Depicted: Fifteen men and women who, I’d guess, would really rather not talk about it.
Yesterday I put myself through an annoying nationally televised Angels presser for the second time in the last couple months, which I think justified my second snarky Twitter exchange with my good friend Victor Rojas.
(Victor on February 1: “Hot Stove QOTD: Who will the #Angels miss the most this season? Zack Greinke, Torii Hunter or Kendrys Morales. #AngelTalk”
My response: “Hamilton?”
Victor last night: “#AngelTalk Question of the Day: What is your favorite #Angels souvenir/keepsake? It can be memorabilia/autograph/etc – thanks for listening.”
My response: “Mike Napoli.”)
Actually, now that I think about it, there was a nauseating Angels press conference a year ago, too, so I think it’s probably fair game for a third Rojas response. Assuming he doesn’t Twitter-block me first.
I’ll leave room for the possibility that my snark levels have been boosted a bit the last few days by this cleanse I’m on, but in truth I think I’m over the hump, feeling pretty good, and if I seem a little cranky, it’s probably less because of vegetable shakes that because of the half hour of irritainment yesterday that Albert Pujols appeared to endure only slightly more willingly than I did.
No quips this morning about slow-moving cruise ships or about supersonic hurtling meteorites giving me the chance to write Chelyabinsk for what’s probably the first time, or about one Angels outfielder’s eye-opening weight loss or another’s interesting weight gain, or about University of Florida righthander Karsten Whitson and the embarrassing writing about his unfortunate situation that hit the Interwebs yesterday.
While I’d like to write a few hundred words down about this Australian kid Todd McDonald the Rangers just gave almost half a million dollars to, I’m going to hang tight on that for a bit, because I have the luxury of not having to write something every day during camp.
The Rangers are right up there in terms of who has the best group of beat reporters in the league, but man, I feel for those guys. Especially now, when nothing’s happening. It seems like there’s already been more content filed about Julio Borbon this week than there was in 2012.
Thinking back, these are the things I was probably most looking forward to the last handful of times I went to Surprise:
Fall Instructs, 2009: Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas, and Tanner Scheppers, none of whom had played so much as a minor league game yet (my first Profar report included this comment about the 16-year-old: “What I’m about to say is not an exercise in overhyping, and isn’t really hype at all. Don’t take this the wrong way. Jurickson Profar reminds me of Elvis Andrus.”)
Spring Training, 2010: Alexi Ogando, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jorge Alfaro, in the first Rangers camp for each
Fall Instructs, 2010: Supplemental first-rounder Mike Olt, coming off his impressive debut run in the Northwest League
Spring Training, 2011: Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli
Fall Instructs, 2011: Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman (though it turned out to be Jordan Akins and Guzman who stole the show)
Spring Training, 2012: Yu
Fall Instructs, 2012: Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, Jairo Beras, and C.J. Edwards
I was thinking this morning about what I’m looking forward to seeing when I get out to Surprise this spring. Maybe by then, ESPN’s Jim Bowden will have correctly predicted that Kyle Lohse will be a Ranger (or a Brewer, which I think makes more sense for the pitcher and the clubs). Maybe the back field reports on McDonald will match the salted hype from the Baseball America story. I’d love to be there for a very un-irritating press conference announcing that Elvis Andrus has agreed to eight more years in Texas.
Right now, I’m pretty sure that what I’ll be most eager to see each morning is Profar and Olt and Leury Garcia in defensive drills. I want to see Profar around the bag from both sides. I want to see Olt track fly balls and drill cutoff men in the chest. I want to see Garcia run and catch and throw from six different positions, and to steal a glance toward the skipper from time to time and at least pretend I caught some sort of reaction.
Pretty boring, maybe.
Not for me.
And that’s still a month away, at least in my own case.
Anyway, I’ll be back around soon with something to say. Maybe three or four days from now, maybe this afternoon. Just don’t know. There’s just not much grabbing me right now in what’s started out to be an unusually quiet camp for this club, and that’s totally cool, because – say it with me – no news is almost always good news in spring training.
Catch you later. I’m gonna go stalk Rojas’s Twitter feed.
It’s far too soon to try and make too much of anything that’s happened in Arizona so far – though hearing that Joakim Soria threw without incident is far preferable to the news the Angels shared yesterday on Ryan Madson’s elbow setback – but I need to write about something, if for no other reason than to distract my brain from the early side effects of this purification/cleanse thing I’m putting my body through.
(Yeah, I think it’s weird that news came out yesterday, about 36 hours into my own cleanse, that the Angels’ new outfielder put himself through one this winter and reported to camp 20 pounds lighter than usual. Still, don’t care.)
Not wanting to write too many words about the possibility of Ryan Theriot or about the fact that Michael Kirkman is just as out-of-options as Julio Borbon, or to speculate on whether Texas was the mystery team in until the end on Michael Bourn, I’m going to start a Newberg Report tradition this morning, hours before Rangers’ pitchers’ and catchers’ first official workout of spring, a tradition that I’m very liable to ditch (or forget) before the First Workout a year from now.
Five keys to the 2013 season.
Obviously, things are likely to happen in camp that will jump past a couple of these before too long. Expect that.
And I’m not going to include “stay healthy,” even though that’s basically number one, every year.
Really, going through this exercise now is exceedingly premature.
But it’s baseball season now, and I gotta write something.
So, rather than comment on the King Felix extension (pretty much a slam dunk to have happened) or to roll out a COFFEY dump just to let you know that Mark Lowe (Dodgers) and Kam Loe (Mariners) have each signed minor league contracts or to draw parallels between Vladimir Guerrero and Jaromir Jagr that go beyond the suffix, here we go – the five keys to the Texas Rangers season, in my very temporary (and very protein-deprived) opinion.
5. Leonys Martin. As Jon Daniels said a couple weeks ago, if the club isn’t going to give the center fielder a serious look now, then when?
He’ll be 25 in three weeks. He hit .359/.422/.610 in 260 plate appearances for Round Rock last summer, fanning only 39 times. Texas doesn’t have a clear picture in center field – for that matter, the situation is less than rock-solid in the outfield as a whole. Martin hits from the left side, allowing Texas to deploy Craig Gentry ideally. It adds up.
The AAA slash line isn’t meant to serve as an indicator that Martin’s about to go all McCutchen on big league pitching, but it does suggest he doesn’t really have anything left to prove on the farm (at least offensively), unless he proves in camp he’s just not ready for regular big league work on a team that expects to win. Martin will exhaust his third option in 2013 if he spends 20 days in the minor leagues, but that’s not so much of an issue since he’d be entitled procedurally to a fourth option.
It’s just time to see if Martin is ready. If he can do a reasonable amount of damage at the plate and take a step forward with his recognition and judgment defensively, he and Gentry could combine to give the club a solid year in center field and at the bottom of the order, at less than $3 million combined.
4. July. I could write 3,000 words on this subject (and like it or not, I probably will more than once before we get there), but for now let’s just say that there are all kinds of reasons Texas should be able to make an impact at the trade deadline this year, from payroll allocations that weren’t made in the winter to a ripe farm system to the likelihood of a tight race that will justify a July splash.
The big unknown, as usual, will be who will be out there to be acquired. King Felix is no longer a possibility, and Clayton Kershaw isn’t going to be shopped, either. David Price’s availability will probably depend on Tampa Bay’s ability to survive in the East this year, while Giancarlo Stanton’s may depend on Jeffrey Loria’s mood.
Forget Andrew McCutchen.
But Miguel Cabrera? Hmm. Tuck that one away.
Matt Garza. Carlos Gonzalez. James Shields. Yovani Gallardo. Cliff Lee.
Maybe a second-tier player like Bud Norris or Billy Butler or Ricky Nolasco or Josh Willingham.
We don’t know now what impact names will be available at the trade deadline, and probably won’t until close to the deadline in this era of multiple Wild Card slots. But we know that Texas (barring a really strange and miserable first half, which would put Elvis Andrus on the list himself) will be in on all of them to some extent. The burden will be on Daniels and his crew to come through as the season embarks on its final third.
3. Wash. Speaking of the final third, the manager has acknowledged, both in the aftermath of the dreadful conclusion to 2012 and in the weeks leading up to Pitchers & Catchers, that he needs to do a better job this year of getting his bench involved. He’ll admit that it’s because his veterans were gassed in September, an obvious problem as his club limped to the finish and got bounced in such ugly fashion.
What he won’t admit publicly, because it’s not his style, is that he might also be armed with a couple young players on his bench who can impact a game from time to time. Daniels has said he expects the 2013 club to play with more energy than last year’s roster, and that’s easier to envision if there’s an infusion of youth folded in.
The makeup of the bench – and whether it will include Jurickson Profar or Leury Garcia, and possibly Mike Olt – is going to be a fascinating story line this spring. It’s become common around here to talk about how veteran infielders with alternatives are unlikely to sign on for bench roles with Texas since starting Rangers infielders rarely rest. So if the choice is between going with a 4-A infielder that the manager doesn’t trust, or a phenom whose development would arguably be stunted by irregular action off the big league bench, one way to feel better about the roster makeup would be an expectation that Wash is going to get those guys involved, and not just once a week.
If he did that last year, it sure feels like there wouldn’t have been a one-and-done game in Arlington on October 5.
2. Derek Holland. Sure, you want to see Yu Darvish take the next step. And Matt Harrison repeat. And Alexi Ogando prove that he’s a starter. And someone hold things down at number five until Colby Lewis is ready.
But no Rangers starting pitcher has a beta as volatile as Holland, who may be just as likely to lose his rotation spot to Lewis in May as he is to lead the club in 2013 wins.
Ninety big league starts and 569 innings is enough of a trial period, and that doesn’t even count his 35.2 playoff frames which included the greatest start in franchise history.
I always believed more in Holland than I did in Neftali Feliz, as the two shot through the system together. Lots of folks have a ton of faith in Holland.
It’s time for him to validate.
1. Ian Kinsler. I almost want to just stop right there, without explanation.
The dude just needs to be better.
His second half was brutal, his overall season was his worst, his decline was not what you expect from a supreme athlete who’s still only 30.
He’s still one of baseball’s best second basemen. I firmly believe that. I don’t know whether the added responsibility as a team leader is going to be good for Kins or bad, or if it matters at all. I don’t know whether having Dave Magadan around will reignite his offensive game, but I sure like to think those two could be a fantastic fit. I’m hoping a rejuvenated ankle means rejuvenated defense.
Right now this feels like Adrian Beltre’s team, or maybe Andrus’s, but if we get to the summer and the Texas Rangers appear to be Ian Kinsler’s team, then I’m going to say right now that 2013 will be damn special.
If most of those five things work out, I like this team’s chances. Yeah, Lance Berkman needs to be in the lineup, and it sure would help for the bullpen to hold things together until Soria and Feliz get back. I’m never going to predict how many games Texas will win this season, a silly exercise on March 31, let alone February 13, but if Martin and Holland and Kinsler are better in 2013 than they were in 2012, and if Wash gets everyone on his roster playing time – and days off, and if JD strikes in July, that new “Hello Win Column” ad campaign is bound to get some heavy play, and we could be in for another year of 162+.
I realize there’s not much in here that’s particularly enlightening. Call it the Newberg Report equivalent of “Rogelio showed up in camp in the best shape of his life,” an exercise in throwing a few words together that have little meaning but serve as a land marker to help move us from the cold of the off-season to the images that “Cactus” and “Grapefruit” are designed to summon up.
Then again, it’s apparently 36 degrees in Surprise right now, and although I expect to feel like I’m in the best shape of my life myself after finishing this cleanse, I’m not feeling that way right now, so apparently nothing makes sense and maybe this was all a bad idea, and I’ll get right to work on a piece breaking down Ryan Garko’s non-roster deal with the Rockies, Bengie Molina’s new gig as the Cardinals’ assistant hitting coach, and the mind-blowing possibilities of what would happen if Josh Hamilton, evidently inspired to juice this winter by a TV pitchwoman in the middle of the night, were to wake up one night instead to C.J. Wilson pitching Head & Shoulders.
Happy New Year.
It was a brilliant game plan. It really was.
I was coming off my second Rotisserie League title in three years, with much of the core of my roster still under contract for another year, at least. I calmly told the catbird he’d have to scoot over.
I had eight open spots to fill in the spring auction, but no huge holes. I’d pick off a couple ordinary regulars who had a chance to help keep the train rolling, but my focus would be mostly on young players who seemed ready to contribute big. I’d grow the pipeline, extend the window, lose another shirt to a Yoo-Hoo casualty.
Buying low on Vinny Castilla ($4) coming off an unusually bad season fit the plan perfectly early in the draft. Landing the versatile, quietly productive Rob Mackowiak for $3 early worked, too. Those two would help set things up so I’d have plenty of cap space left at the end of the day to make sure nobody could outbid me on the player I really wanted, Houston rookie righthander Brad Lidge.
The strategic genius, however, turned into a kick in the gut when, as teams around me started running out of money, I was able to land Lidge to round out my 25-man roster – leaving me with $8 out of the precious $260 that I never got to spend. In hindsight, I wanted to go back and leave Mackowiak for someone else, and to have taken those extra eight bucks and grabbed Marcus Giles at the $11 he ended up going for to fill my empty second base slot.
But do-overs were no more available in Rotisserie League baseball in 2003, however, than they are in the real thing, and that bungled blueprint bugged me until the games got underway.
Imagine the possibilities if you could get a mulligan in pro ball. Revoke Chan Ho Park’s deal. Undo that Adrian Gonzalez trade. Take Mike Trout or Shelby Miller instead of Matt Purke. Hire Jim Leyland instead of Doug Rader.
It’s been a disappointing winter for the Rangers, given all the high-end opportunities that they were reportedly very much in on, but I wonder how much of it the club is second-guessing. How many Marcus Giles are there that they’d like a redo on?
Think if Josh Hamilton had given Texas that final conversation, the club would have matched the 5/125 that the Angels are paying him – assuming a match would have even kept him from heading to Hollywood?
Do the Rangers wish they’d put another million or two per year on the table for Zack Greinke?
The better question is whether anyone really believes that would have brought about a different result – other than kicking the Dodgers’ offer up accordingly.
In retrospect would they have done anything differently in order to bring James Shields in?
Kansas City put Wil Myers in the deal. To beat that, Jurickson Profar would have had to go. Though I suppose the Rays would have taken Yu Darvish.
Outdistancing the Jays’ package of Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to get R.A. Dickey would have been silly.
Does Texas second-guess itself on not tendering a one-year, $13.3 million offer to Mike Napoli, whose medicals were so bad that he ended up having a three-year, $39 million offer scaled back to a guarantee of $5 million? If he and his agent knew how doctors assessed his hip condition going into the winter, he’d have taken the one-year tender and the Rangers not only wouldn’t have gotten the compensatory draft pick but likely wouldn’t have gone out and signed A.J. Pierzynski – and maybe not even Lance Berkman, given the financial commitment to Napoli.
The greater regret in that case obviously belongs to Napoli, who reportedly turned three years and $38 million down from Texas after the 2011 season, figuring he’d boost his market value even further in 2012 on his way toward a relatively weak free agent class.
Justin Upton? Again, the Rangers weren’t going to include Profar or Elvis Andrus then, and they wouldn’t do it now. If they really offered Mike Olt, Leury Garcia, either Martin Perez or Cody Buckel, and a fourth prospect, and Arizona declined that package, how much higher do you think they wish now they’d gone?
Let’s say Texas makes that deal by agreeing to put both young pitchers in it, something Jim Bowden of XM and ESPN hears the Diamondbacks would have accepted.
Without Olt and Perez and Buckel around, it would be a lot tougher to come up with the ammunition and pounce once David Price or Giancarlo Stanton hits the trade market, and not have the system decimated in Pyrrhic proportions. Whatever competitive advantage the Rangers have right now over most clubs in that regard would be severely compromised.
And Upton is no Price or Stanton.
Texas is guaranteeing Berkman, Pierzynski, Joakim Soria, and Jason Frasor a combined $11 million less than Boston committed to Shane Victorino. Doubt there’s any buyer’s remorse there.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying this winter has gone the way Texas wanted it to. It hasn’t come close.
But I’m not sure where the obvious do-over is – unless the club decided it was time in one case or another to overpay in prospects, which seems to be an unusually prevalent trend this winter on the trade market in particular, given the Shields and Dickey trades, the one the Diamondbacks had teed up with Seattle before Upton killed it, and whatever Arizona was thinking in its three-team deal with Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Hoggy’s equipment truck pulled up the ramp and away from 1000 Ballpark Way Friday, embarking on an 1,100-mile voyage to Surprise, and tucked away among the baseballs and bats and sunflower seeds and laundry detergent was a modular storage thingy full of loose letters and large numbers that can be sewn onto white or red or gray or blue jerseys, and on a loosely related subject I ask you the following question:
How many players on the Rangers’ current 40-man roster whose primary position is outfield are under club control past this season?
OK, now name them.
And Engel Beltre, who will be out of options when this season ends.
Sure, there’s Olt, who six games in the outfield this winter are more than he’d played in his minor league and big league career combined.
And Mitch Moreland, who was more of an outfielder in the minor leagues than a first baseman or pitcher, but who since June 2011 has played in 177 big league games and in that stretch has started exactly one game in the outfield.
And Berkman, whose fitness to play first base these days on that right knee is enough of a question mark that the prospect of future days in the outfield is probably not worth spending more than a sentence on.
And Garcia, who first saw the outfield late this June, in what was his fifth pro season.
The four games he logged in the Frisco outfield this summer are four more than Ian Kinsler and Profar have had professionally, just in case you’re making plans in your mind for one to settle in eventually on a corner and the other in the middle.
Those guys will be around past 2013 too, as long as Texas wants them to be, but that’s not a real inspiring outfield picture going forward.
To be fair, there are rumors that the club and David Murphy could rip up the one-year deal they struck two weeks ago and replace it with some sort of multi-year commitment.
On the other hand, Nelson Cruz will almost certainly be gone after this season.
Which was pretty much a slam dunk even before last week’s off-the-field development.
And that brings us back to the immediate picture.
Texas wanted to sign Hamilton, and maybe Torii Hunter. Met with Cody Ross. Tried to trade for Upton, and (according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports) Michael Morse. Is surely keeping tabs on Stanton, and Carlos Gonzalez, the first of whom is said to be unavailable – for now – and the other of whom may practically be, given Tracy Ringolsby’s MLB.com report that the Rangers “never got past a preliminary chat with Colorado about [Gonzalez] when they refused to consider giving up prime prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt.”
None of them are here.
Texas brought Jeff Baker and Aaron Cunningham and Jim Adduci in on non-roster deals, but collectively that bunch looks like this year’s version of Conor Jackson (not that you should write Baker off), a Doug Deeds, and another Doug Deeds. Brandon Snyder will be back in camp, and Joey Butler will be there, too, but we’re talking about impacting the top of the outfield rotation, not the back end.
The Rangers have also reportedly kicked the tires on free agent Michael Bourn, who remains available, though at age 30 the prospect of giving him four or five expensive years – and forfeiting the 24th pick in the draft – doesn’t seem all that palatable. Plus, as Daniels has said regarding center field: “If we’re not going to look at Leonys now, when are we?”
He said that before the Cruz story surfaced.
Does the timing of JD’s comment matter? ESPN’s Buster Olney wonders, along with a whole lot of folks, “in light of [the] Cruz allegation, . . . if [Texas will] now pursue” Bourn.
The front office is saying no. Maybe because there’s no guarantee Cruz will miss time, and even if he does it will amount to less than two months – almost like couple of those typical hamstring deactivations – and you’re not going to invest a stack of years and a first-round pick in a player you didn’t want before just to cover for a 50-game penalty that may not ever get imposed.
On the other hand, if you sign Bourn, as opposed to trading for an impact outfielder, you lose the pick but keep all your prospects – and that doesn’t compromise your ability later to go get Price or Stanton or whoever you want to fill the blank with. All that’s surrendered (besides cash) is the 24th pick in June.
Sort of. Truthfully, it’s probably less about the 24th slot than the $1.75 million or so that the pick will be worth as far as the draft bonus pool in the new system is concerned. Having the 24th and 35th picks (the second of which could be higher depending on what happens with Bourn and Kyle Lohse) and the $3.25 million or more that the two picks are worth combined could make it easier for the Rangers to go large on someone like they did last year at number 39, when they took Joey Gallo and went significantly over slot to get him signed. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, for what it’s worth, says the Rangers were “one of the teams that vehemently opposed the new draft rules,” which amputate aggressiveness on the scouting and acquisition front. But they are what they are, and Texas, like everyone else, is left to figure out ways to maximize opportunities.
But back to the threshold question: Does the potential loss of Cruz – and let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that he’s likely to serve the full 50 games – mean Texas ought be rethinking its position on adding an outfielder, even with Hamilton and Hunter and Upton off the market?
As Rob Neyer (SB Nation) points, Cruz measured out to be worth roughly a win and a half more than “a good AAA hitter” while playing 159 games last year, which arguably means a 50-game absence would be worth half a win if Cruz is no better a baseball player in 2013 than he was in 2012.
And I know there are those of you who bristle at my belief that a player’s frame of mind has an effect on his play, but I worry about how Cruz will respond to the glare that will follow him all season unless and until he’s exonerated. I worry about that with him maybe more than I would with any other player on the club, next to Neftali Feliz.
The point is that I’m not sure losing Cruz for 50 games, if that happens, now turns Bourn into a need if he wasn’t thought of one a week ago – but at the same time, I’m not expecting huge “contract year” numbers from Cruz, no matter how his situation shakes out.
I don’t dislike Cruz. Far from it. He’s done a remarkable job converting what was uniformly considered to be a 4-A career – remember that he slid clear through league-wide waivers just before his breakout 2008 season – into one of a core piece of a two-time World Series offense, with a resume full of October heroics at the plate that will never be forgotten around here.
I don’t hate him for the bad swings, or for the mediocre outfield play (outside of an extraordinary arm) that’s degenerated into something worse. He is what he is.
And part of what he is is a 32-year-old who will be 33 when he reaches free agency for the first time at the end of the year, a player that won’t make a lot of sense, regardless of the off-the-field circumstances, to invest heavily in here.
The Texas infield, in one scenario (Kinsler to first base), could boast four former shortstops (which doesn’t even include Garcia and Luis Sardinas, who head a formidable wave of shortstop prospects behind Profar), and I’ll take that over having three center fielders in the outfield like the Angels do, but the Texas outfield picture, already murky past 2013, is suddenly out of focus in the present.
Olney had an interesting article a month and a half ago, noting that there were teams considering a sign-and-trade arrangement to acquire a player like Bourn without forfeiting a first-round pick. Olney used Cleveland as an example, suggesting the Indians – whose first-rounder is protected since it’s in the top 10 picks and who already surrendered their second-round pick by signing Nick Swisher – could sign Bourn, losing their third-round pick as a result, with plans to then trade the outfielder (with his permission, as free agents can’t be traded without their consent until June 15) to Seattle (in Olney’s hypothetical) for something more valuable (and predictable) to Cleveland than its third-round pick, but less valuable to the Mariners than the first-rounder they’d sacrifice by signing Bourn themselves.
Creative idea, if far-fetched.
The Nationals’ rotation is in somewhat of a similar situation as the Rangers’ outfield. Washington was said to be on the hunt for one more starting pitcher even before Gio Gonzalez was implicated in the same Miami New Times piece as Cruz; now it would stand to reason that the Nationals are even more intent on adding a starter before camp.
The difference is that while Lohse – tied like Bourn to draft pick compensation – remains on the market, so does a guy like veteran righty Javier Vazquez, an interesting lower-cost alternative whom Washington is reportedly very interested in.
Vazquez, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have a very good equivalent among available outfielders. To bring in a player that would relegate Murphy, Gentry, Martin, or Cruz to a different role from the one they are slated for now would take a big move, basically Bourn or a trade, and neither seems very likely at this point.
(For what it’s worth, Bowden thinks Bourn ends up with the Rays, Mets, or Mariners, while he suggests the Red Sox, Rangers, Angels, Brewers, and Orioles may make the most sense for Lohse.)
Do you load up for Stanton or Carlos Gonzalez? The Marlins and Rockies would have to be blown away, if they’d even be receptive. Bowden thinks a package headed by Profar and Olt “would have to make Miami listen” on Stanton – even though Bowden professes not to be an Olt guy, he thinks Arizona will regret choosing Martin Prado over the younger third baseman – but he bets Texas is probably more inclined to hang onto its top chips until the Rays decide it’s time to field offers for Price.
Every trade possibility that Texas has been rumored to be in on – from Shields to Dickey to Upton and probably every other impact player who’s drawn Texas into a discussion (not to mention Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and Gio Gonzalez and Josh Johnson last year) – has involved Olt, at least according to all the reports we know to take in with a pinch of salt. Considering:
- Olt’s primary position is also Adrian Beltre’s
- Olt’s ability to play that position makes up a great part of his value
- The details on almost every Rangers trade rumor include Olt in the exchange
- Profar is the prospect we’re all holding our breath over
- This winter has seen a new market develop, one that has seen blue-chip prospects moved – and not necessarily for blue-chip superstars . . . three of the game’s top six prospects on Jonathan Mayo’s recently published list for MLB.com have been traded this winter: Myers (in a deal for Shields), d’Arnaud (in a deal for Dickey), and Taijuan Walker (in Seattle’s deal for Upton that he vetoed) . . . and two more in the top 10 have been traded as well (lefthander Tyler Skaggs from the Angels to the Diamondbacks in 2010 and righthander Zack Wheeler from the Giants to Mets for Carlos Beltran in 2011)
. . . on some days it feels like Olt’s hardly more than an asset to be inevitably converted into something else, almost like a draft pick as Draft Day draws near.
Should we tap the brakes?
Hank Blalock was the top prospect in baseball 11 years ago, at least among position players. Colby Lewis was number 82 on the list put together by Baseball America.
Two years after that, Kinsler was BA’s number 98, thought of as a lesser prospect than Thomas Diamond and John Danks and Joaquin Arias. A few months before that ranking, Texas had traded Kinsler to Colorado, only to have Larry Walker bang the deal with his no-trade clause.
Just because Olt isn’t considered the Rangers’ top prospect, and just because he’s a standout defender at a position where he shouldn’t be needed until well after his bat is ready, doesn’t mean trading him is something we should be resigned to.
When MLB Network and MLB.com unveiled Mayo’s Top 100 Prospects list last week, Olt was number 22. Now, I think that’s probably a bit high, but Mayo built the rankings based on conversations with dozens of scouts, scouting directors, and other club executives. There’s a faction in the business, charged with evaluating these things, that sees Olt on a pretty rarefied level – which might help explain why so many clubs are evidently zeroing in on him whenever the opportunity to trade with Texas presents itself.
Even clubs like the Mets and Rays who are set at third base. Compare the Rangers’ rumored efforts to pick up shortstop Andrelton Simmons from Atlanta just to flip him to Arizona in an Upton deal early this off-season. There are teams who want Olt even if he doesn’t fit for them at third base, either because they believe they can flip him for something else they need (but can’t presently get) or because they think the bat will play at another corner.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, winner of two straight Gold Gloves, played zero games in the outfield until 2010. Drafted in 2005, he was strictly a third baseman, with a little first base peppered in, until roster makeup in Kansas City brought about the shift to the outfield.
Will Olt’s bat play in the outfield, where Texas has needs now and as far into the future as you want to look?
There are only three corner bats who rank higher on Mayo’s list than Olt: Myers (4), Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (12), and Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos (21). (That’s if you categorize Oscar Taveras [Cardinals, 3] and Christian Yelich [Marlins, 13] as center fielders, which we will, for now.)
Myers was a catcher his first two years in pro ball.
Sano was originally a shortstop.
Castellanos was strictly a third baseman until a shift to the outfield late in 2012, his third year in pro ball.
Now, to be fair, those three shifted to less demanding positions because of defensive issues, which there are none of as far as Olt’s play at third base is concerned. On the flip side, they’re also thought to be surer things at the plate, at least in Myers’s and Sano’s case.
But the point is Olt – purely a third baseman until a couple dozen games at first or right field in 2012 (and then six of 18 games in the outfield in winter ball) – is the fourth-ranked corner bat on at least one reputable prospect list. Maybe the folks in charge of deciding on his future aren’t as ready to trade him as every national writer in the business.
And maybe, like with Kinsler, that will turn out to be the correct decision.
Unless he’s needed in a deal for Stanton (who’s a year younger than Olt) or Price or Felix Hernandez, at which time you thank Jay Heafner and Randy Taylor and Kip Fagg and A.J. Preller and Josue Perez and Tim Hulett and Jason Wood and Steve Buechele for finding Olt in Connecticut and molding him into a player ranked higher today among prospects in the game than he was less than three years ago among prospects in the 2010 draft.
But I bet Dave Magadan, who has already begun working with Olt, is eager to see the process continue to unfold here. Maybe, like with Kinsler, we’ll look back one day and wonder how close Texas actually came to trading him before his career took off.
And so to an abrupt and clumsy end comes a 4,000-word exercise in saying pretty much nothing, a polyphonic spree of ideas with all the orderliness of an Elvis Andrus spray chart,
[which reminds me: sign a long-term deal in Texas Elvis c’mon do it do it now think about the Napoli lesson it-is it-is do it do it do it]
a painful memory jog for one of us of the highly disappointing 2003 season for Rob Mackowiak and the Exprestos, a momentary brain cramp as to why I even brought Mackowiak into all of this, oh yeah the clumsy do-over point, and how am I gonna get outta this mess, maybe I’ll cook up an imaginary flash drama starring Rangers International Scouting Director Mike Daly unable to enjoy Baseball America praising the organization’s “unusual . . . ability to avoid the landmines of high-priced international amateur free agent busts” because he’s tormented by the thought of his former LSU teammate Ryan Theriot coming in and essentially costing his former amateur find Leury Garcia a real spring shot, or maybe instead I’ll just pour one out for you, Kevin Millwood, and you too, Brandon Webb, and wait, Fernando Tatis, really?, and dang it I still haven’t written up Lisalverto and Coty and Cory and Jeff, and hey, Angels, having the number 30 farm system could be worse, no it couldn’t, and look who needs the do-over now, and man I really need to hear Eric dust off those three magic words.
Those three glorious, heartfelt, sorely missed words.
“Hello again, everybody!”
In the second and a half that it’ll take Eric to say that into a microphone high above Billy Parker Field in Surprise Stadium, 17 days from today, he will have packed more substance than I have in this box, but, hey, to paraphrase JD, if I wasn’t going to write this report now, when would I?
Tell us hello, Eric.
Tell us soon.
I’ve been working on a new report for about five days, but for a dozen reasons, the last of which was a better football game than I expected, I haven’t had the time to wrap it up. Hope to have it out tomorrow morning.
It’s already 2,400 words, and may be just half done.
Course, Texas will probably make a trade today, and I’ll have to toss the report into the circular bin. I’m not expecting a trade, but then again I probably wouldn’t have predicted that Paul Harvey would be the mad men and women’s star last night.
So plan on four or five thousand words in the next day or two, bundled up in one email that will take too long to read and may not resonate with you any more than the stupid Coca-Cola desert commercials, but then again I’m spending about $11 million less than Coke to throw it out there.
In the meantime, with a hearty scram to another lousy 100-day football intermission, here’s a thousand words from the great Louis DeLuca of the Dallas Morning News:
The word “truck” – the verb, that is – has a special place in The Great Game.
When I hear Texas Rangers and “truck,” this image is what first comes to mind.
But this is in the conversation, too, especially when it’s still jacket weather.
The Rangers’ equipment truck hit the road this afternoon, bound for Surprise.
Which gives me a story idea for this weekend, but which more importantly means we’re just about able to count the number of sleeps on two hands.
Hammer down, P’s & C’s.
Down now to 14 sleeps, you might have already grabbed your Outlook Calendar and blocked off March 31, April 5-7, July 5-7, September 23-29, and the month of October, to make sure you haven’t planned any dental appointments, garage sales, or walkabouts for those days and nights.
If you’re inclined to schedule a deposition or a meal or two out between July 19 and July 28, go ahead, but maybe think about cramming all your extracurriculars into the four-day All-Star Break that precedes that stretch, and not just because the hated Baltimores and Yankees come in for three and four to open the second half, after which Texas heads out on a brief road trip to Cleveland. There’s another huge baseball thing happening in those 10 days.
It may run counter to your normal Great Game sensibilities to hope Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Kevin Youkilis have something left, to wish Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara the best as their new team comes off its worst season since 1965, to pull for the Orioles to extend that shocking spike at least another year, and to jump on that crazy Blue Jays bandwagon, but this is the year to pick a few of those AL East clubs to get behind a little bit, at least for the first half of the season.
You may be disappointed that Texas didn’t trade for Justin Upton. You may be upset that the Rangers didn’t find a way to prevent the Royals from being the ones to pick up James Shields.
But it’ll all be OK if Tampa Bay, traveling to Toronto for three and hosting Boston for four and New York for three coming out of the Break, fails to gain any meaningful ground in the East over that July 19-28 stretch, leaving the Rays three days to act on any baseball operations groundwork that had been laid that month, if not this winter, or last year.
Join me in pulling for Tampa Bay to be 11 games out of a Wild Card spot and in fourth place in the East at the end of that stretch of games to open the second half, because that’s when the club is going to seriously entertain trading David Price for perhaps the first time.
That’s when the Rays could consider accelerating the plan to build long-term around the very controllable Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Wil Myers, and Matt Moore, plus whoever comes back in the haul they get for their number one starter, which if it comes from the Rangers is surely going to include some of what they would have had to give up for Upton, or for Shields, but didn’t, surely at least partly in the name of asset allocation.
And obviously, having gone down the road with Rays on Shields, Texas has a good sense of which of its young players Tampa Bay likes.
This is the year (or at least the first half) to make Luis Sardinas your favorite Rangers prospect.
I don’t know how reputable the Miami New Times is (sounds like that market’s equivalent of the Dallas Observer, perhaps?), and you know my baseball sensibilities enough by now to understand that I’m not going to speculate on this morning’s PED story until it escalates a bit, and even then I’ll do it reluctantly at best, preferring for now to bury my head in the sand and imagine the Rays losing seven of those 10 in late July and rolling their sleeves up with the crew at 1000 Ballpark Way, both trying to figure out a way to help themselves serve the big picture and build toward something historically significant, though in those two clubs’ cases involving very different objectives, which is what makes blockbuster trades most often work.
When Toronto paid Mark DeRosa to fill out its bench a couple days ago, it reminded me of the 2008 series of features I wrote for TexasRangers.com in which I put together a 25-man roster of my favorite players from the franchise’s history, pegging DeRosa that May as my utility infielder.
On a contract paying a mere $675,000 in 2006, the 31-year-old had backed up rookie Ian Kinsler at second base, backed up flagging veteran Hank Blalock at third base, was the club’s fourth outfielder behind Gary Matthews Jr., Brad Wilkerson, and Kevin Mench, and occasionally spelled shortstop Michael Young and first baseman Mark Teixeira. Along the way he put up the club’s fourth-highest OPS at .812 (.296/.357/.456) in a career-high number of at-bats and redefined the way he was thought of in the game, parlaying that breakout season into a three-year, $13 million deal with the Cubs.
Thinking about that article made me think about a similar series I ran in 2011, building a hypothetical future 25-man roster made up solely of Rangers prospects. In it I chose Class A shortstop Leury Garcia as the utility infielder.
If you want to go back and read the feature from 18 months ago, you can, but I can give you the highlights (with a few updates added in):
- Chone Figgins was a key character in the story. Before he was a terrible, overpaid veteran, but after he was a virtually anonymous prospect, he was one heck of a weapon for the Angels.
- Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine, who was in baseball operations with the Rockies when Figgins was being developed in the Colorado farm system, remembers the undersized infielder as a plus runner with questions about both the bat and the glove who ultimately proved lots of folks wrong. His value was so minimal that he was shipped in July 2001, at age 23 and in his first AA season, to the Angels for journeyman outfielder Kimera Bartee, who went on to compile 19 hitless plate appearances for the Rockies and never see the big leagues again.
Garcia generated similar questions early on, getting the bat knocked out of his hands and playing reckless defense at the lower levels of the minor leagues.
- Originally a shortstop, in his fourth season in the minor leagues (2000) the 5’8” Figgins added second base to his repertoire, then third base in 2001, and, after a trade to the Angels, started to see time in the outfield in 2003.
The 5’7” Garcia was strictly a shortstop his first four seasons, adding second base, third base, and the outfield to the mix in 2012 – a move prompted in part by the fact that he was RoughRider teammates with Jurickson Profar, but also because the organization always believed the time would come when Garcia would develop into an extremely versatile defender.
- It wasn’t until his sixth pro season that the switch-hitting Figgins (then 24) began to hit, and by then his versatility and speed made him a key asset for Los Angeles, after having never appeared on so much as a Top 30 Rockies Prospects list in five seasons with Colorado.
The switch-hitting Garcia (only 21) had his breakout season at the plate in 2012, his fifth season, setting career highs in hitting, reaching base, and slugging for Frisco, and following it up with a solid Dominican Winter League regular season (.285/.335/.375 in 144 at-bats) and a tremendous playoff run (.354/.425/.431 in 65 at-bats) in which he was the leadoff hitter and everyday right fielder for Aguilas down the stretch, leading the league in hitting for much of the playoffs before slumping late.
Ranked by Baseball America as the Rangers’ number 15 prospect after both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and number 11 after the 2011 season, Garcia will probably be in the same range when the publication’s full Texas rankings are released shortly. (I had him at number 17 in December.)
- Figgins, who would eventually receive American League MVP votes in four different seasons for the Angels, didn’t earn a fulltime spot at one position until his sixth big league season. But even before that, he was more than a supersub, stretching the Los Angeles bench with his ability to start games all over the field.
- As long as he remains a Ranger, that versatility tool is going to be the calling card for Garcia, who was added to the club’s 40-man roster in November.
And if you take a look at that 40-man roster, you might see something interesting.
It includes eight infielders, a fairly standard number.
Five are starters: Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Kinsler, Mitch Moreland, and Lance Berkman.
The sixth and seventh are, barring injury to one of the first five, likely headed to AAA in April: Profar and Mike Olt.
The eighth is Leury Garcia.
There’s not a veteran utility infielder in the group.
Nor is there one among the 17 non-roster players who have been invited to big league camp to date. The three infielders in that group are Brandon Snyder and Brandon Allen, who play on the corners, and Yangervis Solarte, a second baseman-outfielder with no big league experience and only 10 games at shortstop in six minor league seasons.
Now, chances are that Texas will add at least one journeyman middle infielder on a non-roster deal before camp opens in a little under three weeks. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see a late March trade for an infielder who’s out of options and not in his team’s plans and whom the Rangers feel would be an upgrade over what’s in camp. Sort of like when Texas picked up out-of-options righthander Dustin Nippert in March 2008 (from Arizona for minor league reliever Jose Marte) and out-of-options catcher Matt Treanor in March 2010 (from Milwaukee for non-roster infielder Rey Olmedo). When Texas added Andres Blanco as its utility infielder in 2010, it was on March 27 in a straight purchase from the Cubs.
I can sit here and easily imagine hearing two months from today that minor league righthander Carlos Pimentel was being shipped somewhere for a 27-year-old shortstop without any options left.
But what I’d like to imagine is Garcia outplaying whatever competition is brought in the next couple weeks, alleviating the need for a late-in-camp trade and earning a spot on the Texas bench himself.
He has game-changing speed. He has plus-plus arm strength. While minor league errors aren’t indicative of a player’s defensive ability and can be dangerously misleading, the fact that he committed just 15 miscues in 2012 after seasons of 42, 32, and 37 is at least reflective of the scouting observations that he’s managed to quiet his game down in the field.
He plays with the type of energy that the club has talked about seeking out after the way the 2012 season ended. He would earn the big league minimum.
He reached AA for the first time in 2012, and put up his best season yet despite making what many consider the toughest jump in baseball.
And then he excelled in winter ball, competing against big leaguers and more highly regarded prospects.
I temper my excitement at the idea of Garcia serving as an electric weapon off the Texas bench because we all know how Ron Washington feels about playing young players – Profar got almost no burn last summer even though he came far more heralded, and even though the club’s infield was in seemingly desperate need of some rest – but what if Jon Daniels doesn’t bring in a journeyman with shortstop chops, or perhaps adds one to the mix who doesn’t have any significant big league experience of his own?
Profar isn’t the answer, because with this infield, barring injury the opportunities will be few. The utility infielder on this team is more likely to run for Berkman in the ninth inning than anything else, and Profar needs to be playing every day, even if that means in Round Rock.
However the shortstop/second base picture shakes out over the next several years, the idea of having a player all that time like Garcia on the bench – a different kind of player from former utility infielders who eventually developed into more (DeRosa, Mark McLemore, Placido Polanco, Mark Loretta, Jeff Keppinger) – makes me wonder if Wash can open his mind right away to the idea of having a utility man who hasn’t paid the kind of dues that Wash paid as a player himself before getting the chance to hold down a similar role.
Or if the play is to go to camp without that obvious veteran, putting Wash in a position where he has six weeks to learn to love the player.
Especially while Andrus and possibly Profar are off competing in Taiwan and Puerto Rico and various points stateside in the World Baseball Classic, which could keep one or both out of camp until as late as March 19th. That opens up a ton of Cactus League playing time.
Recognize that there’s a reason there’s no Grade A utility infielder will choose to come to Texas. The Rangers’ infielders simply don’t sit – they’re durable players with a manager who likes writing them into the lineup every single day.
Garcia was apparently part of the package Arizona was discussing with Texas for Justin Upton.
Garcia was reportedly involved in the Rangers’ talks with Milwaukee for Zack Greinke last summer.
If he’s eventually traded – and chances are good, given the Rangers’ present depth at shortstop that includes not only Andrus and Profar but also Luis Sardinas, Hanser Alberto, Luis Marte, and more coming up behind him – it won’t be for someone like Kimera Bartee.
I tend to think of Garcia as a valuable role player on a very good team – realistically, it falls into place a year from now rather than in 2013 – but he might also be viewed as a candidate to start at shortstop or second base by a second-division club out there.
It’s entirely possible that I’m overselling Leury Garcia. It will be far from the first time I’ve been accused of that.
It’s also possible I’m selling him short.
Forget about the fact that more than half of the $50 million that Chone Figgins will earn as a big league ballplayer will have been paid during his wildly disappointing stint in Seattle.
Remember that he wasn’t thought of all that highly when he was developing with Colorado, a small switch-hitter with dependable speed but not all that much more to dream on.
Remember the result when things clicked for Figgins, and what a huge dimension he added to those really good Angels clubs between 2004 and 2009.
Texas tees it up with Toronto twice in June, for three here and then four there, with two daytime starts in the home series and a lot of turf baseball in the road set. Mark DeRosa is likely to get a start or two at some point, and I’ll tip my cap. It’s been four years since he’s faced Texas, and I miss that guy – well, the guy he used to be before wrist injuries and oblique injuries and abdominal injuries and age gummed things up, the guy who left for big money and a big role eight days after Wash arrived.
It stands to reason that even Wash will take the opportunity to get his utility infielder in the lineup in one of those two Jays series, maybe both, and as I sit here counting the sleeps until Pitchers & Catchers, begging for some baseball, I want to believe that there’s at least a chance, however remote, that Garcia, who turned pro at age 16 a year after DeRosa left and Wash arrived, gets a legitimate shot in March to be that guy in June.
I just realized that there may be one (and only one) good thing about the World Baseball Classic.
And whether it happens in 2013 or later, because of the type of player he’s capable of being, I’m pretty sure it won’t take much for Leury Garcia to plant his flag for the next time I rustle up a bunch of written words about my favorite Rangers utility infielder of all time.
We have families. We have health and financial concerns to keep us up at night. We have jobs, but not always.
We have priorities to manage and real challenges to confront, and somewhere in that equation is a little corner carved out for sports, at least for those of us who choose to make time in our daily routine to watch the games and more, and maybe also to read about it all, or to write.
We fret over the tipping point of what we’d give up to make Justin Upton a player on our team. We feel bad that Mike Napoli may only earn $5 million this year – just five million dollars – playing for someone else. We have differing opinions on whether Derek Holland spending March pitching for Team USA is a good thing, even with Greg Maddux along for the ride to keep him on track.
We bro-hug over Matt Harrison’s 5/55, especially when Anibal Sanchez got 5/80 and Edwin Jackson got 4/52 and Ryan Dempster got $13.25 million for each of the next two years. We recognize why including incentives in Neftali Feliz’s 2013 deal, when he’s out for half the year at a minimum, might amount to one of those red flags.
We believe in the dimension of Leury, we pay attention to how many options Engel has left, we offer daily supplication in hopes that Jorge arrives intact in a few years and shuts this catcher carousel down.
We do these things, most of us at least, because sports is an awesome distraction. It’s steady. It’s dramatic. It gives our emotions a routine workout. It doesn’t really matter, and you know what I mean by that.
It’s an escape from the stress points that threaten to define our day-to-day, and maybe that’s why I get so beaten down when my Twitter feed is dominated by Lance Armstrong or by Manti Te’o or by the impact of suspected substance abuse on a given year’s Hall of Fame vote. I depend on sports for the wins and losses and the context of the decisions designed to tilt the scales in the better direction. Not for scandals, or who should win sportswriters’ awards or earn enshrinement.
Texas against Houston on March 31 – that’s what I care about. Where Javier Vazquez wants to pitch, and whether he makes better sense than Kyle Lohse. How Mike Olt fits the big picture, which leads me to think about David Price vs. Giancarlo Stanton, but not necessarily.
That’s why I watch and care and write and lose sleep.
But from time to time, sports and real life collide.
I wouldn’t know most of you if it weren’t for this baseball thing we share. We don’t necessarily claim the same politics, or religion, or music, and that’s not only cool but it’s irrelevant. We’re fans of a game, loyal to the Texas Rangers in most cases, and that commonness sheds the rest, even if it leaves room for difference of opinion on scouting vs. stats, or on what happens long-term with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar.
I wouldn’t know who Robbie Parker was if not for what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14. As it turns out, he’s one of us, as are Alissa and Madeline and Samantha, and as was Emilie.
While we have this thing that ties you and me and everyone else in this group of ours, there are plenty of things outside of baseball we’re not going to agree on, and some within the game. But we also have some things in common that have nothing to do with the Great Game or the Texas Rangers, things that rise to the surface in dark and uncomfortable and incomprehensible times.
I feel pretty certain that I’ve never been more proud to be part of this community as I have the last five weeks.
If you weren’t one of the hundreds of Rangers fans who joined us at Sherlock’s in Arlington on December 19 or the Dallas location on Monday (the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy), you can read about this week’s event here, or listen to Emilie’s uncle Jeremie, a middle school teacher in Irving, talk about it by opening this file.
Would a group of Cowboys fans have come together and rallied like this? Would Stars fans have mobilized that way? TCU fans? Every single Rotary Club and Lions Club in town, every campus in the Metroplex, just about any group you can imagine?
But we don’t need to guess about this group.
We’re electricians and lawyers and students and doctors. Teachers and executives and auctioneers and firemen and IT guys. Mom’s and Dad’s, and sons and daughters. And a third baseman from Connecticut making minor league wages who bid $1,000 Monday night for a baseball signed by his 2012 big league teammates – think about that – before one of you outbid him in the end.
We’re baseball fans, and more. We share a distraction, and sometimes we find it within us to set aside the distraction, together, and to embrace something bigger.
We’re Texas Rangers fans, and that means something more than caring about wins and losses and trades and trophies.
It’s my great honor to share that bond with the Parker family, and with you.