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Fits and starts.

It’s been a fairly atypical off-season for the Rangers from the standpoint of roster reconstruction, as the heaviest of the organization’s lifting for 2016 took place way back in July.  The winter has been relatively slow on a recent Rangers scale, but that’s largely because the blueprint the front office had drawn up for building this season’s club was executed on a few months early, and thankfully so.

Some take the short-sighted view that categorizes Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson as ancient acquisition history — perhaps understandably, as those three gave the pennant race some added fuel without which 162+ almost certainly doesn’t happen in 2015 — but the fact is that Hamels and Diekman and Dyson were targeted because they offered Texas years of club control that other players on that month’s trade market (free agents-to-be David Price and Johnny Cueto and Tyler Clippard and Joakim Soria, for example) did not.  Those three are key pieces to the 2016 puzzle, and well beyond that (Texas controls Diekman through 2018, Hamels through 2019, Dyson through 2020).

We are fans, however, of the greatest transaction sport, the one with the hottest stove, and this winter was no different from most in terms of the emails and tweets I’d get demanding that Texas sign this starting pitcher or that corner bat or anyone else with an impact profile or a dash of upside.

Setting aside the Hamels/Diekman/Dyson point for a minute, and even the budgetary line that Jon Daniels says the club has already butted up against, there’s a factor that I think tends to get minimized — if not overlooked — when it comes to the free agent market.

To illustrate the point I’m going to try to make, let’s look back at Mike Napoli for a minute.  

There’s not a Rangers fan who didn’t want that guy back here.  His bat came back alive after he returned to Texas in August, doing damage at a .295/.396/.513 level that (granted, in a small sample size) he hadn’t posted since his 2011 breakout with the Rangers.  He gave the Rangers clubhouse a huge energy boost, in the words of the manager and the general manager and any number of players.  He offers a right-handed bat and this is a team that leans heavily to the left, and will only get leftier as it graduates its top hitting prospects to the big leagues.  And at his age and career path, it seemed appropriate to assume Napoli wouldn’t command more than a one-year deal.

A perfect fit, it seemed.

Until he signed with Cleveland in mid-December, for one year and $7 million (with an added $3 million in plate appearance incentives).

I’m still getting emails from fans who are upset that “Texas let that happen.”

Those folks aren’t considering one really important factor.

The player.

Imagine you’re Napoli.  You love it here.  You play well here.  Your welcome mat here is like no other welcome mat with your name on it.

But it’s not as if you believe your career is a year from expiration. 

Yes, your name was in the lineup just about every day in August, September, and October, and that Texas lineup is basically the same going into 2016.

But this team has a fulltime DH.

And a fulltime first baseman.

And that left field experiment in September . . . was probably just that.

There was no solid promise of everyday 2016 at-bats here for Napoli.

The only other legitimate big league first baseman on the Indians’ roster is Carlos Santana.  And he’s going to be Cleveland’s everyday DH.

Which is where Napoli can hit on days Terry Francona wants to give Santana a day with the glove on.

Maybe Texas did make real overtures to Napoli this winter.  But stand in his shoes: Doesn’t it stand to reason that this wasn’t the best fit for him — unless he’d exhausted his search for an everyday role elsewhere and couldn’t find one?

Hey, I would have loved bringing on-base machine John Jaso (Pittsburgh, two years and $8 million) in here.

But as his time behind the plate diminishes, why would he have chosen Texas?  As a left-handed hitter, he wouldn’t take at-bats away from Fielder or Moreland.

Doug Fister at one year and $7 million, which is what he got from Houston?

I would have really liked Fister here, but if his best offers were for one year, wouldn’t he want a situation going into next winter’s relatively thin starting pitcher market where he could be relatively assured of 30 starts this season if healthy?

Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, and — in May — Yu Darvish.

Who would Fister have figured he was a safe bet to unseat here?  You don’t sign somewhere basing your opportunity on a teammate getting hurt.

Unless that’s what you have to do.

A.J. Griffin didn’t have the luxury of weighing offers of a rotation spot to lose, like Fister had.  Griffin’s last big league appearance was in 2013.  He’s logged 14.1 minor league innings since.  With his medical chart, he wasn’t going to get a big league contract from anyone this winter.

But for Griffin, could you ask for more than a non-roster opportunity that includes a real chance to win a rotation spot in camp (while Darvish is rehabbing)?

Right-handed hitter Justin Ruggiano can play all three outfield spots, but he wasn’t going to get the $5.25 million (up to $6.475 million after incentives) that Rajai Davis got from Cleveland.  You can bet there were other opportunities for a legitimate center fielder who hits lefties well to take the $1.65 million base contract (only $500,000 guaranteed) that he accepted from Texas.

But, even setting aside the geographical allure, the Rangers offer Ruggiano an opportunity to play the most significant role he’s played in three years, as long as he produces.  Left field is either wide open or in need of the right-handed half of a platoon, depending on how you feel about Angels consignment piece Josh Hamilton’s status, and it’s hard to imagine there’s a team out there — certainly no other contending team (a role with whom would diminish the odds of having your family traded mid-season) — offering better possibilities. 

Why did catchers Bobby Wilson and Michael McKenry choose minor league deals with Texas?

For one, Robinson Chirinos isn’t a 130-game catcher, and Chris Gimenez, despite coming off a really solid season (his best), has spent a career on a journeyman’s path.  There’s a chance to win a backup job here.  

Plus, after his solid work last summer, Wilson has a familiarity factor with and — presumably — the trust of Jeff Banister.

As does McKenry, who spent 2011, 2012, and 2013 with the Pirates.

Tony Barnette doesn’t really fit the analysis as cleanly as the others, as the Rangers’ bullpen is already deep and this is nonetheless the organization he chose for his second run at the big leagues after spending six years in Japan — unless Colby Lewis blazing that trail before him was enough inspiration to tip the scales.  (Kidding, sort of.)

Lewis, on the other hand, fits the profile perfectly.  Unlike Napoli, there’s a fairly clear role here for Lewis to claim, aside from the hundred other reasons Lewis and Texas have a rock-solid baseball marriage that has only gotten stronger since his second run with this franchise was arranged six years ago.

Which brings me to the one player I’m still thinking about as camp is now less than a week away.

I will never not want Cliff Lee to wear the Ranger uniform again.

Is he healthy?

Nobody knows yet, as he hasn’t thrown for teams this winter (unlike Tim Lincecum, for instance).

Does he still want to pitch?

Apparently he does, at least according to his agent.

Would he want to be here?

Don’t know, but you would think the chance to win, in a place he’s won before, with his former teammate Hamels now part of the picture, would check a few boxes.  He’s not at a point in his career where Hamels is, but as long as he’s healthy, he’ll have options. 

I’m not sure the chance to compete for and hold down a rotation spot while Darvish mends fits Lee’s idea of where he fits on a big league club right now.  He’s not going to be money-whipped — certainly not here — but he’s made so much cash in his career that an offer from one team guaranteeing $2 million more than another shouldn’t tip the scales, one would think. 

It’s probably going to come down to where Lee feels he has the best shot at making starts for a team he wants to be part of.  For Lee, it’s likely all about opportunity — just like it was for Napoli, and Fister, and Griffin, and Ruggiano, and McKenry.  

The reality is that if Lee shows teams he’s healthy and the ball’s coming out of his hand well, he’ll probably have better options — like Napoli weighing Cleveland against Texas — and if he’s not healthy enough to start camp on track with the rest of the pitchers, Texas doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, as the primary opportunity here is more likely to be right out of the gate, when at least Darvish is still sidelined. 

As much as I hold out hope, it’s a longshot.

Here’s the thing: Griffin and Ruggiano weren’t the only free agents out there who fit what the Rangers needed and what they could afford — but a free agent deal has to make sense for both sides, not just the team’s, and in Griffin and Ruggiano’s cases it absolutely did.  Others, not so much. 

I doubt we’ll see a second Rangers stint for Lee, but I wouldn’t rule it out — nor would I rule out a third run here for Napoli, as I stick with my spitball prediction two months ago that Texas, this coming July 20, will send 20-year-old righthander Jonathan Hernandez to the Indians for Napoli.

But trades are different.  With few exceptions (Hamels being among them), players don’t have a say.  It takes two sides to get a trade done, obviously, but unless the player wields a no-trade clause or owns 10/5 rights (10 years of big league service and at least the last five with the same team, giving him full trade veto power), he doesn’t get to decide where to play, or where not to.

There are two sides involved in a free agent deal as well, and one of those seems like it frequently gets overlooked — not the team assessing whether it can afford the player or how the makeup of its roster would benefit from his addition, but instead the player, and whether he sees that team as his best available opportunity, at that stage of his career, to be productive and make himself just a little more indispensable going forward. 

Settled.

39 Texas Rangers playoff games.

20 of which were wins.

4 in the World Series.

2,593 regular season games.

1,301 of which were wins.

2 AL MVP’s.

2 ALCS MVP’s.  

Very nearly 1 World Series MVP.

Very nearly.

2 batting champions.

1 Rookie of the Year.

3 GM’s. 

6 managers.

2 Managers of the Year (should have been 3).

13 Gold Gloves. 

13 Silver Sluggers. 

2 Pudge Rodriguez stints, 2 Kenny Rogers stints, 2 Colby Lewis stints, 2 Ruben Sierra stints, 2 Darren Oliver stints.

2 Josh Hamilton trades, 2 Mike Napoli trades, 2 Matt Harrison trades, 2 Jake Thompson trades.

2 Adrian Gonzalez trades.

1 Cliff Lee trade.

Michael Young’s Rangers career.

A second Sandy Alomar and a second Mike Bacsik.

More than 0 Rangers farmhands who learned to walk.

2 Newberg kids born.

3 Esteban’s.

3 Beltre’s. 

But, alas, no Esteban Beltre’s.

4 Presidential elections.

And there will be a 5th.  At least.

It’s been 5,835 sleeps, and all of the above, since Texas last went to an arbitration hearing with one of its players.  On February 19, 2000, the Rangers prevailed over Lee Stevens, as a three-member arbitration panel in Tampa elected to award the 32-year-old first baseman the $3.5 million salary that the club had proposed for the 2000 season.  Stevens had submitted a $4.7 million demand.

Early this morning, hours before a panel was set to hear Texas ($4.675 million) and Mitch Moreland ($6 million) make their cases, the two sides settled at $5.7 million, which Moreland will now be paid in 2016, his final season before free agency.

Several weeks after the Rangers defeated Stevens, they traded the 32-year-old to Montreal in a three-team deal that brought first baseman David Segui from Toronto to Texas.  Don’t expect history to repeat.

Stevens (coming off a 24-homer, 81-RBI, .282/.344/.485 playoff season at first base and a little DH) and the 30-year-old Moreland (coming off a 23-homer, 85-RBI, .278/.330/.482 playoff season at first base and a little DH) bear some similarity offensively, but Moreland is much more important to this team than Stevens was to the 2000 club, and if Moreland gets moved before the season starts, it’s going to be for an impact starting pitcher or impact corner bat — even though, given how baseball’s economy and its CBA work, this could very well be his final season in Texas.  

At least this stint.

Lee, you can go ahead and call Mercury.  Your bullet point lives.

The whole.

Football’s final stand of the season was half over, two quarters of clock time away from two shoehorned beer endorsements by the winning quarterback, when the broadcast went to commercial and a man holding center stage — in a moment that was as authentic as Peyton Manning’s double-dipped Budweiser tribute wasn’t — said to a room full of men he shared a uniform with: “You showed up every day.  We ain’t done yet. . . . I love every one of you.  Keep it going.  I told you: You let us hang around, they’d be pissed off.  Well, ya know what?  THEY’RE PISSED OFF.” 

(In case you missed it last night — or even if you didn’t — here you go.)

In that room, in the current estimation of MLB Network, were none of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball and none of the top 10 relief pitchers in baseball and none of the top 10 catchers in baseball and none of the top 10 first basemen in baseball and none of the top 10 second basemen in baseball and none of the top 10 shortstops in baseball and none of the top 10 left fielders in baseball and none of the top 10 center fielders in baseball and none of the top 10 right fielders in baseball.  (The game’s number three third baseman was there.)

CBS Sports didn’t stop at recognizing 10 players at each position, stretching instead recently to 15, and in its rankings the third baseman that heard the speech shown last night at halftime had ranked company at second base and designated hitter (plus the number 17 and number 25 starting pitchers, as CBS went even deeper there).  Still, not just a whole lot of baseball’s best on an individual level, at least according to some who hold forth on a national level.

And yet that team, the team that showed up every day and hung around and ticked off a lot of people on the other side of the field, was one of the final eight standing in 2015, and really should have been among the final four.

And is, today, in the evaluation of at least one national columnist, one of the five best teams in baseball (featuring, he argues, the game’s second-strongest lineup).

Aristotle (likely dissed in MLB Network’s ranking of B.C. philosopher-scientists) apparently threw down the idea that, in certain instances, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts — the word “synergy” came around a couple thousand years later, a good bit earlier than the sabermetric set that tends to dismiss it — though nowadays it’s in sports where we hear it invoked most often.  

That unmathematical concept is one of the things that stuck in my mind as that Texas Rangers ad aired locally at halftime last night.

And the four times I saw Pearce Theatre crush it the last two weeks as it performed “Singin’ In the Rain” in a high school auditorium that needed every one of its seats to to hold crowds of as many as 1,400.  

There are lots of players wearing the Texas uniform who it can be argued are under-appreciated when it comes to (meaningless) individual league rankings.  

But at the same time, there aren’t are a whole lot of people who say the Rangers overachieved in 2015, unless it’s in the context of all the injuries the club overcame.  This team is widely considered a favorite to repeat atop the division in 2016.

Because of the whole.

There’s an awesome culture (a synergy, maybe) that leaders cultivate — not only coaches but also the leaders who count among those parts.  That third baseman, for example.  

You can bet when a theater group or a high school baseball team or a World Series club gets back together 20 years down the road, it’s more than just memories that get shared.  There’s that bond, too, the bond that may get tucked away but never expires.  There’s no formula for that.  No math.

It’s been awesome to see that develop for Erica with Pearce Theatre, and for Max with the Pelicans, and I saw it resonate in that 30-second spot between football halves last night, on clear display between a manager and his baseball players, and it raised the hair on my arms and got me to doing some countdown math in my head.  

Heather Biddle.  Mike Tovar.  Jeff Banister.

Jake Griffin and Kenadi Paredes.  Ty Holt and A.J. Haley.  Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor.  

The parts are impressive.  

The whole, even better.

I’m a Theater Dad, something I was no closer to saying a year and a half ago than Josh Morgan was to saying, “I’m a catcher.”  

I’m a Theater Dad, and a really proud one.

A year and a half ago, Erica wasn’t yet in theater, Banny wasn’t yet in Texas, and the Rangers were 25 games out of first, about to lose another 23 out of 32.  

All those things seem like an eternity ago.

Pitchers & Catchers in 10 sleeps, as the parts begin to reassemble to form the whole of the defending AL West champs, and in a way that seems like an eternity away, like it can’t get here soon enough.

Especially since halftime last night.  

Have a great day.

My annual National Signing Day clarification, take 18:

jamie newberg CFB

Nope.

JDN mug

Yep.

I’m not gonna write about Rashan Gary, ever.  

He’s not gonna write about Michael Matuella, at any time. 

Though Shane Buechele’s probably fair game for both.

Have a great Wednesday, whether or not this day, for you, is all about fax machines, hot tubs, and letters of intent . . . or Pitchers & Catchers in just 15 sleeps.

Happy Anniversary.

Following Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’s announcements, MLB.com revealed its own Top 100 Prospects list this weekend, and its wake offered a relatively objective assessment of whose farm systems are strongest, as well as one subjective evaluation.

On the subjective side, MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis, former executive editor of Baseball America, tweeted that he would rank the best systems in baseball in this order: Dodgers, Braves, Rockies, Rangers, and Red Sox.

But based on formula — assigning 100 points to the player MLB.com judges to be the number one prospect in the game, 99 points to the number two player, and on down to one point to the prospect ranked number 100 — Texas finished first by a healthy margin, amassing 353 points, followed by the same four other teams (Rockies 325, Dodgers 319, Red Sox 316, Braves 302).

That’s not why I wanted to write about this today.

If the players Texas sent Philadelphia for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman were still Rangers property, including the three who land on MLB.com’s list (Nick Williams at 25th overall, Jake Thompson at number 34, Jorge Alfaro at number 70), the Rangers would have 527 points under the formula.

Again, the number two through number five teams earned 325, 319, 316, and 302 points.  If the Rangers hadn’t made the Hamels/Diekman trade, they’d be at 527.

Instead, they’re at 353 — still best in baseball by MLB.com’s estimation and math — and by virtue of that trade have absurdly affordable control over Hamels for the next four seasons and absurdly affordable control over Diekman for the next three.

Not to mention the 2015 playoff berth (and an ALCS date that was within painfully short reach), which we can probably all agree wouldn’t have happened without those two lefties arriving at the end of July.

Those 353 points come courtesy of Joey Gallo being ranked number 9 overall (and owning what MLB.com considers the best power in minor league ball and the third-strongest throwing arm among position players), Lewis Brinson checking in at number 16, Nomar Mazara at number 18, Dillon Tate at number 36 (with the minor leagues’ best slider), and Luis Ortiz at number 73 (third-best in evaluation of pitchers’ control).

Baseball Prospectus, as discussed last week, has Mazara (5), Gallo (8), and Brinson (15) ranked as three of the five best prospects in all of the American League, with Tate (59) and Ortiz (68) showing up on its Top 101 list as well.

MLB.com also notes that the Phillies lead baseball with seven prospects on its Top 101.

Four of those seven arrived via trade.

Three of them were Rangers, until six months ago today.

The equipment truck leaves for Surprise on Tuesday, and attention turns full-scale to the big club — whose initial workouts will include Gallo and Mazara, who are on the 40-man roster, and Brinson, who was invited to join them even though he’s not yet on the 40 — but for now, we can wrap up the prospect focus that helps annually to get us from the Winter Meetings to Pitchers & Catchers, regardless of how much activity there is on the big league acquisition level.

Happy Half-Year Anniversary to the Phillies, whose acquisition of Williams, Thompson, and Alfaro helped accelerate their hopes to become a factor once again.

And to the Rangers, whose allocation of those three, plus Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher and Matt Harrison’s contract, announced formally on July 31, helped get them to 162+ in 2015 and boosts their chances to repeat the feat in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 . . . and whose farm system, in spite of taking that considerable hit, is still considered, by at least one measure, to be the very best in the game. 

Rev up that truck.

Sunny days.

“Few teams have a better 1-2-3 prospect trio than the Rangers,” wrote Baseball America’s Ben Badler on Tuesday, in conjunction with his publication’s ranking of Texas minor leaguers.  

He was referring to Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, and Nomar Mazara, the same three that front any assessment of the Rangers’ system — though not always in that order, as Baseball Prospectus, for instance, goes Mazara-Gallo-Brinson, the same sequence I went with in the Bound Edition.  

As a matter of fact, BP has those three ranked number 5, number 8, and number 15 in all of baseball — and has them as three of the top five prospects in the American League, along with Minnesota outfielder Byron Buxton and Boston infielder Yoan Moncada.  

Yes, this is the Beltre/Darvish Window, but that’s not anything like the Pujols Window, given that the Angels are committed not only financially but also by virtue of an empty farm system to throw pretty much everything they can at winning now, at the expense of all else, as evidenced by their decision to trade their top two prospects (per BA) to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons.  

Texas is (and should be) in a mode to win now, because the club has control of one of the best starting pitchers in the game for two more seasons and a third baseman whose game, at some point, will reportedly recede.  

But there are plenty of key veterans who should be here and in their primes longer than those two — the rotation and bullpen are full of them, for instance — and the farm system is poised to continue paying off, as it has here for years.

BA has Gallo, Brinson, Mazara, righthander Luis Ortiz, righthander Dillon Tate, outfielder Eric Jenkins, infielder Josh Morgan, infielder Andy Ibanez, outfielder Leody Taveras, and righthander Michael Matuella as its Top 10, while mine goes Mazara-Gallo-Brinson-Tate-Ortiz-lefthander Andrew Faulkner-lefthander Brett Martin-righthander Luke Jackson-Jenkins-outfielder Ryan Cordell (Taveras 11, Matuella 12, Morgan 14, Ibanez 19), and if you want to take a shot at slotting where BA’s number one Angel (catcher Taylor Ward) or number one Mariner (outfielder Alex Jackson) would fit on a Rangers list, be my guest.  

Certainly not in the top five.  You could start debating after that.

Would it be nice if Texas had a guy like Ward standing out behind the plate and figuring squarely into the long-term plans?  You bet. The last time Texas went with the same two primary catchers in consecutive seasons was in 2000-02, when Pudge Rodriguez and Bill Haselman held things down, and Jorge Alfaro’s potential now belongs to someone else.  The system’s best bet at catcher, according to Badler, is Jose Trevino (the organization’s number 22 prospect, on my list), but he’s years away and there are questions about how his offensive game will translate as he moves up.

Don’t be shocked if a year from now, Morgan is ranked higher than number 7 on every Rangers prospect list.

As a catcher.

Just don’t be shocked.

Robinson Chirinos was a second baseman-third baseman-shortstop when his pro career began, too. 

Baseball America made no mention of the idea of Morgan at catcher, but Texas launched the experiment at Fall Instructs (see page 14 of your Bound Edition) and wasn’t discouraged. 

Of course, even if that were to come together, Morgan would be years away himself — he and Trevino were teammates with Low A Hickory in 2015 — and catcher will still be an open question going forward.  

Chirinos and Chris Gimenez were good enough last year (once Carlos Corporan fell out of the mix) and stand to be the tandem in 2016, in spite of persistent rumors that the Rangers and Brewers could match up on Jonathan Lucroy (Phil Rogers of MLB.com proposes Brinson, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Tanner Scheppers for Lucroy, though he acknowledges that “[m]aybe [it’s] too much to give up”; David Schoenfield of ESPN wonders whether Texas would move Gallo for him [no]; Jeff Sullivan of FanGraph spitballs Brinson or Tate, plus Gonzalez or Matuella or Faulkner or Patrick Kivlehan), as well as Ken Rosenthal’s (Fox Sports) suggestion that San Diego’s Derek Norris — arguably a poor man’s Mike Napoli with his ability to produce from the right side while playing catcher and an occasional first base — is also available in trade.

There will probably be two or three more frontline catchers here before Trevino or Morgan gets to the big leagues in a best-case scenario, and that’s OK.  Texas won a pennant with Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina one year, and Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba the next, and has played 162+ with a Napoli-Geovany Soto duo, an A.J. Pierzynski-Soto tandem, and a Chirinos-Corporan pairing last year, at least early on, before Gimenez and Bobby Wilson came to an unexpected rescue. 

Once upon a time this was a franchise that transitioned at catcher, more or less, from Jim Sundberg to Pudge.  Roger to Troy, Montana to Young, Magic to Kobe.  Modano to Benn.

The days of Sunny to Pudge are long gone, and missed.  This team, of course, has won at unprecedented franchise levels without long-term stability at catcher, but man, I can’t wait until there’s a Yadi or Buster or Salvy, or a Sunny or Pudge, holding things down again in Texas for the better part of a decade.

Short of an unlikely pickup of Lucroy or Norris, Gimenez goes into Rangers camp with (for him) a rare spot on the 40-man roster, giving him the edge on the second catcher spot alongside Chirinos.  Wilson gets a non-roster invite to big league camp along with fellow catchers Michael McKenry, Brett Nicholas, and Kellin Deglan.  (No Pat Cantwell, which is interesting.)  Teams regularly bring added catchers to camp, as a large group of pitching hopefuls need someone to throw to early in camp, but of that group Wilson and McKenry are probably the only ones with a real chance to earn the confidence of the staff as in-season reinforcements. 

Quick aside about another catcher that Texas gave a big league invite to, only he’s no longer a catcher.  You’re probably a whole lot less familiar with right-handed pitcher Scott Williams than a number of other non-roster minor league arms in the Rangers system, but the college catcher is on a bullet train toward becoming a Major League pitcher.

Williams caught for the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 1,000 miles from his Berwyn, Pennsylvania hometown, after missing his high school senior season and redshirt freshman year at the University of Virginia due to injury.  In his one season with the Manatees, Williams mixed 10 innings in on the mound, catching the eye of Rangers area scout Cliff Terracuso.  Texas used its 11th-round pick on Williams in the 2014 draft, and made him a full-time pitcher right away.

Assigned to Hickory his first summer, Williams struggled, walking 16 hitters and uncorking seven wild pitches in a mere 17 innings, permitting 17 earned runs (9.00 ERA) on 21 hits (.300/.425/.414) as a middle reliever for the Crawdads.

Williams was sent right back to Hickory in 2015, and he took off.  As the Crawdads’ closer, he held the South Atlantic League to 27 hits (just seven for extra bases) and 12 unintentional walks (.188/.267/.285) in 43.1 innings, fanning 49 while saving 10 games in a two-month stretch.  His fastball touched 97, and his slider kept improving.

When I started putting my Top 72 Prospects list together for the book this winter, I had Williams on it but near the bottom.  I talk to a lot of folks in the game when I’m working that list up, and just about every time I visited with someone about the Rangers system this off-season, I found myself moving Williams up a bit.  He shows up at number 27 for me right now, and not long from now even that may seem low.  (He’d probably show up on a BA Top Ten for the Angels or Mariners today.  Not joking.)

The 2014 draft was the Ortiz/Martin/Morgan/Trevino draft for the Rangers, but from that class (and the 2015 Crawdads roster) it’s the Day 3 selection Williams who makes it to big league camp first.

Yes, this is the Beltre/Darvish Window, but the difference between that and the Pujols Window is not just that the Rangers are in better shape to win right now, but also that Texas has Mazara, Gallo, and Brinson on the verge of arriving — providing potential impact both between the lines and in payroll relief — not to mention Ortiz and Tate and Jenkins and Morgan, at one position or another, and Jurickson Profar and Ibanez and Taveras and Matuella, and Faulkner and Martin and Jackson and Cordell, and Ariel Jurado and Connor Sadzeck and Jairo Beras and Yohander Mendez, and Trevino and Williams, and plenty more behind them.

Helping in Arlington or, as we saw in July, enabling the Rangers to bring in game-changing pennant race impact via trade. 

Last week, Buster Olney (ESPN) ranked the Rangers as the number five team in baseball (owning the number two lineup).

At the same time, Baseball America will soon judge Texas as having a top 10 farm system — even having divested itself of three players who will show up this winter on top 100/101 lists as Phillies, and two others who have already taken regular turns in the Philadelphia rotation.

It’s not the case everywhere, pretty clearly, but in Texas it’s a matter of keeping the picture window wide open while, if you take a look, the sun is peeking through another window over there, and a couple more around each corner.

Poce.

Hey there, Nomar, Joey, and Lewis.

And Rougie.  

Eric.  Josh.  Yeyson.  Leody.

Delino.  

And Jurickson. 

I got to listen to Anthony Iapoce talk about hitting today.  For 55 minutes. 

What a beast.

It probably surprises nobody that I was fired up about every one of your careers yesterday. 

Not as much as I am today. 

Impact add, man.  

Pass the eye black, please.  

Let’s go. 

Let’s go. 

A year ago today.

While my days are a series of a whole lot more “tons I’d like to write about but can I find the time?” than “feel like writing today but what is there to say?,” that stretch between the Winter Meetings and Pitchers & Catchers is always relatively slow, and sometimes content is more of a reach, a written foot-tap or knee-bounce that says “man, I really need baseball to start up again” without really advancing the conversation otherwise.

Today is that.

There’s just not that much to say yet about the Rangers’ arbitration cases, four of which have settled (Tom Wilhelmsen, Robinson Chirinos, Tanner Scheppers, Jurickson Profar), leaving three (Mitch Moreland, Shawn Tolleson, Jake Diekman) positioned — at least for now — for February arbitration hearings.

There are some in the national media devoting tweets and columns to the idea of Texas signing Justin Upton to a short-term deal or trading for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy.  OK.  Both seem unlikely.

Part of me wants to write about catcher Vin DiFazio, playing nothing but indie league ball since finishing his run in the Rangers system in 2012, signing a minor league deal this weekend with the Dodgers, but it just didn’t seem ripe for a few hundred words.

Facebook has this feature that gathers things you posted on this date the last few years, and two of my posts from January 17, 2015 jumped out at me this morning.

One of them: “Just saw Luis Sardinas shopping at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Frisco.  Tick tock.”

Two days later, Texas traded Sardinas in the deal to get Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo.

The other: A link to that morning’s Newberg Report, titled “You’re Philadelphia.”

The premise was that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to decide whether the time was right to trade Cole Hamels, and if so, to get the trade right if he was going to be able to save his job.

In that article, I wrote this, on the idea of the Rangers trading for Hamels:

“It’s reasonable to assume that the Phillies, if [CSN Philly writer Jim] Salisbury’s note on [Joey] Gallo and [Nomar] Mazara was triggered by some intel that any talks between the clubs have moved beyond those two, would expect [Jorge] Alfaro to be paired with either [Jake] Thompson or Chi Chi Gonzalez, and then another player or two from the tier that includes pitchers Luke Jackson, Luis Ortiz (as a player to be named later), Andrew Faulkner, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, Corey Knebel, Keone Kela, and Marcos Diplan, and hitters Lewis Brinson, Nick Williams, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Cordell, Travis Demeritte, and Jairo Beras.”

And:

“If the offer were, say, Alfaro and Gonzalez and Eickhoff and Williams — which would surprise me — I would expect the Rangers to insist on a tremendous cash infusion from the Phillies, turning Hamels into something along the lines of a $15-17 million pitcher annually (with most of the subsidy front-loaded), rather than one toting the $24 million AAV that his contract guarantees.”

A little less than 200 days later, I was surprised.

(It was Thompson instead of Gonzalez, of course, and Asher and Matt Harrison were added on the Texas side, while Diekman was included on Philadelphia’s side.)

Surprised, and fired up.

Though the Phillies had (and have) to be as thrilled with the outcome of that deal as Texas was (and is), Amaro didn’t keep his job.  He’ll be coaching first base for the Red Sox when they visit Arlington late in June to face Hamels and Diekman and the Rangers.

By then, Eickhoff and Asher could be regulars in the Phillies rotation, and maybe even Thompson, too, with Williams roaming left field.  Alfaro is less likely to be in the big leagues the first half of this season, and the same can probably be said about Harrison.

Maybe Upton is manning left field in a Rangers uniform that weekend, and maybe Lucroy is behind the plate, but neither of those longshot situations seems ripe for a “tick tock” reference that Facebook will trigger a look back at a year from today.

So, uh.  Yeah.

That’s all I got today.

#foot-tapping

 

The singular travels of Gil Kim.

Various reports indicate that the Blue Jays have been in contact with Yovani Gallardo this week, as they look for a reliable veteran to fit with J.A. Happ at the bottom of their rotation.  Short-term memory is a factor, as the 29-year-old pitched 13.2 scoreless innings (2-0, 0.00, slash line of .136/.224/.136) against the Jays in 2015, not including his Game One win in Toronto when he gave Texas five innings of two-run ball, the final run coming in his final frame, when Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar doubles cut the score to 4-2.

They were the only extra-base hits Gallardo allowed Toronto in 69 plate appearances last year.  The other eight were singles.

If Toronto signs Gallardo — or if Baltimore or Kansas City or Houston or anyone other than Texas signs him — the Rangers will be awarded a supplemental first-round pick in this year’s draft as compensation.  They’re probably pulling for the Orioles, as their slot ahead of Texas in the first round would be forfeited and allow the Rangers to move up from what is now the number 20 spot.  Houston drafts ahead of Texas as well, but my guess is the Rangers would prefer that Gallardo not land there.  The Jays and Royals would lose a first as well, but further back in the round than where Texas sits.  

In any event, if Gallardo ends up joining the Blue Jays, they’d be taking from the team that nearly eliminated them from the playoffs last year, in a sense, but Texas wouldn’t be left empty-handed.  

Unlike in the case of Gil Kim.

You might not have heard of Kim before this week, but as Director of International Scouting for the Rangers the last two years, his sixth and seventh seasons in scouting with the organization, you know his work.  The Blue Jays thought enough of it that they hired Kim this week as their new Director of Player Development.  

Texas will get nothing in return, aside from the opportunity to promote or to add, on the heels of Kim’s departure.

And that’s how baseball works.  On extremely rare occasions, high-level executives are traded, but generally speaking, when one team offers someone else’s official the opportunity to advance his career, the incumbent team doesn’t stand in the way even though it gets nothing back — not even nominal cash consideration, as when minor league players are drafted via Rule 5.  The Rangers didn’t have to give anything to Pittsburgh for Jeff Banister, and they got nothing from San Diego when A.J. Preller left to become the Padres’ GM.  

Kim moves on to Toronto, and on a personal level the Rangers organization is probably thrilled for the 34-year-old.  Administratively, it’s a loss.

Kim’s history is fascinating.  Undrafted as a high school ballplayer in Philadelphia, the 5’6”, 150-pound, switch-hitting middle infielder played one year at Middlebury College in Vermont before transferring to Vanderbilt, where in three seasons he got all of 21 at-bats.  

One of which resulted in a base hit.  A single.

As a sophomore, Kim played alongside outfielder Antoan Richardson, who spent most of 2015 on the Rangers’ disabled list.  As a senior, his Commodore teammates included freshman David Price.

In 2006, a year after Kim graduated from Vanderbilt (with a B.A. in U.S. History), he landed an opportunity to play professionally for the Hoofddorp Pioniers, a minor league club in the Netherlands.  The following spring, after spending five months volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, Kim earned $250 a month playing for the Beijing Tigers in China.  That winter, he moved on to the Western District Bulldogs in the Greater Brisbane Baseball League in Australia, working a construction job on the side to help make ends meet.  

In the spring of 2008, Kim played in the Spanish National Baseball League, on a team owned by soccer monolith FC Barcelona, and that winter he took his career to Venezuela, where he played one season for Tiburones de La Guaira (though his name doesn’t show up on that club’s 2008 statistics page).  He lived in the club’s locker room, sleeping on a mattress in the bathroom.  He studied Spanish with the clubhouse attendants every day.

Kim’s time with La Guaira ended in November 2008.  A little more than a month later, he had a baseball operations internship with the Pirates. 

That lasted three months.  The Rangers hired Kim away from Pittsburgh in March of 2009, offering him an opportunity to scout for the club in Mexico, and later in the Dominican Republic, before moving him into leadership roles in the club’s effort scouting ballplayers internationally.  

And now, after “[running] one of the top international scouting programs” in baseball (in the words of Baseball America’s Ben Badler), Kim is now working in yet another country, settling in as the Blue Jays’ farm director.  It’s a similar career progression to that of Rangers’ Senior Director of Player Development Mike Daly, who before being promoted was the Rangers’ Director of International Scouting from 2010 to 2013 — after which Kim assumed that post. 

Toronto envisions Kim overseeing an organizational effort to help Jays minor league players “creat[e] and realiz[e] their physical, mental, and fundamental goals.”  It’s part of what he did here, and if and when Venezuelan shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri and Nicaraguan catcher Melvin Novoa and Dominican outfielder Jose Almonte refine their particularly high upsides to the point at which they get to the big leagues, you’ll hear that Kim played a big role in putting Rangers uniforms on those teenagers in the first place.   

Kim’s tremendous work in Texas probably never put him on a path that crossed with Gallardo.  Maybe they’ll end up in Toronto together, maybe not.  The Rangers can’t prevent the righthander from signing with the Jays — short of re-signing him themselves — and the truth is they’re just hopeful that he gets a big league deal somewhere (he will), because it will add a premium draft pick to the inventory in Texas as a result.

There’s no such compensation when you lose a frontline baseball operations official, and while there are positives — a tremendous reflection not only on Kim (who is younger than Adrian Beltre and Colby Lewis, a little older than Chris Gimenez) and his impressive rise in the game but also on the Texas organization and its ability to develop people off the field just as it does between the lines — the Rangers’ loss in this case is the Blue Jays’ gain.      

Slow clap for the Rangers, for finding Kim and developing the man.  Slow clap for the Jays, for this week’s hire.

Slow clap for Gil Kim, who has quite clearly paid his dues, and continues to earn new opportunities.

Painting like a child.

I was watching a show the other day when a Picasso quote I’d never heard was referenced:

It took me four years to paint like Raphael — but a lifetime to paint like a child.

My first reaction was shock that I’d never heard it before.  My second was the embarrassment that it’s probably because I don’t read enough.  My third?  

Well, yeah.

I thought about the baseball card show I went to with Max and a few of his friends two days ago, and how awesome it was to see that world through 11-year-old eyes, that world that 35 years ago was my own 11-year-old nirvana, a world that on many days I wish I could still paint in.

I thought about Sunny and Buddy and Toby and how the best Rangers cards ever were in 1976 (inspiration for the cover of the 2007 Bound Edition) and 1978 (those awesome shots, especially Sunny and Toby and Mike Hargrove).  I thought about Fergie and Gaylord and Bert and Jon.  I thought about the Jeff Burroughs trade that made me sad and the Sparky Lyle that made me happy . . . until I realized who Dave Righetti was.

I thought about John Henry Johnson’s incredible Rangers debut and everything it promised (whoops), and I thought about being nearly alone in Port Charlotte in March of 1990, when everyone on a 40-man roster had been locked out of spring training, but there, on a field 100 feet away from the one where Donald Harris and Dan Peltier were taking BP, was the pudgy teenaged catcher whose one Class A season (.238/.278/.355 for Low A Gastonia) failed to lead Baseball America to make room for him on its Top 10 Rangers Prospects list, but whose work next to the other four or five catchers in those throwing drills made my jaw drop.

And now he’s in the Cooperstown on-deck circle.

I wasn’t a kid anymore in 1990.  But I felt like one when I saw Ivan Rodriguez for the first time, separated by nothing more than a chain-link fence.  

Baseball, like nothing else, has the power to make me feel like a kid again.  

The daily adrenaline of the ups and the downs.  The innocence of the game, and the complexity.  The new hope it offers every day.  

And every year.

Baseball is what, for lots of us, packs the promise that we’re going to paint our tails off, like a child, when that World Series is won.

When.

Not if.

When.

Hopefully it happens for Belts, Rougie, and Yu, whose baseball cards and whose edge and whose artistry are inspiring some kid the way Sunny and Buddy and Toby inspired me.  

The way Belts, Rougie, and Yu still inspire me now.

When I heard that Picasso quote a couple days ago, I thought in particular about one thing I’d written before, something I’d emailed to a fraction of you on this mailing list shortly before we left the house to take our daughter, now a high school sophomore who inspires me every day, to her first day of Kindergarten, a day after her brother’s first birthday.

If it’s OK with you, I’m going to self-indulgently run that 3,801-day-old report again, because it was about childhood and baseball and, I think, the pursuit of a sort of painting.

The Newberg Report, August 15, 2005

When I was five years old, we had this Saturday morning tradition.  Dad would take me and my two-year-old brother Barry to 7-Eleven, or Schepps, for something out of the ice cream freezer.  I think I usually went with a Banana Fudgsicle, Barry one of those orange Push-Ups, or maybe a Drumstick.

There were four games in town in the mid-’70s, one of which was king.  My parents were religious Dallas Cowboy fans.  Fall Sundays were devoted to football, usually at our house or the Donskys’, with Halleck’s chicken, chips and El Fenix queso, and Pepsi as the everyday lineup, and a mess of all kinds of other stuff in rotation around it.  

I’ve told the story before about pulling up to Schepps on one of those Saturday mornings, asking Dad how many of the Cowboys he knew personally, and upon learning that the answer was zero questioning why he cared so much whether Dallas won.  I have no recollection what his answer was.  But the question, and the parking space we pulled into while my question hung in the air, are etched permanently in my memory.

There were also the Texas Rangers and Dallas Tornado and Dallas Blackhawks.  The latter two were never televised.  The Rangers were televised roughly once a week, which made them no different from the Cowboys in that respect.  They were different in just about every other possible way, though.  Rather than serve as the focal point of the day, the televised Ranger game, if anything, was generally background scenery while we got ready to go swimming somewhere.  

My most vivid memories of Ranger games on TV in the mid-’70s involve Mark Fidrych firing a gem against Texas (while at either the Kreislers’ or Bruckners’ house, waiting to swim); Eric Soderholm driving in a game-winner against Texas in the ninth (ruining my mood as I dove into the pool at the Viroslavs’); and Willie Horton hitting three home runs in a game (while at Grandma and Papa’s, about to head to the pool).  I have it stuck in my mind that Adrian Devine pitched in the game that Horton went nuts in.

When I was seven, we graduated from weekly ice cream to a pack of Topps, baseball half the year and football the other half.  (I can’t remember whose idea it was to make the switch, but I like to think it was mine.)  I still remember the older man who ran the Schepps grabbing the cardboard box full of wax packs off the top shelf of the candy aisle, pulling out not the top pack but one near the bottom of a stack and promising me and my brother that there’d be a Cowboy in it.  And he was right: a few cards in (seems like Lem Barney and Vern Den Herder delayed the gratification, though there’s no way I actually remember that part), Rayfield Wright’s All-Pro face smiled at me, keeping to himself the secret of how Schepps Man knew.  The bookmark-grade slab of “gum” was an afterthought, if that.

The love affair with sports no longer belonged only to Dad.  

I’m not sure when baseball separated itself from football for me.  My parents weren’t really baseball fans.  If I’m really honest with myself, the time when football was no longer riding shotgun, and instead began to take a backseat, was probably 1984, when the Cowboys started missing the playoffs — until that time I was as crazy a football fan as I was a baseball fan.  As demoralizing as it was to have my football year end with the regular season, I look back on it and realize how it set me up to be somewhat of a snobby fan.  It’s easy to slither off the bandwagon when a team you expect as a child to go to the Super Bowl every year has as awful a win-loss record as 9-7!

Further back — and the fact that I vividly remember this tells you how snooty a Cowboy fan I was . . . how entitled I felt . . . even at age eight — the Cowboys had a 1977 home game against Tampa Bay blacked out because they failed to sell out Texas Stadium.  (The horror!)  What I remember about that is the stroll on which Mom took us (including my five-month-old sister Mandy) around Pennystone and Blue Trace, with the game on the radio, courtesy of Verne Lundquist and Brad Sham.  (I’ve always been a radio guy anyway, in both sports, from those days until now.)

I was profoundly sad.  The blackout shook my eight-year-old soul like a stock market crash.  Because in those days, Dallas Cowboy ups and downs were Jamey Newberg ups and downs.

But Dallas went on to smack the Broncos in the Super Bowl that year.  I celebrated by working and reworking my jigsaw puzzle that winter of Randy White and Harvey Martin mauling Norris Weese.  A thousand times.

So how was it that baseball kept up with football in those years?  Dallas was winning 11 or 12 games every season, finishing atop the division almost without exception, while the Rangers would annually hover around .500 (with the exception of the 1977 Willie Horton club, which won 94 times but still finished eight games behind the Royals).  How was it that my affection for the Rangers didn’t keep as company the Tornado and Blackhawks, rather than the Cowboys?

Because of the tosses with Dad or Barry, or the daily games of streetball, or the pitchback in the backyard?  Doubt it; they were all just as likely to involve a football as a baseball.

I think it was a few things.  Football was a once-a-week event, baseball a daily ritual.  Though we never missed an opportunity to meet Roger Staubach at Neiman’s or Drew Pearson at Joske’s, it was a lot easier to catch Jim Sundberg and Mike Hargrove at John Mabry Clothiers, or Jim Fregosi and Bill Fahey and Roy Smalley at Northaven Field to kick off the Little League season.  And the world of baseball cards proved to be limitless, football cards not so much.

(Anytime I hear “Philadelphia Freedom” [Elton John], or something by Cliff Richard [thank goodness that’s pretty much a non-existent possibility these days], or “Steal Away” [Robbie DuPree], or “Too Much Time on My Hands” [Styx], or “Still the Same” [Bob Seger], I immediately think I’m in the car with Mom, as she’s about to drop me off at whatever mall the baseball card shop “Remember When” was located at.)

Once I was old enough to play organized ball, there was lots of baseball, no football.  There were summers when the game was part of my routine every day, either games at Northaven or practices at Walker or scorekeeping at Churchill.  And Risenhoover and Merrill on the radio at night, bringing me Rangers baseball as I drifted to (or fought) sleep.  

And as for the Rangers, those years of mediocrity probably solidified a loyalty that Cubs fans made an art, and that Cowboy fans have never really shown, or understood.  Those of you who were with this team before the Red Years know what I mean.  It’s easy to root for a perennial winner; there’s more character, though, in standing behind Sisyphus and helping push.

The game itself has always captivated me.  You can’t find a book about football in the same league as “Nine Innings” or “Men at Work” or “Three Nights in August,” none of which I imagine would show up on a list of the 100 best baseball books ever written.  I’m a competer — which I know isn’t a word but which still connotes something different from “competitor,” I think — and I find irresistible the chess matches that make up the at-bats and the innings and the games and the series and the seasons and even the off-seasons in baseball.  I say that now as a fan; once upon a time it was as a player.

There was a photo of Bucky Dent one ’70s spring in Street & Smith’s, hurdling a runner trying to break up a double play, and a shot in the same magazine of Robin Yount ranging into the hole, and they made me want to be a shortstop.  It was my home on the baseball diamond for 12 years, until my high school coach put me on the mound as a junior and made me a pitcher-outfielder my senior year.  (My day to pitch?  “Bullet the Blue Sky” on my headphones, on the bus headed to Loos Fieldhouse or Reverchon Park.)

I hated Coach for moving me to the outfield.  And then I wished someone had moved me sooner.  It’s where I ended my baseball career one year later and two years after that, in that one week in Austin, that one day in Georgetown, and that one final week again in Austin.  I love the outfield.  I loved shortstop more; but I was better as an outfielder.

To this day there are guys I played with in Little League and middle school and BBI and high school and those 10 days at Disch-Falk and that one at Southwestern and on the intramural softball fields with whom I keep in touch.  Maybe that’s what it’s been, more than the baseball cards and the transistor radios and the Street & Smith’s and even the chess matches, that’s responsible for my latching so acutely onto baseball.  I’ve been able to share it with so many people.  Including, for the past eight seasons, you.

This fully selfish and tangential exercise has been your present to me.  You’ve indulged me on what’s an enormously nostalgic and proud day.  Erica’s first day of Kindergarten (which comes a day after Max’s first birthday — thanks for all the notes yesterday) begins in a little more than an hour, and though she hasn’t known any of her classmates for as much as a week, it won’t surprise me if she sits down to eat lunch this afternoon with someone who one day will stand up at her wedding.  

And on that day when her mother and I give her away, I hope to remember this day well, and the things I was thinking about as I was getting ready to head out the door.  One of which was which kind of ice cream she’ll pick out this afternoon.

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