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What was he thinking?

“DFW teams could all use more edge.  Kins has some of it.  I miss Tyson Chandler and Steve Ott.” 

I tweeted that nine months ago.  I thought about Chandler and Ott again yesterday.

And about Mike Napoli and Cliff Lee.

Maybe they all had issues with local management, for not offering more money or years, or for trading them to Buffalo.  Maybe they were bitterly livid.  Felt like name-calling.  Wished 82 straight losses on their former teammates, or 162.

But they didn’t voice it into an unconcealed dictaphone.

Name all the great athletes, in any sport, in your lifetime, who would have said the things Ian Kinsler did for the ESPN The Magazine article that was posted yesterday and who don’t play for the Angels.  Give Kinsler benefit of the doubt, and assume there were some context issues with how his comments come across — and still, ask yourself how many star ballplayers would have chosen the words he did.

There’s nothing subtle about Kinsler’s game.  Nothing soft.  From the 17th-round pick’s first spring training, 10 years ago this month, until now, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen quicker hands at the plate.  He got under opponents’ skin, and we loved him for that.  He hit for power and he ran the bases and he turned the double play at second as well as anyone in the game.  He would fall into sporadic ruts where the pop-ups and the pickoffs piled up, but he was also the guy who was capable of putting his teammates on his back, and seemed to relish that.

What he didn’t embrace, we now know, was the responsibility of leading in all those other ways, evidently.  I can’t get my head wrapped around Kinsler telling ESPN that Rangers management “wanted me to lead these young players, teach them the way to compete, when the only thing I should be worried about is how I’m performing in the game.”  I can’t understand Kinsler thinking that way, let alone choosing to verbalize it to someone whose job is to share words with a world of sports fans.

My thoughts turned to Alex Rodriguez and the comments he made to that same magazine, during that first Ian Kinsler spring training, weeks after the Rangers had traded the star shortstop.  “I remember driving home with my wife, Cynthia, after a game and telling her, ‘I just don’t see the light.  Where is the light?  What am I in this for?  I would have never gone to Texas if they had told me, ‘Alex, it’s going to be you and 24 kids.’  Never.  For no amount of money.”

You and 24 kids.

The Kinsler/Profar angle that some reporters are focusing on reminds me a bit of Palmeiro/Teixeira.

After Kinsler’s comments were shared with his former teammates and former manager and former general manager yesterday, they all took the high road.  Every one of them.

Over the final year of Kinsler’s 10-year run with this organization, a franchise that’s sure to offer him enshrinement into its own Hall of Fame one day, there was an envisioned position change designed to make the baseball team better.  It didn’t happen, because Kinsler didn’t want it to.  Later on, and not unrelated, there was a trade, also designed to make the baseball team better.  On that, time will tell.  That’s where the general manager’s batting average gets defined.

Ron Washington said yesterday, confronted with Kinsler’s comments about the Texas GM: “Opinions [are] just that.  It doesn’t make it reality.  To me, Jon Daniels has been one of the best general managers in the game and everything that he’s ever done, he’s done it simply because it’s going to make our team better.  That’s where his head is and that’s where his head has always been.”

It’s Daniels’s job to make the Texas Rangers better.  It wasn’t Ian Kinsler’s job.  At least that’s how he saw it, according to the ESPN article.  And that stands out a lot more than 0-162, or the word “sleazeball.”

Dale Hansen, maybe more outspoken locally than any athlete has ever been, said this last night on his 10 p.m. sportscast: “Kinsler’s one of those guys — and there’s a lot of them — when they’re negotiating a contract or chasing the free agent dollars, they want you to know it’s a business.  And then they get really upset when they find out it actually is.”

That part doesn’t really bother me.  I’m sure Mike Napoli was “really upset,” and Tyson Chandler, too.

But they didn’t comment publicly.

There are degrees of edge.

Emmitt Smith said some pretty caustic things on his way out, too.  And we’re all good now, right?

The thing about Kinsler is, for all the baseball beasting he provided this team, there were the occasional flat-footed pickoffs and the big-game ejections, and when those things happened, the reaction was never about his baseball acumen.  It was instead along the lines of “What was he thinking?”

I wish Kinsler didn’t say what he said during that ESPN interview.  I wish he thought about what was worth making public, and what was better off kept to himself.

I wish he didn’t balk at the responsibility — the opportunity — a veteran has to teach young players the way to compete, the way others had done for him.  Because no matter what you think right now about Ian Kinsler, you can’t deny he was one of the greatest competitors that the greatest teams in Rangers franchise history ever put on the field.  His competitive edge helped define this team’s best seasons, even if he didn’t want any part of taking the initiative to pass some of that along to eager teammates.

That’s part of what could have been an even greater legacy for Kinsler with this club, delivered right over the heart of the plate, and for some reason it was a pitch he didn’t want.

2014 eEdition of the Newberg Report now available.

THE 2014 eEDITION OF THE NEWBERG REPORT

** NOW AVAILABLE **

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The 2014 eEdition of the Newberg Report, my 15th annual book on the Texas Rangers — but only the second in e-format — is now available for immediate digital download.  It’s more than 400 pages commemorating the 2013 Rangers season and the impact off-season that followed it, all chronicled in the book, in daily, exhaustive, emotional detail.  For any Rangers fan, this book will be one to look back on for years and years.

More than 3,000 of you on this mailing list are past customers of the Bound Edition, but for those of you who are relatively new to the Newberg Report, here is what you can expect from the book:

THE FEATURES

The book picks up right where the 2013 Bound Edition left off, taking you from October 2012 through December 2013 and containing every report I wrote in that span (including every “Trot Coffey” rumor dump).

The eEdition is the most thorough account you’ll find of the many twists and turns that the 2013 season took, and of the implications of the personnel moves that highlighted it.

THE PRICE

For just the second time, we are offering the annual Newberg Report book in an e-book format.  The 2014 eEdition is $9.99 per copy.

I also have all the previous editions of the Newberg Report Bound Edition for sale.  The price breakdown is as follows:

  • 2014 eEdition – $9.99
  • 2013 Bound Edition – $20.00 (free shipping)
  • 2012 Bound Edition (2011 World Series edition) – $20.00 (free shipping)
  • 2011 Bound Edition (2010 World Series edition) – $20.00 (free shipping)
  • 1999/2000 through 2010 Bound Editions – $15.00 each (free shipping)

SPECIALS

  • A gift set of all 15 Bound Editions (including the 2014 eEdition) is available for $200, which is a $35 discount

ORDERING

You can order by credit card through PayPal.  Just go to www.newbergreport.com/BoundEdition and follow the instructions there, or click the “Store” link on the top menu at http://www.NewbergReport.com.

You can also order by check or money order, payable to “Jamey Newberg,” at:

Jamey Newberg
Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein, P.C.
Thanksgiving Tower
1601 Elm Street, Suite 4100
Dallas, TX 75201

I’m extremely biased but, trying to pretend to be slightly objective, I think this is the kind of book that any Rangers fan’s library should include.  I’m happy to answer any questions you have.

Thanks.

Jamey

3, 45.

Ice on the ground . . . kids home from school . . . March.  A new reminder that you can’t predict ball.

Another year in the books, and a fresh legal pad.

Today is 3-3, the day in Surprise on which 3 is taking grounders at 4, thanks to Rule 5.

It’s Russell Wilson Day.  The day on which the Seahawks quarterback becomes a local story.

Because of how I’m unapologetically wired, it makes me think of the last Seahawks quarterback who, for me, had a local tie-in (excluding the Jon Kitna stint in Dallas, which moved the needle as much as the Stan Gelbaugh era here) — this guy:

 

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And because I was six years old when Zorn was cut by the Cowboys and ended up on Seattle football cards, the first of which was that 1977 Topps, you’ll forgive me if there was a time when I conflated that transaction with the one not much later in which Dallas sent a late first-round pick, two seconds, and receiver Duke Ferguson to the Seahawks for the second pick in the 1977 draft, which the Cowboys used to take Tony Dorsett.

That Dallas-Seattle trade doesn’t really make me think about Texas-Seattle trades, like Smoak and Beavan and more for Cliff, as much as I try bringing things back to baseball.

But thinking about Dorsett does make me think about Herschel Walker.

And thinking about Herschel Walker makes me think about Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz, and baseball.

Today is one of those days each year that I think about Herschel anyway, as he was born on March 3.

As was Jose Oliva (an infielder that the Rangers once shipped to the Braves in something less than a Herschel Walker Trade between the two teams).

As was Matt Treanor.

As was I.

I could take advantage of this day off with my family and stack up 3,500 sit-ups and 1,500 push-ups, Herschel style, or get in some fungo/pancake infield work, Russell Wilson style.

Or maybe just run into an obnoxiously big stack of pancakes, after which I’ll probably feel like this:

 

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Here’s to 45 and guys who don’t stop at one sport — which is not a tribute to Birmingham Barons-issue Michael Jordan — and to the power of the word, delivered not by actors butchering Broadway stars’ names in front of an audience of tens of millions but by Super Bowl winning quarterbacks challenging and inspiring fellow minor league baseball players before an audience of tens.

In sharp contrast to the parade of plastic surgery disasters that graced my TV screen last night, I’m rejuvenated by the thought of Russell Wilson taking grounders and instruction this morning, and delivering a message this afternoon to Rougned Odor and Michael Choice and Drew Robinson and Keone Kela, a moment that six of the seven guys in the above photo enabled for the cost of $12,000, which I imagine is less than the wardrobe of any of the folks wolfing down pizza on last night’s self-congratulation-fest.

One more episode of True Detective to go (sad), one more day of all these smarmy political ads (happy), one more day of surviving icemageddon (hold me), one more year in the books.

Among the many solid quotes attributed to Russell Wilson the last few months is this one: “I don’t think I’ve arrived.  I think I’m continuing to get there, getting closer and closer to where I want to go.  But I’m not there yet.”

For a hundred minor league ballplayers, that’s today’s 3,500 sit-ups, man.

Here’s to a great year.

45 adapter

 

360 degrees in 360 feet.

Or something like that.

I’m not sure I’m allowed to post the spectacular photo taken yesterday afternoon by Rangers Manager of Photography Kelly Gavin the instant before that 360 in 360, but the least I can do is share a link.

It’s a flippin’ work of art:

http://mlblogstrsullivan.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/02275.jpg

Have a great weekend.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling.

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“I’ve seen focus.  I’ve seen guys trying to do what the game says has to be done. 
Now, once the bell go ding-a-ling-a-ling, there’s no telling what might happen.” 

yu-darvish-baseball-headshot-photo bruce-chen-baseball-headshot-photo

Ding-a-ling-a-ling.

2014 eEdition sneak preview.

The eEdition of the 2014 Newberg Report, covering the 2013 Texas Rangers season plus the off-season through the late-December signing of Shin-Soo Choo, will be available for orders soon.  While it’s tough to quantify a page count in electronic form, in a standard hard copy format the 2014 book would be more than 100 pages longer than the 2013 book, which was 308 pages.

The 2014 eEdition will be available in downloadable formats for Kindle, Nook, iPads, other eBook readers, desktop computers, and smartphones, for $9.99.

The covers, featuring the design of Marty Yawnick and the photography of USA Today’s Kevin Jairaj, our own Scott Lucas, and Jairo Salazar:

 

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More details very soon.

Boomsick.

They’d both come off their first full big league seasons, in which they each did big enough things that they were picked to co-star in this TV commercial.

Just four years later, and on the same late-February afternoon, with camps in full session all around the league, Andrew Bailey signed a minor league contract, and Nelson Cruz took a one-year deal from Baltimore for about what the Mets paid Chris Young and the Red Sox paid A.J. Pierzynski, a one-year guarantee of $8 million with only an added $750,000 available in incentives, in a winter when Scott Feldman got three years and $30 million from a low-payroll club; Marlon Byrd, with his own PED history and three years of extra age, got two years and $16 million, with a vesting option for a third year that could push his deal to $24 million; and Jhonny Peralta, whose suspension mirrored Cruz’s own, landed $53 million over four years from a contending club.

Maybe Texas, arguably in need of another right-handed bat to keep Mitch Moreland from having to face the best lefthanders in the league, was in it with Cruz until the end.

Maybe Cruz was insistent on finding a club that would let him play a meaningful amount in the outfield, thinking maybe he’d be able to reestablish (establish?) the value that he thought he had four months ago, when he declined the Rangers’ qualifying offer of $14.1 million in early November.

Maybe Texas simply didn’t want to give up what would be that supplemental first-round draft pick in June (somewhere in the low 30s overall) by signing Cruz now.

Maybe Cruz feared, even if he were to accept a DH-heavy role, that he’d get only part-time at-bats since Moreland is in place and no team is ever going to assure a free agent that it’s going to trade another player on its roster to ensure there’s no logjam.

Maybe the Rangers made Cruz a second offer (later in the off-season than the November qualifying offer), one that was larger than the one he ultimately took from the Orioles, but Cruz turned that one down, too, all of which Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) reports.  Whether or not that crazy story about Seattle offering five years and $75 million in December was true, Jerry Crasnick (ESPN) reported yesterday that “[e]xecs from rival clubs say [Cruz] turned down multiple two- and three-year offers” before settling for Baltimore’s one-year deal.

Maybe Cruz got very bad advice from his agent.

They both have to feel sick about this.

I’m sure at least one of them does.  The other one should.

And as much as I would have liked to see Cruz back here for one more year, especially at the dollar level his market turned out to be, maybe that’s a bullet dodged, if you believe analysis like this.  He’s a 33-year-old player with skills likely entering their decline.

Still, he’s not only been a huge part of two World Series teams for a franchise that’s made just two World Series appearances — he’s also provided a huge amount of massive moments for this organization, many in the post-season, all since that MLB2K10 ad ran four years ago.

Nelson Cruz represents one of the great trades early on in the Jon Daniels era, and one of the great player development successes this franchise has had.

All I know is this:

Cruz had a chance to take a $14.1 million deal that was on the table.  But didn’t.

The Rangers theoretically had a chance later in the winter to bring Cruz back for something in a range slightly above $8 million.  But didn’t.

And that says a whole lot about how differently the two sides viewed his value — going forward.

Weighting lists.

The Baseball America Top 100 was unveiled last night, featuring five Rangers prospects, only one of whom had been on the list before.

That’s outfielder Michael Choice, who was number 80 on the list in 2012 while with Oakland, fell off the list in 2013, and resurfaces this year at number 98, months after coming to the Rangers in the trade that sent Craig Gentry the other way.

Would you like to have seen Choice higher?  Sure, but (1) while that’s also Dan Peltier (number 100 in 1991) and Ryan Dittfurth (99/2002) territory, it’s also around where Ian Kinsler (98/2005) and Matt Harrison (90/2007) made their lone appearances on the BA list, and (2) these lists don’t matter.

There’s outfielder Nick Williams at 97.  He was the 33rd player taken in the second round of the 2012 draft.  Nobody else in that second round shows up on the BA list (though two college lefthanders chosen, Paco Rodriguez and Alex Wood, have reached the big leagues).

That 97 slot is also where Leonys Martin landed a year ago, when he was 25.  Williams is 20.

Joey Gallo is the game’s number 60 prospect, according to BA.  If his career ends up like the 14-year run turned in by fellow third baseman Dean Palmer, who was number 60 himself back in 1991, that’s probably OK.  Then again, (then-)third baseman Chris Davis was number 65 in 2007.

It’s also where Shin-Soo Choo (61 in 2003) was at the same age (20) that Gallo is now.

Jorge Alfaro’s debut on the list (at number 54) won’t be his final entry.  He may not ascend as high as Pudge’s number 7 ranking (1991) before getting to the big leagues — but he might.  And there’s so much development as far as catchers go that doesn’t show up in the numbers, and it may be the position at which rankings can be the most misleading.  Taylor Teagarden made the BA list twice (number 80 and 73).  J.P. Arencibia (43) and Geovany Soto (47) each showed up once, but so did Max Ramirez (84) and the unforgettable Cesar King (31 in 1998, seven spots ahead of Roy Halladay).

And Yadier Molina never made a Top 100 list.

Rougned Odor leads the Rangers contingent with the number 42 spot on BA’s 2014 list, at the same age (20) that Elvis Andrus was when he was BA’s number 37 prospect.  That was Andrus’s final year on the farm (he’d been number 61, 65, and 19 on the list the previous three years), and though nobody thinks Odor is going to get the 130 big league plate appearances this year that would make him ineligible for next year’s list, nobody thinks he’s going to drop off the list on merit, like the similarly positioned Donald Harris (43 in 1990) and Brian Bohanon (45 in 1990) did before unremarkable big league careers.

Yu Darvish was a number 4 (2012), and so was Tommy Hanson (2009).  Ruben Mateo got as high as number 6 (2000), and so did Alex Rios (2004).  Braves-Rangers lefthander prospect Ben Kozlowski (80 in 2003) was ranked higher the one time he made the list than fellow Braves-Rangers lefthander prospect Harrison was in his one appearance.

Hank Blalock was the number 3 prospect in the game in 2002.

Adrian Beltre was the number 3 prospect in the game in 1998.

You never know.

Mitch Moreland never made the list, and neither did Neal Cotts or Joakim Soria.

But Benji Gil made it four times, and he’d probably have traded places.

Julio Borbon never made the list, either, and he needed fewer than 200 minor league games before he made it to Arlington, turning in an exceptional rookie effort (.312/.414/.790 in 179 plate appearances, and 19 steals in 23 tries over 46 games in 2009) and giving rise to long-term expectations that were nearly as high as Martin’s.

Four years later, Borbon was chosen in the Rule 5 Draft.

In the minor league phase.

Borbon celebrates his 28th birthday today, a note that allows me to dig out my buried lead.

Today is also Jurickson Profar’s birthday.  He’s 21.  He’s younger than nine of the top 12 players on the Top 100 list that Baseball America rolled out last night.

Profar was number 74 on the list after his debut in the minor leagues, around the same area that Prince Fielder was (78 in 2003).

Fielder was number 10 after his first full season on the farm.  Profar was number 7.

Fielder was number 15 and number 11 his final two years as a minor leaguer.

Profar was number 1 last year.  There won’t be another year in the minors.

There are some who are down on Profar right now and upset he wasn’t traded sometime the last two years, all because his arm is barking right now and the team is taking precautions with him as camp gets going.  The Venn diagram showing that set of fans and the set who expects a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper to arrive every year or two probably has a pretty decent overlap.

This shoulder tendinitis thing isn’t something to ignore, and you’d much rather have Profar fully ready to go as he settles in as a first-time everyday player.

But when I hear Ron Washington cliché us with his comment about a player who is “in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in,” I’m happier that he’s talking about Neftali Feliz than I would be if it were Profar.

Given that the reason for the Fielder trade was largely to get Profar into the lineup, this is going to be among the headline stories in camp, as we’re a week away from games that don’t count but whose results — the individual performances, that is — will be overanalyzed.  But don’t overreact.  Not yet, at least.

Chances are that when the Rangers and Royals play next Thursday and next Friday, Profar won’t be in the box score.  Texas is going to handle him with extreme care, not because he was Baseball America’s number one prospect in the game a year ago, but because he’s the team’s starting second baseman and one of its most important player assets, for all kinds of reasons.

Happy Birthday, Jurick.  Take it easy tonight.

Five keys.

A couple months ago, I’d never heard of Parker Millsap, had never been to a country music show and had never wanted to be.  Things change.

Four days ago, Nelson Cruz was rumored to be on the verge — no, really, for real this time! — of signing a multi-year deal with Seattle.  Then came news of righthander Hisashi Iwakuma’s finger injury, which threatens to keep him off the Opening Day roster, and suddenly, with Seattle considering spending significantly on another starting pitcher, Cruz is once again not a sure Mariners thing.

Three days ago, I hadn’t thought in years about Jim Fregosi, a baseball lifer who was once traded by the Angels for four young Mets players that included a 24-year-old Nolan Ryan (the only time Ryan was ever traded) and who six years later was traded by Texas to Pittsburgh for corner man Ed Kirkpatrick (a player that was involved, two months after that, in the strangest-ever Rangers trade that nobody knows about), but who in between was part of a Rangers delegation of four or five players (I’m going to say Roy Smalley and Bill Fahey and Bill Singer were in the mix, too) who came out to Northaven Park one Saturday morning in the spring of 1976 to widen the eyes of a few hundred Dallas Chamber Baseball players, among which was at least one seven-year-old dreaming of a life in the game that ended up quite a bit different, though with baseball still a big part.

Two days ago, I’d never heard of T.J. Oshie.

Things change.

A day ago, the last time we’d seen the Texas Rangers in uniform — aside from a couple notable pressers in November and December — was in an ineluctably quiet ninth inning in which Adrian Beltre skied out to left, A.J. Pierzynski rolled out to second, and Cruz bounced out to short.

Today, Beltre is in presumably packing for Arizona.

Pierzynski is in Florida.

Cruz is in limbo.

Soon Beltre will join the three dozen or so 1’s and 2’s who officially reported to Surprise Recreation Campus today and started getting their work in.  This morning, it was a case of last-in/first-out, as the newest Ranger, righthander Tommy Hanson, was the first pitcher sent out to throw a bullpen.

If the organization feels by the end of March that the 27-year-old doesn’t have his fastball or his command back, the investment could cost reportedly as little as $125,000.  If, however, Hanson regains his form to the point at which he earns a rotation spot and then hits all his incentives, the one-year deal could pay as much as $3.6 million.

And due to service time, Texas would have discretionary control over Hanson in 2015 as well.

There’s a sizable range of outcomes with respect to Hanson, but given what will be needed from the fifth spot (we hope), it’s not as if the 2014 season hinges on how this educated roll of the dice turns out.  Jayson Stark (ESPN) polled 23 league executives on an assortment of things going into spring training, and among the results was the collective opinion that, next to the Yankees, the Rangers are the most improved team in the American League.

That’s not because of Tommy Hanson.

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, and Texas was extremely active this winter to make sure the needle would be pointed again in the proper direction.  But winter work and off-season surveys only mean so much.  So, for that matter, does spring training.  Preparation is key, but the next six weeks are mostly about health and getting your head right with ball.

Last year I rolled out a “Five Keys” report as camp opened, so I figured I might keep that going and do the same today.  There’s not going to be anything particularly provocative on this list.  We all know what’s going to be important for this team to do from the end of March through the end of September to make sure the season doesn’t end there.

This list won’t include Beltre or Yu Darvish being great, or Prince Fielder being better.  Those are givens, things that Texas is obviously relying on and expecting.  What I’m looking at the more pivotal issues that could key this club to a lengthier season than the past two.

So here we go, my second annual Pitchers & Catchers (and 20-day cleanse)-commemorating “Five Keys”:

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5.  Tactics.

The Rangers have to be better tactically.  Ron Washington has to be better tactically.

I’m a Wash guy.  But Wash can be better.

Whether Tim Bogar will help make Wash better is something we won’t know until things start to play out, but especially in a season in which coaching strategy takes on an added layer with the introduction of instant replay and challenges from the dugout, the role of bench coach is now even more important.

I’ll go ahead and add baserunning here, because the bulk of the problems this club had on the bases in 2013 involved bad decisions — but those appear to fall on the shoulders of the runners themselves.  Wash preaches aggressiveness on the basepaths, something that’s been a signature of this team when it’s playing its best baseball, but, right or wrong, he entrusts the decision-making in large part to his players.

The absence of Craig Gentry takes away one of the Rangers’ most effective base runners (not just their fastest), but Leonys Martin can be better, Elvis Andrus can be better, Jurickson Profar isn’t going to steal a lot of bases but he can be more aggressive in taking the extra base, and so on.

With the margin of error in the standings being so slim the last two years, it feels like an uptick on the tactical side of things, even a slight one, is something that has to be a focus.  Getting just a little bit better in that area could be huge.

4.  My favorite Martin’s.

Both Leonys and Perez showed flashes last season.  The outfielder’s came in May and June.  The lefthander’s came in August and September.

Obviously Perez’s finish prompts a lot of folks to assume he’s ready to grab a number two or number three responsibility on this staff, while Leonys’s disappointing second half at the plate (.238/.289/.348) blunted the excitement of that early run of baseball that suggested he’d arrived.

But there’s no reason Leonys, who will be 26 when the season begins, can’t take that next step in terms of consistency.

There’s also no guarantee that Perez, who will first take the ball in April right around his 23rd birthday, will be able to avoid a sophomore slump.

If those two are able to build on the really good parts of 2013, the Rangers are in business.

3.  Nef.

Joe Nathan is gone.

Neftali Feliz’s fastball is back.

We know the first thing is true.  By all reports coming out of the Dominican Winter League, the second is as well.

Wondering if a guy like Tanner Scheppers is ready for the ninth inning is one thing.  In Feliz’s case, we know he can own that role.  There are physical questions he’ll have to answer stateside, starting now, and mental questions he’ll have to quash, something that will have to wait until April, and probably beyond that.

And having Bengie Molina back around — well, that can’t be a bad thing.

If Feliz can reclaim the closer’s role, allowing Scheppers and Joakim Soria to contribute in theirs and Neal Cotts to once again do Neal Cotts things, this bullpen has a chance to be exceptional.

If Feliz can’t nail the job down, then we just might have an issue.

2.  The first inning.

How hard do you have to strain to imagine a lineup featuring Shin-Soo Choo at the top, Andrus hitting second, Fielder hitting third, and Beltre cleaning up as the front four of an American League All-Star lineup?  Unlikely, of course (not that Scott Boras would agree), but none of them would constitute a ridiculous longshot on his own.

The Rangers have a chance to put real pressure on teams by coming out on the attack in the first inning, seeing lots of pitches and doing damage with the ones that damage can be done with.

Profar and Martin — who hopefully draw from the at-bat-grinding approach that Choo and Fielder bring to this team — will have three or four or more chances each night to set things up for that Choo-Andrus-Fielder-Beltre machine.

We all remember that very long stretch of baseball last summer during which Texas could get absolutely nothing done in the first inning.

That needs to change, and there’s very good reason to believe the Rangers can be a good bit better at 1 and at 2 and at 3 in the lineup in 2014 than they were in 2013, not to mention at 8 and at 9.

1.  Matty.

It hurts my head (unless it’s the cleanse supplements I started today) to think about where Texas would have ended up, rather than charged with a play-in Game 163, if Matt Harrison pitched in 2013.  Coming off 14-9, 3.39 in 2011 and 18-11, 3.29 in 2012, he gave Texas two starts last year, both losses, before shutting down for the year with a lower back injury a week into the season.

Baseball-Reference.com provides an “ERA+” statistic for pitchers, which normalizes ERA by using a score of 100 to represent the league-average ERA and adjusting for ballpark.  In the last four years (the two World Series seasons and since), these are the top 15 ERA+ seasons for a Rangers starting pitcher:

150  C.J. Wilson (2011)
145  Yu Darvish (2013)
134  C.J. Wilson (2010)
133  Matt Harrison (2012)
133  Alexi Ogando (2013)
130  Matt Harrison (2011)
128  Colby Lewis (2012)
126  Alexi Ogando (2011)
121  Colby Lewis (2010)
120  Derek Holland (2013)
120  Tommy Hunter (2010)
114  Martin Perez (2013)
113  Cliff Lee (2010)
112  Yu Darvish (2012)
112  Derek Holland (2011)

If Harrison made his customary 30+ starts in 2013, rather than only two, meaning some significant portion of the starts made by Nick Tepesch (17), Justin Grimm (17), Matt Garza (13), Josh Lindblom (5), Ross Wolf (3), and Travis Blackley (3) would have instead gone to the club’s Opening Day starter . . . .

I can’t even finish the sentence.

Of all the things to change for 2014, that’s number one.  Harrison and Darvish threw bullpens this morning after Hanson did, and the most important story there is that Harrison threw his pitches and came out of it just fine.

His return is massive, and I would suggest a bigger “addition” to this pitching staff than Masahiro Tanaka would have been.

Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) thinks Jon Daniels had the second-best winter of any big-market GM (next to New York’s Brian Cashman), ranks the trade of Ian Kinsler for Fielder and $30 million as the second-best trade of the off-season (next to Oakland trading Jemile Weeks for closer Jim Johnson), and considers the Rangers’ trade of Gentry in a deal for Michael Choice the third-boldest move of the winter (next to Seattle’s Robinson Cano contract and Detroit trading Fielder for Kinsler).

In Stark’s column, the one in which executives all over the league had Texas as the second-most improved team in the AL, the Fielder-Kinsler trade wasn’t judged to be the best overall — but Stark notes that four execs voted for Texas in that category, three voted for both teams in a “win-win” sense, and zero thought Detroit made the best deal.

The Texas-Detroit deal, as big as it was from a headline standpoint, probably falls somewhere between the Rangers’ trade of Alex Rodriguez (either time) in the off-season after 2003 and the one that Joel Sherman (New York Post) reports today that the Rangers and Mets apparently discussed just before camp in 2004, when they “engaged in escalating talks built around [Alfonso] Soriano for Jose Reyes,” who was just coming off his rookie season at the time that the Rangers picked Soriano up in the A-Rod deal with the Yankees.  Sherman writes that Rangers owner Tom Hicks “scuttled those [talks], telling his baseball executives he never would be able to explain to the fans trading A-Rod and Soriano.”

(For what it’s worth, I looked back at my reports from that month, and there were stories in the media then that both the Rangers and Mets denied that any such trade talks took place.)

Sherman puts a bow on his story (at least from a Rangers standpoint) by noting “how close the Rangers came to having a double-play duo of Reyes and Cano.”

And if that doesn’t get you going, watch tonight’s 30 for 30 documentary on ESPN, titled “The Deal,” which walks us through the timetable of the A-Rod trade, first to Boston, which was killed by the league, and then to the Yankees.  You’ll hear from Cashman and John Hart and Theo Epstein, who tells us that if he’d succeeded in working a financial deal out with A-Rod that the league accepted — after trading Manny Ramirez and Jon Lester to Texas to get him — he was going to turn around and trade Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez and Brandon McCarthy.

So, yeah, Texas could have had Soriano and Cano (instead of Soriano and Joaquin Arias, as we all know), and allegedly could have flipped Soriano for Reyes . . . or the Rangers could have had Ramirez and Lester in the first place, before Aaron Boone got hurt playing basketball, which led to the Texas-New York talks, and if McCarthy had gone to Boston then John Danks would never have been traded with Nick Masset and a kid for McCarthy and a kid . . . and think about what all changes for the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Rangers if that’s how things went down 10 years ago.

But I’ll leave that anger/schadenfreude cocktail to you guys, and focus instead tonight on what’s supposed to be a game-changer of an episode of HBO’s “True Detective” (which I can hardly get my head wrapped around, considering what a game-changer last week’s was).

A few days ago, I don’t think I’d ever heard all that detail on Soriano and Reyes and Ordonez and McCarthy.  A few weeks ago, I guarantee you I didn’t hold Matt McConaughey, whom I knew 25 years ago in a much different setting, in the regard I hold him now.

Things change.

T.J. Oshie has elevated things exponentially for himself in the last couple days, too, and I’m not betting against Parker Millsap doing that in the next couple years.  A little elevation in 2014 in the way the Rangers approach things tactically, in the way Leonys Martin and Martin Perez go about taking that next step, in Neftali Feliz’s game and in the Texas attack at the top of the lineup and in Matt Harrison’s health, and things are going to change in a big way this year.

I’m so ready for baseball.

A Newberg Report Valentine.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Diamonds are green
And there are just two sleeps before Pitchers & Catchers Report.

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