November 2012

Elvis Andrus, and genius.

I hope Elvis Andrus plays his entire big league career as a Ranger.

*          *          *

The genius of the Mark Teixeira Trade is that it could have been double-genius.

For Texas, it was the execution of a big plan, accelerating a franchise overhaul by at least a year and the headline move, symbolically and in fact, that put the Rangers on their way to what they are now.

For Atlanta, it was an unusual opportunity to sell future pieces for an impact bat who would contribute not to one pennant race but to two of them.  The Braves had missed the playoffs only twice in GM John Schuerholz’s 16 seasons: in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign and in 2006, the year before Texas made it known that Teixeira was available.

Atlanta had played five first basemen in 2007: Scott Thorman, Craig Wilson, Chris Woodward, 48-year-old Julio Franco, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who’d made his big league debut that May.  Teixeira was a onetime Georgia Tech star and one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters.  He was under club control through 2008.

Schuerholz, quietly preparing to step away from the GM post, traded Saltalamacchia and four minor leaguers to Texas for Teixeira and middle reliever Ron Mahay.

Teixeira was spectacular in 2007 for the Braves (.317/.404/.615 in 240 trips to the plate, each percentage exceeding his career best), but they missed the playoffs again.  And he was really good again in 2008 (.283/.390/.512) but Atlanta was in the midst of its worst season since 1990 as July rolled around.  The club then blew a huge opportunity, failing to turn Teixeira into anything more than the Angels’ offer of Casey Kotchman and 24-year-old AA middle reliever Steve Marek (who’s no longer in the Atlanta system and still hasn’t reached the big leagues).

To make matters worse, when Los Angeles lost Teixeira to the Yankees following the 2008 season, New York forfeited the 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft to Los Angeles as a result.

The Angels used that pick on Mike Trout.

The Braves didn’t win twice with Teixeira.  They didn’t even win once.  They didn’t trade him well on the back end, and had they not traded him at all they would have ended up with the draft slot where Trout was eventually taken.

But this isn’t about Atlanta.

It’s about Tampa Bay, and something that seems to be getting missed a little bit.

And it’s about the prize of that Texas-Atlanta trade, the great Elvis Andrus.

I’ve heard some writers, locally and nationally, suggest that the Rays might be willing to trade David Price, despite his three years of remaining club control, but that Andrus isn’t someone that would interest the small-market club.

One of them wrote, three weeks ago: “Andrus wouldn’t really fit the Rays, because he’s about to get very expensive, but Jurickson Profar would, and presumably, he would be the first player Tampa Bay would ask for.”

I agree the Rays would probably prefer Profar.  They wouldn’t be alone.  (Jonah Keri suggests this week in his dual Grantland pieces that Profar is the number 18 asset in baseball, while Andrus is number 46.)

But wouldn’t it be genius for a small-market club, poised to win and needing a shortstop, to trade for Andrus now, and then flip him a year from now for three or four blue-chip prospects to plug in at the top of their own farm system?

The hypothetical: Let’s say the Rays really would trade Price.  And that it would take Andrus, Martin Perez, and Leonys Martin to get him right now.

Tampa Bay plays to win in 2013.

And then trades Andrus next winter to a contender willing to part with a truckload for his one final season before free agency.  Let’s say the Tigers offer the Rays (who know they can’t keep Andrus past 2014 and who theoretically have Hak-Ju Lee about ready by then to settle in at shortstop) a package of corner outfielder Nick Castellanos, reliever Bruce Rondon, and center fielder Austin Schotts.

So in effect, Tampa Bay – without throwing in the towel on the 2012 season – trades Price (Chris Archer moves into the rotation) and in return ends up with Perez, Martin, Castellanos, Rondon, and Schotts, along with a season of Andrus playing elite shortstop and hitting at the top of the order for a contending ballclub.

This would be different from the Teixeira Trade because that deal involved a buyer and a seller, while a Rays-Rangers deal would be buyer-buyer, basically.

But Atlanta turned into a seller, and Tampa Bay could, too.

To suggest Andrus “wouldn’t really fit the Rays because he’s about to get very expensive” is a little short-sighted, I think.

*          *          *

I hope Elvis Andrus plays his entire big league career as a Ranger.

40.

In the six-page “40-Man Roster Conundrum” chapter in the new Bound Edition, I talk about nearly 30 players in the Rangers’ minor league system who are not currently on the roster but who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in a little over two weeks if not rostered by today’s deadline.  While the quantity of candidates is not unusual, the number of difficult decisions is remarkably small in comparison to the recent years since the Texas system elevated itself into the ranks of the best in the game.

This winter’s class would have included Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers had they not already reached Arlington – and yet wouldn’t have included Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, or Justin Grimm, each of whom was still a year away from draft-eligibility – but with Ross and Scheppers not part of the analysis, there’s really only one player who’s a lock to be announced later today as a new member of the roster: middle infielder Leury Garcia.

Garcia offers an element that’s been missing on the big club for years.  He’s a versatile defender who runs well and can impact the game late off the bench, and there’s a fairly obvious reason there hasn’t been a veteran signed to fill that role in a long time.  Texas infielders basically don’t rest.  The best free agent utility infielders aren’t going to sign with a club on which playing time is basically dependent on injuries to a starter.  Maybe that roster usage will change, but frontline free agents will need to see it before they believe it.

Garcia has the range and arm strength to make every play at shortstop and plus-plus speed, but the bat profiles in such a way that while he’s conceivably a starter on a mediocre team he’s probably a role player on a contender, which helps explain in part why the 5’7” switch-hitter was broken in at second base for the first time this season and also saw time in center field.

Players who can steal a base and defend in the middle of the field are prime Rule 5 targets, perfect candidates to fill the final role on the bench while having to stay in the big leagues the entire year.  Texas won’t risk losing Garcia.  He’ll be protected on the roster today, and he’ll go to camp with a shot to win a job on the bench, though realistically that’s probably a year off unless accelerated by someone else’s injury.

After that, nobody seems to be a sure thing, but because the Rangers have five open spots on the roster – and ultimately more than that in all likelihood, as there are roster members who probably won’t survive the winter and others who could be traded – chances are that the club will add one or two others to shield them from the draft.

But even if a couple are added, the candidates probably aren’t as strong as any of the six who were put on the roster a year ago at this time: lefthander Martin Perez and righthanders Neil Ramirez, Matt West, Roman Mendez, Jake Brigham, and Justin Miller.  This feels more like 2006, when only righthander Alexi Ogando and lefthander A.J. Murray were added to the roster, or 2009, when the Rangers purchased only lefthanders Michael Kirkman and Zach Phillips.

I won’t recount the entire thought process as it’s laid out in the book, but after Garcia I put four players – lefthanders Chad Bell and Joseph Ortiz, catcher Tomas Telis, and middle infielder Odubel Herrera – in a second grouping, and another six – righthanders Wilfredo Boscan, Arlett Mavare, and Francisco Mendoza, catcher Jose Felix, first baseman Chris McGuiness, and outfielder Joey Butler – on a third tier.  McGuiness, who was just named Arizona Fall League MVP, and Boscan, who has an ERA of 0.65 in six Venezuelan Winter League starts, five of which have been scoreless, have had tremendous off-seasons, but in the end I guessed that Bell and Ortiz (and nobody else) might get the nod along with Garcia.

Don’t rule out the possibility of a minor trade today, as clubs consider ways to get value out of players they don’t plan to roster.  An (unfortunate) example: November 20, 2008, when Texas sent outfielder John Mayberry Jr. to Philadelphia for outfielder Greg Golson.

There could also be a player or two dropped from the roster to create additional space.  On that same date in 2008, the Rangers designated righthanders Kameron Loe and Wes Littleton for assignment (releasing Loe a week later so he could sign to play in Japan, and trading Littleton to Boston for journeyman reliever Beau Vaughan).

There are probably four or five players who could conceivably lose their roster spots today, among whom are outfielder Julio Borbon and corner bat Brandon Snyder.  Both go into 2013 with no options remaining.

We’ll know by the end of the day what Texas decided to do.  The Rule 5 Draft frankly gets more attention than it should, but every once in a while there’s a Josh Hamilton or Johan Santana, a Dan Uggla or Joakim Soria, a Mitch Williams or Darren O’Day, although for every one of those there are three dozen Marshall McDougall’s, and a hundred Travis Hafner’s and Frankie Francisco’s who slide through the draft unselected.

For what it’s worth, I have Garcia ranked 17th on my list of the top 72 prospects in the Rangers system, with Bell 38th and Ortiz 47th.  I have Herrera (33rd) and Telis (36th) higher than the two lefthanders, but for various reasons I think they’re less likely to be drafted and make an Opening Day roster this spring, and thus less likely to be given roster spots today.

In the book, after ranking those 72 players, I do a write-up on each of them.  Here’s a couple samples for you to look over, one a first-round pick who I have ranked fourth in the system, the other a 48th-rounder who I have 13th overall (and fourth among pitchers).

The Rule 5 decisions on Lewis Brinson and C.J. Edwards aren’t set to come around until 2016 and 2014, respectively – though at least in Brinson’s case, chances are he’ll be in Arlington before a November roster decision ever comes up, fitting in Profar’s category rather than Garcia’s.

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

Lewis Brinson, OF

Brinson . . . arguably has the highest ceiling of any high school position player in the draft, but there is fatty tuna in the finest sushi restaurants that isn’t as raw. — Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), June 4, 2012

Nobody questioned Brinson’s upside heading into the draft, as he’s a monster athlete with the potential for power, plus speed and impact defense in center field.  He was also seen as an extremely raw player, with some scouts even categorizing him as a project too risky for first-round consideration.  Instead, he’s shown surprising — almost shocking — baseball ability in the Arizona League . . . . He’s clicking much faster than expected, and few, if any draft prospects have seen their stock increase more than Brinson. — Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), August 22, 2012

Texas used its first pick in June (29th overall) on Brinson, convincing the high school center fielder to forgo a University of Florida scholarship and turn pro, and the selection wasn’t surprising.  The Rangers tend to target middle-of-the-diamond talent and to favor high risk/reward amateur players, preferring impact potential even though that usually means a greater likelihood of flameout as well.  Brinson fit the profile.  What the organization couldn’t have expected was that he’d be as productive as he was right out of the gate.  The 18-year-old collected multiple hits in nearly half (13) of his first 28 AZL games, and overall more than half of his hits (36 of 67) went for extra bases.  Hitting .283/.345/.523, he led the league in total bases, extra-base hits, and runs scored, was one short of the lead in hits and RBI, and tied for third in home runs.  The 6’5” specimen also led in strikeouts, a reminder that there will be lots of things to learn and unlearn for a young player Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks described on Draft Day as a “tools werewolf [and] monster athlete.”  Texas raves about Brinson’s feel for the game and his leadership skills, and one of the organization’s player development officials said he “plays the easiest game in the system,” including defensively, where he has a chance to be a lockdown weapon in center field.  Statistics aren’t everything when a player laces on professional cleats for the first time, but when a player that young and with that much upside shows the instant ability to do damage (he also hit .313/.476/.625 in Fall Instructional League, leading camp with a gaudy 24 percent walk rate), you gladly accept that part of the equation, with the conviction that it’s one thing when Jeremy Cleveland puts up video game numbers, and quite another when a player flashing Brinson’s tool set does so.

C.J. Edwards, RHP

“He was the best pitcher we saw all year.  He’s got something to him.  The last five feet of his fastball, it’s going up like a rocket ship.  There’s a lot of hop on it.” — Eugene Emeralds manager Pat Murphy (Baseball America)

As a player, Chris Kemp’s brush with something short of greatness was that the undrafted free agent backed Chris Davis up at first base for Short-Season A Spokane his first summer, and then backed Mauro Gomez up at Low A Clinton his second and final season.  Davis and Gomez both got to the big leagues, but the player Kemp could be most associated with in the long run is Edwards.  When Kemp finished playing, he coached for two years at Spartanburg Methodist Junior College, and while there he pushed a skinny kid from rural South Carolina to think about coming to play for the Pioneers once he finished high school in 2011.  When the Rangers hired Kemp to scout in 2010, he stayed on Edwards, who went almost completely unscouted otherwise (Boston was the only other team who took a look at the All-State righthander, who didn’t attend any high-profile showcases), and pounded his fist on Draft Day 2011 until Texas used its 48th-round pick in the 50-round draft on the 19-year-old.  The Rangers paid Edwards $50,000 at the mid-August deadline to sign, convincing him to forgo a scholarship to Charleston Southern University.  He didn’t see game action until 2012, and to suggest his staggering breakthrough was one of the most unexpected in the minor leagues is probably selling it short.  After honing his delivery during extended spring training, Edwards was assigned to the Arizona League when its season began in mid-June, and his mound work in four games was simply silly.  In 20 innings, he allowed no runs on six hits and six walks, punching out 25.  That included just one hit over his final 15.2 frames, lowering his AZL slash to .094/.181/.109 and prompting a promotion to Short-Season A Spokane.  Edwards made 10 Indians starts, holding opponents to a .160/.255/.184 line while fanning another 60 in 47 innings — and true to form, he allowed only two hits in his final 11.1 innings.  All told, Edwards yielded only 32 hits (27 singles and five doubles) in 67 innings, and the scouting camp probably came away even more impressed than those fixated on the numbers.  League managers and scouts named him the top pitching prospect in the AZL, and the number three pitching prospect in the NWL.  He was sitting 95-96 for most of the season, touching 98 in Arizona — and this is a player with plenty of further physical projection to dream on — and he showed advanced feel for a tight curve while flashing an effective change.  Rangers officials rave about Edwards’s intelligence and hunger to get better, adding that he’s an unusually good self-evaluator, a rarity in a kid of his age, especially one with so little experience.  A big key for Edwards, whose fastball readings hovered around 89-91 at Fall Instructs, will be to get stronger in 2013, a year in which he’ll be asked to take the next step and pitch a full season.

Patience.

In Jon Daniels’s first winter on the job (2005-06), it wasn’t until the Winter Meetings that he traded Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals, his first move affecting the core of the club.  Days later he traded for Vicente Padilla.  Late in December he signed Kevin Millwood, two weeks after which he made the trade with San Diego that shall not be recounted.

The next off-season, Daniels didn’t do much of note until after the Winter Meetings, signing Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagné and making the Danks-Masset/McCarthy deal in a two-week, mid-December stretch.

After the 2007 season, Daniels signed Milton Bradley on December 10, traded for Josh Hamilton on December 21, and signed Eddie Guardado on January 11.

Daniels didn’t mess with the core much after 2008, signing Omar Vizquel in January and Andruw Jones in February.

December 2009: Rich Harden and Darren Oliver.  January 2010: Vladimir Guerrero and Colby Lewis.

Daniels signed Yorvit Torrealba after Thanksgiving 2010 had passed.  He signed Adrian Beltre in January 2011, three weeks before trading for Mike Napoli.

When Daniels signed Joe Nathan last November 21, it was the earliest on the calendar he’s ever made what was thought at the time to be a key winter acquisition.  And we all remember the special circumstances: Texas was determined to send a quick, unmistakable message to Neftali Feliz, early in his off-season conditioning program, that he was a starting pitcher.

Nathan probably got more money (two years and an option, $14.75 million guaranteed) than he would have gotten a month later.  The much younger Ryan Madson, coming off 32 saves and strong strikeout-walk numbers, got one year in January, $8.5 million guaranteed.  Francisco Cordero, coming off 37 saves, got one year in February, $4.5 million.  Francisco Rodriguez, Frankie Francisco, and Matt Capps were all coming off useful seasons, and got less (later) than Texas agreed to pay Nathan, who was coming off an uneven season that followed Tommy John surgery, on his 37th birthday.

But the Rangers accepted the overpay on Nathan in order to drive home an instant point with Feliz, whose off-season transition to starter a year earlier hadn’t gone well.

Everyone hoisted the Angels (Pujols/Wilson/Iannetta) and Marlins (Reyes/Bell/Buehrle) onto floats last off-season.

A year earlier, it was Boston (Gonzalez/Crawford) whose cannonball splash stole all the headlines.

None of those three teams made the playoffs.

They won the winter, no doubt, but that’s all they won.

I’m not suggesting you necessarily win by waiting.  I’d have been happy if Texas was the team Torii Hunter wanted to strike a quick deal with.  But he wanted the Tigers, they wanted him, and props to both for not messing around.

Waiting isn’t always the best course, but impulsiveness is usually worse.

Miami admitted this week, pathetically, that it screwed up last winter.

The Red Sox paid Crawford because there was no Pujols and no Fielder to give that money to, and they were able to get the Dodgers to help them undo their disaster.

There will come a time when Los Angeles regrets the Pujols deal, especially if that club doesn’t win a World Series with him soon.  But right now the Angels aren’t thinking about that, presumably worried more about the P.R. hit if they don’t end up signing Zack Greinke now that Hunter has come out and told Mike DiGiovanna [Los Angeles Times] that he’d have taken the one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer had Los Angeles offered it two weeks ago.

If there’s any urgency in the division, that’s where it is.  Not in Arlington.

Relax a bit.  Read a book.  (Hint, hint.)  Dig up a little patience.

There’s not just one way to do this, and just because Texas hasn’t added (or brought back) a big piece yet doesn’t mean anything.  Yesterday we got two new Cy Young Award winners, one a former top pick in the entire draft, the other a pitcher who signed for 10 cents on the dollar coming out of the late first round, and was designated for assignment and run through waivers untouched and outrighted five years after that, and was designated for assignment again and run through waivers untouched again and outrighted again another five years later, and signed a minor league deal the following year, was Rule 5’d a month after that but didn’t make his new club out of camp and cleared waivers, and was outrighted again that following winter, and signed another minor league deal, and was designated for assignment again and run through waivers untouched again and outrighted again, and signed yet another minor league deal, and is now R.A. Dickey, Warrior.

It isn’t easy being patient.  But it pays off a lot of the time.

It’s not a race.  And it’s not an exact science.  Sometimes you aim to sign Cliff Lee, and when that doesn’t work out you settle for Adrian Beltre in January.

Relax.

Joke.

Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple

5:57 PM – 13 Nov 12

Per @JCRMarlinsbeat in a piece for@BaseballAmerica: Marlins “tried their best” to acquire Olt in Josh Johnson deal that never materialized.

11:20 AM – 27 Oct 12

 

 

I don’t even know why I went to the trouble to grab those two tweets and crop them and paste them, one on top of the other, aligned just about perfectly, because it was a waste of time.  The Marlins circus isn’t going to blow up even further.

They’re just not going to trade Giancarlo.  Even if he’s cheesed off, maybe irreparably.

Seriously, they’re not trading him.  The five minutes I frittered away on this email are five minutes I’ll never get back.  It’s just a stupid joke.  I’m just joking.  Really, I joke.

Sorta.

No, really, not gonna happen.

Then again . . . .

makethevoicesstop

Ever after.

          Mike Napoli seems so Red Sox.
@newbergreport         9/2/2011

          It is so super easy to imagine Mike Napoli as a Red Sox catcher.
          #betternothappen
@newbergreport         4/18/2012

It hit me over the weekend.  I really want Mike Napoli back on this team.

And I’m concerned it’s not going to happen, maybe because of the plans Boston appears to have for the grizzly, unbuttoned, versatile, Fenway-terrorizing 31-year-old.

The Rangers need a catcher right now.  Probably two of them.  The market (including via trade) is thin, as Thad Levine told Jim Bowden in a Monday radio interview.  And the farm system is a couple years, at best, from producing a legitimate 1 or 1A candidate.

The club could be losing its number one power source, and losing a second power bat doesn’t sound so great.  Napoli is a year removed from the Rangers’ second-highest single-season slug in the last 10 years.  (If one of his 63 singles in 2011 had instead been a double, his .634 slug would have surpassed Josh Hamilton’s .633 in his 2010 MVP season.)

Napoli’s familiar with the pitching staff, a stability factor that seems like maybe it shouldn’t be overlooked with regard to a team planning to compete again for a World Series.

You could probably insert any hitter’s name, but I’m fascinated by the idea of what Dave Magadan could do with Napoli.  That’s not a knock on Scott Coolbaugh, but Napoli seems more attuned than others who have played here recently to the Magadan approach – aggressive in the zone but working counts and forcing pitchers to throw strikes – and there’s at least some evidence that he’s open to and responsive to coaching, as he was quick to credit Johnny Narron in 2011 for his extraordinary turnaround that season.

Even though Napoli’s 2012 was not nearly as productive as his 2011, he saw even more pitches per plate appearance (4.41) than he had the year before (4.37), numbers that were far and away best on the team both seasons – and would have led Boston both years as well.

He’s a Magadan type of hitter, and of course that means he’s a Boston type as well.

Magadan had a lifetime .390 on-base percentage.  In the last four years, only two Rangers hitters have had a single season at that level, led by Napoli’s .414 in 2011.

(Magadan also drew as many walks as strikeouts in all but the last of his 16 big league seasons, a feat accomplished in the last four Rangers seasons only by Ian Kinsler in 2011.  Napoli’s not in that discussion, though.)

There’s a cascade of stories reporting that Magadan’s last employer, the Red Sox, think Napoli could be a good fit there, seeing lots of time at first base and some behind the plate.  The fact that he’s one of only two players with a higher career slugging percentage in over 100 at-bats against Boston than Babe Ruth (Nelson Cruz .722, Napoli .696, Ruth .665) is probably a bigger factor than that Red Sox dirtdog look he throws down.  And his lifetime Fenway numbers (.306/.397/.710) exceed what he’s done against Boston in his home parks and Fenway combined (.288/.379/.696).

But he also has a .275/.379/.552 career slash as a Ranger, and .266/.380/.532 at Rangers Ballpark (whether with Texas or Los Angeles).  They’re not Fenway numbers, but they’re numbers that are going to be difficult to replace, and basically impossible to approach from a guy who can give you 50 to 70 games behind the plate.

Why didn’t Texas extend a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer a week and a half ago, to lock in a compensatory draft pick if he were to sign elsewhere?  Not sure.  I suppose it’s because the club didn’t want to risk tying up that much of its projected 2013 payroll in the event that he accepted the offer, and that there’s a sense in Arlington that his market for a two- or three-year contract will fall well short of that AAV, allowing the Rangers to stay in the game with him at a more palatable financial level.

But even if that’s the case, Boston won’t make this easy.

Neither will the Yankees, who were rumored on Monday (per Bob Nightengale [USA Today]) to be in on Napoli as well.  The Mariners are said to be interested, too.

We’ve seen Napoli as locked in for long stretches as any hitter in recent Rangers memory, and we’ve also seen him completely lost for months at a time.

I’d really like to see Napoli get to work with Magadan, whose patient-aggressive mindset is exactly what Napoli exemplified in the second half of 2011 (.383/.466/.706) and in the World Series whose MVP honors were very nearly his.

He’d still need a backstop partner, whether it’s a veteran (Russell Martin?) or a promising young catcher if Texas could manage to pry one free (Travis d’Arnaud?  Devin Mesoraco?).  But that wouldn’t be a deterrent.  No team is going to promise Napoli (a career-first) 100 games behind the plate, which is OK – since the bat will play at first or DH for another 100 or 200 at-bats or more.

”I love playing in Texas,” Napoli told Richard Durrett (ESPN Dallas).  ”I love the atmosphere there, the clubhouse, playing for Wash, a winning ballclub.  I love playing there.  I know how the Rangers clubhouse is and it’s amazing.  I’ve never been a part of anything like that, in terms of chemistry.”

Maybe the above was a completely predictable comment, but he also said to Durrett: “I like catching.  I look at myself as a catcher.”

It’s something he’d likely do more of here than in Boston, which just gave two years to David Ross and, at least for now, still has Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway on the roster.  The Red Sox evidently see Napoli as a first baseman who can catch on occasion.

Maybe it’s overly optimistic, but it just seems that Napoli, who wants to keep catching and who likes it in Texas, could be the perfect Magadan project.

And that if he’d take one or two years here, at reasonable money, he could set himself up for a monster payday, like the one he turned down from the Rangers last winter, after that.

As much as he looks like a standard-issue Red Sox player, I want that dude back in Texas.  There’s some unfinished business to take care of here, and Mike Napoli should be part of the group that gets after finishing it off.

The balance of power.

“Well, I think so, because he was there to dismiss.  I have always worked for myself and you can’t do that.  You basically have to straighten that guy out in the mirror when you work for yourself.  But certainly, if I’d had the discretion, I’ve done it with coaches and certainly I would have changed a general manager.”

So said Jerral Wayne Jones, in an interview with Bob Costas that aired Sunday night before Dallas-Atlanta, when asked if Owner Jerry would have fired GM Jerry by now – although I still can’t tell what the “if” supposes, or what exactly he said.

Consider what’s happened around here since our last Election Day.  In November 2008, when we last voted for President, Jon Daniels had completed his third season as Rangers GM, Ron Washington his second managing the club, Nolan Ryan his first as Team President.

Texas hadn’t won a playoff game since 1996, three elections earlier.

Neither had the Cowboys, but without any change at GM or Team President in those dozen failed years.

Since 2008: Rangers, 18 playoff wins.  Cowboys, one.

And there’s no question which franchise has its window wide open to make more post-season noise, and which has one that’s hermetically sealed with seemingly no real effort from the front office to do anything about it.

I guess what Jones was saying is that he’d have fired his GM if it weren’t he.  I guess.

It’s sort of mind-blowing.  Or, you know, not at all.

Two days before Election Day 2008, the Cowboys, quarterbacked by Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger, got hammered by the Giants, 35-14.

The next day, the Rangers hired Mike Maddux by outspending the team who wanted him back for a seventh season.  Since then there have been dozens more smart, aggressive, opportunistic moves by this organization to get better.  Pitchers, hitters, prospects.  Executives, coaches, scouts.  Investors.

Across the aisle, the two constants at One Legends Way the last four years and well beyond have been Jerry Jones and a tolerated treadmill of mediocrity, locked in on cruise control.

Down the road, this market’s model franchise offers stability of an altogether different kind, one that doesn’t sit still, doesn’t lose sight, doesn’t settle.  There’s obvious leadership.  Accountability.  A culture of winning.  A unified front, a cohesive and hungry and creative and tenacious team of owners, business executives, and baseball operations officials, all intensely focused on setting the tone with wins on the field, dedicated to outworking and out-hiring the competition, a demonstration of all those things that candidates for office like to sell.

The Cowboys sell.

The Rangers do.  And that sells.

One remains stagnant, seemingly comfortable with its place in the middle of the pack, obstinately and even smugly so, the other systemically self-motivated to be better today than it was yesterday.

Those of us who care about both the Rangers and Cowboys don’t have to vote for one over the other, but man, I sure wish there were at least a sense that they were both driven to be the best they can be, at every position on the field, on the sidelines, and in the front office.

The song goes: “When I go forwards, you go backwards, and somewhere we will meet,” but in this case, with respect to the baseball and football teams, even if you’re a Jerry Whisperer and can make sense out of the fuzzy math he dropped on Costas (1+1 = something, but is indivisible, or unsubtractable, or whatever), those two paths only widen a cavernous gap.

Whether our baseball team decides it needs to make a change or needs not to has one measure: Whether it helps the club win.  Decisions are made by people qualified to make them.  With critical input from people qualified to give it.

Winds of change, if they can make the organization better, are part of the discussion for one of the teams situated along Randol Mill.

For the other, it’s generally just winds.

Down to business.

If you’re a trial lawyer or hire them a lot, you know that whether a certain type of case is scheduled for a half-day mediation or a full-day session, either way the real action will probably start with about two hours to go, and the result will probably end up the same.  The only thing in those situations that takes more time in a day-long setting is the posturing that goes on before the sleeves get rolled up and everyone gets down to business.

The new CBA, with its changed procedures and accelerated deadlines, feels like it’s turned years of full-day mediations into half-day sessions, first with draft negotiations and now with the off-season free agency dance.

I’m still immersed in the heavy lift to get the book finished in time for a pre-holiday release to dive into this too deeply, but I wanted to touch on one thing about the developments surrounding perhaps the two most notable free agents to not get qualifying offers yesterday from their 2012 clubs: Mike Napoli and Torii Hunter.

Sure sounds like a couple teams who want to make sure that if they don’t sign Zack Greinke to a long-term deal, it’s not because of a lack of flexibility.

The Rangers’ determination of whether to tender a $13.3 million offer to Napoli was far more layered than a simple evaluation of whether he’s worth that salary for one season.  The lack of a qualifying offer shouldn’t be viewed as an insult.  Like Napoli reportedly turning three years and $38 million down last winter, it’s just business.  Texas probably still wants him back, if the market for the 31-year-old settles at a certain level.

In all likelihood the same was true for the Angels and their decision on Hunter, who’s been such a huge asset for that club on the field and in the room (and who said yesterday, “Everybody knows where I want to be”), though the factors there are a bit more complicated, one of which may be Angels GM Jerry Dipoto situating things so that Mike Scioscia is put in a position to play Peter Bourjos more (a situation that may remind you of a thing or two down here).

The Rangers coveted Greinke as a Royal and as a Brewer and, you can bet, as a free agent, even if they suggest now (particularly with the confirmation that Alexi Ogando goes into 2013 as a starter) that the only absolute necessities to address externally this winter are behind the plate and in the bullpen.

There are several reasons that Greinke is a critical target for the Angels:

  • 2012
  • The Albert Window
  • The two teams they worry most about competing against are the Rangers and Dodgers, widely believed to be top two contenders for Greinke’s services should he elect to leave Anaheim

The Angels, having basically lost Napoli and Adrian Beltre to Texas (but not really) (but yeah, pretty much), and Vladimir Guerrero and Darren Oliver before that, watching those four Rangers go to the World Series while they sat at home, do not want to see Greinke in a Texas uniform 19 times next year.  And the year after that.  And some more years after that.

Or in a Dodgers uniform for four games each year, not to mention on any number of Greater Los Angeles billboards that Arte Moreno used to own and on TV spots airing all over the market.

In the last few days, the Angels have traded Ervin Santana, paid Dan Haren $3.5 million to become a free agent (after failing to trade him), and taken a small procedural step that marginally reduces the chances that Hunter comes back.  Texas did the same with Napoli.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of scenarios we are drawing up,” Jon Daniels told reporters yesterday, and that’s something that we’re accustomed to these days in Texas, and that Angels fans should now expect from their front office as well.

Both clubs want Greinke, and the sleeves just got rolled up.

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