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Holaday plans.

Stephen Strasburg gave up five home runs in his three seasons at San Diego State.  

He’s allowed two homers this spring for the Nationals.

[Editor’s note: Please don’t assume you’ve subscribed to the wrong report.  At least not yet.]

In 2009, Strasburg’s junior year at SDSU, he was taken deep four times in 109 dominant innings (195 strikeouts, 19 walks, 65 hits, 1.32 ERA) en route to one of the most unsurprising 1.1 selections in MLB Draft history.  

One of those four times was on April 24 that spring, when, heading into the seventh inning, he’d blanked TCU at home on one hit (an infield single), punching out a dozen as his Aztec teammates had staked him to a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 lead.  

Strasburg, as he’d done all season, was flat dealing.  

Top of the seventh: 

Single.  

Single.

Failed sacrifice bunt attempt.  

Three-run home run, junior catcher Bryan Holaday, cutting San Diego State’s lead to 4-3, a score that would hold up.  

Fast-forward nearly seven years, to March 5, 2016, a few weeks ago.

Strasburg, in his first start of the spring, struck out the side in the first, setting Tigers hitters Jose Igelsias, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez down swinging around a Mike Aviles single.  He threw 10 pitches that inning — and you can figure out exactly how that went, from the previous sentence.

Dealing.  

Top of the second inning: 

Strasburg strikes Nick Castellanos out — again on three pitches.  

Walks Tyler Collins.

Strikes out John Mayberry looking — on three pitches.

Two-run home run, Detroit catcher Bryan Holaday (who would add another two-run homer in his next at-bat, this time off of A.J. Cole).

Holaday and Strasburg have never faced each other in an official pro game.  Not when they both played in the AA Eastern League in 2011 or the AAA International League in 2015, and not during the 2012 or 2013 or 2014 or 2015 big league seasons in which they both played.  They won’t face off in 2016, either, assuming neither one changes teams, unless it’s in very late October, in which case a link to this report will be found in the most obnoxious ICYMI tweet I’ve ever tweeted.

In an interview he did after the April 2009 bomb off the man considered the greatest college pitcher in years, Holaday said: “Turns out I made ‘Baseball Tonight’ with that one.  Andrew Cashner called and said I made ‘Baseball Tonight,’ so that was pretty fun.”  

Cashner was a first-round pick out of TCU (1.19) in 2008, the year before Strasburg went first overall (1.1), which was a year before Holaday went on Day Two to Detroit (6.193), days before he would tie an all-time College World Series record by homering four times in Omaha (matching, among others, J.D. Drew, former Rangers farmhand Tommy Mendonca, and former unsigned Rangers draftee Brad Ticehurst) — in what was TCU’s first-ever CWS appearance — and also received the 2010 Johnny Bench Award as the top Division I catcher in the nation.

I did some reading up on Holaday last night, and saw that Rangers pre/postgame host Jared Sandler heard from three Tigers pitchers who said they loved throwing to the 28-year-old and that, despite being a bench player, he was a  “great clubhouse guy and a great leader.”  

A player who suited up with Holiday at TCU told Sandler that he was “the best teammate I’ve ever had.”

I have no idea whether Cashner was the former Horned Frog that Sandler talked to, but given what appears a fairly consistent book on Holaday’s makeup let’s assume Cashner would embrace the same opinion of Holaday as a teammate.

Cashner is a free agent in seven months.  

Now, you should attach no more present implications to the fact that Cashner picked up a phone from Daytona, Florida, calling his old college catcher about an ESPN highlight two days before making his own season debut against the High Class A Lakeland Tigers (which would ironically be Holaday’s first pro team a little more than a year later), than you would to the widely known story that Astros executive advisor Nolan Ryan was Cashner’s idol growing up in Conroe and that Ryan was a big fan of Cashner going into the 2008 draft in which Texas instead took Justin Smoak, the eventual piece that carried the Cliff Lee deal, and the fact that Astros president Reid Ryan pitched at TCU a decade and a half before Cashner doesn’t change the reality that, for baseball’s top free agents annually, business is business.

You should put no more stock in Cashner and Holaday’s background together than in Ken Rosenthal’s predictions today that Texas will return to the World Series this year (losing to the Cubs), led by American League MVP Rougned Odor, or in MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Steve Phillips making the Rangers the AL pennant winners as well, with Stern (whose extraordinary three-part “Deep in the Heart of Texas” series on the Rangers concluded today) elaborating to suggest Texas will down the Giants (it’s an even-numbered year, after all) to win the whole thing, or in the Rangers completing a five-game Cactus League sweep of the World Champion Royals with today’s 5-1 victory.

But it’s fun to think about, and Holaday being here, one would think, certainly can’t hurt.

Now, it’s possible that Holaday (who hit .438/.455/.969 in 32 Tiger spring training at-bats, fanning just twice, and cutting down three of five would-be basestealers) isn’t even here when the Rangers season ends (though he’s going to be here when it begins, as Chris Gimenez is evidently headed to the disabled list).  It’s perhaps probable that San Diego moves Cashner by July, maybe even to his hometown Astros for Francis Martes, Michael Feliz, and Colin Moran, and that Houston locks the righthander up long-term before he ever hits the market.  It’s conceivable the Rangers have no interest in Cashner in the first place.

And, again, this sort of conjecture doesn’t even rise to the level of spitballing.  It’s nothing more than a groovy little tie-in (well, you can be the judge of that) which springboards a far-too-long essay from a hobbled lawyer who would very much like for baseball games that count to go ahead and get here. 

It’s kind of cool to imagine the conversation Holaday and Cashner might have had last night, seven years after they talked on the phone about “Baseball Tonight,” a discussion between a one-year Horned Frog whose catcher was also in his first year at TCU (after playing for North Central Texas College as a freshman), a 2008 season after which the closer was drafted for the fourth time, this time in the first round, and the sophomore catcher was named First-Team All-Conference at the position.

Wonder if they talked about this coming winter.

When Stephen Strasburg is also on track to be a free agent and may want to sign wherever Bryan Holaday is playing.

Because, you know.

Sleepers, and sleeps.

Peter Gammons, citing the “unmatched atmosphere” of the Rangers’ camp, calls Jeff Banister “[t]he most underrated man in MLB.” 

MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden calls the Rangers-Astros rivalry the “best in baseball” at the moment, and while Sports Illustrated picks Houston to win the World Series, Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo writes today that “[s]ince I picked Texas as my sleeper team, I’ve heard from a number of people who like the Rangers to go all the way.  Not so much a sleeper anymore.” 

I’m interested in this afternoon’s game — I want to see Ian Desmond get tested in center field and Matt Bush (Banister: “As good of stuff as we’ve seen all camp”) get tested a second time out of the bullpen — but I’m thinking more about Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez a week from tomorrow, a game that will start just as Dallas Keuchel vs. (presumably) Masahiro Tanaka wraps up in Yankee Stadium, an encore of the Wild Card pitching matchup that ended New York’s 2015 season.

Last season was a huge reminder that Game 1 and Game 11 and Game 111 matter as much (and as little) as any of the 162 that are guaranteed, which is one reason that the competition for the Rangers’ number five starter — now seemingly down to Jeremy Guthrie (veteran experience but declining production and off the 40-man roster) and A.J. Griffin (better camp but coming off injury and also off the roster) and Nick Martinez (on the roster and optionable but struggling of late) — is important even if the rotation spot can be skipped a couple times in April.  

Guthrie reportedly has an opt-out that he can exercise tomorrow if not added to the roster.  None of the three finalists will pitch between now and then. 

Desmond isn’t going to open the season as this team’s center fielder.  Bush isn’t going to open it in the big leagues.

But the work being done right now, and the evaluations being made, are designed to inform Game 30 and Game 90 just as much as Opening Day.

Just eight sleeps.  

Still, it’s too many.

Let’s go.

Odoriferous.

Every dream’s a bad one, which, if you’re logging votes, seems to me to be 100 percent unfair and uncool.  Especially since there’s one awakened from about every hour (along with a new, random, awful song stuck in my head each time . . . go away).  

For now, dignity is vulnerable at every step, every move, every moment.  

I’ve gotta watch my step and watch my diet, which I suppose are worthwhile regardless.

Heretofore meaningless and mindless things become pivotal, and the brain gets tricked into thinking the word “heretofore” is acceptable.  

(Just this once.)

I’ll be back at full strength eventually.  I will.  That’s the driving force that gets me through all of that which, at the moment, stinks.

There’s no reason to even mark a 4 for 4 exhibition performance, let alone to celebrate it, not even one including three home runs, and it makes even less sense to recognize a Cactus League win as a distinctive development.  But given the other stuff I hope you don’t mind if I tip my cap to Rougned Odor and give a Ginger Ale nod to Bobby Wilson.

Nicely done, guys.  Way to #WTDG, even though this is just March and it’s just Arizona.

Sleep isn’t exactly delivering, so I’m accepting Texas 12, San Diego 11 for what it is, and nothing more.  It’s not much, but it’s plenty. 

108-ish.

It’s pretty much two post-op steps forward and one step back for me these days, but two up and one down extrapolates to a 108-win baseball season, and that’s more than good enough for me, not just because of the magical number that 108 is in baseball and in the yoga world that my wife embraces enough for the both of us and otherwise, but more so because progress at any level beats the alternative and I know this can’t be rushed and now I’m thinking about Jurickson again and I’m wondering whether he’s scheduled to play in tonight’s Futures Game between Rangers prospects and Cubs prospects since he’s exhausted rookie status and now I’m as exhausted typing this as you are reading it but I won’t have to wait too long to find out (maybe two naps from now) because the Rangers-Cubs Futures Game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest (or Fox Sports Southwest Plus) right after the Rangers-Cubs big league spring training game is televised on Fox Sports Southwest and it’s interesting at least to me that both games will pit a Rangers starting pitcher against a former Rangers starting pitcher with Derek Holland and Kyle Hendricks squaring off at 3:00 Central (with about 20 playoff-bound Dallas Stars in the stands) and then Dillon Tate and C.J. Edwards taking the hill at 6:00 or 6:30 or thereabouts and now I’m thinking about Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza and would much rather be thinking about Jurickson Profar and probably even about my exploding quad and you should really watch both games because baseball and because you might see not only guys like Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson and Josh Morgan and others you’ve gotten to see lately but also kids like Leodys Taveras and Eric Jenkins and Andy Ibanez and Ariel Jurado and Brett Martin and Tyler Phillips and a bunch of others (including Cubs prospect and Plano’s own Billy McKinney) possibly for the first time and because, hey, Matt Bush is apparently being rewarded with an appearance on the mound in the big league game and I just saw that Ross Ohlendorf opted out of his Royals non-roster deal and that’s interesting but not as interesting as the fact that Ian Desmond will start in center field in that 3:00 game and, man, I hope you saw footage of him throwing Nolan Arenado out at the plate from left field Monday and maybe you shouldn’t run on Ian Desmond and see what I did there and if I had the energy right now I’d write a long story about Ryan Rua’s camp and the Rangers just announced that Cole Hamels will start on Opening Day which makes him the seventh different Ranger to have been delegated the task in seven years which seems weird given how crazy great these seven years of Rangers baseball have been and sorry for the run-on but sometimes you gotta run before you walk, wait what, and I just needed to write a little bit to help get loose, even if just one sentence, and this was 540 words, a multiple of 108, and I’m sure you won’t mind if I fully turn my attention now to that beckoning pillow over there.

Patients, patience, and the road.

I’d planned two and half weeks ago to write about Jurickson Profar, because nobody else had.  At that point, there’d been more words written locally and nationally this spring on Matt Bush — who was once a number one but not that kind of number one — than Profar.

But then Ian Desmond signed, and the Profar story got back-burnered.

I left for spring training and I planned, upon returning home, to write about Profar, because by then only a few others had, maybe because baseball’s top prospect in 2013 isn’t the 2012 guy (Mike Trout) or the 2011 guy (Bryce Harper) and really never was — though, to be fair, nobody else on the cover of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook in that book’s history (Corey Patterson, Josh Beckett, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, Phil Hughes, Jay Bruce, Matt Wieters, Jason Heyward, Miguel Sano, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager) has been, either — or because Profar’s been absent for two years, or because he isn’t even competing right now for a roster spot on this playoff team.

I planned on writing about Profar even though there were louder things I saw in my week at camp — Yu’s progress and Joey’s approach and Nomar — because Profar looks great, and I mean really great, and he’s eventually going to be an impact story here, one way or another, and that’s what I was really excited to think about and dump a thousand words on.

Now, a little less excited, because a ruptured quad tendon tends to cast a pall on things.

Not Jurickson’s quad.

Mine.

And now I’m thinking about Jurickson Profar more than ever.

I listened to Jeff Banister answer questions about Profar on Saturday morning, hours before heading to the airport to leave Arizona, and I wrote down something cool he said — about a player he’d never been around at full health — that I knew would be part of my focus: “In practice, in drills, he’s a really nice player.

“In games, he’s much better.”

But something I wrote just before that, as it turns out, stands out now even more, because of what I did about 30 hours later, once I was back in Dallas, because I don’t know how to dial things down sometimes (which my wife might spell differently: “ever”), or because I’m really unlucky, if not stupid.

“Jurickson’s a pretty tough individual mentally,” Banny said.  “He had the thing he loved taken away for two years.  He’s got it back, and he’s got that joy again.”

For years I’ve expected Profar to be a star on the field, and in due time a leader off of it.  I expected one day to hunt down a jersey with his name on the back.  I expected years of big production and a slow heartbeat and 80-grade feel for the game and transcendent post-season moments.

And all of that may happen.

What I didn’t expect was for Jurickson Profar, half my age, to be a motivation.

I don’t want to exaggerate this: I’m not going to lose anything for two years, and my career isn’t jeopardized in any way.  (My hobby, either.)  And I’ve got a lot less to be mentally tough about than that kid did.

But watching him work, and hearing Jeff Banister shed some perspective on it, well, it turns out that helped a ton.

Seeing Profar play the game last week on the back fields, with ease and with joy and with presence, was just what I needed, even though I had no idea at the time.

He’s not going to Milwaukee for Jonathan Lucroy and he’s not going to San Diego for Derek Norris (a player I’d really like here).

He’s not going to Arlington, either, at least not in early April.  He’ll be in Round Rock, joining Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson and Ryan Rua (maybe) and Hanser Alberto (maybe) and Patrick Kivlehan and Drew Robinson and James Jones, give or take, in a lineup that a handful of teams in baseball would be crazy not to trade their big league lineups (and contracts) for.

Profar will be a leader on that team, and he’ll be healthy.  That’s really good, and the rest can wait.

For now, no headlines, no pressure, no spot.

No problem.

Earn it, and force a decision.

Under different circumstances, I’d be dropping a couple hundred words today about the crazy-awesome energy of music blaring on the back fields and a free throw competition that clearly has a measured purpose.

More than just an effort to zap the Groundhog Day traps of camp, it’s set a tone.  Underneath the trash-talking and the frat boy whoop-and-hollering with a teammate at the stripe, there’s been a preparation to compete.  Day One.

Shawn Tolleson shared that new Rangers players have come up to him and said it’s the best camp they’ve ever been part of.  Desmond called it “amazing” how hard his new teammates work and how much fun they have, and how fast and efficiently they get their work in.

You don’t often hear big league veterans use the word “fast” when talking about spring training.

If this were a normal return from Arizona for me, I’d be going all expository on Adrian Beltre’s apparent interest in a three-year commitment, and would conclude that that’s too long a guarantee, even for my favorite ballplayer in the history of ever, but at the moment I could probably be talked into twice as long an extension as I imagine Belts driving a run-scoring single to right center with the same tear that has me unable to stand, though that’s a flimsy take likely influenced by the anti-inflammatories that haven’t quite coaxed me back to sleep yet.

Long sentence there, as I’m inclined to drop, and if Joey Gallo just hit another pitch into a parking lot while you were reading it, apologies.

(There will be more.)

Any other year, I’d be writing about a handshake with Bobby Jones and another one with Leodys Taveras, about the Josh Morgan and Isiah Kiner-Falefa experiments at catcher, about Eric Jenkins and Yohander Mendez and Scott Williams.

About MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis tweeting: “Players look bigger, stronger, faster in Rangers minor league camp than they do elsewhere.  Love this system [which his website ranks third in baseball, first in the American League].”

About an offense under a new pair of hitting coaches lined with players showing an improved approach, let alone the arguably meaningless numbers for a team currently leading baseball in hitting (.327) and reaching base (.386), more encouraging at least than sitting near the bottom in those categories.

About how stinkin’ good Yu looks.

I might have written an entire piece suggesting that, like Pudge, Nomar may turn out to be not only the second by that name — but also the better of the two.

This will be a different year for me.  Every few hours I think of another collateral effect this is going to have, and it stinks.  I’m having to depend a lot on others, making this a different year for them, too, and that stinks.

I’m going to miss Opening Day at Globe Life Park for the first time since the ballpark opened in 1994.  Stinks.

I’m not sure how my writing will be affected, because my work process is going to change.  I’m not going to stop writing.  I just don’t know yet if I’ll need to make adjustments.

But as far as that corner of my routine goes, the baseball team can make everything better.

And I’m confident it will.  This is a really good team.

I tend to write with a glass that I see nine-tenths full, and I’m not comfortable getting all grumpy on you.

I write about hope.  That’s what I do.  I think that’s why I do it.

This morning, the image in my head, Jurickson Profar on the cover of a national publication’s annual, is the same one I had a few weeks ago, when I was mulling over what to write about next.  But it’s there now for a very different reason — or at least an extra one.

I never want to take things for granted, and this has been a solid wake-up call in that respect.  I’m actually in a pretty good frame of mind.

At a minor league game on the back fields Thursday morning, I saw a couple Class A Padres prospects, Franchy Cordero and Nick Torres, pepper the wall with extra-base hits off Cole Hamels.  Two mornings later, Ryan Cordell hit twice against Mat Latos in a minor league game against the White Sox, homering (after a double off the wall by fellow 6’4” gazelle Lewis Brinson) and then singling in a run.

I remember thinking to myself: Cordero and Torres and Cordell, age 21 and 22 and 23, will never forget those moments.

While Hamels and Latos forgot about them in about 30 seconds.

Some dance to remember.  (I tried talking myself out of writing that.  I really did.)

Some dance to forget.

Some don’t get to dance at all, at least for awhile.

The duration of my time on the shelf, not to mention the magnitude and implications, is going to be exponentially less than what Profar had to endure.  Nothing about what happened to me is career-threatening.  And especially not threatening the start of any career.

I’m not saying, by any stretch, that I understand what Profar went through these past two years.  It’s almost unimaginable, at least for me, given where things were headed for him, at that age, and how helpless it must have felt to be unable to be out there, competing, and not knowing how long that would last.  I have a pretty good idea what my timetable will be after surgery — while the type of patience Profar had to summon up while he was shut down was clouded by all kinds of uncertainty.

Whether it was fair or not to Profar that he was anointed with the same recognition that Trout and Harper, two generational players, got the year before him and the year before that, this was still a player who was a big leaguer at 19 and universally praised as a possessor of “it.”

He was on his way, until he was forced off the road.  For a long time.

He’s back on the road now, and that’s enough.

He’s mentally tough, his second big league manager points out with a smile.  The game was taken away for two long years, but the joy is back, right along with the shoulder and the approach and the court sense and the presence.

And the opportunity, as long as Jurickson Profar can lean on a little more of that patience that, at 23, he’s already had to exercise more than his fair share of.

Pulling for you, man.

More than ever.

 

ba-book-2013 Profar

3-3.

rangers cap 47It’s not a real, official Texas Rangers cap, as evidenced by the ’47 stitched on its side and stickered on the bill, but it’s a Rangers cap and a good-looking one, much as Texas 6, Kansas City 2 yesterday wasn’t a real, official game, but it was a game, and really good-looking, too, especially the part that the box score indexed as:

Mazara: 3-3   

On its face, it has no more meaning than the three consecutive home runs and six runs overall that, a year ago, Colby Lewis gave up before recording an out in the club’s exhibition opener (en route to a career high in wins that lead to 162+), but Wednesday fifth-inning replacement Nomar Mazara’s line drive single to center (and run scored to get Texas on the board) in the sixth inning yesterday, his run-scoring single to right in the seventh, and his three-run bomb to the back of the bullpen in right in the ninth gave us all kinds of overreaction fodder, a fan’s entitlement early in March as long as it’s then dragged into the proper folder, lined with biodegradable plastic.

I share with you the fact that Mazara, born toward the end of Lewis’s high school sophomore year, also went 3 for 3 with a double in Monday’s intrasquad game only because fun baseball is fun, even when it doesn’t count.  

Six at-bats and six hits this week against six different pitchers, each a big league veteran:  Fun.  Especially for a 20-year-old.

Even one not competing for a big league job.

He’s not.

He’s not.

But when he gets here — and that timeline will be Nomar Mazara-dependent, not Josh Hamilton-dependent (something that Ian Desmond’s arrival solidifies) — he will be a gift.  

A gift that lasts a long time, like a favorite ballcap that you wear for years and years, and it just keeps fitting better.

Please remember that Michael Choice hit .369/.406/.708 in spring training 2014 while leading the Rangers in plate appearances, and that Ronald Guzman (signed the same day as Mazara but still not out of Class A, and left exposed to December’s Rule 5 Draft without consequence) homered twice in spot duty for Prince Fielder in that same camp, while Rougned Odor was busy hitting .238/.304/.286 that spring. 

Take care to exercise appropriate restraint when thinking about Mazara’s super-meaningless 3-3 that followed his other super-meaningless 3-3 this week, and when watching this over and over and over again.

My Mom’s probably the only one who caught on to the references above to 47 and to 3-3, and she’s almost certainly the only one willing to overlook the flagrant shoehorning, but that’s the date and today that’s my age, and ever since I was a kid I’ve always thought that “seven” was the first of the “big” single digits, so this morning I’m feeling like I’m as close to 50 as Nomar Mazara is to the big leagues.

But both can wait. 

Some years I’ve included a picture of Kelly Dransfeldt or Juan Moreno or a can of WD-40 or a record adapter to mark my new age, and I suppose I could have gone with Sam Dyson this morning (maybe I would have if he’d punched out six straight yesterday), and, failing that, I can assure you I’d have rolled Ross Detwiler out well before Joe Saunders.

But instead, to celebrate number 47, I just went with a good old Texas Rangers lid, throwback style, but unlike 46 and those numbers before it, 47’s a number that just feels a lot older (though maybe that’s just my low back and throwing shoulder talking) and I’m probably happier just celebrating the 3-3 part, and not the number of times I’ve circled that base.

Nomar’s meaninglessly tantalizing 3-3 yesterday, and his even more meaningless 3-3 tease about 47 hours earlier (BOOM!), make that choice fit even better, snug as a well-worn ball cap in just the right colors.

Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram

Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram

Leap Day.

It’s sort of a bizarre deal for the team and for the player, one that surfaced out of pretty much nowhere.  I’m nervous about it, but at the same time the coursing adrenaline triggered by the news of Ian Desmond at one year and $8 million reminds me that, on the one hand, this is only sports, and on the other, man, this is one of the reasons caring about sports is so great.

This is a gamble.

Desmond, who has passed his Rangers physical and is expected to sign his contract today, is agreeing to play a brand new position (he played three minor league innings in center field in 2009, with zero chances, and 7.1 big league innings in right field in 2009-10, with three chances; he has no innings in left field as a 12-year pro) on a deal that will thrust him right back onto the free agent market less than a year from now.

Texas is forfeiting a first-round draft pick (and the associated signing bonus allotment) and committing to a player whose production with the bat has declined three straight years and whose glove model is being traded out.

It’s a strange move, but you can have an Astros team that keeps Carlos Correa in the minor leagues for two months to save money.  I’ll take the team whose owners decide to step out on a player that the front office believes is poised for a bounceback — at a new position — and who makes aggressive decisions based on winning baseball games, whether that means this summer or otherwise, not on conserving cash.

That said, if Texas isn’t right about Ian Desmond, left fielder and right-handed-hitting run producer, this is a bad move.

But I have 100 percent trust in the front office that, yes, once wired $10 million into Lance Berkman’s bank account.

100 percent trust.

While I’ve established in 18 years of doing this that I’m obsessed with player development, I’m still first and foremost a “go for it” guy, as long as the taken risks are calculated well.  The Rangers have built a farm system that allows us to watch them take those risks without covering our eyes.

The Angels could have never made the deal Texas made for Cole Hamels because their minor league system is threadbare — and even after the Rangers sent all those impact prospects to Philadelphia, their system is still a thousand times more healthy and dangerous as what Los Angeles has on the farm.

The Rangers will now go into June without the 19th overall draft slot that they’d occupied, and that’s one less opportunity for the addition of a premium prospect.  But the club can replace that player internationally, if it chooses (by repurposing the $2.5 million or so that the pick would have slotted for).  Or it can reallocate that money toward big league moves in July.  Or it can consider it part of the cost of signing Desmond — who could bring the Rangers an extra supplemental first-round pick a year from now, though that could depend on whether the CBA is modified in the meantime.

On its face, losing that number 19 pick isn’t a plus.  Kip Fagg probably isn’t thrilled to be off the clock now until pick number 30 (compensation for the loss of Yovani Gallardo).  But if this move produces a few more 2016 games won, and if that effectively makes Texas a playoff club, or a more well-positioned one, which is clearly the idea given the Beltre-Darvish window, then one less Chi Chi Gonzalez or Luis Ortiz or Lewis Brinson — or Jake Skole or Kevin Matthews — in the system will just be considered an acceptable part of the cost.  

Regardless of which category you put Travis Demeritte in, for example, how would you feel if Washington had re-signed Desmond two months ago for one year and $8 million, and today traded Desmond to Texas for Demeritte?

The trophy is 162+, not the Baseball America ranking.

And again, the Rangers system is really strong right now.  It’s without Williams and Thompson and Alfaro and Eickhoff and Asher, and it’s still really strong.  The Angels and Mariners punting a first-round pick to potentially add two or three wins?  More nerve-racking, for sure, as those prospect-light franchises sweat their own (Pujols/King Felix) windows. 

Texas, as long as its scouting and player development operations aren’t significantly compromised, will always find more Chi Chi’s and Brinson’s and Alfaro’s and Eickhoff’s.  

You can’t always add a player like Desmond for one year and $8 million.

Get the winning piece.

But let’s be fair.  Aside from the given — the loss of the draft pick — there are certainly issues with the unknowns.  (Of course, the pick is an unknown itself, as the odds of spending that $2.5 million on a player who never contributes are exponentially greater than getting nothing out of a player like Desmond.)  

Will the Desmond left field experiment work?  

Baseball people strongly believe so.  

(And this is a club that, in a playoff season in which its rotation was battered, ran Mike Napoli and Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua [43 outfield appearances in 382 minor league games coming into 2015, when he started in left field for Texas on Opening Day], a hobbled Kyle Blanks, and a physically compromised Josh Hamilton out to left field at the start of 82 games last year.  I feel at least as good defensively about Desmond, sight unseen, as any of them.)

Will the OPS, which has fallen from a career-best .845 in 2012 to .784 in 2013, .743 in 2014, and .674 in 2015, bounce back?

It better, and the Rangers think it will.

Desmond’s makeup is considered elite, and if that means a player who has gambled twice and lost big — turning down a seven-year, $107 million deal two winters ago (shortly before fellow shortstop Elvis Andrus got eight years and $120 million from Texas) and then declining Washington’s one-year, $15.8 qualifying offer this off-season — is a good bet respond to this latest challenge and opportunity with determination, not bitterness, then maybe both the player and the club are in for a big payoff.

What if Desmond is Berkman, or Brad Wilkerson?

If so, OK.  Maybe it means Rua or Hamilton or Justin Ruggiano or Patrick Kivlehan are relied on to a greater degree after all, and maybe even Nomar Mazara or Lewis Brinson (in center, shifting Delino DeShields to left) or Gallo midway through the season.

But it’s an $8 million investment (really, just a $5.5 million hit when you factor in what signing the forfeited draft pick would have been slotted to cost), which is less than the club gave Berkman to stave off retirement or the Nationals (namely, Alfonso Soriano) to get Wilkerson.  

And given what everyone says Desmond offers in the room, well, Ian Desmond is not going to be one of those two guys.

What if the cash outlay put toward this move handcuffs the front office in July?

First, we’ve seen nothing from this ownership group to suggest it won’t step out and bust the budget when there’s a win-now opportunity to capitalize.  

Second, I have 100 percent faith in this front office to Sam-Dyson the roster in July.  It doesn’t always take millions of dollars to improve the club in a pennant race. 

But this move took millions.  It’s not a sure thing, and it’s not a perfect fit, at least on the surface.  Why did Texas do it?

Because Hamilton is a major health risk, even once he’s off crutches and finished rehabbing his knee.

Because Rua is unproven, because Ruggiano is best suited to be deployed part-time, because Kivlehan is an unknown quantity.

Because there’s too much riding on Mazara’s and Brinson’s development to rush either one of them, which is no different from Gallo, who unlike the other two has big league service time but also clearly has major adjustments to make. 

Because, with one move, Texas is now better protected against injury to Andrus or Adrian Beltre or Rougned Odor.  The roster flexibility is significant.  Ian Desmond isn’t Ben Zobrist (who is?), but an everyday player with a productive bat and the defensive ability to move around, both of which the Rangers are counting on, has huge value.

Because Texas is positioned to win now.  The American League can be won, and the Rangers have as much right to believe they’re pennant contenders as anyone.  Darvish is guaranteed to be here two more years, Beltre (for now) just one.  

The Rangers are better positioned today than they were a day and a half ago.

Desmond, if he’s what Texas believes he will once again be, lengthens the lineup.  As a right-handed bat, he helps to balance the order.  His athleticism and arm and instincts and speed would have made him an outstanding outfield prospect if he didn’t show so much promise at shortstop.  While he won’t be expected to assume a leadership role in this solid clubhouse, he’s universally considered an extremely high-character teammate who plays hard, and you can never have too many of those.  (Bryce Harper on Sunday: “Whether it’s on the field or off the field, the Rangers are getting a great baseball player and a great person.”)  

Desmond not only allows the Rangers to resist the temptation to rush Mazara or Brinson or Gallo — he doesn’t block any of them, either, as the club commitment is for only the one season.  Adding Desmond boosts the one-year window without handicapping the five-year window, as the focus on the development of those three prospects without rushing them outweighs the opportunity to add a player to the system with the 19th pick.  Desmond helps there.

And at the end of that year, assuming the CBA doesn’t do away with the qualifying offer system (or modifies it in a way that still promises draft pick compensation without handicapping second-level free agents so much), Texas could end up getting an extra pick at the end of the first round in June 2017.  That pick — theoretically — wouldn’t be as valuable as the number 19 Texas forfeits this year, but the Rangers would be getting a year of Ian Desmond in the exchange.

Yu is here and Adrian is here.  Cole is here longer, and Rougned longer than that, but while Yu and Adrian are here you’ve got to go for it.  

I want to win.

The dropoff in the bat scares me, but that’s where the pro scouts come in.  I trust the Rangers’ pro scouts.

Nationally, baseball writers are enthused.

Bob Nightengale (USA Today): “Nobody got a better bargain this winter than the Rangers’ one-year, $8 million deal with Ian Desmond.”  

Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports): “How good is [the] one-year, $8 million deal with Desmond for [the] Rangers?  Consider: Mike Pelfrey got two years, $16 million from [the] Tigers. . . . Obviously the qualifying offer was a huge factor.  The difference in money, though, is still stunning.” 

Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) loves the move, but certainly not from Desmond’s perspective: “What a great job by Jon Daniels to hang around long enough to get Desmond for one year at eight [million]. . . . I’m shocked and stunned at the number. . . . I have never seen a worse contract, ever — ever — for a player.  He couldn’t get [Howie] Kendrick’s [two-year, $20 million] deal?  Wow.  That’s a stunner.” 

Desmond, for his part, isn’t feeling quite so bad about his pillow deal.

It’s a measured gamble on his part, and obviously in a place he wants to be.

Nelson Cruz, dealing with a deflated market after he’d declined the Rangers’ qualifying offer two years ago, signed his own pillow deal with Baltimore late in February after camps had opened, for the same $8 million Texas is guaranteeing Desmond.  He promptly produced a league-leading 40 homers, a career-high 108 RBI, and a seventh-place MVP finish, setting himself up for the four-year, $57 million deal he’s presently playing under in Seattle.

Four years before Cruz took his one-year contract with the Orioles, Beltre — coming off a career-low .683 OPS with Seattle in 2009 — took a pillow deal with Boston (one year at a guaranteed $10 million) and gave the Red Sox a .321/.365/.553 season and ninth-place MVP finish, leading to the five-year, $80 million contract with Texas that included a $16 million club option for 2016 that the Rangers happily exercised.

Ivan Rodriguez took one year and $10 from the Marlins in 2003, was named NLCS MVP and helped Florida win a World Series, and turned that, at age 32, into four years and $40 million from Detroit.

Desmond doesn’t need to earn MVP votes for this move to work, for him and for Texas.

The Rangers get a 30-year-old everyday player with an All-Star game selection and three Silver Slugger Awards to his name for just $8 million — half of what he turned down three months ago.  His production has been sliding, but as Jim Duquette (MLB Network Radio) points out, his second-half OPS in 2015 (.777) would have trailed only Brandon Crawford (.782) among NL shortstops if he’d sustained it all year.  

Bottom line, aside from the money and the draft pick and the shift to the outfield: Ian Desmond has to hit, or this deal doesn’t pay off. The bat simply has to bounce back.  

You have to bet on the player to believe this will work.

And you have to bet on the Rangers’ baseball operations crew.

I will bet you plenty that the Astros aren’t happy about this news.

Ian Desmond, Texas Rangers, left field.  Not really a perfect fit.  Instead, it’s a gamble that requires a little bit of a leap of faith from the team, and from the player.

And from you and — as uneasy as I was at first — from me.

I’m in.

Singular Lee.

It was about this time yesterday that I saw this tweet, sitting at a red light on a nasty cold and windy and rainy morning, with traffic and the blustery weather equally snarled.

@Ken_Rosenthal
2/23/16, 8:03 AM
Sounds like Cliff Lee’s career is over.  His agent, Darek Braunecker, told me, “We don’t anticipate him playing at this point.” 

At different points of the day I thought about what I wanted to write about this.

Or if I should write about it at all.

I mean, this guy was a Texas Ranger for less than four months.

But man.

Man.

The ratio of how long Cliff Lee was here to how much I’ve written about him — then and since — is so out of whack, but I’ll never apologize for that.

He represented what many in the front office consider their finest moment, and provided Hall of Fame dominance in a flash-quick portion of what won’t be considered a Hall of Fame career.

Cliff Lee was a turning point.

He contributed only 15 regular season starts (only four of which were Lee wins) and five in the post-season (one bad, one very good, three stupid-great), but he’ll always be a top 10 Texas Ranger for me.  Until seeing Rosenthal’s tweet on Tuesday, I still held out flagging hope that Lee’s free agency and his market would lead to a Rangers reunion in the next few weeks.

One front office member used to tell me he hated the name “TROT COFFEY” for those rumor dumps I send out in July and December.

I told him a few years ago that if he’d see to it that his group got Cliff Lee back here, I would change it to “PHIFER” (Player Hype Inferno: Filtered Emporium of Rumors), which is Cliff’s middle name.

Deal, he said.

Alas, it won’t change.

The decision not to keep Lee here after his transcendent October 2010 run, whether that should be pinned primarily on the Rangers or on Lee (or on Lee’s wife), led to Texas signing Adrian Beltre instead.

Zero regrets, obviously.  No hindsight-ache.

I’m going to miss watching Cliff Lee pitch.  It was artistry.  It was an exhibit of crazy-cool.  It was Don Draper, every fifth day.

It was appointment baseball.

I wrote a lot about number 33 when he was here, and a lot since, and I don’t really have the energy right now to write a requiem on a fascinating career that, fortunate for us, stopped down in Texas for four incredible, unforgettable months.

In a momentary effort to inspire some of that energy, I looked back at a bunch of the reports I wrote about Lee when he was here (and one that I put together a couple years ago).

It was kinda fun getting back in those moments.  If you have some time and want to check a couple of them out, here you go:

* October 14, 2010 (on Texas-Tampa Bay, ALDS Game 5, sealing the Rangers’ first-ever playoff series win): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2064

* October 19, 2010 (on Lee vs. Andy Pettitte, ALCS Game 3, in Yankee Stadium): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2070

* December 14, 2010 (after Lee signed that winter with the Phillies): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2109

* August 8, 2013 (a nostalgic look back at the Rangers’ playing style in 2010, which includes several video angles of the final pitch of that Rangers-Rays series that’s still one of my top 5 memories in franchise history): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=3085

I smiled as I saw Rosenthal’s tweet yesterday morning, remembering on my work-dictated drive from Dallas to Fort Worth, in a diagonal rain that was jamming up the commute, that Kristen Lee had cited DFW traffic as one thing she wouldn’t miss when she and Cliff decided to go back to Philadelphia after their short but awesome time here.

Fair enough.  It probably all worked out the way it was supposed to.

Cliff, you’ll be missed, and thank goodness for all the reasons and moments why.

Thanks for everything.

 

Cliff Lee NYY

Jonesy.

Eight-year-old me was mesmerized by this 1977 Topps baseball card.

jones 77 topps front

The most ordinary name possible.

The least interesting baseball card pose ever.

Sixteen at-bats as a Texas Ranger that I had zero recollection of. 

Those sunglasses.

And that note on the back of the card, a third of the way down.

jones 77 topps back

In Military Service.”

As a naïve second-grade kid, I didn’t know what to make of that.  I think I might have known by that age that Williams and DiMaggio and Feller had missed time serving their country back when my Dad was a kid.  

But a player serving during my lifetime?  

Huh?

Later on I’d realize another really cool distinction about that baseball card.

I think it’s the only one Bobby Jones was ever on when he wasn’t a member of the Texas Rangers organization.

Which is not to say he was a household name among Rangers fans.  

Bobby Jones.  

Not the golfer.  

Not the Philadelphia 76er.  

Not, eventually, the Mets righty or the Rockies lefty or the Cowboys middle linebacker (who stuck with “Robert”).

This was the outfielder-first baseman-pinch hitter, Bobby Jones.

From 1967 through 1974, Jones — a 36th-round draft pick out of a Maryland high school — toiled in the minor leagues for the Washington Senators and Rangers.  In fact, he’d never gotten out of Class A in four Senators seasons, saving his best for last, as he hit .321/.392/.552 in 1971, with more playing time (478 plate appearances) than he’d ever had . . . and that came immediately after he’d spent December 1969 through February 1971 in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Medal for meritorious achievement while engaged in conflict with an opposing foreign force. 

Corporal Jones is deaf in one ear, residual damage from his work as section chief of a 105-millimeter howitzer group, in charge of a gun pit providing fire support for American infantrymen during a 14-month tour of duty that apparently included no more than eight days in which he didn’t see combat activity.

After that breakout 1971 season in Class A with the Senators, Jones was assigned to AAA in the Rangers’ inaugural 1972 season, and his numbers regressed.  He returned to AAA in 1973.  And in 1974.  A very good run that year with Spokane (.300/.389/.464) led Texas to reward Jones, in his eighth pro season, with a trip to the big leagues.  In the final series of the Rangers season, Jones got one start and one other appearance, going 0 for 5 with a strikeout.  He turned 25 a week later.

In the Rangers’ 1975 media guide, Jones was quoted to say: “I don’t get mad any more.  Over there (Vietnam) you never knew if you would see tomorrow.  Now I can shake off a bad day and look forward to a better day without worrying.”

And this note followed for the eight-year pro with five big league plate appearances: Jones “would like to get into the business end of baseball when he retires.” 

Retirement was a good ways off.

In 1975 he played in AAA again, with two brief stints in Texas (including an infield single on July 29, the lone hit he’d pick up in 14 trips).  

The Rangers gave Jones a fifth run at AAA in 1976 (this time in Sacramento), but even though he jumped out to a .355/.419/.774 start through a month and a half, the organization placed him on waivers in mid-May, after which he was claimed by the Angels.  He spent the rest of the year with California, hitting a quiet .211/.273/.355 and posing for that extraordinarily ordinary baseball card. 

Jones split 1977 between AAA and the big leagues and was in AAA for all of 1978, after which he left the Angels for an opportunity to take his game to Japan.  He played his age 29 and age 30 seasons for the Chunichi Dragons, but then Texas gave him an offer to return stateside for another chance to compete for a big league role.

Jones put together a strong 1981 season in AAA (.315/.407/.545), earning a September call-up.  In his first game, in his first at-bat, he blasted a two-run homer and singled in a run off Jim Clancy in his two trips, accounting for all the Rangers’ offense in a 9-3 loss.  Jones would hit safely in seven of his 10 games before pulling a ribcage muscle, driving three balls out of the park, and he survived winter roster trimming and went to camp in 1982 on the 40-man roster.

But he never got out of AAA in 1982, and turning 33 that October you might have expected Jones to hang it up at that point, after a lengthy pro career that included 263 plate appearances spread over five big league seasons.  

Instead, he would go on to pile up another 408 Major League trips to the plate.

After splitting 1983 between AAA and Texas, in 1984 Jones not only made a Rangers Opening Day roster for the first time but also spent an entire season in the big leagues — at age 34 — for the first time in his 17-year pro career.  He did the same thing in 1985, but spent most of 1986 in AAA and 1987 strictly in AA (a level he’d never played at) before retiring with a Drillers line that summer of .303/.410/.500.

The next spring (1988), he was managing the Rangers’ High Class A club in Port Charlotte.  

His club finished first in the Florida State League’s first half standings that season, he won a league championship with the same team the following year, and he reached the playoffs again in 1990.    

Jones then managed AA Tulsa for two seasons and AAA Oklahoma City for the two after that.  He returned to Tulsa for the next six seasons until he was summoned to Johnny Oates’s big league coaching staff in May 2000 (when first base coach Ed Napoleon retired).  He remained on the big league staff in 2001 under both Oates and Jerry Narron, and then returned to Oklahoma City to manage the AAA club from 2002 until 2005.  

In 2006, Jones served as Buck Showalter’s first base coach and outfield instructor in Texas.

From 2007 through 2013, throughout the organization’s resurgence that began on the farm, Jones managed the Rangers’ AAA clubs in Oklahoma City and Round Rock, and then served as big league assistant hitting coach for Ron Washington and Jeff Banister in 2014 and 2015 (and bench coach for Tim Bogar in his stint as interim manager in September 2014).  

He’ll be the Rangers’ video replay coordinator in 2016.

And then, after 50 years in pro baseball, Bobby Jones is going to retire.

In the Rangers organization’s 45 years of existence, they’ve had four without him in some sort of uniform. 

He’s managed and won more games than anyone in the history of the Texas farm system.  Twelve of his 24 minor league teams reached the post-season.  He’s won several awards as a manager, including the inaugural presentation in 2008 of the Mike Coolbaugh Award, presented annually nationwide to an individual in Minor League Baseball for “outstanding work ethic, knowledge of the game, and skill in mentoring young players on the field.”  He was also the inaugural recipient, four years ago, of an award that the Rangers have named after him, the Bobby Jones Player Development Man of the Year.

On September 11, 2014, Jones was recognized on a much different level.

In a pregame Patriot Day ceremony before a late-season game between the Rangers and Angels (the two clubs Jones had played for), the Rangers arranged to have the U.S. Army formally present Jones with his Bronze Star Medal and citation, something that had never been done since he earned them 43 years earlier.  It happened on the baseball field, on a night when more than 27,000 were on hand and cheering far more loudly than Corporal Jones could sense.

The following year would be the first Bobby Jones ever got the chance to suit up for a big league playoff game.  

I don’t know whether replay coordinators put on a uniform.  If they don’t, Jones will have finished his career in uniform in a Major League playoff series, after 48 years without one.

Of course, I’m optimistic that there’s one more run of October baseball in Jones’s career, uniform or not.

And one more on-field ceremony.

He played with Gaylord Perry and Ruben Sierra.

He managed Pudge Rodriguez and Derek Holland, and fellow coaching staff members Doug Brocail and Hector Ortiz.  

And Rusty Greer, who says of his third professional manager, skipper of five different teams Greer would suit up for: “Bobby was a great player’s manager.  He kept the game loose but professional, and expected nothing but the best from his players — though he understood his guys weren’t going to be perfect all the time.  His focus was on making players better and getting them to the big leagues.

“Bobby Jones sent me to the big leagues and he will always hold a special place in my heart.”  

Mike Bacsik says of Jones, who managed him in Oklahoma City and had also been teammates with his father: “He treated us like Major Leaguers.  Kept us loose but made sure we played hard and respected the game.” 

Kameron Loe, who by my rough count has had 25 managers at the pro level: “Bobby was definitely the easiest manager I ever played for, and the most fun.  He created a relaxed atmosphere while still having a very apparent desire to win.  He treated guys with respect and he definitely got that respect back.”

(Loe also tells a story that you’ll understand, if you’ve been around Bobby Jones enough, wouldn’t make it through your email filter if I recounted it uncensored.  [Although Jones served in the Army, he has one of the great sailor’s mouths in baseball.]  The story involves a hanging slider that Loe served up in AAA, resulting in a three-run bomb and a lead change, after which Jones asked Loe to show him the grip he used on the slider . . . issued a memorable, wordy, NSFW commentary on the grip and then a suggestion on whether Loe should ever hold the ball that way again . . . laughed . . . and walked away . . . still laughing.)  

Jones is the kind of guy who says he has the ability, given his life experience, to shake off a bad day, but fails to admit he probably has very few of those to begin with.

His was a playing career marked on one hand by its lack of distinction, on another by its remarkable chronology.

In nine big league seasons, spanning 13 years, Jones would rack up a total of 671 plate appearances.

There were 23 players in the big leagues who had more in 2015 alone.   

But in so many phases in this game, a new one of which will be added to the ledger this year, Jones has made his mark.

He played.  

He managed.  

He served.

He’s done one helluva lot, in the game and outside of it, building an extraordinary 50-year story wholly unimaginable through the prism of a seemingly unexceptional baseball card, bearing the most common of names and unremarkable of poses and one seriously outstanding pair of aviator shades. 

Happy New Year.

AP

AP

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