It was a riveting baseball game between archrivals, marked by a play that a Little Leaguer has to make, one that played a much bigger role in the ultimate outcome than an uncharacteristically questionable decision by Adrian Beltre or another one that maybe only Omar Vizquel would have pulled off (though Jurickson, we have high expectations for you).
There was great outfield defense factoring in more than once, and a beleaguered, overworked bullpen beating a better bullpen that had bullets left in the chamber.
There was one offense that went 3 for 6 with runners in scoring position, another that went 1 for 13, with the one hit a missile from Nelson Cruz, whose early-season focus I’m happy to have apparently been very wrong about.
Another quality start in Tampa Bay for its ace, who nonetheless fell to 0-2, 5.52 and whose team is now 0-5 the five times he’s gotten the ball (after going 21-10 in his starts last year), and three games and four teams out of a Wild Card spot, and the #pricecheck gains a little added momentum.
The Rays’ 9-11 record, however, is still half a game better than the Angels’ 8-11 mark, as is Cleveland’s. None of that really matters with a week to go in April, but whatever happens tonight does.
There’s a series to be won in Anaheim, with the Rangers sending their best starter out against a pitcher who, at this time last year, was pitching for the University of South Carolina, a month and a half before going to the Angels in the 9th round and putting together an eight-week run in the short-season Pioneer League that landed him the number 30 off-season ranking in the league’s number 30 farm system, according to Baseball America.
Texas isn’t going to have Jeff Baker available to rest David Murphy or Mitch Moreland against the left-handed Michael Roth tonight, and the Rangers tend to look confused against command lefties they’ve never seen, but it’s Yu Darvish night, and if the need arises, you’d have to assume the manager is willing to use Tanner Scheppers in this one, even if he wasn’t last night.
Would he give Leury Garcia, better against lefties than righties over the last year, the left field nod tonight? Doubtful. You can’t predict ball, but you can usually predict Wash’s lineups.
Today, Vizquel celebrates his first birthday as anything other than a professional baseball player in 30 years. Maybe he’s in Salt Lake with the Bees. Maybe he’s in Burlington with the other Bees. I had no idea until just now that the Angels have two minor league teams called the Bees.
Or maybe the Angels’ new roving minor league infield instructor will be in Anaheim tonight, watching an Angels pitcher he’s never seen pitch tee it up with Darvish, against whom he went 0 for 5 in his final big league season and Darvish’s first, culminating with a game that Vizquel might remember since it was his uncharacteristic error in the seventh inning that resulted in the decisive run in a 3-2 Texas win over Toronto, minutes after which the 45-year-old struck out swinging in an eight-pitch battle with the 26-year-old righthander, whose own birthday was the day before.
Sometimes Adrian Beltre makes mental mistakes that don’t end up hurting, and Omar Vizquel makes physical errors that do. Sometimes a strikeout puts a man on first base when a big league first baseman can’t handle a big league catcher’s imperfect throw, and that man ends up scoring after two outs, along with another teammate, and two hours later those two runs help push a game between enemies to extra innings.
Sometimes a DH who signed for $240 million and a right fielder who signed for $125 million fail to come through with the bases loaded against a 5’7” reliever who signed for $3,000, making a 10-inning game an 11-inning contest.
The result notwithstanding, Los Angeles 5, Texas 4 was good stuff. And there’s only 12 hours until the next chapter in this head-to-head, the sixth of 19 matchups between the teams but the last one until three games that end the month of July, when the Rangers and Angels will both be in competition for playoff life, with both teams’ General Managers working 20-hour days looking for that cookie, who for one might be named Price, but that’s getting way too far ahead of things.
It’s Darvish-Roth tonight.
Win the damn series.
A week ago this time, we were coming off a late night in which Justin Grimm had been summoned from the farm to tee it up against Felix Hernandez, and the result was a Rangers win. The weekend was approaching, starting with Yu Darvish getting the Game Two assignment in Seattle. All good.
A week ago, to most of us, the Boston Marathon was, as connotations go, an iconic national tradition, and West, Texas was kolaches and Scott Podsednik.
That was a very long week ago.
Right now, it doesn’t feel like sports has the power to heal, at least not yet (the awesome Bruins-Sabres National Anthem moment excepted), and I’m not even sure its distraction function is really working, either.
Normally, I’d be all worked up about stories that would even raise the notion of an Albert Pujols-Tony LaRussa reunion, or Torii Hunter’s Thursday tweet (“Just landed in my old stumping [sic] grounds of Anaheim. Had a great five years here but I’m a Tiger now and we are here to eat”). I’d want to talk about Oakland’s 6-4 record against teams that aren’t the Astros, or today’s closing of the Julio Borbon waiver claim window, or the latest development in the #pricecheck, as Tampa Bay lost its ace’s start in extra innings last night, dropping the club further into last place in the East.
But five Rangers games since this time last Friday haven’t done much to hold my attention. Texas lost the Darvish start, split the series in Seattle, and then split a truncated set in Chicago against the Cubs. Both series were played in football weather, sometimes too late at night or too early in the day for most of us to watch, and our minds were elsewhere anyway.
Splitting road series isn’t the worst thing. To simplify, if you take care of business at home and average two wins out of three (54-27), and go .500 on the road (40 or 41 wins), you’re going to win 94 or 95 games, which will work. The last three seasons, Texas has averaged a 51-30 home record and a 42-39 mark on the road.
Dropping two of four in Seattle could be worse, even if it was reasonable to expect better after beating King Felix. A Cubs series that lots of people had been looking forward to faded at the end, though only partly because of baseball.
Today is looking like it’s going to be another of those days we and our kids may never forget, and I’m ready for a long stretch of the other kind of days.
In the meantime, if you’re planning to make it out to Rangers Ballpark tonight, or tomorrow, or Sunday, read this. Our help is needed.
As far as tonight’s game is concerned, here’s something of note: It’s Darvish’s turn again, and this time it’s against Seattle lefthander Joe Saunders.
Not that that’s going to bring back good feelings, if you remember what happened the last time Darvish and Saunders faced off.
I still harbor bad feelings about that ballgame, and probably always will.
And I’m OK with that. It’s just sports.
I don’t know. Maybe what I’m saying is I sorta miss the grip of sports tension, even when things go wrong. The opportunity for the bounceback, for a little showing of character and resilience, is always right around the corner, and at the moment that’s something I’m drawn to, in this awful week, as my mind is on much more important things.
[I had this report kicking around in my head yesterday, but after the awful news out of Boston, I decided it wasn’t time to write about baseball. A few friends suggested otherwise, and I polled you guys on Twitter last night to see what you thought. The response was overwhelming in favor of wanting a distraction. A trace of normalcy. Part of me (most of me) didn’t want to write, but I did. And it actually helped me a little bit.
There’s no mention in what follows about Boston. In fact, I took out a paragraph near the top and another near the end that included the word “marathon,” which I’d used in a totally innocuous, sportsy way before realizing that it’s not a very innocuous, sportsy word any more, at least for now.
Hug the kids, do it again tonight, and help someone today.
If you’d rather not read about baseball this morning, stop here.]
It’s a fairly easily defined time of the year on the basketball and hockey and golf and even football schedules, but as far as baseball is concerned, a little over two weeks in, the season has moved itself out to about the eight-yard line, and yet we can’t help but grasp for conclusions.
At this point in the schedule in 2011, only three of the eight eventual playoff teams were in line to earn post-season spots. In 2012, five of the 10 clubs who would have played past 162 had the season ended at this point actually made it that far.
That’s not to say that win-loss records are meaningless at this point, of course. Had Texas managed to win one more of those 69 regular-season games it lost in 2012 and Oakland lost one more, there is no one-and-done game for the Rangers against Baltimore on October 5th, and maybe everything’s different.
The Angels went 4-9 through their first 13 last year. From that point forward, they were one of baseball’s best teams at 85-64, but still fell four games short of extra baseball.
They all count.
The Angels are 4-9 now (same as last year, when Mike Trout was still in AAA), and not only is that the worst mark in the American League but it’s also a reflection of the league’s worst run differential (-25) – with the loss of Jered Weaver costing only one start so far – and if you choose to spend more energy right now on whether the A’s win or lose their games, be my guest, but while I don’t blame you for focusing on the division champs and their hot start, it’s still Los Angeles whose losses and whose mess feed my schadenfreude (at a time when one of the club’s two mid-April victories over Houston out of four was being characterized as a potentially galvanizing moment), and it’s not even close.
I’ll worry about Oakland once school’s out. Or maybe once school is back in.
Even as injuries to key players mount around the league (Weaver, Zack Greinke, Jose Reyes, Johnny Cueto, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harrison), and as team-only and players-only meetings make headlines, and as stories start to proliferate about managers and executives whose seat temperatures could be getting uncomfortably warm, it’s too early for teams to start making impact trades – particularly since nobody’s going to start chucking 2013 out the window yet.
Of course, I say that, and then remember that San Diego tossed Ernesto Frieri to the Angels last year on May 3 – which in 2012 was only four weeks into the season.
The point is that trade season is most likely a good ways down the road, but in spite of that Twitter never rests, and even during a month that you might rank along with September as the least likely to generate significant rumors with any amount of momentum, they are out there – with the usual caveats.
First, Andy Martino (New York Daily News) suggests the Mets don’t know if the Marlins would trade Giancarlo Stanton but “continue to monitor the situation,” and of course that’s a sentence that could easily be written about 28 other teams as well. Martino adds that one Mets official would include catcher Travis d’Arnaud and righthander Zack Wheeler in a Stanton deal “in a heartbeat” but concedes that the official willing to share that opinion “is not in [Mets GM Sandy] Alderson’s inner circle of decision-makers,” at which point you ask yourself what we’ve learned today, even when Martino quotes another “Mets person” as hinting “[t]here is heat there” between New York and Miami before he writes that the “Mets aren’t getting Stanton anytime soon.”
Then comes a tweet of reason over the weekend from Peter Gammons, who shares that “[t]eam after team – from Boston to Mets to Rangers and on and on – have checked in with Miami on Stanton, with [a] ‘not interested’ response” from the Marlins. And Buster Olney chimed in on the same day, noting that “[t]he Rangers are doing early reconnaissance and prep work on what it would take to land Giancarlo Stanton down the road.”
“Reconnaissance” is a ten-dollar word, but again, the real news would be if there were a Major League franchise not exploring the idea of Stanton internally.
It’s also not news that Stanton (shoulder) hadn’t played since April 10, and that Jurickson Profar (left side) hadn’t played since April 10, either, but it did generate plenty of tweets, most of which we can safely assume were typed with tongue in cheek.
But Jim Bowden means business when he tweets, and among his prolific contributions the last few days was that the Marlins “will listen to offers, but according to sources are not interested in a Profar-for-Stanton deal,” a note that will only embolden Bowden to continue to tweet and write and talk about his idea that Profar for St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras makes too much sense for both teams, considering their strengths and holes, not to think about and talk about in the Baseball Operations suite and lose sleep over, which I suppose qualifies as “reconnaisance.”
Make what you want of the fact that Profar (who did return to action on Sunday but sat out again on Monday) has played shortstop seven times and second base only once at Round Rock (last year at Frisco: 95 games at short, 25 at second), and what logic might lead you to conclude as a result. Ask yourself whether Leonys Martin might be an important piece of any talks between the Rangers and Marlins, even though Miami’s top two position player prospects, Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, are both center fielders. (And ignore it if Yelich plays some left field when he finally gets his 2013 season underway – he’s sidelined with plantar fasciitis. Marisnick, incidentally, is shut down as well, rehabbing a hand fracture.)
Second baseman Rougned Odor’s eye-opening start to the Myrtle Beach season is huge, as far as any mid-season trade talks are concerned – whether it means he’s moving himself onto a second tier for the other club or is in the process of making Texas more open to including someone else (who may not hit as much) on such a list. Frisco righthander Neil Ramirez continuing to reestablish himself would be a really good development. Mike Olt will get right, soon enough. (Right?)
But as far as any fit with the Marlins on Stanton is concerned, I keep coming back to a shortstop being involved, and Martin, and probably Luke Jackson. And more.
Jason Martinez, in a Bleacher Report piece that ran yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, spitballs Stanton for Profar, Olt, center fielder Lewis Brinson (who would have to be a player to be named until June 12), and first baseman Ronald Guzman (who is sidelined after March knee surgery).
When prospect-laden Hickory visits Greensboro next week, I’d like to think Marlins officials might charge some of their own folks with an added assignment for those few days. There’s a lot more than Brinson on that club worth targeting.
They can look at catcher Jorge Alfaro but they can’t touch. At least not if Profar is in the deal.
Then again, Ken Rosenthal, asked simply on Twitter what the chances are that Texas makes some sort of “blockbuster move” this season, responded: “Don’t see it.”
And I don’t even know if I’d consider a trade for Houston righthander Bud Norris in that category, at least at this point, though if this keeps up he’s going to command a haul, and may be one of the only impact commodities that wouldn’t include a demand for a top-tier middle infield prospect.
Though if the Phillies decided in July to trade Cliff Lee, that would qualify, and Bowden predicts it will make Lee an Angel – or a Ranger again.
Speaking of the Phillies and trades, Michael Young has a very good surface line (.356/.420/.511). So do Josh Lindblom (one run on six hits and two walks in 12 Round Rock innings, 11 strikeouts), Lisalverto Bonilla (one run on three hits and one walk in 5.2 Round Rock innings, seven strikeouts), and Lance Berkman (.389/.500/.611). Yes, it’s early.
And while Mike Adams and Koji Uehara have, not unexpectedly, been fantastic, the Texas bullpen has been just fine – so far – and that $9 million-plus that Adams and Uehara will earn this year, if paid by the Rangers rather than the Phillies and Red Sox, might have made it more difficult for Texas to budget its upcoming July business.
As for a story that’s not premature to focus on, Olney tweets that the Orioles “have interest in the Rangers’ Julio Borbon, but have found the asking price to be high,” the takeaway from which is (1) of course Baltimore is considering a Texas player, (2) thumbs-up to the Rangers for letting the defined window to trade Borbon play out, and (3) when Buster Olney tweets about a player who fits in a certain category in which Borbon fits, it’s different from Jon Heyman tweeting about a player in that particular category.
The Borbon note that interested me the most was T.R. Sullivan’s over the weekend that the Rangers “are growing confident they can find a trade partner” for Borbon. The way the procedure works, we can probably expect that to happen today. Sullivan does suggest that “the Rangers aren’t expecting a big return” for Borbon, possibly something along the lines of “a reliever who could be a Major League option at some point this season.” You never have enough pitching depth, and so you don’t get comfortable just because you expect to add Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz to the bullpen picture, and perhaps Nick Tepesch or Justin Grimm once Colby Lewis is back.
(Notably, the Rangers have positioned themselves to take on a 40-man roster member in exchange for Borbon, as long as the player has options. Reliever Justin Miller was transferred to the 60-day disabled list a few days ago, clearing a spot on the 40.)
There’s a suggestion from Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities (via Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors) that Minnesota, fighting through a tough acclimation for blue-chip center fielder Aaron Hicks, is “kicking the tires” on Borbon, but probably wouldn’t trade for him, instead hoping Texas would end up running him out on waivers and that he’d get by the Astros, Cubs, and Rockies and to the Twins. But there are two extreme unlikelihoods in that sentence, both after the word “instead.”
I think back to Borbon’s electrifying big league debut (.312/.376/.414, 19 stolen bases in 46 games in 2009), less than two years after signing out of college, and I suppose it should temper my enthusiasm over the way Nick Tepesch and Leury Garcia and Fearless Joe Ortiz have contributed over their first few opportunities as big leaguers.
Still, I will never get tired of watching this.
Or of seeing schadenfreude-y things like Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura leading the National League in hitting, nine months after fronting the Angels’ trade to get Greinke, who left them with no draft pick compensation since he was with them for less than a season when he bolted to pitch somewhere else.
Though neither Greinke nor Segura will make the cut for Casey Affleck, who already has far more material than he’ll be able to cram into a two-hour movie, as the Angels’ new right fielder keeps on giving.
Maybe it’s a reality show instead.
It’s just half a month, and we can’t bank on the arrow pointing even higher for Segura, or for Tepesch or Garcia or Fearless Joe, and if you need a reminder on how those things sometimes work out differently than we thought, the Borbon narrative is fairly useful.
If you’re ready to bury the Angels’ season, you’re probably also giving up on Olt and Cody Buckel in the middle of April, and I’d suggest you tap the brakes on all of that.
It’s the time of the baseball year to overreact, but just as you don’t grade an off-season in early December, you don’t draw conclusions on a baseball season in April.
Moves at the Winter Meetings do start to define the off-season, though, and along similar lines April wins and April losses count, just as much as the ones in September do, even if the standings themselves matter as much at this point as a December 10 column labeling that winter’s “Winners & Losers” among the 30 front offices.
I’m capitulating to cliché in suggesting that while you can’t win a pennant in April, you sure can lose it, and while my radar is up on whether the 4-8 Rays will be able to stay with the four teams ahead of them in the AL East long enough to put off the thought of trading David Price, and on when the 2-11 Marlins will look honestly in the mirror and the stadium and accept what they see, in this April moment I’m intensely interested in the day-to-day drama playing out in Anaheim, in whether Texas can turn Julio Borbon into a piece that might fit down the road, and in the next time the skipper hands Joe Ortiz the ball or the next time Leury Garcia kicks that 80 run into gear to cut off a baseball more than 100 feet away, to make a play, to help win a game, because they count just as much in the first month as they do in the sixth.
Scouted, drafted, developed (pre-arbitration).
Scouted, signed, developed (pre-arbitration).
Scouted, drafted, developed (pre-arbitration).
Scouted, drafted, developed (pre-arbitration).
Step Five free agent.
Rangers 4, King & Company 3.
In other news, Athletics 8, #TMGP 1.
You can’t predict ball.
But scout and develop well and you sure can boost the odds.
The offense produced three multi-run innings despite just one extra-base hit all night, a havoc-filled attack reminiscent of the October versions that ended Tampa Bay’s seasons in 2010 and 2011, the latter of which was what probably going to be Lance Berkman’s final productive season before the Rangers talked him out of retirement, and the former of which was the year that Texas, shackled in bankruptcy, asked Boston to throw $350,000 into Saltalamacchia-for-Mendez-McGuiness-and-Thomas on July 31 so they could pay 14th-round righthander Nick Tepesch third-round money at the mid-August deadline to keep him from returning to the University of Missouri for his senior year.
Because of the late signing, Tepesch spent the rest of the 2010 summer in Surprise, getting his pro career underway at Fall Instructs as the big club charged into its first post-season since 1999, which was the year Texas drafted Colby Lewis. Tepesch was probably in the Rangers’ Arizona clubhouse watching on TV as Lewis shut the Rays down over five innings in the ALDS, beat the Yankees twice in the ALCS, and earned the Rangers’ lone World Series win against the Giants.
Lewis, the former first-rounder whose career was derailed by injuries and mediocrity and re-routed to Japan, before a return to the big leagues in that 2010 season, achieving what seemingly every other pitcher who had tried to revive his career in Japan before coming back to the States – including former Rangers righthander Brian Sikorski – had failed to achieve.
When I saw Tepesch interviewed a month ago during camp, his demeanor – a calm, sort of unimpressed thing he has going – reminded me of Lewis.
Last night, so did his composure on the mound, and the bag of tricks.
Except for that part about where he lives in the strike zone.
While Lewis tends to work up in the zone and gets his outfielders involved a bunch, Tepesch kept his outfielders so bored that they could have turned to the fans behind them and made football motions.
One lineout to second (his first out of the game).
One harmless flyout to right (his final out of the game).
And 15 groundouts, four of which ended with Tepesch recording the out himself.
Not Lewis-like at all, at least that part.
Closer to Sikorski, whose big league debut on August 16, 2000 (10 years to the day before Tepesch signed with the Rangers) covered seven innings of shutout ball against the Yankees, in Arlington.
That was the last time a Rangers pitcher logged at least seven frames in his big league debut.
Only Sikorski was 26, in his sixth pro season and his second organization. Tepesch, 24, is just getting season three underway.
Sikorski’s final year in the Rangers system was 2001, after which he headed to Japan to pitch. That was also the first year on the Texas farm for catcher Dustin Smith, who transitioned a six-year run as a minor league player into a scouting job with the organization. Smith is the area scout who monitored Tepesch in college, pounded his fist on the table until his bosses called Tepesch’s name in Round 14 in 2010, and sat in the crowd last night, flown in for the game as the Rangers do with all of their area scouts whenever one of the players they’re responsible for makes his big league debut.
What Smith and the rest of us saw tells a much more interesting story than the box score can. Look at Tepesch’s line and you see a three in the walk column. But all three free passes came in the second inning, as he threw only three strikes total to Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, and Jose Molina before squirming out of the bases-loaded situation with a three-pitch strikeout of Kelly Johnson to keep the game scoreless.
Not rattled. Calm. Sort of unimpressed.
When that inning ended, Tepesch had thrown 43 pitches, and only 21 for strikes. That’s a discouraging two-inning total, and a worse ball/strike ratio.
The rest of the way: 5.1 innings, 61 pitches (cutting the per-inning rate in half), 41 for strikes (jumping from 49 percent to 67 percent).
The other thing you can’t get from the box is the comments from the two managers after the game had ended and Tepesch was still cleaning shaving cream off his face.
Ron Washington: “He showed his maturity. He’s got poise. He never got outside of himself. He just trusted what A.J. [Pierzynski] put down and kept doing it. He got the ball inside on righthanders. It was just great composure.”
Rays skipper Joe Maddon: “He got sharper, command-wise. He was more free with his off-speed stuff, and he was throwing it for strikes. He’s got a nice delivery. He’s got velocity. He’s got other pitches that he commands. That’s something they’ve got to be excited about.”
I can’t resist the thought that last night’s win, aside from the obvious positives, also brings Tampa Bay theoretically a microscopic tick closer to fielding trade offers three months from now, if the season goes in an unintended direction for that franchise. Every loss counts.
And that Tepesch did everything possible to send the Rays away thinking about how he might fit their plans going forward, once it’s time to shop David Price around. There would probably have to be a shortstop in any deal with the Rangers, too, and lots more. Maybe Roman Mendez, a more conventional part of the 2010 Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade, fits in as well. But you have to think Tepesch profiles his way into those talks.
It’s all about control.
That kind, and that other kind, too.
I got chills last night when Wash punched Tepesch in the chest before pointing to the bullpen, sending the rookie on a slow, measured, Colby-like walk toward the dugout, exiting his dominant debut to the roars of 31,000-plus.
During the commercial that followed, I flipped over to MLB Network, and saw a (less-than-capacity) Angels crowd booing in the first inning of the club’s home opener, as C.J. Wilson was surrendering three Oakland runs in a 44-pitch first.
I flipped back to see Robbie Ross, having entered with two men in scoring position, coax a foulout and a comebacker in five pitches to end the Tampa Bay threat and keep Tepesch’s ledger as clean as it was when he left the mound.
Checking back in on Angels-A’s, I saw the Anaheim crowd summon up an ovation as Josh Hamilton stepped up for his first home at-bat, with the bases loaded and nobody out. A chance to turn the game around just as soon as it had appeared to get out of hand.
And then Mark Trumbo grounded into a double play, preserving the 3-0 A’s lead.
Oakland would give the lead back to the Angels before opening a can on the Los Angeles bullpen, eventually winning the game and joining Texas with an AL-best 6-2 record. The fact that the Angels are 3.5 games back in the West, with a 2-5 mark, is fairly meaningless this early, but they all count, and now the Angels have to win several more games than Texas and Oakland the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay’s 3-5 start doesn’t really matter either, but that’s a division in which all five clubs believe it’s theirs to win, and if the first half puts the Rays near the back of that pack, the second half is going to start with their front office thinking about a franchise-defining decision they might have to make.
But my thoughts, for now, return to the first week and a half of baseball, with Texas now 3-0 in series played, losing the first game in the first series, the middle game in the next one, and sitting here today in a position to avoid losing the final game in this series, as a stretch of 14 games out of 17 on the road awaits.
Colby Lewis is throwing now in Surprise, rehabbing on the same fields where Nick Tepesch got his pro career going as Lewis was starting playoff games for Texas. Tepesch may be simply holding a place for Lewis at the moment, and it’s no lock that he’ll hold it all the way until Lewis’s return, but he sure got off to a great start, adding even more extrapolated life to the Mark Teixeira trade, and making me wonder whether there are some folks in baseball thinking about his potential place in a future trade that could be just as big.
A long day of baseball started with an eight-year-old, after two years hitting in the bottom third of the lineup, earning a shot in the clean-up spot, and Elite 8U charging out of the eight seed and winning its first tournament championship at the North Texas Lone Star Classic, a weekend reminder that you just can’t predict ball.
Then Darvish-Weaver took over and another series was won, but maybe the most impressive righthander on the night was neither Yu nor Jered but instead Tanner Scheppers, brandishing mid-to-upper 90s with tremendous life that found the strike zone 18 out of 20 times, and the thought of a bullpen that, if everything falls into place, could end up featuring Nathan and Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz and Scheppers from the right side, and Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman, and Joe Ortiz from the left, well, then, OK.
Josh Hamilton managed to deliver three hits in the Angels loss, bookended on one end by a bases-loaded, no-outs double play grounder to second base in the first inning that reminded a lot of local football fans of the deflating first-inning, double play grounder to second he rolled into in the first inning of his final game as a Ranger, and on the other by a weak groundout to shortstop to end the game, which may not have been as “fitting” as A-Rod striking out looking to send his former team to the World Series, but, you know, there’s that.
And there was Ian Kinsler’s first home run to right field since 2009 and Weaver’s first April loss since 2009 and now two fan bases wonder if their ace will make his next start, because blisters and non-throwing-arm elbow strains aren’t completely predictable, either.
And hey there, Mark Lowe.
And “It probably hurts a little bit more to know that people would just turn that quickly. You know, to think that they kind of supported you . . . . But it just tells you a lot.”
“Fair-weather” goes both ways, sir.
“It was surprising, but not real surprising. A little disappointing more than anything.”
Back to work and back to school this morning, and today may sorta feel like the last day of school for Julio Borbon, who will suit up for what is likely his final time as a Ranger as Texas hosts the Rays tonight, with Nick Tepesch slated to go tomorrow, filling the number five rotation slot and needing spots on both the 25-man roster and 40-man roster to do so. The Rangers are saying they’re not considering an option of Leonys Martin to AAA, so a designation of Borbon for assignment is likely on schedule for Tuesday.
The “change of scenery” meme will undoubtedly surface as soon as Borbon suits up for a new team, because this is sports and that’s what we talk about when players move on, especially when we see Chris Davis out-producing some teams, but changes of scenery don’t always work, and it’s OK to hope for the best for Davis and Mike Napoli and Cliff Lee if that’s your thing (it is mine), but in other cases a player opts for new scenery, which is totally cool, and yet finds it necessary to disparage his old scene, questionable judgment at best, something else at worst, and it creates an entirely different energy for a series of April baseball at the outset of what we all know is going to be another electric year of ball you just can’t predict.
In 2007, 19-year-old Elvis Andrus, who had yet to play a baseball game above Class A, told a couple Rangers officials at Fall Instructs that his favorite ballplayer, the man whose game he wanted to pattern his own after, was not Omar Vizquel, or Dave Concepcion, or Luis Aparicio, or another decorated Venezuelan shortstop.
It was Derek Jeter.
“Because he’s a leader and a winner, and that’s what I am.”
Jeter was the player in whose footsteps Andrus wanted to follow.
And now he won’t.
At least not in that way.
The contract that Andrus instructed Scott Boras this spring to negotiate, to keep him in Texas, was agreed to on Sunday, hours before the season opener, and announced yesterday, a day before the home opener, a standard-bearing moment for a franchise built on a commitment to scouting and developing winning baseball players.
Had the Rangers managed to sign Andrus in January 2005 rather than the Braves – which could have happened – then who knows, maybe Carlos Gonzalez and Conor Jackson would have become Rangers in July 2007, with player to be named Brett Anderson joining them in September, and CarGo would be the player locking up long-term now with the Rangers.
But when 27-year-old Assistant GM Jon Daniels and 27-year-old Manager of Professional and International Scouting A.J. Preller (who had been with the Rangers for a few weeks) sat down with the 16-year-old Andrus in the Dominican Republic late that January, and increased their offer to the shortstop during the meeting, it still wasn’t quite enough to get a deal done.
Daniels and Preller would have had to wipe out close to their entire 2005 international budget – six months before that summer’s J2 class would be eligible – to meet Andrus’s number. But the organization was committed at that time to reestablishing a presence in Latin America that had long been flat-lined (which was a large part of the impetus for hiring Preller away from the Dodgers), and they were reluctant to roll all of that year’s allotment in one player.
In retrospect, the Rangers would have better off paying Andrus rather than the 19 players they did sign, only two of whom remain with the franchise – though third baseman Johan Yan is now a relief pitcher, and catcher-first baseman Alberto Puello is now a coach at Hickory. Instead, Atlanta offered Andrus nearly $600,000 to sign, and he accepted it.
Two years later, when Daniels, by then GM, convinced ownership to allow him to trade Mark Teixeira as part of a wholesale effort to revitalize the farm system and rededicate the organization to a philosophy grounded in scouting and player development, the Rangers were targeting Atlanta just as much as the Braves were chasing Teixeira.
The Braves reportedly wouldn’t trade outfielders Jordan Schafer or Brandon Jones, but they were willing to trade Andrus, with Edgar Renteria in place at shortstop and Yunel Escobar having just broken into the big leagues two months earlier.
Schafer and Jones weren’t at the top of the Rangers’ list, anyway. Andrus and Neftali Feliz had to be in the deal, as far as Texas was concerned.
The Rangers moved Teixeira, and got their man.
And that’s not where the Teixeira story ends.
Andrus, like Teixeira a member of Team Boras, surely understood the present reality as the 2013 season approached. As a key part of the Teixeira trade that made Andrus a Ranger, the trade that sent the star first baseman away so that Texas could maximize his value to the franchise, the shortstop is now at the service level that Teixeira was at when Daniels decided he needed to move him in 2007. While the Rangers were a bad baseball team then, able to trade Teixeira during the season, times are different now, and if Andrus didn’t extend when he did, he’d certainly survive the schedule but be a prime candidate to be traded next winter, a year away from free agency.
If not traded before now. Andrus’s value, whatever it is at this moment – or more to the point, whatever it was one week ago – would have decreased with time, with each day that the expiration of his contract grew nearer. He’ll be worth less in trade next winter than he was this past winter, and Texas has a shortstop most believe is ready to contribute. If the Rangers were convinced – as they were six years ago – that their star player was counting the days until free agency, their track record suggests they were going to explore all possibilities rather than just let things play out and collect the draft pick.
Maybe Andrus wondered who the flashy Class A prospect was that he would have been traded for.
We learned yesterday that he was motivated to stay, to make sure he wasn’t traded.
And it’s easy to see why Texas was motivated to lock him up now.
Aside from the obvious reasons to hang onto a young player that’s such a vital cog on both sides of the ball, there’s also the way the landscape of the game is changing. More star players are locking up before free agency. Free agent classes are getting watered down as a result. Meanwhile, TV money is exploding.
The result is that the best free agents are going to be even more wildly overpaid going forward, with a handful of teams eager to spend (and now restricted like never before in the draft and internationally).
And yes, that almost certainly means Andrus is going to opt out of this contract as a result, after either the 2018 season or 2019 season. That doesn’t mean he’ll leave (Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia stayed), of course, but it does mean this is probably a four-year, $62 million extension ($15 million annually in 2015-2018, plus his $2 million signing bonus) rather than eight years and $120 million (or nine and $135 million if his 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 plate appearances in 2021-22 guarantee a 2023 option).
Fine. If Andrus does opt out after 2018, Texas will have had him in the big leagues from age 20 through age 29.
We can worry about the 24-year-old’s thirties another time.
And we can worry (if that’s the right word) about how the Rangers will sort out their middle infield situation later, too. As Daniels said yesterday, “We’ve got some options. And we’ve got some time. We’re not going to rush into anything.”
Maybe Jurickson Profar gets traded in July, or December. Not for Oscar Taveras (Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said this week he’d have to think about a deal like that – that doesn’t mean Texas would – while Ken Rosenthal [Fox Sports] reports that the clubs haven’t discussed the idea), but instead in a package for David Price or Giancarlo Stanton.
Though as Dayn Perry (CBS Sports) suggests: “You don’t trade Jurickson Profar. You make room for him.”
And Dave Cameron (FanGraphs) adds: “Profar would have been a good replacement for Andrus had Texas needed to go the trade route, but now, he might just be an even better teammate instead.”
So maybe next winter Ian Kinsler gets moved to first base. Or left field. Or another team.
Or maybe Andrus gets traded in the winter after all.
He’ll make only $6.475 million salary in 2014, and can’t block a trade until after the 2016 season, when a limited no-trade clause kicks in, allowing him to designate 10 teams he’d need to consent a trade to (though if traded once, a full no-trade clause is triggered).
Trading Andrus is massively unlikely, of course.
Kinsler is under control through 2017. Profar is under control beyond that. As Peter Gammons said: “Now that they know they have Andrus past ’14 – as his offense blooms – the Rangers have time to consider all Profar/Kinsler alternatives.”
Unlike with Andrus prior to this week, that analysis will be based on baseball, not contract factors.
And nothing will happen anytime soon. Kinsler is not going to change positions or be traded during the season. As for Profar, the Marlins and Rays aren’t trading anybody until the second half, and he isn’t going to join the Rangers unless Andrus or Kinsler gets hurt.
That’s where Profar differs from Andrus. The veteran was 20 when he made the jump from AA to the big leagues, the same age Profar is now, but because Kinsler refused in the off-season to switch positions, there’s no spot for Profar. So he plays in AAA – something Andrus never did – getting his Round Rock career off to a nice start last night, contributing two singles, a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored in a 3-1 Express win.
Daniels said this yesterday: “Among the key moments in building toward where things are now was bringing a 20-year-old from AA to the big leagues. It was consistent with what we want to be about: a team that plays an up-tempo, aggressive style with a priority on tough at-bats, pitching, and defense. He epitomizes all of those things. The charisma, the smile, the connection with fans and the connection with with teammates. He’s everything we’re about.”
It’s the type of thing he could have said about his new phenom, if the club had made room for him this spring.
But it was said about Andrus, who will be cheered loudest when his team is introduced along the chalk this afternoon, minutes after which he’ll lead the defense’s charge out of the dugout, like he always does.
Yesterday, like Daniels did, Ron Washington recalled Andrus’s early days in the big leagues. “The first time I tried to bury him, he accepted it. I told him I was going to keep the pressure on him. Because if you can’t handle pressure from the one who loves you the most, you won’t be able to handle the pressure between the lines.
“You have to find out who can take what when you dish it out. And he proved to me the first time he arrived that he was special.”
Andrus on the same subject: “As a young player, that’s what you want. You want, as soon as you make a mistake, to be lucky to have someone to teach you and make you better.”
Wash: “I only had to ride him two years. Last year I was able to back off of him because he showed me that he became the pro that I thought he could be, and I let him grow at his own pace.
“You will continue to see growth, because that’s just what he’s about. That’s in his heart. That’s the type of blood that flows through his body. And that’s the type of people we want to have here in Texas.”
We’ve all seen it ever since Andrus arrived. If you saw him play at Frisco in 2008, you saw it. When I saw him at Fall Instructs in 2007, I was struck by how different a player he seemed to be, even at age 19. I wrote this in October 2007:
For some players, the ball just sounds different coming off their bat. Some can spin a breaking ball in such a way that you know the hitter has no chance before the pitch is halfway to the plate. There are others, like Andrus, who you can tell are different simply by how they carry themselves. I’m struggling as to how to explain it. It’s not really a swagger that Andrus has. It’s more of a comfortable magnetism. He reminds me of a feature tailback, or a really good cover corner, with that smile that says he knows he’s going to beat you more often than not. He’s going to be a leader.
One of my two favorite moments at yesterday’s press conference took place while nobody was watching, and only one person (I think) listening in.
The main portion of the presser had concluded, and there were separate breakout interviews going on with Andrus, and with Daniels, and with Boras in different parts of the room. There was some of that with Wash, too, but once reporters were done with him, he leaned back against a wall as Andrus’s older brother Erold, an outfielder whose career with the Rays and Yankees and Twins never surpassed Class AA and who spent a few weeks in Rangers camp in 2011 before calling it quits, shuffled over to say hello. Two men who had invested a lot of time mentoring the kid whose day this was.
With the same demonstrative inflection you’d expect if he were surrounded by reporters rolling tape, Wash said to Erold and no one else, about Elvis: “You know, he just has fun. He plays hard, but he plays. This is a game, and at a young age he was able to figure that out. He’s a pro.”
He plays hard.
But he plays.
And we love him for that.
The other moment that stood out for me was when Andrus, who’s 10 days younger than Justin Grimm and a year and a half younger than Tanner Scheppers, six months younger than Leonys Martin and a day older than Mike Olt, said something a leader says.
“I love to play here. This is my family. I’m not going to rest or sleep until I win a World Series. I think of myself as a winner. If I don’t get my ring, if I don’t get this city a ring and this organization a ring, I won’t sleep.”
I think of myself as a winner.
That’s exactly what Andrus said to the Rangers six years ago, when he was a Class A teenager in a new organization, undoubtedly with the same confidence and charisma that he displayed yesterday as baseball’s 42nd $100 million man, and that he will at 1:05 today, when his team sprints onto the field behind him to kick off the franchise’s 42nd home opener.
It would behoove the Yankees to start looking for a different shortstop to follow in Derek Jeter’s footsteps.
I have nothing to say.
I mean, what is there to say?
I hope you saw it. I hope you saw it very much.
I just have nothing to say. Some works of art are better not broken down.
I had plenty to say last night, though. But since I’m guessing you either (1) follow me on Twitter already or (2) don’t give a flip about what I have to say on Twitter, this report isn’t so much for you as it is for me.
Because eight months from now, eight years from now, 30 years from now, I want to remember the visceral experience of that baseball game, and it’ll be a lot easier to flip to a page in a book than to try and hunt online for 30-year-old tweets.
So, dear me, these are the things I was thinking about and blurting out in 140 characters or less while watching the Texas Rangers play baseball on April 2, 2013:
7:38 pm #slidepiece
8:17 pm Pardon the weirdness, but something about Yu’s face reminds me of Thom Yorke.
8:19 pm It was a split-second look on his face right after the Altuve punchout.
8:20 pm #slidepiecin’ #babysgotthebends
8:38 pm Here comes the high-profile unfollow . . . . [@OldHossRadbourn: It is nice to see Y. Darvish perform against a NPB-quality team.]
8:39 pm #YuAndWhoseArmy #yuyorke
8:59 pm I remember thinking Craig Gentry was a poor man’s Peter Bourjos. Slow clap, Jay Eddings. #seniordraft #tommyjohn
9:01 pm I’d happily settle for a single. [@jwimpee: kinsler needs a tater trot with cheese.]
9:02 pm Or that! Wow. #kins
9:12 pm First changeup of the night – on pitch 85. Sick.
9:13 pm Those 11,000 tickets left for Sunday night are gonna disappear pretty quickly tomorrow.
9:38 pm For last two half-innings he’s looked at his hand a bunch as if there’s a blister developing.
9:48 pm I’ve never wanted Beltre to ground into a double play this badly, and surely never will again.
9:59 pm Yu Darvish is almost perfect at baseball.
10:08 pm Because of my kid’s ballgame, I missed the first inning. Knowing I probably would, I recorded the game. Yay me.
10:09 pm #WhereIEndAndYuBegin #doesntreallyfit #dontcare
10:26 pm I don’t think I can adequately explain how much @bracketdan is going to hate my next report.
10:42 pm Really did. And unafraid to call the buried slider w/2 strikes. [@ShutDownInning: How are you feeling about Pierzynski? Called heckuva game.]
10:52 pm $51,703,411.
10:57 pm #ImOnARoll #ItsGonnaBeAGloriousDay #ImYourSuperhero #yuyorke [@JeffWilson_FWST Darvish: “I think I got lucky today.”]
11:34 pm This is the tweet from 5 days ago that resulted in an unfollow that surprised me: https://twitter.com/NewbergReport/status/317435291650633729
11:40 pm Yu’s 2012 debut: 3 walks (& 4 hits) before recording his 2nd out. His 2013 debut: 0 walks (1st time) and 1 hit. 110 pitches/111 pitches.
11:47 pm That scout who saw Darvish in an April 2012 game, to @Ken_Rosenthal: “He’s going to give up a ton of hits . . . ” [more]
11:47 pm “A lot of his fastballs are very straight . . . ”
11:48 pm “The guy is supposed to throw hard. But he basically pitched at 89-92, touching 93-94 . . . . Pretty good in Japan. It’s not very good here . . . ”
11:48 pm “When he gets in trouble, he turns into a breaking-ball guy – nibble, nibble, he won’t let it go. He reminded me of Dice-K.” #gloops
12:36 am Yu. Ours. That’s all. #EverythingInItsRightPlace #Separator
— Love, me
I slept through the night but woke up exhausted.
I blame this bizarre dream I had. The Rangers were playing the only game on the schedule, for the first time since Game 7 against St. Louis, and Matt Harrison started and lost his command, just like he did in Game 7 against St. Louis, and the Rangers scored just two runs on six hits, like they did in Game 7 against St. Louis, with both of their runs and half of their hits coming in one inning, just like Game 7 against St. Louis, and their long reliever was asked for some reason to get critical outs even with no game the following day, just like Game 7 against St. Louis, and Nelson Cruz’s defense, no, wait, that was a different game against St. Louis, and they were hammered just as badly, only this time it was against the Houston Astros, which was nothing like Game 7 against St. Louis.
I also dreamed that my second favorite Ranger ever, when filling out his “What I Did in San Antonio” entry, talked about the numbers eight and 10 and $120,000,000 and $131,275,000 and 2022 and used all the vocabulary words his advisor likes, including “potential” and “opt-out,” and a couple he’d mentioned once or twice himself to his advisor, like “Jered Weaver” and “Carlos Gonzalez” and “Andruw Jones,” and speaking of Jones, somehow a hazy thing about Jurickson Profar snuck into the dream, and there was Ian Kinsler, too, but I woke up before I could figure out what was going on there, and speaking of Kinsler, there was also a flash in my dream of the greatest defensive play in Texas Rangers history, from Game 2 against St. Louis.
In my dream, the New York Yankees were very sad and the Los Angeles Dodgers were very sad because they have aging, highly compensated shortstops whose contracts expire exactly when my second favorite Ranger ever’s contract expires and they like to spend lots of money on baseball players, and Scott Boras was sad for the same reason, and I was sad, too, less and less so because of the slam-dunk-is-two-points game against the Houston Astros but more and more because Ben & Skin wouldn’t be around (yet) to talk about this Elvis Andrus stuff on the air, and sometimes the things you dream about during sleep aren’t cruel April Fools jokes, and maybe they weren’t dreams at all.
The Texas Rangers started the 2013 season winless last night, and it’s going to go down as perhaps the greatest Opening Day this franchise has had.
It is, it is.
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:
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:
(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:
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.
It’s Opening Day.