January 2014

Locos.

You won’t ever convince me that this isn’t the worst sports week of the year, ranked firmly behind last week and next week because, while there’s no baseball and no football action moving the needle, this week the sports world has decided it has no choice but to descend on the Super Bowl site for non-stop programming that offers non-stop garbage.  Bits that aren’t funny, news that’s barely news, stories that get recycled so many unapologetic times that they lose whatever marginal meaning they might have had through the first cycle.

It’s a super-sized bag of RedBullExtreme-Infused Doritos Locos Tacos Turbo-Supreme.  An industry deciding “Pitbull featuring Ke$ha” should be the wether bearing the bell.

Love the NFL.  But . . . Uncle.

I suspect it’s not by accident that the folks for whom baseball is a 12-month venture chose this week to ping our dulled sports senses with the unveiling of the prospect lists they’ve been working on all winter.

Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has seven Rangers in his Top 101 — second baseman Rougned Odor (39), catcher Jorge Alfaro (41 — Parks believes he “could crack the top 10” a year from now), righthander Chi-Chi Gonzalez (70), shortstop Luis Sardinas (72), outfielder Michael Choice (79), outfielder Nick Williams (88), and third baseman Joey Gallo (95) — which is seven more than the Angels, and in fact nearly as many as the rest of the AL West (Houston 5, Seattle 3, Oakland 1) combined.  Parks adds that Texas, Houston, Minnesota, and Toronto are among the teams with the strongest minor league depth outside the Top 101.

MLB.com has Alfaro at 39, Odor at 59, Choice at 72, Sardinas at 76, and Gallo at 92, with Jim Callis calling Alfaro’s the strongest arm of any position player prospect in the game, at any position, with Gallo’s arm second only to Alfaro’s and his power second only to Minnesota’s Miguel Sano.  Callis has righthander Luke Jackson among 15 players who just missed the Top 100 list.

Baseball America won’t reveal its list until later but its ranking of the top 10 Rangers’ prospects landed this morning: Odor, Alfaro, Choice, Williams, Gallo, Gonzalez, Sardinas, Jackson, Travis Demeritte, and Ronald Guzman.  Ben Badler suggests the club’s “[t]op-end talent [is] lighter than usual but [there’s] plenty of depth, especially from the international program.”

ESPN’s Keith Law will reveal his Top 100 later today, but yesterday pegged Texas as the number 13 farm system in the game (Houston 1, Seattle 21, Oakland 26, Los Angeles 29).  His Rangers rankings will be revealed tomorrow.

Thank goodness there’s no “Media Day” leading up to the World Series.  I suppose if there were two weeks off after the two pennants were won, rather than just two or three days, baseball coverage might get so tricked up that news would be delivered by dudes wearing Colonial wigs or capes (tights for both), TV Azteca babes (no tights), or Regis (not sure).

Not every sports journalist was hitting it hard at the Prudential Center yesterday, interviewing each other.  Some were in Texas (probably in jeans and a North Face) spotting Nolan Ryan leaving a meeting of some sort at Minute Maid Park in Houston.  Others were checking in with Michael Young and discovering that his decision is apparently down to Chavez Ravine or retirement.  Jeff Baker is reportedly close to choosing the Marlins, Nationals, or Orioles, and A.J. Burnett has evidently decided he’s not quite ready to hang them up, and between Baker and Burnett I know which one I’d be a whole lot more interested in as far as the Rangers are concerned.

What I really need to know is what some D-list “celeb” thinks the most important Justin Bieber question to ask a nickel corner is.  Brought to you by VH1.

Baseball prospect lists are what they are.  Whether your publication(s) of choice think Carlos Correa should be ranked higher than Taijuan Walker doesn’t mean anything.  Just because Parks believes Gonzalez projects to be a “2/3 starter; most likely a 3” for Texas, and possibly sooner than you might think, isn’t “news.”

But it’s an absolute gift from the sports gods when it’s delivered in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, and if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna turn the radio off and go chase down some predictions on where Derek Fisher and Max Pentecost are slotted to go in this June’s Rule 4 Draft.  No thanks on the Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos.

Dazed, confused.

The TV locked me in Sunday night and Monday night, three times.  One of the shows I watched was designed to make you think back 20 years.  The other two only did it by accident.

If you’re in college now, you never know: That new band that grabbed every bit of your attention, that made you slam the brakes, may stick around more than 20 years, still making music and making awesome documentary films, too.

That other new band that seemed at first like it had something won’t last nearly as long, but that doesn’t mean the lead singer will necessarily give up, not as long as he can find cool venues that hold 500 to keep doing his thing.

Twenty-plus years from now, that frat guy at your dorm, no matter what you happen to think of him at the moment, may turn into one of the best actors in the world.

Maybe you’ll have kids one day and you’ll cross paths with others who had kids around the same time and they’ll become friends and you’ll become friends and baseball may be a big reason why.

And you’ll see those kids start to learn that what matters is the team, and that’s an awesome thing.

You’d never dream that the 17-year-old kid taken first in the draft would, 20 years later, epitomize whatever the absolute opposite of the team concept is.

Eddie Vedder is a baseball fan, and so is Matthew McConaughey, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that those two guys have a greater respect for the Great Game than Alex Rodriguez does.

If you’re in college now, you’ll write something that you think is the best thing you’ve ever written, and it probably is, and in 20 years you won’t be able to look back at it without cringing.

In 20 years maybe you’ll blog, and some entries will suck more than others, like maybe one you spit up on a mid-January morning when you’re tired of “60 Minutes” stories dominating MLB Network content, and 20 minutes after you hit “send” you won’t be able to look back at it without cringing.

But there’s no shame in the effort.  Sometimes the path leads to rock and roll royalty and other times it leads to The Kessler.  Sometimes the trail to “True Detective” is littered with “Sahara” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

As a friend shared this morning, one of the world’s great forward-thinking companies has decided to reach back to a movie which came out around the time that Pearl Jam and Live debuted, that Matt McConaughey lived at The Castilian, that Alex Rodriguez was drafted out of high school, and ask: “What will your verse be?

The answer to that question, in Rodriguez’s case, is so sickening, and it didn’t need to be.

There’s no shame in the effort.  Except for when there is.

Whatever.

Avoiding the knee-jerk reaction.

The news hit Twitter a little after 5:00 yesterday afternoon, news that Derek Holland had fallen on a staircase at home on Tuesday and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Friday morning to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, which is not the knee that he injured twice in 2010.  He’ll miss the start of the regular season, with the club reportedly making plans conservatively for a mid-season return.

I’ve gained about 30 new subscribers and Twitter followers since the news broke, and I’m about to disappoint all of them and most of the rest of you.

My first thought was to speculate about what Texas could do in response, as far as winter acquisitions are concerned.  I quickly dismissed that thought. Maybe the Rangers were already in on Masahiro Tanaka, maybe not.  But they’re already over budget, and Holland’s injury isn’t going to change whether they’re in the mood to step out even further on Tanaka.  They will, or they won’t, but I’d be shocked if that plan is different today from what it was a week ago.

Step up in David Price trade talks with Tampa Bay?  If that’s where your head is on this, my response is, as usual: You’re the Rays.

I’d bet it’s more likely that Tampa Bay calls Texas in light of the Holland development than it is that the Rangers call the Rays.  And the demand isn’t going to come down from wherever it had been.

Holland isn’t the Rangers’ ace, but he did lead the club in starts and innings pitched in 2013, and was very good (though less effective at home, which could lead to a bad joke in light of this new development, a place I’m going to avoid because I’m better than that, even though I’m obviously not).  You don’t replace him with Robbie Ross or Tanner Scheppers or Nick Tepesch or Michael Kirkman or Jose Contreras and expect to get comparable production (to say nothing of the void a Ross or Scheppers shift would leave in the pen), but don’t expect Texas to go out and devote nine figures or four blue-chip prospects or a number one draft pick to go out and find a starter of Holland’s caliber.

The Rangers will probably add another depth piece between now and camp, probably on a non-roster veteran who can come in and compete for a rotation spot.

They were going to do that anyway.

I thought maybe I’d write about the idea that you survive for three months and then you get Holland back, in a pennant race, with a fresh arm.  But I decided against fleshing that out, because last year there was optimism in camp that Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz would be back by mid-season, and after Matt Harrison’s April surgery the half-full glass gave hope of a similar timetable.

As Jon Daniels has pointed out, the rotation that the organization expects to roll out at Frisco in April may be the strongest at that level since this front office arrived.  But Chi-Chi Gonzalez and his crew-mates aren’t going to get here any time before Holland gets back.

I thought maybe I’d write about where falling on stairs fits on a list that includes butter knives (Oddibe McDowell), sunflower seeds (Greg Harris), pinky-shaking (Charlie Hough), and high fives (Jeff Baker), but why pile depressing on top of freaky?

I considered writing about the risk of giving long-term deals to starting pitchers, even relatively young ones (Harrison, Holland, Feldman), but I wouldn’t want a redo on the Martin Perez contract, so I’m not going down that path.

It’s been a tremendous winter of aggressive growth at 1000 Ballpark Way, and maybe we’ll look back at the Holland injury as one that gave a young pitcher like Ross an opportunity that he ended up seizing like C.J. Wilson did four years ago.  Or one that blunted the Rangers’ first half so much in 2014 that they resisted overpaying for a tier two starter in July, like it turns out they did this past summer.

Or maybe Texas pieces things together in the rotation for a few months, the revitalized offense goes on a tear straight out of the gate, and Holland comes back in the second half with something to re-prove, and he proves it.

But for now, I don’t have the energy to dig deep on any of it.  I wanted, at different times in the last 18 hours, to focus this report on the next pitching move Texas might make, on the opportunities opened up even further for a handful of Holland’s teammates, the idea of the lefthander giving Texas a boost himself in July and August, and the risks associated with committing long-term to big league starting pitchers and with overtrading for pitching to accommodate what might appear to be a needy rotation.

I wanted to write something thoughtful, something unemotional, something that stepped away from the immediate gut-punch of the story and examined what this could mean, or lead to.

But I can’t.

It just sucks.

New year.

The Tyler Seguin Trade wasn’t supposed to haunt the Bruins this quickly, Oklahoma wasn’t supposed to do that to Alabama, and Charlie Strong may not have been the first choice, but Adrian Beltre was basically a fallback, too.

I doubt Beltre is giving much thought to Florida State-Auburn, where 2012 Rangers draft pick and Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will celebrate his 20th birthday on the national stage Monday night, and he probably doesn’t find it very interesting that J.P. Arencibia, whose birthday is tomorrow (on the three-year anniversary of Beltre’s signing with the Rangers), played his first minor league season for Auburn (New York, that is) and kicked off his second minor league season in the Florida State League, where he took off as a prospect.

Winston is from Alabama but committed to Florida State, while Arencibia is from Florida but committed to Tennessee, but if Arencibia had gone to Florida State, history likely changes for at least one player, as Buster Posey arrived in Tallahassee a year after Arencibia’s own college career began, and I’m fairly sure Beltre doesn’t care.

Beltre is probably thinking more about Prince Fielder, and how even in a massive down year in 2013 (.819 OPS) he outproduced every hitter Texas tried in the number three hole, namely (in order of appearances), Lance Berkman, Ian Kinsler (.677 OPS in that spot), Nelson Cruz, Alex Rios, and A.J. Pierzynski, and I’m guessing Beltre likes that a lot.

Fielder is probably thinking about Shin-Soo Choo, and how none of the primary leadoff hitters he’s played with in his nine seasons (Brady Clark, Rickie Weeks, Felipe Lopez, Austin Jackson) could do that.

Choo, who says he’d bat anywhere in the lineup and it wouldn’t alter his approach, is probably thinking about kicking off each game with Elvis Andrus, Fielder, and Beltre grabbing helmets behind him, and about how, if Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin take that next step, maybe for some stretches in 2014 that leadoff role for Choo in the first inning will seem in later innings like he’s hitting in the three hole himself.

Profar and Martin probably aren’t thinking much quite yet about getting back on the field, coming off their first (basically) full big league seasons and then winter stints together on Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Republic, where their teammates included Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre, who is some respects is this year’s version of Julio Borbon, but not really, and Dee Gordon, whose father Tom faced Fielder’s father Cecil 51 times in the big leagues, holding the slugger to a .213 batting average and a strikeout every fourth time up, which Arencibia’s detractors would say sounds pretty familiar.

I know Chase Cutler and Drake Detherage and Kendall Gill and Ty Holt and Will Kriska and Dominic Mele and Max Newberg and Preston Payne and the injured R.J. Ruais and Jake Storey and Preston Stout aren’t thinking about Arencibia or Beltre or Charlie Strong this morning, but instead about the Pelicans, and not the version that Andrus played for while in the Braves system or that Profar skipped while a Rangers farmhand.  Those 11 are thinking about two hours from now, when they’ll play their first game together as Dallas Pelicans, not that this game counts, but then again not that any of them “count” when your eight- and nine-year-olds are simply out there playing the game and getting better at it, even on the first weekend in January, not that I’m trying to get all solipsistic on you.

Buster Olney (ESPN) thinks the Rangers have the best lineup in baseball (and the seventh-best rotation and fifth-best defense), Bob Nightengale (USA Today) predicts Texas returns to the World Series this year (against St. Louis), as does Gil LeBreton (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) (against the Dodgers), Neftali Feliz never wants to be a starter again (which I’m good with), Peter Gammons has Texas among at least six teams checking in with San Diego on right-handed-hitting outfielder Chris Denorfia, and after all this time there’s hardly any more certainty where Cruz will land than there is about Masahiro Tanaka’s eventual address, which will be determined no later than the afternoon of January 24, hours before the Rangers’ annual Awards Dinner at the Gaylord Texan.

The baseball winter is on the back stretch, but there’s still plenty that’s up in the air, and all those 2014 projections are just that, really, because sports, and even if we thought we knew how things would play out, the underdogs then haul off and get on a BCS winning streak that Winston and the Seminoles will try to snap Monday night in Pasadena, at the same time that Seguin and the Stars will try to take the Islanders down in Uniondale, New York, a mere five hours downstate from Auburn, home of the Doubledays, whose uniform was the first Arencibia wore professionally, which has me thinking again about 11 kids who are playing ball here in a little bit, after which we’ll have 43 sleeps left until Rangers pitchers and catchers report, which is about 42 sleeps too many, if you asked me, but you didn’t, so, you know, Happy New Year and all that and I’ll catch you later.

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