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.
If you believe the fact that Angels, Reds, and Dodgers have the three worst win-loss marks in baseball this spring means something, or that Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle’s preeminent records are prophetic in any way, be my guest.
It just doesn’t matter.
We’d be well advised to tap the brakes just a little on Mitch Moreland’s gaudy .386/.453/.702 line in camp, and to ignore the Cactus League’s .321 batting average against Matt Harrison, but on the other hand, what if Jeff Baker had hit .194/.324/.419 and Mike Olt had hit .418/.458/.545, rather than the opposite? What if Joe Ortiz (11-6-1-1-1-11) and Neal Cotts (6.1-15-5-5-1-8) had flipped pitching lines?
Are spring training statistics dispositive?
Are they persuasive?
They shouldn’t be.
Are they relevant?
For some players, you bet.
You don’t draw any conclusions from Yu Darvish’s 42 strikes out of 52 deliveries last night, especially against what amounts to a minor league team with commercials on their uniforms, but it’s a lot more reassuring to see the righthander that sharp with all his pitches in his final practice run before they count.
And while the decision on whether Josh Lindblom or Cory Burns gets the final roster spot – unless it goes to Julio Borbon (.333/.400/.456, more walks than strikeouts) until fifth starter Nick Tepesch is needed in Game Eight – won’t be based on how the two righties (both of whom have options) fared Thursday night against Leonardo Heras and Sergio Gastelum, the fact that both pounded the zone and carved the Diablos up (Lindblom: three pop-ups; Burns: three groundouts) serves each of them well.
As is Leury – lay-OOH-ree – Garcia’s .241/.343/.414 line in what was an abbreviated camp due to his time with the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic. If he’d put up the .067/.176/.200 numbers that Engel Beltre did, you can be sure that Ryan Theriot or Ronny Cedeno or someone like that would be lining up on the chalk Sunday night in Houston.
But for a player like Garcia, who had to win certain people over to earn the job he’s earned, it was probably just as much about the impressions he made outside the box score, like the 20-minute one-on-one sessions with Gary Pettis on the back fields bunting diamonds, or the moments like this:
It’s fun (and probably a job requirement) for the papers to roll season predictions out around now, and I do read with interest when Gerry Fraley forecasts 101 Ranger wins (and 35 Moreland bombs), Evan Grant speculates that Texas will trade for Giancarlo Stanton in July, and Emily Jones believes Texas and Baltimore will once again meet as Wild Cards – only this time Jones has the Rangers getting through the Orioles and the rest of the AL and returning to the World Series – but there are so many variables.
Who will get hurt?
Will Colby Lewis, Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz, and Martin Perez all get well, and contribute?
And will Kyle McClellan fit in that sentence?
Will Lance Berkman hold up?
Will Josh Hamilton?
Will Ian Kinsler and Derek Holland step back up like they need to?
Will the Marlins actually listen on Stanton?
Are the Orioles more likely to make a repeat playoff appearance, or to finish last in the East?
Will Leonys Martin (.350/.397/.483) and Craig Gentry (.345/.419/.618) carry this month of awesomeness over into the season, and if so, will we see a significant number of games in which one of them starts in center and the other (probably Gentry) starts on a corner (both have the arm to do it) to give David Murphy or Nelson Cruz a rest, rather than having to rely on Baker or Garcia to do that too often?
And what if Cruz is told he can’t play for a third of the season?
Jon Daniels on Martin: “He’s showing that he’s a big league player. I feel very, very good about our evaluators in this organization. Our guys have made some good calls, and our ownership backs us and spent $15 million on a guy that very few people in the organization had seen. I think that says what we think about the guys who made that call, and it appears that he may very well be worth that money.”
Ron Washington on Gentry: “I didn’t think he could be an everyday guy. He’s worked hard. He’s learned how to get through the baseball. He’s always been patient at the plate. We know he can play defense. He won’t back down. . . . He’s figured out just how good he can be and he’s just letting it go. He’s showing me a total game.”
The work of those two, especially given the loss of the team’s most important outfielder, has been the quiet story of this camp.
Martin stands to get the Opening Night assignment against righthander Bud Norris, but the Rangers draw five righties in their first six games, and Gentry is going to start against more than just Angels lefthander Jason Vargas over that first week of baseball. (Neither Martin nor Gentry has more than two career at-bats – in either the majors or minors – against Astros righthanders Lucas Harrell or Philip Humber, but Gentry will surely draw the start against one of them.)
The spring work of Borbon, on the other hand, has probably punched his ticket out of Texas. Out of options, he’s not going to clear waivers after his solid camp, and so we can expect a trade, this weekend or at least at some point before Tepesch is needed on April 8. The return of Rule 5 pick Coty Woods to Colorado (despite reported efforts to work out a trade) and the outright of lefthander Brad Mills to Round Rock clear roster spots for Baker and Derek Lowe. Tepesch isn’t on the 40-man roster himself, and when Borbon moves on, that will open up a spot for the young righthander.
The Rangers have until Sunday at 2:00 to finalize their Opening Day roster. Borbon tells Barry Horn (Dallas Morning News) that he thinks the Astros, Mets, Cubs, and Rays have expressed interest in him. The Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Yankees have also been mentioned at times this spring. Houston has waiver priority and thus would only feel compelled to trade for Borbon if it feared some other club has a deal on the table Texas would take.
When Texas signed Ortiz in August 2006, and Garcia in December 2007, and Tepesch in August 2010 (with the over-slot cash that Daniels insisted on two weeks earlier in the trade of Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Boston, giving added life to the Teixeira Trade), the idea that all three would start their 2013 seasons in Texas couldn’t have been any more than a pipe dream. But here we are.
With two games in San Antonio (and a “280” painted on the 16-foot-high right field fence), updates on Scott Lucas’s unparalleled organizational depth chart, and a couple new farm system rankings out (Baseball Prospectus: Rangers 2, Mariners 5, Astros 9, A’s 25, Angels 30; Baseball America: Mariners 2, Rangers 3, Astros 9, A’s 25, Angels 30) to get us from now until Sunday’s opener, we can all sit here and crystal-ball a win-loss record, or we can instead consider these two quotes from club officials about the Rangers’ new utility infielder:
Daniels: “How many guys switch-hit, 8-arm, 8-run, can play SS, 2B, CF? There’s one guy that can do it: Leury Garcia.”
Washington: “We’re going to have to make sure he gets his work. We’re going to have to love him a lot.”
Having lived through the last third of 2012, I’m sure you agree that the second quote is as invigorating as the first.
That’s a comment that I’m planning to rely on, and for me is more interesting than how many extra-base hits Ian Kinsler had in camp, or how many baserunners Alexi Ogando allowed, or whether a national baseball writer has Texas pegged for 86 wins, or 96.
Some of it’s relevant, to a degree, but there are only so many things that can be controlled, like whether you forgo $20,000 and instead take what’s being offered for an outfielder out of options and out of the plans, who plays center field and when, and a manager’s stated commitment to use his bench and keep his veterans fresh, so that the Rangers are as relevant toward the back end of the 162 that follow, and hopefully beyond that, as they appear to be right now.
San Antonio Friday, and again on Saturday.
And then Houston Sunday night, when it all begins with the first three of 162, followed by a return to Arlington to host the Angels and Rays.
Where will Leury Garcia and Nick Tepesch be?
Gonna need a place to live.
So might Fearless Joe Ortiz.
(Here’s Esther Grissom’s video of about a minute of that Wash/Profar/Garcia back-fields clinic I wrote about yesterday.)
Where will Julio Borbon be?
With Texas until the fifth starter is needed during the Tampa Bay series, or in another big league uniform? (The Astros, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Cubs, and Yankees are among those rumored to have interest in the out-of-options outfielder, according to Gerry Fraley [Dallas Morning News].)
Where will Coty Woods and Chris McGuiness be?
The Rangers’ farm system, or the Rockies’ and Indians’? Trade talks are reportedly underway.
Where will Nolan Ryan be?
Presumably, Tempe today. Arlington tomorrow. Certainly San Antonio Friday, and again on Saturday.
And then Houston Sunday night, when it all begins, followed by a return to Arlington to host the Angels and Rays.
But Kirk Bohls (Austin American-Statesman) isn’t so sure, reporting that “[o]ne person very close to Ryan said it was ‘70-30’ that he leaves,” adding that Ryan was “sounding [Sunday] very much like a man close to saying his goodbyes” and citing “rumors that Bud Selig might throw out a lifeline to keep him involved in the game.”
Where will Nolan Ryan be?
About four years ago in Surprise, I was mesmerized by a cool moment back on Field 2 between Scott Servais and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, two catchers from different generations standing alone inside 96,000 square feet of field, teaching and learning.
Sunday morning, on that same field, Ron Washington and Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia weren’t alone – Dave Anderson manned the fungo, and Yangervis Solarte and Jim Adduci the right side of the infield – but it was a similar scene.
Anderson had been hitting Profar and Garcia grounders for a few minutes when Wash walked from Field 1 onto Field 2, standing 20 feet behind the two infielders and saying nothing, leaning on his own fungo and watching, silently, for at least a couple dozen reps for each.
And then Wash started to speak.
With his voice and his hands and all that baseball passion.
It was animated but not heated. Pointed but not harsh.
It was awesome.
We were in Arizona with some friends this weekend, suggesting to our kids that every player on the back fields, every one of those 200-plus, was most likely the best player in his Little League, and on his high school team, and if he didn’t turn pro at that point, on his college team as well, aside from those who signed internationally, players good enough that big league organizations were willing to invest millions to go scout them in their homelands and bring them stateside at ages when they weren’t even finished growing.
Yet only a fraction will play in the big leagues. A franchise that bats .150 in getting its farmhands to the Major Leagues will celebrate.
We talked about how hard those players have to work to get better, to move up the chain, to survive, and then we see Wash teaching Profar, and there’s no more that needs to be said.
There’s the best young talent in the Rangers system – or anyone’s – and he’s still learning. Every day.
The angle of the arm coming out of the glove. The follow-through on the throw to first. The first step to the backhand side on a double play ground ball.
Fifty feet away from Wash and Profar and Garcia, there were Nick Tepesch and Derek Lowe and Michael Kirkman throwing bullpens, side by side, three contestants for one rotation spot staying on the same schedule, one that could have each on the mound tomorrow, that is, if Texas doesn’t first trade for Dodgers lefthander Chris Capuano (seven scoreless innings in a AAA game yesterday, three hits, 11 strikeouts, with scouts from Texas, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland on hand).
Fanned out in different directions, there were six other diamonds, not counting the stadium, and a conditioning field, and a weight room, and a clubhouse that includes rooms where instruction goes on every day in spring training. At any given time, there could be work getting done in every one of those places, including Mike Maddux’s kid brother Greg throwing batting practice to the big league pitching staff on Field 1.
But at that moment on Sunday morning, while the older Maddux watched Tepesch and Lowe and Kirkman get very important work in, Ron Washington had his attention somewhere else, teaching the best prospect in baseball ways to be better.
Later that day, while the Rangers hosted the Reds in the stadium on the back end of a weekend home-and-home, off behind the snow cone kiosk and the merry-go-round in one of four netted batting cages, shortly after Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson did very bad things to pitched baseballs that make onlooking kids (and their dads) laugh, Mike Olt hit baseballs for half an hour, flips and no-stride and tee work, while Scott Coolbaugh and Justin Mashore taught.
Within a year or two, Olt will have more big league at-bats than the 432 Coolbaugh amassed. The 33 at-bats he has now are already 33 more than what Mashore got. But the elite prospect learns.
That night under the lights, Olt had no chance in an at-bat against 21-year-old righty Luke Jackson. Gallo, who hit a ball unimaginably far in a big league spring training game off big league righthander Esmailin Caridad a week earlier, struggled Sunday night against Rangers hurlers C.J. Edwards and Yohander Mendez and Kelvin Vasquez, none of whom has reached a full-season Class A squad yet. Cody Buckel couldn’t find the strike zone.
But Kyle Castro, after missing all of 2012 due to an elbow injury, found it over and over, filthily. Remember the name.
The battle between catcher Jorge Alfaro (home team) and shortstop Luis Sardinas (visitors) went on all night, and they each won several rounds.
They didn’t win them all. It’s a game of failure.
And learning how to be better next time. Adjusting.
Rangers coaches, including the manager, will tell you Craig Gentry may be the star of camp. He’s finding a new level.
Gentry will turn 30 later this year.
It’s a game of failure, and if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, or getting released.
Back to the hometown where you were the best, hands down.
Greg Maddux tweeted this morning: “Ron Washington and my bro Mike both have the gift to lead and the players are lucky to have a chance to learn from them.”
Profar and Olt came into camp as candidates to make the Opening Day roster. Instead, for different reasons, they’ll open in Round Rock.
But what’s not different about their situations, or Craig Gentry’s or Joey Gallo’s or Kyle Castro’s, is that these guys are always learning how to play baseball, on back fields and in cages and in clubhouses where nobody’s broadcasting what’s going on, and that’s just as true for the players on the fringes of the organization, battling with every rep to hang onto a professional career that’s barely gotten underway, as it is for the consensus top prospect in the game.
“He came to work every day, took no days off. When we won, he talked to the guys about getting better. When we lost or when he wasn’t playing well, he stood there and accepted responsibility, even though you knew it was eating at him. He never shrunk. He was the guy who made sure the other guys, the younger guys, were meeting the standard, and because he was there, the clubhouse was being policed. Now that he’s not there, a lot of guys are going to find out just how much he protected them.”
It didn’t matter, but it was the Angels and there was Josh and we basically had Opening Day lineups and a weird TX-OU thing in the crowd and it was under the lights and on TV – both locally (with a pregame show) and nationally – and the Twitterverse was super-alive.
It didn’t matter, but a whole lot of us couldn’t turn it off, sucked in by those first two innings and rewarded for hanging in there until the end.
The end, when Ron Washington left Leonys Martin in even though Mike Scioscia had brought a lefthander into the game to try and close things out. Sure, it was a lefty (21-year-old Eswarlin Jimenez) who has yet to play an official game above Class A – while Martin has played all of four pro games below Class AA – but sometimes a Ben Rowen is called on to retire Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout, Erick Aybar, and Albert Pujols and goes four for four. These are all professionals, and it’s baseball, where pitchers succeed more often than hitters.
Martin, who has been one of the bright spots in camp, came into the game hitting .350/.413/.500.
He came into the ninth-inning spot hitting .364/.420/.500.
He ended the game hitting .378/.431/.533.
After Jimenez was summoned and Martin stepped in, with one out and the lead runner of three “meaningless,” the 25-year-old took pitch one, a called strike. He patiently watched the second pitch go by for ball one. He fouled off the next Jimenez offering, and evened the count at 2-2 when he let an inadequate pitch four sail by.
Pitch five was the cookie that Martin had worked the count to get, a fastball middle-middle, and he stayed in and squared up, shooting a double the opposite way – capping off a night full of oppo-licious goodness up and down the lineup – triggering the track meet that sent Julio Borbon home, and then Chih-Hsien Chiang, and then Jim Adduci, and then however many of the 9,000 in attendance had stuck it out.
It doesn’t matter that the Angels had a four-homer frame or that Bourjos and Trout allowed a fly ball to bounce on the warning track – care to bet which happens more often this year? – and ultimately it doesn’t matter than Martin went 3 for 5, hitting safely against a struggling Jerome Williams and non-roster hurlers Buddy Boshers and Eswarlin Jimenez.
But, still, that was a big leaguer and two lefthanders that Martin got the job done against, and that matters, even if just a little.
No memory of Texas 10, Los Angeles 9 should last all that long, but to some degree that game mattered to Martin, and to Rowen, and to Williams, and to Hank Conger and Derek Lowe.
The way Martin handled that final at-bat, I thought about this thing I wrote five months ago, especially the parts about Dave Magadan and Jacoby Ellsbury and the possibility that Leonys Martin becomes a chapter in that specific story.
The Rangers presumably could have traded Martin, and more, to the Mets this winter in a deal for R.A. Dickey. They could have.
Texas could have signed Michael Bourn. It would have cost something in the neighborhood of the four years and $48 million (with a fifth vesting year at another $12 million) that Cleveland gave the 30-year-old this winter. Plus a first-round draft pick.
But as Jon Daniels said after Bourn came to terms with the Indians: “If we’re not going to look at Leonys now, when are we?”
The club are into Martin for $15.5 million. It’s a significant investment in a player who had never played so much as a minor league game stateside when he agreed to terms.
The deal calls for $2.25 million this year, $2.75 million next year, and $3.75 million in 2015. After that, he’ll have three years of club control remaining, at least.
He’s showing signs that he’s ready to provide a return. Or at least deserving of a chance to hit at the bottom of the lineup and to add a dimension that makes the idea of Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus at the top even more appealing.
Thursday was a great sports day, even for those of us who didn’t catch a minute of Harvard-New Mexico or Marquette-Davidson. A meaningless Rangers-Angels game did it for me, followed by Stars 2, Kings 0 (in all its 40-40-40 glory).
It’s going to be a great weekend of baseball in Surprise and Goodyear, more baseball that doesn’t count but, in certain instances, absolutely matters.