December 2012

Joakim Soria and the window.

The 2011 Rangers, gunning for a repeat run to World Series, were led in relief appearances by Neftali Feliz, Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, and Arthur Rhodes.

Think about that.

It’s not as if the club had a Phillies-like rotation full of horses.

Knowing that the club needed to be a lot stronger out of the bullpen down the stretch and into October, Texas gave up Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter, Robbie Erlin, and Joe Wieland on the final two days of July for Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, and a relief corps was instantly remade.

And not just for three months, since Uehara and Adams were controllable for an extra year as well.

This year, the Rangers will add two impact arms to the bullpen after the season is underway.  And it won’t cost a controllable, high-upside corner bat, or a controllable back-of-rotation innings-eater, or two promising pitching prospects on the doorstep to the big leagues.

Feliz should join the bullpen sometime in the season’s middle third.  And so should Joakim Soria.

And both are under club control for the next three years.

There might even be a third impact arm added to the bullpen at mid-season, should Colby Lewis return and supplant someone from the rotation, as expected, but Feliz and Soria are pretty sure bets.

Soria may not be a completely familiar name to the casual fan, but neither were Adams and Uehara – closing games for the Royals is probably as far off the front page as pitching in middle relief for the Padres or Orioles – and he’s been one of baseball’s best relief pitchers for a long time.

From his Rule 5 season of 2007 through 2010, Soria appeared in 238 games for the Royals, finishing 192 of them, allowing a scant 6.4 hits and 2.5 walks per nine innings while fanning 9.9 per nine.  Opponents hit an anemic .197/.259/.287 over those four years, during which the righthander’s ERA was 2.01.  He saved 132 games in 145 chances, stranded 71 percent of the baserunners he inherited, and allowed only three would-be thieves to steal a base – while an equal number were cut down.

Soria’s 2011 season was not as clean – he put up his customary walk and strikeout rates but allowed 62 hits in 58 innings and had a 4.50 ERA – and 2012, a year in which Kansas City realistically would have had the chance to move the impending free agent in July for a haul of young players, was wiped out when he was shut down in mid-March with elbow pain that led to Tommy John surgery (his second) in April.

Rather than exercise a club option for 2013 at $8 million (the Royals also held an $8.75 million option for 2014), Kansas City bought Soria out ($750,000) in October.  Texas has signed him for two years at $8 million – combined – and has a club option to keep him around in 2015 as well.

There’s a very good chance that Soria is this team’s next closer.  No telling when a transition from Joe Nathan (on whom Texas has a club option for $9 million in 2014 – which he can opt out of if he finishes 55 games this year) could take place, but Soria is 10 years younger than Nathan and, if he returns to form as Nathan has, gives Texas a natural successor without the club having to depend on Tanner Scheppers or Wilmer Font, for instance, developing into a ninth-inning answer.

For what it’s worth, Jim Bowden of ESPN/XM thinks Nathan will be setting Soria up by this October.  That’s probably a bit ambitious – but it’s certainly not out of the question.

Still, the greatness of this deal is that – unlike the Angels’ deal with Ryan Madson – it’s not a one-year shot that would allow Soria to reestablish his worth and head right back out into free agency.  He’s here for a long time.

Soria is younger than Alexi Ogando.  He’s younger than Craig Gentry.

He’s had those two elbow surgeries, the first at age 19 while in the Dodgers system (at a time when both A.J. Preller and Don Welke were with that organization), but so did Brian Wilson and Jason Isringhausen and others.  There was reportedly plenty of interest in Soria this winter, including from the Angels, but this is where he wanted to be, even though he’d suggested he was looking for a club who would let him close games this year.

There have long been suggestions that Soria’s repertoire could work in a starting role, but that’s not the plan here.  He’s going to join the bullpen mix whenever he’s ready, possibly as soon as May, and then Texas gets the 28-year-old for the rest of 2013, and then 2014, and then, if it chooses, 2015.

This is a window-extending move.  Get used to that.

Soria saved two Zack Greinke starts in his 2007 rookie season, including his first career save.

He saved four Greinke starts in 2008.

He saved six Greinke starts in 2009.

He saved eight Greinke starts in 2010 – in fact, he saved eight of Greinke’s 10 wins.

There’s some mathematical symmetry there, and though Greinke’s departure from Kansas City interrupted the progression, I’m very interested in the possibility that things pick back up in Texas between the two, but that’s fodder for another day that may never come.

If it doesn’t, it will be because Greinke chose to pitch for many years somewhere else – unlike Soria, whose decision to pitch in Texas for many years, a stretch that ought to begin sometime during the 2013 season without the cost of a couple key prospects, fires me up a whole lot.

Ever after.

We can all stack up memories, even fairly recent ones, of players that the Rangers gave up too early (Adrian Gonzalez, John Danks, maybe Pedro Strop and Chris Davis) or got too late (Adam Eaton, Brad Wilkerson, Rich Harden, Ben Broussard).

But there’s a deeper list during the Jon Daniels/Nolan Ryan era of players that Texas acquired at what appears to have been exactly the right time.  Players who were picked up just before they exploded, who came at a price that in retrospect seems absurdly light, who reached their big league peaks (or a significant resurgence) here – which doesn’t even count Adrian Beltre, whose contract already seems like a bargain.

Josh Hamilton.  Nelson Cruz.  Colby Lewis.  Joe Nathan.  David Murphy.  Marlon Byrd.  Darren O’Day.  Milton Bradley.  Darren Oliver.  Even Endy Chavez.

But when we look back on this awesome period in Rangers history, there will be a place carved out for a player who defines the category, a dirtball veteran who’d been quit on by the rival organization that raised him, who gave rise to synchronized stadium chants that didn’t even need a scoreboard prompt, who played big at the biggest moments and should have a Corvette in the garage from a couple Octobers ago.

I’ve said before that Cliff Lee is one of my five favorite Texas Rangers ever, despite what amounted to only three months with the club.

Mike Napoli may not be in my top five, but he’s unquestionably a top 10 Ranger for me.

I’m sad because Napoli, a newcomer to the club, was such a big reason the Rangers got back to a second straight World Series, and an even bigger reason they should have won that one, and now he’s gone.  There are players who have been here a long time that I want to see hoisting a World Series trophy, but among those who came in as part of those two pennant-winning clubs and have moved on, I might feel worse about Napoli not coming away with a title than any other player whose impact here was so brief.

I was so sure that Dave Magadan was going to be massive for Napoli.

I hoped that Napoli, while not a frontline catcher, would have been persuaded by the opportunity for enough work behind the plate here to take whatever it was that Texas offered, and that over the next two or three years he would have hit enough that the bat would have played at first or DH as well, as he grinded out long at-bats and did considerable damage to strikes.

But Boston overpaid.  I question the Rangers’ decision not to have tendered Napoli a qualifying offer (one year at $13.3 million) a month ago, but I don’t question their failure to match the three years and $39 million that the Red Sox are guaranteeing (if Texas was even given the opportunity to match).  He’s already shown that durability is an issue, he’s on the wrong side of 30 with a build that doesn’t exactly promise to age well, and 2012 was a really crummy year – especially on days when he wasn’t catching (.186/.302/.432).

Really, if you want to look at Napoli’s value with an exaggerated cynicism, he’s only had one season (5.3 WAR in his magical 2011, which was really a magical second half and post-season) in which his productivity exceeded Gary Matthews Jr.’s career year in 2006 (5.0 WAR), which Matthews parlayed into the five-year, $50 million contract that the Angels weren’t done paying for until the final days of the 2011 season, when Napoli was going 4 for 11 with four Texas home runs in a series in Anaheim as Matthews, who had been traded to the Mets two years earlier, was putting the finishing touches on his first full year on the couch.

That’s not to suggest that Napoli is headed for a Matthews-like descent, or that his 2011 season was a mirage (even if it was a major breakout that he failed to come close to repeating last year).  It’s only to point out that, like with just about every free agent, there are red flags, and with Napoli, all things considered, there are a handful of them suggesting that $13 million at age 31 and $13 million at age 32 and $13 million at age 33 was probably an overpay.

Man, I wanted him to re-sign here, though.

Jonah Keri of Grantland said a really insightful thing yesterday about the Rangers: “This is a team with big-market resources that plays in the fourth-biggest market in the country, but still maintains the small-market discipline that helped it build a winner.”

We all know that to be true.

But dude, that chant.

And that Game 5 double to right center that gives me chills before I finish typing this sentence.

And those playoff caught-stealings that will stick in my mind as long as any throws Pudge Rodriguez ever made here.

And Jackie Moore slapping him in the face, by invitation.

And all those annihilations of the Angels, which I am counting on more of, even as he wears a Red Sox uniform.

I wish Napoli well.  Especially in those dozen games each year against the Angels and A’s.

He’ll be in Arlington on May 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and maybe again in October.  He’ll be a tough out in Rangers Ballpark, as he’s always been, just as he will in Fenway.

It’s tough to explain to your kids that whole thing about baseball being a business, and when a player comes through your franchise and makes an impact like Napoli did, in the way that he did it at this magical time in the franchise’s life, when he was stolen from the Blue Jays, four days after they’d stolen him from the Angels, who didn’t believe in him, when he elevated his game as the stakes were raised and had the ability to put a team on the shoulders of his half-buttoned jersey that didn’t really fit right, when he exemplified the unartificial energy and swagger of a team that had both in heavy supply in the unforgettable times, when he was the kind of player whose obvious love for the game you wanted your kids to see, well, baseball as business can get to be a little tough for a guy a decade older than Napoli to get his head wrapped around.

This is where he came into his own, and we were there.

I couldn’t be more ecstatic about the two years – and club option for a third – that Texas and Joakim Soria reportedly agreed on yesterday afternoon.  Maybe one day I’ll feel about Soria’s time in Texas the way I feel about Napoli’s, especially if Soria – who arrives without a ring just as Napoli and Beltre did two winters ago and Nathan did last year – gets to pitch in October and helps the Rangers win the Corvette game one of these years.

I’ll write about Soria’s arrival sometime this week.  There’s a time to rend and a time to sew, and though Monday represented a little of both as far as the Rangers were concerned, I’m gonna let Napoli hog this space for now.

I was sad to see Byrd go, too, but Texas got to the World Series the season he left, and that’s the point.  I’m all about this franchise winning.  Bottom line.

So that’s the thing I’m reminding myself as I send this, that Napoli’s departure made sense for him (financially if for no other reason), and maybe by winter’s end we’ll see that it made sense for Texas as well (financially if for no other reason), and if the Rangers win in 2013 or 2014 or 2015 without him, I’ll get over this moment’s gut punch and think well of the time he was here and of the post-season slug and of all those moments against the Angels and of the toss to first from foul ground that ended the Rangers’ last playoff win and of the hashtag that I’m pretty sure I rolled out there first.

And though my vote won’t count, my ballot will say that he’ll deserve some fraction of a Rangers World Series share himself – as long as he doesn’t go off and do bad things to Texas the way he’s treated his other former club these last two years.

Shipping.

If you’ve preordered your 2013 Bound Editions or if you place your order this weekend, they will start shipping on Monday morning by FedEx.  I was at the warehouse at the end of the day yesterday and saw the books for myself – they’re ready to roll.

 

box of books

 

The e-Book format isn’t ready yet, but if you plan to take advantage of the $5 discount for ordering both the hard copy and the e-Book, you don’t have to wait to order both at once.  You can get the hard copy order placed at any time to make sure that shipment gets underway in time (and so that holiday delivery doesn’t become an issue).  The $5 discount will be applied when you follow up with an e-Book order.

That and all the other specials:

  • $5 discount if you buy the 2013 Bound Edition in both hard copy and e-Book
  • Buy three 2013 Bound Editions (hard copy), and get a free 2011 or 2012 Bound Edition (covering the World Series seasons)
  • Buy five 2013 Bound Editions (hard copy), and get both the 2011 and 2012 Bound Editions free
  • A gift set of all 14 Bound Editions is available for $200 (a $30 discount)

Ordering is very easy, and will take you less than a minute.

(And I just wrote the third of three really big checks to pay for the printing of a thousand first-run copies, so if you’re into ordering books with more than 300 pages of Texas Rangers material, including the Darvish chase and more than 60 TROT COFFEY’s and nearly 40 pages of rankings and commentary on more than 70 Rangers prospects plus lots of player photos and a full year of near-daily reports on the big club, then I like you very much, even more than I already did.)

We’re also looking at a weeknight during the week of December 17 for the book release party.  I’m working on details now and will let you know once we have it all nailed down.

I’ll have another COFFEY delivery later this morning.  In the meantime, upstanding baseball-starved Rangers fan, consider taking a minute to boost the economy, won’t you?

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