Sports.

Back in the late ’90s, there was a four-month stretch at the end of each year when I’d roll into work Monday morning, sometimes Tuesday, and dump a few hundred or more words about the Cowboys game played the day before into an email that would scatter out to a few dozen fellow lawyers at Vial Hamilton Koch & Knox, and maybe a dozen or two others outside the office. The reply-all’s to the Roundtable volleys would pretty much wipe out a bunch of folks’ mornings, starting with boos on that day’s email title (“Big Apple Turnover” . . . “Redbird Maul” . . . “Jason and the Gruden Fleece”) and branching out from there into the finest displays of Monday Morning quarterbacking.

That was shortly before I started writing the Newberg Report, which for so many reasons was a fortunate decision for me, not the least of which is my family life. I’m fairly sure Ginger wouldn’t have had any shred of interest in me if she’d been around me during a bunch more Cowboys games than she was when we were dating, and once she married Dr. Jekyll (untroubled by the prospects of living with Mr. Hyde), if I’d gone on to act during Rangers games the way I do when the Cowboys are on TV — or if football was on every night — the trophy for her sticking around . . . well, I don’t even want to think about that.

Or maybe I’m not all that bad when the Cowboys are on.

(Or maybe she’s just unbelievably forgiving.)

(Probably that.)

Just before yesterday’s kickoff, I tweeted: “Whatever happens, I love this and miss this. This is why.”

Baseball will give that to us again, soon.

Four hours later, during most of which I was in Hyde mode, once my blood pressure had settled back down I could think of only one word, and it’s the one I slap down as the title of this morning’s report.

(As I continue to resist the 17-year-old urge to trick the titles up, and believe me, back in 1998 a huge win like that one over a team called the “Lions” would have been fertile ground.)

My Sunday started, as I’m sure it did for lots of you, with the Stuart Scott news, and I ended up watching ESPN for more hours yesterday morning than I had the last however-many months combined.

Sports brings out the best of us, and the worst, and other things, too. Not all of it is good, and there’s pain and anger mixed in with the edge and the drama and the thrill, but I’ll take all of it.

Especially since I can now comfortably resist the urge to abbreviate “Hitchens” so that I can morph “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” into awesome, awful, impossibly terrible email title fail.

A new year.

The 2010 Winter Meetings came to a close with the defending American League champion Rangers having made one move: Giving the Cubs nominal cash considerations to draft Angels minor league righthander Mason Tobin for them in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning, December 9.

Flight tracker Twitter was in full force later that day, with rumors swarming that Ray Davis, Chuck Greenberg, and Thad Levine were en route to Arkansas — where Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan had been a week earlier — for a second turf visit to Cliff Lee and his wife and his agent about a return to the Rangers, whom Lee had just helped log a first-ever playoff series win, and then another.

I’m not sure we know what Texas offered Lee during that visit, but it came a day or two after the Yankees reportedly put seven years on the table, leaving the baseball print world convinced the 32-year-old would jump to New York (#behooves) or extend with the Rangers.

A few days after that, Lee called Daniels, and Lee’s agent called the Yankees, letting them know Lee’s return would be not to Texas, but to the Phillies, for whom he’d pitched late in 2009, including in that club’s own World Series run. He was taking five years and a guarantee of $120 million, with a club option for a sixth year (that will vest if he’s relatively healthy these next two seasons) that would make the deal worth $135 million. He was joining a starting staff that already included Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and a still-dominant Roy Oswalt.

At his Philadelphia presser, Lee said: “To get an opportunity to come back and be part of this team and this pitching rotation is going to be something that’s historic, I believe.”

The vibe was understandably electric in Philly, where fans had just seen their club come two games short of a third straight World Series appearance and were now adding one of the game’s best starting pitchers.

It was somewhat less so in Texas, where a first-time World Series franchise had just lost its October ace in mid-December, and had added Mason Tobin.

Philadelphia committed at least $120 million to lock Lee up.

Three weeks after that, Texas committed $80 million to Adrian Beltre (also five years plus an option).

Three weeks after that, Texas traded for Mike Napoli, who was primed to make about $2 million more than the similarly arb-eligible Frank Francisco whom the club traded to Toronto to get him.

The Phillies won 102 games in 2011 but their post-season lasted a week.

The Rangers, meanwhile, returned to the World Series.

With Napoli and Beltre posting the two highest OPS’s on the club.

At almost $40 million less than the Phillies used to lure Lee away from the Rangers.

Beltre was available only because Boston, the day before those December 2010 Winter Meetings, made a trade with San Diego to get Adrian Gonzalez, which meant Kevin Youkilis would slide across the diamond to third base, effectively bouncing Beltre out of the Red Sox’s plans.

Beltre was available to Texas only because the Angels declined to sign him — even though he reportedly begged to join that club — and actually withdrew their five-year, $70 million offer before Beltre had decided on his new team.

Napoli was available to Texas only because the Angels, having failed to sign Beltre and still believing they needed a bat, traded Napoli and Frosty Rivera to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells — who was owed $80 million of Angels money (and $5 million from Toronto) over the ensuing four years.

Yes, $10 million more (and one season less) than they presumably could have signed Beltre for (and kept Napoli, who lasted four days with the Jays before they flipped him to Texas, something Los Angeles had refused for years to do).

Two of the best moves Daniels or this franchise has ever made, and they were apparently fallbacks to an effort to re-sign Lee.

A.J. Preller wanted to give Pablo Sandoval a reported $100 million-plus, and then, when Sandoval chose Boston instead, Preller targeted Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who eventually took $68.5 million from Arizona.

If he’d succeeded in signing Sandoval or Tomas, would he have traded for Matt Kemp and traded for Derek Norris and traded for Justin Upton and traded for Wil Myers?

At least some of them were fallbacks.

Like Monta Ellis was when that whole Dwight Howard thing didn’t work out.

Like Tyson Chandler back in 2010, when Dallas tried first to trade for Al Jefferson, and failed.

Maybe I’m seduced by the awesomeness of the reacquisition of Chandler when I daydream about the idea of reacquiring Lee (who would certainly command a less exacting package of prospects than teammate Cole Hamels), but I’d be lying if I said it’s not something I’ve been thinking about, and now I’d better get back to the point before I get carried away.

Pick a trade. Any trade. Pick out any one of the deals made in this frenetic winter around the league, and it won’t take long to find a columnist somewhere high-fiving Team A, and another one fist-bumping Team B.

One national writer who does a great job said this in the last couple days: “The Mariners make it official: Trade Brandon Maurer to [the] Padres for Seth Smith. The Mariners clearly are the team to beat in [the] AL West.”

Because they added Seth Smith?

It’s easy to get carried away when a team makes a trade or signs a free agent, and hard sometimes not to. I’m regularly guilty; you have no idea how much restraint it has taken me not to go ham with a couple thousand chest-bumping words on the non-roster contract Texas has given Kyle Blanks and the roster spot flier the club is taking on Kyuji Fujikawa. (I like those deals.)

But not every team that changed its roster in December got better. It doesn’t work that way.

If all it takes to win the winter is to make a big trade, then, yeah, Texas isn’t winning the winter.

Some of those teams who made headline-grabbing trades or signings before the New Year, likely unwittingly, just got worse.

(A good spot, perhaps, to note that not only did the Royals give $11 million to Alex Rios two weeks ago — they apparently, according to Joel Sherman [New York Post], had agreed to a trade for Rios in July, only to have Rios veto the deal when Kansas City refused to guarantee his $13.5 million option for 2015. The Royals had every opportunity to consider that a bullet dodged when Rios proceeded to hit .186/.210/.268 in 100 Texas plate appearances in August and September before shutting down with a bad thumb, but whatever.)

Actually, the Rios note is relevant for another reason that warrants an absence of parentheses.

Did we know in July that Texas and Kansas City had agreed to terms on an Alex Rios trade?

Did we know until Sherman reported it two days ago?

Do we know there haven’t been red zone trade talks for Texas over the last month that, for one reason or another, just didn’t come together?

Or just haven’t yet?

I’ll never forget the winter-winning, red-carpet, paparazzi-infested joke of a press conference the Angels held to announce the signing of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson at the conclusion of the Dallas Winter Meetings following the 2011 season.

The Angels, trying to erase the sting of missing out on Beltre and seeing Napoli star for Texas, and finishing 10 games behind Texas not only in the 2010 World Series season but in the Rangers’ 2011 World Series as well, finished third in the division with Pujols and Wilson in 2012, and third in the division with Pujols and Wilson in 2013, unable to slide the December 2010 Medal down in the trophy case until winning the West (but zero playoff games) in 2014.

The Angels didn’t have to trade Napoli in a deal for Wells just because they didn’t get Beltre.

Toronto didn’t have to trade Napoli for Francisco.

They didn’t win those trades.

I’m not convinced the Rangers have gotten worse because it’s January 1st and they haven’t made a big trade.

I’m also not convinced they don’t have a big move or two in them this off-season, still.

Stated another way, as I publish my Top 72 Rangers Prospects list (which is in the 2015 Bound Edition, along with writeups on each player) like I tend to do on New Year’s Day, I think there’s a very real chance that the top quarter of this list, if not the top tenth, has names on it that, when Texas reports to Surprise in seven weeks, will no longer be part of the organization.

Anyway, here we go (I went to print before the Rangers lost Herrera in the Rule 5 Draft, traded De Los Santos and Chris Bostick for Ross Detwiler, and waived Rowen):

1. Joey Gallo, 3B-1B
2. Jorge Alfaro, C
3. Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, RHP
4. Nomar Mazara, OF
5. Jake Thompson, RHP
6. Ryan Rua, OF-1B-3B-2B
7. Luke Jackson, RHP
8. Luis Ortiz, RHP
9. Lewis Brinson, OF
10. Nick Williams, OF
11. Andrew Faulkner, LHP
12. Ronald Guzman, 1B
13. Marcos Diplan, RHP
14. Keone Kela, RHP
15. Jake Smolinski, OF
16. Alec Asher, RHP
17. Ryan Cordell, OF-1B
18. Jerad Eickhoff, RHP
19. Corey Knebel, RHP
20. Brett Martin, LHP
21. Travis Demeritte, 2B-3B
22. Yohander Mendez, LHP
23. Spencer Patton, RHP
24. Tomas Telis, C
25. Jairo Beras, OF
26. Phil Klein, RHP
27. Hanser Alberto, SS
28. Jose Leclerc, RHP
29. Michael De Leon, SS
30. Alex Claudio, LHP
31. Abel De Los Santos, RHP
32. Odubel Herrera, 2B-OF
33. Lisalverto Bonilla, RHP
34. Pat Cantwell, C
35. Jon Edwards, RHP
36. Josh Morgan, 2B-SS
37. Yeyson Yrizarri, SS-2B
38. Sam Wolff, RHP
39. Chris Bostick, 2B
40. Will Lamb, LHP
41. Jared Hoying, OF
42. Ti’Quan Forbes, 3B-SS
43. Samuel Zazueta, LHP
44. Chris Garia, OF
45. Kelvin Vasquez, RHP
46. Cole Wiper, RHP
47. Jose Valdespina, RHP
48. Victor Payano, LHP
49. Connor Sadzeck, RHP
50. Jose Trevino, C-3B
51. Akeem Bostick, RHP
52. Josh McElwee, RHP
53. Frank Lopez, LHP
54. Evan Van Hoosier, OF-2B
55. Matt West, RHP
56. Trever Adams, 1B-OF
57. Martire Garcia, LHP
58. Preston Beck, 1B-OF
59. Luke Tendler, OF
60. Cody Kendall, RHP
61. Drew Robinson, OF
62. Eduard Pinto, OF
63. Cody Ege, LHP
64. Seth Spivey, 2B-3B
65. Brett Nicholas, C-1B
66. Ben Rowen, RHP
67. Jose Almonte, OF
68. Luke Lanphere, RHP
69. Kellin Deglan, C
70. David Ledbetter, RHP
71. Sherman Lacrus, C
72. David Perez, RHP

I guess the point of this report, which I will admit is self-directed in part, is that you don’t win the winter in December, and don’t really win anything in the winter.

There’s a message of hope, and of better things ahead, wrapped up in any Happy New Year wish, and while we all deserve a massive helping of that this year on the baseball front — Prince and Derek and Matt and Martin and Tanner and Elvis and Jurickson and Yu and you and me — the science isn’t always crisp on the correlation between off-season headlines and winning baseball games.

I’m just happy that there’s no more 2014 baseball.

Here’s to 2015.

Star Wars -- Rangers small copy

(Hat tip, Nick Pants.)

Happy New Year.

Junior ball.

A friend pointed me the other day to something Dwight Gooden just published online, a short 900-word essay he called “Letter to My Younger Self.”  It’s very good.

Naturally, when I read the following paragraph . . . 

Eighty percent of your drive will come from your desire to make dad proud, while the other 20 percent will be for you.  Do your best to flip those numbers around, otherwise his absence will cause you to spiral.  There are steps you can take to stop this decline, but you’ll have to discover them the hard way.

. . . I thought about me and my Dad, and me and my kids, and then, because I can’t help it (and because I’d been teeing up a story on him anyway), I thought about Delino DeShields Jr., and his father, the greater part of whose big league career overlapped with the greater part of Gooden’s.

It would be silly to call the older DeShields’s big league career, which lasted 13 seasons and included more than 1,500 base hits and over 450 stolen bases, a disappointment, considering that by the time he was the age his son is today, he’d been runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year and was halfway into his second season as Montreal’s everyday leadoff hitter and second baseman, a year in which he would hit 10 home runs, walk 95 times, and steal 56 bags.  

But Delino Sr., in those 13 seasons, would hit more homers just once, would never again steal as many bases or draw nearly as many walks, and would never make an All-Star Team or win a single playoff game with any of the five clubs he played for.  

The lead bullet point detailing his career was that he was traded, at age 24, for a 22-year-old Dodgers middle reliever named Pedro Martinez.

Delino Sr. was a high school kid taken with the 12th overall pick in the draft in 1987 (seven picks before Texas took Brian Bohanon).  

Delino Jr. was a high school kid taken 8th overall in 2010 (seven picks before Texas took Jake Skole, whose Georgia hometown was 20 minutes from DeShields’s).  Keith Law (ESPN) had him falling to the Rangers, but Houston didn’t let that happen.

Five years earlier, Baseball America had named Delino Jr. the top 12-year-old baseball player in the world (ahead of, among others, Bryce Harper), calling him “a game changer both at the plate and on the bases, with a combination of raw power and speed.”  One national high school scout suggested to BA that he was the fastest 12-year-old he’d ever seen, and one of the strongest.    

And yet, after the Astros invested that high first-round pick and five years of player development on the younger DeShields, not to mention the $2.15 million signing bonus, they not only left him unprotected in advance of this winter’s Rule 5 Draft — but, leaving one spot open on their 40-man roster so they could participate in the draft, took Class A righthander Jason Garcia and promptly traded him to Baltimore for cash.  According to the Houston Chronicle, the Orioles paid the Astros $75,000 for the rights to Garcia, with $50,000 of that cost going to Boston as the draft fee.

So Houston, obviously in a building phase and in no position to be making decisions to reduce its inventory of young players with upside, kept its 40th roster spot vacant rather than protecting DeShields — and used that empty spot to add a meaningless $25,000 to the club coffers.

Maybe the Astros will get DeShields back, without having to take up a roster spot.  But DeShields and his new team clearly hope not.

One of the reasons the Gooden piece made me think of DeShields was that first line I pasted here, about the idea of playing for your father, or for yourself.  Even when Baseball America was projecting DeShields as an early-to-mid-first-rounder out of high school, they routinely paired with talk about his loud tools the common sentiment that he played with “low-energy body language [that] put off some scouts,” and there were occasional whispers questioning his effort and his makeup.  When DeShields was days away from being drafted at age 17, BA went so far as to suggest that, “[l]ike many big league progeny, DeShields doesn’t play with a ton of energy.”

Gooden’s letter made me think about that.

To be fair, it was probably production more than any questions about DeShields’s effort between the lines that led to his exposure to the Rule 5 Draft this month.  After a record-setting 2012, when he became the first player in minor league history to hit more than 10 home runs (12) and steal more than 100 bases (101) in a season, followed by a .317/.405/.468 breakout year with High A Lancaster in 2013, he hit only .236 and OPS’d just .706 last year with Corpus Christi, a season that was marred in mid-April by a Phil Klein fastball that fractured his face and cost him three weeks on the shelf.  Houston had tried moving him from center field to second base after his draft season, but when that didn’t completely take, he returned to center field in 2014, and while there’s probably more promise there defensively (even if his arm will never be a weapon), it wasn’t the cleanest transition.

DeShields was ranked by BA as Houston’s number two prospect after the 2010 season.

Number eight after 2011.

Number six after 2012.

Number 13 after 2013.

Bet the publication has him lower than that after the 2014 season.  He was definitely outside the Astros’ top 10 before the Rangers drafted him away.

DeShields has always run — in his last three seasons he has 101, 51, and 54 steals, at an excellent 80 percent success rate — but in order to stick in the big leagues all year with the Rangers, which he’s required to do (or else Texas will have to run him through waivers and, if he clears, offer him back to Houston for half the $50,000 draft fee), he’ll need to be more than a late-inning baserunner.  He’ll need to catch the ball, do something with the bat, and never let the Rangers question his energy, or his effort.

There’s a huge opportunity here for Delino Jr.  

And for Texas.

As Stefan Stevenson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) put it, “DeShields has something to prove.  And it’s a trait manager Jeff Banister loves to see because it reminds him of himself.”  Banister, reflecting on his own career, told Stevenson: “I was that guy.  I didn’t reach the level of what these guys have, but I know when you have something to prove and have that burning desire inside of you you’re going to be the guy that pushes yourself.  You don’t typically need a lot of other people pushing you along.”  

You don’t want to make too much of the two home runs DeShields hit in the Puerto Rican Winter League the day after Texas drafted him, but this is a player who also went deep twice in his first game back after the Klein beaning (this is not a fun house mirror image), and was the MVP of the PRWL All-Star Game a few days before Texas called his name.  Maybe he’s the type who’s at his best when the spotlight glare gets brighter.  

We’re about to find out.

Baseball America, which has long thrown red flags up on DeShields as a prospect, did call him “[m]aybe [the] most talented position player available” in the Rule 5 Draft after the Rangers used the third overall pick on him.  And while the publication suggested “he has everyday starter potential if he comes close to tapping into his potential,” the follow-up comment was that “[s]ome scouts are skeptical he ever will, as they have been turned off by his consistent lack of effort.”  BA’s conclusion was that his chances to stick with the Rangers all season are low.

There’s that effort thing again — Daniels acknowledged to local reporters shortly after the draft that “[w]e’re aware of that . . . [h]e’s got a unique opportunity and we’ll sit down and talk about our expectations” — and right now I’m thinking about a dozen eye-to-eye conversations between Banister and DeShields.

And just as many between Jayce Tingler and DeShields.

And a couple between Michael Young and DeShields.

And one between Russell Wilson and DeShields.

Minutes after the draft, Banister tweeted: “If you’re the greatest, someone [else] wants to be the greatest, and so if you’re not constantly improving your game, somebody else is . . . . Every single day, someone’s coming for your job, coming for your greatness.”  It doesn’t take a Newberg Report-esque stretch to connect the Banister tweet with the move his club had just made to acquire a new candidate to back up Leonys Martin and give him a versatile weapon off the bench.

After years of DeShields as the high-profile, high-first-round, baseball progeny whose job someone else was coming after, now he’s the other guy, doing the chasing.  Maybe that’s exactly the situation he needs, the one that brings out the best in him, that sets the stage for a little potential fulfillment.  In Arlington. 

Delino Sr., looking to get back to the big leagues in a new role, reportedly turned down Paul Molitor’s offer a month ago to serve as Twins first base coach, opting to remain as a manager in the Reds organization.  He’ll join AAA Louisville in 2015, after managing at lower levels in the Cincinnati system from 2010 through 2014.  

Interestingly, Delino Sr. managed rookie ball in 2010, his first year managing, the same year Delino Jr. started his pro career, also in rookie ball.

In 2011, both father and son spent the year in Low A.

In 2012, both were in Class A.

In 2013, the Reds moved Dad to AA, while Delino Jr. repeated High A.

In 2014, father and son both toiled in AA.

In 2015, Delino Sr. turned a big league opportunity down.  Delino Jr. will get his first. 

Six months ago — really, six weeks ago — the safe bet would have been that Dad would have gotten back to the Major Leagues before Junior got there himself.

It’s widely believed that Delino Sr., who just finished managing the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Saguaros, which included the Rangers’ AFL delegation, will eventually manage in the big leagues.  Maybe his ultimate big league legacy is yet to be written, after a playing career that was supposed to turn out better than it did.

I wonder what Delino DeShields Sr.’s “Letter to My Younger Self” would look like.

Or his letter to his 22-year-old namesake.     

But not as much as I’m imagining the message Delino Jr. will be getting, over and over again, from any number of people in Rangers uniforms between now and the end of March, when a big decision will need to be made.  I’d like to think it’s a message he’ll get loud and get clear, and that he’s going to grab this opportunity, put some things together in Surprise, and make his last organization regret using that last November roster spot not on its former first-round pick but instead on 30 seconds on the draft clock it basically sold for $25,000.

Word.

Yo, VIP.

Let’s kick it.

Now that the party is jumping

With the bass kicked in, and the Vega’s are pumpin’ 

Quick to the point, to the point, no faking

     party dec 2014

party dec 2014 derek

party dec 2014 -- ben and Bue

party dec 2014 Botts

party dec 2014 emily

    

Finally, you should click this link if you’re an Emily Jones fan, or a fan of things that are awesome — seriously, click this:

https://vimeo.com/115068581

Ice Ice Baby.

Word to #Derek’sMom.

party dec 2014 -- emily

Unkempt.

Because I’m in the final stages of workup for tomorrow night’s Book Release Party, I had no plans to write today.  The queue includes blank-so-far reports on Delino DeShields Jr., Kyle Blanks, and Kyuji Fujikawa, but after writing eight times in the space of five days last week, I needed a break from the keyboard.  I’ll get to those stories soon.

I couldn’t stay quiet this morning, though.

Late in the day Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reported that the Padres and Rays were “discussing [a] significant trade [involving] a number of players,” with “Wil Myers [the] main piece going to San Diego.”  

Dozens of impassioned media tweets later, Jeff Passan (Yahoo!) dropped this one: “[The] sense among those in the know is that while Padres-Rays deal involving Wil Myers is straight-up, players dealt could be on the move again. . . . Could be a similar situation to what happened with Andrew Heaney: traded to one team, onto another.  GM’s these days [are] always five steps ahead.”

If A.J. Preller is really about to land Myers, his trade for Matt Kemp makes more sense.  I didn’t like the Kemp deal for San Diego, but I love the idea of buying low on Myers (ESPN’s Buster Olney: “For those wondering why the Rays would make Wil Myers available in trade: He’s been much more inconsistent than Tampa Bay thought he would be”), a move that would fit for that club with or without Kemp.  And as long as Kemp isn’t going to be asked to anchor the middle of the Padres’ lineup alone, I dislike that trade for them less, and adding five years of Myers to five years of Kemp — especially if the Myers deal doesn’t force San Diego to move Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner — starts changing the look of that club significantly. 

As for Passan’s suggestion that there could be a third team involved, maybe it’s Texas, maybe it’s not, but I’m not so sure it’s San Diego who would be doing the flipping.  Buying low on Myers, and keeping him, is exactly what that team should be doing.

Dave Cameron (FanGraphs) doesn’t necessarily agree, proposing the concept of one buy-low asset swapped for another: 

So, let’s just speculate a bit.  What the Padres need more than another corner outfielder is a shortstop.  You know who has an extra young shortstop and needs a corner outfielder?  The Texas Rangers.  You know where A.J. Preller just worked, running the international scouting department when Jurickson Profar was signed as a 16-year-old?  Yeah, the Texas Rangers.

Completely speculative, but perhaps the Padres are looking to acquire Myers because Preller knows that Jon Daniels wants him to play right field, and will give up Profar and some other of Preller’s old favorites.  Given the injury problems Profar has suffered, I find it unlikely that there would be a one-for-one trade, but I could see a situation where the Padres are trading prospects to get the guy that gets them Profar.

Maybe.  

Doubt it.

Daniels hasn’t made a Kemp-level move and isn’t rumored to be zeroing in on a Myers-level move, despite having a much deeper farm system than Preller, but as we’ve talked about for years, having players like Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro and Nomar Mazara and Chi Chi Gonzalez and Jake Thompson seems to have the unwanted effect of making it harder to lock other teams in on players like Luis Sardinas and Nick Williams and Lewis Brinson and Luke Jackson and Hanser Alberto, a group that I’d put up against the prospects the White Sox gave up for Jeff Samardzija, for instance, but then again I’m not crazy about trading for one year of a number two starter — especially one who spent lots of time pitching for the Chicago Cubs.

Or moving a frontline prospect for Howie Kendrick, or Jimmy Rollins.  

Or prospects on the first tier or the second or the third for Josh Hamilton, a player Rosenthal reported yesterday the Angels have had “exploratory talks” with the Rangers and Padres about, talks that “did not gain traction.”  (MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez: “Sources tell me the Josh Hamilton return to Texas via trade with [the] Angels talk was a two-minute conversation and not something [the] Rangers pursued.”)  

Or Gonzalez and Josh Morgan for one year of Justin Upton, a trade that Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) proposes, and not just because it would seem to be awkward to make Morgan a player to be named later for the entire first half of the season, as he would need to be procedurally.

Those things have as much chance of happening as Jon Heyman’s suggestion that Max Scherzer lands in Texas, which he calls the righthander’s number three “potential landing spot,” behind the Yankees and Cardinals.  The Rangers aren’t going to drop $200 million on anybody.  They’re looking to improve on the trade market instead.

Unfortunately, the way the trade market has developed, prospects don’t appear to be the game’s lead currency at the moment, as two dozen teams appear to be convicted about their chances to compete for at least their league’s second Wild Card spot.  And the Rangers don’t have the depth in young, impact, Major League-ready players to trade (compare what Arizona got from Boston for Wade Miley), unless they’re willing to move Odor.  (They better not be.)  

Texas will have more leverage in July, when the trade market is flooded with 5+ pitchers and bats, and the teams trying to move them will be punting, looking not to October, but to 2016.  The Rangers’ prospects will carry more value then.  Even those on the second tier, and the third.

I’m not sure if it’s fairweather to abandon what had been your second-favorite team, but I’m realizing now that the reason it was Tampa Bay for me the last few years wasn’t Longo or Zobrist or David Price, but instead two other guys who are no longer there, one now running baseball operations in Los Angeles and the other the dugout in Chicago.  

But, hey, maybe the Rays are getting Tyson Ross and three Padres prospects in this Padres deal and are flipping two of the kids plus Zobrist to Joe Maddon’s Cubs for Javier Baez (in spite of Passan’s belief that the Nationals are the third team), and then I’ll keep my seat on the lightly populated Tampa Bay bandwagon.   

Believe me, I’m hoping my first-favorite team is working on another trade, whether it’s for a number three starter or a number five hitter, and I don’t think Texas had the right pieces to get the Dodgers to pay Matt Kemp down as much as they did, though I’ll wonder if the Rangers could have built a package of non-Odor/Gallo/Alfaro/Mazara/Gonzalez/Thompson prospects for Myers that would have interested the Rays — or Nationals — as much as whatever San Diego is apparently parting with out of its weaker system.

I also didn’t think Kemp was the right move for the Padres, until now.  Assuming they aren’t moving Ross or Cashner, my understanding of what they appear to be doing isn’t quite as disheveled anymore.

AJ Myers

Details for Thursday night.

The book release party is this Thursday night (December 18) at Sherlock’s in Arlington, starting at 6:00 pm.  Admission is free.  Here are the details:

*     The party is at the Arlington location of Sherlock’s Baker Street Pub & Grill, at 254 Lincoln Square (817/226-2300), a few blocks west of Globe Life Park.

*     Our autograph guests will be lefthander Derek Holland, bench coach Steve Buechele, righthander Jake Thompson (expecting you Rockwall-Heath and DBat guys to come out and represent), Frisco manager Joe Mikulik, former Ranger outfielder Jason Botts, and Rangers field reporter Emily Jones.  The autograph line will get moving at 6:00 pm, but you can arrive earlier if you’d like.  We’ll plan to be at Sherlock’s until 9:00 pm.

*     Please note that some of our autograph guests may not be able to stay until 9:00.

*     There will be a set-up when you arrive where you can donate toys and books (new and unwrapped, appropriate for ages newborn to 12) to the Rangers Foundation’s Cowboy Santas Toy Drive, and another table where you can buy 2015 Newberg Report Bound Editions.  (I’ll also have some of the 2011 and 2012 World Series editions on hand, plus some copies of the 2005 book, which has Botts on the cover.)

 

*     You will receive a raffle ticket for every five toys or books you donate.  You will also receive a raffle ticket for every Bound Edition that you buy at the event.  (If you bring 2015 Bound Editions that you’ve already bought and received, show them and you’ll get a raffle ticket for each of those as well.)

*     We can take cash, checks, and credit cards.  The 2015 book is $25.  The World Series editions are $20.  The 2005 book is $15. 

*     You can bring your own stuff to get autographed, but please limit it to two autographs per baseball guest as you go through the line.

*     At about 7:30, we’ll take a short break from autographs to conduct a quick raffle.  Autographs will resume after that.

The raffle items:

* An 11 x 14 of the photo featured on the book cover, signed by all four players (Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams)

2015 -- Newberg-Report-Bound-Edition-cover_front-small

(that main photo is the one that photographer Walt Barnard got the guys to sign)

* Two Globe Life Park stadium seats from the 2011 World Series season, each mounted and accompanied by a matted photo of the Ballpark (two separate winners)

* Two autographed 2012 Bowman Chrome Rougned Odor rookie cards (two separate winners)

* An autographed Robinson Chirinos 8 x 10

* An autographed Luis Sardinas 8 x 10

* An autographed Gabe Kapler 8 x 10

*     Throughout the evening, Ben Rogers of 105.3 FM The Fan will emcee things, which will include interviews with our guests.

 

*     Once the autograph line subsides, we’ll open up the floor for a Q&A/roundtable discussion.

 

Don’t hesitate to bring the kids — the room will be non-smoking Thursday night.

[A couple unrelated things: (1) If you can’t make it to the party, you can still order immediate delivery of the 2015 Bound Edition by clicking here, or by going to www.NewbergReport.com and clicking the “Order Now” button under the image of the book cover; and (2) if you’re doing any of your holiday shopping at Amazon, there’s a way to help us out a bit at zero cost to you.  Near the top of the front page of www.NewbergReport.com is an Amazon.com button.  If you click it, any purchases of any kind you make on that visit to Amazon will kick a small referral fee to the Newberg Report (at no cost to you), which we’ll use to help upgrade our own product.]

See you Thursday night.

Ups and downs: The Rangers trade for Ross Detwiler.

Going into their historic teardown season of 2007, and as part of the reason Jon Daniels and Thad Levine pushed ownership for it, the Rangers had enviable firepower in the amateur draft, owning five of the first 54 picks, the result of strategically offering arbitration to free agents they knew wouldn’t take it (Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews Jr., and Mark DeRosa).

None of the five players Texas drafted in that first and supplemental first round are still with the organization.  Four were traded in pennant races deals (Blake Beavan to Seattle in the 2010 Cliff Lee trade, Michael Main to San Francisco in the 2010 Bengie Molina trade, Tommy Hunter to Baltimore in the 2011 Koji Uehara trade, Neil Ramirez to the Cubs in the 2013 Matt Garza trade).  In terms of their asset value, each was traded on the way up — with the exception of Hunter, whose effectiveness and role with the Rangers had clearly receded.

The fifth, Julio Borbon, was, like Hunter, lost on the way down.  He reached the big leagues after just 206 minor league games, put up a tremendous .790 OPS as a rookie, and never came close to replicating it.  He made the Rangers’ Opening Day roster in 2013, because Texas couldn’t option him for a fifth season (a fourth in AAA), but when a fifth starter was needed a week into the schedule, the club purchased righthander Nick Tepesch — a 2010 14th-rounder — and designated the 2007 first-rounder Borbon for assignment.  

The Cubs claimed Borbon, designated him for assignment themselves in August, got him through waivers and outrighted him to AAA, and left him not only off the 40-man roster that winter but off their 37-man AAA roster as well, and the Orioles used a pick in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft to bring him over for 2014.  He spent the whole season in AAA, and is now a minor league free agent.  As far as I can tell, he’s still out there, looking for a AAA opportunity somewhere for 2015.

Earlier in that 2007 draft, the Nationals sat at pick number six.  Baseball America predicted hours before the first round got underway that they’d land high school third baseman Mike Moustakas.  At four, the publication had the Pirates taking Missouri State lefthander Ross Detwiler, who BA suggested would be a consideration for Kansas City at number two after Tampa Bay went with David Price at the top.

The Royals took Moustakas, the Cubs took Josh Vitters, the Pirates took Daniel Moskos, and the Orioles took Matt Wieters, and the Nationals, with players like Madison Bumgarner, Jason Heyward, Rick Porcello, Devin Mesoraco, and Jarrod Parker still on the board, took Detwiler.

The lefty’s 10th pro appearance came in the big leagues, just three months after he signed for $2.15 million.  After that 2007 season, BA suggested that, “[w]ith a chance for three above-average pitches [a four-seam fastball touching 95-96/two-seamer with darting armside run and power sink, a hard-breaking spike curve, and high-70s change with late fade], Detwiler has a chance to be a legitimate ace.”  In projecting four years ahead, the publication crystal-balled that Detwiler would be Washington’s number one starter — with Jordan Zimmermann slotting at number five. 

After the 2008 season, BA wrote that Detwiler, and not Zimmermann after his own AA season, had “the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system.”

Detwiler would split 2009 between AA, AAA, and Washington; 2010 between High A, AA, AAA, and Washington; and that 2011 season — when he was projected by Baseball America to be the Nationals’ ace — between AAA and Washington on a fourth option.  He finished the season strong, holding opponents to a .252/.297/.358 line (2.88 ERA), and headed into 2012 out of options but firmly in the plans.

He was solid that year and especially good down the stretch, posting a 3.63 ERA and .223/.294/.378 opponents’ slash in August and September as the Nationals earned the franchise’s first playoff berth since the Expos were 24 years away from no longer being the Expos.  He got the ball in Game 4 of the NLDS, in what has been called the biggest start in Nationals playoff history, and he helped Washington stave off elimination as he and Cardinals righthander Kyle Lohse battled head to head in a 1-1 game that Jayson Werth eventually ended on a walkoff homer in the ninth.

Detwiler injured his back two months into the 2013 season.  It cost him some velocity, and a lot of time.

Washington traded for Doug Fister that winter and saw enough in Tanner Roark late the previous summer to insert him into the 2014 rotation.  Those two, Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez made 149 of the club’s 162 starts.  Detwiler worked all year in middle relief.  

Until the playoffs, at least, when the Nationals left him off the roster altogether, even though he’d been much better in the second half than fellow bullpen lefty Jerry Blevins.

And then the Nationals traded the 28-year-old, on the way down.

Read a few articles about Detwiler and you’ll get a sense that he never got comfortable mentally as a reliever, even though his career numbers are better in that role (.672 OPS vs. .749 OPS) and even though his left-on-left split (.607 OPS, compared with .777 against right-handed hitters) certainly supports the concept of using him as a weapon out of the bullpen.  

Maybe the opportunity to start again, which he’s now going to get after the Rangers acquired him on Thursday for two prospects who spent 2014 in High Class A, right-handed reliever Abel De Los Santos and second baseman Chris Bostick, will set the stage for a resurgence out of Detwiler, not to mention the fact that he stands to be a free agent for the first time next winter.  Maybe this change of scenery and change in roles is exactly what Detwiler needs, and maybe Texas will benefit from those things, by design.

For what it’s worth, in this year’s book I have De Los Santos (who was draft-eligible but not selected in yesterday’s Rule 5 Draft) ranked number 31 in the Rangers system (12th among right-handed pitchers), and Bostick — who came over from Oakland a year ago with Michael Choice in exchange for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom — as the organization’s number 39 prospect (seventh among middle infielders, behind Travis Demeritte, Hanser Alberto, Michael De Leon, Odubel Herrera [who was lost to Philadelphia in the draft], Josh Morgan, and Yeyson Yrizarri).  

De Los Santos has a chance to be a bullpen weapon, but there are stacks of righties ahead of him in the Rangers’ pecking order (and others coming behind him as well).  Bostick will be 22 when the AA season gets started — he’s older than Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas and a few weeks younger than Jurickson Profar — and though he has a chance, he hit .251 with Myrtle Beach, struck out 116 times, and is limited defensively to second base.  

That’s a pair of prospects the Rangers could arguably afford to lose (and the absence of whom shouldn’t hinder any other trade opportunities) — though of course the same was certainly said about Roark, when Texas traded him (and fellow righthander Ryan Tatusko, who is now pitching in Korea) to the Nationals for Cristian Guzman in July 2010, a few weeks after trading far more heralded and, now, far less accomplished righthanders Beavan and Main.

When news came down after the draft yesterday that Texas had acquired Detwiler for a minor league second baseman and reliever, I tweeted: “Infielder other than Hanser or De Leon?  Reliever other than [Keone] Kela or [Corey] Knebel?  Hope so.  I like Detwiler, but holding breath a bit.”  

I can live with De Los Santos and Bostick for Detwiler and a roll of the dice.  Maybe he’s the key starting pitcher pickup (along with Colby Lewis) for the off-season, maybe he’s not.

I haven’t seen ESPN/XM’s Jim Bowden, the former Nationals GM who drafted Detwiler, weigh in on the trade, but Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) did — “Thought [the] Rangers did well to get Detwiler.  Got buried with [the] Nationals.  Texas likes [the] idea of left-handed sinkerballer with [Adrian] Beltre [and Elvis] Andrus on [the] left side.” — and so did Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) — “Nice move for [the] Rangers to get Ross Detwiler on the cheap.  They view him as a starter, so he’ll be happy with the deal, too.” 

At somewhere in the $3-4 million range, I know I’m less concerned about this move than I would have been giving $9.5 million to Justin Masterson, or four years and $55 million to Ervin Santana, or two years and $20 million to Jason Hammel.  I would have loved to get Brandon McCarthy back here, but at four years and $48 million that’s a deal nobody figured he was in line for, and with Masterson getting what he got (the deal could be worth as much as $12 million if he hits workload incentives), the market for the remaining free agent starters certainly isn’t coming down.

Anthony DeSclafani-plus for one year of Mat Latos at close to $10 million — would I have wanted that deal if it meant Chi Chi Gonzalez or Jake Thompson or Luke Jackson was going the other way?  Absolutely not. 

Prospects for Alfredo Simon?  No thanks.

Could Texas have competed with Yoenis Cespedes-plus for Porcello?  Don’t see how.

Andrew Heaney from the Marlins?  Sure, but Texas didn’t have a Dee Gordon or a Howie Kendrick to get that done.

I’m not expecting Ross Detwiler to start the biggest playoff game in Rangers franchise history.  But if he gives this club 160 innings, create further depth to do other things, and help Texas get from Point A to Martin Perez, I see no problem in parting with a pair of third- or fourth-tier prospects to get this one done. 

Sometimes trading for a player on the way up doesn’t work out (Beavan, Main).  Sometimes it does (Ramirez).

Sometimes, as with Hunter, trading for a player on the way down can pay off.  And given the level of risk involved in moving what Texas moved in this case, this strikes me as not a bad chance to take on a guy though not long ago to be on his way to a career that promised major impact.   

The buzz of the Winter Meetings, and the whirr.

I was at the University of Texas in 1988, a resident assistant at the Castilian and days from my second year of fall finals when Major League Baseball convened in Atlanta for the Winter Meetings.  I won’t say that the Meetings weren’t front and center on my mind, but (1) the Rangers had just lost 91 games and finished 33.5 games out of first in the West — their worst deficit since the club’s inaugural 1972 and 1973 seasons; (2) there was only so much coverage to be gathered from the day-late Dallas Morning News and the three daily lines devoted to each team in the USA Today, and we were still a couple years away from Frank Deford’s The National and more than that from the Internet (at least as far as my own awareness was concerned), which meant my world wasn’t yet opened up to the cornucopious awesomeness of dial-up Prodigy; and (3) I was in college. 

Maybe if I’d known then what I know now, that a month before those Meetings, Rangers GM Tom Grieve offered the Yankees a package including Pete O’Brien, Jose Guzman, and Mitch Williams for Don Mattingly, or that short-lived New York GM Bob Quinn tried to get Grieve to tack on Steve Buechele, Bob Brower, and two prospects in an expanded deal that would include infielders Mike Pagliarulo and Bobby Meacham from his end, I’d have been a lot more fired up in the days leading up to December 3, having lost some amount of sleep over the thought of the Topps artists getting their airbrushes primed, but alas, my Twitter follows amounted then to zero.

We weren’t aware then of the Mattingly possibility (or news of it hadn’t traveled to Austin, at least), and so my dormant 19-year-old baseball brain was blindsided by the most awesome Winter Meetings ever, as Grieve, frustrated by Quinn’s constant waffling, turned his attention elsewhere and traded Williams, Curtis Wilkerson, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Luis Benitez, and Pablo Delgado to the Cubs for Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, and Drew Hall (December 5); traded O’Brien, Oddibe McDowell, and Jerry Browne to the Indians for Julio Franco (December 6); and signed free agent Nolan Ryan, who was being chased by the Astros, Angels, and Giants (December 7).

If there were a Newberg Report then, it would have imploded without me ever getting around to the note that Grieve threw Quinn a bone by sending him Brower (who would get 69 more big league at-bats) for Meacham (who would get none), or that the Rangers believed they came close — almost immediately after acquiring Palmeiro and Franco and Ryan — to picking up Reds first baseman Nick Esasky for reliever Dwayne Henry (who had fanned nearly 12 batters per nine AAA innings that season, though for the fifth straight year he’d appeared in the big leagues without success).  (Cincinnati would trade Esasky days later to Boston in a three-for-three deal — and he went on to have his career year, hitting 30 homers and driving in 108 runs with an .855 OPS, earning a top 20 MVP finish.)

The flip side of anticipating nothing and getting your doors blown off is when your team is perennially in contention, your front office is perennially aggressive, Twitter exists, and the baseball media tags your team as “running the Winter Meetings” . . . and then very little happens.

Of course, “winning the Winter Meetings” is even less meaningful than winning the winter, and so while a Mason Tobin pickup might headline your official Meetings activity (December 2010), signing Adrian Beltre four weeks later and trading Frankie Francisco for Mike Napoli three weeks after that doesn’t make those two pickups any less awesome just because they didn’t come down in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The year after that, Jon Daniels wasn’t invited to take the podium on his home turf at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas when Baltimore conveyed unprotected infielder Greg Miclat to Texas after he slid through the Rule 5 Draft, to complete the trade that sent catcher Taylor Teagarden to the Orioles for minor league reliever Randy Henry.  The key work Daniels and his crew did that week, while the Angels were winning the Winter Meetings by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson (en route to what would be a third of four straight seasons missing the playoffs), was selling Ray Davis in Dallas and Bob Simpson in Fort Worth on the idea of going very large on a blind bid for the rights to negotiate with a Japanese righthander they believed could break the mold as far as Asian pitchers coming to the States were concerned.

(They were right.)

Truthfully, Daniels typically doesn’t make a huge splash during his four-day hotel stay.  Here’s what he’s done in his nine Winter Meetings (excluding the minor league phases of the Rule 5 Draft, except where notable):

  • Dec. 5-8, 2005: Traded Alfonso Soriano to Washington for Brad Wilkerson, Armando Galarraga, and Terrmel Sledge; traded Esteban German to Kansas City for Rule 5 Draft pick used on lefthander Fabio Castro (White Sox); selected outfielders Alexi Ogando (Oakland) and Jayce Tingler (Toronto) in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft
  • Dec. 4-7, 2006: Re-signed free agent Vicente Padilla
  • Dec. 3-6, 2007: Traded Freddy Guzman to Detroit for Chris Shelton
  • Dec. 8-11, 2008: Selected infielder Guilder Rodriguez (Milwaukee) in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft
  • Dec. 7-10, 2009: Signed free agent Rich Harden and acquired Clay Rapada from Detroit for future considerations; traded Kevin Millwood and cash to Baltimore for reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named later — identified as minor league left-handed reliever Ben Snyder at the completion of the Rule 5 Draft, after Baltimore selected him from San Francisco
  • Dec. 6-9, 2010: Sent cash to Cubs for Rule 5-drafted righthander Mason Tobin (Angels)
  • Dec. 5-8, 2011: Received Miclat from Baltimore to complete the Teagarden trade
  • Dec. 3-6, 2012: Signed rehabbing free agent reliever Joakim Soria, and acquired righthander Coty Woods and lost first baseman Chris McGuiness in the Rule 5 Draft
  • Dec. 9-12, 2013: No action (other than acquiring quarterback/second baseman Russell Wilson in the AA phase of the Rule 5 Draft)

The bulk of the Rangers’ winter work during the Daniels Era has come before the Winter Meetings (Joe Nathan, Prince Fielder, Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom for Michael Choice and Chris Bostick, J.P. Arencibia) or afterwards (Beltre, Napoli, Yu Darvish, Josh Hamilton, Colby Lewis, Shin-Soo Choo, Vladimir Guerrero, John Danks-plus for Brandon McCarthy-plus, lots more).

But I’m no less stoked for the Winter Meetings, which get underway this morning, in spite of the evidence and of the common omission (this year) of the Rangers from everyone’s list of clubs expected to rock the world.

The Padres, this year’s hosts, are said to be in heavy on Matt Kemp or perhaps Yoenis Cespedes, and yet Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) suggests “[o]ne possible match” that would send that club in a different direction altogether: “[The] Padres need [a] shortstop.  [The] Rangers have [a] surplus — and San Diego’s [A.J.] Preller knows their players well.  [Jurickson] Profar [a] possibility?”

And that’s not nearly all we’ve heard in the last half a news cycle.

*  Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) shares a comment from Daniels that not only reinforces the unlikelihood that he goes big during the Meetings themselves but also suggests the club’s big splash may not happen this season until July, if at all: “It’s something we’ve talked about a lot.  Before we jump out and add a ‘finishing’ type piece, I’d like to see where we are with our core players.  Is it prudent to be a little more conservative right now and add some pieces to the core and still maintain our flexibility?”  Grant’s interpretation is that unless Fielder, Choo, and Tanner Scheppers bounce back in 2015, perhaps loading prospects up now for a one-year piece like righthander Jordan Zimmermann or outfielder Justin Upton “would be short- and long-term wastes.”

*  Grant believes the Rangers’ primary target could be Padres righthander Andrew Cashner, who has two years of club control remaining and is primed to earn $3-4 million through the arbitration process in 2015.  As Grant points out, the Rangers’ desire for an established, controllable starter (and perhaps a tandem catcher) and depth in frontline prospects, the Padres’ extreme familiarity with those young players, and Cashner’s apparent interest in playing in his home state of Texas could line the two teams up on a deal — but you would think that assumes San Diego doesn’t instead go big on someone like Kemp (the club already loaded up for Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas, falling short), in which case it would seem less likely that the Padres would trade Cashner at all.

*  Rosenthal hears that the Nationals are renewing efforts to lock Zimmermann up long-term.  A failure to reach a deal could lead Washington to trade the 28-year-old and pursue free agent Max Scherzer.

*  Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM), who predicts Texas will be a “7” (out of 10) on the “aggressiveness scale,” lists outfielders Kemp (whose contract, according to Jim Duquette [MLB Network Radio], is not insured), Cespedes, and Upton, righthander Jeff Samardzija, and catchers Miguel Montero and Jason Castro as possible trade targets for Texas, not to mention free agents Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Geovany Soto, Gerald Laird, and McCarthy.

*  Bob Nightengale (USA Today) thinks Kemp will “definitely be traded,” and said on MLB Network last night, flatly: “I think Kemp goes to Texas.”  Nightengale considers a Kemp-for-Profar deal a “perfect fit.”  (I’d suggest the pesky financial side of that deal would be not-so-perfect).

*  Nightengale suggests the White Sox are the frontrunners to trade for Samardzija.  Oakland, having traded Addison Russell in its July deal to acquire Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, would seem very likely to target White Sox shortstop prospect Tim Anderson.

*  Rosenthal believes Seattle is “serious about Melky” Cabrera even though Nelson Cruz is already in the fold for a lot of years.

*  According to Jon Heyman (CBS Sports), the Yankees and Rangers discussed Elvis Andrus before New York completed its trade last week to acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius from Arizona.

*  Will Carroll (Bleacher Report) tweets that the “Angels seem to be the team everyone is saying is active early at the Meetings.  Early buzz for them and [the] Marlins.”

*  Heyman reports that the Angels are making C.J. Wilson available on the trade market, perhaps to set themselves up to jump in on one of the big free agent starting pitchers.  Mike DiGiovanna (Los Angeles Times) notes that Wilson can block trades to eight clubs.  According to multiple local reports, Texas isn’t interested in reacquiring the 34-year-old, who is due $18 million in 2015 and $20 million in 2016.

There’s a lot more where all that came from, and thanks to Twitter and MLB Network (TV and radio), the rumors will be flying faster than any of us can track, and that’s a pretty great thing about the off-season in The Great Game, especially these next four days, even though 95 percent of what we hear will never get closer to actually happening than Don Mattingly to the Texas Rangers, 26 years and a month ago.

It’s all good, because sometimes it’s the less flashy things that ultimately do come together, and even if we don’t see them coming — and even if they may not seem like it at the time — it can be those moves that we end up talking about decades later.

Almost makes me want to go fire up the beep-buzz-hiss-scratch-whirr of the dial-up so I can pull up the Prodigy bulletin board and see what’s gone down or, more likely, been trial-ballooned in the last few hours.

Almost.

 

 

Winning by losing.

So as rumors swirled Tuesday morning that Texas was the favorite to sign Torii Hunter on a one-year, career-finishing deal — which ultimately didn’t happen — and I began to accept the apparent reality that the 39-year-old was going to be the one big off-season addition to the offense, what had previously been an elusive feel for what I was hoping to see the Rangers do this winter suddenly came into focus.  

I felt with conviction that Hunter would fill an important role in the clubhouse, but less so between the lines, and when it looked yesterday like he and the Rangers were at the altar, I wasn’t feeling better about 2015.  

That doesn’t mean I would have been right about it, but a Rangers team with Hunter as the added bat seemed like one that could absolutely return to contention — with so many impact players returning to health — but not one all that easy to envision getting to the ALCS.  And success for this franchise is now measured in pennants, not playoff appearances.  

Of course, add a number two starter to the mix, and I would have reserved the right to feel much better about this season even without a major offensive upgrade, especially considering the fact that Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Jurickson Profar should give the club a boost at the plate just by being ready to go.  That would be true, for me, even without bringing in another everyday bat — and chances are there still will be a hitter brought aboard, though it won’t be Hunter.

But still needing that frontline pitcher to join Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, here’s where I am: 

I don’t want to trade for a one-year rotation piece unless the deal fits one of two categories: (1) it involves prospects (or big leaguers) who wouldn’t project to be core guys here; or (2) the pitcher would likely have large July trade value in case the season goes south.

Nomar Mazara in a deal for Ian Kennedy?  No, thanks.  

Jake Thompson-plus for Mike Leake?  Pass.  

Alec Asher, Hanser Alberto, and Tomas Telis for Johnny Cueto?  No chance the Reds play ball on that one, obviously.

You want to talk about Mazara or Thompson, or Chi Chi Gonzalez or Jorge Alfaro — or Profar — for a one-year pitcher, it better be Cueto or David Price or Jordan Zimmermann or Hisashi Iwakuma or Zack Greinke (who can opt out halfway through his six-year deal, a year from now) you’re bringing to the table.  (And it’s unlikely any of those pitchers would be available in the first place.)

No to Bud Norris or Rick Porcello or Tim Hudson or Scott Kazmir or Kyle Lohse or Mark Buehrle or J.A. Happ or Jhoulys Chacin or Kennedy or Leake, at least not for that top tier of prospects.

I go back and forth on guys like Jeff Samardzija, Doug Fister, Mat Latos, and Yovani Gallardo.  I could conceivably be talked into category one, but it would take some work.  

Give me Cueto or Price or Zimmermann, and the opportunity to extend them here before they ever reach free agency — or to trade them in July if 2015 doesn’t break right — then I’ll discuss just about any young player outside of Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo.  Otherwise, we can talk about Nick Martinez and Nick Williams and Jerad Eickhoff and Luis Sardinas and Lewis Brinson and Odubel Herrera and Jairo Beras and Asher and Alberto and Telis and maybe even Luke Jackson and Corey Knebel, but now that I think about it, you can stay away not only from the players listed three paragraphs above but Keone Kela, too, because when he arrives it’s not going to be normal, and I’m inclined to be difficult to deal with if you think Ryan Rua is just a fungible piece, and know I value Ryan Cordell more than you’ll expect me to.

I’m not sure how big I want Texas to go on the bat (Matt Kemp or Michael Saunders?  And is Mike Napoli really on the table?), and I would much rather have a starting pitcher with more than a year of control (Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, maybe even Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee depending on how much Philadelphia is willing to pay them down) than a one-year guy because, at least for now, I feel better about 2016 than I do about 2015.

Yes, I understand that Colby Lewis is evidently a lot closer to returning to the Rangers than Torii Hunter ever was to joining the club.  And that Texas could be the club that gives Alexi Ogando the opportunity he seeks to be a starting pitcher in 2015, even though he’s now a free agent along with more than 30 others who were non-tendered around the league yesterday (a largely uninspiring group that includes a handful of interesting players like rehabbing starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, relievers Wesley Wright and Logan Ondrusek, pitching prospect Jose Campos, infielders Everth Cabrera, Daniel Descalso, Justin Smoak, Adam Rosales, and Gordon Beckham, outfielder Slade Heathcott, and the guy I want the Rangers to sign, lefty-mashing LF/1B Kyle Blanks).   

But even if they were to bring both Lewis and Ogando back, the Rangers will still add another starting pitcher, probably via trade, and they’re going to aim higher than those two in terms of what the expectations will be.

It’s early.  The off-season isn’t a race.  And 2015 is far from etched.

I’m not here to say that it worked out for the best when the Mavs failed to sign Dwight Howard a year and a half ago and “settled” for Monta Ellis as a fallback, even after last night, and I’m far from comparing Torii Hunter to Dwight Howard, but it may end up working out just fine for Texas that Hunter decided, after all the talk of wanting to finally get to a World Series before he calls it quits, to take the biggest payday, back where his career started, at or near the bottom of the division.  

Maybe “losing” Hunter and Hyeon-jong Yang, in an off-season that apparently hasn’t delivered Rangers news fast enough for some folks, will ultimately turn out to be the best developments of the winter.

Stuff.

A couple quick things:

Baseball America ranks the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows:

  1. Joey Gallo
  2. Jake Thompson
  3. Jorge Alfaro
  4. Nomar Mazara
  5. Nick Williams
  6. Chi Chi Gonzalez
  7. Luis Sardinas
  8. Ryan Rua
  9. Luis Ortiz
  10. Josh Morgan

For what it’s worth, I didn’t include Sardinas on my own top 72 list since he exhausted his rookie status in 2014 (by spending 60 pre-September days in the big leagues — the threshold is 45 days), and I have Morgan much further down on my own list, but the other eight on BA’s list are in my top 10, though not in the same order.

The one that stands out the most is Thompson, half of the return from the Joakim Soria trade in July, checking in at number two, ahead of Alfaro and Mazara, not to mention Gonzalez.  The Rangers were able to pick up a young pitcher of Thompson’s stature and upside for a veteran reliever, a prospect who at age 20 dominated AA competition after the trade, and in a system that BA’s Ben Badler says boasts a “[s]trong combo of upside and depth,” he sits today, at least in that publication’s estimation, as the Rangers’ best pitching prospect and second-best prospect overall.

After talking to some folks about Thompson, who played for Rockwall-Heath High School, I included this in my Bound Edition writeup on the big righthander: “There are some in the organization who believe that if Texas had waited another week before making the July 23 trade with the Tigers, Detroit might have pulled him off the table given how his stuff began ticking up right after the deal did go down.”

I can also tell you that Thompson will be among our autograph guests at the Thursday, December 18 Book Release Party at Sherlock’s in Arlington.

And so will Joe Mikulik, who managed Gallo and Alfaro and Williams and Gonzalez last year at Myrtle Beach, and is responsible for some of the most epic manager meltdowns in minor league history (like this one, and this one, and this one last summer with the Pelicans).

And so will new Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele, one of the great defensive players in Rangers history.

Jake and Joe and Steve will join Derek Holland, Jason Botts, and Emily Jones at the party, which will be emceed by Ben Rogers of the Ben and Skin Show (105.3 The Fan).  We’ll also collect toys that night to support the Rangers’ Cowboy Santa effort, and might have a memorabilia raffle as well.  The event will probably start at 6:00 and go until 9:00.

If you order your books now, you’ll have them well in advance of the party — orders will ship this week.

And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Stuff.

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