Ten years ago today, Amar’e Stoudemire was preparing for the following day’s matchup against the Mavericks (a club his Suns would eventually oust in the playoffs), after which he would make the first All-Star Game appearance of his career, at age 22.
It also turns out, I figured out today, that 10 years ago was the last time I’ve been as clobbered by the flu as I am right now. The day I finally got past this crud that time in 2005, I wrote about the Rangers signing Pedro Astacio.
Guess I should be grateful it’s been that long.
Sorry I haven’t written in a few days, and it may be a couple more. If I were feeling even a little better than this, I’d have written a virtually useless history of my ability to watch newest Rangers camp invite Jamey Wright pitch. So maybe you’re better off that I’m sick. High five.
Jamey Wright and Pedro Astacio were teammates for three years.
In the ’90s.
And with that I’ll say farewell for the night, but hopefully not the week. Amar’e Stoudemire is apparently a Dallas Maverick, based on a report tweeted out minutes ago by RealGM, and I don’t remember when he made that first All-Star Team and backed vote-leader Yao Ming up in the game, but I now remember all too well what those chills and sweats and all that other stuff felt like back then, and I’d probably trade it for another 2-8, 6.04 season out of Pedro Astacio.
On Wright, I will say this, since a few of you have reminded me of those entries in 2007 when I admitted to having a very difficult time watching him pitch: I turned it around in 2008. (May 5 of that season: “Wright, with all his moving parts, seems to be a great example of a guy who appears to be monumentally better out of the stretch, mechanically.”)
Two months later, minutes after Josh Hamilton had walked one off against the Angels, I sent a quick report out, no longer than this one, and wrote this caption — “That look on Jamey Wright’s face is frozen on mine. Still.” — underneath this photo:
That walkoff look Wright is sporting is about a 180 from the flu look I’m throwing down right now.
I’d finish this one with a reminder that we’re four sleeps away from baseball, but I’m gonna do my best to get in about a dozen between now and Friday.
Catch you again soon.
Nine days until the first scrape and crunch of cleats on the sidewalk west and the sidewalk south, connecting the clubhouse to the back fields, a few miles north of Luke Air Force Base.
The chatter, the carioca, the sweet music of slightly asynchronous long toss.
Nine days until about seven days until we grow weary of the vanilla cliches and recycled B-roll and yet another story about Matty’s back or Prince’s mission or Jurickson’s hair, and crave footage of a second team on the field, on one end or the other of pitches being judged by umpires, with the scoreboard turned on.
Nine days until about seven days until another 10 days or so until our eyes start to glaze over at yet another box score weighed down by two dozen players a side, and (even as Pat Cantwell does something else to impress the new big league manager, a story that will earn 10 fewer segments than the 10 on Jurickson’s hair) here comes another wave of vanilla cliches from the guys in BB-140C blue, telling us spring training is about two weeks too long, and everyone’s ready to leave Arizona to get back to Texas en route to Oakland, and not one of us will disagree.
Nine days until about seven days until another 10 days or so until a few more weeks until we’ll cringe at how one of those four against the A’s went, with Ben Zobrist probably in the middle of things, wishing we could roll the calendar back a bit and get at least one do-over.
That all seems like a long way off — “Better Call Saul” debuted (awesomely) just three days ago, and I think the first season will end by time Chuck Morgan introduces the Rangers and Astros — but we’re only a few “best shape of his life” quotes away from the sounds of fungo on horsehide on leather, of PFP’s and Adrian barking at Smiling Elvis, of Jeff Banister’s first spring training west of the Gulf.
There are times when the crush of story ideas debilitates me into total brainlock.
Then there are times when it feels like there’s just not a lot out there to comment on, and over the years I’ve tried to take that cue and not force empty words and kilobytes on you, which in five minutes you might suggest I occasionally fail to do.
But sometimes a story idea creeps out from a place you don’t expect, and while this really isn’t a story at all — and probably shouldn’t have brought me to the keyboard this morning — here I am and here it goes.
Yesterday I was reading a Richard Justice column on MLB.com about the James Shields market and locked in on a Rangers mention:
“At this late date, several teams that might have had previous interest in Shields — the Tigers, Red Sox, Rangers — have filled out their rotation and are anxious to get to Spring Training and begin assessing their club.”
Lately I’ve considered sitting down to write about the camp competition set up between Michael Choice, Kyle Blanks, and Ryan Ludwick; about the subject of Johan Santana and Phil Coke and Joe Thatcher . . . and Martire Garcia; about the Hamiltons and shoulder surgery and reality TV; and about a really good column not about Tyler Seguin, but by him.
I’ve thought about spotlighting Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects rollout, which contains six Rangers (four in the top 52) and includes three pitchers: Jake Thompson, Chi Chi Gonzalez (whom Law says “is probably the fourth- or fifth-best starting pitcher in the organization, period”), and Luis Ortiz (which is interesting, even if you don’t recognize that Cubs righthander C.J. Edwards, the key regret piece in the Rangers’ 2013 trade for Matt Garza, is nowhere on Law’s Top 100).
Law also said this week on a Chicago radio station: “I could watch [Joey] Gallo take BP all day long. It’s freakish. I mean there’s 80 power, and there’s Gallo. Gallo is [Giancarlo] Stanton-type power — the other players stop what they’re doing [to watch].”
I almost wrote a story about that.
I’ve resisted bullet-pointing a hundred things Jeff Banister said at the January 25 Coaches’ Clinic, but man, I won’t be able to resist forever, at least on some of what Banister shared for an awesome hour-plus.
Allen Simpson (Perfect Game USA) wrote a Sporting News column this week in which he tabbed the Texas farm system as baseball’s second best (behind the Cubs), probably an overly aggressive ranking but a note that I might nonetheless have tucked toward the end of a COFFEY report, after notes about Boston’s refusal to put catcher Blake Swihart into a Cole Hamels deal (and why that’s relevant) and about the Red Sox now employing three of the busiest six relievers from the Rangers’ 2012 bullpen with the addition of both Robbie Ross Jr. and Alexi Ogando, and before mention of new homes for Neal Cotts, Scott Baker, Ben Rowen, Taylor Teagarden, Joey Butler, Nick Masset, Josh Wilson, Wilfredo Boscan, Joe Benson, Eli Whiteside, and Charlie Leesman, new limbo for Gonzalez Germen, and three new roving minor league instructors hired by the Rangers, including the only “Dwayne” in baseball history to have played in the big leagues without having a run in the Rangers organization.
I considered building a report around Thad Levine’s segment on the Ben and Skin Show yesterday, focused not on his use of the term “fluid organism” but instead on the things he said about the huge impact the club is already getting from Michael Young, who has been “working out a ton with our younger players, . . . educating [them on] how the game is supposed to be played, the way that he played it, the way the Texas Rangers played it when we went to two World Series.” Levine talked about the benefits of “wear testing” how the front office communicates with players by bouncing ideas first off Young and Darren Oliver and letting them help streamline the message and the delivery. Levine suggested that Young has limitless possibilities in the game, whether it’s in a front office capacity or in coaching, and that the “second half of his career has a chance to be as good, if not better, than his playing career.”
I thought about writing about Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, and an analytic model this week that compared Rougned Odor to Robinson Cano.
But in every one of those cases, I decided, right or wrong, that it just wasn’t worth overblogging on.
Then I read that Justice piece on Shields yesterday, zeroed in on the sentence that drew the subject of the Texas Rangers peripherally into the story, and dismissed the idea of Shields (and of writing at length about him) just as Justice did himself.
The rest of that sentence is what got my baseball adrenaline going.
“ . . . anxious to get to Spring Training and begin assessing their club.”
There’s not really a story to write about those 11 words. But they struck a nerve, because I know that’s exactly how many of us feel.
Between now and Surprise, I’d expect there to be a nameplate printed up for another left-handed reliever, or maybe another bat brought in to compete for work, and I suppose there’s a chance something happens over the next two weeks that prompts me to write something with actual substance. But if not, that’s OK. Because it’s just about that time. Time to get there, and begin assessing.
It’s just about that time.
Jeff Banister, well over an hour into his allotted 30 minutes, pointed at one of the 300 seated coaches and asked him to name the coach who had the greatest impact on him when he was a kid, and why.
Banister pointed at another coach and asked the same two questions.
He went through the exercise maybe 10 times, and challenged the room to think about the legacy left with every word, every act.
Banister’s own answer to his first question: Rocky Bridges.
I’ve gotta confess: Rocky Who? I scribbled the name down to Google later.
If you were at Rangers Ballpark for the Coaches’ Clinic that Sunday morning a week and a half ago, or the Awards Dinner two nights earlier, or Fan Fest in between, and got the chance to be around Jeff Banister for any amount of time at all, you’ve experienced the unmistakable presence, the command of the room, the posture and the pitch, all the things that add up to the epitome of Coach. There’s a charisma that, in the delivery, won’t remind you of Ernie Banks — who we lost that weekend — but like it was with Banks, it takes about three minutes around Banister for you to start scrambling around looking for the eye black, and a wall to run through.
I have no doubt what Banister’s stance is on playing two.
But back to the point.
You think about all the influences Banister must have had in his life in pro ball, which will enter its 30th year when Pitchers & Catchers report 16 sleeps from now, not to mention the Little League and high school and college coaches before that, including his Dad Bob, a high school football and basketball coach in La Marque.
Banister was managed by Jim Leyland. Mentored by Chuck Tanner. Groomed by Clint Hurdle.
But Rocky Bridges was the one, even though that Google search seemed to establish that Bridges, who played pro ball for 15 years and managed in the minor leagues for 21, was never once with a club that Banister suited up for himself.
In one sense there’s more Banks in Banister than there is Bridges, in that Banister spent 29 years with the same franchise, an anomaly that calls to mind names like Banks, and Brett, and Bench, while Bridges was employed by seven different clubs as a player, and then four different organizations as a manager, three of which he’d never played for.
Bridges’s final stop was the Pirates, whose Prince William and Vancouver and Buffalo and Salem farm clubs he managed in the late ’80s, but in those same four seasons Banister was in Watertown and Macon and twice in Harrisburg. No apparent overlap between Banister and the man he credits with making the greatest impact on his baseball life.
The 21st and final team Bridges managed was the 1989 Salem Buccaneers of the High Class A Carolina League, which was one level below the AA Harrisburg club that Banister played for. They presumably spent time around each other in more than one spring training in Bradenton, but that’s not when the connection was made.
Bridges, you might discover by digging enough, hung around the Pittsburgh organization for a few years after he was done managing, serving as its roving minor league infield instructor. He remained in that role in 1994, when a freshly retired Banister, only 30 years of age, was appointed to manage the Welland Pirates of the Short-Season A New York-Penn League. As it turns out, Bridges, spent a great deal of that summer — his last of 48 in the pro game as far as I can tell — as Banister’s de facto bench coach, a 67-year-old lifer shepherding a survivor less than half his age. A native of Refugio, Texas mentoring a native of La Marque, 1600 miles away in Ontario, Canada.
Banister recalls Bridges, who I’ve learned in the last few days was one of the game’s all-time great characters, as having an uncanny ability to manage men, striking the perfect balance between stern and serious on the one hand, and keeping things light and loose on the other. “Rocky taught me that baseball wasn’t going to define us as men,” Banister learned from Bridges. “The separator was the relationships you were able to build with players, the ability to find their heartbeat, their pulse.”
Equal parts old school baseball man and one-liner machine, Bridges has been credited by Leyland (in a story by MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby) as “one of those guys who had a reputation more for being a character than [for] his baseball knowledge. But he knew the game. He was sharp as a tack. When I asked him about a player, I could go to the bank with his answer.” Ringolsby described Bridges “a minor league cross between Casey Stengel, Don Zimmer, and Yogi Berra,” which is about a thousand-word description on its own.
Banister describes him as more than that.
He tells a story about being a first-time manager for that Welland, Ontario club with lots of passion and energy, maybe too much early on. Banister, months removed from an eight-year pro grind as a player, recalls one night early in his first year managing when he hopped off the bench with designs on putting a loud stamp on that game, only to hear Bridges, the weather-beaten veteran of more than 4200 games as a player and coach, call from behind: “Hey. Casey. What’re you about to do?”
Slow your roll, in other words.
Sit back down. Let the players play. Observe. Give them your passion, give them your integrity. But your job isn’t to holler at them from the dugout.
Bridges, Banister suggests, had as keen an eye on how to read a person as anyone he’s come across in baseball, or otherwise. If you were able to look past the indestructible balloon of chaw that evacuated only to make room for a cigar, the irreversibly arthritic limp, the broken and gnarled fingers out of which he would still throw BP, you found a man with a passion for the game reminiscent of Banks, and a gift for impacting it from the trenches that resonated heavily with Banister.
Last week — four days after Banks passed away, and two days after Banister captivated a room of 300 local baseball coaches — Everett Lamar “Rocky” Bridges died. He was 87.
The obituaries — as well as a story linked inside this outstanding tribute by the great Jay Jaffe — say Bridges died of natural causes. I have no idea whether his death was expected for some period of time, and if so whether Banister was aware of his condition when he spoke so reverently of the man on that Sunday morning at 1000 Ballpark Way.
(And by “reverently,” I mean strictly in the tone of voice he used when punctuating the sound of the Bridges name. Because he didn’t elaborate at all that day.)
Banister held the room that morning the way I imagine Bridges had him hanging on every word 21 years ago over a summer in Welland and Hudson Valley, Batavia and Utica, Oneonta and Williamsport. I could list a couple dozen inspiring things Banister said two Sundays ago and I imagine, little by little, I will. A whole lot of people who were in that room will probably remember a lot of what Banister said 21 years from now.
Based on nothing but that hour, I can’t wait to see what sort of impact Banister has on Rougned and Neftali, on Martin and Delino, on Jorge and Joey, on Chi Chi and Elvis and Tanner and Jake, on Leonys and Keone, on Prince and Derek and Boo and Jayce, passing on a legacy as he builds further on his own.
One of the things Banister urged the room of 300 was to be the kind of coach you wish you had at age 10.
Ten days ago I didn’t know a thing about Rocky Bridges, who had 2,272 undistinguished big league at-bats.
Ten months ago I didn’t know much more about Jeff Banister, who had 2,271 fewer big league at-bats.
But I have a good idea now that Banister intends to be the kind of coach he had by his side when he was age 30.
That day when Banister next holds the room, this time in front of his new baseball team at 15960 N. Bullard in Surprise, influenced and inspired and mentored by many, but none more impactfully than Rocky Bridges, can’t come soon enough.
Is Robbie Ross Jr. a success story?
Maybe he hasn’t settled in at his ceiling, either as a starting pitcher prospect or as the bullpen weapon he proved to be as a rookie in 2012.
But the 2008 second-round pick, at least by the Wins Above Replacement metric, has been more valuable in the Major Leagues than 17 of the 25 pitchers drafted ahead of him that year.
And more valuable than 40 of the 41 second-rounders the Rangers have selected in franchise history (with 1986 pick Roger Pavlik the lone exception).
And a pitcher who has carved out a relatively stable big league role after being ranked number 25, 7, 19, and 14 in his four years as a Rangers prospect by Baseball America, making the club as a non-roster invite in 2012 and not even needing an option his first two seasons in Texas.
He was sent to Boston yesterday, probably at a point when his trade value was its lowest since his arrival in the bigs leagues.
What about Anthony Ranaudo? A success, or not?
Three years after declining to sign with the Rangers out of high school as their 11th round pick, he was the third of three Boston first-round picks in 2010, a largely disappointing trio that included third baseman Kolbrin Vitek and outfielder Bryce Brentz.
And he didn’t get to the big leagues until his fourth pro season, posting a 4.81 ERA in seven late-season Red Sox starts and failing to miss bats (15 strikeouts in 39.1 innings) or keep the ball in the park (10 home runs).
But he was the AA Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, when he went 8-4, 2.95 in 19 Portland starts (before a promotion to AAA: 3-1, 2.97 in six appearances) and did miss bats (106 punchouts in 109.2 innings) and did keep the ball in the park (nine homers).
And he was the AAA International League Pitcher of the Year in 2014, when he went 14-4, 2.61 in 24 Pawtucket starts (before getting the call to Boston in August), fanning 111 in 138 frames and yielding nine bombs.
And only six of the 18 pitchers drafted ahead of him in 2010 have been more productive Major Leaguers.
Ranaudo’s BA ranking among Red Sox prospects largely receded over his four years in the system (2, 4, 14, 11), but just three winters ago he was getting votes from BA writers as they were putting together their list of the game’s Top 100 Prospects, while Ross was being given a non-roster invite to Rangers camp.
It’s fair to point out that that was three years ago, and Ranaudo is no longer thought of in those terms. Early projections that the 6’7” prototype would develop into a number two starter have given way to those suggesting he’s a four at best, a reliever at worst, and without sharpening his fastball command he may be nowhere on that spectrum, at least on a contending staff.
But you have to ask yourself this, after shedding for the moment the fact that everyone loves Robbie Ross Jr. as a really good dude: Let’s say Nick Martinez, whose big league numbers weren’t all that different from Ranaudo’s in 2014, was traded today for a left-handed middle reliever whose ERA last year was 6.20 — including 7.85 in relief — and whose opponents’ slash line was a gaudy .319/.387/.464?
And whose bottom-line 2013 numbers weren’t nearly as shocking — Ross posted a 3.03 ERA — but he lost his edge against left-handed hitters that season, as they slashed .341/.412/.538 against him over 102 trips to the plate?
We all love Ross, but look at this deal objectively. In spite of a thin corps of left-handed relievers, Texas was not going to comfortably entrust Ross in 2015 with the task of coming in to get Robinson Cano or Victor Martinez or Michael Brantley out. And even if the cutter command against righties came back a bit (they hit .336/.408/.484 off him last year), there are several righthanders in the Texas bullpen who would get the ball before Ross in big spots.
One of the casualties of the Rangers’ injury-riddled spring in 2014 is that Ross — who was groomed exclusively as a starter as a Texas minor leaguer and moved to the bullpen only when he killed it in camp in 2012 and won a roster spot — was pressed into the rotation and started the season’s third game. That experiment went pretty well for about three weeks, then poorly after that, and on his return to the bullpen he struggled for most of the year, prompting two intervening assignments to AAA Round Rock.
Just as Texas believes it has an opportunity to clean Ranaudo up and get some value out of his mid-90s velocity/power curve combination, Boston believes it has a chance to rebuild Ross’s four-seamer that tied hitters up a couple years ago from his low plane.
And still, thousands of Red Sox fans took WEEI up on its invitation to vote in a poll on the trade, and 76 percent think Boston made a bad move trading Ranaudo for Ross.
This is one of those deals in which a couple players have flashed much more value in the past — one a couple years ago in the big leagues, the other on the farm — and as fans it’s easy to dream on those flashes and fear the possibility that things come (back) together somewhere else.
But among the things that a franchise’s pro scouts are charged with is to target players who they believe could benefit from a change of scenery (and perhaps coaching). From a need standpoint, a veteran left-handed reliever would seem to be more important to Texas at the moment than a fifth-starter candidate who is probably a good bet to be sent out on his second of three options to start the season — and that should weigh even more heavily when wondering whether Josh Boyd and his crew felt Ranaudo, who offers six years of club control, has the chance to give Texas more value than Ross.
All things equal, at this snapshot in time, you take the southpaw reliever. And that should tell us all things were not equal between Ranaudo and Ross in the Rangers’ eyes, and the club’s front office probably tilted even more heavily than Red Sox Nation in that regard.
Jeff Wilson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) tweeted this last night: “Rangers have long fancied Anthony Ranaudo, but they also liked the value he can ultimately bring. More value than Robbie Ross would.”
I’m trying to resist thinking about what other type of “value” that word “ultimately” could suggest, and I keep telling myself a young Nate Eovaldi, who has now been traded twice, had issues missing bats as well.
As for the Rangers bullpen, Anthony Andro (Fox Sports Southwest) notes that Jon Daniels isn’t optimistic he’ll be able to add a late-inning lefthander before camp opens in three weeks. Free agent Neal Cotts is reportedly set to sign somewhere else. Phil Coke and a handful of others are still out there. Current internal candidates are Alex Claudio, Michael Kirkman (who is off the roster), and Ross Detwiler, though he’ll come to camp competing for the number five rotation spot with Ranaudo, Martinez, Nick Tepesch, and Lisalverto Bonilla, perhaps among others.
Of the 18 non-roster players currently invited to big league camp, only Kirkman pitches from the left side.
When Ross came out of nowhere in camp to win a job in 2012, four years out of high school, he was coming off a season in which he pitched 123.1 innings for High A Myrtle Beach and 38 frames for AA Frisco, almost all as a starter.
Lefthander Andrew Faulkner in 2014: 104 innings for Myrtle Beach, 30.2 for Frisco, almost all as a starter. He’s now four years out of high school.
Ross in that final year on the farm, per nine innings: 7.5 hits, 0.3 homers, 1.8 walks, 7.5 strikeouts.
Faulkner in 2014, per nine innings: 7.6 hits, 0.3 homers, 3.0 walks, 8.9 strikeouts.
And there have been suggestions (see your 2015 Bound Edition) that Faulkner, who has a little funk in his delivery, could end up as a power reliever who works late in games.
The lanky Faulkner and the stocky Ross don’t necessarily profile similarly on the mound, but the Ross example at least suggests the Rangers might have a taste for pushing one of their better prospects to see if he might be as suited for a role right now as anyone they could go spend free agent dollars on, or trade for.
Texas gave non-roster invites last week to pitchers Chi Chi Gonzalez, Alec Asher, and Keone Kela, third baseman Joey Gallo, catcher Pat Cantwell, and outfielder Jared Hoying. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Faulkner get a late invite, especially in light of the new absence of Ross.
It’s probably fair to consider Ross and Ranaudo disappointments to a point, given the promise they once flashed. But the job of Rangers and Red Sox scouts, and the General Managers they report to, is to evaluate players not on how high they were drafted, or how they pitched three years ago, but on how they might fit the current picture, and what there might be worth dreaming on down the road.
Two years ago, the idea that Texas would trade Robbie Ross Jr. at age 25 for a fifth starter candidate who’s a good bet to spend the better part of a third year in AAA would have been as preposterous as the thought that Boston would trade former first-rounder Anthony Ranaudo, coming off consecutive Pitcher of the Year seasons at the AA and AAA levels, in exchange for a middle reliever who just posted a 6.20 ERA and allowed an .851 OPS and is a lefthander who historically doesn’t get lefties out.
That’s a lot of words devoted to a trade of two players of that profile, but good old-fashioned baseball trades that aren’t made because of money don’t always involve core players. And on the Rangers’ end, when it’s a trade that not only isn’t made for need but actually contradicts what the roster appears to be in need of, the fascination level kicks up another notch and makes you wonder which team’s scouts will feel better about the recommendation another year or two down the road.
I’m going to put some time in tonight on the Yovani Gallardo trade story, in hopes that I can finish and roll it out in the morning.
In the meantime, here are the prospect features I wrote for the 2015 Bound Edition on the two minor leaguers who accompanied Luis Sardinas in the deal, righthanders Marcos Diplan and Corey Knebel, whom I ranked 13th and 19th in the Rangers system, respectively.
Marcos Diplan, RHP (number 13 overall) (International free agent/2013)
The Rangers blew away their international bonus pool allocation in 2013, ignoring the $1.94 cap and paying out more than $8 million once the tax penalty was added to the stack of bonuses they gave a handful of Dominican and Venezuelan teenagers. Of the high-profile names, only Diplan was a pitcher, and according to Baseball America, he was the top available arm in the entire crop of J2-eligibles, in spite of the fact that he stands under six feet tall. Small righthanders have long been discounted from a scouting standpoint, though perhaps the Royals magical run in 2014, with hard-throwing, sub-six righties Yordano Ventura, Greg Holland, and Kelvin Herrera at the forefront on the pitching side, could signal a greater tolerance. Texas signed Diplan for $1.3 million in July 2013 but kept him in the Dominican Summer League for all of 2014, a far more conservative decision than when the organization assigned Martin Perez to Short-Season A Spokane to make his 2008 debut. Diplan’s results were outstanding. Permitting more than two earned runs only once in his 13 regular-season starts, he posted the fifth-best ERA (1.54) in the 36-team league. He held opponents to a helpless .154/.302/.213 slash line (allowing only 32 hits in 64.1 innings — easily the best hit rate among all pitchers in the league) and struck out eight batters per nine, though he did lead the league with 36 walks. In the DSL championship series, the 17-year-old blanked the Red Sox over four frames (three hits, four walks, five strikeouts) in helping the Rangers knot up a best-of-five that they eventually won in four games. Showing velocity at 89-92 when he signed, Diplan touched 96 this summer, flashing a curve and change that he’ll look to start developing further when he pitches stateside in 2015. Whether his ultimate future is as a starter like Ventura, or a late-inning weapon like Herrera or Holland, Diplan is part of a wave that’s three or four years away but with the type of ceiling that could be very much worth the wait.
Corey Knebel, RHP (number 19 overall) (Trade with Detroit Tigers/2014)
Knebel’s profile matches Huston Street’s so closely that there’s at least some sense that he hasn’t quite met expectations, which is crazy. Street was undrafted out of Austin Westlake High School, Knebel undrafted out of nearby Georgetown High. Both were dominant closers as University of Texas freshmen. Both were supplemental first-round draft picks after their junior year (Street 40th overall, Knebel 39th overall), dominated pro competition that summer, and less than a year after their final college appearances were big leaguers. That’s where the parallels end, as Street won Oakland’s closer job out of spring training in 2005 and won AL Rookie of the Year honors, while Knebel joined Detroit last May and was shaky every third time out, getting sent back to AAA after six appearances (five runs on eight hits and three walks in 6.2 innings, with eight strikeouts). The 22-year-old was as dirty in his return to the International League as he had been before the call-up (four runs on four singles and eight walks in 14.1 frames, 16 strikeouts), much of which took place with Texas sitting on his appearances as Joakim Soria trade talks were developing. Perhaps stemming from those talks, the Tigers brought Knebel back up to the big club on July 19, getting him into two games before the Soria trade was made four days later, when they sent Knebel and AA righty Jake Thompson to Texas for the veteran reliever. The Rangers assigned Knebel to AAA Round Rock with clear designs on getting him to Arlington by season’s end, but after three strong weeks with the Express (20 strikeouts in 12 innings, .205/.300/.364 slash line), he was shut down with an elbow sprain. When he’s right, the 6’3” Knebel touches 98 and mixes in an out-pitch curve with sharp, late break. Along with Keone Kela, he represents another closer prospect for the Rangers to factor into the relief picture, and he should begin to make an impact on the big club in some form in 2015, assuming the elbow is sound.
There are 70 more minor leaguers featured in the book, which is for sale in two formats:
* Hard copy ($24.95)
* eEdition ($9.99)
Catch you tomorrow (I’m hoping) with the Gallardo writeup.
This is what we know:
At 1:59 pm on Sunday, local time, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) sent out this tweet:
“Rangers on verge of trading for Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo, sources tell me and Jon Morosi.”
Minutes later, the Packers kicked off against the Seahawks, which a conspiracy theorist might suggest was the perfect time from a PR standpoint for the Brewers to sneak any unpopular action items through while their fan base and most of their media were focused 100 percent on football.
Raise ticket prices. Announce all brats at Miller Park to be replaced by more health-conscious quinoa-and-kale-based selections. Trade your homegrown veteran starting pitcher, who at just 28 had already established himself as the 45-year-old franchise’s all-time leader in strikeouts.
The thing is, Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin is almost as stealthy as Rangers GM Jon Daniels. While the timing of a fan-unfriendly move like trading Gallardo might have been right — and will be today or tomorrow or anytime over the next couple weeks given the way Green Bay’s season ended — it’s not likely that the Brewers wanted word of this out, especially since, almost a day later, there’s been no confirmation of a deal, or even a reliable prediction of what the Rangers would be sending Milwaukee for the eight-year veteran.
(There’s speculation that the leak was Gallardo’s agent, Bobby Witt [who spent seven years as a homegrown starter with the Rangers, second in franchise history in strikeouts when the Rangers first traded him away].)
Regardless of who leaked the story to Rosenthal, and whether the timing was by design, we know this morning, according to Joel Sherman (New York Post), that Texas and Milwaukee do “have [a] deal in principle for Gallardo and that [the] trade is in medical review right now.”
Tom Haudricourt (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) followed with this: “If all it takes is medical review to complete Gallardo deal with Texas, it is all but done. He has never had an arm issue with the Brewers.”
Still no word on the pieces Texas is sending north, which is why today’s report will be relatively short. Adding Gallardo to the rotation, which has a perfectly profiled pitcher at number one (Yu Darvish) and number two (Derek Holland), plus a solid number four (Colby Lewis) and several reasonably positioned candidates at number five (Ross Detwiler, Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, Lisalverto Bonilla, plus Chi Chi Gonzalez and Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher before long — although one of them other than Gonzalez or Thompson could certainly fit in the trade), is a huge get for the Rangers, who won’t have Martin Perez before the All-Star Break and whose prospects on getting Matt Harrison back are completely unpredictable and can’t be counted on.
Gallardo has one year left on his contract (Milwaukee picked up its $13 million option for 2015 on October 30), and while there’s heavy speculation that Texas will have a very good chance to strike a long-term deal with the righthander, who was born in Mexico but moved to Fort Worth at age four and lives in the Metroplex in the off-season, he’s nonetheless a one-year player, and because of that there’s just no way that the Brewers were going to be able to get anyone from the Rangers’ top tier of prospects — Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro, Nomar Mazara, Gonzalez, Thompson — or Rougned Odor, or anyone on that level from any other club. Morosi also reports that Jurickson Profar is not in the deal. Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) suggests Texas “would give up prospects, possibly one infielder and one pitcher,” but it’s simply not going to include anyone in this paragraph.
Rosenthal speculates that shortstop Luis Sardinas could be part of what Texas is sending Milwaukee, and beyond that the Rangers are very deep on that next tier or two after the Gallo-Alfaro-Mazara-Gonzalez-Thompson group (pitchers Luke Jackson, Luis Ortiz [who would be a player to be named later], Andrew Faulkner, Eickhoff, 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 it takes Sardinas plus another one or two names off those lists to add Gallardo to the rotation, it would be a hard deal not to like.
But I’m not going to break Gallardo down today. Not until there’s a deal to report. We don’t know what Texas is giving up. We don’t know if Milwaukee is sending money back, although you’d think there’s some amount of cash involved.
Maybe he’s here one year. Maybe more. Maybe less (while we don’t want to imagine another disappointing season, if 2015 doesn’t go well for the club Gallardo could be a significant trade piece in July — with the Rangers moving him only if the return is more appealing than the supplemental first-round pick the Rangers would get if they were to tender a qualifying offer in November and he left for free agent dollars elsewhere).
But it does appear Yovani Gallardo is almost here, and though we don’t yet know what it is costing Texas to get him, or what it will cost Texas to have him holding down the number three spot in a rotation that suddenly looks a whole lot better, I’m really looking forward to the next time I’m sitting down at this computer to write.
You’re coming off three bad seasons, each worse than the last, and you’ve made the decision that there’s not much you can do to force the current window back open, and to even envision a window opening a couple years down the road, you have to impactfully replenish a flagging farm system that’s been firmly situated in the league’s bottom third those same three years that you’ve failed to post a winning record at the big league level.
Jimmy Rollins, gone.
Marlon Byrd, gone.
Those are your Gagne and Lofton trades.
There’s still a Teixeira Trade to be made.
There are two key differences, of course, between what Ruben Amaro Jr. faces with Cole Hamels and what Jon Daniels had on his hands with Mark Teixeira in 2007.
First, this is the winter, not July when teams in the race and staring at a two-month sprint to 162+ tend to act a little more desperately and with less of a stubborn attitude when it comes to parting with minor league assets.
Second, Daniels in 2007 was leading a relatively new front office group that had laid the groundwork with ownership for a teardown plan at the time he was hired, and the pitch that spring was more about timing than about the overall concept. Amaro, on the other hand, surely is just trying to survive. The first three seasons of his tenure as Phillies GM went very well, the next three not so much.
A year ago Jack Zduriencik in Seattle was thought to be on a hot seat, needing to win to save his job. He did, and did.
Amaro has no real chance to win in 2015 (a reality he’s clearly accepted, having moved Rollins and Byrd and Antonio Bastardo already this winter for prospects). The test he needs to pass is to overhaul the talent base, to repopulate the top two tiers of his farm system, to restore hope in a franchise that’s likely going to make it four straight seasons without clearing .500.
Amaro can’t get this wrong. He can trade Hamels now. He can trade Hamels in July. He can opt not to trade Hamels.
And he not only has to choose the plan correctly, but in the case of the trade categories, he has to trade him well — far better than he traded Cliff Lee (2009) and far better than he came out net in his two Hunter Pence trades (2001/2012). Tack on the questionable mega-contracts he’s handed out — Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon foremost among them — and the track record stacks up poorly.
Amaro can’t get this wrong.
Texas had the game’s number 28 farm system, according to Baseball America, entering its 2007 teardown season, and that ranking was published a few weeks before the club traded its top prospect, John Danks, to the White Sox. The next four in the system: Eric Hurley, Edinson Volquez (who’d spit up his big league looks in 2005 and 2006), Thomas Diamond, and John Mayberry Jr.
That group was no worse then than Philadelphia’s is now, though the additions of Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, and Tom Windle in the Byrd and Rollins trades help.
If Amaro trades Hamels, he’s going to get three or four prospects, and it’s a safe bet that at least two of them will push Lively, Eflin, and Windle further back in the sentence.
Hamels hasn’t asked to be traded, and though no-trade clauses are in many cases just levers to guarantee a club option or secure some other sort of added compensation, let’s assume the clubs Hamels cannot block a trade to — reportedly the Braves, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Padres, Cardinals, Nationals, and Rangers (though Bob Nightengale [USA Today] says the Rangers and Yankees are the only AL clubs, which would mean the Angels are in fact on his no-trade list) — are the ones whose systems Amaro has whiteboarded and nearly memorized at this point.
Add the Red Sox, who are among the 20 teams Hamels has on his no-trade list (after they were not on his list a year earlier), because every national writer is.
According to Jim Salisbury (CSNPhilly.com), the teams showing the most interest in Hamels are the Rangers, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Padres. For Texas, St. Louis, and San Diego, Hamels is a four-year, $96 million pitcher. For Boston, assuming it would need to guarantee the lefthander’s 2019 option to get him to allow a trade to go through, he’d be a five-year, $110 million guy.
As for what Philadelphia is seeking in return for Hamels, one National League GM told Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe) two weeks ago that the Phillies “want everyone’s top guys and you can’t blame them. But I think they’re getting more realistic. The team that can offer them prospects and a Major League-ready player or pitcher will get him.”
The articles that talk about the Padres’ interest routinely mention outfielder Hunter Renfroe, catcher Austin Hedges, and righthander Matt Wisler. Surely A.J. Preller wouldn’t part with all three for the San Diego native, though (1) he’s demonstrated zero attachment to the prospects he’s inherited, and (2) you would think he’d need more of a financial subsidy from the Phillies than the other three teams, which would mean he’d theoretically have to part with more talent than a team not insisting on as much cash to help pay Hamels.
The stories about Boston and Hamels talk about catcher Blake Swihart, second baseman-outfielder Mookie Betts, righthander Matt Barnes, and corner bat Garin Cecchini. Most, however, believe the Red Sox consider Betts basically untouchable.
St. Louis: righthanders Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales, and outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. Not all four, but certainly two and maybe three.
Texas? Salisbury suggests the Rangers “will be very protective of hitters Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara” but “do have a top catching prospect in Jorge Alfaro.” The Ticket’s Norm Hitzges suggested yesterday that the Phillies would want Gallo and Alfaro and more, or a package headed by Gallo and Rougned Odor and Jake Thompson. Not happening, and not happening.
(Daniels said on MLB Network Radio Friday afternoon that while he’s still looking to add a starting pitcher before spring training, there’s no truth to any speculation that he’d trade both Gallo and Alfaro for Hamels.)
It’s reasonable to assume that the Phillies, if Salisbury’s note on Gallo and Mazara was triggered by some intel that any talks between the clubs have moved beyond those two, would expect Alfaro to be paired with either 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, Keone Kela, and Marcos Diplan, and hitters Lewis Brinson, Nick Williams, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Cordell, Travis Demeritte, and Jairo Beras.
(No chance on Odor.)
It would be a massive price to pay, but it would be for a lefthander who will pitch all of 2015 at age 31, and at four years and $96 million he would offer the controllability that a guy like Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Doug Fister, or Yavani Gallardo would not — and at the same time wouldn’t take the years or dollars that Jon Lester just got, Max Scherzer is about to get, and even James Shields is expected to eclipse this winter.
Interestingly, Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) reports that the Rangers have in fact “remained in contact with Philadelphia about Hamels,” and that the “stumbling block appears to be money.”
The fact that Texas would need the Phillies to kick a meaningful amount of cash in is no surprise.
The comment that the subsidy level is the “stumbling block” would seem to imply that Amaro and Daniels have a greater comfort level with the players who would need to be in the deal. (That piece, of course, is likely a moving target — as Fraley notes, “[h]ow much the Phillies would be willing to eat would hinge on which prospects the Rangers would be willing to include in a deal.”)
But still: if the names Amaro seeks and the names Daniels is willing to discuss have enough overlap that the “stumbling block appears to be money,” that’s pretty fascinating.
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. (Fraley writes that the Rangers have “about $16 million [to fill] the remainder of the club, under the payroll limit set by ownership. That group has increased the limit in the past.” He adds that if Texas would put Gallo and Thompson in a deal, “the Rangers could have Hamels” and “could get about $30 million in salary savings” — which works out to a $16.5 million AAV.)
The hypothetical Alfaro-Gonzalez-Eickhoff-Williams package would arguably be stronger than Swihart-Barnes-Cecchini (if only because of the difference between Gonzalez and Barnes) — hey, maybe as a sweetener Texas could even waive its right to purchase Odubel Herrera back if he doesn’t make Philadelphia’s roster (though he’s a strong bet to make it) — but then again the Red Sox probably wouldn’t require as much cash from the Phillies.
Though they’d require Hamels’s agreement, something Texas wouldn’t have to secure.
The very first trade Amaro made as Phillies GM was with Daniels. In November 2008, two weeks into his job, Amaro sent outfielder Greg Golson to Texas for Mayberry.
The two have made one trade since then, when Texas sent Michael Young to Philadelphia for righthanders Lisalverto Bonilla and Josh Lindblom in 2012.
Young spent five months as teammates with Hamels, and I’d love to know what he’s recommending to Daniels now as far as loading up for Hamels is concerned. Young’s voice has become a very important one upstairs very quickly, and though I doubt there are many in the game with a bad thing to say about Hamels, Young’s insights in this case unquestionably carry a lot of weight.
As for the timing of any Hamels trade, if that’s in fact the door Amaro chooses, Jeff Sullivan (FanGraphs/Fox Sports) weighs in on the dilemma between striking now and waiting until July:
“This is the dangerous game. By holding on to Cole Hamels, Ruben Amaro raises the stakes. There’s more for him to gain, and more for him to lose. If it’s July, and Hamels has been his usual self, Amaro can get away with demanding one or two upper-tier young players. But Hamels could also very possibly blast his trade value into nothingness. Justin Verlander’s 2014 season literally just happened. There’s an awful lot riding on this move, for Amaro and the organization. By waiting, they’d be at least maximizing the potential upside. That’s the optimistic perspective.”
What if the biceps tendinitis that sidelined Hamels for the first three weeks in 2014 resurfaces? What if he loses his bite the way Verlander did last summer? Lee to Seattle for Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, and Tyson Gilles in 2010 didn’t cost Amaro his job, but he just can’t afford to miss on a Hamels deal and expect to continue working for the Phillies — and arguably the odds of missing increase if Hamels continues to get the ball as a Phillie.
Like Sullivan says, by waiting until July to trade Hamels, Amaro would arguably maximize the potential upside.
He’d also be increasing the chances that Hamels’s value plummets from where it sits today.
If there’s a trade offer on the table now that Amaro can’t reasonably expect to improve upon in July — and that’s assuming Hamels has a dominant four months — doesn’t he have to follow the Rollins and Byrd trades up with the bellwether move, the signature deal that instantly ignites his farm system and redefines what the Philadelphia Phillies are and when the window opens, setting up everything else that club does going forward?
I’m not suggesting Amaro needs to trade Hamels to Texas (especially without knowing what the deal would look like — though, yeah, this would be the Triple Word Score), as opposed to Boston (which would really amp up Boston-Philly on Opening Day in Citizens Bank Park, huh?) or anyone else.
I’m not suggesting I’d have an easy time — as much as I love the idea of a rotation headed by Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Hamels, with Martin Perez half a season away from returning — wrapping my head around the thought of Jorge Alfaro getting to the big leagues in someone else’s uniform, and I’m not making plans yet to recreate the title banner on these emails.
Really, I’m not suggesting, at least in the context of this morning’s report, that we break down the concept of overlaying four years of Hamels atop two or three years of Darvish (at least) and four of Holland and more than that of Perez (plus at least two years of Adrian Beltre) and of Thompson and (or?) of Gonzalez — really, the idea would be to maximize the Beltre/Darvish window — because for now I’m not really focused, for once, on whether this makes sense for the Texas Rangers, and I’m asking you, for the moment, to step out of those shoes yourselves and consider this from a different perspective.
I’ve been working on a project lately that’s led me to dig up lots of memories from 2010 and 2011, and it’s been pretty great.
There are lots of baseball things I remember from those two years, but as far as 2010 is concerned, foremost among them is not Justin Smoak’s first season in the big leagues, or C.J. Wilson’s first season as a big league starter, or Vladimir Guerrero’s one season as a Ranger.
The things that stick out from 2010 are the shockingly awesome strike in early July to go get Cliff Lee from Seattle. Elvis Andrus and his teammates running wild the first week in October. Cliff Lee jumping into Bengie Molina’s arms in Tropicana Field. Cliff Lee vs. Andy Pettitte, with that laugh after he’d beat a sliding Brett Gardner to first base. Lotsa Cliff Lee.
And that disastrous eighth inning in San Francisco, Game Two.
The great moments persist, and so does the pain.
2011: I don’t really remember Alexi Ogando, All-Star, or the Torrealba Era, or that, behind Neftali Feliz, the Rangers’ relief innings leaders were, in order, Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, Michael Kirkman, and Dave Bush.
What I remember is the arrival of Adrian Beltre, the Year of Napoli, the Andrus-Kinsler fist pump at second base in the Trop, Nellie’s throw in Detroit, Elvis’s impossible glove-flip in Busch Stadium, Derek Holland in Game Four, and Napoli in Game Five.
And, yes, a hundred things about Game Six.
From 2007, because of what it all led to, I remember Texas trading Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton, and drafting Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, and Tommy Hunter, and signing the best international pitcher available, a 16-year-old from Venezuela named Martin Perez, about two decades after the Rangers had last been considered a force in Latin America. I don’t really remember Sammy Sosa’s second run with Texas, or the 5.50 rotation ERA, or that Ramon Vazquez was the club’s primary third baseman.
In 2009 the Rangers finished 10 games out but won 87 games, and I do remember the feeling that something special was coming together, and part of that had to do with the arrival of Andrus and Holland and Feliz.
The flip side of that is, in 2012, what sticks with me is that lazy Yoenis Cespedes fly ball to Josh Hamilton in Game 162, and that Hamilton first-inning at-bat against Joe Saunders two days later. Those memories crowd out the four bombs Hamilton hit against Baltimore one night in May. Because sports.
When I think of 2011, I hear “Written in the Stars” in my head, not Josh Hamilton’s walk-up music or Feliz’s coming-in music or Pat Green’s “I Like Texas” after a win. And that’s OK.
In the wake of the demise of the Cowboys season on Sunday, someone reminded Bob Sturm about something he’d written back in 2008, after the team’s loss to the Ravens dropped its record to 9-6, en route to 9-7 and a failure to reach the playoffs:
As I was leaving a frigid Texas Stadium after the game, I was walking right behind a Dad and his boy. The boy must have been 7 or 8 years old and was crying about the result. Some people might roll their eyes, but I knew how the boy felt. When you are young, and you love a sports team, you believe the games and the seasons will all have the happy endings of the Disney movies that you watch. Guess what, son, if you are going to pledge allegiance to a team as it appears you have with the Dallas Cowboys, I want to welcome you to the fellowship of the die-hards. Understand, that once you do, you are not allowed out of this commitment, and you should also understand that most seasons are going to end in tears. A favorite team is the only thing a male human feels the same about when he is 5 and when he is 45 and when he is 75. You will change your mind on everything else. Girls, money, hobbies. But, you will always still feel the adrenaline rush of a win, and the gutting sadness of a horrible loss. I didn’t say anything to the boy, as his Dad was handling it (and he might not have welcomed my advice) but I felt for him. Welcome to sports, young man. Someday, you may live to see a championship or five, but most years will end with your guts spilling onto the floor.
The Cowboys’ 2014 season hurt more than the four ugly years that preceded it, but I’ll take it every time. Sports pain over sports indifference, in a blowout.
I’m not giving October 2010 or October 2011 back, no matter how much those two months, and especially one of them, hurt. Still.
Rangers Baseball 2014 will soon be forgotten, mercifully. Gone will be memory of the 95 losses and the record number of players and DL days and Mike Carp hitting third and Saunders getting the ball — to start the game — eight different times.
The resignation of the manager won’t be, though.
And I hope, years from now, we also remember 2014 for the arrival of Ryan Rua, the acquisition of Jake Thompson, the breakouts of Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara and Keone Kela, and the Dawning of Odor.
Some of you, like me, are both Rangers fans and Cowboys fans, and while 2014 was a tough year for both, it was tough on completely different levels, and I’d rather be talking 20 years from now about Dez’s overturned catch or Nellie in Game 6 than about the year the Rangers needed 40 pitchers to get through 162.
I’m counting on much better baseball in 2015.
And more pain, if that’s what’s in store.
Pain for us, that is. I’m not up for another year of 26 disabled list assignments.
Bring on the chance at more sports heartbreak, at guts spilling onto the floor. Because without it, the winning — and I mean the winning — wouldn’t be nearly as awesome.
Pitchers & Catchers: 38 sleeps.
You can use that X right now, and spell JINX.
Or you can wait a bit to see if you pick another E from the box of tiles so you can drop DELUXE into the empty stretch that ends with that provocative Triple Word Score space winking at you from the bottom of the mildly populated board.
There’s nothing wrong with JINX. Solid score.
And it’s not like the game is almost over. Still plenty of tiles in the box, plenty of plays to be made and points to be piled up.
Yes, you’re behind at the moment, but for a good while the tortoise trailed the hare, too.
And if you wait, that Triple Word Space could get taken up anyway.
But, man, DELUXE — tripled — is a game-changer.
And there’s only one X. You don’t want to regret playing it too soon.
Whatcha gonna do?
On a completely unrelated note — as if anything I were to type now wouldn’t be unrelated — if you’d like to have a copy of the 2015 Bound Edition in digital format (PDF), it’s available now for $9.99 at this link. Hard copies are still available, too, here.