March 2013

Birthday.

My habit most mornings is to grab my phone off the nightstand and check Twitter, just to see if any news broke overnight (or, failing that, to check in on Larry King’s latest News & Views).

The first new tweet I saw when I woke today was unexpected:

     Happy 4th TwBirthday!  You’ve been around since 31 March 2009!

Out of curiosity, I went back to see what my first-ever tweet was.  While I was waiting on the Twitter archive to download, I checked to see what I’d written that day, figuring it might give me a hint on what had driven me to surrender four years ago today and sign up for Twitter, which I’d resisted for a while.

I wrote twice on March 31 that year, first to talk about how the competition for the final spots in the bullpen was shaking out (man, there were some uninspiring names) and then to report that Texas had gotten lefthander Kason Gabbard through waivers and outrighted his contract to Oklahoma City, clearing a roster spot that would be needed for one of several non-roster additions to the Opening Day roster, including a 20-year-old with zero experience above Class AA named Elvis Andrus.

But it turns out that’s not what my first tweet said.  Instead, it was this:

     What have I done?

(The sole response to which was this.)

If you’d asked me on March 31, 2009 which was more likely – that I’d post more than 22,000 tweets over the next four years or that the Rangers would win 18 playoff games in that stretch, including four in the World Series – I’d have had to think about it.

I’m not sure how many folks have followed me on Twitter, but 23,600 have stuck around long enough to see the last tweet I posted last night, just as short as my first-ever tweet:

     Lights out, off-season.

So here we are.

It’s Opening Day.

The birth of another season, and maybe it will be our favorite one.

Tonight, it’s 1 of 162.

In fact, it’s 1 of 2,430.

The last time that happened, I think, was in 2001, when Texas faced Toronto in Puerto Rico, in what was Alex Rodriguez’s first game as a Ranger.

It was also the first opener for Esteban Loaiza, whom Texas had traded to the Jays the summer before, getting journeyman reliever Darwin Cubillan and AA infielder Mike Young in return.

The last time Loaiza pitched was three days ago in Arlington, when he faced Texas as a reliever for Diablos Rojos del Mexico.

Today will be the first Rangers game with Young owning a different big league uniform.

And the first big league game managed by Houston skipper Bo Porter.

Porter was the Rangers’ starting right fielder in that Texas-Toronto opener 12 years ago.

Enough nostalgia.  We look forward now.

Happy Birthday.

It’s Opening Day.

plane_ready_for_take_off-wide

Relevance.

If you believe the fact that Angels, Reds, and Dodgers have the three worst win-loss marks in baseball this spring means something, or that Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle’s preeminent records are prophetic in any way, be my guest.

It just doesn’t matter.

We’d be well advised to tap the brakes just a little on Mitch Moreland’s gaudy .386/.453/.702 line in camp, and to ignore the Cactus League’s .321 batting average against Matt Harrison, but on the other hand, what if Jeff Baker had hit .194/.324/.419 and Mike Olt had hit .418/.458/.545, rather than the opposite?  What if Joe Ortiz (11-6-1-1-1-11) and Neal Cotts (6.1-15-5-5-1-8) had flipped pitching lines?

Are spring training statistics dispositive?

No.

Are they persuasive?

They shouldn’t be.

Are they relevant?

For some players, you bet.

You don’t draw any conclusions from Yu Darvish’s 42 strikes out of 52 deliveries last night, especially against what amounts to a minor league team with commercials on their uniforms, but it’s a lot more reassuring to see the righthander that sharp with all his pitches in his final practice run before they count.

And while the decision on whether Josh Lindblom or Cory Burns gets the final roster spot – unless it goes to Julio Borbon (.333/.400/.456, more walks than strikeouts) until fifth starter Nick Tepesch is needed in Game Eight – won’t be based on how the two righties (both of whom have options) fared Thursday night against Leonardo Heras and Sergio Gastelum, the fact that both pounded the zone and carved the Diablos up (Lindblom: three pop-ups; Burns: three groundouts) serves each of them well.

It’s relevant.

As is Leury – lay-OOH-ree – Garcia’s .241/.343/.414 line in what was an abbreviated camp due to his time with the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic.  If he’d put up the .067/.176/.200 numbers that Engel Beltre did, you can be sure that Ryan Theriot or Ronny Cedeno or someone like that would be lining up on the chalk Sunday night in Houston.

But for a player like Garcia, who had to win certain people over to earn the job he’s earned, it was probably just as much about the impressions he made outside the box score, like the 20-minute one-on-one sessions with Gary Pettis on the back fields bunting diamonds, or the moments like this:

wash leury kyle stacy 5

                                                                         Kyle Stacy

It’s fun (and probably a job requirement) for the papers to roll season predictions out around now, and I do read with interest when Gerry Fraley forecasts 101 Ranger wins (and 35 Moreland bombs),  Evan Grant speculates that Texas will trade for Giancarlo Stanton in July, and Emily Jones believes Texas and Baltimore will once again meet as Wild Cards – only this time Jones has the Rangers getting through the Orioles and the rest of the AL and returning to the World Series – but there are so many variables.

Who will get hurt?

Will Colby Lewis, Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz, and Martin Perez all get well, and contribute?

And will Kyle McClellan fit in that sentence?

Will Lance Berkman hold up?

Will Josh Hamilton?

Will Ian Kinsler and Derek Holland step back up like they need to?

Will the Marlins actually listen on Stanton?

Are the Orioles more likely to make a repeat playoff appearance, or to finish last in the East?

Will Leonys Martin (.350/.397/.483) and Craig Gentry (.345/.419/.618) carry this month of awesomeness over into the season, and if so, will we see a significant number of games in which one of them starts in center and the other (probably Gentry) starts on a corner (both have the arm to do it) to give David Murphy or Nelson Cruz a rest, rather than having to rely on Baker or Garcia to do that too often?

And what if Cruz is told he can’t play for a third of the season?

Jon Daniels on Martin: “He’s showing that he’s a big league player.  I feel very, very good about our evaluators in this organization.  Our guys have made some good calls, and our ownership backs us and spent $15 million on a guy that very few people in the organization had seen.  I think that says what we think about the guys who made that call, and it appears that he may very well be worth that money.”

Ron Washington on Gentry: “I didn’t think he could be an everyday guy.  He’s worked hard.  He’s learned how to get through the baseball.  He’s always been patient at the plate.  We know he can play defense.  He won’t back down. . . . He’s figured out just how good he can be and he’s just letting it go.  He’s showing me a total game.”

The work of those two, especially given the loss of the team’s most important outfielder, has been the quiet story of this camp.

Martin stands to get the Opening Night assignment against righthander Bud Norris, but the Rangers draw five righties in their first six games, and Gentry is going to start against more than just Angels lefthander Jason Vargas over that first week of baseball.  (Neither Martin nor Gentry has more than two career at-bats – in either the majors or minors – against Astros righthanders Lucas Harrell or Philip Humber, but Gentry will surely draw the start against one of them.)

The spring work of Borbon, on the other hand, has probably punched his ticket out of Texas.  Out of options, he’s not going to clear waivers after his solid camp, and so we can expect a trade, this weekend or at least at some point before Tepesch is needed on April 8.  The return of Rule 5 pick Coty Woods to Colorado (despite reported efforts to work out a trade) and the outright of lefthander Brad Mills to Round Rock clear roster spots for Baker and Derek Lowe.  Tepesch isn’t on the 40-man roster himself, and when Borbon moves on, that will open up a spot for the young righthander.

The Rangers have until Sunday at 2:00 to finalize their Opening Day roster.  Borbon tells Barry Horn (Dallas Morning News) that he thinks the Astros, Mets, Cubs, and Rays have expressed interest in him.  The Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Yankees have also been mentioned at times this spring.  Houston has waiver priority and thus would only feel compelled to trade for Borbon if it feared some other club has a deal on the table Texas would take.

When Texas signed Ortiz in August 2006, and Garcia in December 2007, and Tepesch in August 2010 (with the over-slot cash that Daniels insisted on two weeks earlier in the trade of Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Boston, giving added life to the Teixeira Trade), the idea that all three would start their 2013 seasons in Texas couldn’t have been any more than a pipe dream.  But here we are.

With two games in San Antonio (and a “280” painted on the 16-foot-high right field fence), updates on Scott Lucas’s unparalleled organizational depth chart, and a couple new farm system rankings out (Baseball Prospectus: Rangers 2, Mariners 5, Astros 9, A’s 25, Angels 30; Baseball America: Mariners 2, Rangers 3, Astros 9, A’s 25, Angels 30) to get us from now until Sunday’s opener, we can all sit here and crystal-ball a win-loss record, or we can instead consider these two quotes from club officials about the Rangers’ new utility infielder:

Daniels: “How many guys switch-hit, 8-arm, 8-run, can play SS, 2B, CF?  There’s one guy that can do it: Leury Garcia.”

Washington: “We’re going to have to make sure he gets his work.  We’re going to have to love him a lot.”

Having lived through the last third of 2012, I’m sure you agree that the second quote is as invigorating as the first.

That’s a comment that I’m planning to rely on, and for me is more interesting than how many extra-base hits Ian Kinsler had in camp, or how many baserunners Alexi Ogando allowed, or whether a national baseball writer has Texas pegged for 86 wins, or 96.

Some of it’s relevant, to a degree, but there are only so many things that can be controlled, like whether you forgo $20,000 and instead take what’s being offered for an outfielder out of options and out of the plans, who plays center field and when, and a manager’s stated commitment to use his bench and keep his veterans fresh, so that the Rangers are as relevant toward the back end of the 162 that follow, and hopefully beyond that, as they appear to be right now.

Whereabouts.

Today, Tempe.

Tomorrow, Arlington.

San Antonio Friday, and again on Saturday.

And then Houston Sunday night, when it all begins with the first three of 162, followed by a return to Arlington to host the Angels and Rays.

Where will Leury Garcia and Nick Tepesch be?

Gonna need a place to live.

So might Fearless Joe Ortiz.

(Here’s Esther Grissom’s video of about a minute of that Wash/Profar/Garcia back-fields clinic I wrote about yesterday.)

Where will Julio Borbon be?

With Texas until the fifth starter is needed during the Tampa Bay series, or in another big league uniform?  (The Astros, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Cubs, and Yankees are among those rumored to have interest in the out-of-options outfielder, according to Gerry Fraley [Dallas Morning News].)

Where will Coty Woods and Chris McGuiness be?

The Rangers’ farm system, or the Rockies’ and Indians’?  Trade talks are reportedly underway.

Where will Nolan Ryan be?

Presumably, Tempe today.  Arlington tomorrow.  Certainly San Antonio Friday, and again on Saturday.

And then Houston Sunday night, when it all begins, followed by a return to Arlington to host the Angels and Rays.

But Kirk Bohls (Austin American-Statesman) isn’t so sure, reporting that “[o]ne person very close to Ryan said it was ‘70-30’ that he leaves,” adding that Ryan was “sounding [Sunday] very much like a man close to saying his goodbyes” and citing “rumors that Bud Selig might throw out a lifeline to keep him involved in the game.”

Where will Nolan Ryan be?

Old school.

About four years ago in Surprise, I was mesmerized by a cool moment back on Field 2 between Scott Servais and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, two catchers from different generations standing alone inside 96,000 square feet of field, teaching and learning.

Sunday morning, on that same field, Ron Washington and Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia weren’t alone – Dave Anderson manned the fungo, and Yangervis Solarte and Jim Adduci the right side of the infield – but it was a similar scene.

wash profar leury

Anderson had been hitting Profar and Garcia grounders for a few minutes when Wash walked from Field 1 onto Field 2, standing 20 feet behind the two infielders and saying nothing, leaning on his own fungo and watching, silently, for at least a couple dozen reps for each.

And then Wash started to speak.

With his voice and his hands and all that baseball passion.

It was animated but not heated.  Pointed but not harsh.

It was awesome.

We were in Arizona with some friends this weekend, suggesting to our kids that every player on the back fields, every one of those 200-plus, was most likely the best player in his Little League, and on his high school team, and if he didn’t turn pro at that point, on his college team as well, aside from those who signed internationally, players good enough that big league organizations were willing to invest millions to go scout them in their homelands and bring them stateside at ages when they weren’t even finished growing.

Yet only a fraction will play in the big leagues.  A franchise that bats .150 in getting its farmhands to the Major Leagues will celebrate.

We talked about how hard those players have to work to get better, to move up the chain, to survive, and then we see Wash teaching Profar, and there’s no more that needs to be said.

There’s the best young talent in the Rangers system – or anyone’s – and he’s still learning.  Every day.

The angle of the arm coming out of the glove.  The follow-through on the throw to first.  The first step to the backhand side on a double play ground ball.

Fifty feet away from Wash and Profar and Garcia, there were Nick Tepesch and Derek Lowe and Michael Kirkman throwing bullpens, side by side, three contestants for one rotation spot staying on the same schedule, one that could have each on the mound tomorrow, that is, if Texas doesn’t first trade for Dodgers lefthander Chris Capuano (seven scoreless innings in a AAA game yesterday, three hits, 11 strikeouts, with scouts from Texas, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland on hand).

Fanned out in different directions, there were six other diamonds, not counting the stadium, and a conditioning field, and a weight room, and a clubhouse that includes rooms where instruction goes on every day in spring training.  At any given time, there could be work getting done in every one of those places, including Mike Maddux’s kid brother Greg throwing batting practice to the big league pitching staff on Field 1.

But at that moment on Sunday morning, while the older Maddux watched Tepesch and Lowe and Kirkman get very important work in, Ron Washington had his attention somewhere else, teaching the best prospect in baseball ways to be better.

Later that day, while the Rangers hosted the Reds in the stadium on the back end of a weekend home-and-home, off behind the snow cone kiosk and the merry-go-round in one of four netted batting cages, shortly after Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson did very bad things to pitched baseballs that make onlooking kids (and their dads) laugh, Mike Olt hit baseballs for half an hour, flips and no-stride and tee work, while Scott Coolbaugh and Justin Mashore taught.

Within a year or two, Olt will have more big league at-bats than the 432 Coolbaugh amassed.  The 33 at-bats he has now are already 33 more than what Mashore got.  But the elite prospect learns.

That night under the lights, Olt had no chance in an at-bat against 21-year-old righty Luke Jackson.  Gallo, who hit a ball unimaginably far in a big league spring training game off big league righthander Esmailin Caridad a week earlier, struggled Sunday night against Rangers hurlers C.J. Edwards and Yohander Mendez and Kelvin Vasquez, none of whom has reached a full-season Class A squad yet.  Cody Buckel couldn’t find the strike zone.

But Kyle Castro, after missing all of 2012 due to an elbow injury, found it over and over, filthily.  Remember the name.

The battle between catcher Jorge Alfaro (home team) and shortstop Luis Sardinas (visitors) went on all night, and they each won several rounds.

They didn’t win them all.  It’s a game of failure.

And learning how to be better next time.  Adjusting.

Rangers coaches, including the manager, will tell you Craig Gentry may be the star of camp.  He’s finding a new level.

Gentry will turn 30 later this year.

It’s a game of failure, and if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, or getting released.

Back to the hometown where you were the best, hands down.

Greg Maddux tweeted this morning: “Ron Washington and my bro Mike both have the gift to lead and the players are lucky to have a chance to learn from them.”

Yep.

Profar and Olt came into camp as candidates to make the Opening Day roster.  Instead, for different reasons, they’ll open in Round Rock.

But what’s not different about their situations, or Craig Gentry’s or Joey Gallo’s or Kyle Castro’s, is that these guys are always learning how to play baseball, on back fields and in cages and in clubhouses where nobody’s broadcasting what’s going on, and that’s just as true for the players on the fringes of the organization, battling with every rep to hang onto a professional career that’s barely gotten underway, as it is for the consensus top prospect in the game.

3-24 Newberg Report, from Surprise, AZ: Come together.

Unless my math is off, I think this is my 25th spring training.  I’ve been to camps inordinately early — 1990 comes to mind, when the players on 40-man rosters were locked out and I went to Port Charlotte anyway, a seemingly foolish enough exercise that we were featured on the local news out there in what I think was one of the first times one of my buddies was on TV and was definitely the first time for another one of us, a string of a few days in which I remember playing catch with Tom House’s kid, watching Donald Harris bloody his nose on his own foul ball in BP, and picking my jaw up off the ground with every sequence of blinding footwork and arm action from this 18-year-old Class A catcher named Ivan who was built nothing like Carlton Fisk but was squatting on his nickname nonetheless.
 
I don’t think I’ve been to a camp this late on the calendar, though.  In what has already been the longest spring training in Rangers franchise history, most things have already come together to the point at which nearly everything is in ramp-up-and-lock-in mode.
 
Like Geovany Soto not only catching Yu Darvish, but also playing all nine exhibition innings (when no other player assured of a big league job was asked to do so), because it’s time to get physically ready to do that.
 
Like Robbie Ross getting two innings and Tanner Scheppers the same, and Leury Garcia being asked to bunt a couple different times in the game, not because the situations necessarily called for it but because that sort of thing factors into a big decision in the next few days, and there’s Jon Heyman (CBS Sports), tweeting this morning that the Rangers are still “looking to acquire a utility player,” not because of anything Garcia did on Saturday but instead because there’s still a good bit of finishing work to be done on the kid, and you have to weigh the allure of having that kind of runner and defender on the bench against the benefits of getting him everyday work and instruction in Round Rock.
 
And in the equation you have to factor in the cost of picking up whatever veteran infielder Texas is targeting.
 
Same with any changes to the bullpen mix, and against all those stories about Rangers scouts monitoring Boston relievers (including Andrew Bailey, writes MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan) and notes about Red Sox scouts roaming the Rangers’ back fields while Boston pro scout John Lombardo continues to show up at big league Rangers exhibition games you have to measure the progress Scheppers has made in camp, particularly in the last week or two.
 
You see things coming together on the back fields as well, like Preston Beck and Royce Bolinger working with the group most likely ticketed for Myrtle Beach, which may be out of necessity given the crazy-deep wave of crazy-ceilinged outfielders who aren’t going to be held back in extended and are thus Hickory-bound, but on the other hand maybe the two 22-year-olds are ready to prove that skipping a level isn’t that crazy an idea.
 
If Beck and Bolinger are issued Pelicans gear in a week, they’ll likely be teammates for the first time with Jorge Alfaro and Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor and Drew Robinson, who wasn’t around on the back fields yesterday since the organization put him on the bus to Goodyear for some late-game work, only Jeff Baker’s sinus issues got Robinson into the game in the third inning, and there he was, squaring up twice on Mat Latos with well-struck singles to center.  
 
And speaking of Alfaro and things coming together, there’s that Pudge guy on the back fields again, this time in Surprise rather than Port Charlotte, working with kids like Alfaro who weren’t yet born back in 1990, and now I’m watching all this unfold while playing catch not with Tom House’s kid, but my own.
 
Later in the day on Saturday, I got to see Elvis Andrus hit a ball 430 feet.  I don’t think I’d ever seen that.  It’s strange thinking of Andrus, an elite baseball player, as someone whom things might still be coming together for, but there’s still a dimension he could add to his game offensively.  He’s never going hit 20 out, but 10-15 would be just fine.
 
I think back to that 2008 Frisco team when the picture started coming into the frame for Andrus, a team also that featured Julio Borbon and Jose Vallejo and Craig Gentry and all the baserunning mayhem that group created.  I think back to Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison pitching for that RoughRiders club and how the hierarchy on that trio has flipped today, and how Gentry seems to be maturing into something different as well, a hitter whose trigger now allows him to do damage to Jonathan Broxton heat, though the triple to left field two innings later on a Manny Parra offering may have been just as impressive.
 
Triples to left field are rare.
 
With one week to go before they count, things are coming together before our eyes, though there’s one issue we can’t see, one that I thought about when reading Howard Bryant’s column for ESPN The Magazine on the Rangers’ front office saga.  The part that caught my eye was not about Nolan Ryan or Jon Daniels, but a Ron Washington comment about Michael Young.
 
For all the things Young did on the field that had regressed, there was the part off the field that will be more difficult to replace.  And what Wash said on what Michael Young meant here was as pointed as any I’ve seen.
 

“He came to work every day, took no days off.  When we won, he talked to the guys about getting better.  When we lost or when he wasn’t playing well, he stood there and accepted responsibility, even though you knew it was eating at him.  He never shrunk.  He was the guy who made sure the other guys, the younger guys, were meeting the standard, and because he was there, the clubhouse was being policed.  Now that he’s not there, a lot of guys are going to find out just how much he protected them.”

 
When I was in Port Charlotte in 1990, the beat writers weren’t around.  The story then was Nolan Ryan and Ruben Sierra and Rafael Palmeiro and all the players who were locked out of baseball in March, not Dan Peltier and Jose Oliva and Robb Nen and all the kids who got full run of the complex in their absence, in front of coaches and club officials and four Spring Breakers from the University of Texas who were just happy to be around baseball.
 
It’s going to be up to those beat writers to fill us in on how that clubhouse void left by Young’s departure gets filled.  Maybe it’s Ian Kinsler’s to take on.  Maybe David Murphy.  Maybe Andrus matures into it, if Adrian Beltre doesn’t want it.  Maybe it’s A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman, if that’s not too awkward.  Or Colby Lewis and Joe Nathan and Matt Harrison, though pitchers usually aren’t looked to in that way.
 
More likely, it’s going to be a collective thing, and that’s cool, too.  All that’s coming together right now, though not for us to see and evaluate like the utility infield decision or the makeup of the bullpen and back of the rotation that need to get sorted out before things get real one week from tonight, closing the book on the longest camp in franchise history as the latest march towards 162+ gets underway.  
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed to the back fields to watch Pudge Rodriguez watch Jorge Alfaro throw.
 

That thing about March and lions.

It didn’t matter, but it was the Angels and there was Josh and we basically had Opening Day lineups and a weird TX-OU thing in the crowd and it was under the lights and on TV – both locally (with a pregame show) and nationally – and the Twitterverse was super-alive.

It didn’t matter, but a whole lot of us couldn’t turn it off, sucked in by those first two innings and rewarded for hanging in there until the end.

The end, when Ron Washington left Leonys Martin in even though Mike Scioscia had brought a lefthander into the game to try and close things out.  Sure, it was a lefty (21-year-old Eswarlin Jimenez) who has yet to play an official game above Class A – while Martin has played all of four pro games below Class AA – but sometimes a Ben Rowen is called on to retire Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout, Erick Aybar, and Albert Pujols and goes four for four.  These are all professionals, and it’s baseball, where pitchers succeed more often than hitters.

Martin, who has been one of the bright spots in camp, came into the game hitting .350/.413/.500.

He came into the ninth-inning spot hitting .364/.420/.500.

He ended the game hitting .378/.431/.533.

After Jimenez was summoned and Martin stepped in, with one out and the lead runner of three “meaningless,” the 25-year-old took pitch one, a called strike.  He patiently watched the second pitch go by for ball one.  He fouled off the next Jimenez offering, and evened the count at 2-2 when he let an inadequate pitch four sail by.

Pitch five was the cookie that Martin had worked the count to get, a fastball middle-middle, and he stayed in and squared up, shooting a double the opposite way – capping off a night full of oppo-licious goodness up and down the lineup – triggering the track meet that sent Julio Borbon home, and then Chih-Hsien Chiang, and then Jim Adduci, and then however many of the 9,000 in attendance had stuck it out.

It doesn’t matter that the Angels had a four-homer frame or that Bourjos and Trout allowed a fly ball to bounce on the warning track – care to bet which happens more often this year? – and ultimately it doesn’t matter than Martin went 3 for 5, hitting safely against a struggling Jerome Williams and non-roster hurlers Buddy Boshers and Eswarlin Jimenez.

But, still, that was a big leaguer and two lefthanders that Martin got the job done against, and that matters, even if just a little.

No memory of Texas 10, Los Angeles 9 should last all that long, but to some degree that game mattered to Martin, and to Rowen, and to Williams, and to Hank Conger and Derek Lowe.

The way Martin handled that final at-bat, I thought about this thing I wrote five months ago, especially the parts about Dave Magadan and Jacoby Ellsbury and the possibility that Leonys Martin becomes a chapter in that specific story.

The Rangers presumably could have traded Martin, and more, to the Mets this winter in a deal for R.A. Dickey.  They could have.

Texas could have signed Michael Bourn.  It would have cost something in the neighborhood of the four years and $48 million (with a fifth vesting year at another $12 million) that Cleveland gave the 30-year-old this winter.  Plus a first-round draft pick.

But as Jon Daniels said after Bourn came to terms with the Indians: “If we’re not going to look at Leonys now, when are we?”

The club are into Martin for $15.5 million.  It’s a significant investment in a player who had never played so much as a minor league game stateside when he agreed to terms.

The deal calls for $2.25 million this year, $2.75 million next year, and $3.75 million in 2015.  After that, he’ll have three years of club control remaining, at least.

He’s showing signs that he’s ready to provide a return.  Or at least deserving of a chance to hit at the bottom of the lineup and to add a dimension that makes the idea of Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus at the top even more appealing.

Thursday was a great sports day, even for those of us who didn’t catch a minute of Harvard-New Mexico or Marquette-Davidson.  A meaningless Rangers-Angels game did it for me, followed by Stars 2, Kings 0 (in all its 40-40-40 glory).

It’s going to be a great weekend of baseball in Surprise and Goodyear, more baseball that doesn’t count but, in certain instances, absolutely matters.

For Pete’s sake.

I’ve got nothing against the idea of the big league farewell tour.  If the Padres care enough to put Chipper Jones on a brand new surfboard, and the Mets want to go all out to give Bobby Cox a bottle of wine, good for them.  I have no doubt that the Rays will do Mariano Rivera right this year, especially if Joe Maddon is involved in the plans.

But if Peter Gammons really is done writing – several of you pointed out that his MLB.com page, which hasn’t had any new content since December, now says the “three-time National Sportswriter of the Year was a columnist for MLB.com from 2009-12 after almost 22 years with ESPN” – it’s time for our national media to honor the man the way it should be done.  Count me among those who’d prefer to see the great ones paid tribute to while they’re still around than to have them eulogized later on.

I don’t know if Gammons, who had a health scare six or seven years ago, isn’t well enough to work right now, or if he’s simply tired of the grind, or if it’s just time to play guitar and tweet, but every national columnist who occupied space with his own spin on Nolan Ryan’s silence ought to be working up an homage piece on what Peter Gammons has meant to baseball.

We know he’s still out there thinking about the game.  Setting aside the occasional butt-dial tweet, Gammons’s Twitter OBP is strong.  You may not agree with what he said about the Astros on Tuesday, but like he’s always done with his column, the man makes you think in the space of 140 (or 420) characters, and we’re better baseball fans for it.

The last tweet Gammons posted before his Astro-blast two days ago was this:

Andrus not being moved.  Jon Daniels: “We’re not breakin[g] up our strengths, and one of [our] biggest strengths is the left side (Andrus, Beltre).”

Then, shortly after the Houston tweets, we got this:

Rumored Profar-Oscar Tavarez [sic] deal “has not been discussed” according to involved GM.  But if Boras didn’t represent Andrus would it be?

After getting past my disappointment that the two Gammons comments weren’t the basis for a column I’d love to read, I thought about what he said.

Elvis Andrus not being moved?  Of course he’s not.  That’s something you do at the start of a winter if you’re a contender.  Not just before (or during) a season.

The point about the left side of the infield being a strength?  Unassailably true.  But even if Adrian Beltre weren’t around, the first point remains the same.

Now, for that rumored Rangers-Cardinals trade?

First, I’m not one who believes that Andrus would have locked up long-term by now if he had a different agent – or that just because Scott Boras is involved, he won’t ultimately agree to be a Ranger for life.

As for the rumor itself – Jurickson Profar for the young Cardinals outfielder Taveras, an imagined exchange of two 20-year-olds who were busy tearing up Low Class A when Texas and St. Louis were teeing it up in late October two years ago – I don’t believe it hasn’t been discussed.  Surely there have been spirited debates over nachos and Corona’s in Surprise and in Jupiter, and lots of them.

But a conversation between Daniels and Cards GM John Mozeliak?

GM’s talk a lot.  (With each other.)  I’m sure Mozeliak called Daniels, particularly after Rafael Furcal went down with his elbow injury, asking whether Andrus was up for discussion.

Daniels probably responded, tongue only partly in cheek, “No.  Is Taveras?”

To which Mozeliak probably answered, “No.  Is Profar?”

A hearty laugh, best of luck, catch you later, back to the nachos.

It’s actually a dialogue that may have played out three or four times over the last year, with one just checking to see if the other had altered his thinking.

And it still wouldn’t qualify as “a Profar for Taveras deal” being “discussed,” at least if I were one of them, asked the question on the record by a legendary columnist with 300,000 Twitter followers (if not a column).

The Angels wouldn’t trade Mike Trout for Bryce Harper, and the Nationals wouldn’t do it, either.

Neither team makes a LeBron James-Kevin Durant trade, or RGIII for Andrew Luck.

These aren’t Rotisserie Leagues.

I don’t know where the Texas-St. Louis rumor started, but it’s just as likely to have been birthed by a writer over beers and nachos at Don & Charlie’s as anywhere else.  Chances are pretty good you concocted it yourself well before it found Internet life.

Profar and Taveras are the two best position player prospects in baseball.

Texas has a surplus at shortstop, St. Louis a deficit.

The Rangers could use some outfield pop going forward, having lost Josh Hamilton and with Nelson Cruz a free agent after the season (as is David Murphy).  There are big corner bats on the Rangers farm, but most are three years away, at least.

It’s a picturesque fantasy league trade.  It’s probably had some level of big league life, but as an internal debate rather than a negotiation point.

When Ken Davidoff (New York Post) suggests four of the five teams in the AL West are off-season “winners,” and only one is a “loser” – and the loser is the Angels – it has as much bearing on the 2013 season as a story on the Web suggesting Texas and St. Louis ought to get together and make Taveras a Ranger and either Andrus or Profar a Cardinal, or another respected journalist’s prediction that Texas and St. Louis will meet in the World Series again this year.

It’s all fun to think about.  But that’s all.

What we know is that, barring some unforeseen injury to someone else, Mike Olt will start the season in Round Rock, playing third base and the outfield corners.

That Scott Lucas is a tremendous baseball photographer (and that former Rangers minor league hitting instructor Luis Ortiz has been known to photograph Scott).

That Josh Hamilton is expected to make the bus trip tonight to Surprise, as the Angels take the Rangers on in a game televised here on TXA 21 (and nationally on MLB Network), but that Los Angeles closer Ryan Madson (elbow) has been shut down again and Tommy Hanson exited his start yesterday with triceps tightness.

That in a not unrelated story, Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) wonders if Kyle Lohse might wait until after the June Draft to sign since it wouldn’t cost his new club a premium draft pick, to which Gammons tweets: “Scott Boras insists Kyle Lohse isn’t holding on past the draft.  ‘We have too many teams in play,’ Boras says.”

That with Hamilton and Mike Napoli gone, Ron Washington will be much more likely to force the issue on the bases this season, “[j]ust trying to be aggressive, trying to always take the extra base and put pressure on the defense,” at least according to Craig Gentry.

That Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) spotted three Boston scouts watching Rangers minor leaguers on the back fields this week, not a terrible place to spend your time scouting.  That you can’t find a story about left-handed reliever Joe Ortiz that doesn’t include the word “fearless.”  That Yoshinori Tateyama and Brandon Snyder have March 24 and March 29 outs in their non-roster deals, and that they’re going to have decisions to make then.

That Jim Adduci, who doesn’t have a contractual out, was great pro scouting, and Jeff Baker and even Nate Robertson might be, too.

That Leury Garcia, fresh off his run on the Dominican Republic’s bench in that club’s undefeated run through the World Baseball Classic (Wash: “Maybe he’s not seeing game action, but he’s getting repetition out there and working his mind about being in competition”), remains in camp competing for the Rangers’ utility infield job – and is evidently a player of interest, along with righthander Nick Tepesch and more, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi (Fox Sports), as the Tigers shop righthander Rick Porcello.

And that middle infielder Ryan Theriot remains jobless, and wouldn’t cost a draft pick to sign.

But with 10 days to go, is he really a legitimate candidate to get his own spring training started and be ready for a big league opener?

For that matter, is Profar a candidate for that job?  Based on comments by Washington and Daniels and Ryan, who suggested the club would need to be able to project 350 Profar at-bats to keep from optioning him to AAA, he’s probably not.  But Fraley predicts this morning that Profar will make the club.

Plans change.

With roster decisions.

And with trade opportunities.

Texas didn’t relent on Justin Smoak until the 11th hour, swooping in to steal Cliff Lee in July 2010 when it appeared that the Yankees were closing in on a trade with Seattle.

But I’d be shocked if there were any about-face in the Texas front office regarding the idea of trading a shortstop to St. Louis, and I don’t expect the Cardinals to spend any meaningful time pondering a move of Oscar Taveras.

I’d like to think plans could change as far as the career of Peter Gammons is concerned, but either way, if we’re not going to get a column from him jumpstarted by his Tuesday Profar-Taveras tweet, we could at least get a late-March column or five from the community of great baseball writers who follow him, not about Profar or Taveras or Andrus, or about Lohse or Porcello, or about what Nolan Ryan will do, but about what Peter Gammons has meant to this game and to their business, and about what this baseball season and all those that follow will be like if Peter isn’t out there setting the standard like he always has.

Of Joey Galloway, and Joey Gallo.

It’s now been half a month, and The Story remains The Story, left to twist in the wind while the otherwise welcome monotony of spring training does little to throw anyone off its scent.

We can comfortably assume that the folks in baseball operations with the Rangers, however – and this includes Nolan Ryan – aren’t as distracted as the media and fan base by the front office drama (if that’s what you call a narrative defined by inertia), instead immersed in baseball as they work around the clock to get the team ready for March 31.

If they’re distracted at all, really, it’s probably only during those isolated moments when asked to comment about the distraction.  And even those opportunities for the media are dwindling, noticeably so when a national writer like Jeff Passan is left to weigh in with his thousand words without a single quote from anyone in the organization.

As for me, I wasn’t distracted one bit by the saga last week, but not because I was immersed in anything baseball-related.  I’ve just gone through the longest stretch of non-off-season baseball-less-ness I’ve had since probably the ’90s.

No newspapers.  No TV.  No radio.  A little Twitter, but that’s it.

No Cactus or Grapefruit (well, grapefruit) or WBC.

And I returned to learn that the needle hadn’t moved at all on The Story.

With a little catch-up reading, I learned that Kyle McClellan won’t be ready for Opening Day, and neither will Zack Greinke.  That no story about Kyle Lohse or Rick Porcello gets written without a Rangers mention, but there’s comfort in knowing the Rangers are super-protective of assets like that first-round pick (and its assigned bonus pool value) and like Leury Garcia and like Tanner Scheppers and like Luke Jackson and so the odds of a brutal Joey Galloway trade – or one along the lines of Mike Olt for Joba Chamberlain, which one “AL scout” told Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe) “could get done . . . if Texas would give up Olt,” which reminds me that I could get a big league GM job next week if a big league organization would offer one to me – are infinitesimally small.

That Pudge Rodriguez is in camp with the Rangers this week, and by the end of his stay his love of Jorge Alfaro will approach mine.  That one of the bright spots this month has been the work of those vying for spots in the center field pecking order, which could include Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry in Arlington, Engel Beltre and Jim Adduci in Round Rock, and Julio Borbon in a different big league uniform.

That Robbie Ross and Nick Tepesch remain in the fifth starter competition, and that Michael Kirkman may be joining it, and that Kirkman’s outstanding spring, since he (like Borbon) is out of options, makes it easier to allow for the possibility that he or Ross could start, as does the early work of Nate Robertson (!!) and Joe Ortiz.

That Chris McGuiness has struggled in Indians camp but that Cleveland manager Terry Francona (who was with the Red Sox when McGuiness was a Boston farmhand) hopes his bosses can get the first baseman through Rule 5 waivers and work out a trade with Texas in order to keep him in the minor leagues.

That, according to Jon Heyman (CBS Sports), the Rangers have “twice tried to lock up All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus to a long-term contract and are expected to make one more run at it this year,” and “that if the Rangers can’t secure him to a multiyear deal they will likely trade him in ‘10 to 12 months,’” and that all that should be viewed in light of the fact that Andrus is a Scott Boras guy, and so is Heyman.

That Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) expects Texas would ask St. Louis to part with righthander Shelby Miller, a second frontline pitching prospect, and perhaps Rockwall catcher Steve Bean in exchange for Andrus, and that none of this is happening until next winter at the earliest, so don’t let it ruin your day.

That Jurickson Profar has joined Team Netherlands and will start at second base tonight.

That Don Welke was spotted in places that led writers to believe he was scouting Chamberlain and Boston relief pitchers and Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka, and maybe you shouldn’t forget the story about how Welke found out who Braves farmhand Neftali Feliz was.

That Baltimore added another former Ranger to the organization, this time Nelson Norman as Director of Baseball Operations for the Dominican Republic, and that’s all kinds of awesome.

That Max Ramirez is hitting .389/.463/.639 in Royals camp, with 14 RBI in 36 at-bats, while Guillermo Moscoso’s camp struggles led Kansas City to release him.

And that Joey Gallo’s Sunday was awesome, not only because he hit a pitch a thousand feet in front of nine thousand hometown fans in Las Vegas, but also because in his two earlier plate appearances he drew hard-fought walks off of big leaguer Carlos Villanueva.

But that doesn’t really count, because I didn’t have to read about it.  I was back home, and saw it live.

Joey Gallo’s Sunday kickstarted baseball for me again, quietly and then unmistakably, a progression that I vote for the front office flap to follow, so that distractions can be shed once and for all as we head into what’s now fewer than two weeks of sleeps.

Taillon’s and run-ons and Dutch.

Today at 3:00 Central, Derek Holland gets the win-or-go-home start for Team USA against Team Canada’s Jameson Taillon, and every 20 or 30 minutes during the MLB Network broadcast you can probably expect to see this commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods, starring Rangers minor league righthander Cody Buckel, who shows up on some industry Top 100 Prospect lists but not all of them, unlike Taillon, who’s near the top in most cases and who hails from The Woodlands, which is where Astros owner Jim Crane evidently wants to move that club’s AAA team, a proposition that seems to have a greater chance of success than Crane somehow orchestrating a return of Nolan Ryan, who is expected by the local media to be heard from today about his situation with the Rangers, either before Holland takes the hill across town, or afterwards, or not at all, and I was really wrong about Nick Tepesch, who doesn’t appear in any national TV ads, so I’m not about to speculate on something as elusive as when to anticipate there might be a press release or briefing from the CEO.

I thought about adding a second sentence to this report digging into the history between 2007 Spokane and 2008 Clinton teammates Holland and Canada part-time DH Tim Smith, but I’d rather talk about Jorge Alfaro driving in the eventual game-winner yesterday afternoon in what was his first-ever action in a big league baseball game of any kind, or about Leonys Martin and Jeff Baker, and I’d really like for someone who was in Peoria yesterday to tell me if Yangervis Solarte got any opportunities at shortstop and I’m actually glad Venezuela was eliminated but Jurickson probably isn’t and I don’t think it would be appropriate to go back to sleep since it’s later now than it’s supposed to be but I like driving home from work when it’s still light outside and this report would have been a tick more cohesive if Buckel had done a commercial for Run On! Shoes but not really and second-worst Newberg Report ever and okay enough for now I’ll catch you later.

Be great, Derek.

Apparent progress on Ryan front.

According to widespread local reports Friday evening, Nolan Ryan flew from Surprise to Arlington at some point yesterday to meet with Co-Chairmen Bob Simpson and Ray Davis in an apparent effort to clarify the club role that ownership envisions for Ryan and to bring a much-needed resolution to the matter of Ryan’s future with the organization.

Simpson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last night that the meeting had “positive” results, adding: “I wouldn’t say it’s resolved, but hopefully we can get there.”

The Dallas Morning News reports that Ryan was on his way back to Surprise this morning, and that, according to a source, the organization is “expected to release word about his future” at some point today, though Rangers officials would not confirm or deny that a Saturday statement would be forthcoming.

As for the rumor that gained momentum yesterday regarding Astros owner Jim Crane’s possible interest in bringing Ryan back to that franchise, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that, according to “two Major League sources familiar with [Ryan’s] thinking,” the 66-year-old would “likely . . . balk at returning to the Astros, . . . [who] purged many of Ryan’s friends and associates [from the organization] last fall,” including a number of big league and minor league coaches and baseball operations officials who had been with Houston for more than a decade and in several instances more than 30 years.

But if the latest local reports are any indication, any questions about a possible Ryan return to the Astros will be moot, as it at least appears that meaningful progress has been made toward a meeting of the minds that will satisfy Ryan and keep him in Arlington.

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