Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

The Rockies. And Michael Young. Again.

My kids call this the greatest weather they’ve ever seen, while others insist it’s the worst winter weather to ever hit North Texas.  The fact that the ice is starting to thaw today means different things to different people.  And against that backdrop, I gather the following from the last 12 or 15 hours:
? Troy E. Renck (Denver Post) reports that while the Rangers haven’t spoken to the Rockies regarding Michael Young since the Winter Meetings, Colorado’s “desire for the player is clear,” and the Rockies are “ready if [the] Rangers want to talk.”  The key impediment to any deal, should Texas revive talks, would apparently be that the Rangers “would have to eat a huge chunk of money, which they are currently not interested in doing.”  Renck suggested via Twitter that Texas would have to agree to subsidize the remaining $48 million of Young’s contract with at least $18-20 million — though the amount of cash would surely be dependent in part on what player(s) Colorado would put into the deal.  Renck believes that infielder Jose Lopez would go to Texas in the trade — and possibly released by Texas before the season started — but that the Rockies are unwilling to include righthander Aaron Cook (though “that’s subject to change”).  Hard-throwing 25-year-old righthander Esmil Rogers has been mentioned, too.
? A Renck tweet this morning: “Here’s why think Young deal will happen w Rox or someone else.  There’s motivation from a lot of parties.  That’s when trades get done.”
? Renck put some stock in a tweet by Jon Heyman (Sports Illustrated) that suggested Vladimir Guerrero’s deal with Baltimore could solidify Young’s role as the Texas DH, making Mike Napoli a backup catcher.  But the Rangers didn’t just trade Frankie Francisco for someone to compete with Matt Treanor for number two catcher duties.
? Then Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) got in on the fun this morning, reporting that Texas is in fact talking to the Rockies (and only the Rockies) about Young, and that, “according to one source, the talks have reached an advanced stage, and a deal could be in place as soon as Monday.”  Rosenthal does note, however, according to other sources, that the Rockies “are confused by the Rangers’ ‘mixed messages.'”
So do you know where I stand on all of this?
Because I don’t.
I’m not going to speculate on what would happen in the clubhouse if Young is traded — or, hell, if he isn’t — until something goes down, or until it looks reasonably certain that nothing will.  
You all know my stance on the leadership thing.  Many of you put a lot less stock in it than I do.  (Some of you, on the other hand, make an even bigger deal of it than I do.)  As I spent far too much time getting into on Twitter in the wee hours last night, I don’t consider it the most important aspect of any team (far from it), but it is a factor, in my opinion, especially over 162, and triple-especially on a team that expects to contend.
And for me, Michael Young’s greatest asset, at this stage of his career, is his leadership.  That’s not to say he’s no longer a contributor between the lines.  It’s to say he means a lot to this team in terms of the edge it plays with, its resiliency, its even keel, its refusal to back down.  And there are new issues created now that it’s a team that’s won a pennant.  
Does that make him indispensable?
Nope.  No player is.  
But while one way to respond to failing to land an ace is to make your pitching better by adding defense, the only acceptable way to address a subtraction in leadership is to have a new leader step forward.  I’m not going to take the time to get into the specifics of that issue here, and now, but it concerns me.  If Young is traded, particularly in what will appear to his teammates to be a salary dump, what player is going to step up and see to it that his teammates don’t go to Surprise perpetuating, embracing, rallying around some form of disconnect?
Young would be that guy, were he not the subtraction.
Again, this is always about team for me.  Not about any one player.  
My allegiance to Young is no secret, but it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s played catch with my kid.  Young’s character, and the important times it has revealed itself, after losing streaks and after big wins with big games to play the next day and after confessions by the manager and after a shelling of Tommy Hunter early in the game and after moments and incidents none of us will ever know about, are part of the reason I’m a Michael Young guy and, more importantly for the purposes of what I’m trying to say here, part of the reason that I think Texas played in the World Series in 2010 and can be counted on to be in the mix to return for a foreseeable number of baseball seasons.
OK, but at this point, if Young wants out and isn’t traded, couldn’t that be a problem in the room in its own right?  Can’t rule that out.
I don’t know what I hope happens here.  It feels sort of like there’s no truly positive outcome at this point.  Which leaves me simply hoping for resolution to replace speculation.
But to revert to a point I tried to make a few paragraphs up, my allegiance in any of these debates is more to the team than to any one player (or any one executive).  If it makes the Texas Rangers better, that’s where you’ll find my vote.
And as this icy mess seems like it’s about to thaw, that’s what I suppose I’ll ask myself if and when the Rangers trade Young: Whether it made the team better.
And I don’t mean at DH and backup infielder.

Curses.

pettitte.jpg
Andy Pettitte now has time for snowball fights.
One of the Rangers’ finest draft picks of the last generation came in Round 10 of the 1990 draft, when they found outfielder Thurman Clyde “Rusty” Greer at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, on the recommendation of accomplished area scout Rudy Terrasas and crosschecker Doug Gassaway.  
Texas went back to Alabama in Round 18 (University of North Alabama righthander Rodney Busha, recommended by Terrasas and prolific area scout Randy Taylor) and Round 23 (University of South Alabama outfielder Keith Murray, recommended by Gassaway and national crosschecker Bryan Lambe), but Busha and Murray lasted only two years before their careers ended, only a couple decades (at least) short of another Alabama draftee that the Rangers passed over, Calhoun State Community College shortstop Jorge Posada, whom the Yankees took in Round 24 as a draft-and-follow and started experimenting with behind the plate the following summer.
The Rangers ventured into their home state only once in the first half of that year’s draft, taking Schreiner College outfielder David Hulse (Taylor and Gassaway) in Round 13, ignoring Deer Park High School lefthander Andy Pettitte with the rest of the league until the Yankees took a draft-and-follow flier on the southpaw in Round 22 (minutes after Texas popped Waldorf Junior College righthander Jarod Juelsgaard), signing Pettitte 11 months later after he spent one season pitching at San Jacinto Junior College.
Pettitte faced the Rangers in the 1996, 1998, and 1999 playoffs (2-0, 2.61), beating Rick Helling in nearly identical 3-1, Game Two wins in Yankee Stadium in 1998 and 1999, caught in each case by Joe Girardi rather than Posada, who did make appearances in both of those series.  
In those three Texas-New York playoff series, nobody other than Pettitte recorded more than one of the Yankees’ nine wins.
The Rangers and Yankees both had their draft hits in Alabama in 1990, but New York — as was the case more than once in those days — did a better job amateur scouting in Texas than the Rangers did that year.
By the end of that 1999 series, when for the second straight year the Rangers scored only one run in three playoff games, whether the Yankees gave a second thought to the Rangers or not, it felt here like New York had a spell on Texas, a curse that we were reminded of every time the Rangers managed to get back to the post-season and were fed right back to the same team, the one that had traded David Wells, Graeme Lloyd, and Homer Bush for Roger Clemens just before that 1999 season, when Texas was sure it had its own deal with Toronto (Esteban Loaiza, Ruben Mateo, and Jonathan Johnson).  
After that 1999 season, Texas signed Alex Rodriguez, and we all know what happened over the next three awful years, before A-Rod engineered his way to New York — and to add injury to insult, when the trade was made in February 2004, the Rangers had a choice of five minor leaguers to take in addition to Alfonso Soriano, and they settled on Joaquin Arias, rather than Robinson Cano.
The Yankees then went 25-10 against Texas from 2004 through 2007.
The Rangers started to ease their way out of the Yankees’ steamroller path after that, going 12-12 against them in 2008 through 2010, but the real turn of the tide came after one of the 2010 season’s deepest lows, a disgusting April 16-18 weekend series in New York in which the Rangers were disposed of easily in three straight.  
In July, the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee when the “livid” Yankees thought they had a deal with the “double-dealing” Mariners for the ace lefthander.  
On September 10-12, the first-place Rangers took three straight from the first-place Yankees in Arlington, the first Texas sweep of New York since April 1996, months before that ALDS loss that, on one hand, capped the greatest Rangers season ever, but on the other, launched a franchise nightmare.
Texas wrapped up the September 2010 sweep with a 4-1 comeback win, with eight strong from Lee (one run on two hits) and a three-strikeout ninth from Neftali Feliz.
Five weeks later, Lee faced Pettitte in New York, again going eight, again yielding only two hits, again giving way to Feliz for the final three outs, only this time it was to give the Rangers their first playoff series lead since John Burkett outpitched David Cone in Game One in 1996.  Lee’s masterpiece (13 strikeouts, one walk, improving his post-season record with Texas to 3-0, 0.75) led to lots of frameworthy columns out of New York and lots of photos of Lee that we’ll still be seeing decades from now. 
Four days after that Game Three, 8-0 Rangers win, Texas put New York away, as Feliz froze A-Rod with a slider that sent Texas to the World Series and the Yankees back home.  
Mark Prior and Rougned Odor and Warner Madrigal and Erold Andrus notwithstanding, there was one Rangers-Yankees turf war left to play out over the winter (unless the fact that Pettitte called Nolan Ryan to wish the Rangers luck against San Francisco gets you more worked up than it should).  
Although the Yankees made it very clear, publicly, that “for someone of [Lee’s] stature, it would certainly behoove him to be a Yankee,” he had different ideas.  
Yankees GM Brian Cashman told a crowd of reporters (as if he needed to reassure his bosses, or his fan base) that he “flew into Arkansas especially to meet with Cliff Lee and his wife and his agent . . . very early in the process” and that he “was the first one out of the gates there” and “so everybody knows I got ahead of everybody else.”  But that didn’t matter, ultimately.  
Though “pestered by Texas,” New York lost out to Philadelphia in landing Lee — and apparently in not getting Pettitte back, as the retiring lefthander reportedly told at least one teammate, “If we sign Lee, I’m coming back for one last run at a title.” 
With Lee a Phillie and New York still rummaging for pitching help, the Yankees took another opportunity to lash out at Texas last week, through the press.
New York isn’t quite sure what to do at number four and number five in its rotation behind C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett, bringing in Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to battle for jobs with Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova — the same Ivan Nova who, unbelievably, would have made Lee a Yankee in July, probably would have made the Yankees the AL representative in the World Series in October, and likely would have made Lee and Pettitte rotation-mates with Sabathia and Hughes and Burnett today, if only the Yankees had agreed in July to send him (or infielder Eduardo Nunez) to Seattle, in place of injured second baseman David Adams, as the second player in the Lee deal — a much less significant piece than headliner Jesus Montero.
Instead, Pettitte’s outstanding career ended in the third base dugout at Rangers Ballpark, as Lee hopped the rail across the field on October 22.  And at that moment, the Yankee curse over the Rangers, or whatever that thing was, felt
like it came to a long-awaited end, much as this scattered, delusional post about the Rangers and Yankees does with this sentence.

Kevin Goldstein evaluates the Rangers farm system.

A few quick notes, and then onto Kevin Goldstein’s Rangers Top 11 Prospects list, which rolled out this morning on Baseball Prospectus.
According to a Major League source who spoke to Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports), the offer that Texas made to Vladimir Guerrero (presumably between the Winter Meetings and the holidays, based on other hints that have been dropped) was for one year and $8.5 million, an amount rejected by Guerrero, who now stares at a Baltimore offer for one year between $3 million and $5 million.
Bruce Levine (ESPN Chicago) said in a Tuesday chat session that the White Sox offered Jermaine Dye to the Rangers for Michael Young three years ago, which Texas countered by asking Chicago to add lefthander Aaron Poreda to the deal.  Levine mentioned the same thing in January 2009 (so actually two years ago), about the time that it became public that Young had asked the Rangers to explore trade possibilities, days after which he backed off of that stance and agreed to move to third base.  
Buster Olney (ESPN) predicts that Texas will repeat in the AL West and that Oakland will be the AL Wild Card team. 
Baseball America, in ranking the top college players in 2011, unsurprisingly ranks Matt Purke number one among the nation’s sophomores, and also has two other picks from the Rangers’ 2009 draft class on the list: Florida State third baseman Jayce Boyd (19th round) is the publication’s number 29 sophomore, and Nebraska righthander Tom Lemke (10th round) is number 44.  
Several Rangers picks from 2008 are on BA’s list of the nation’s top juniors, all of whom are draft-eligible this June: Arizona State outfielder John Ruettiger (Rangers’ 35th-rounder) is number 24 overall, Clemson shortstop Brad Miller (39th round) in number 32, Miami third baseman Harold Martinez (19th round) is number 33, and Vanderbilt righthander Jack Armstrong (36th round) is number 42.
Among seniors, Clemson outfielder Jeff Schaus (Rangers’ 35th-rounder, 2007) is number two overall, Notre Dame righthander Brian Dupra (Rangers’ 36th-rounder, 2007) is number four, Alabama-Birmingham righthander Ryan Woolley (Rangers’ 39th-rounder, 2010) is number 27, and Florida International outfielder Yoandy Barroso (Rangers’ 46th-rounder, 2007) is number 49.
Stanford third baseman Brian Ragira, whom the Rangers drafted in the 30th round last year out of Arlington Martin, is the number 13 freshman.
The Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the independent American Association signed first baseman Jim Fasano.
On to the buried lead.
Today Goldstein ranks the Rangers farm system, which he characterizes as one that “has dropped dramatically [from one of the best in the game] due to a combination of graduations, trades, and disappointments” and that boasts “a wealth of young, high-ceiling talent, but the majority of their prospects are just that, extremely young . . . plenty to dream on, but very little reality, and even less that can help them in 2011.”  
Goldstein’s rankings:
Five-Star Prospects
1. Martin Perez, LHP (my Bound Edition ranking: 1) (nuggets from Goldstein’s lengthy analysis: “scouts saw through the uneven [2010] results and remained high on his future . . . armed with three plus pitches, Perez has the ability to become an impact starter . . . could reach the big leagues before his 21st birthday [which will be in April 2012]”
Four-Star Prospects
2. Jurickson Profar, SS (3) (“more than held his own in a college player-heavy short-season league . . . not only fit in with the much older Spokane club, he emerged as a team leader . . . does not have star-level tools as much as he simply lacks any obvious weaknesses . . . ETA: 2014″)
3. Tanner Scheppers, RHP (2) (“has a history of arm troubles and his delivery is far from pretty, leaving many scouts wondering why he didn’t stay in the bullpen, where he’s nearly big-league ready . . . Rangers are still convinced that Scheppers can be a big-league starter, but few scouts contacted for this piece agreed with that assessment”)
Three-Star Prospects
4. Engel Beltre, CF (4) (“best tools of any position player in the system . . . 60 runner on the 20-to-80 scale, and a very good center fielder with a true plus arm . . . capable of 20/20 seasons . . . swings at pitches in his eyes, constantly chases breaking balls out of the strike zone, and rarely puts himself in a position to get a pitch to drive”)
5. Michael Kirkman, LHP (6) (“everything about Kirkman’s game improved in 2010″)
6. Robbie Erlin, LHP (5) (“owner of the best command and control in the system, not only treating walks as if they’re a criminal offense, but also using both sides of the plate effectively . . . emotionless cyborg on the mound who never gets rattled, working at a consistent pace with a calm demeanor . . . could find himself on the fast track”)
7. Jake Skole, OF (11) (“baseball was always Skole’s second sport, so he’s still raw”)
8. Luis Sardinas, SS (7) (“loaded with tools . . . [in a perfect world he’s] [a]n above-average everyday shortstop with great glove and decent bat . . . [i]f he plays in 2011 [due to an Instructional League shoulder injury that required surgery], it will be at Spokane”)
9. Jorge Alfaro, C (12) (“big, athletic catcher with the potential to be well above-average, both offensively and defensively . . . ability to shut down an opponent’s running game with arm strength that already rates amongst the best in the minors . . . still learning the nuances of catching, and his arm will become more of a weapon with improved accuracy . . . will spend his first year stateside in Arizona, beginning in extended spring training and then playing in the complex league”)
10. Mike Olt, 3B (19) (“classic third-base profile: he’s big, strong, and athletic . . . plenty of raw power and projects to hit 20-plus home runs annually while also drawing a good number of walks . . . considered one of the top defensive third basemen in the 2010 draft, with outstanding instincts, soft hands, and a strong arm . . . [but] swing is long and has more uppercut than loft in it”)
11. Roman Mendez, RHP (21) (“[acquired from Boston in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade, he has] one of the best arms in the system, throwing heat that sits at 94-97 mph and touched 99 at times last year . . . [will] flash a plus power slider at times, and has some sense of a changeup . . . ideal frame for a young pitcher, and an extremely loose arm . . . considerable effort in his delivery, which gives him some control issues . . . has the raw stuff to be an impact-level pitcher . . . role is still to be determined, but he could potentially close”)
These nine players would round out Goldstein’s top 20: 
12. Robbie Ross, LHP (8)
13. Miguel De Los Santos, LHP (18)
14. Kellin Deglan, C (26)
15. Luke Jackson, RHP (16)
16. David Perez, RHP (9)
17. Miguel Velazquez, OF (23)
18. Christian Villanueva, 3B (17)
19. Fabio Castillo, RHP (13)
20. Wilmer Font, RHP (10) (“He would rank higher if not for [Tommy John surgery]; he had earned some Carlos Zambrano comps for both his stuff (good) and body (bad)”)
Goldstein’s sleeper is righthander Matt Thompson (m
y number 15), “an athletic righthander with projection and a silky-smooth delivery” that some scouts are high on despite a 4.66 ERA and 11.6 hits allowed per nine innings for Low A Hickory in 2010.  
I’ll let you check out Goldstein’s “Top 10 Talents 25 and Under” rankings to see where he folds Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Julio Borbon, and Mitch Moreland in among the abovementioned prospects.
I highly recommend the entire feature.

Prospects.

Baseball America’s 2011 Prospect Handbook is out, ranking the Rangers farm system number 15 in baseball, after having judged Texas as the number 4, number 1, and number 2 system the previous three years.
The pipeline is strongest at the lower levels right now, and the system has been thinned out by promotions and trades, many of which directly impacted the World Series club in 2010 – an almost predictable outcome.  There were four organizations in the last decade to finish first or second in BA’s rankings in back-to-back seasons: the Cubs (second in 2001 and first in 2002), the Dodgers (second in 2004, 2005, and 2006), the Rays (first in 2007 and 2008), and the Rangers (first in 2009 and second in 2010).  All four made playoff appearances either during or shortly after those rankings.
Chicago, after those two years, was ranked as follows since: 3, 7, 10, 15, 18, 18, 27, 15, 8.
Los Angeles: 6, 6, 23, 24, 12.
Tampa Bay: 4, 1, 3.
The Rays have done a terrific job of sustaining their minor league dominance – and should stay in the top tier for years, with 11 of the first 65 picks in next June’s draft, expected to be an unusually strong crop – but most clubs, even those whose systems earn an extended run of accolades, tend to bounce back to the pack as players graduate to the big leagues, move on to other organizations, or drop back due to injury or other struggles.
Here’s BA’s ranking of the Rangers’ top prospects two winters ago, when the organization was ranked number one:
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Derek Holland, LHP
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. Elvis Andrus, SS
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. Taylor Teagarden, C
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. Julio Borbon, OF
10. Max Ramirez, C-1B
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. Blake Beavan, RHP
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. Warner Madrigal, RHP
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. Tommy Hunter, RHP
18. Jose Vallejo, IF
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. Omar Poveda, RHP
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. Joaquin Arias, IF
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. Mitch Moreland, 1B-OF-LHP
In just two years, that 2009 list looks like this once you remove the players who reached Texas and exhausted their rookie status (and thus their eligibility to be considered by BA): 
1. 
2. 
3. Justin Smoak, 1B
4. 
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. 
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. Michael Main, RHP
9. 
10. 
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. Blake Beavan, RHP
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. 
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. 
18. Jose Vallejo, IF
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. Omar Poveda, RHP
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. 
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. 
And after the players traded for big league help are taken off the list (which didn’t include Josh Lueke, whom BA has as Seattle’s number 12 prospect right now, after he’d been in the 50s or 60s with Texas in 2009):
1. 
2. 
3. 
4. 
5. Martin Perez, LHP
6. 
7. Engel Beltre, OF
8. 
9. 
10. 
11. Wilfredo Boscan, RHP
12. 
13. Eric Hurley, RHP
14. 
15. Neil Ramirez, RHP
16. Joe Wieland, RHP
17. 
18. 
19. Kasey Kiker, LHP
20. Wilmer Font, RHP
21. Kennil Gomez, RHP
22. Tim Murphy, LHP
23. Guillermo Moscoso, RHP
24. 
25. Robbie Ross, LHP
26. Greg Golson, OF
27. 
28. Thomas Diamond, RHP
29. Clark Murphy, 1B
30. John Bannister, RHP
31. 
From the remaining group, some have met or exceeded expectations (e.g., Perez), and others have progressed, if inconsistently (Ramirez).  Some been hurt (Font) or struggled (Kiker), some are trying to make their way in a new organization (Diamond).  
So what we have now is a system considered by at least one reputable source as middle-of-the-pack (ESPN’s Keith Law has Texas 12th, and Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo have yet to weigh in), though I think even the Rangers would admit that the upper levels of their system aren’t as strong right now as the lower levels (based in large part on the graduations and trades we’ve discussed).
Within a couple years the hope will be that David Perez and Jake Skole and Mike Olt and Cody Buckel and Jorge Alfaro and the players taken this coming June at number 33 and 37 overall and a handful of kids out of Venezuela and Japan and points in between will have this system right back in the top tier – at least according to an industry publication.  Texas isn’t interested in a closing window.
For now, here are BA’s top 31 Rangers prospects going into 2011 (with my own November rankings, as they appears in the Bound Edition, in parentheses):
1. Martin Perez, LHP (1)
2. Jurickson Profar, SS (3)
3. Tanner Scheppers, RHP (2) 
4. Robbie Erlin, LHP (5)
5. Engel Beltre, OF (4)
6. Michael Kirkman, LHP (6)
7. Mike Olt, 3B (19)
8. Luis Sardinas, SS (7)
9. Jake Skole, OF (11)
10. Miguel De Los Santos, LHP (18)
11. David Perez, RHP (9)
12. Christian Villanueva, 3B (17)
13. Roman Mendez, RHP (21)
14. Wilmer Font, RHP (10)
15. Leury Garcia, SS (22)
16. Kellin Deglan, C (26)
17. Jorge Alfaro, C (12)
18. Justin Grimm, RHP (33)
19. Robbie Ross, LHP (8)
20. Miguel Velazquez, OF (23)
21. Luke Jackson, RHP (16)
22. Joe Wieland, RHP (14)
23. Fabio Castillo, RHP (13)
24. Barret Loux, RHP (UR: signed after I went to print)
25. Jared Hoying, OF (27)
26. Jose Felix, C (41)
27. Neil Ramirez, RHP (30)
28. Cody Buckel, RHP (28)
29. Josh Richmond, OF (52)
30. Jake Brigham, RHP (38)
31. Carlos Melo, RHP (54)
(Players I had in the top 31 that don’t show up on BA’s list include RHP Matt Thompson [15], RHP Omar Beltre [20], RHP Eric Hurley [24], RHP Pedro Strop [25], SS Hanser Alberto [29], and C Tomas Telis [31].)
While the Rangers sit at 15 overall in BA’s rankings, they sit ahead of the Angels (16, up from 25 a year ago), Mariners (18, down from 11), and A’s (28, down from 12).  
Law sees things differently, putting Los Angeles (6th overall) and Seattle (10) ahead of Texas (12), with Oakland (18) at a much more respectable level than BA had the A’s.
He’s also much higher on Ross and Ramirez than BA is, ranking the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows: Martin Perez, Profar, Scheppers, Beltre, Erlin, Ross, Ramirez, Olt, David Perez, and Sardinas.  (Goldstein’s Rangers top 11 will hit the streets this week.) 
Law ranks Martin Perez as the number 18 prospect in the game (“Perez’s performance this year was one of the most disappointing for any player in last year’s top 20, even though nothing significant changed in his delivery or stuff. . . . Had Perez rolled out a 3.00 ERA and peripherals . . . in Double-A this year, he’d still be in the top ten overall, but the poor results mean he’s not quite the sure thing he appeared to be a year ago, and he’s probably further from major league production than we thought.”), and Profar number 81 (“Profar is toolsy, not off-the-charts like fellow Rangers farmhand Luis Sardinas, but is more mature than most 17-year-olds and shows outstanding instincts that separate him from his peers. . . . He’s a long way off, but comfortably projects as an above-average regular with a lot of star potential.”).  (BA’s Top 100 isn’t out yet.) 
Law noted in a chat session that Scheppers missed his top 100 because he believes he’ll be a reliever in the big leagues, that Beltre didn’t figure in because of his microscopic walk totals, and that he’d be surprised if Erlin were to work his way into the top 100 a year from now.
Righthander Anthony Ranaudo (Boston) and lefthander Drew Pomeranz (Cleveland), both drafted by Texas out of high school in 2007 but unsigned, are number 54 and 60 on Law’s list, respectively.
Mayo, who ranks the top 60 prospects in baseball. has Martin Perez at number 23, Scheppers number 43 overall, and Profar number 57.  As we discussed a few days ago, Mayo ranks Perez as the number five minor league lefthander in baseball and Profar as the number five shortstop.  He also ranks Beltre as the number 10 outfielder prospect in the game.
(Mayo has six Royals in top 37 overall.  A bunch of you may not be old enough to go with me on this, but baseball is better when Kansas City contends.  The Royals are about to be the new Rays, and even better – since that team will draw when it’s winning.)
In a separate feature identifying a sleeper prospect in each system, Law pinpoints David Perez from the Texas system (number 9 Rangers prospect in his rankings, number 11 for BA, number 9 for me), noting that the 18-year-old “hit 97 in instructional league and will show 94-95 on a regular basis.  The Dominican right-hander is long and lean with a clean arm and repeatable delivery.  His secondary stuff isn’t there yet, but you can project at least average on the curve and change.”
Some other stuff:
Peter Gammons devotes his latest MLB.com column to the Rangers’ thought process behind giving Neftali Feliz a shot at the rotation this spring, and includes: (1) this interesting comment – “There is little doubt that if everything goes right in Surprise, Ariz., this spring, Feliz will be a starter”; (2) confirmation that Texas offered Vladimir Guerrero $8 million earlier this winter (Jon Daniels said in a radio interview on Friday that the offer was before Christmas); and (3) a note about the report I wrote evaluating the Mike Napoli trade.
At this point Guerrero is said to be weighing an offer from Baltimore of $3-5 million for one year, without much sign of any serious interest from other clubs.  
Lance Berkman: More, please.  Keep taking shots.  
Randy Levine: Jetes may be the heart and soul of the Yankees, but you, sir, epitomize the organization.  
(And man, I know it sucks that Texas was in the playoffs for like a few minutes and yet . . . never mind.)
Good luck with Andruw Jones, by the way.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post ranks the 30 teams’ off-seasons, placing the Yankees’ winter effort at number 21, citing the failed plan to sign Cliff Lee, the “public hissing” with Derek Jeter, the desperation overpayment to Rafael Soriano, and, “as the offseason neared conclusion, the . . . fending off [of] storylines of dissension in the ranks and falling significantly behind the Red Sox.”  (Tomorrow’s headline: Levine calls Sherman “delusional”?)
Sherman gives the Angels the number 30 spot, suggesting among other things that Los Angeles failed to get Toronto to take on Scott Kazmir (or insist on more of a cash subsidy) in the Vernon Wells deal, and included Napoli in the trade rather than using him in a separate deal.
Sherman had Seattle at number 29, Oakland at number 4, and Texas at number 15 (“Like the Yankees, they whiffed on Lee.  And you can argue that they overpaid for Beltre, especially because Beltre faltered the last time he received a long-term contract.  But the signing of Beltre did serve as a final trigger to get the division-rival Angels to make the foolhardy Wells deal, which has value.”).  And he had St. Louis at number 24, an assessment with which Lance Berkman vehement
ly disagrees.
Joe Sheehan on the Napoli-Francisco trade: “Napoli is much more valuable than is Francisco, is under control for longer and fits the Blue Jays’ needs better than Francisco does. . . . Laugh at the notion, but this trade may help the Rangers more than signing Adrian Beltre did.  They gave up nothing they can’t replace.”
Fun fact: Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. was 32 when the Angels signed him to a five-year, $50 million contract in 2006.  Center fielder Torii Hunter was 32 when the Angels signed him to a five-year, $90 million contract in 2007.  Wells is 32 as the Angels inherit $81 million of the final four years of his contract.  And a 23-year-old making league minimum (Peter Bourjos) could be their center fielder this season.
According to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post, Colorado has not talked to the Rangers about Michael Young since the Winter Meetings in early December.
Lefthander Miguel De Los Santos, who earned a 40-man roster spot in November even though he hasn’t pitched above Low Class A, had a brilliant Dominican Winter League campaign.  After posting a 2.00 ERA in five regular season DWL appearances (nine innings, six hits, seven walks, 11 strikeouts), his playoff work was extraordinary.  In three starts spanning 12 innings, De Los Santos scattered four hits (.100 opponents’ batting average) and five walks, punching out 19.  He’s got to cut down on the walks, but if he does manage to do that, watch out.
Texas signed 28-year-old slugger Brad Nelson to a minor league deal, coming off a standout winter league campaign in which he led the Dominican Winter League with nine home runs (105 at-bats), hitting .295/.402/.590.  After eight seasons in the Milwaukee system (getting brief big league looks in 2008 and 2009), Nelson has spent the last two with AAA Tacoma in the Seattle system.  
Interesting: One local reporter suggests the signing of Jose Julio Ruiz to a minor league deal with a big league invite could be protection in case Texas decides to trade Chris Davis, who has now fallen not only behind Mitch Moreland on the depth chart but also has Napoli and Young ahead of him as first base options in the event of a Moreland setback.  The club has added a number of first basemen to the upper levels of the system in the last six months, bringing Chris McGuiness aboard in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia trade and signing Nelson and Ruiz.  Chad Tracy remains in the mix as well, having split his AAA time between first base and left field in 2010, when he wasn’t DH’ing.
Assistant GM Thad Levine told reporters that the Rangers were probably the runners-up to sign Ruiz out of Cuba when the Rays signed him in June to the unique low-dollar deal for 2010 ($20,000 per month) with a four-year, $4 million option that they ultimately declined in November, making the 25-year-old a free agent once again.  He’s been described as having a “David Ortiz-type” frame and raw power, though the power didn’t translate in his two months with the Rays last summer (.313/.416/.468 over 139 at-bats between the Dominican Summer League and AA Montgomery, after hitting .305/.408/.467 in Cuba in 2009 before defecting).  He’s shown more athleticism than Ortiz (leading the Cuban National Series with 32 stolen bases in 2007-08), but by all accounts this is an aging prospect whose one tempting tool hasn’t yet turned into results.  
Not that I have an particular insight since I’ve never seen Ruiz play (and am not qualified to really evaluate him even if I had), but I’d equate the signing to a Loux-type risk-reward flier, with Loux (who I’ve also not seen play) having more potential to pay off.
Seems like the signing of 27-year-old catcher Robinzon Diaz to a minor league contract may be similar protection in case the Rangers choose to move Taylor Teagarden.  Diaz (described by Goldstein as a “career .297 hitter in the minors with no secondary skills,” though BA notes that he has “a pretty good arm and crazy hand-eye coordination”) joins Teagarden and journeyman Kevin Cash to boost the Rangers’ AAA catching depth – which became somewhat less of an issue than in most years with the addition of the versatile Napoli at the big league level.
Diaz was considered at least a viable prospect in 2008, when he played at four levels in the Toronto system (including a one-game big league debut) before being traded late in August to the Pirates for third base disappointment Jose Bautista, who had been optioned to AAA a few weeks earlier and cleared league-wide waivers in order to set up the post-July 31 trade.  Two years later, Bautista hit 54 Jays home runs, while Diaz spent the entire season with AAA Toledo in the Detroit system.
Baltimore signed three lefthanders to minor league contracts: Clay Rapada, who pitched for Texas late in the season and in the ALCS against New York; Michael Ballard, who spent five seasons in the Rangers’ farm system and got about as close to a call-up that didn’t happen (in 2008) as you can get; and Nick Bierbrodt, who was the Diamondbacks’ first-ever draft pick (in 1996, with Buck Showalter calling the shots), whose last big league work came with the Rangers (in 2004, when Showalter was Texas manager), and who will once again get a shot with a Showalter-led club.  I don’t think Bierbrodt or Ballard got big league spring training invites, while Rapada definitely did. 
The Orioles are also showing interest in outfielder Kevin Mahar, whose first three seasons as an undrafted free agent in the Rangers system came while Showalter was still around.  His lone big league action came in 2007, when he appeared in seven straight games for Texas in May, the second month of Ron Washington’s Texas tenure.
Baltimore also named Einar Diaz a coach with AA Bowie.
Righthander Dustin Nippert signed with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization.
For the first time in years, there’s not one Rangers player whose lack of options will be an issue this spring (unless you consider Andres Blanco a bubble candidate).  Rapada, Nippert, and Max Ramirez have moved on, and Ryan Tucker slid through waivers and was outrighted.  Among those with one option remaining in 2011: Davis, Teagarden, Pedro Strop, and two players who may never exhaust their options: Tommy Hunter and Julio Borbon.  (Interestingly, Mark Lowe and Eric Hurley still have all three options remaining, having never been optioned since arriving in the big leagues midway through the season in 2006 and 2008, respectively.)
The closest thing to an options-like issue this spring will be Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin, who must be exposed to league-wide waivers (and then, if he clears, must be offered back to the Angels) if he’s healthy and doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.  (However, like left-on-left specialist Ben Snyder a year ago, if Tobin does clear, Texas could make an effort to trade Los Angeles a lower-level prospect in exchange for the right to keep Tobin in the minor leagues.  The Rangers traded 17-year-old lefthander Edwin Escobar to San Francisco just before Opening Day last year, and sent Snyder to Frisco.)
(Escobar isn’t among the Giants’ top 31 prospects, according to BA.  Righthander Michael Main is slotted at number 31 for the club.)
The Mets signed righthander Chris Young and gave righthander R.A. Dickey, at age 36, the first multi-year contract of his career.  (Someone ought to look up how close that is to a record.)
Seattle invited righthander Blake Beavan to big league camp.
Minor league deals: righthander Chris Ray (Seattle); rig
hthander Warner Madrigal (Yankees); infielder Ramon Vazquez (St. Louis); infielder Alex Cora (Washington); righthanders Francisco Cruceta and Casey Daigle and catcher Chris Stewart (San Francisco); righthander Jose Veras (Pittsburgh); shortstop Ray Olmedo (Tampa Bay); and righthander Virgil Vazquez (Angels).
Washington designated outfielder Justin Maxwell for assignment.  
Former Rangers lefthander Mike Bacsik tried out for the independent Fort Worth Cats this weekend and earned a spot on the American Association club.  His father, Mike Sr., also a former Ranger, is the Cats’ new pitching coach.
The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League signed first baseman Freddie Thon.  The Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League extended infielder Donnie Ecker’s contract.  The Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League claimed infielder Chase Fontaine off waivers from the Sussex Skyhawks.   
Florida named Andy Barkett manager at AA Jacksonville.
Houston signed lefthander Wandy Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million extension.  The top tier of next winter’s free agent starting pitchers continues to thin out.  Assuming St. Louis and Philadelphia exercise 2012 options on Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt, the cream of the free agency crop could include C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Pineiro.
Correcting a January 25 note that I ran based on a local report: Brewers play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson is the brother of Rangers pro scout Mike Anderson, not his son.
Plans are starting to come together for the next Newberg Report party, which will be on Thursday evening, February 10, at Sherlock’s in Dallas.  Chuck Greenberg and John Rhadigan are in, Jon Daniels is a good bet, and we should have a key Rangers player with us as well.  We’re planning on a couple hours of Q&A, plus a charity auction of some unique Rangers stuff.  
On the same night, former Rangers GM Eddie Robinson will sign copies of his memoirs, authored by the great Paul Rogers, at SMU.  Tom Grieve and Dr. Bobby Brown will be on hand as well.  If you’re not planning to come to the Newberg Report event, think about making plans to go to SMU that night.  You might even be able to swing both, as the two events are about four miles apart.
We’re thinking about having a Newberg Report gathering at a game in Round Rock sometime this season.  
If you order your 2011 Bound Edition now, you’ll have it well before Pitchers & Catchers, just 17 sleeps from now.  It may not carry the weight of a Baseball America, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, or Jonathan Mayo, but in addition to more than 350 pages telling the story of the Rangers’ World Series season, there’s 30 pages up front that do nothing but rank and comment on the minor league prospects coming up in the Texas system, getting you ramped up on the young players the Rangers will look to in order to keep winning, through graduations to Arlington and trades for veterans counted on to make instant impacts.

Adding Mike Napoli.

Tuesday morning, shortly after I’d sent out my write-up on the Angels’ trade for Vernon Wells, I got an email from a Rangers fan stationed in Germany that ended with him pointing out that “another possible right-handed pinch hitter who could play the outfield is now on the market – well, two right-handed batters, one a C/1B, the other an outfielder.  I’m happy right where the Rangers are, but I suspect more will happen and we have kind of a track record with Toronto, who might want a less expensive prospect – and not a top one – for Rivera.”
My response: “Good grief, no . . . . Rivera is my nemesis . . . but Napoli?  Now he could be interesting . . . .”
Tuesday afternoon, Mike Napoli became a Texas Ranger.  For Frankie Francisco and a little cash.
Wednesday morning, tucked away in a Sports Illustrated column about off-season movement around the league as a whole, we learned a little more about how this trade probably came together.
Jon Heyman noted in his article that Wells told Toronto recently that he would waive his no-trade clause for only two teams: the Angels and Rangers.  Heyman added that “[w]hen Toronto talked to the Rangers about Wells, word is they would have had to pay more money to offset the deal.”  
That’s all we know from the Heyman piece, but we can deduce a few other things:
1. It’s probably fair to say in hindsight that the Blue Jays likely asked for Francisco and maybe another piece (Julio Borbon?) in exchange for Wells.
2. Jon Daniels said to the local press on Tuesday afternoon, regarding his acquisition that day of Mike Napoli: “We were dealing from strength to add a guy that we’ve liked a lot over the years and haven’t been able to get in the past.”
3. Back to the Wells talks between Toronto and Texas: When it became clear that the money wasn’t going to work out (the Jays ended up paying the Angels only $5 million toward the $86 million remaining on Wells’s deal), and presumably knowing that the Angels were the other team potentially in play (given Wells’s no-trade leverage), perhaps Daniels told Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos that there’s a way he could still parlay Wells into Francisco – get Napoli from the Angels and flip him to Texas.
4. That way, without it being a true three-team deal, the Angels would make the splash it was obviously intent on making, the Jays (remaking their bullpen after the off-season loss of Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs) would get their man in Francisco, and the Rangers would get that “guy that [they’ve] liked a lot over the years and haven’t been able to get in the past” in Napoli.
Something like that.
Here’s what I don’t get.  Let’s say the Angels, negotiating the Wells trade with Toronto, refused to include Napoli.  What if they told the Jays they’d part with Frosty Rivera and nothing else (or Rivera plus a lesser piece)?  Would Toronto, given the chance to move that $86 million obligation, really have said no?  
Would the Angels – who on paper would seem to need a guy like Francisco even more than Toronto does – have then gone to Texas and offered Napoli for Francisco?  Would the Rangers have agreed?  (We know they’ve tried to trade for Napoli before.)  Would Los Angeles have been reluctant to give Texas two years of control over Napoli?  If so, by holding Napoli out of the Jays deal, the Angels would have at least been able to increase the odds of keeping him out of Texas.
But enough about the Angels, whose participation in this pseudo-three-team trade was surely the least enthusiastic.  Let’s talk about Texas.
Setting aside for a moment the issue of at-bat distribution, among the things Daniels said about the acquisition of Napoli is that it makes the Rangers better.  That’s hard to dispute.
One reason Vladimir Guerrero was not re-signed after the season, or after an effort to sign Victor Martinez fell short, or after an attempt to add Jim Thome failed, or after Manny Ramirez thinned the market out further by signing with Tampa Bay, was that Guerrero – who Heyman insists Texas offered more than $8 million to weeks ago – fell off dramatically in the second half (seeing his OPS drop from .919 to .748) and provided nothing in the playoffs (.513 OPS).  Another is he’s finished defensively, and while Texas wanted one more veteran bat, versatility was a plus.  
Finally, in spite of the pursuit of Thome, the one left-handed bat that Texas reportedly chased that aggressively, by all accounts the Rangers wanted a hitter who could punish left-handed pitching.  Guerrero used to be that guy, even if he hit a wall midway through the 2010 season.  Right?
Guess what?  There’s a sabermetric measure called “Weighted Runs Created Plus,” a FanGraphs tool I had to read up on myself in the last couple days, one that values a player’s offensive productivity compared to league average, and park-adjusted.  
Forget 2010; look at 2008 through 2010 collectively.  Based on wRC+, who have the best hitters against left-handed pitching been, across baseball?
Over that three-year span, Guerrero is only 90th best in baseball.
Which isn’t as good as Michael Young, who checks in at number 64.  Nelson Cruz is 53rd best.  Ian Kinsler is 24th best in baseball against lefties in the last three years, nearly as valuable as new Ranger Adrian Beltre, who is 19th. 
Paul Konerko, another rumored Rangers target earlier this off-season, is number 10.  Victor Martinez is 7th.
But none of them – none of them – have punished southpaws like Mike Napoli, who has been better since 2008 against lefthanders (according to wRC+) than every hitter in baseball other than Albert Pujols, David Wright, Kevin Youkilis, and Carlos Beltran, each of whom will earn between $12 million and $18.5 million guaranteed in 2011.
Napoli will earn either $6.1 million or $5.3 million this year, with one more year of club control after that.
Super-small sample alert: Napoli is a .286/.474/.571 hitter against Cliff Lee in 14 career at-bats – with three walks.
Fluky?  Take a look at some of the other top lefthanders in the American League.
In 20 at-bats against Oakland’s Dallas Braden, Napoli is a .450/.450/.700 hitter.  
In 15 at-bats against Oakland’s Brett Anderson: .375/.444/.625.  
New York’s C.C. Sabathia: .308/.438/.615 (13 at-bats).
Seattle’s Jason Vargas: .333/.412/.667 (15 at-bats).
New York’s Andy Pettitte, who I bet is not done: .429/.500/.500 (14 at-bats).
Toronto’s Ricky Romero: .429/.556/1.286 (seven at-bats).
Napoli has had a tougher time with Jon Lester (.697 OPS), Mark Buehrle (.413), and John Danks (.308).  But I’m liking what he’s done against Oakland’s lefties (including Gio Gonzalez [dou
ble and three walks in eight trips]), and in general against lefthanders.  His 2010 slash against southpaws was a tremendous .305/.399/.567.  Over his five-year career, it’s .287/.391/.537.  
Napoli is a .292/.394/.573 hitter in Rangers Ballpark.  
If Max Ramirez was the player Texas had hoped it could develop into a Martinez-type hitter, an offensive catcher with enough damage in the bat to play on a corner or at DH, Napoli came a lot closer with Los Angeles.  A late bloomer, he slid through multiple Rule 5 drafts unprotected but unchosen (much like Francisco), and never got much Baseball America love (again like Francisco but even more so), not showing up among the Angels’ top 30 prospects his first four years and then managing to check in at number 29 (in what BA judged to be baseball’s best farm system) before the 2005 season – after hitting 29 home runs and driving in 118 runs in 132 High Class A games in 2004.  
Still, Napoli put that season together at the league-old age of 22, and the Angels left him off the 40-man roster for a second straight winter, a decision that went unpunished as no team spent a $50,000 Rule 5 pick to take a camp look at the catcher-first baseman.  
Napoli then hit 31 AA home runs in 2005 and BA recognized him as the number 11 Los Angeles prospect, prompting the club to give him a roster spot before that winter’s draft.  (Bonus note, from the June 3, 2005 Newberg Report: “Mike Hindman said it all in his report yesterday about [John] Danks’s AA debut Wednesday night.  He didn’t have his best stuff, which makes his 5.2-inning, two-run (one earned) effort even more encouraging.  Danks punched out six Arkansas hitters, issued four walks — he never walked more than two in any of his 10 Bakersfield starts — and showed a much better changeup than he was supposed to have coming into the season.  The lone earned run he allowed was on the first pitch of the second inning, when Travelers catcher Mike Napoli took him deep.  Napoli hit 29 home runs and drove in 118 runs in 132 games for Rancho Cucamonga in 2004, but Danks didn’t face him when the Quakes met Stockton in late July.”) 
(A little meatier than my comment in a July 1, 2009 entry: “Napoli: Italian for ‘bad beard.'”)
Since that 2005 season Napoli’s been a big leaguer, and in each of his five Angels seasons he’s hit double figures in home runs, even though he’s been a part-time player for the most part, exceeding 400 at-bats only once in his career.  In fact, in Tuesday’s report about the trade between the Angels and Jays, I shared this Joe Sheehan comment: “Over the past five seasons – Napoli’s career – Napoli has out-hit Wells . . . I’d bet right now that Napoli will out-hit Wells next year and for the rest of their careers. . . . The Angels have burnt $86 million and done absolutely nothing to make themselves better.”  
Napoli’s not a great catcher, but in Texas he’s unlikely to see much time behind the plate.  Still, he offers that sort of versatility, which is the second key to the deal as far as Napoli’s value is concerned.
Texas went to war last year with a season-opening bench of Taylor Teagarden, Ryan Garko, Joaquin Arias (Andres Blanco started in place of the injured Kinsler to begin the season), and David Murphy.
This year, if the club were to open again with a four-man bench: Matt Treanor, Napoli, Blanco, and Murphy.  If everyone’s healthy, the 13 position players on the Opening Day roster will include three catchers, three first basemen, three second basemen, two shortstops, three third basemen, and five outfielders, three of whom can play center field.  (I am curious, however, who the backup first baseman is at this point.  Who starts at first Opening Day against Lester – Young or Napoli – leaving the other to DH?)
Now, the flip side of the versatility point is the question of how to allocate at-bats.  (The Steve Walsh Conundrum, perhaps.)  The thing to keep in mind is that while (with the exception of Oakland) opposing rotations are generally righthander-heavy, the fact is some of the best starting pitchers that Rangers’ AL opponents will send to the mound are left-handed.  The ability to adjust with a more right-handed lineup without necessarily downgrading the attack is something to look forward to.  Napoli is no Garko, no Chris Shelton, no Jorge Cantu – and no Andruw Jones or Arias, who were both forced into first base duties at times the last two years.
The Rangers face Boston (Lester), Seattle (Vargas), and Baltimore (Brian Matusz) to open the season.  They get the Yankees (Sabathia) in the middle of April, and Toronto (Romero and Brett Cecil) and Oakland (Anderson, Gonzalez, Braden) at the end of the month.  If Napoli is punishing lefties out of the gate, Ron Washington is going to keep his and Michael Young’s bats in the lineup, which means Moreland will sit against lefthanders.  Not an unfair plan, given that Moreland hit just .200/.304/.300 against big league southpaws in 20 regular season at-bats (and .214/.267/.429 in 14 playoff at-bats) – though historically in the minor leagues he’s hit lefties.
As you’ve probably read or heard about on talk radio by now, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggests that Texas should step up effort to trade Young on the heels of the Napoli acquisition.  He points out that Napoli can DH and play first base, like Young.  That Young attains 10-and-5 no-trade rights in May.  That, at $16 million for each of the next three seasons, Young is overly expensive for a part-time DH and super-utility player.  (The size of the contract, of course, militates against the idea that trading Young is all teed up.)
The way I see it, adding Napoli may make it easier to trade Young (from a roster standpoint), but doesn’t make it more necessary.  Napoli and Moreland will end up complementing each other in the lineup for the most part, and there will be plenty of days when Washington gets both of them in the lineup by using Young to give Kinsler or Beltre a day off.  And if either of those two infielders or Moreland were to miss any extended time due to injury, Washington can have Young step in defensively and leave DH to Napoli (or vice versa).
As for potential suitors for Young, Rosenthal identifies the Rockies (who “maintain interest” in Young and who would send at least utility infielder Jose Lopez back) and Angels (lots of bullet points: a need at third base, Young’s hometown team, Vernon Wells – but can they afford to take on any more significant cash?).  Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star speculates that the Jays could be interested in bringing Young back to the organization.  Still, I’m not sure I see it, and I’ve said it before: Young’s importance to this club off the field makes him more valuable in Texas than he is as a trade asset.
Again, I don’t think the Napoli acquisition was necessarily made to set up a Young trade – but it does make it easier than bringing Thome or Ramirez (or Troy Glaus, who doesn’t really hit lefties) or Guerrero aboard would have.  Those other additions, however, wouldn’t have cost the team one of its reliable bullpen pieces.
And to me – at least right now – that’s the bigger story, the impact of the trade on the Texas bullpen.  We don’t have to squint our eyes to imagine what the eighth inning might be like without Francisco around – we saw it in September and Oc
tober.  
The hope is that, behind Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando is ready to take the next step (more success with runners on base would be a good place to start), that Mark Lowe will refind a rhythm, that Tanner Scheppers will make his impact in 2011, that the Darren Oliver-Arthur Rhodes combination will keep those two fresh all year.  (Yes, Feliz and Ogando will be stretched out in camp to see how’d they’d fare going through a lineup multiple times and whether they can go to their secondary stuff in hitters’ counts, just as C.J. Wilson was last year, but I’m betting on both righties settling back into the bullpen in mid-March.  At least this year.)
Toss in the dependable Darren O’Day, a long man from a group that could include whoever among Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, and Matt Harrison doesn’t earn a rotation spot, the possible addition of Scott Feldman a month or so into the season, and maybe some surprise work out of someone like Yoshinori Tateyama, Pedro Strop, Omar Beltre, Eric Hurley, Mason Tobin, or even Fabio Castillo, and the Rangers feel like whatever negative impact the loss of Francisco creates, it’s more than offset by the addition of Napoli to the attack.
Said Daniels: “Obviously, any time you trade a contributing big league piece, there’s going to be some risk involved.  But as we looked at it, we’ve got five or six quality, high-end winning [bullpen] pieces that are established in the big leagues and probably an equal number of guys we feel have the chance to do the same thing and put themselves in that position.”  Still, a couple relievers are going to need to step up.
Francisco was a Type A free agent this winter but was near the bottom of the classification, and if he were to stay in Texas in a set-up role, his two-year measure might well have made him a Type B free agent next winter.  Theoretically, that would make him a better bet to decline arbitration (and give the Rangers a compensatory draft pick), but the counter-analysis is that Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, and Ryan Franklin are all set to become free agents next winter, as could Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan if their clubs were to buy out their 2012 option years.  Francisco could accept arbitration as he did this winter, figuring his one-year payday could be better through that process than it would be on an open market flooded with late relief options.
Bottom line: I doubt Texas would have offered Francisco arbitration a year from now.  This was probably going to be his last season as a Ranger. 
Francisco will be missed, but there was going to be an effort, in my opinion, to start relying on another pitcher to handle the eighth, or at least groom his successor as the season progressed.  That effort now gets accelerated.  Someone among Ogando and Scheppers and Lowe will be called on to take the next step.  They’re all capable of it.
What the Rangers appear to have done with this trade is to deal the Angels another blow, by adding a player they apparently refused for some time to trade to Texas themselves, and to improve their chances to handle Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden in Oakland, not to mention A’s relievers Brian Fuentes and Craig Breslow.  It’s another chess move for this front office, possibly the final one before winter tactics give way to work on the field, as the Rangers begin to take on the formidable challenge of defending their first American League pennant, with a roster that should be better equipped in some areas to get the job done.

Thoughts on the Angels and Vernon Wells.

f you weren’t among the record crowds at Friday night’s Awards Dinner and Saturday and Sunday’s Fan Fest, you’ve no doubt heard and maybe even seen uploaded footage of the highlights.
Friday night, the 1985 El Dorado the club surprised Wash with.
C.J. Wilson’s (“Finish it!!”) acceptance speech. 
Jim Reeves doing what he does best (and what nobody in local sports does better) with his tribute to Tom Vandergriff. 
Engel Beltre’s ascot.
Eric Nadel’s remarks about Colby Lewis.  (And about an Eleno Ornelas radio call that I’m now reminding myself I need to chase down.)
Josh Hamilton’s comments, followed by Wash’s.  
Saturday and Sunday, a Rangers-centric version of the NFL Experience that blows away anything the team has done with its Fan Fest/Winter Carnival in the 12 or 13 years I’ve been going.  Tons of great stuff for the kids, including some who are almost 42 years old:
      
We didn’t have autograph guests at the booth this year – the space was massive enough that the team was able to station something like 30 current and former Ranger players without the need for extra locations like ours (plus, there was no mini-camp coinciding with the event, which in past years has brought a couple dozen minor leaguers in town) – but we did have a few guests drop by unannounced and we put a pen in their hands for a different reason . . . . 
 
. . . and I will tell you this: If you end up buying the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow, there’s no way that you’ll be able to nail as many Pirates trivia questions two years from now as Chuck Greenberg did on our Rangers quiz on Saturday.
Everything about the weekend was first class, a term I heard dozens of you use about the two events.  Friday’s banquet sold out, drawing twice as many fans (1,400) as any of the last few years.  More than 11,000 fans attended Fan Fest, nearly three times as many as last year.  
A whole lot of those Rangers caps and sweatshirts and jackets look brand new, but that’s OK.  I’ve got no beef with a bandwagon fan as long as he or she’s not the type that plans to jump off at the first sign of adversity.  
The front office isn’t all about instant gratification, or else Cliff Lee would be a Ranger right now, and maybe Zack Greinke would, too.  (But Adrian Beltre wouldn’t be, and some significant chunk of a group including Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter and Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Erlin and Engel Beltre and Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia probably wouldn’t be, either.)
The players are resilient.  They proved it over and over again in 2010.
Easier said than done in some cases, but there’s no reason we, as fans, can’t be resilient too, when we need to be, and to resist the urge for the quick fix.
Speaking of which, the most common weekend discussion revolved around Vernon Wells, whom the Angels traded for on Friday.  I can’t imagine what the scene would have been like in Los Angeles this weekend (if the Angels staged some sort of fan event before spring training, which they don’t), but I have yet to run into (or read) anyone who understands what the Angels were doing.  It’s hard to see the long-term benefit, or even some sort of quick fix aspect to the deal. 
You can drill down deep into the numbers, even defensively, to make a case that Wells isn’t worth giving Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera up for, but put it this way:
Adam Dunn signed this winter for four years and $56 million (AAV: $14 million).
Victor Martinez signed this winter for four years and $50 million (AAV: $12.5 million).
Beltre: five years and $80 million guaranteed, which could become six years and $96 million (AAV: $16 million).
Carl Crawford, three years younger than Wells: seven years and $142 million (AAV: $20.3 million).
Jayson Werth: seven years and $126 million (AAV: $18 million).
Vernon Wells over the remainder of his existing contract: four years and $86 million ($21.5 million).
Theoretically, the Angels could have signed both Martinez (four years) and Rafael Soriano (three years) for about the same outlay as they’re going to pay Wells – either to play on a corner or to move Peter Bourjos to a corner, which would decimate his value – and wouldn’t have had to move Napoli and Rivera to do it . . . or more likely, would have allowed them to move those two everyday hitters to other clubs for additional assets (Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star suggests that could be what the Blue Jays now do with one or both right-handed hitters).  
So Los Angeles evidently ducked out of paying Beltre – who would have dramatically upgraded third base from the weak threesome of Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, and Brandon Wood – the annual sum of $16 million for five years.  But the club was willing to go $21.5 million annually for four years of Wells.  The Angels would have had to surrender a second-round pick for Beltre.  Instead, Napoli and Rivera for Wells.
It’s a strange move.
That’s a club that had several black holes in its lineup before Friday, before it traded two moderately productive hitters (who stand to make a combined $11 million or so in 2011, before their commitments end, though Napoli is subject to club control in 2012) for one who’s coming off a very good season, but who, at age 31, has been caught in a year-on, year-off pattern since passing his prime years (though he’s done plenty more than Gary Matthews Jr., whom the Angels will pay another $11 million to in 2011).
As a Rangers fan, I’m happy the Angels made this trade.  Wells killed this team in 2010 (.382/.500/1.147 in 34 at-bats, eight home runs in 10 games), and from that standpoint I’d prefer to see him 10 times a year rather than 19, but I think Los Angeles got worse with this deal, if not in 2011 then absolutely beyond that.
If you think these are merely ramblings of an admitted Rangers homer, here’s a media reaction sample: 
 
Rob Neyer, ESPN: “It’s like the Angels are doubling down on Torii Hunter’s contract . . . . [I]f [rookie center fielder Peter] Bourjos hadn’t been so awful in the majors last year, the Angels probably wouldn’t have traded for Vernon Wells.  If the Angels hadn’t struck out in their bids for Crawford and Beltre, they almost certainly wouldn’t have traded for Wells, if only because there wouldn’t have been room for Wells’ HUGE contract in their budget.  But both of those things did happen, and the Angels overreacted.  Sort of classically.  This might actually work, for a year or two.  But the Angels are now inside one of those hamster wheels, and I really wonder if they can keep their little legs moving fast enough to keep from being flung off before long.”
Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus: “[Angels GM Tony] Reagins’ repeating Bill Stoneman’s massive mistake with Little Sarge may well be the self-capping gesture of a now worse-than-wasted winter for the Angels. . . . They wouldn’t ‘overpay’ to guarantee themselves signing Adrian Beltre or Carl Crawford.  Instead, they wound up paying a very similar price tag over the next four years – one that had to be offset by shedding Napoli and Rivera, which a free-agent signing would not have done – to wind up with 80 percent o
f the ballplayer.  It’s a misunderstanding of both the value of talent and the value of money. . . . [A]s a player now in his 30s with a history for recurring hamstring issues, does it really make sense to bet on his continued good health?  Hell no. . . . He will be what he’s been for much of his Jays career: a nice ballplayer, good enough to help a winning ballclub, but for the expense of employing him and how much that hampers its efforts to buy real star talent.”
Buster Olney, ESPN: “[T]he Angels are committed to paying Vernon Wells – who is two years and eight months older than Crawford – $21.5 million a year, or $2.5 million year more than their decisive offer to Crawford, the younger and better player.  They’re committed to paying Wells – whom they project as a corner outfielder – more than they offered to Beltre, who is coming off a year in which he had an OPS of .918, as one of the best third basemen in the game. . . . Yes, a seven-year deal with Crawford is the longer deal, but it also would have covered the years when Crawford played at age 28 and 29 and 30 and 31 – which might turn out to be the best years of his career.  The Angels are getting Wells on a contract with a shorter term, yes, but they’re paying him more money than they offered Crawford for his work at age 32, 33, 34 and 35 – when Wells’ work at age 29 and 30 was already a concern. . . . There was a running debate among some talent evaluators Friday over how much Toronto would have to eat to make this deal make sense for the Angels. ‘It would have to be at least $30 million,’ said one longtime evaluator. . . . [A] s it turned out, the Jays found a taker in the Angels, who seem to be desperate for some kind of consolation prize near the end of what has been a frustrating winter.”
Joe Sheehan, The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: “I had suggested more than a year ago, when the Blue Jays were shopping Roy Halladay, that the Wells contract was so bad, so debilitating, that the best thing they could do would be to trade Halladay and Wells to a team for nothing in return, that simply saving the money on Wells would be worth more to them than any prospects Halladay could return.  While I remain convinced that such as deal might have been worthwhile, it’s clear that I underestimated the esteem in which at least one team would hold Wells. . . . Over the past five seasons – Napoli’s career – Napoli has out-hit Wells . . . I’d bet right now that Napoli will out-hit Wells next year and for the rest of their careers. . . . The Angels have burnt $86 million and done absolutely nothing to make themselves better.”  
Dave Cameron, FanGraphs: “2007-2010, outfielders with similar [weighted on-base average] to Vernon Wells: Randy Winn, Chris Young, Aaron Rowand. . . . Adrian Beltre produced more value (+7.1 [Wins Above Replacement]) in 2010 than Wells did in the last four years combined (+7.0).”
Keith Law, ESPN: “Vernon Wells isn’t a terrible player – he’s a solid player with a terrible contract.  And he is absolutely the wrong player right now for the Los Angeles Angels, who have made one [of] the worst desperation moves I can remember.”
The move also likely makes Bobby Abreu a fulltime DH, which would theoretically take Los Angeles out of the hunt for Vladimir Guerrero, and there are now reports suggesting Texas could reopen the door for Guerrero to return, albeit in a projected role that would call for less playing time than he’d like.  Baltimore is also said to be in on Guerrero, whose lifetime OPS in Camden Yards (1.011) is actually higher than it is in Arlington (.996).
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez signed with Tampa Bay, a development that generated one of the Awards Dinner’s loudest ovations on Friday night.  (After I sent the COFFEY out on Friday morning passing along the local rumor that Texas was in on Manny, I got nearly 100 responses.  Two were in favor of Manny coming here.  Two.)
Whether Guerrero is in big league camp with the Rangers a month from now is uncertain, but minor league righthanders Tanner Scheppers and Cody Eppley, catcher Jose Felix, and outfielder/bat Chad Tracy will be there, having all been invited by Texas as non-roster players.  Those four join pitchers Seth McClung and Ryan Tucker, catcher Kevin Cash, infielders Brian Barden and Esteban German, and outfielders Endy Chavez and Doug Deeds as non-roster invites so far. 
Scheppers didn’t make Jonathan Mayo’s MLB.com list of the top 10 minor league righthanders in baseball, but Martin Perez checks in at number five on the list of top lefthanders.  Jurickson Profar was Mayo’s number five shortstop.
Ted Price got some really good interview footage at Fan Fest, and it won’t take you long to watch it.
Among those in the upload is Josh Hamilton, who stayed at Fan Fest until about 45 minutes after his autograph session – and the entire event – was supposed to have ended.  He didn’t budge until the last fan with an autograph ticket was taken care of.
The scene just before Hamilton arrived is hard to describe.  He’s a Beatle.  There were hundreds of fans lined up just to be nearby as he entered the building to walk to his autograph station.  I can’t think of another local athlete – ever – who’s been as magnetic a figure as that guy. 
Among the things Nolan Ryan said to reporters over the weekend was that he projects 90-95 wins for the Rangers in 2011.  Last year, just after camp had gotten underway, he threw down 92 – a total that the team matched two games into the first round of the playoffs.
The deal that reliever Darren O’Day signed to avoid arbitration was for either $1.251 or $1.215 million (the latter figure looks more like a baseball salary, but the former one is getting reported more often), either slightly above or slightly below the midpoint between his $1.4 million proposal and the club’s $1.05 million submission.  Notably, the Super Two service time threshold this off-season was two years and 122 days of service, significantly lower than most years, when the cutoff was around two years and 140 days.  O’Day, with two years and 128 days of service, therefore qualified for arbitration, which probably resulted in at least $700,000 more in 2011 than he’d have made had he fallen short of Super Two status.  
San Diego signed first baseman Jorge Cantu to a one-year, big league deal, reported to be for a $850,000 base.  Arizona traded two ordinary pitching prospects for Armando Galarraga.
Colorado signed outfielder Willy Taveras to a minor league deal with a big league invite.  St. Louis signed infielder Freddie Bynum to a minor league league deal after a stint in Japan.
Todd Coffey is a Washington National.
The Rangers released minor league righthanders Johnny Gunter and Aaron Thompson, both of whom had arrived in 2009, Gunter via the draft and Thompson as a free agent signed out of Australia.
According to a local report, Texas talked to Phillies play-by-play man Scott Franzke and Brewers play-by-play man Brian Anderson (son of Rangers pro scout Mike Anderson) during the process that led the organization to hire John Rhadigan to handle television play-by-play duties.  
I did a segment last night on the debut edition of “Talkin’ Baseball with Mike Capps” on 104.9 The Horn/ESPN Radio Austin, radio home of the Round Rock Express.  The one-hour show will air every Monday at 7 p.m. leading up to the start of the season, and each week either Scott Lucas or I will join Capps, the Express play-by-play announcer, and
former Major Leaguer Jerry Grote, the club’s radio color analyst, for a segment to discuss the Rangers at the big league and AAA levels.
Rangers minor league reliever Matt Thompson’s dad Bill is helping organize the “Bad Boy Mowers Celebrity Softball Classic,” a celebrity softball game on Thursday, February 3, benefiting the Tara Sawyer Foundation.  Event information is at www.tarasawyer.org.  The game will be followed by fireworks and a Mark Chesnutt concert, and among those slated to play are Ian Kinsler, Tommy Hunter, Darren Oliver, Rusty Greer, Steve Buechele, Jeff Frye, Matt Thompson, Everson Walls, and Randy White . . . 
. . . and Vernon Wells.
The great Vernon Wells Sr., that is.  
He’s going to have a lot more Rangers games to go to this year, and in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and while Junior will probably make Dad plenty proud, especially if he continues to rake in his hometown with half as much bad-***-ness as he did in 2010 (2.492 OPS), I can’t help but think the Angels’ measured efforts to reclaim their perch atop the AL West, which some felt two months ago could actually bring Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano to Anaheim, were just dealt a pretty severe, desperately self-inflicted blow. 

John Rhadigan, play by play.

When Texas makes a season-defining trade, or calls up its top prospect to make his big league debut, the update I send out announcing the move generates dozens of emails, sometimes hundreds, often with wildly divergent opinions but the same level of energy and intensity.  Yesterday’s midday announcement of John Rhadigan triggered that sort of response, in both volume and vigor.  And many asked me to weigh in on the hire.

First things first: I’m a radio guy.  Tom Grieve knows it, Josh Lewin knew it.  For various reasons I do catch hundreds of innings of the television call each season.  But the TV sound is down in my home for probably more than 1,000 innings each year.  It’s partly because of Eric Nadel, of course, but not only because of Nadel.  I’m a radio guy in baseball and I am in football as well.  Always have been, always will be.  

But I do realize that those hundreds of innings of TV play-by-play I might tune into each season is as many as, if not more than, some segments of the fan base might catch of Rangers baseball all year – fans that the organization would like to convert into thousand-inning consumers.  And, of course, I’m intensely interested in seeing the Rangers striving to make themselves better everywhere they can and at every opportunity: in the rotation, in center field, in scouting, in sponsorships, in the television booth.  Even where I might not be directly affected, I want this organization to be great.

I have no idea how John Rhadigan will sound calling Rangers games.  This I do know: He’s a pro’s pro.  He knows this team and this franchise.  He’s an extraordinarily good guy, and you’ll find nobody who disagrees about that.  He’s been proficient at worst, tremendous at best, at everything he’s done in this market, and he’s done a lot.

But calling an eighth-inning 6-4-3 to end an Angels threat and preserve a one-run Rangers lead with the Texas magic number down into the teens?  Or reacting (and not overreacting) to what turns out to be a routine, bases-empty Adrian Beltre fly to left center in mid-May?  Don’t have an opinion on that.  Feels sort of wrong to fire one up just yet.

A year ago at this time, what would you have thought if you were told Texas would end up sending Chris Davis back to AAA after just 48 at-bats, would trade Justin Smoak during the season, and would give first base to Mitch Moreland, a recent 17th-round pick who just a year earlier had been told by the organization that it was up to him whether he wanted to convert wholesale to the mound, or remain a position player?  Who, in 2010, would be strictly an Oklahoma City outfielder until mid-July, two weeks before he’d be called up to settle in on a first-place Major League team as its starting first baseman?

Last March, Randy Galloway said he asked five Rangers officials who the club’s 2012 first baseman would be: Davis or Smoak?  The leading answer, said Galloway, was Moreland.  

I’d say most of us who heard that, no matter how insane our level of interest in this team was, were pretty skeptical.

Are you as big a fan of Phillies play-by-play man Scott Franzke as I am?  Probably not, but if you are, how did you feel about his potential in that role when he was handling Rangers radio pregame and postgame show duties, just a few years ago?

Maybe John Rhadigan is Mitch Moreland.  Maybe he’s Scott Franzke.  Maybe not – but maybe.

Is it fair to say we just don’t know yet?

One thing we do know is that the scrutiny will be passionate, as it would be if some well-established, nationally renowned play-by-play man were brought in and loyal Rangers fans expected him to be fluent in how special a defender Davis is, how Alexi Ogando was acquired, the primary reason Craig Gentry didn’t make the playoff roster, and the fact that Moreland closed games for Mississippi State in the 2007 College World Series, and to fold all of that information into the broadcast without acting as if it’s the same level of revelation to the viewer as it is to him.  It’s one thing for Jon Miller to relate Josh Hamilton’s unique story when he knows he has viewers in New York and San Francisco, or Pittsburgh and Baltimore, or Denver and Cheyenne, but it would be a problem if a new announcer, with rows of trophies on his mantel, came in here and lacked not only a grasp of Rangers history and talking points, but also a sense of what the viewing audience’s grasp of those things is.

I don’t blame any of you for caring, no matter where you fall on this hire – it fires me up that the interest level is this intense – but for those of you who were disappointed with the announcement, and for those of you who couldn’t be happier, wouldn’t it make sense to wait at least until March 12, when John Rhadigan first relates the starting spring training lineup that Ron Washington is sending out there to take on the White Sox, to really judge it?  
 
I can assure you right now that I’ll prefer the Rangers’ TV play-by-play man to Chicago’s that Saturday afternoon, but as for any more defined opinion than that, other than to tell you there are few guys in the local media who are more likable than John, it’s going to be many months before I’m prepared to, or interested in, giving one.
 

Settlements.

Texas avoided arbitration on Tuesday by agreeing to terms with C.J. Wilson ($7 million) and Nelson Cruz ($3.65 million) on one-year deals, leaving Josh Hamilton, Frank Francisco, and Darren O’Day as the club’s remaining arbitration cases (the club settled with David Murphy [$2.4 million] a couple weeks ago, and Mark Lowe [$1.2 million] in November).

The question is less whether Texas will settle with Hamilton ($12 million player proposal vs. $8.7 million club proposal), Francisco ($4.875 million vs. $3.5 million), and O’Day ($1.4 million vs. $1.05 million) than whether the club could work out multi-year contracts with any of them.

The Rangers have made a routine practice of approaching core players (and some who might be considered non-core, but dependable pieces of the puzzle) to see if there’s mutual interest in an extension that would buy out the player’s remaining arbitration years and a year or two of free agency.  Texas did it in recent years with Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Francisco Cordero, Hank Blalock, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Feldman, and Ron Mahay.

There was talk in the press yesterday that it wouldn’t be out of the question for the club to approach Elvis Andrus, who isn’t arbitration-eligible yet but will have the first of his three arbitration winters arrive a year from now, about the idea of a long-term deal that would knock the shortstop’s arbitration years out, and maybe more.  Such a deal would give the club some cost certainty (perhaps even at a perceived discount, Scott Boras notwithstanding) and the player the financial security that would set him and his family up for life, with the likelihood of plenty of prime earning years beyond the deal.

Young and Kinsler were in the same service time class as Andrus when they signed their initial long-term deals here, as is Carlos Gonzalez (like Andrus a Boras client), who signed a seven-year, $80 million deal with the Rockies last week.

How likely is it that Texas could announce a multi-year agreement with Andrus, or any of its arbitration-eligible players?  It’s a question worth looking at, not only as far as Hamilton, Francisco, and O’Day are concerned, but Wilson and Cruz and Murphy as well.  The Rangers signed Young in March 2004 before announcing a four-year contract that April.  They settled with the first-time arbitration-eligible Feldman last January before agreeing to an extension through 2012 (with a club option for 2013) five weeks later.  Settling on the current year doesn’t eliminate the possibility of an extension shortly thereafter.

To me, the idea of a multi-year deal with Wilson, right now, might be the least likely of any of them.  Theoretically, it’s the most urgent case of the six, as he and Francisco are the only two who will be eligible to test free agency next winter.  But you can imagine that in Wilson’s case, both sides may be reluctant to commit long-term.  The Rangers might want to see the one-year starter deliver another year of results and health before binding themselves at anything close to market level for multiple years – he’d cost far more than Feldman, who agreed last year to a guarantee of less than $14 million for three seasons – and Wilson will probably want to take advantage of the fact that he sits near the top of an unusually thin class of starting pitchers eligible for free agency next winter.  Someone else will emerge during the 2011 season, but at the moment it’s Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Wandy Rodriguez, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Pineiro who stand out (assuming St. Louis and Philadelphia exercise 2012 options on Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt).  There’s no Cliff Lee in the bunch.

Wilson strikes me, and probably you, as someone who will want to see how much (and for how long) the Yankees and Red Sox and Angels and Dodgers might be willing to pay him a year from now to pitch in a big market, which is not to say Texas wouldn’t ultimately be his first choice once his market is defined.  I just can’t imagine he’s making financial security a priority right now.

Cruz, for different reasons, is an unusual case.  People talk about Hamilton’s relatively advanced age – he’ll be 31 when he’s first eligible for free agency (after the 2012 season) – but Cruz will be 33 when he can test the market for the first time (after 2013).  For that reason, he’s probably motivated now to see if there’s common ground with the team for long-term talks (this season’s $3.65 million contract will be his first, due to service time, for more than $500,000), but how long will Texas be willing to commit for a player who’s already 30?  I don’t think anyone expects Cruz, a classic late bloomer, to start to recede in 2011 but, really, how many years do you go?

Which brings us to Hamilton.  It’s sort of bizarre to categorize him as a year-to-year proposition (from a team perspective), but for all his positives, which stack up against anyone’s in baseball, there’s also his track record in terms of his ability to bounce back from injury (or illness), the risk of another 2009-level regression, and, frankly, the off-field issues that everyone hopes are fully past tense.  I can easily imagine Texas floating a three-year proposal, maybe four, that would delay Hamilton’s free agency by a year or two, but would he agree to such a (relatively) short term for what could unquestionably be the one contract in his career of such a length?  Hamilton is motivated in different ways and by different things than most players, and maybe he would be absolutely fine with just a three- or four-year commitment (even though he’s barely made more as a player than the $3.96 million he signed for as an 18-year-old out of high school).  But as with many things as far as Hamilton is concerned, his case is uniquely difficult to predict.

As for Murphy, his situation is probably somewhat like that of Feldman’s a year ago.  Murphy isn’t exactly a core player, just as Feldman wasn’t when he signed his extension coming off a 17-win season, but like 2009 Feldman he’s the type of player that winning organizations have in the middle of the roster, and aren’t hesitant to commit to.  Feldman took advantage of a window to secure his financial situation, and I suspect Murphy (who can’t elect free agency until after the 2013 season, when he’ll turn 32) would be motivated to do so as well.

The 31-year-old Francisco, the lone free agent in the group, made sense to commit an arbitration offer to this off-season, and given the injury that ended his season prematurely, it’s not surprising that he accepted the offer (in spite of a very healthy market for set-up relievers).  But given the Rangers’ bullpen depth (including a couple arms who haven’t arrived but are getting close), anything more than a one-year settlement would be surprising, unless the club were to get Francisco to agree to a 2012 club option that would guarantee a modest buyout.  

O’Day is probably not a candidate for an extension.  The club already controls him for four more years (he’ll have four years of arbitration eligibility rather than three, as he qualified this winter as a Super Two), and the 28-year-old unlikely to elevate into a role (now or in the future) that would generate the kind of statistics which would trigger a massive arbitration payday.

And Andrus?  I’d say the Gonzalez deal that Boras just struck with Colorado gives him the type of model that will simultaneously (1) embolden his ask and (2) lessen the chances of anything getting done.  That’s not a problem.  Andrus is here through 2014, at least, and there will be plenty of chances to make sure his tenure lasts longer than that.  I wouldn’t rule out an extension before the season, but it may be more likely to look like Mark Teixeira’s in 2006, a two-year agreement that didn’t even exhaust his arbitration years but did give Texas a little multi-year cost certainty.

C
ount on the Rangers, who haven’t taken an arbitration case all the way to hearing in 11 years (when a panel found the club’s $3.5 million proposal for Lee Stevens more appropriate than the 32-year-old’s $4.7 million submission), settling in the next couple weeks with Hamilton, Francisco, and O’Day, just as they’ve already done with Wilson, Cruz, and Murphy (and Lowe).  The bigger issue is whether there will be mutual interest between club and player in some cases – including Andrus’s – for a multi-year extension at a number both sides would accept.

I should have known better than to ask yesterday for story ideas.  You guys emailed me with more than 200 of them.  Not complaining – I appreciate the feedback a lot – but I won’t be able to address any of them today.  Several of your suggestions in particular turned up over and over, and I’ll get to those, and a stack of other notes, next time.

Change.

Sometimes the moves work out, like when you traded John Kruk, Eddie Whitson, Mackey Sasser, and a 1991 second-round pick and sixth-rounder for 26-year-old Barry Bonds, Mark Carreon, and an eighth-rounder (which you turned into 20-year-old AA reliever Mark Wohlers in the next week’s draft) and a 13th-rounder.

Or Aaron Heilman, Yorvit Torrealba, and a 2004 first-rounder for Jason Johnson, Jason Grimsley, and AA catcher-turned-first baseman Justin Morneau.

Or, to be sure, Milwaukee center field prospect Dave Krynzel for Boston shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez, firmly blocked by Nomar Garciaparra at the time of your April 2004 trade.

Other times, you spend days, maybe weeks, haggling before finalizing that blockbuster that sends Preston Wilson, Jose Jimenez, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Ricky Ledee away and makes Geoff Jenkins, Mark Redman, Kaz Ishii, and Pokey Reese new members of the Exprestos, not to mention that second-rounder and sixth-rounder that you got tossed in.  In other words, a flashy sizzle-over-steak trade that doesn’t do much good and doesn’t really hurt, but provides the adrenaline fix of making the deal.

I’ll readily admit that when I saw the news yesterday that Jim Thome had decided to return to the Twins, accepting a one-year deal with a $3 million base that’s reportedly less than what Texas offered, I was momentarily deflated.  I love Thome, always have, even if I’m not sure how adding his bat was going to work out in terms of playing time, unless it was setting things up for another domino to fall.  

That’s not to say I question whether Thome would have helped this lineup; I have no doubt he would have.  But if he were to play against righthanders and if that’s the plan for Mitch Moreland, too, is Michael Young suddenly a DH against southpaws only, with two games a week somewhere else in the infield?  And if Young fills in for Moreland against tough lefties, who DH’s?

Not that a right-handed designated like Manny Ramirez makes any more intuitive sense, since that’s what Young is slated to be.  (Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes adds Texas to the Angels, Twins, Rays, and Blue Jays as teams who have asked about Manny.)

Maybe someone like Troy Glaus, a right-handed bat who can play first base?  Sure, unless you’re expecting him to come in and mash lefthanders, which he hasn’t really done since 2007.  You like Marcus Thames?  Who’d play first against Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden and Jon Lester and C.C. Sabathia and Francisco Liriano and David Price and John Danks and Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero and Brian Matusz – Thames or Young?

Change makes things more interesting.  Especially this time of the year, when the sports landscape flags with the fortunes of the other teams that generally hold interest.  The hot stove season in baseball is so awesome that it has a nickname, and television programming named after it, and part of the reason for that is change fires us up, renews hope, stokes new scenarios to dream on.  

In some cases, the idea of adding a player you’ve been in awe of forever, still producing even if his prime years were back when you were able to ship John Lackey, Reggie Sanders, Randall Simons, Royce Ring, Garrett Atkins, and a second-round pick away for young Adam Dunn, Joel Pineiro, and a first-rounder that you turned into the great Guillermo Quiroz, the number 35 prospect in all of baseball, gets you all baseballed up, especially at the time of year when your pro and college football season is over, your basketball team is skidding off the road, and hockey’s just not enough to get you to spring training.

Five days ago, I tweeted: “Not sure how all this would shake out, but gotta say: Seeing Thome stride to plate Opening Day would be almost as great as Vlad a year ago.”

That visceral reaction to player movement will always exist for me, a onetime Rotisserie league baseball owner who, on some days, wishes he were the assistant to an assistant in a real Baseball Operations department.  Even if guaranteed that the end result would be no better and no worse, there’s a part of me that would still vote yes for that one extra Rangers trade, that free agency flier, the ability to trade draft picks.

Because you never know, washed-up Kevin Elster might do a little damage if we just give him a chance, Cancun Lobstermen outfielder Ruben Sierra could be worth another shot, Colby Lewis may translate if we bring him back, maybe longtime nemesis Vladimir Guerrero actually has something left in the tank, and that trade you made, getting 18-year-old Sean Burroughs for 11-year veteran Marquis Grissom, could really pay off.

Hey, quick question.  We’ll have a booth at FanFest next weekend, and one of things we’re thinking of doing is having a Rangers trivia contest on Saturday, one that lasts all day for those interested, with an autographed Bound Edition (signed by Rangers players, not me) or two for the winners.  Shoot me an email if you like the idea, or if you have other ideas we might consider for the booth.

And if you have one of the 2,000 copies of the book sold so far, you can go to Amazon and post a Customer Review if that’s your sort of thing.

Dates.

Some Rangers dates to keep in mind as we’re now down to 33 sleeps:

January 21: Dr Pepper Mid-Winter Awards Banquet

January 22-23: FanFest

February 16: Pitchers & catchers report

February 19: Position players report

February 27: Cactus League opener; first of 10 free spring training game webcasts on http://www.texasrangers.com (Rangers vs. Royals, 2:05 CT)

February 28: First of 10 Cactus League radio broadcasts on ESPN 103.3 FM (Rangers vs. Royals, 2:05 CT)

March 12: First of 11 Cactus League television broadcasts on TXA21 or FSSW (Rangers vs. White Sox, TXA21, 2:05 CT)

April 1: Opening Day, Rangers vs. Boston, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, 3:05 CT

Four hours later, the Angels open in Kansas City, which reminds me of something Jon Heyman (Sports Illustrated) and Joel Sherman (New York Post) each predicted in November – that the Angels would sign Carl Crawford, and Adrian Beltre, and Rafael Soriano this winter.  All three.

Instead, Beltre and Crawford will face off in the Texas-Boston opener 500 miles south, and Soriano will be in the home dugout when the Yankees host the Rangers in a three-game set that ends on April 17, the one ESPN national telecast featuring Texas on the schedule released this week.

Meanwhile, as it stands, as Los Angeles lines up for player introductions in Kauffman Stadium on April 1, the Royals announcer will call either Maicer Izturis’s or Alberto Callaspo’s name as the Angels’ starting third baseman, and Juan Rivera or maybe Scott Podsednik in left field, and hoping to pitch in case L.A. can take a slim lead into the bottom of the ninth will be Fernando Rodney.

(We’ve talked before about how Jason Bay and Nelson Cruz have been traded badly over and over.  Add Soriano to the list: Seattle dealt him for Horacio Ramirez four winters ago, and Atlanta moved him for Jesse Chavez last off-season.  Today, Soriano is a three-year, $35 million set-up man.)  

(One reason I like the Yankees signing Soriano: They now forfeit their first-round draft pick, at number 31, to Tampa Bay.  Texas makes its first pick at number 33.  New York likes to pay well over slot to late first-rounders and supplemental firsts who fall because of signability issues: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Brackman, C.J. Henry, Slade Heathcott, etc.  Someone in this deep draft who might have fallen to New York at 31 will get past Tampa Bay at 31 and 32 [with nine picks among the first 60, the Rays aren’t going to bust slot] on June 6, ripe for the Rangers’ picking at 33.)

(In fact, New York won’t pick until 50th overall [at best].  Texas will have had two picks [33 and 37] before the Yankees are ever on the clock.)

One more set of dates to throw at you:

March 31, 2007:  Texas designates off-season free agent pickup Marlon Byrd for assignment, two days prior to Opening Day.

April 5, 2007:  Byrd clears waivers, and Texas outrights him to Oklahoma.  Having been outrighted once before (by Washington in July 2006), Byrd has the right to decline the assignment and take immediate free agency.  He doesn’t, choosing instead to report to the RedHawks.

May 26, 2007:  Byrd, hitting .358/.415/.568 over 44 games for Oklahoma, is purchased by Texas.

Byrd hasn’t spent a day in the minor leagues since (with the exception of four days on rehab in 2008 when he was coming back from a knee injury), and has earned more than $8 million in that time, with another $12 million coming in the next two years.

Why bring that up now?  Because the player who held off Byrd for the final bench spot in 2007, and could very easily have killed Byrd’s Rangers career before it ever started, was Matt Kata, who managed a .186/.250/.300 slash while spotting at five different positions before his own designation for assignment in early June of that season.

Why bring that up now?  Because Texas has signed Kata to a contract with AAA Round Rock.

Don’t be surprised if Kata, age 32, doesn’t even get a non-roster invite to spring training.  He played for the Express last year (when the club was an Astros affiliate), as did catcher Kevin Cash, also a Rangers minor league signee.  A third AAA player signed recently, infielder Omar Quintanilla, has never played for Round Rock, but he did play for the University of Texas, as did Taylor Teagarden, who is likely to share duties with Cash behind the Express plate.  Two of Round Rock skipper Bobby Jones’s coaches, Scott Coolbaugh and Spike Owen, were Longhorn stars as well.

Others who played for Round Rock in 2010 include Ramon Vazquez, Drew Meyer, Jason Bourgeois, German Duran, Chris Shelton, and Casey Daigle.  None is back for a second go with the Rangers.  Yet.

But if any of them are still looking for work, I understand the Angels have a few roster spots they still haven’t addressed.

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