August 2012

The other deadline.

Somewhere between the things I don’t care much about, like Stephen Strasburg’s workload and Roger Clemens’s Hall of Fame timetable and who the MVP’s should be, and those you don’t care much about, which I suppose might include who the Gary Southshore Railcats traded two players to be named for last week, lies the wheelhouse of where this project has evolved over the years.

Fourteen years ago, the focus of the Newberg Report was wholly on the Texas Rangers farm system.  It’s still a huge part of things but now in a different way.

The emphasis of the newsletter is now the baseball operations effort as a whole.  Scouting and player development, from the draft and international markets to developments in the minor leagues and how things might fit in Arlington.  Roster management.  Trades, free agency, and a constant overview of the direction of the franchise, steadily disrupted by an unapologetic dose of scoreboard watching and in-game hashtagging.

There’s an added boost of adrenaline on the final day of August in a contending baseball season.  We’re heading into the final leg before 162+, a final four-and-a-half weeks of games that count no more than the first five months and in some cases probably less, but not really.

August 31 also has a procedural significance, as it’s the final day on which a team can bring in a player from outside the organization and be able to suit him up for the post-season.  (Theoretically, it’s also the day on which players from the farm must be added to the active roster to be playoff-eligible, but there are ways around that to the point that exception basically swallows up the rule.)

On August 31, 2010, days after designating him for assignment, Texas traded infielder Joaquin Arias, out of options and the plans, to the Mets for outfielder Jeff Francoeur.

On August 31, 2011, Texas sent cash to Kansas City for catcher Matt Treanor and traded a player to be named later to Baltimore for left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez.  The Rangers placed out-of-options reliever Pedro Strop on revocable waivers, and Baltimore claimed him the following day, completing the trade.

Francoeur was not a big deal.  The mere $833,333 that remained on his one-year contract with New York didn’t prompt any of the 25 teams with priority over the Rangers to claim the 26-year-old, even if just to ensure that Texas couldn’t get him.

But he contributed a few meaningful moments.

So did Gonzalez, and Treanor caught 26 September innings that Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba didn’t have to.

Will Jon Daniels make a trade today?  An extra right-handed bat for the bench couldn’t hurt, and neither could an extra bullpen arm.

But there are options for those roles already in the Rangers system, and the universe of players available in trade is limited to those who cleared league-wide waivers this month (or were placed on waivers since Monday afternoon and were claimed since Wednesday afternoon by Texas and no other team with greater claim priority), and the trade opportunities are limited by the reasonableness of the trade discussions.

Maybe Julio Borbon or Brandon Snyder, each out of options, is this year’s Arias or Strop.  The potential impact of any trade would have to be greater than a Francoeur or Gonzalez type, you would think, for someone like Engel Beltre or Neil Ramirez to be involved, even with their flaws and ticking clocks, and Wilmer Font and Roman Mendez and Miguel De Los Santos aren’t going anywhere.  Move off the 40-man roster and the conversation gets more layered, but you get the idea.

August 31 trades are typically an effort – on both sides – to catch a little bottled lightning, to roll the dice.  (They rarely involve impact players, the Texas-Oakland blockbuster in 1992 notwithstanding.)

But that’s not to say they’re meaningless.  Texas wouldn’t take the Francoeur trade back (even if Arias has evidently since become a player that Giants manager Bruce Bochy can’t take out of the lineup), and the Orioles are plenty happy with the shot they took on Strop.

So it’s August 31, and we wait to see when exactly Jurickson Profar will go from the late-inning replacement that Texas has tactically made him at Frisco this week to an asset on the big league bench.

And we look at the September schedules and see that the uncommon opponents between Texas (at CLE, at KC, at TB, CLE) and Oakland (BOS, BAL, at DET, at NYY) ought to make the division race no more worrisome in September than it is for anyone today.

And we watch Font and Mendez and C.J. Edwards and Ronald Guzman and the crazy-great finishes to the season that they’re putting together, not to mention Tanner Scheppers and Leonys Martin, who should get another chance to help before this season is over.

And we read this.

And we still keep an eye on those Angels, the last team I want to face in October.

And we note that the compensatory picks Texas received when Los Angeles signed C.J. Wilson turned into Joey Gallo and Jamie Jarmon.

And while we do all that, we spend the hours before Ian Kinsler steps in tonight against Ubaldo Jimenez by monitoring Twitter and the screen crawls, wondering whether some club might call Jon Daniels today, backing off the last ask in order to move the expiring contract of a role player who could be asked to get one big out or one huge pinch-hit in October for someone who, if things play out, could bloom late for them like the next Joaquin Arias or Pedro Strop.

And I’ll keep myself distracted from that ticking clock by doing a day’s real work and, if things get slow for five minutes, maybe I’ll check to see whether the Windy City Thunderbolts and Sioux Falls Pheasants have finally made a trade.

August.

We’ll be at Shooters Dallas for lunch today, hours after the kids returned to school and hours before the Rays return to Arlington for the first time since April, the second time since October.

We’ll be at Shooters because Ben and Skin are no longer on assignment in Southern California, dispatched to cover training camp in that sport that, in North Texas, used to be the only game in town by time back-to-school shopping was in full swing.

We’ll be there with Ben and Skin because two Rangers fans contributed a staggering amount of money to the Hello Win Column Fund and the Mike Coolbaugh Diamond Dreams Foundation a month ago at the Newberg Report Night auction, for the chance to have lunch with the ESPN Dallas duo.

We’ll be sitting in the shadow of the American Airlines Center, where pre-season hockey begins in a month and pre-season basketball begins a little bit after that.  We’ll be a couple doors down from a local news studio in Victory Park, where in past years most 10 p.m. sportscasts in August focused on the spirited competition for third-string quarterback and ended with something like, “Aaaaand the Rangers, riding out the string, lost again.  John, Gloria, back to you.”

When we get together we’ll probably talk about the Rays and the Angels and the A’s and what Texas should be doing at backup shortstop right now.  There might be a strain of angst over the lack of a true number one starter or a lineup situation or two, but that’s OK, because angst beats the tar out of apathy.  Before the last few years a similar August 27th conversation might have centered (wishfully) on who the Rangers might target this coming winter, or on some forced acronym that summed up the club’s farm system in three snappy letters, or on what went wrong this season and why, c’mon, no-seriously, things might finally turn around next year.

Not any more.

Summer vacation is over, but baseball is not, and this morning on the way to drop-off I stopped counting the kids in Rangers T-shirts because I think that might be prohibited in a school zone.

Today at Shooters, we’ll talk about those two huge catches, one of which he made while getting blindsided by a huge hit across the middle, and it will not be about Dwayne Harris, but instead about Craig Gentry.

The obligatory, patronizing punch line at the end of the nightly sportscast, if there must be one, is now reserved for a different franchise.

Tonight it’s Price and it’s Holland and the Castle Doctrine and a reminder of the last two Octobers and maybe a preview of the one that’s around the corner.  It’s late August and it’s baseball season, and the narrative, no matter what the network sales departments believe, ought to be not about one pre-season (or two others on the way), but instead about the post-season toward which a very steady and impressive march continues.

Games without frontiers.

Matt Harrison’s start last night was arguably his finest as a pro.

A year earlier, to the day, was one of his worst.

It was the second of three straight blowout losses at home to the Red Sox, and a third straight subpar effort for Harrison, this one a 13-2 pasting in which he was hammered for four hits on five runs before his teammates had come up for their first at-bats.  He ended up yielding seven Boston runs in five innings, and was skipped the next time through the rotation before solidifying a spot in the playoff rotation with a good September.

In that Boston blowout in Arlington on August 24, 2011, Josh Beckett gave the Sox a strong six (one run on four hits).  Adrian Gonzalez homered.  And Carl Crawford homered.

On August 24, 2012, Harrison was dramatically better.

And Beckett and Gonzalez and Crawford made even more dramatic news.

It’s kind of cool to see a star player going from the American League to the National League, something that seems to happen very rarely these days, but Boston kills the Dodgers in this nine-player blockbuster that has just gone down.

I’m surprised the Dodgers couldn’t have leveraged the deal so that they didn’t have to give up Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster, given the phenomenal favor they’re doing Boston by taking on about $140 million of the guaranteed money still owed to Beckett and Crawford just to get Gonzalez and the six-plus years and about $130 million left on his deal.  Trying to crush with explosive spending tends to work less reliably than relentless scouting and solid player development and shrewd trading and timely hits in free agency, but OK.  Best of luck.

One club executive said to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports: “If you’re going to spend more than $250 million, is this the way to do it?”

No, I think most would agree, but it reflects two things:

1.  That the Dodgers’ new owners, having already taken on the two and a third years and $36 million left on Hanley Ramirez’s contract and putting in revocable waiver claims on Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton, managing to make a deal with Philadelphia for the latter (given the timing of when the Phillies ran the two starters on waivers and the Dodgers claiming both, I wonder if there was an effort by those two teams to put together a Lee-Blanton package deal much like Boston and Los Angeles have done), are in a mood to spend a lot of money.

2.  And that with an extremely weak free agency class this winter (especially with the elimination of Cole Hamels, whom many figured would end up in Los Angeles this winter before he extended in July with the Phillies, and the heavily diminished value of Melky Cabrera), maybe the Dodgers figured acquiring Gonzalez now – even at the expense of having to acquire Beckett and Crawford too – was a better idea than competing with half a dozen clubs to sign Josh Hamilton.

Of course, the way the Dodgers are rolling, who’s to say they’re going to sit out of the Hamilton chase?  I suppose they could trade Andre Ethier to make space in the outfield.

All of could very well have an impact on the Rangers’ winter.  On the one hand, maybe Hamilton is less likely to leave.  Los Angeles seemed to be a likely contestant for the free agent, Boston perhaps less so.  Will the Red Sox enter a rebuilding phase?  They’ve ditched off three veterans on long-term deals, adding a couple promising arms in the process.  They cleared space for Will Middlebrooks earlier this summer by trading Kevin Youkilis.  They’ll turn center field over a year from now (or less) to Jackie Bradley Jr.  Maybe they’ll shop Jacoby Ellsbury this winter as part of that plan.  Maybe they’ll shop Jon Lester, too.

Or will they use all this salary relief to lock Ellsbury up, chase Hamilton and Zack Greinke, and roll out another typical Red Sox roster, just different-looking from the last one?

I still question whether Boston is the right place for Hamilton and his family to be.  But I’m only guessing as to what really drives him.

Maybe he’ll talk to his old Rays buddy Crawford to see what that experience was like.

And hey, maybe the Los Angeles moves also reduce that club’s interest in spending big on an offense-first catcher like Mike Napoli.

It’s all guesswork.  This Dodgers stuff is frontier law.

But it does seem to be an indication that, with more teams locking up their key assets before free agency than ever, leaving thinner free agent crops as a result, teams may be less willing to engage in the annual gross overspending spree in the winter, which results in contracts like the one Crawford got after the 2010 season when there was no Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder to spend on but the Red Sox were dying to buy big anyway.

It all goes back to the importance of scouting and development and building a formidable farm – so that you don’t have to rely on free agency to stay competitive, so that you can control costs by going with less expensive players when the time is right to do that, and so that you have the wherewithal to move prospects on occasion for impact veterans you’ve zeroed in on to put your team over the top.

Even that’s more difficult now, given the league-imposed constraints on spending in the draft and on the international market.

But it’s no less critical.  Just more imperative to make good decisions on that front.

The way Mike Olt has been used since coming up, including the outfield audition and no apparent place to play (especially the way Mitch Moreland has been going, including his bomb today off a lefty), has had me thinking about Gonzalez’s time here and what might eventually happen with this situation.

I have full faith that Olt, if traded, will be traded more effectively than Gonzalez was.

Or maybe he won’t be traded at all.

And maybe those rumors last month that Boston talked to Texas about Ellsbury could be revived this winter, especially if the Sox really are preparing to start over.

Or maybe the Dodgers will trade for Ellsbury in the off-season and make him the first left-handed catcher since Benny Distefano.

Nonsense, but a year ago you probably wouldn’t have believed that Matt Harrison, pulled from the rotation after three terrible starts, would be the best starter on the best team in the American League one year later, or that the Dodgers, even if they were to emerge from their ownership mess, would aggressively pursue and enthusiastically agree to the economically crushing trade that’s being announced as I send this.

Connect.

The takeaway was not that Ryan Dempster, who cost Texas far less from a far deeper system than Zack Greinke cost the flagging Angels, is now 2-1, 6.04 as a Ranger (with the club 3-1 in his starts) while Greinke is 1-2, 6.19 in his five (with Los Angeles 1-4 when he pitches).  It was more about Dempster’s marked Colby Lewis-ness, supremely efficient and very effective on his good nights, a guy who fits third or fourth in a solid playoff rotation if he’s in a groove.  And that’s really all that Texas needs to expect, given the cost.

Texas 4, Baltimore 1 was an unremarkable, workmanlike effort, one that lifted the Rangers to 21 games over .500 for the third time this season, the previous two of which were followed by losses.  Scott Feldman gets the chance tonight to set a new high-water mark for the 2012 club, facing righthander Chris Tillman, who’s usually pretty good against Texas.

Moving to 22 over would just be a number, without as much pop as the 9.5 that sits on the Angels’ line in the standings, nestled neatly and symmetrically between Oakland’s 6.0 and Seattle’s 13.0.

More important than games over .500 is games over Baltimore in this series, and if Texas can take either tonight’s game or tomorrow’s, it’s another series win, and that’s a bigger deal than any Magic Number calculation.  Keep winning series and everything will be just fine.

The Rangers have lost only one series since the trade deadline.

The Angels have won just one.

Looking ahead to the Angels’ off-season, I don’t really know how impulsive Arte Moreno is, and at the moment I don’t really care, but I’m pretty sure that whatever he has in mind my reaction will be to go ahead and bring it.

I took in last night’s game in a new way, invited by Fox Sports Southwest’s Ramon Alvarez, along with a handful of other Rangers-centric bloggers (including Lone Star Ball’s Adam Morris, Baseball Time in Arlington’s Joey Matschulat, SB Nation Dallas’s Jonathan Tjarks and John Stathas, Shutdown Inning’s Peter Ellwood, and Claw and Antler Nation’s James Holland), to come to the Ballpark and test-drive Fox’s interactive Game Connect platform, developed by FOX RSN Digital Media’s Director of Product and Technology Mike Conley.  It’s an impressive, smart, ambitious, jam-packed baseball sensory overload for people who embrace baseball sensory overload.

Visit the Rangers’ Game Connect site and you might find that the information you’d typically pull up three or four sites during a ballgame to grab is all in one place, visualized in better ways and allowing you to dig two or three levels beneath the surface on any given at-bat, in real time.  If Twitter or other social media outlets are your in-game thing, that’s there, too.  Sending questions to Tom and Buzz in the booth as the game unfolds: Yep.  There are probably a dozen features of the site that I never dug into.

Right now, it’s taking all of my resolve not to do emergency surgery on Ken Rosenthal’s column this morning that proposes Elvis Andrus, Martin Perez, and Cody Buckel to Tampa Bay this winter for at least three years of David Price, an ambitious idea of baseball sensory overload for people who embrace baseball sensory overload.

Another time.

For now, I’m just gonna spend the day working, satisfied with last night’s comfortably satisfying win and the pitcher who earned it, and coming away from it with one other tangential conclusion besides the sense that Conley is onto something with Game Connect (and seems very motivated to make it even better): That I’d put the group of bloggers who write about the Texas Rangers in this little “football town” of ours up against anyone’s in baseball.

Now go win the dang series.

Greatness from mediocrity.

Ron Washington had a career as a professional baseball player that most of us would have taken in a second.  But he was a marginal big league player.

Bill Cowher was a marginal NFL player.

Rick Carlisle was a marginal NBA player.

Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Tom Kelly, and Cito Gaston had undistinguished playing careers, as did Jim Leyland, Ron Gardenhire, Bruce Bochy, and Joe Maddon.

Bill Belichick, Jeff Fisher, Mike Holmgren, and Sean Payton didn’t make a name for themselves as players.  Neither did Don Shula, John Madden, or Chuck Noll.

And neither did Pat Riley or George Karl or Scott Brooks.

Greg Popovich didn’t even play at the pro level, and neither did Jimmy Johnson or Mike Tomlin or Bill Walsh.  Earl Weaver’s 14 minor league seasons never got him to the big leagues.

Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson were good NBA players, but not great.  Same with Doc Rivers.  And Mike Scioscia, and Davey Johnson.

The great ones are often failures as head coaches.  Ted Williams.  Bart Starr.  Isiah Thomas.  Wayne Gretzky.

There are theories on that.  A prevalent one (which I think was advanced in “Moneyball”) is that the former superstar often has trouble relating to marginal players because he was blessed with so much natural ability that he lacks the faculty to teach the nuances of the game.  Or perhaps that not having had the experience of routinely fighting for a job or for playing time makes it difficult to understand how to get the most out of (or how to utilize) his role players.  Or that he’s simply unfamiliar with what it’s like to struggle as a player, and thus unequipped to help players fight through those inevitable stretches and pull out of them.

And yes, there are exceptions.  Mike Ditka and Joe Torre.  Frank Robinson and, briefly, Larry Bird.  Don Mattingly is showing signs of being a very good manager, and there are others.

But they do seem to be exceptions.

I’m not sure why I spent time thinking about this over the weekend, but for the first time since the Rangers entered this era of great baseball there’s been much talk about Ron Washington and his tendencies to play certain players and not play others, and why that might be.  I think a lot of that dialogue is overblown, the result of a fan base that now expects great things out of its baseball team and is prone to pick apart every lineup decision and sacrifice bunt call and pitching change.

And, of course, all of that is exponentially better than apathy.  We’ve lived through dozens of years when August 20 was football season around here.

I’m a Ron Washington fan.  He’s been instrumental in getting this thing to the place it’s at right now.  His personality, and the place he comes from as a player, have helped forge the tough, tenacious, resilient character of his team.

But aside from Elvis Andrus – whom Wash has been prominently tough on since he broke in (with good results, as the mental lapses on defense and on the basepaths have noticeably decreased) – he seems reluctant to trust young players.  Not that that makes him unique among the great managers and head coaches in pro sports.

I’m not suggesting Mike Olt or Leonys Martin should be getting everyday at-bats.  Far from it.

My thoughts on bringing Jurickson Profar up have everything to do with Profar’s long-term development and nothing to do with a desire to reduce Andrus’s or Ian Kinsler’s playing time.

I think the thing that got me thinking about this is hearing Wash comment more and more about how Martin isn’t ready to be a big leaguer, and how Profar needs to learn how to play the game, and so on.

Wash had a respectable big league career, one that saw him get into 564 games over 10 years, and step to the plate over 1,500 times.

But he didn’t get there until he was 25 years old, didn’t get his second chance until he was 29, and before it was all over with he’d played in 1,321 minor league games over 15 seasons, getting more than 5,000 plate appearances, the final 364 of which came in 1990 as a 38-year-old who appeared at shortstop, third base, second base, first base, catcher, and even on the mound for Oklahoma City, the Rangers’ AAA affiliate.

That’s where he comes from.

I believe unwaveringly that Wash is elite at relating to and motivating his players, from the number one starter and team leader to the last man on the bench and the long reliever, and that that’s the most important thing for a big league manager to do and that it’s a huge part of why, even in a season that feels flawed, Texas has the fourth-best record in baseball and the second-biggest division lead as it heads to a third straight season of 162-plus.

And I believe that the nature of his playing career – a two-decade fight for a bigger role – helped to develop that aptitude, which is the intended point of this scattered commentary, though I have to admit that it was Wash’s apparent feelings about very young players with fast-track talent that got me thinking about where things could be headed the next few years, as the inevitability of roster turnover looms.

The one about Mike Trout and Jurickson Profar.

Back on July 2, 2009, in the pre-Twitter days when the only way to communicate my Rangers-centric thoughts, comprehensive or fleeting, was by email, I sent four reports out to the mailing list.

The first was about the previous night’s walkoff win over the Angels (courtesy of a Hank Blalock home run to center, his second blast of the game), bringing Texas to within a half-game of the Angels’ division lead.

The second contained the 11th installment of Bakersfield righthander Ryan Tatusko’s “Back Field Diaries.”

The third included audio of Eric Nadel’s call of the Blalock walkoff (the first of the 28-year-old’s career, and I’m guessing the last), plus this note that a scout shared with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus about Frisco first baseman Justin Smoak: “The ball comes off his bat so hard . . . . He’s going to make Rangers fans not miss Mark Teixeira all that much.”

The fourth touched on Josh Hamilton’s rehab assignment in Oklahoma City, a dramatic increase in Rangers viewership on Fox Sports Southwest, and a planned Q&A with Neftali Feliz.

That date, July 2, 2009, would be tremendously significant for the Rangers and Angels because of something that didn’t make it into those four emails, something that had nothing to do with the fact that Texas had the day off as Tampa Bay traveled to Arlington while Los Angeles opened a four-game series that night in Baltimore, beating the Orioles to extend its lead over the Rangers to a full game in the standings.

It was significant because, on that day, Texas signed 16-year-old Curacao shortstop Jurickson Profar, and Los Angeles signed 17-year-old New Jersey high school outfielder Mike Trout.

The parallels between the two go beyond the date they turned pro.  At that time, the baseball card for Trout would have said he was the lone player who accepted MLB Network’s invitation to hang out in the studio during the June 9th draft (he was selected 25th overall, with a comp pick forfeited by the Yankees for signing Teixeira).  Profar’s bullet point was that he starred in the Little League World Series in 2004 and 2005, primarily as a pitcher.

Today those are footnotes in a blog post without column inch boundaries.

Profar signed for $1.55 million, Trout for $1.215 million.

Goldstein had the 19-year-old Trout as his number two prospect in baseball on his mid-season list last summer.  He has the 19-year-old Profar number one on his mid-season list this year.

Baseball America had Trout number two on its mid-season list in 2011.  The publication has Profar number two this summer.

Keith Law (ESPN) had Trout number one last mid-season.  He has Profar number one now.

Trout arrived in the big leagues shortly after those lists started coming out.

With Michael Young getting today’s start at shortstop, and the bench returning to its short status once Leonys Martin is presumably returned to Round Rock when Ryan Dempster is reactivated for Monday’s start, the discussion of whether Profar will make his own debut at age 19 gains momentum.

Trout, who was returned to AAA to begin the 2012 season, amassed 1,312 minor league plate appearances.

Profar has 1,323 minor league plate appearances.

Their minor league at-bat totals and walk totals are nearly identical, too, but Trout’s slash is higher (.342/.425/.516 to .275/.364/.453) and he has more triples (34 to 15) and stolen bases (108 to 46), while Profar has fewer strikeouts on the farm (183 to 211) and more home runs (30 to 23) and doubles (81 to 57).

When Trout was purchased from the AA Texas League last July – he’d gone 5 for 15 during a series in Frisco and played one more game in Midland when he got the call – he was hitting .324/.415/.534.  His arrival wasn’t prompted by an injury to another Angels outfielder.  He was thought to be ready.  Los Angeles optioned righthander Tyler Chatwood to make room for the phenom.

And he bombed.  Over a span of three weeks, he played nearly every day.  The Trout slash stood at .163/.213/.279 in 43 at-bats when the Angels cut the experiment short and returned Trout to Arkansas, recalling infielder Andrew Romine from AAA Salt Lake.

Trout then resumed his assault on AA pitching, hitting .333/.408/.587 over 63 at-bats and earning a recall to Los Angeles one year ago tomorrow.  He was better over the season’s final six weeks (.250/.318/.450) than he’d been in July, but might have been gassed.  The Angels sent Trout to the Arizona Fall League after the season, and he hit an anemic .245/.279/.321, which is almost impossible to get my head wrapped around.

Was Trout rushed last summer?

Probably.

Would he be as dominant today if he hadn’t gotten his feet wet and worked through those initial struggles last year?

Who knows?

Keep in mind that Trout, in spite of playing for Mike Scioscia, was in the lineup virtually every day during his two big league stints last summer.  It was more work than Mike Olt is getting, for instance, and far more than Profar would get if he came up now.

Would Ron Washington get Profar on the field more than once a week?  In a radio interview this week, a day or two after Nolan Ryan had said there was a “reasonable chance” that Profar would see Arlington this season, Washington responded to a similar question by pointing out, tersely: “This kid was playing Low A ball last year.”  He added that the teenager could stand to play a full season at AA and continue to learn how the game is played.

Washington played four Class A seasons and three AA seasons and had reached AAA before getting a big league look at age 25.  He spent time in eight different seasons after that playing in the minor leagues.  He paid his dues, and then kept paying.

Draw your own conclusion.

To reissue a theme from a few days ago:

The General Manager sets the roster.

But the manager sets the lineup.

There are the procedural points that have been blogged a bunch this week.  Many of them are basically irrelevant.

Options aren’t really an issue.  If Profar were purchased now, with rosters set to expand in two weeks, he probably wouldn’t be sent back down to the farm.  (Frisco’s regular season ends on September 3, and the playoffs could last until September 16, but that’s not going to drive the bigger decision.)  So no option would be used in 2012.

Plus, if Profar needs three options in his career, something will have gone very, very wrong.  Non-issue.

Starting his service time clock could affect his free agency timetable.  If he were to arrive anytime before a couple weeks into the 2013 season (without spending more time after that on the farm), he could be a free agent after the 2018 season.  But if he’s the transcendent type of player that the Rangers think he could be, given the team’s salary structure and the point at which its core players will be, it would be sensible to expect Texas to approach Profar at some point with a long-term proposal (similar to Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Justin Upton, Andrew McCutchen, Salvador Perez, others) that would make the winter in which Profar first becomes a free agent immaterial.

As for arbitration eligibility, a long-term deal before that point would take care of that, too, but even without that prospect, in order to avoid potential Super Two status, Texas would have to keep Profar in the minor leagues a couple months into the 2013 season.  I get the sense that this ownership group and front office, if Profar is deemed to be one of this club’s best 25 players next spring (if not sooner), won’t decide to keep him farmed for months in 2013 just to save a couple million dollars in 2016.

It was a different case with Teixeira in 2003.  Maybe a determination to keep him in the minors a little longer to buy an extra year before free agency would have made sense.  The team wasn’t very good and could have afforded to make a decision on that basis.  Plus, I suspect the organization was less confident that the Scott Boras client would be open to locking up here long-term than it is with Profar today.

The one real procedural issue, perhaps, is that purchasing Profar now puts him on the 40-man roster.  It’s not a huge problem at the moment, as the roster sits at 39 players and has a couple candidates for removal should additional players be added via trade this month.  But in the winter, Profar would take up a roster spot that he wouldn’t otherwise (he wouldn’t be Rule 5-eligible), which theoretically makes it tougher to add players in the off-season.

But there are lots of players on the roster who will be free agents this winter (Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Colby Lewis, Mike Adams, Mark Lowe, Koji Uehara, Roy Oswalt, and almost certainly Scott Feldman), and not all of them will return or be replaced externally.  There are Rule 5 decisions to be made on players like Leury Garcia, Chad Bell, Odubel Herrera, Tomas Telis, Johan Yan, and Joseph Ortiz, too, but devoting a spot on the roster to Profar shouldn’t cause too much lost sleep in that regard.

This really comes down, I think, to two things: Whether the Rangers’ baseball operations group thinks Profar – a player whom Frisco manager Steve Buechele says is “not afraid to fail, but I think the best trait that he has is he’s not afraid to be great” – is ready now to contribute in some role (and benefit going into 2013 from the experience), and whether the manager is willing to use him.

Rest Elvis Andrus once a week.  Rest Ian Kinsler once a week.  Maybe twice a week on Kinsler, having him DH once.  Especially after two full seasons that included full post-seasons, not to mention Kinsler’s extended skid, the rest for those two could pay dividends in October, right?

And there’s an argument, you’d think, by looking at Trout’s 2011, that it could pay dividends for the Rangers and Profar, a player whose abilities and feel for the game are going to help in a big way very soon, not only to improve the current bench situation but also to get the gifted infielder’s introduction to Major League pitching underway and out of the way.

As long as the manager is on board.

Walking through the park and reminiscing.

Kansas City signed 18-year-old Ron Washington as a catcher but raised him as a shortstop-second baseman-third baseman.  He spent six seasons there, reaching Class AA the last two, where he saw most of his playing time at second base.

Those two years, Wash’s fellow Royals Baseball Academy graduate Frank White was breaking in as the club’s utility infielder and then settling in as its regular second baseman.

Wash was blocked at second by White, who was just a year and a half older.  But shortstop Freddie Patek was on the wrong side of 30.

Was Wash frustrated?

The Royals traded him in 1976 to the Dodgers for a player you’ve never heard of.

Wash played in 154 AA games and 116 AAA games in the Los Angeles system.  He reached the big leagues in September 1977, getting 20 plate appearances in 10 games.  He hit .368 and struck out only twice in 19 at-bats.

But he wouldn’t get back to Los Angeles in 1978.  In fact, that brief opportunity in September 1977 (during which the Dodgers maintained a double-digit-game lead over the rest of the NL West) turned out to be the only big league action Wash would see in his four years with the club.

If you think the Rangers have an infield that never sits, take a look sometime at how often second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell, and third baseman Ron Cey took a day off from 1976 through 1979.  The primary utility infielder during that stretch was the anemic Ted Martinez, a secret admirer of Freddie Patek’s offensive prowess.

Was Wash discouraged?

The Dodgers went so far as to loan Wash to the Mets for the entire 1979 season.  At age 29 he spent all year in AAA, backing up 21-year-old third baseman Jose Moreno and 21-year-old shortstop Mario Ramirez.

(Yes, that Jose Moreno.  And that Mario Ramirez.)

Was Wash disgruntled?

The Dodgers formally moved Wash the next spring training, trading him to the Twins for a player you’ve never heard of.

On largely bad Minnesota teams from 1980 through 1986, Wash mostly sat on the bench for managers Gene Mauch and Johnny Goryl and Billy Gardner and Ray Miller and Tom Kelly.  (He did get into 119 games for Gardner’s 102-loss club in 1982, but he didn’t lead the club in starts at any one position.)  He also played in 301 AAA games during that seven-year span.

Just as Oakland passed over Wash several times for manager while he was on its coaching staff, lots of shortstops and second basemen and third basemen were given chances to start for the Twins while Wash was a player there.

Did he think he deserved a chance to play more?  Did he think there were veteran starters on those clubs whom the manager was too locked into?

Minnesota General Managers Calvin Griffith and Howard Fox and Andy MacPhail believed Wash belonged on the roster.  It was up to Mauch and Goryl and Gardner and Miller and Kelly to decide when he played.  I suspect it was less frequent an opportunity than the confident infielder believed he deserved.

Was he mad?

Was he right?

Did it matter?

Does he remember?

Contest winners.

It would be slightly gauche this morning to revisit Rangers 11, Angels 10 from August 1 or to talk about various Los Angeles beat writers asking Angels players to comment on whether that game meant more than just one of 162, particularly in hindsight given that the loss fronted a Los Angeles tailspin that now sits at nine losses out of 12.

It would be tastelessly off-topic to devote space in a Rangers-centric blog to Peter Gammons tweeting this morning that “All considered – especially with Trout MVP and Weaver possible Cy Young – the Angels are a bigger disappointment now than Boston.  Starting P.”

It would be somewhat premature to discuss the Rangers’ bench, which is temporarily short a middle infielder, the “reasonable chance” that Jurickson Profar is about to come up here and balance things, and the pros and cons of such a move.

It would be sort of strange to devote 1000 words on why Rangers fans would do well to understand the history of Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien, who hails from the same Willemstad, Curacao hometown as Profar, even though none of the 1000 words would have anything to do with Profar.

It would be practically pointless to speculate on what potential impact players around the league might have been run out on revocable waivers on Sunday, opening a waiver period for those players that closes early this afternoon, with the Rangers having jumped ahead of the Yankees last night in claim priority as a result of New York 8, Texas 2.

I don’t have the energy this morning because I spent hours late last night sorting through more than 700 entries that you guys submitted for the Rangers DVD set contest.

The winners:

  • Oldest Rangers tickets: Steve Clark (Opening Day 1972), Ron Nelson (April 25, 2972), and Ken Carroll (June 24, 1972)
  • Closest to Ryan Dempster’s line from last night: Aaron Hiler (5.1 innings, nine hits, eight runs, six earned runs, two walks, five strikeouts, two home runs, 91 pitches)
  • First Rangers home run: Russell Carter and Chris Karhu (David Murphy, 397 feet)
  • Best tweet: Brett Meacham (“Angels and their ‘too many good players’ are baseball’s version of the Philadelphia Eagles ‘Dream Team’  #gloops”)

The theme of Brett’s tweet was by far the most common of the hundreds of entries.  It wasn’t close.

Congrats to the seven winners and thanks to the hundreds of you who entered.  If I wasn’t buried in pitching line submissions and ticket stub photos to sift through, I might not have stayed up late enough to listen to just about every pitch of Cleveland 6, Los Angeles 2, an ugly loss to a woeful team in the opener of an important home series for a club that’s not doing so well right now.

It took some of the sting out of the Rangers loss, and I’m ready to go today, with my only disappointment this morning being that Gammons didn’t finish his tweet with a timely #gloops, or #itisitis.  That 140-character limit can be cruel and unforgiving.

Contest.

Texas is 21 games over .500, the most the club has been all season.

The division lead is 6.5 games, matching the biggest of the year.

The Angels are 8.0 back (nine in the loss column), most since April.  As Mike Hindman pointed out, they’re now closer to last place in the AL West than first.

Or as Peter Gammons puts it: “On July 31, Ranger lead was down to 3.  [Josh] Hamilton now 15 RBI in 11 games, and it’s Angels forced to look in mirror.”

After losing Friday’s opener against Detroit, the Rangers won the next two games to take the series.  They’ve lost only one of their last 10 home series (tying another), and going back to July 4, 2011, they’re 23-5-3 in series at Rangers Ballpark.

The team with the best record in the American League now travels to New York for four games, starting tonight, against the team with the league’s second-best mark.

In the meantime, three quick things:

I.  CONTEST

I’ve been tasked with giving away five DVD sets of A&E’s Essential Games of the Texas Rangers, a collection compiled by Major League Baseball Productions that includes complete broadcasts of the following four games:

  • Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter (May 1, 1991 against Toronto)
  • 1996 ALDS Game One, Rangers 6, Yankees 2 (the franchise’s first-ever playoff game)
  • 2010 ALCS Game Six, Rangers 6, Yankees 1 (sending Texas to its first World Series)
  • 2011 ALCS Game Six, Rangers 15, Tigers 5 (clinching a second straight Rangers pennant)

The following five people will each receive one of the five DVD sets:

  • The person in possession of the oldest ticket from a Rangers game (email me a photo of the ticket with the date of the game visible – and in that photo [not a separate one] alongside the ticket please also show a newspaper, your cell phone, or a computer screen, etc., showing today’s date to prove it’s a current photo)
  • The person in possession of the second oldest ticket from a Rangers game
  • The person who comes closest to predicting Ryan Dempster’s pitching line tonight (include innings pitched, hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed – and please add Dempster’s pitch count in case we need to break a tie)
  • The person who predicts the Rangers player who hits the club’s next home run (please give the distance to break any tie)
  • The person who comes up with the best tweet (140 characters or less – but email it to me instead of tweeting it) that uses at least one common Newberg Report hashtag

You can enter every category if you want, but we’ll have five separate winners.

Entries are due by the first pitch this evening (Monday, 6:05 p.m. Central).  Email them to me at GJSneaker@sbcglobal.net.  In the event that no Ranger homers tonight, that one category will carry over until the next time a Rangers hitter goes deep.

These DVD’s look really cool.  Good luck.

II.  TICKETS

Cindy and Jeff Kuster, founders of the Hello Win Column Fund, which supports local families impacted by cancer, have asked me to pass along this message:  “We are extremely grateful for all of your support over the years and we would like to help support the Newberg Report with a ticket offer.

They are selling four-ticket packages (two tickets in one case) to the following games, each with one season parking pass included:

Monday, August 20 vs. Baltimore: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Tuesday, August 21 vs. Baltimore: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Wednesday, August 22 vs. Baltimore: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Thursday, August 23 vs. Minnesota: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Sunday, August 26 vs. Minnesota: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Sunday, August 26 vs. Minnesota: Section 124, Row 38, Seats 5-8

Sunday, August 26 vs. Minnesota: Section 116, Row 35, Seats 14-17

Monday, August 27 vs. Tampa Bay: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Tuesday, August 28 vs. Tampa Bay: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Wednesday, August 29 vs. Tampa Bay: Section 15, Row 32, Seats 6-9

Sunday, September 16 vs. Seattle: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Sunday, September 16 vs. Seattle: Section 117, Row 35, Seats 13-16

Sunday, September 16 vs. Seattle: Section 123, Row 39, Seats 15-16

Monday, September 24 vs. Oakland: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Tuesday, September 25 vs. Oakland: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Wednesday, September 26 vs. Oakland: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

Thursday, September 27 vs. Oakland: Section 125, Row 34, Seats 2-5

The Kusters are selling the tickets for $60 each – which is a 10 percent discount off the gate price – so each package of four tickets comes to $240 (the pair of Section 123 seats on September 16 is $120), with parking thrown in at no added cost.  All the seats are under the shade of the second deck and out of the direct sun.

You can pay by PayPal, sending payment to the Kuster’s at the JLKuster@aol.com account (or you can email them at jeffkuster@aol.com if you need to contact them about making different pay arrangements).

First come, first served, so jump on these if you’re interested.

III.  THANK YOU

Thanks very much to those of you who have responded with “honor system” contributions to the Newberg Report the past few days.  If you’re still interested in participating, you can find details here.

But again, it’s completely voluntary.  Please don’t feel compelled to partake.

 

I’ll announce the winners of the DVD’s late Monday night.

The threat.

He’s had a remarkable career of extremes, a player who has accomplished far more than anyone could have ever expected while still leaving the impression that he hasn’t yet put it all together for a complete season.

Nelson Cruz signed with the Mets at age 17 in February 1998, a year and a half after he was eligible to sign out of the Dominican Republic.  It wasn’t as if he was turning down offers and holding out for a monster signing bonus.  The high school basketball player took a meager $15,000 from the Mets to give pro baseball a shot.

Two years later, he was traded to Oakland for journeyman infielder Jorge Velandia.

Four years after that, he was traded to Milwaukee with journeyman righthander Justin Lehr for journeyman infielder Keith Ginter.

Six years into his career, Cruz hadn’t appeared on Baseball America’s list of any season’s Top 30 Mets or A’s prospects.

Cruz was the Brewers’ number 14 prospect going into 2005 and number 8 going into 2006, but two-thirds of the way into that latter season he was sent to Texas as a chip-in from the seller’s end.

At age 26 he got his first real big league shot, but two months into the 2007 season the Rangers sent him to AAA Oklahoma, using up his final option.

He failed to make the squad out of camp in 2008, losing a battle with Jason Botts for the final bench spot on the roster, and was designated for assignment.  Even though he’d hit a robust .302/.378/.528 in AAA in 2006 and put up a video game slash line of .352/.428/.698 in AAA in 2007, he slid through waivers untouched, and the Rangers outrighted him to Oklahoma several days into the 2008 season.

Texas brought him back to the big leagues after a Pacific Coast League MVP campaign (.342/.429/.695), and since that season-ending month in Arlington he’s been a .279/.342/.525 big league hitter, still a year and a quarter away from the first earned free agency of his career, which will arrive when he’s 33 years old.

Along the way, Cruz led the Rangers in home runs and slugging in his first full big league season (2009), logging the most outfield assists of any Ranger in 18 years and going to the All-Star Game.

The next year, he led the big leagues with five walkoffs, including a franchise-record three by way of the home run, set career highs in hits, doubles, and triples, and was top 10 in the American League in hitting, slugging, and OPS.  He followed it with a .317/.349/.733 post-season, with 13 of his 19 hits going for extra bases, including six that left the park, one of which may be the most memorable home run in Texas Rangers history.

Last year, Cruz’s season numbers regressed across the board, but he was huge in July and August, and again in the ALCS against the Tigers, when he hit .364/.440/1.273, blasting the most homers (six) and driving in the most runs (13) by one player in any single post-season series in baseball history, and making That Throw, the outcome of which covers the 2012 Bound Edition.

Nobody has had more extra-base hits (21) in his first 26 career playoff games than Cruz.  That number surpassed Lou Gehrig’s 18.

His .689 playoff slugging percentage is fourth highest of all time (100 plate appearances or more).

His 14 playoff homers are ninth most ever, and the most by any player in consecutive seasons.

But there are annual leg injuries.  The Palmer-esque funks at the plate.  The right field routes and decisions.

He’s an extreme high/low player, never demonstrated more so than last October, when his series against Detroit (the slug and the cannon) and his moment in St. Louis (no comment) could end up defining his career.

The Cruz highs and Cruz lows have surfaced in the less important Detroit series this weekend.  He had the worst defensive inning any Rangers outfielder has had in a long time on Friday, seemingly hurting his back in the process, and then turned around last night and singled in the team’s first run on a broken-bat flare off Justin Verlander in the third inning and scored its second, in a 2-1 walkoff win.

But while the box score won’t reflect it, that big bat and that big arm which terrorized the Tigers 10 months ago were huge last night.

At least threat of the big bat, and the threat of the big arm.

Cruz led off the ninth off Brayan Villarreal, who had issued two walks in his previous 10 appearances (eight innings).  He’d walked Josh Hamilton in the eighth, but coaxed an Elvis Andrus flyout before it and an Adrian Beltre 5-4-3 after it, giving Jim Leyland enough confidence to send him back out for the ninth.

While Villarreal wasn’t around last October, you can imagine what went on in the visitors’ clubhouse when the Tigers got to town Friday and game-planned the Texas lineup.

Cruz watched four pitches sail by, out of the zone, and didn’t offer at any of them.  Maybe Villarreal just didn’t have it.  But Leyland wasn’t concerned, and the memory of what Cruz did to Detroit in October – almost always late in the game – had to be fresh, no matter who was on the mound and how sharp he was.

The four-pitch sequence probably prompted Michael Young to go to the plate taking a strike, which never came, and the stage was set for Eric Nadel (on his night) to call Mike Olt’s heroics, which brought Cruz home from second, showing no signs of a weak back as a weak Andy Dirks throw from left fluttered toward the plate.

Dial back half an inning.  While Olt’s single to left (his first big league pinch-hit appearance, and just his second as a pro at any level) capped off a brilliant at-bat and scored the run that ended the game, Delmon Young’s single to right in the top of the ninth didn’t plate a run, and again it was because of Cruz.

Game 4, ALCS, October 12, Comerica Park.

Tie game.

With one out, Miguel Cabrera walks, Victor Martinez singles him to third.

The next batter to face Mike Adams was Young.  He lifts a fly to right field.  Third base coach Gene Lamont sends Cabrera home.

Cruz guns him down.

(Cruz then draws a walk in the next inning, but that’s where the comparison ends – it wasn’t until the 11th that Cruz hit the three-run bomb that iced that Texas win.)

Last night.

Tie game.

With one out, Cabrera walks.  A Prince Fielder walk pushes him to second.

Adams is brought in to face Young.

Young shoots a single to right field.

Lamont doesn’t send Cabrera home.

Respect, and a sharp memory.

And a tie that was preserved going into the bottom of the ninth, which is when the game came to an end, with Cruz sliding home.

There was no big bomb or huge throw from Cruz that shows up in the game recaps this morning, but the threat of both played big.

Jairo Beras wasn’t in the stadium to see the game, but he was the night before – when Cruz made a rookie league attempt to dive for an uncatchable Austin Jackson shot that ended up going for an easy inside-the-park home run, and followed it by muffing a routine pop-up to shallow right, clutching his low back after both plays and coming out of the game when the inning ended.

Maybe it served as a souvenir for Beras, a reminder that baseball is a game of failure, even for a player like Cruz whose game Beras’s may very well resemble if it all comes together.  Six hours earlier, four hours before first pitch, with Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” blaring on the P.A. system, Beras took nearly 30 minutes of batting practice at Rangers Ballpark, and it wasn’t until the final pitch he saw that he cleared the fence.   (Kid you not: Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” was playing.)

That’s not to say that the 17-year-old, using his idol Josh Hamilton’s 35-ounce bat, didn’t steadily hammer rifle shots to all fields off BP pitcher Dax Powell, producing triple-echo reports that bounced all over the building, over and over and over again, but you could tell from the sheepish smile toward the end of his session at the plate that he didn’t want to walk away until one of those shots left the park.

Cruz, who gives up a couple inches to Beras in height but outweighed him by more than 30 pounds when he signed his own age-17 contract, had 70 at-bats in his first pro season.  He hit one home run.

Cruz had 205 at-bats in his second pro season.  He hit one home run.

And he’s one of the most prolific post-season sluggers who has ever played the game.

Last night’s game was mostly about Derek Holland and Mike Olt, each of whom reached the big leagues and contributed at an age when Cruz hadn’t gotten out of Low Class A.  Cruz was a $15,000 longshot, a toolshed player that offered enough for scouts to dream on that he kept getting traded, not because organizations were giving up on him so much as other franchises wanted the lottery ticket for themselves.

Beras signed for 300 times more than Cruz.

Literally.

He’s not going to get traded three times before getting a real chance in the big leagues.

The hope is that once Beras starts to fill out – he still looks like a bag of bats right now, even though he’s already put on 17 pounds since signing – and starts to internalize the nuances of the game, the power is going to actualize in a great big, scary way, and that he’s going to get to the big leagues at a much younger age than Cruz did.

But it will take some time.  It always does.

And just as we hope Beras ends up establishing himself in a historical context the way Cruz has, and that he helps Texas win October baseball games like Cruz enjoys doing, we have to accept that there will be bad routes and ill-advised dives and maybe lingering injuries and deep funks and a pervading sense of there’s-more-there-if-he-could-ever-put-it-all-together.

It’s going to a while before Beras starts making headlines on the field, but the big stories shouldn’t take our eyes off the smaller ones, like the one that played out in front of dozens four hours before the first pitch on Friday, or the one that featured Nelson Cruz on Saturday night, erasing the ugly memory of what had happened the night before even though it would never be characterized, as so many moments of Cruz’s career have been, both good and bad, as indelible.

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