January 2013

Outlook.

Down now to 14 sleeps, you might have already grabbed your Outlook Calendar and blocked off March 31, April 5-7, July 5-7, September 23-29, and the month of October, to make sure you haven’t planned any dental appointments, garage sales, or walkabouts for those days and nights.

If you’re inclined to schedule a deposition or a meal or two out between July 19 and July 28, go ahead, but maybe think about cramming all your extracurriculars into the four-day All-Star Break that precedes that stretch, and not just because the hated Baltimores and Yankees come in for three and four to open the second half, after which Texas heads out on a brief road trip to Cleveland.  There’s another huge baseball thing happening in those 10 days.

It may run counter to your normal Great Game sensibilities to hope Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Kevin Youkilis have something left, to wish Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara the best as their new team comes off its worst season since 1965, to pull for the Orioles to extend that shocking spike at least another year, and to jump on that crazy Blue Jays bandwagon, but this is the year to pick a few of those AL East clubs to get behind a little bit, at least for the first half of the season.

You may be disappointed that Texas didn’t trade for Justin Upton.  You may be upset that the Rangers didn’t find a way to prevent the Royals from being the ones to pick up James Shields.

But it’ll all be OK if Tampa Bay, traveling to Toronto for three and hosting Boston for four and New York for three coming out of the Break, fails to gain any meaningful ground in the East over that July 19-28 stretch, leaving the Rays three days to act on any baseball operations groundwork that had been laid that month, if not this winter, or last year.

Join me in pulling for Tampa Bay to be 11 games out of a Wild Card spot and in fourth place in the East at the end of that stretch of games to open the second half, because that’s when the club is going to seriously entertain trading David Price for perhaps the first time.

That’s when the Rays could consider accelerating the plan to build long-term around the very controllable Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Wil Myers, and Matt Moore, plus whoever comes back in the haul they get for their number one starter, which if it comes from the Rangers is surely going to include some of what they would have had to give up for Upton, or for Shields, but didn’t, surely at least partly in the name of asset allocation.

And obviously, having gone down the road with Rays on Shields, Texas has a good sense of which of its young players Tampa Bay likes.

This is the year (or at least the first half) to make Luis Sardinas your favorite Rangers prospect.

I don’t know how reputable the Miami New Times is (sounds like that market’s equivalent of the Dallas Observer, perhaps?), and you know my baseball sensibilities enough by now to understand that I’m not going to speculate on this morning’s PED story until it escalates a bit, and even then I’ll do it reluctantly at best, preferring for now to bury my head in the sand and imagine the Rays losing seven of those 10 in late July and rolling their sleeves up with the crew at 1000 Ballpark Way, both trying to figure out a way to help themselves serve the big picture and build toward something historically significant, though in those two clubs’ cases involving very different objectives, which is what makes blockbuster trades most often work.

Electric utility.

When Toronto paid Mark DeRosa to fill out its bench a couple days ago, it reminded me of the 2008 series of features I wrote for TexasRangers.com in which I put together a 25-man roster of my favorite players from the franchise’s history, pegging DeRosa that May as my utility infielder.

On a contract paying a mere $675,000 in 2006, the 31-year-old had backed up rookie Ian Kinsler at second base, backed up flagging veteran Hank Blalock at third base, was the club’s fourth outfielder behind Gary Matthews Jr., Brad Wilkerson, and Kevin Mench, and occasionally spelled shortstop Michael Young and first baseman Mark Teixeira.  Along the way he put up the club’s fourth-highest OPS at .812 (.296/.357/.456) in a career-high number of at-bats and redefined the way he was thought of in the game, parlaying that breakout season into a three-year, $13 million deal with the Cubs.

Thinking about that article made me think about a similar series I ran in 2011, building a hypothetical future 25-man roster made up solely of Rangers prospects.  In it I chose Class A shortstop Leury Garcia as the utility infielder.

If you want to go back and read the feature from 18 months ago, you can, but I can give you the highlights (with a few updates added in):

  • Chone Figgins was a key character in the story.  Before he was a terrible, overpaid veteran, but after he was a virtually anonymous prospect, he was one heck of a weapon for the Angels.
  • Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine, who was in baseball operations with the Rockies when Figgins was being developed in the Colorado farm system, remembers the undersized infielder as a plus runner with questions about both the bat and the glove who ultimately proved lots of folks wrong.  His value was so minimal that he was shipped in July 2001, at age 23 and in his first AA season, to the Angels for journeyman outfielder Kimera Bartee, who went on to compile 19 hitless plate appearances for the Rockies and never see the big leagues again.

Garcia generated similar questions early on, getting the bat knocked out of his hands and playing reckless defense at the lower levels of the minor leagues.

  • Originally a shortstop, in his fourth season in the minor leagues (2000) the 5’8” Figgins added second base to his repertoire, then third base in 2001, and, after a trade to the Angels, started to see time in the outfield in 2003.

The 5’7” Garcia was strictly a shortstop his first four seasons, adding second base, third base, and the outfield to the mix in 2012 – a move prompted in part by the fact that he was RoughRider teammates with Jurickson Profar, but also because the organization always believed the time would come when Garcia would develop into an extremely versatile defender.

  • It wasn’t until his sixth pro season that the switch-hitting Figgins (then 24) began to hit, and by then his versatility and speed made him a key asset for Los Angeles, after having never appeared on so much as a Top 30 Rockies Prospects list in five seasons with Colorado.

The switch-hitting Garcia (only 21) had his breakout season at the plate in 2012, his fifth season, setting career highs in hitting, reaching base, and slugging for Frisco, and following it up with a solid Dominican Winter League regular season (.285/.335/.375 in 144 at-bats) and a tremendous playoff run (.354/.425/.431 in 65 at-bats) in which he was the leadoff hitter and everyday right fielder for Aguilas down the stretch, leading the league in hitting for much of the playoffs before slumping late.

Ranked by Baseball America as the Rangers’ number 15 prospect after both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and number 11 after the 2011 season, Garcia will probably be in the same range when the publication’s full Texas rankings are released shortly.  (I had him at number 17 in December.)

  • Figgins, who would eventually receive American League MVP votes in four different seasons for the Angels, didn’t earn a fulltime spot at one position until his sixth big league season.  But even before that, he was more than a supersub, stretching the Los Angeles bench with his ability to start games all over the field.
  • As long as he remains a Ranger, that versatility tool is going to be the calling card for Garcia, who was added to the club’s 40-man roster in November.

And if you take a look at that 40-man roster, you might see something interesting.

It includes eight infielders, a fairly standard number.

Five are starters: Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, and Lance Berkman.

The sixth and seventh are, barring injury to one of the first five, likely headed to AAA in April: Profar and Mike Olt.

The eighth is Leury Garcia.

There’s not a veteran utility infielder in the group.

Nor is there one among the 17 non-roster players who have been invited to big league camp to date.  The three infielders in that group are Brandon Snyder and Brandon Allen, who play on the corners, and Yangervis Solarte, a second baseman-outfielder with no big league experience and only 10 games at shortstop in six minor league seasons.

Now, chances are that Texas will add at least one journeyman middle infielder on a non-roster deal before camp opens in a little under three weeks.  And it wouldn’t be surprising to see a late March trade for an infielder who’s out of options and not in his team’s plans and whom the Rangers feel would be an upgrade over what’s in camp.  Sort of like when Texas picked up out-of-options righthander Dustin Nippert in March 2008 (from Arizona for minor league reliever Jose Marte) and out-of-options catcher Matt Treanor in March 2010 (from Milwaukee for non-roster infielder Rey Olmedo).  When Texas added Andres Blanco as its utility infielder in 2010, it was on March 27 in a straight purchase from the Cubs.

I can sit here and easily imagine hearing two months from today that minor league righthander Carlos Pimentel was being shipped somewhere for a 27-year-old shortstop without any options left.

But what I’d like to imagine is Garcia outplaying whatever competition is brought in the next couple weeks, alleviating the need for a late-in-camp trade and earning a spot on the Texas bench himself.

He has game-changing speed.  He has plus-plus arm strength.  While minor league errors aren’t indicative of a player’s defensive ability and can be dangerously misleading, the fact that he committed just 15 miscues in 2012 after seasons of 42, 32, and 37 is at least reflective of the scouting observations that he’s managed to quiet his game down in the field.

He plays with the type of energy that the club has talked about seeking out after the way the 2012 season ended.  He would earn the big league minimum.

He reached AA for the first time in 2012, and put up his best season yet despite making what many consider the toughest jump in baseball.

And then he excelled in winter ball, competing against big leaguers and more highly regarded prospects.

I temper my excitement at the idea of Garcia serving as an electric weapon off the Texas bench because we all know how Ron Washington feels about playing young players – Profar got almost no burn last summer even though he came far more heralded, and even though the club’s infield was in seemingly desperate need of some rest – but what if Jon Daniels doesn’t bring in a journeyman with shortstop chops, or perhaps adds one to the mix who doesn’t have any significant big league experience of his own?

Profar isn’t the answer, because with this infield, barring injury the opportunities will be few.  The utility infielder on this team is more likely to run for Berkman in the ninth inning than anything else, and Profar needs to be playing every day, even if that means in Round Rock.

However the shortstop/second base picture shakes out over the next several years, the idea of having a player all that time like Garcia on the bench – a different kind of player from former utility infielders who eventually developed into more (DeRosa, Mark McLemore, Placido Polanco, Mark Loretta, Jeff Keppinger) – makes me wonder if Wash can open his mind right away to the idea of having a utility man who hasn’t paid the kind of dues that Wash paid as a player himself before getting the chance to hold down a similar role.

Or if the play is to go to camp without that obvious veteran, putting Wash in a position where he has six weeks to learn to love the player.

Especially while Andrus and possibly Profar are off competing in Taiwan and Puerto Rico and various points stateside in the World Baseball Classic, which could keep one or both out of camp until as late as March 19th.  That opens up a ton of Cactus League playing time.

Recognize that there’s a reason there’s no Grade A utility infielder will choose to come to Texas.  The Rangers’ infielders simply don’t sit – they’re durable players with a manager who likes writing them into the lineup every single day.

Garcia was apparently part of the package Arizona was discussing with Texas for Justin Upton.

Garcia was reportedly involved in the Rangers’ talks with Milwaukee for Zack Greinke last summer.

If he’s eventually traded – and chances are good, given the Rangers’ present depth at shortstop that includes not only Andrus and Profar but also Luis Sardinas, Hanser Alberto, Luis Marte, and more coming up behind him – it won’t be for someone like Kimera Bartee.

I tend to think of Garcia as a valuable role player on a very good team – realistically, it falls into place a year from now rather than in 2013 – but he might also be viewed as a candidate to start at shortstop or second base by a second-division club out there.

It’s entirely possible that I’m overselling Leury Garcia.  It will be far from the first time I’ve been accused of that.

It’s also possible I’m selling him short.

Forget about the fact that more than half of the $50 million that Chone Figgins will earn as a big league ballplayer will have been paid during his wildly disappointing stint in Seattle.

Remember that he wasn’t thought of all that highly when he was developing with Colorado, a small switch-hitter with dependable speed but not all that much more to dream on.

Remember the result when things clicked for Figgins, and what a huge dimension he added to those really good Angels clubs between 2004 and 2009.

Texas tees it up with Toronto twice in June, for three here and then four there, with two daytime starts in the home series and a lot of turf baseball in the road set.  Mark DeRosa is likely to get a start or two at some point, and I’ll tip my cap.  It’s been four years since he’s faced Texas, and I miss that guy – well, the guy he used to be before wrist injuries and oblique injuries and abdominal injuries and age gummed things up, the guy who left for big money and a big role eight days after Wash arrived.

It stands to reason that even Wash will take the opportunity to get his utility infielder in the lineup in one of those two Jays series, maybe both, and as I sit here counting the sleeps until Pitchers & Catchers, begging for some baseball, I want to believe that there’s at least a chance, however remote, that Garcia, who turned pro at age 16 a year after DeRosa left and Wash arrived, gets a legitimate shot in March to be that guy in June.

I just realized that there may be one (and only one) good thing about the World Baseball Classic.

And whether it happens in 2013 or later, because of the type of player he’s capable of being, I’m pretty sure it won’t take much for Leury Garcia to plant his flag for the next time I rustle up a bunch of written words about my favorite Rangers utility infielder of all time.

Connect.

We have families.  We have health and financial concerns to keep us up at night.  We have jobs, but not always.

We have priorities to manage and real challenges to confront, and somewhere in that equation is a little corner carved out for sports, at least for those of us who choose to make time in our daily routine to watch the games and more, and maybe also to read about it all, or to write.

We fret over the tipping point of what we’d give up to make Justin Upton a player on our team.  We feel bad that Mike Napoli may only earn $5 million this year – just five million dollars – playing for someone else.  We have differing opinions on whether Derek Holland spending March pitching for Team USA is a good thing, even with Greg Maddux along for the ride to keep him on track.

We bro-hug over Matt Harrison’s 5/55, especially when Anibal Sanchez got 5/80 and Edwin Jackson got 4/52 and Ryan Dempster got $13.25 million for each of the next two years.  We recognize why including incentives in Neftali Feliz’s 2013 deal, when he’s out for half the year at a minimum, might amount to one of those red flags.

We believe in the dimension of Leury, we pay attention to how many options Engel has left, we offer daily supplication in hopes that Jorge arrives intact in a few years and shuts this catcher carousel down.

We do these things, most of us at least, because sports is an awesome distraction.  It’s steady.  It’s dramatic.  It gives our emotions a routine workout.  It doesn’t really matter, and you know what I mean by that.

It’s an escape from the stress points that threaten to define our day-to-day, and maybe that’s why I get so beaten down when my Twitter feed is dominated by Lance Armstrong or by Manti Te’o or by the impact of suspected substance abuse on a given year’s Hall of Fame vote.  I depend on sports for the wins and losses and the context of the decisions designed to tilt the scales in the better direction.  Not for scandals, or who should win sportswriters’ awards or earn enshrinement.

Texas against Houston on March 31 – that’s what I care about.  Where Javier Vazquez wants to pitch, and whether he makes better sense than Kyle Lohse.  How Mike Olt fits the big picture, which leads me to think about David Price vs. Giancarlo Stanton, but not necessarily.

That’s why I watch and care and write and lose sleep.

But from time to time, sports and real life collide.

I wouldn’t know most of you if it weren’t for this baseball thing we share.  We don’t necessarily claim the same politics, or religion, or music, and that’s not only cool but it’s irrelevant.  We’re fans of a game, loyal to the Texas Rangers in most cases, and that commonness sheds the rest, even if it leaves room for difference of opinion on scouting vs. stats, or on what happens long-term with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar.

I wouldn’t know who Robbie Parker was if not for what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14.  As it turns out, he’s one of us, as are Alissa and Madeline and Samantha, and as was Emilie.

Rangers fans.

While we have this thing that ties you and me and everyone else in this group of ours, there are plenty of things outside of baseball we’re not going to agree on, and some within the game.  But we also have some things in common that have nothing to do with the Great Game or the Texas Rangers, things that rise to the surface in dark and uncomfortable and incomprehensible times.

I feel pretty certain that I’ve never been more proud to be part of this community as I have the last five weeks.

If you weren’t one of the hundreds of Rangers fans who joined us at Sherlock’s in Arlington on December 19 or the Dallas location on Monday (the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy), you can read about this week’s event here, or listen to Emilie’s uncle Jeremie, a middle school teacher in Irving, talk about it by opening this file.

Would a group of Cowboys fans have come together and rallied like this?  Would Stars fans have mobilized that way?  TCU fans?  Every single Rotary Club and Lions Club in town, every campus in the Metroplex, just about any group you can imagine?

Probably.

But we don’t need to guess about this group.

We’re electricians and lawyers and students and doctors.  Teachers and executives and auctioneers and firemen and IT guys.  Mom’s and Dad’s, and sons and daughters.  And a third baseman from Connecticut making minor league wages who bid $1,000 Monday night for a baseball signed by his 2012 big league teammates – think about that – before one of you outbid him in the end.

We’re baseball fans, and more.  We share a distraction, and sometimes we find it within us to set aside the distraction, together, and to embrace something bigger.

We’re Texas Rangers fans, and that means something more than caring about wins and losses and trades and trophies.

It’s my great honor to share that bond with the Parker family, and with you.

Matt Harrison extended.

Year one (2013): $5 million.  Arbitration avoided.  Maybe even at a slight club discount.

Year two (2014): $8 million.  Arbitration avoided.  Another club discount if he pitches in 2013 anything close to the way he did in 2012, when his WAR measure quietly trailed only Justin Verlander, David Price, and Clayton Kershaw.

Year three (2015): $13 million.  First year of free agency bought out.

Year four (2016): $13 million.  Second year of free agency bought out.

Year five (2017): $13 million.  Third year of free agency bought out.

A possible year six (2018): A club option at a minimum of $13.25 million (and possibly as much as $15.75 million) that Texas can buy out for $2 million – unless he logs 200 innings in 2015 and again in 2016 and again in 2017, in which case the option becomes guaranteed and Texas will be thrilled to pay it, buying out a fourth year of free agency.

Add a $1 million signing bonus to the five guaranteed seasons and the 2018 buyout, and Matt Harrison gets $55 million, at least, to continue pitching here if the Rangers want him to continue pitching here, and to extend the payoff of The Trade, which was made when he was a 21-year-old Class AA lefthander that the club insisted on, potentially until he’s 33 years old.

Awesome.

Darvish_Yu

 

Age 26; club control through 2017

Harrison_Matt

Age 27; club control through 2018

Holland_Derek

Age 26; club control through 2018

Ogando_Alexi

Age 29; club control through 2016

The reality is that those four won’t be members of this rotation for the next four seasons.  Texas will always look to add to the very top, to avoid getting too old, to continue to develop from within.

Not every one of those four will retire as Rangers.

Chances are good, in fact, that not every one of them will be here for the duration of their current contracts.

But man, payroll certainty is a tremendous thing, not to mention having a ballclub with four starting pitchers under the age of 30 deemed worthy of that sort of long-term commitment.

Tonight’s Matt Harrison news is all kinds of outstanding, for the player and for the club and for those of us into the idea that fewer core free agents to worry about in any given winter is a good thing.

Sorry for the brevity, but this one just doesn’t need all that much analysis.

Splitting difference.

A follow-up on the COFFEY dump, because this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while but didn’t know how to drill down into second-level splits data until the great Dave Cameron gave me an Excel tip this morning . . . .

I’ve seen lots of noise made about Justin Upton’s uneven splits.  He’s a lifetime .307/.389/.548 (.937 OPS) hitter at Chase Field, a mere .250/.325/.406 (.731 OPS) hitter elsewhere.

The equivalent of 2012 Prince Fielder at home, Michael Saunders away.

The disparity was even greater in 2012 alone: .313/.390/.534 (.924 OPS) at home, .252/.326/.344 (.670 OPS) away.

Robinson Cano vs. Rafael Furcal.

So, buyer beware, right?

Well, as someone pointed out (I can’t find where I saw it), lots of Upton’s road games have been in the pitchers’ parks of the NL West.

So I wanted to see how Upton has fared in the five AL West parks, and in American League parks as a whole – not how he’s hit against AL clubs, that is, but how things have gone when he’s been in their ballparks.

In 209 plate appearances in AL ballparks, Upton has hit .317/.393/.465 (.858 OPS).  In other words, 2012 Dexter Fowler.

Of those, 88 trips have come in Texas, Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle, and Houston: .314/.373/.454 (.826 OPS).  Or 2012 Alex Gordon.

A dozen of those plate appearances came in Seattle, in 2009 (one of his two great seasons).  He went 5 for 11 with a home run and a walk, and no strikeouts, good for a .455/.500/.727 slash (1.227 OPS).

No wonder the Mariners are seduced.

Upton has been a lot better in AL West parks (.826 OPS), not to mention AL parks as a whole (.858 OPS), than he’s been away from Chase Field altogether (.731 OPS).

So, you know, there’s that.

Details on Monday’s event.

Here’s where we stand as far as Monday night’s book release event at Sherlock’s Baker Street Pub & Grill in Dallas (9100 North Central Expressway), benefiting the Emilie Parker Memorial Fund, is concerned.

Current guests include Rangers Minor League Player of the Year Mike Olt and undefinable local celebrity Michael Gruber, formerly of The Ticket.  I might have news later today on another player as well.

Ben Rogers of ESPN 103.3 FM will emcee the event.

You can bring your Bound Editions or whatever else you want to get autographed by our guests (limit two items per featured guest, please), and I’ll have 2013, 2012, and 2011 books on hand as well.

For every $10 you donate to Emilie’s Fund upon arrival, you will get one ticket for our raffle.  Whoever makes the largest donation will get his or her choice of any one raffle item, and the remaining stuff will be awarded by drawing.  We’ll have an auction of some bigger stuff as well.  Participation in the raffle and auction are reserved for folks present at the event.

As with our December event, 100 percent of the raffle and auction proceeds will go toward Emilie’s Fund, which will support not only the Parker family but the other 19 families of the kids whose lives were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary as well.

The raffle and auction lists continue to grow, but for now I expect the following:

  • Autographed baseballs, including Nolan Ryan, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, Justin Grimm, Steve Buechele, John Wetteland, Ozzie Smith, Clayton Kershaw, Hunter Pence, Edinson Volquez, Alex Gordon
  • Autographed baseball featuring most of the 2012 Rangers
  • Autographed Rafael Palmeiro bat
  • Autographed Hamilton/Cruz/Murphy bat
  • Official MLB base autographed by Mike Olt
  • Autographed Ruben Sierra jersey
  • Autographed photos, including Nolan Ryan, Ted Williams, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Martin Perez, Jesus Montero
  • Autographed baseball cards, including Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, Martin Perez,
  • A sit-in with the Norm Hitzges Show at the Ticket studios for up to four people, including pre-show meetings and airing of Norm’s show
  • A date with Grubes
  • Lunch for four with Grubes
  • Original Mike Olt painting by local artist Pat Payton
  • Will Clark lithograph signed by Clark and artist Vernon Wells Sr.
  • “2011 ALDS Champs” bottle of sparkling wine autographed by Elvis Andrus & Mike Adams
  • Unused tickets for every 2010 Rangers playoff game
  • Custom framing for a baseball jersey or baseball shadowbox ($500 value)
  • Portrait session with celebrity photographer Kevin Jairaj ($500 value)
  • Two lower bowl tickets and parking pass to any Rangers home game in 2013 (excluding Opening Day)
  • Texas Stadium seatback featuring picture of Tom Landry
  • Original Sporting News proof picture of Steve Buechele
  • Seven Yu Darvish rookie cards
  • Uncut sheet of Texas Rangers playing cards and set of Rangers playing cards
  • Original art work of Buddy Bell for five cards in Rangers playing card set
  • Two custom iPhone 4 cases, featuring local artist Pat Payton’s artwork of Nolan Ryan and Yu Darvish
  • Dessert Chips and Salsa Gift Basket from Dread Head Chef

Other things to know:

  • The autograph line will get moving at 6:00 pm, but you can arrive earlier if you’d like.  We’ll plan to be at Sherlock’s until 9:00 pm, but please note that Olt may not be able to stay the entire time.
  • There will be a set-up when you arrive where you can donate to Emilie’s Fund (and get your raffle tickets) and can buy Newberg Report books (I’ll have the 2013, 2012, and 2011 editions there, and will ship any other editions to you at my cost).
  • However, while we’ve required the purchase of a Bound Edition in past years in order to get autographs, that is not necessary this year.  I’d rather you donate to Emilie’s Fund first, and then if you want I’m certainly happy to sell you a book. 
  • We can take cash, checks, or credit card payments.
  • Once the autograph line subsides, we’ll open up the floor for a Q&A/roundtable discussion with our guests.

Luther Davis and Bret Richards, who have auctioneered all our events the past few years, are out of town Monday.  If you’re a professional auctioneer or know one who might be interested in helping us out Monday night, please let me know.

We’ve raised over $25,000 for Emilie’s Fund so far.  Looking forward to kicking that number up further.

More details as they become available.

What Lance Berkman is, and isn’t.

What is Lance Berkman?

For starters, he’s not Josh Hamilton.

At least not the 2010 version, probably.

Then again, neither was Hamilton in 2011, or 2012.

In fact, in eight of Berkman’s 14 big league seasons, he had a higher OPS+ (a park-adjusted measure of on-base plus slug) than any Hamilton season other than his 2010 MVP campaign.

Take it a step further: the season Berkman had in 2011 (.301/.412/.547) – good for a 164 OPS+ – was more productive than all but three Rangers seasons (of 100 games or more) in the organization’s 41 years: Mike Napoli’s 2011 (173 OPS+), Hamilton’s 2010 (170), and Juan Gonzalez’s 1993 (169).

None of Alex Rodriguez’s seasons here measured up to Berkman’s 2011.  Gonzalez’s two MVP seasons fell short.  Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra, Pudge Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre – none of them had a season at the plate in Texas like Berkman’s 2011 in St. Louis.

Lance Berkman is not like most Rangers hitters, because he routinely walks as often as he strikes out. 

The only two Rangers hitters to have a season of more walks than strikeouts in the last 10 years are Ian Kinsler (2011) and Palmeiro (2003).  In that span Berkman has done it twice – and two other times been one walk short.

And he’s done it in 146 career plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark (22 walks, 21 strikeouts).

Kinsler has it within him to be that guy again, of course.  It’s in Jurickson Profar’s game, too, even if that part doesn’t fully mature until after Berkman is done.  But nothing wrong with the veteran helping to set a tone that even Beltre can’t.

This is going to take some getting used to, but I can’t wait.  Embrace ball four.

Lance Berkman is a health risk.

He’ll be able to DH for a full season, a luxury he’s never had – but a pair of right knee surgeries in the last year, at his age, obviously makes him somewhat of a gamble from a physical standpoint.

So was Vladimir Guerrero.

So was Joe Nathan.

So were Milton Bradley and Eric Gagné and Joakim Soria.

So was Hamilton.

He might be Brandon Webb, or Adam Eaton, or Keith Van Horn, but I’m thinking positive on this.  Berkman passed what (given the investment) had to be a rigorous physical, something Napoli has been unable to do in Boston, and if the Rangers feel good about the risk – and their checkbook says they do – I’m optimistic.

Lance Berkman is no bargain.

At $10 million for 2013, and a $12 million club option ($1 buyout) for 2014 that becomes a guaranteed $13 million if Berkman reaches 550 plate appearances (something he did nine straight years until 2010, then again in 2011), many are saying Texas overpaid.

They said that about Guerrero, too.

And Beltre.

And Nathan.

And Yu Darvish.

And lots of those same folks thought Texas should have tendered $13.3 million for one year to Napoli, whose hip is in such bad shape that the Red Sox have tried for five weeks without success to rework the three-year, $39 million deal they’d agreed to pay prior to a physical.

Berkman’s deal has more team safeguards in it than the two years and $26 million that St. Louis gave Carlos Beltran when Albert Pujols left, and it should.  Beltran was coming off a 2011 season when he signed last winter that was nearly as productive as the season Berkman is a full year removed from.  His two-year guarantee was justified in comparison, and some reports had Texas in the mix along with St. Louis to sign him.

Ask the Cardinals how they feel about that two-year commitment in comparison to the 10 years committed to Pujols, the player he basically replaced, by someone else – the same someone else who just committed five years to Hamilton and guaranteed 10 times more money than the Rangers are locked into Berkman for.

Lance Berkman isn’t much of a fan favorite around here at the moment, maybe less so for the comments he’s made than for the two-out, two-strike, Scott Feldman pitch he swatted to center on October 27, 2011.

But Vladimir Guerrero was the enemy for a long time, as were Charles Haley and Deion Sanders, and Brett Hull and Adrian Dantley.

This isn’t Kiki Vandeweghe.

Or David Freese.

Lance Berkman is not like anyone who appeared in 100 games for Texas in 2012 or 2011 or 2010 or 2009, because he switch-hits. 

Whenever Profar arrives (I’m not sold 100 percent that he’s destined for AAA, in spite of Daniels’s comments Monday night), he and Berkman will be the Rangers’ first 100-game switch-hitters since Milton Bradley and Brandon Boggs in 2008.  And batting from both sides isn’t just a novelty.  It makes the opposing manager work a little harder and at least consider extra pitching changes.

No, Berkman isn’t as good from the right side as the left, but a dependable left-handed bat was what this lineup needed most – check out the current state of starting pitching in the division – and here’s the other thing: He’s not a mess from the right side.  His career OPS against left-handed pitching is .777.  In 2011, it was .804.

If Berkman puts up an .800 OPS from the right side this year, he will have been more productive from his weaker side than Kinsler was overall last season (.749).  Elvis Andrus (.727) and Nelson Cruz (.779) and Mitch Moreland (.789), too.  And certainly Michael Young (.682).

Which raises the next point: While Texas has done well to address the loss of left-handed-hitting punch by adding Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, and while the division is relatively light on southpaw pitching, there will be days when C.J. Wilson or Brett Anderson is on the hill and you might want to avoid running out a lineup that features both Geovany Soto and Craig Gentry and includes Berkman, Moreland, and David Murphy and their weakened splits.

The need for another right-handed bat – someone more bankable than Conor Jackson or Ryan Garko – seems to remain.

Given the club’s remarks at Monday’s Berkman presser, Mike Olt isn’t going to be stuck on the Texas bench waiting on opportunities against lefties.  He needs to play.

Could Napoli be that guy?  With Adam LaRoche re-upping yesterday with Washington, one would think that Boston almost has to get something worked out with Napoli at this point.

Could the LaRoche signing mean Nationals first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse makes some sense here?  Three things: (1) he’s not really a lefty-masher (he put up reverse splits in 2011 and 2012, his two full-time seasons in the bigs); (2) Washington reportedly wants left-handed relief or prospects (to replenish what was lost in trades the last year with Oakland and Minnesota) in return, according to Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM), and Texas has no excess in the former and will need to be protective of key assets as far as the latter is concerned, especially if the club is targeting bigger fish; and (3) there are reportedly about a dozen teams interested in Morse, which gives the Nationals some leverage in terms of what they’re asking for.

For what it’s worth, Gordon Edes (ESPN Boston) suggests Morse could be in play for Boston as an alternative to Napoli.

Justin Upton?  The rumor won’t go away (Ken Rosenthal [Fox Sports] believes Texas continues its “persistent and relentless” pursuit of the outfielder, willing to offer Arizona a package of Olt, a “top pitching prospect” [perhaps from among Martin Perez, Justin Grimm, and Cody Buckel], and a “third quality piece”), and the longer this goes on, you have to begin wondering if Arizona can afford to take him to camp.

The rumors that Seattle could be in the lead on Upton make sense, given the Mariners’ depth in high-end pitching prospects, but the fact that nothing’s gotten done there may indicate Upton meant it as more than just a leverage point when he included Seattle on his four-team no-trade list.  (Could the Mariners will turn their attention instead to Morse, whom they traded away badly three years ago?)

Maybe the answer on the right-handed boost is that Kinsler and Cruz just need to be better in 2013, bouncing back from career-low full seasons at the plate.  Perhaps for different reasons, it’s not difficult to believe both will.

Lance Berkman is going to be a quote machine. 

It’s not going to be what defines his time here – his comments won’t be a daily Mickey Rivers, Delonte West, or Mike Vanderjagt sideshow – but we’ve read enough over the years to know Berkman’s going to speak his mind, just like Pierzynski will, and in the absence of Young in particular, having another veteran presence to speak for what’s likely going to be a younger team will help, particularly when things get tense.  The Young role doesn’t need to fall squarely on Kinsler’s shoulders.

Yes, Berkman’s coming back to the “Mickey Mouse” AL, in the DH role that he “hates,” joining the club that “reached” for Beltre after its “lightning-in-a-bottle” 2010 season, but unlike C.J. Wilson and Dennis Rodman and Thomas Henderson – and Hamilton – Berkman isn’t the type who’s going to regularly put himself in a corner needing a dose of damage-control assistance.

Berkman’s manner with the media reminds me of what Gabe Kapler and Dan Campbell would have been if they were core players.  Pierzynski is more likely to play the Deion Sanders role.

Will Clark was quotable.  So was Michael Irvin.  Tyson Chandler was, too.  I miss them all.

Lance Berkman is not Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton or Matt Kemp, even though he’s going to wear number 27, which he’s never worn in the big leagues, and I doubt it’s in tribute to Todd Zeile or Frank Catalanotto, but maybe it’s a tip of the cap to Carlton Fisk and the 19 seasons he played after his career-threatening knee injury.

Or to Vladdy.

Lance Berkman is not Mario Ramos, Matt “The Pitcher” Williams, Vincent Sinisi, Dane Bubela, Craig Crow, Jason Gray, or Dave Pavlas.  After the season-opening homestand he’ll have played as many games as a Ranger as all the previous Rice University products who have come through this organization combined.

Lance Berkman isn’t Randy Williams, and I’m guessing New Braunfels Canyon High didn’t play Buna High outside Beaumont when the two of them were playing high school ball, but I bet Rice played Lamar University a time or two before both were drafted in 1997, and while I know Berkman wasn’t one of the 399 big league hitters Williams faced and that they never teed it up in the minor leagues, either, I’m also sure that they were the two players whose roster spots Texas (Monday) and Boston (in July 2011) cleared by designating lefthander Tommy Hottovy for assignment, and that was a long sentence.

Lance Berkman doesn’t have as cool a “Big” nickname as Frank Thomas, David Ortiz, Andres Galarraga, Randy Johnson, Bryant Reeves, or Sam Perkins, and while he probably embraced “Fat Elvis” more than Hideki Irabu accepted “Fat Toad” but probably not as willingly as Lafayette “Fat” Lever wore his nickname, I’m not about to start referring to the shortstop as “Nonfat Elvis,” and so there’s only one Elvis on this team, and the one whose signing was announced the day before Elvis Presley’s birthday is going to have to settle here for Big Puma, which I think he’s going to be more than good with.

Lance Berkman is not Julio Franco, however old he was when he arrived in Texas, and he’s not Palmeiro, who became a Ranger one day before Franco did, but he brings a new dimension to this offense just as those two did 24 years ago.  One regular Texas hitter reached base at better than a .354 clip last year, and that was Murphy’s .380 spike.  Only twice in Berkman’s 14 seasons has he had that low an on-base mark: his rookie season (.321) and 2010 (.368).

In fact, Berkman’s career .409 on-base (.404 in 146 plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark) is better than Franco’s as a Ranger (.382), better than Palmeiro’s as a Ranger (.378), and better than the only four hitters who had higher Ranger clips than those two: Mike Hargrove (.399), Alex Rodriguez (.395), Clark (.395), and Rusty Greer (.387).

Dave Magadan is going to love how Berkman makes pitchers work, and so will we.

And, speaking of Palmeiro and Franco, whom the Rangers traded for on December 5 and December 6, 1988, Texas added another veteran that December 7, a man whose career was thought to be in its twilight and who, two dozen years later, sat down with Berkman to take his temperature on the idea of giving the game one more shot, in Arlington.

Like Nolan Ryan was, maybe Lance Berkman is a roll of the dice this late in his career.

What he told Ryan, evidently sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day, was that he thought he was done when the off-season arrived.  But his knee began feeling better.  The money and the opportunity gave him something to think seriously about.  In the end, Ryan says, Berkman was going to play for Texas, go back to the Yankees because of Andy Pettitte, or hang ’em up.

People thought Pettitte was done when he retired after the 2010 season that ended at the hands of the Rangers.  Berkman’s career appeared to be on life support as well, as he’d struggled through half a season with Houston and then two months with New York.

But the Cardinals signed him and were rewarded with a season that earned him a seventh-place finish in the NL MVP race.

St. Louis rolled the dice and hit big.

So did Texas when it got a commitment for one last guaranteed year from Ryan – who ended up pitching five seasons for the Rangers.

“I am excited about the Rangers.  They have given me an opportunity to stay in Texas, play for a club that is going to be competitive and have a family situation I think is the most workable for my family. . . . The Rangers have shown that they will do everything they can to field the best club they can. . . . Also, I am a die-hard Texan and want to remain in Texas.”

That’s what Ryan said when he joined the final team of his storied playing career.

It’s probably not far from what Berkman and Ryan discussed two weeks ago, and looks a lot like what he said to the press on Monday.

Lance Berkman is a Nolan Ryan guy.

And, yes, so was Roy Oswalt.

But Mike Maddux was, too.  What’s your point?

Lance Berkman isn’t Josh Hamilton, even if some like the estimable Dave Cameron believe that might not be a bad thing:

  • “[I]f we just look at expected performance for 2013, there’s a decent chance that Berkman will put up offensive numbers that are not too different from what Hamilton would have produced [in Texas].”
  • “Especially if he’s platooned and spends most of his time hitting against right-handers, Berkman could easily outpace Hamilton’s offensive levels on a per at-bat basis.”
  • “And, of course, it’s not like you’re getting a lot of extra health certainty with Hamilton as opposed to Berkman.  He was healthier last year, but his injury track record is longer than Berkman’s, and the best we can say is that both are likely to play less than a full season in 2013.”
  • “There’s no question that [factoring in defense] makes Hamilton the better player, and certainly worth more in salary.  I’m not suggesting that Berkman and Hamilton are equally valuable, or that Hamilton and Berkman should have signed the same contracts this winter.  However, I am suggesting that perhaps the overall net effect of the moves on the Rangers and Angels won’t be as big as they might appear on the surface.”
  • “[A]s a bonus, going this direction still allows the Rangers to swing a trade for Justin Upton at some point if they can find a match with Arizona, and an Upton/Berkman combination is almost certainly an improvement over a Hamilton/Cruz duo.”
  • “I think the overall impact of having one or the other on the Rangers roster isn’t too dramatically different.  By going this direction, the Rangers have replaced a decent chunk of Hamilton’s value without absorbing the long term risks of matching the five year deal he got from Anaheim, and they’ve given themselves the option to still acquire a right field upgrade should the opportunity present itself.”

And maybe they will.  Maybe Upton will soon be a Ranger, along with Berkman, a pair of top 10 finalists for NL MVP in 2011 who dropped off in 2012, just as Texas did itself.

It’s all an exercise in seeing into a crystal ball at some level.  We don’t really have any idea what Berkman will be in 2013.  We can’t be certain he’ll give the Rangers any more than Eaton or Oswalt or Brad Wilkerson did.  And we don’t know for sure he won’t be better than Hamilton.

Lance Berkman isn’t going to fit neatly into any category.  A switch-hitting fusion of on-base savvy, an outspoken streak, and a refurbished knee, he’ll probably end up reminding of us of absolutely nobody, like Vladdy and Deion and Tyson – and Josh – and while the outcome is hard to project, it seems fairly predictable that Berkman will manage to carve out a chapter in Rangers history that, for better or worse, we’ll end up talking about for a very long time.

Ringing in a new year.

When I looked back to see how many years it’s been since I started posting my Top 72 Rangers Prospects rundown from the Bound Edition on New Year’s Day (this is the sixth year), I spent a few minutes looking at the list from three years ago, which turned out to be months before the Rangers’ first World Series season got rolling.

The Clint Hurdle stuff at the top of that January 1, 2010 report was cool to look back at, especially the part about Ian Kinsler.

It makes me think of Dave Magadan and Kinsler.

Re-reading my comment about Rich Harden made me realize my opinion on him probably did more of a one-year 180 than any player in the history of ever.

But the stuff about what July 2010 could bring, and the possibility of something special that season, man, that gets me fired up for baseball.

I look back at that year’s Top 72, and see a rookie who would build off the previous year’s debut and become a difference-maker (Neftali Feliz), a breakout prospect who would make a surprise impact late in the year (Mitch Moreland), and a virtually unknown quantity who would be a weapon all summer and into October (Alexi Ogando).

Maybe this year Jurickson Profar, Leury Garcia, and Justin Miller are those three guys.

I look back and see seven players who would be gone from the organization seven months later – Justin Smoak, Michael Main, Blake Beavan, Omar Poveda, Evan Reed, Tanner Roark, and Ryan Tatusko (not to mention Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson, who didn’t make the list) – used as pieces to boost a big league roster primed to make a post-season charge (its first in more than a decade).

And another few who would be sent away a year after that – Pedro Strop, Joe Wieland, and Robbie Erlin – with a similar purpose.

There are some on this year’s list who will be deployed in the same way.  Maybe this July or next.

Maybe this month.

I see Martin Perez at number three, his second of what is now five straight seasons in the top 10.

And Profar at number six, having yet to play his first minor league game.

And Danny Gutierrez and Kasey Kiker in the top 15, two years before both would be out of affiliated ball and pitching in the indie leagues.

There’s nobody among this year’s top 15 you can even conceive of that happening to.

In fact, you could probably make the case that every one of the first 10 players on this year’s list would be the top prospect in some number of systems.

You don’t get a parade for having the best farm system – just as you don’t for winning the winter – but the depth of this club’s minor league pipeline is one reason to feel very good about the big picture here, to be stoked about both the two-year and the six-year plans.

So here we go – this year’s Top 72 (excluding players who have exhausted rookie status [like Leonys Martin] and six-year free agents as of season’s end [like Johan Yan] and players acquired since Thanksgiving [like Lisalverto Bonilla, Jake Brigham, Cory Burns, and Coty Woods]):

1.  Jurickson Profar, SS-2B

2.  Mike Olt, 3B-1B-OF

3.  Martin Perez, LHP

4.  Lewis Brinson, OF

5.  Jorge Alfaro, C

6.  Nomar Mazara, OF

7.  Joey Gallo, 3B

8.  Ronald Guzman, 1B

9.  Cody Buckel, RHP

10.  Jairo Beras, OF

11.  Justin Grimm, RHP

12.  Luis Sardinas, SS-2B

13.  C.J. Edwards, RHP

14.  Rougned Odor, 2B-SS

15.  Luke Jackson, RHP

16.  Wilmer Font, RHP

17.  Leury Garcia, 2B-SS-OF

18.  Nick Williams, OF

19.  Nick Tepesch, RHP

20.  Jose Valdespina, RHP

21.  Roman Mendez, RHP

22.  Engel Beltre, OF

23.  Neil Ramirez, RHP

24.  Keone Kela, RHP

25.  David Perez, RHP

26.  Jordan Akins, OF

27.  Collin Wiles, RHP

28.  Alec Asher, RHP

29.  Hanser Alberto, SS-3B

30.  Yohander Mendez, LHP

31.  Luis Marte, SS

32.  Drew Robinson, 3B

33.  Odubel Herrera, 2B-SS

34.  Barret Loux, RHP (since traded to Cubs)

35.  Victor Payano, LHP

36.  Tomas Telis, C

37.  Matt West, RHP

38.  Chad Bell, LHP

39.  Zach Cone, OF

40.  Nick Martinez, RHP

41.  Justin Miller, RHP

42.  Kyle Castro, RHP

43.  Will Lamb, LHP

44.  Connor Sadzeck, RHP

45.  Jerad Eickhoff, RHP

46.  Kellin Deglan, C

47.  Joseph Ortiz, LHP

48.  Jake Skole, OF

49.  Eduard Pinto, OF

50.  Kevin Matthews, LHP

51.  Jamie Jarmon, OF

52.  Chris McGuiness, 1B (currently Indians property, via Rule 5)

53.  Preston Beck, OF

54.  Arlett Mavare, RHP

55.  Pat Cantwell, C

56.  Ryan Strausborger, OF

57.  Jose Leclerc, RHP

58.  Jared Hoying, OF

59.  Phil Klein, RHP

60.  Ryan Rua, IF

61.  Francisco Mendoza, RHP

62.  Jimmy Reyes, LHP

63.  Abel De Los Santos, RHP

64.  Chris Garia, OF

65.  Wilfredo Boscan, RHP (since traded to Padres)

66.  Teodoro Martinez, OF

67.  Christopher Grayson, OF

68.  Royce Bolinger, OF

69.  Jose Felix, C

70.  Janluis Castro, 2B-3B

71.  Ryan Rodebaugh, RHP

72.  Joey Butler, OF

Some of those players will make me look real silly, one way or the other, in 2013.

Some will come up, some will be gone.

Maybe in a way that will cement their place in Rangers history, in a Danny Ray Herrera kinda way.

Lots of them will take the methodical step forward, helping to bring another wave closer, steadily and with bad-ɑѕѕ force.

Whatcha got, 2013?

#RingIt.

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