s that whole thing about forgiving but not forgetting, but we can flip that around on this one.  We’ll remember how Texas 8, Toronto 7 ended, while this part will probably be largely forgotten:

Bottom 9th

Casey Janssen pitching

- Ian Kinsler hit by pitch

- Andrus sacrifices to catcher, Kinsler to second

Bottom 11th

Darren Oliver pitching

- Kinsler singles to left

- Andrus sacrifices to first, Kinsler to second

During the ugly top of the 13th, I tweeted this:

I think I want Kinsler to get out to start the bottom of the 13th.  I think.

Bottom 13th

Ryota Igarashi pitching

- Kinsler walks

- Andrus doubles to deep center, Kinsler scores

OK.

And then?  The process of forgetting the fact that the bat was consciously taken out of Andrus’s hands twice had begun, but still, the Rangers had led off the 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th innings by getting on base, and they hadn’t gotten anyone home in that stretch.

Yet.

Jason Frasor pitching

- Hamilton swings through a 92-mph fastball on 1-1, a feeble pass by a light-headed hitter in temperatures that exceeded the mediocre Frasor velocity that Hamilton would typically punish

- Hamilton hits the ball one million miles

- Hamilton stumbles through the home plate mob toward the dugout and stumbles through the radio and TV interviews he had to do

Baseball.

Peter Gammons wrote several days ago: “We know, barring plague or pestilence, that the Texas Rangers are going to play in the postseason.”

Yep.

Gammons wrote this morning: “A.J. Ellis, Saltalamacchia, J.Hamilton walkoffs.  The long, hard roads to moments.”

Days like yesterday remind us what this team is capable of, sometimes even in spite of itself.  Yu Darvish gets the chance today to jump back on the rails and help this team win a series.

The Rangers aren’t perfect, but they are great.

And on some days we get insanely dizzying examples of both.

Get off my lawn.

The CBA allows a maximum of 20 days on the schedule without an off-day, and Texas is now done with one of those max runs, having gone a disappointing 10-10 in a stretch that included 13 games away from home, the season’s first roster move (a major one), a lack of rhythm from a lethargic offense that’s trying to work around converging slumps from Ian Kinsler and Michael Young and Mike Napoli and weird bursts from Nelson Cruz, a rotation that has lost the consistency which marked the season’s first month, and an absence of any that late-inning magic that occasionally allows us to forget the rest, for at least a day.

And yet nobody’s all that hot in the AL West, Texas still leads the division by five games and the Angels by seven, and that Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds calculus still has the Rangers as an acceptable 99.6 percent bet to reach the post-season.

In spite of this momentarily big bag of flat, what has me grumpiest this baseball season has nothing to do with the Rangers’ current state or even the Jairo Beras inertia.  

I’m putting in the jinx right now.  This righthander has gone 8.2 hitless innings, walking six and striking out a shocking 19 hitters.  

Ernesto Frieri has a no-hitter going.

As a Los Angeles Angel.

That’s awesome.  And not really the part that has me grumpy.

I get that Josh Byrnes has overseen an impressive resurgence of the San Diego farm system and I applaud him for giving Jon Daniels his start in baseball.  But c’mon.

Frieri is 26 years old.  He can’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season.  Two thousand sixteen.  Why the Padres decided to move him I’m not sure I understand.  

Especially when they did.

Now this isn’t a complaint that Texas should have gone to San Diego on May 2 and outbid the Angels’ offer of righthander Donn Roach (who was really good in the High A Cal League before the trade and has been even better in that same league since) and infielder Alexi Amarista to get Frieri.  At the time of the deal, the Rangers’ bullpen had struck out 58 and walked six in 66.2 innings on a 17-7 club, holding the opposition to a .194 batting average and compiling a collective 2.30 ERA.  The pen was dominating.

But if San Diego had waited another day, Mariano Rivera would have been injured and the market for Frieri would have surely had another potential trading partner.

Another couple weeks, and Texas might have decided another bullpen arm made sense, with the loss of Scott Feldman to the rotation and with Los Angeles in on Frieri (or at least known to be on the hunt for impact relievers) and with Mike Adams in his free agent season and, frankly, with an arm like Frieri and his extreme controllability available for a couple tier two prospects.
And here’s the bigger point: Contending teams rarely decide in June and July that they have less of a need for bullpen reinforcement than they did in April and May.
What was San Diego’s hurry?
Frieri’s really good.  He’s going to affect pennant races.  Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe for these next five years.  I don’t hate that the Angels made a great move.  I expect that.  But I hate that it cost them so little, and more so that Byrnes sold him off when he did, when I can’t figure out any decent reason not to hold onto him and let other clubs’ injuries and either dwindling pennant hopes or surging pennant hopes introduce new trade opportunities.  

I’m not sure why Frieri was even a guy that Byrnes wanted to trade in the first place, and he certainly couldn’t have been blown away into that stance by the Roach/Amarista package.  But why he felt it was urgent to move him four weeks into this season, for what was at best a reasonable return, has me a lot grumpier than Derek Holland’s last start or Mike Napoli’s second straight frozen first half or a 4-6 run against the Royals, A’s, Astros, and Mariners.

Now get off my lawn.

Josh Hamilton and the murkiest crystal ball.

He came up big again last night, flashing the stick and the wheels and the leather, punishing baseballs and fences, doing what he does and doing it in such a way that reminds us, in case we’d forgotten over these last few days or been immunized to it over the last six weeks, that Josh Hamilton’s bag of tricks is deep as it is authoritative, and in some ways almost absurdly and singularly routine.

There’s a very real chance, maybe even a likelihood, that he won’t be a Texas Ranger on November 6.  But that doesn’t mean he won’t be one a month after that.

And you can’t rule out that he’ll get locked up long-term well before the end of the season, either.

Not that there’s a whole lot of reliable indication out there to support any sort of gut feel.

Nolan Ryan said a few days ago that the club and Hamilton haven’t exchanged proposals since the season began and that he didn’t expect the Rangers would have a real shot at signing him before late November or December, meaning after the free agency doors swing wide open and he’s able to test the market and see what it will bear.

On the other hand, Jon Daniels, who said earlier this month that there was nothing new to report on the Hamilton front, said yesterday on local radio that “at the end of the day, I think we’ll get it done — it’s the right fit.”

Hamilton, for his part, has been relatively careful with his comments, though over the winter he played the leverage game by giving the Union repeated sound bite hugs and dismissing the suggestion that he owed Texas anything.

If all of that seems unhelpful, one national story rolled out days after Hamilton’s four-homer game two weeks ago reported that, according to sources, Texas had “reopened negotiations” with the 31-year-old, immediately after which a local report adamantly pointed out that, yes, the club was talking to his agent “regularly [but had] been for months.  That is nothing new.”

And then there’s the handicapping game that so many Rangers fans are insistent on playing — in May — an urge fed dutifully by the media.  Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) ranked the 14 teams that he believes have the best chance to relocate Hamilton in 2013.  Jeff Passan (Yahoo! Sports) ranked 11 such clubs.  To get a sense of how unpredictable all this is, Heyman had two teams in his top five (Milwaukee and Kansas City) that weren’t anywhere on Passan’s list, and Passan had two in his top five (Seattle and San Francisco) completely absent from Heyman’s rundown.
But both make Texas the favorites.

Passan’s final comment was especially interesting: “He’s theirs to lose – or, if you prefer another perspective, they’re his to lose.  The Rangers and Hamilton fit well, sort of like the Cardinals and Albert Pujols did.  And, like the Pujols negotiations, this will come down to just how much Hamilton can separate business and emotion.  Pujols was insulted by St. Louis’ offer.  If the same happens with Hamilton, affinity can turn into spite, love into resentment, happiness into animus.  And odds-on-favorite status into also-ran.”
While Passan felt the Brewers won’t be in the mix at all, Phil Rogers (Chicago Tribune) suggests that club is actually the very best fit, with an aggressive owner, an invested fan base, and the Narron brothers all in place.
Passan had the Blue Jays as the 11th-most likely landing spot for Hamilton, while Heyman didn’t consider Toronto a possibility at all, and yet yesterday morning on his talk show Norm Hitzges had the Blue Jays along with the Nationals as the frontrunners before he talked himself out of those two clubs and everyone else, concluding that Hamilton’s not going anywhere.
But Ben Rogers (ESPN Dallas) disagrees with all of them, tweeting: “If Josh Hamilton is not signed by the end of the season, I do not expect him back.”
All camps seem to agree that there will be little headache over the AAV that Hamilton will command, that instead the point that will be wrestled over is the length of the deal, with some suggesting his agent (with a push from the Union) will be chasing something that fits comfortably in the range set by the seven years Jayson Werth got two winters ago and the nine and ten that Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols landed this past off-season.
But the early returns on Werth and Pujols in particular are two reasons clubs might not share such an optimistic view of what a commitment to the 31-year-old should look like, which sets aside all the added issues that the unique ballplayer presents, issues that led three general managers to tell Passan that “even if Hamilton were to play the entire season and finish healthy, they would have trouble giving him much beyond a six-year deal – if that.”
A few of you have asked whether Texas might decide to flip Hamilton this summer in what could be another Mark Teixeira trade.
No.
For one, contending teams don’t trade core players in July.  They just don’t.
On top of that, only other contending teams would be interested in what would be just two months of Hamilton (different from the year and two months Teixeira had until free agency).  Those teams aren’t going to give up useful big leaguers while they try to win in 2012, and even if you were to ignore the first point, Texas would never trade an impact player in a season set up to go beyond 162 without getting something different that would make the active roster stronger.
In addition, the new CBA rules make it so that a team acquiring Hamilton would get zero draft pick compensation if he were to change teams in the winter.  (Only Texas is eligible to get the picks.)  So teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental player like Hamilton would be as they used to under the previous labor agreement.
Erase the thought from your mind.  Hamilton will finish the season in Texas.  And if he does leave, it will be after Texas makes him a qualifying offer that results in draft pick compensation.
Just about everyone else on the active roster is here to stay in 2012 as well.  I suppose a player like Mitch Moreland or David Murphy or Mark Lowe could be moved with prospects to get a significant upgrade at his position or another on the roster (compare Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter and Pedro Strop a year ago), but that seems farfetched, and what we’re more likely looking at is guys like Cody Buckel, Barret Loux, Justin Grimm, Tanner Scheppers, Chad Bell, Nick Tepesch, Rougned Odor, and Christian Villanueva as the types of players who could be involved in July discussions, and possibly names on a tier beneath those if it’s to simply go get whoever this summer’s Jeff Francoeur will be, or perhaps a proven swing man in the pen who can replace what Texas is losing if Scott Feldman ends up sticking in the rotation for the stretch, for whatever reason (plus, the Rangers are not going to pick up Feldman’s expensive 2013 option).
With this organization you can never rule out something bigger, maybe involving someone like Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke or Shane Victorino or Justin Morneau or Josh Johnson, since, as Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reminds everyone, the Rangers “were No. 1 in Baseball America’s most recent organizational talent rankings and are deep enough in prospects to make practically any move they want.”
Texas will see an unprecedented number of fans flood through the turnstiles this season and surely must be threatening a merchandising best and have that monster TV deal just around the corner.  The Rangers can probably “make practically any move they want” in free agency as well, or in an effort to prevent selected players from ever getting to that market.
They can afford to pay Hamilton whatever it is that other clubs might be willing to pay him.  That doesn’t mean they will, or should.
There’s never been a professional athlete in this market to whom the concept of support system has had greater significance.  For this player more than any other I can think of locally, stability and comfort zone off the field should count for something, even if it doesn’t factor into the Union’s vision for his next deal.  That’s not to say Hamilton owes the Rangers anything, but maybe he owes the Players Association less than he owes himself and his family.  And maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.
But it’s fairly clear that there are all kinds of reasons that Texas shouldn’t want to let Hamilton go and that Hamilton might not want to move his life somewhere else.  Still, there’s a massively important and unusual cost analysis at work for both sides, and unless they match up there will be other teams eager to tap in, maybe with offers packing the baseball business punch of a four-homer night.
What’s he worth?  Probably not as much as he’ll get paid.  Because this is professional sports.  And Josh Hamilton is a really good professional ballplayer, and a brand.
He’s a dynamic, exceptional, crazy-great athlete in a sport that locally has never been healthier, bringing walls down when he’s not firing missiles over them, and while there’s not even a marginally tangible vibe on the when or the where or the how much on the subject of that business issue, at least we have the chance to distract ourselves over the summer and fall with the continuation of the good old days for Josh Hamilton’s current baseball team, led on many nights by the transcendent play of a singularly remarkable player, one who helps win games with his bat and his glove and his legs and his arm and a contract that makes him a Texas Ranger for another five and a half months, at least.

Worst.

I was thinking I’d watch another solid Yu Darvish start and dig in on the Josh Hamilton contract situation this morning, but then a strange and not very good baseball day happened, as we learned Neftali Feliz had a sore elbow a week ago but told nobody and then was terrible on Friday, hours after Texas watched Roy Oswalt throw, and now Feliz is on the disabled list with a sprain (no tear) and will be shut down for a month and maybe more and Nolan Ryan told Randy Galloway that he wants to talk to Jon Daniels about what the Rangers’ scouts thought about Oswalt’s session and we all need to realize that it could take a month and maybe more for him to get reasonably stretched out and Texas didn’t lose one starting pitcher to the disabled list in 2011 and in fact Texas hadn’t ever gone this far into a season without a roster move and there were 11 roster moves by this time last year and one fantastic upshot of all this is that I have reason to write the words “Ken Pape” for the second time in the history of the Newberg Report and that reminds me that the Newberg Report’s 14-year anniversary is Thursday and run-on sentences are the new market inefficiency.

And Michael Kirkman, and real life.

And once again Seattle managed to mortalize Darvish and Hamilton celebrated his birthday not by hurling a bat into the stands but instead by nearly doing it with a baseball and #Gloops and you should make plans to attend Eric Nadel’s Birthday Benefit on Thursday night and there’s no game that day which you should have already deduced since Nadel goes to every Rangers game and incidentally he helmed things alone last night because Steve Busby had to slide over to TV since Dave Barnett was sick and to make things more interesting on that side of things Fox Sports Southwest wasn’t able to air commercials for most of the game and in the meantime Daniels sat in with Nadel for three fantastic innings of radio and over this stretch of 18 games in 18 days which will be 20 in 20 before Eric Nadel’s Birthday Benefit the Rangers have managed to go only 9-9 (conversation fear) but have seen the A’s (4.0 games back) and Mariners (6.5) gain only half a game each while the Angels (8.0) have dropped another half a game back and remember that treading water in the standings isn’t so bad when you’re leading the pack since each day like that is one less day for those who trail to make up ground and the Angels lost to Oakland last night and I’m still in favor of that and I really wish Vernon Wells hadn’t gotten hurt and seriously Jairo Beras MLB Jairo Beras Jairo Beras and wow Chris Davis and Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day but flags fly forever and wow to you too Koji Uehara and take a very good look at what Adam Jones did in the minor leagues and I want Hamilton to start being really awesome again even though it will make me not want to write about his contract situation and worst Newberg Report ever and if I could have done this with letters cut out from a magazine like a ransom note I might have because baseball can make you crazy and I was really wrong about Juan Moreno.

Present.

As much as it’s a subject I don’t feel like worrying about right now, I get it.  It’s on everyone’s mind.

I will get to it sometime this week.

But not today.  It’s Josh Hamilton’s 31st birthday, and my gift to him (if not to me) is at least one more day to not talk about his contract.

Felix vs. Yu tonight.  After that, I’ll gather some thoughts on Hamilton and put them together.

Later this week.  Cool?

Buck up.

We’ve all been asked “Why baseball?” by that water-cooler set – ever dwindling in North Texas, happily – who complains that the game is too slow, that they play too often, that there’s not enough freakishly tall or freakishly fast or freakishly violent.  That it’s just boring.

We each have a dozen go-to responses, some of which would be a waste of time on most of the skeptics.

But get the sense that the person asking is actually open-minded to the idea of digging in and embracing the Great Game, and you might riff on the part about the beauty of the minor leagues, which gives Kansas City and San Diego fans very good reason to be invested right now, which did the same for Washington a year or two ago, which had core Rangers fans fired up two years before the World Series came to Texas and the bandwagon got max-blitzed.

The minor leagues also give us license to take our minds off one out of four against Kansas City and Oakland at home, because sometimes even being a fan of the best team in baseball demands an occasional distraction.

So thank you, Cody Buckel.

Thanks for being freakishly awesome.

Jurickson Profar and I will see you in Frisco, soon enough.

Stoppers and stopdowns.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, beginning to immerse myself in Topps and The Sporting News and Garagiola and Kubek and Red Books and Green Books and Rawlings Scoremaster scorebooks, the pitchers who shut games down in the ninth inning (if not the eighth and ninth) were called, almost interchangeably:

  • Closers
  • Stoppers
  • Firemen

Times have changed.

Last night, with a display of exceptional filth, Joe Nathan was a bona fide closer.

And Yu Darvish was a stopper.

Darvish has pitched three times after a Rangers loss.  His record in those three starts: 3-0 with an ERA of 0.78.  In 23 innings over those three starts, once in white and once in gray and once in red, he’s scattered 15 hits and six walks while punching out 26 Yankees, Blue Jays, and A’s.

That’s what the very good ones do.  They shoulder the load and kill losing streaks.

Darvish, Mike Adams, and Nathan put zeroes up in every inning but one (the first), a feat matched by Oakland lefthanders Tommy Milone and Pedro Figueroa, as the Texas offense was silenced by decent pitching outside of its four-run fourth.  The lineup is sputtering.

We talk about Josh Hamilton a lot, and how Texas is a much more successful team when Adrian Beltre is in the lineup, and how Ian Kinsler is now in the conversation regarding the most complete second basemen in baseball, and how Nelson Cruz has finally broken open one of those crazy-hot streaks.  Every one of those guys has the ability to put a team on its back for a week.

The most common bullet point this season for Elvis Andrus has been the cute note that he’s on base a lot when Hamilton homers.

But look at the big league leaders in OPS (on-base plus slug), and scroll up from guys like Brian McCann, Hunter Pence, Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Matt Holliday, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Santana – look above all of them – and there sits Andrus, at .825, after putting up a .683 mark his first three seasons.

Andrus’s OPS is fourth on the Rangers (behind Hamilton, Beltre, and Kinsler).

But his mark would lead the Angels and the Mariners and the Astros.

Take a look instead at WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a sabermetric measure that looks not only at offense but fielding and baserunning factors as well, and Andrus is unquestionably among baseball’s best players in 2012.

Only 12 (Hamilton, David Wright, Austin Jackson, Adam Jones, Michael Bourn, Rafael Furcal, Matt Kemp, Carlos Beltran, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Bryan LaHair, and Martin Prado) are ranked higher.

As the Rangers offense has slowed down, Andrus hasn’t.  Over the last three weeks, the club is 11-11, but Andrus is hitting .400/.463/.482, with 10 walks and only eight strikeouts in 85 at-bats (and five stolen bases in six tries).

When he pinch-hit in the game’s final at-bat on Tuesday night, grounding out to shortstop, it snapped a streak of 32 straight games in which he’d reached base.  Nobody has had a longer streak in baseball this year.

He started a new streak last night, reaching on an infield single to lead off the first after Darvish had surrendered his one run.  He flew out in the third but drove in a run in the fourth, roping a two-out single to left on an 0-2 changeup with men on first and third to push the Texas lead to a 4-1 margin that would stand.

Nothing spectacular, at the plate or in the field, but as Andrus has been so often this year, he was right in the middle of things, hitting and running and catching and throwing and igniting, and helping this team win.

I get emails and tweets from you guys every day, wanting to talk about what will eventually happen with Andrus and Jurickson Profar (and what it means for Kinsler) and when, since Andrus can be a free agent after 2014 and Profar – now hitting .289/.339/.493 as a 19-year-old in AA (giving him an .833 OPS that’s higher than Andrus’s AL mark) and in the midst of a 26-game hit streak and 34-game base-reaching streak of his own – is going to be ready well before that time.

My answer to that is the same as the one I have when the topic of Hamilton’s contract situation comes up.

I’m not thinking about that right now.  At all.  There’s a game this afternoon, and a playoff tournament a little over four months away.

In between there should be a couple dozen Darvish starts and 40 dozen Hamilton plate appearances, and no Rangers fan would argue that there’s anything more worthy of a stopdown than when those two play baseball, with the possible exception of a reasonably healthy Beltre.

But the way Elvis Andrus is playing the game right now, putting pressure on the opponent and taking pressure off his teammates, in one way or another on most nights, he’s moved himself into the category this year, at least a quarter of the way in, of serving up daily doses of #AppointmentBaseball.  While several of his teammates are getting the talk show and TV package attention, he’s quietly taken his game to an entirely new level after signing a monster contract, a sports phenomenon that gets about as much attention as who might be in line to succeed Kurt Bevacqua as baseball’s Bubble Gum Blowing Champ.

108.

The rain had let up, the tarp was removed, and Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Michael Young returned to their places on the bags, keeping the book on C.J. Wilson open even though, at least physically, his night was done.

While the decision had been made in one clubhouse that Yu Darvish would keep pitching after a rain delay that lasted nearly two hours, in the other clubhouse an even more unconventional decision was made.  Wilson, having thrown only 12 strikes and 10 balls before the umpires cleared the field, would return to the team hotel and rest up for today’s noon start.  He’ll be the first big leaguer to start consecutive games since Rangers righthander Aaron Myette did it on September 3-4, 2002, having been ejected against the Orioles the first of those two days after knocking Melvin Mora down with two of the game’s first four pitches.

The day after Myette came back against Baltimore, giving up five runs in three innings, Wilson threw his second nine-inning complete game as a pro, leading AA Tulsa to a 2-1 playoff win over the Wichita Wranglers, finishing off a Drillers sweep.  Wilson gave up an unearned run on three singles and three walks that night, fanning six.

Wilson would give up three singles last night, too, none of which reached the outfield, before the rain halted the game and ended his night.

As reader Wes Holcomb pointed out on Twitter, once Hamilton, Beltre, and Young came around to score when the game resumed, Wilson’s ERA for the game and for his career against the Rangers was locked in, for a day, at 108.00.

108 is also what Darvish’s ERA was after the first eight batters of his Major League career, when Seattle had scored four times while recording just one out.

1.08 is what Darvish’s ERA would be for the remainder of that debut plus the three starts against Minnesota, Detroit, and New York that followed.

$108 million is what the Rangers have invested in Darvish, including the posting fee.

108 is also perhaps the most hallowed number from the series “Lost,” which of course has all sorts of Wilson connotations, and it’s also exactly two-thirds of a baseball season, which is about how long it typically takes for Josh Hamilton to get to 17 home runs, and it’s also exactly the number of 2012 baseball games that the Rangers are on pace to win, and it’s also the number of stitches on the ball, which makes me want to stop writing right now and head out the door for a little B League practice before cleaning up in time for the Rangers to move the needle on C.J. Wilson’s career ERA against Texas, maybe up and maybe down, but because it’s baseball we need just one sleep at a time to find out, and with that I’m a little too fired up to keep writing and so I’m done for the morning and #8.0 and bring it and I’ll talk to you later.

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