All-time leader.

My plan in writing up the Michael Young retirement announcement was to keep it short.  That’s never an easy task for me, of course, but in this case, the right thing to do seemed to be a quick entry.  Say what I want and get out.  No frills.

Then an unexpected thing happened on Twitter, and then underground at Rangers Ballpark Friday, and so much for that plan of mine.

There were a bunch of cool ballplayer tweets praising Young as a teammate (Josh Hamilton, Mark DeRosaFrank CatalanottoA.J. Ellis).  As an opponent (Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kipnis, Ozzie Guillen, David Aardsma).  As an example (Dustin PedroiaIan Desmond).

As a mentor (Elvis Andrus).

But then there was one that made me think an extra second or two, from Diamondbacks righthander Brandon McCarthy, whose tweets are generally more in the Larry David category (that’s meant to be a huge compliment) than of the reflective variety:

A career’s worth of teammates are saddened to hear that Mike Young is retiring.

McCarthy’s career started with high expectations as a White Sox prospect.  Today he’s an established, fairly reliable, well-paid veteran starting pitcher.  In between was his four-year stint in Texas, which can only be qualified as a disappointment.

A pitcher.  A pitcher who didn’t get it done in Texas.  A pitcher who spent half his Rangers career on the disabled list, including basically the whole 2010 season, as he watched his teammates win the franchise’s first playoff series and first AL pennant and battle in its first World Series.

Paying tribute to the veteran position player who never spent a day on the DL.

Hard to imagine McCarthy and Young having less common ground as ballplayers.  I thought of that Tommy Hunter story that stayed with me from years ago, but still:  What prompted that tweet from McCarthy?

Why was Michael Young so revered by those who played with him and against him, so important to this franchise, so identifiable for Rangers fans with the era of this team that grew up and became a legitimate, consistent contender?

Was it the kind of light tower power or defensive artistry or video game athleticism that fans and teammates and media will talk about when other veteran players hang the cleats up?

It was not.  It was none of those things.

Maybe it’s as simple as a recognition that he made players better.  Teams better.  Baseball better, in Texas.

With Pudge, I’ll never forget the feet and arm behind the plate.

Cliff: That Draper/assassin thing.

Beltre: The wizard’s work at third base.

With Young?  They talked Friday about him holding the franchise mark in games played, hits, multi-hit games, total bases, doubles, triples, and home batting average.

I’ll remember him for none of those things.

There are specific moments that Neftali Feliz and Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz will be remembered for as Rangers.  Michael Young?

Check Richard Durrett’s list of Young’s top 10 moments in Texas.  It starts not with a big hit or a great play, but a team moment.  There are career milestones and awards, and further down the list a couple big plays in very big games.

But it started with a team moment, and it’s probably the one most of us think of first, too.

He was a lightning rod for some fans late in his Rangers career, and that’s part of the story, to be sure.

There are those who loved him unconditionally, those who overlooked the weaknesses in his game that started to become more evident just as the team got great and who ignored the publicized tension between player and management.

There are those who focused on those weaknesses — and the sense that the manager and the media gave him a pass — when the franchise had reached a level at which every moment and every decision mattered like never before, and that’s a faction that tended to overlook (or deny with the sabermetric force of a thousand squared up lasers to the opposite field) his role in helping brand the clubhouse with a resilience and a shoulder chip that helped a mediocre team learn to be very good, a very good team grow to be great.

The reality is that Young was not as perfect and not as flawed as some fans believe unshakably — with all the stubbornness of Michael Young the baseball player — and that’s OK.

Young’s was a career marked by durability and consistency, and part of that consistency was that stubborn streak, one that paid huge, teamwide dividends and also caused an occasional problem, a point of focus regardless of which part of Michael Young’s career you choose to think about most.

I know which one mattered most to me.

Roger and Troy had their detractors toward the end of their careers, too.

Sports.

Unlike Roger and Troy, though, Young — despite being the Rangers’ all-time leader in playoff at-bats — didn’t have a stack of huge game moments, post-season or otherwise, to build a retrospective highlight package around.  But, again, where Young’s career lagged in huge moments and singular displays of baseball awesomeness, it lapped the field in other not-so-apparent areas.

Texas got to the World Series in 2010 despite a subpar Young season at the plate (.284/.330/.444) and in the field (as a second-year third baseman).

And again in 2011 with Young turning in one of his best (.338/.380/.474, while DH’ing and filling in on the infield corners and second base).

His imprint was all over both clubs.  Its stability and its toughness and its resilience.  Ask every veteran and every rookie and every coach and every clubbie who was a part of either team.

Ask McCarthy or Chris Davis, who were watching from the sidelines with the rest of us in 2010, and with other clubs in 2011.

Ask DeRosa or Mark Teixeira (“This was a guy who had to work his way up, had to earn everything . . . , and played the game the right way”), who were gone well before 2010, whether they think Michael Young had anything to do with helping turn the Rangers from what they were for almost 40 years into a World Series team.

Ask Ron Washington.

Jon Daniels alluded to it at Young’s retirement gathering on Friday, talking more than once about how he was a central part of the best teams in Rangers franchise history, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

“He was the first to embrace Elvis,” Daniels noted, referring to the time that the organization moved Young off of his position, against his wishes, not the last time that that would happen.

“He embraced Adrian.  He embraced Mike Napoli.  Those guys became some of his closest friends on the team.  In large part, the way that the clubhouse remained strong and, in many ways, got stronger was due to the way he handled those situations.  Despite their arrivals having a personal impact on him [in terms of his own role on the club], he made those guys feel welcome and brought them into the fabric of the team.  They had success together, but in no small part because of that.”

Two weeks before Young turned 34, had hadn’t appeared in so much as one playoff game.

After that, he was a post-season player in 2010 and 2011 and 2012 and 2013.

That’s not to say the Rangers wouldn’t have made it to the Wild Card Game in 2012, or that the Dodgers would have missed the 2013 playoffs without him.

But I’ll always believe he was as responsible as anyone on the field for the Rangers playing in October 2010 and and in October 2011 (“We don’t have rings — and that still eats at me — but that was a championship team”), and not just because of what he contributed before our eyes those two years.  He’s the Rangers’ all-time leader in all those statistical categories I listed above, but, more importantly, as far as I’m concerned, he’s this franchise’s all-time leader.

Period.

I’ll believe forever that what he meant to this team off the field, for so many years, helped a lot of players get the most out of what they had (as Wash said, he “lifted teammates to levels they maybe didn’t know they had”), and helped this team win.

I mean win.

He’s going to help this team in 2014, too, and I don’t mean because of what Michael Choice and Lisalverto Bonilla might contribute.

And I don’t mean because of what he might actually contribute himself in 2014.  I’d be surprised to see Young join the franchise in a non-playing role this year.

I’d be surprised to see Young not join the franchise in a non-playing role before too long, though.

It’s just too soon to expect him to do anything but hang with his family right now.  As much as I’d love the idea of him being around Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor, Prince Fielder and Joey Gallo, Luis Sardinas and Chris Bostick, Martin Perez and Akeem Bostick, sharing some of that old-school wisdom and competitive drive and hallmark mental toughness, right now he needs to be with Cristina and Mateo and Emilio and Mateo, and not just for just a few days here and there.

He’s earned that, and so have they.

But eventually?

He said several times on Friday that he’d love to get back into the game in some capacity, at some point, and looks forward to talking with the Rangers about that.  “I think it’s important to pass things down,” he said, pointing to his experiences being on the other side of that exchange.  “There are fine points of the game that I’d love to pass on.  There are some things you have and some things that you have to be taught, but there is a chance to learn something every year.”

Daniels, after noting that Young was a player who “constantly proved people wrong,” added: “He only said about a dozen things today that our young players could learn from.”

I counted more.

Coaches, too.  And fathers.

Wash, turning his gaze at the podium away from the full room of reporters and toward Young, looking him in the eye: “The game of baseball’s gonna miss you.  I certainly hope you don’t stay away from the game of baseball.  Because there’s some kid out there — don’t know it yet — that one day is gonna have the influence of Michael Young.  It would be a shame if you didn’t stay in the game in some capacity after you figure out exactly what you want to do.”

Wash was probably talking about a kid like Travis Demeritte, or Yeyson Yrizarri, when he said that.  But it goes beyond that.

I’ve shared this picture with you before.  My wife took it in Arizona, when Max was three years old.

 

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Some folks unsubscribed from the mailing list when I sent that out, and I get it.  (I shared it as much for the Blalock and Wright stopdowns as anything.)  But it made an indelible impression on me, and I know it did on my kid.

Less so, by a thousand times, than what happened on March 21, 2012, at halftime of the Mavericks-Lakers game.  I’m not going to tell that story here (yeah, I know that will probably cause a few more unsubscribes), but the few of you I’ve shared it with know why it’s something I’ll never forget and which, for me, helps define what separates Michael Young, and what Wash was talking about, and what JD was talking about, and what Brandon McCarthy was talking about.

Wash said, “I don’t think this game will be able to survive without Michael Young in it.”  A little strong, maybe, but yeah, if Young decides he wants to stay in baseball, that needs to happen.

And, as Daniels, similarly aged and like Young a transplant (Young from California, Daniels from New York) who is raising a family in the Metroplex and now calls this his home, unambiguously said, aside from noting that he admires Young most as a husband and father who was always able to balance that with his career: “If Michael Young wants to be involved in the game, it should be here in Texas.”

Yep.

It’s one thing for the team press release to say: “We want [Michael and his family] to know there will always be a place for the Youngs in the Texas Rangers family.”  Sincere, to be sure.  But hearing Daniels say what he said (and seeing him get choked up when talking about Young being able to walk away from the game on his own terms and about his priorities in life) — that carried so much good weight.

If you watched the Friday presser, you saw evidence that Young and Daniels put in the work to get past what was not the cleanest relationship toward the end of Young’s time here as a player, and to patch things up.  Tip of the cap to two good dudes.

Young said Friday that, as far as legacy goes, all he ever demanded of himself was effort.  To give it everything he had every day.

It’s probably fair to assume that Young and Daniels reconciling — to put the “bumps in the road” (Young’s words) behind them — took effort, on both sides.

“You fail, you get up, you learn,” Wash said, about something else.  “You fail, you get up, you learn.”

I wrote 14 months ago, when Daniels traded Young away: “It was possible to be fans of both Michael Young and the front office, even as the tension and drama between the two mounted, because both, in their own way, and according to their own very different job descriptions and accountabilities, have always been relentlessly determined to win.”

It’s easier now.

After the lineups are introduced on Monday afternoon, March 31, and Daniels is up in his seat, Michael Young should be walking onto the field, with a baseball in his hand, and he should be the one to throw the season’s first pitch, before his former teammates Yu Darvish and Cliff Lee throw theirs.

As he makes that walk to the mound, Chuck Morgan should play “Sure Shot” over the P.A. system.  (And for the record, I nearly titled this report “Because you can’t, you won’t, and you don’t stop.”)

A year ago, David Brown (Yahoo! Sports) interviewed McCarthy, who, answering a snarky question about a team’s grittiness quotient, said he wished there were a way to quantify mental ability and explained as follows:

“There are people that are just better mentally than anybody else.  Talent is pretty evenly spread through the game — even from the elite players to the players who are Triple-A starters.  There’s not a big gap at all and I know it’s cliche, but there’s really not.  And there are just people that are really good mentally.

“I know Michael Young is kind of a dividing point for all of the metrics, but he’s one of the best mental players I’ve ever been around.  Not just from the teammate or “super teammate” aspect, but he’s absolutely locked in mentally and so, so good at focusing on taking it day to day, at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.  And that’s one of those things — it always gets passed over because most people can’t see inside.  You only the see the performance [and the result] and what you can quantify.  And I wish there was a way to quantify mental ability.  Some guys are just better at that, when everybody else would kind of fall apart.”

Michael Young is one of those local athletes we all feel like we grew to know.  Part of that is he was here 13 years, an eternity in pro sports.  Part is because he wasn’t any bigger or faster or more powerful than he was, which I suppose made him seem more like one of us.  Part is because he was at his locker every night, win or lose, and so we heard from him after almost every game.

But I feel like I learned a little more about him after reading this week what McCarthy had to say, and Catalanotto and Cuddyer and Pedroia, and hearing JD and Wash talk on Friday, and then Michael himself.

Leadership is learned in different ways, and taught in different ways, too.  Sometimes it comes from a guy in uniform, whether he plays next to you or behind you — or was just displaced by you.  Sometimes it comes from a guy who wore the uniform once upon a time, passing along the things he learned along the way himself.

Michael Young led here, and we all benefited from that.  Elvis Andrus did, Tommy Hunter did, Josh Hamilton did, Ron Washington did, you did and I did.  So many people and organizations in this community did.

That doesn’t end now, and I mean that not only because of the imprint he left on so many people still working to get this team back to the World Series, but also because, one day, he’s going to be back with this franchise, making an impact on any number of young players who don’t know it yet, but are going to benefit from the influence of Michael Young, and that’s a really good thing for every single one of us.

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Locos.

You won’t ever convince me that this isn’t the worst sports week of the year, ranked firmly behind last week and next week because, while there’s no baseball and no football action moving the needle, this week the sports world has decided it has no choice but to descend on the Super Bowl site for non-stop programming that offers non-stop garbage.  Bits that aren’t funny, news that’s barely news, stories that get recycled so many unapologetic times that they lose whatever marginal meaning they might have had through the first cycle.

It’s a super-sized bag of RedBullExtreme-Infused Doritos Locos Tacos Turbo-Supreme.  An industry deciding “Pitbull featuring Ke$ha” should be the wether bearing the bell.

Love the NFL.  But . . . Uncle.

I suspect it’s not by accident that the folks for whom baseball is a 12-month venture chose this week to ping our dulled sports senses with the unveiling of the prospect lists they’ve been working on all winter.

Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has seven Rangers in his Top 101 — second baseman Rougned Odor (39), catcher Jorge Alfaro (41 — Parks believes he “could crack the top 10” a year from now), righthander Chi-Chi Gonzalez (70), shortstop Luis Sardinas (72), outfielder Michael Choice (79), outfielder Nick Williams (88), and third baseman Joey Gallo (95) — which is seven more than the Angels, and in fact nearly as many as the rest of the AL West (Houston 5, Seattle 3, Oakland 1) combined.  Parks adds that Texas, Houston, Minnesota, and Toronto are among the teams with the strongest minor league depth outside the Top 101.

MLB.com has Alfaro at 39, Odor at 59, Choice at 72, Sardinas at 76, and Gallo at 92, with Jim Callis calling Alfaro’s the strongest arm of any position player prospect in the game, at any position, with Gallo’s arm second only to Alfaro’s and his power second only to Minnesota’s Miguel Sano.  Callis has righthander Luke Jackson among 15 players who just missed the Top 100 list.

Baseball America won’t reveal its list until later but its ranking of the top 10 Rangers’ prospects landed this morning: Odor, Alfaro, Choice, Williams, Gallo, Gonzalez, Sardinas, Jackson, Travis Demeritte, and Ronald Guzman.  Ben Badler suggests the club’s “[t]op-end talent [is] lighter than usual but [there’s] plenty of depth, especially from the international program.”

ESPN’s Keith Law will reveal his Top 100 later today, but yesterday pegged Texas as the number 13 farm system in the game (Houston 1, Seattle 21, Oakland 26, Los Angeles 29).  His Rangers rankings will be revealed tomorrow.

Thank goodness there’s no “Media Day” leading up to the World Series.  I suppose if there were two weeks off after the two pennants were won, rather than just two or three days, baseball coverage might get so tricked up that news would be delivered by dudes wearing Colonial wigs or capes (tights for both), TV Azteca babes (no tights), or Regis (not sure).

Not every sports journalist was hitting it hard at the Prudential Center yesterday, interviewing each other.  Some were in Texas (probably in jeans and a North Face) spotting Nolan Ryan leaving a meeting of some sort at Minute Maid Park in Houston.  Others were checking in with Michael Young and discovering that his decision is apparently down to Chavez Ravine or retirement.  Jeff Baker is reportedly close to choosing the Marlins, Nationals, or Orioles, and A.J. Burnett has evidently decided he’s not quite ready to hang them up, and between Baker and Burnett I know which one I’d be a whole lot more interested in as far as the Rangers are concerned.

What I really need to know is what some D-list “celeb” thinks the most important Justin Bieber question to ask a nickel corner is.  Brought to you by VH1.

Baseball prospect lists are what they are.  Whether your publication(s) of choice think Carlos Correa should be ranked higher than Taijuan Walker doesn’t mean anything.  Just because Parks believes Gonzalez projects to be a “2/3 starter; most likely a 3” for Texas, and possibly sooner than you might think, isn’t “news.”

But it’s an absolute gift from the sports gods when it’s delivered in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, and if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna turn the radio off and go chase down some predictions on where Derek Fisher and Max Pentecost are slotted to go in this June’s Rule 4 Draft.  No thanks on the Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos.

Dazed, confused.

The TV locked me in Sunday night and Monday night, three times.  One of the shows I watched was designed to make you think back 20 years.  The other two only did it by accident.

If you’re in college now, you never know: That new band that grabbed every bit of your attention, that made you slam the brakes, may stick around more than 20 years, still making music and making awesome documentary films, too.

That other new band that seemed at first like it had something won’t last nearly as long, but that doesn’t mean the lead singer will necessarily give up, not as long as he can find cool venues that hold 500 to keep doing his thing.

Twenty-plus years from now, that frat guy at your dorm, no matter what you happen to think of him at the moment, may turn into one of the best actors in the world.

Maybe you’ll have kids one day and you’ll cross paths with others who had kids around the same time and they’ll become friends and you’ll become friends and baseball may be a big reason why.

And you’ll see those kids start to learn that what matters is the team, and that’s an awesome thing.

You’d never dream that the 17-year-old kid taken first in the draft would, 20 years later, epitomize whatever the absolute opposite of the team concept is.

Eddie Vedder is a baseball fan, and so is Matthew McConaughey, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that those two guys have a greater respect for the Great Game than Alex Rodriguez does.

If you’re in college now, you’ll write something that you think is the best thing you’ve ever written, and it probably is, and in 20 years you won’t be able to look back at it without cringing.

In 20 years maybe you’ll blog, and some entries will suck more than others, like maybe one you spit up on a mid-January morning when you’re tired of “60 Minutes” stories dominating MLB Network content, and 20 minutes after you hit “send” you won’t be able to look back at it without cringing.

But there’s no shame in the effort.  Sometimes the path leads to rock and roll royalty and other times it leads to The Kessler.  Sometimes the trail to “True Detective” is littered with “Sahara” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

As a friend shared this morning, one of the world’s great forward-thinking companies has decided to reach back to a movie which came out around the time that Pearl Jam and Live debuted, that Matt McConaughey lived at The Castilian, that Alex Rodriguez was drafted out of high school, and ask: “What will your verse be?

The answer to that question, in Rodriguez’s case, is so sickening, and it didn’t need to be.

There’s no shame in the effort.  Except for when there is.

Whatever.

Avoiding the knee-jerk reaction.

The news hit Twitter a little after 5:00 yesterday afternoon, news that Derek Holland had fallen on a staircase at home on Tuesday and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Friday morning to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, which is not the knee that he injured twice in 2010.  He’ll miss the start of the regular season, with the club reportedly making plans conservatively for a mid-season return.

I’ve gained about 30 new subscribers and Twitter followers since the news broke, and I’m about to disappoint all of them and most of the rest of you.

My first thought was to speculate about what Texas could do in response, as far as winter acquisitions are concerned.  I quickly dismissed that thought. Maybe the Rangers were already in on Masahiro Tanaka, maybe not.  But they’re already over budget, and Holland’s injury isn’t going to change whether they’re in the mood to step out even further on Tanaka.  They will, or they won’t, but I’d be shocked if that plan is different today from what it was a week ago.

Step up in David Price trade talks with Tampa Bay?  If that’s where your head is on this, my response is, as usual: You’re the Rays.

I’d bet it’s more likely that Tampa Bay calls Texas in light of the Holland development than it is that the Rangers call the Rays.  And the demand isn’t going to come down from wherever it had been.

Holland isn’t the Rangers’ ace, but he did lead the club in starts and innings pitched in 2013, and was very good (though less effective at home, which could lead to a bad joke in light of this new development, a place I’m going to avoid because I’m better than that, even though I’m obviously not).  You don’t replace him with Robbie Ross or Tanner Scheppers or Nick Tepesch or Michael Kirkman or Jose Contreras and expect to get comparable production (to say nothing of the void a Ross or Scheppers shift would leave in the pen), but don’t expect Texas to go out and devote nine figures or four blue-chip prospects or a number one draft pick to go out and find a starter of Holland’s caliber.

The Rangers will probably add another depth piece between now and camp, probably on a non-roster veteran who can come in and compete for a rotation spot.

They were going to do that anyway.

I thought maybe I’d write about the idea that you survive for three months and then you get Holland back, in a pennant race, with a fresh arm.  But I decided against fleshing that out, because last year there was optimism in camp that Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz would be back by mid-season, and after Matt Harrison’s April surgery the half-full glass gave hope of a similar timetable.

As Jon Daniels has pointed out, the rotation that the organization expects to roll out at Frisco in April may be the strongest at that level since this front office arrived.  But Chi-Chi Gonzalez and his crew-mates aren’t going to get here any time before Holland gets back.

I thought maybe I’d write about where falling on stairs fits on a list that includes butter knives (Oddibe McDowell), sunflower seeds (Greg Harris), pinky-shaking (Charlie Hough), and high fives (Jeff Baker), but why pile depressing on top of freaky?

I considered writing about the risk of giving long-term deals to starting pitchers, even relatively young ones (Harrison, Holland, Feldman), but I wouldn’t want a redo on the Martin Perez contract, so I’m not going down that path.

It’s been a tremendous winter of aggressive growth at 1000 Ballpark Way, and maybe we’ll look back at the Holland injury as one that gave a young pitcher like Ross an opportunity that he ended up seizing like C.J. Wilson did four years ago.  Or one that blunted the Rangers’ first half so much in 2014 that they resisted overpaying for a tier two starter in July, like it turns out they did this past summer.

Or maybe Texas pieces things together in the rotation for a few months, the revitalized offense goes on a tear straight out of the gate, and Holland comes back in the second half with something to re-prove, and he proves it.

But for now, I don’t have the energy to dig deep on any of it.  I wanted, at different times in the last 18 hours, to focus this report on the next pitching move Texas might make, on the opportunities opened up even further for a handful of Holland’s teammates, the idea of the lefthander giving Texas a boost himself in July and August, and the risks associated with committing long-term to big league starting pitchers and with overtrading for pitching to accommodate what might appear to be a needy rotation.

I wanted to write something thoughtful, something unemotional, something that stepped away from the immediate gut-punch of the story and examined what this could mean, or lead to.

But I can’t.

It just sucks.

New year.

The Tyler Seguin Trade wasn’t supposed to haunt the Bruins this quickly, Oklahoma wasn’t supposed to do that to Alabama, and Charlie Strong may not have been the first choice, but Adrian Beltre was basically a fallback, too.

I doubt Beltre is giving much thought to Florida State-Auburn, where 2012 Rangers draft pick and Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will celebrate his 20th birthday on the national stage Monday night, and he probably doesn’t find it very interesting that J.P. Arencibia, whose birthday is tomorrow (on the three-year anniversary of Beltre’s signing with the Rangers), played his first minor league season for Auburn (New York, that is) and kicked off his second minor league season in the Florida State League, where he took off as a prospect.

Winston is from Alabama but committed to Florida State, while Arencibia is from Florida but committed to Tennessee, but if Arencibia had gone to Florida State, history likely changes for at least one player, as Buster Posey arrived in Tallahassee a year after Arencibia’s own college career began, and I’m fairly sure Beltre doesn’t care.

Beltre is probably thinking more about Prince Fielder, and how even in a massive down year in 2013 (.819 OPS) he outproduced every hitter Texas tried in the number three hole, namely (in order of appearances), Lance Berkman, Ian Kinsler (.677 OPS in that spot), Nelson Cruz, Alex Rios, and A.J. Pierzynski, and I’m guessing Beltre likes that a lot.

Fielder is probably thinking about Shin-Soo Choo, and how none of the primary leadoff hitters he’s played with in his nine seasons (Brady Clark, Rickie Weeks, Felipe Lopez, Austin Jackson) could do that.

Choo, who says he’d bat anywhere in the lineup and it wouldn’t alter his approach, is probably thinking about kicking off each game with Elvis Andrus, Fielder, and Beltre grabbing helmets behind him, and about how, if Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin take that next step, maybe for some stretches in 2014 that leadoff role for Choo in the first inning will seem in later innings like he’s hitting in the three hole himself.

Profar and Martin probably aren’t thinking much quite yet about getting back on the field, coming off their first (basically) full big league seasons and then winter stints together on Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Republic, where their teammates included Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre, who is some respects is this year’s version of Julio Borbon, but not really, and Dee Gordon, whose father Tom faced Fielder’s father Cecil 51 times in the big leagues, holding the slugger to a .213 batting average and a strikeout every fourth time up, which Arencibia’s detractors would say sounds pretty familiar.

I know Chase Cutler and Drake Detherage and Kendall Gill and Ty Holt and Will Kriska and Dominic Mele and Max Newberg and Preston Payne and the injured R.J. Ruais and Jake Storey and Preston Stout aren’t thinking about Arencibia or Beltre or Charlie Strong this morning, but instead about the Pelicans, and not the version that Andrus played for while in the Braves system or that Profar skipped while a Rangers farmhand.  Those 11 are thinking about two hours from now, when they’ll play their first game together as Dallas Pelicans, not that this game counts, but then again not that any of them “count” when your eight- and nine-year-olds are simply out there playing the game and getting better at it, even on the first weekend in January, not that I’m trying to get all solipsistic on you.

Buster Olney (ESPN) thinks the Rangers have the best lineup in baseball (and the seventh-best rotation and fifth-best defense), Bob Nightengale (USA Today) predicts Texas returns to the World Series this year (against St. Louis), as does Gil LeBreton (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) (against the Dodgers), Neftali Feliz never wants to be a starter again (which I’m good with), Peter Gammons has Texas among at least six teams checking in with San Diego on right-handed-hitting outfielder Chris Denorfia, and after all this time there’s hardly any more certainty where Cruz will land than there is about Masahiro Tanaka’s eventual address, which will be determined no later than the afternoon of January 24, hours before the Rangers’ annual Awards Dinner at the Gaylord Texan.

The baseball winter is on the back stretch, but there’s still plenty that’s up in the air, and all those 2014 projections are just that, really, because sports, and even if we thought we knew how things would play out, the underdogs then haul off and get on a BCS winning streak that Winston and the Seminoles will try to snap Monday night in Pasadena, at the same time that Seguin and the Stars will try to take the Islanders down in Uniondale, New York, a mere five hours downstate from Auburn, home of the Doubledays, whose uniform was the first Arencibia wore professionally, which has me thinking again about 11 kids who are playing ball here in a little bit, after which we’ll have 43 sleeps left until Rangers pitchers and catchers report, which is about 42 sleeps too many, if you asked me, but you didn’t, so, you know, Happy New Year and all that and I’ll catch you later.

My latest spitball.

Rule number one, as always, for reading these spitball ideas: Understand that this will not happen.

Rule number two: I do my best to think these through, not only from the Rangers’ standpoint but — more importantly — from the perspective of the other team.  It’s real easy to propose Nick Tepesch, Wilmer Font, and Joey Butler for Chris Sale (you should see some of the email ideas I get from time to time), but it’s pointless unless you can give it some thought as if you were on the other side and it passes the giggle test.

Rule number thr—

Nah, forget it.

Just remember: This isn’t happening.

Texas trades outfielders Alex Rios and Michael Choice, second baseman Rougned Odor, righthanders Luke Jackson and Connor Sadzeck, and corner bat Joey Gallo and $8 million to Miami for outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna.

Here’s why it won’t happen:

Because Miami isn’t open to trading Stanton yet, evidently.  That club’s hoping that a resurgence headed by ace Jose Fernandez and a handful of other ceiling arms, the arrival of 22-year-old outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, and the off-season addition of players who have won like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal might lead to a better 2014, building off a decent finish in 2013 (49-59 ball after a 14-40 start to the season), and convince Stanton not to push for a trade.  Though it will be expensive, he’s under club control through 2016.  The Marlins don’t need to trade him now.

Because, as Jon Daniels pointed out at yesterday’s Shin-Soo Choo press conference, Texas is able to step out on players like Choo not only because ownership is willing to go big for the right fit, but also because the farm system is in strong enough shape that, looking ahead three to five years, the club won’t need to rely on free agency to fill every key roster spot.  Without players making pre-arbitration money to count on over the next few seasons, you can’t commit to Choo and Prince Fielder.  In other words: Moving Choice and Odor and Jackson and Sadzeck and Gallo — even for a player like Stanton — would make it more difficult at some level to keep this roster together, and to imagine (for instance) being able to keep Yu Darvish around past this contract, or Elvis Andrus when he opts out after the 2018 season.

But here are the things that got me thinking about this idea, and why I decided to spend an hour writing about it:

Next winter’s free agent hitter class is shaping up to be terrible.  Chase Headley and Brett Gardner will get paid, but there’s no Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury, no Fielder or Albert Pujols

And lots of teams with money to spend.

Texas has a $14 million club option on Rios for next year, and a $1 million buyout to void it.  Even though he’s not a star player, assuming he has a reasonably standard Alex Rios season in 2013, he’s the type of player who would get paid well in free agency, especially given how he’d stand up compared to what else will be available.  If you didn’t want to keep him at that price point, you could probably risk making him a qualifying offer next winter, expect that he’d decline it, and recoup a supplemental first-round draft pick as compensation.

Of course, the Rangers, given their current makeup, might exercise the option and keep him one more season.

But the Marlins wouldn’t have to.

They could tender whatever next winter’s qualifying offer will be (it was $13.3 million a year ago, and $14.1 million this winter) and feel reasonably certain that he’d decline it, which would result in that compensatory supplemental first-round pick.

And in the meantime, they’d get a year out of Rios (not the same as a year out of Stanton, of course, but legitimate production) alongside Yelich and Marisnick, and Choice would step in a year later.  Assuming Marisnick spends the beginning of the season in the minor leagues, he and Yelich would be a year apart in terms of eventual free agency, and Choice would probably fit in with Marisnick.

If Miami doesn’t think it can win in the next two years, and doesn’t think Stanton will sign an extension at the level it’s able to pay, trading Stanton before his walk year stands to bring back more in return than waiting until then.

The other thing about the CBA compensation rules is that the order of those supplemental first-rounders is based not on the formulaic value of the player who went away (like it used to, when players had Elias rankings), but instead solely on the team’s win percentage from the previous season.  The supplemental first-rounder Miami would get will be near the top of that sandwich round, and that’s going to be true whether Rios turns down a qualifying offer after a pedestrian season or turns in Stanton-esque numbers.

You also can’t make a qualifying offer to a free agent you didn’t have for the full preceding season.  That’s why Texas couldn’t extend one to Matt Garza — and why Miami wouldn’t be able to flip Rios into a first-round pick next winter if they traded for him in July.  The trade, at least for purposes of this Rios draft pick compensation angle, would have to happen before Opening Day.

The $8 million chip-in that I proposed would cover the difference between Stanton’s 2014 salary (expected to land somewhere in the $5 million range via arbitration) and Rios’s $13 million commitment.

Yelich, Marisnick, and Choice would theoretically man Miami’s outfield for years.  Odor becomes the Marlins’ everyday second baseman by 2014, Gallo is groomed to play first base down the road (2013 first-rounder Colin Moran will play third base), and Jackson (who is from half an hour outside Miami) and Sadzeck give the club two more big right-handed arms to plug into the pipeline.

Choo, Andrus, Fielder, Stanton, Beltre, Moreland, Soto/Arencibia, Profar, Martin.

Drool.

(Ozuna fits in for Texas as the right-handed bat who can play all over the outfield and offer a little pop.  A poor man’s Michael Choice, perhaps.)

The Rangers didn’t have to part with any prospects to get Fielder or anyone else this winter.  They forfeited a late first to sign Choo but will recoup a supplemental first when Nelson Cruz signs somewhere else.

But Texas isn’t the type of franchise who will refuse to trade a prospect, and even though it’s critical to have minor leaguers on the way who can help balance the payroll, even with a trade like this one you still have catcher Jorge Alfaro and shortstop Luis Sardinas and outfielders Nick Williams and Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara and Jairo Beras and shortstop/third baseman Travis Demeritte and first baseman Ronald Guzman and plenty of arms, headed by righthander Chi-Chi Gonzalez.

I would hate losing Odor.  But it’s difficult to see where he’s going to fit with Andrus and Jurickson Profar in place for years to come.

And trading for Giancarlo Stanton is why you build the kind of depth that would allow for a silly spitball exercise like this one, an idea that:

  1. Makes at least a shred of sense for the Marlins if they don’t think they can win before Stanton’s trade value passes its peak — though it’s probably still not enough to pry him loose;
  2. Makes a good amount of sense for the Rangers because they’d be acquiring the prime years of one of the game’s elite power hitters — though moving that many prospects in one deal does put a big dent in the necessary depth the club has built to enable its recent big spending; and
  3. For some of the reasons above, and notwithstanding others, just isn’t going to happen.

Shin-Soo Choo, and the seven-year itch.

Arguably, the lineup was missing one more big bat.

The defense was missing one regular.

The attack was missing one dimension.

The winter was missing that one last splash.

And then, days after the General Manager told reporters he didn’t expect to make any more major acquisitions, he did exactly that, reminding us to never count Texas out as long as this ownership group and front office team are in charge of this thing, to pay close attention to verb choice, and to recognize that, while the biggest flag doesn’t yet fly in Arlington, these continue unquestionably to be the Good Old Days for Texas Rangers fans.

Shin-Soo Choo at seven years, seven very expensive years, makes the Rangers significantly stronger on paper going into 2014.  That doesn’t speak to 2018 or 2019 or 2020 — and paper strength doesn’t really mean a whole lot for 2014 itself — but we all ended the 2013 season knowing there were several roster itches that needed scratching, and with one move, one very big and possibly scary move, the Rangers are taking the chance that a player not necessarily thought of on a superstar level can make an impact-level difference for this club, for at least half the term of the lengthy commitment.

*          *          *          *

The Rangers are one of the best teams in the AL, and Choo will push them toward the World Series the next few years.  Flags fly forever and Choo could still surprise and excel for his entire contract, but history has an annoying way of getting the last word.

— Dan Szymborski, ESPN

Between the [Ellsbury], Choo & Cano deals, I think [the Choo/Texas] contract will look [the] best in five years.  On-base tool will still play.  Good for [the] Rangers.

— Gabe Kapler, Fox Sports 1

[T]here’s justification for overspending some of the revenue from a massive new local television contract in an attempt to keep the team in the pennant chase over the next few seasons despite the potential damage to the bottom line in the few seasons after that.

— Cliff Corcoran, Sports Illustrated

Szymborski published those thoughts on Monday.

Kapler tweeted his on Saturday.

Corcoran wrote his almost three years ago – when the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre.

He’s not a superstar, they said of Beltre.  He’s a winning player, a tremendous talent, but isn’t going to carry a very good team.  In fact, he hasn’t been on many very good teams.

He’s 31.

All the same things can be, and have been, said about Choo.  Did he land 7/130 only because he was among the best options in a relatively weak free agent lot, like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth in 2011?  Maybe.  Was it because, right now, he fits what Texas needs perfectly and therefore you bite the bullet and pay a bit of a premium?  Possibly.

But do years 5, 6, and 7 have to be as productive as the four before them for Choo to be “worth it”?

If Beltre has a disappointing 2014 and 2015 and fails to lock in his 2016 salary, was the five-year, $80 million guarantee Texas gave him three winters ago worth it?

Take a look at 30-year-old Hunter Pence’s career.  And then the 31-year-old Choo’s career.  In September the Giants guaranteed Pence the next five years at $18 million per.  You want to trade Choo’s seven years at $18.6 million per, right now, for Pence?

Not me.

On the one hand, you might decide that, free agency has become an exercise in giving the best players at least one more year than he should get, if you want them.  (Especially looking ahead at what will be a really weak free agent hitter class next winter.)

On the other, maybe — as it’s basically always been — today’s bad contract agreement will become tomorrow’s norm.  With the territory that TV money is heading into, maybe this is just where Shin-Soo Choo contracts and Hunter Pence contracts and Scott Feldman contracts are going.  The entire salary scale is changing, and there are economic reasons that it should be.

Beltre’s contract seems like a bargain now.  Nobody viewed it that way in January 2011.

And here’s the other thing, the point about this seven-year commitment that eventually got me hoping Texas would land Choo as other rumored suitors started to turn to other players the last few weeks: The idea of the untradeable contract is fading fast.  There’s money to spend in the game, with more and more teams coming into those extra piles of cash, and one team’s albatross deal can turn out to be another team’s buy-low opportunity.  Alex Rodriguez’s contract was traded, as was Crawford’s, and Adrian Gonzalez’s and Prince Fielder’s and Vernon Wells’s — and they all had some level of no-trade protection (as Choo reportedly does) presumably making things even tougher.  Sometimes you have to chase the player with an injection of cash, but in many teams’ cases that’s becoming a bit easier to do.

You can find spots for them to go to — especially when you’re heading into a TV deal that will enable you to kick in a cash subsidy if needed.  More than ever, there’s evidence that no contract is irreversibly crippling.

Which is certainly not to suggest that it’s inevitable that Choo will head into the back half of his contract as a player Texas would be better off without.  I’m guessing some of the writers decrying the length of Choo’s deal — and there are lots of them — threw up red flags about the five-year Beltre deal as well, and there’s at least some chance they will have been wrong about both.

We’re now in a day and age in which you often have to guarantee more years than you’d like in order to get your guy, effectively committing really crazy money to buy what you expect to be the player’s best years early on in the deal and amortizing the rest while he’s still around.

And if those early years are crazy-great, not just for the player but also for the team whose attack he helped elevate, maybe helping to elevate a flag or two in the process, then the price of that year or two on the back end you weren’t crazy about paying will have been worth every single million.

*          *          *          *

Rangers GM Jon Daniels expects payroll for 2014 to be similar to 2013, but maybe a little lower. 

— Anthony Andro, Fox Sports Southwest

Daniels said that on October 3.

Forty-eight days later: Fielder.

Thirty-one days after that: Choo.

There’s that verb choice again.

*          *          *          *

Heard NYY/Choo agreed at 7/140.  Then [Scott] Boras asked to make it $143, $1 million over Carl Crawford.  Angered NYY, [who] agreed with [Carlos] Beltran instead.

— C.J. Nitkowski, MLB Network Radio

Source says [the] Rangers were Choo’s 1st choice, [and he] didn’t want to move fast with [the] Yankees without knowing what [Texas] would do.

— Joel Sherman, New York Post

[I]f the money was anywhere close, I’d have chosen [the] Rangers over Yankees too, based on which organization has a plan and some pitching.

— Jay Jaffe, Sports Illustrated 

Yeah, but what about #behooves?

Whether or not you believe Choo preferred Texas all along, he wouldn’t have taken 70 cents on the Yankee dollar to play in Arlington.  The Rangers had to be prepared to play ball in that financial stratosphere to compete for Choo and ultimately land him, and that preparation starts with the TV contract that the Rangers negotiated three years and three months ago.  Thanks for that, Chuck Greenberg and Ray and Bob and whoever else was instrumental in those negotiations, and to Fox, and to Ray and Bob and Neil and the whole ownership group that greenlighted the recommendation Daniels made this winter to spike the payroll that he “expected” would recede from last season in order to go big on Choo, and to offer the type of package designed to persuade the veteran to tell New York no.

You just can’t underestimate how huge that ability to pay — and the willingness to then capitally invest, aggressively, which doesn’t always follow automatically — is for this organization.  Armed with tremendous depth in minor league talent assets, this winter Texas has acquired Fielder and Choo and J.P. Arencibia and Michael Choice, and retained Geovany Soto, Jason Frasor, and Colby Lewis, and who is the one minor leaguer the club has parted with in recharging its roster?

Journeyman Josh Lindblom, age 26.

(Yes, the Rangers surrender their 2014 first-round draft pick for signing Choo, but they’ll get the supplemental first-rounder they would have lost the right to if they’d signed Nelson Cruz instead.  And let’s face it: Texas needed another bat at that level, and to trade for one on that tier or better would have cost far more in prospect value than one draft pick.)

All that minor league ammunition remains for whatever opportunities might be available next.

Jonah Keri (Grantland) wrote that as with “Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners, Choo’s terms will probably end up looking like an overpay when we examine his total production over the life of the deal.  But as with Cano, we need to rethink what constitutes a good or bad value . . . in fact, we need to rethink the whole concept of value.  A good deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates isn’t the same as a good deal for the Texas Rangers.”

The Pirates aren’t even halfway through a 10-year local TV contract that pays them about $18 million per year.  The Rangers are a year away from the start of a 20-year deal with Fox Sports Southwest that will pay somewhere between $75 million and $150 million per year, depending on the source.  According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, they’re deferring $5 million of Choo’s 2014 salary to 2016-17, because they can.

The very good Pirates would need to dip into some of that Polanco-Taillon-Glasnow-Kingham wealth to add a bat of Choo’s stature, because they can’t afford to pay enough in cash to go to war with the Yankees.

And Texas — because it can pay — and overpay — can afford to add bats like Choo and Fielder without touching Profar or Perez, or Rougned or Jorge or Chi-Chi, or Gallo or Sardinas or Williams, or Brinson or Guzman, or Luke or Nomar.

*          *          *          *

[T]he Rangers have acted quickly this winter to tend to business as far as their American League future goes, to start taking advantage of every opportunity they can to help their chances to win going forward.  That’s the part that has me fired up about Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and $30 million, a deal that reportedly came together in the span of about 24 hours.  

And about whatever’s next, because Texas isn’t done.

— Newberg Report, November 21, 2013

I don’t expect any more substantial, big moves.  That’s not to say we aren’t looking at some things, but I don’t expect any more major moves.

— Jon Daniels, December 12, 2013

[The] Rangers played [the] market perfectly, to [the] point that Choo or Cruz almost had to land there.

— Jon Morosi, Fox Sports, December 21, 2013

Based on the emails and tweets I was getting, and some of the questions at the Paranoid Fan event a week ago, it was apparent that lots of Rangers fans, having gotten a taste of late-October baseball followed by two disappointing 90-win seasons and the loss of players like Hamilton and Mike Napoli and possibly Cruz, were frustrated with the off-season, even though we weren’t even past mid-December.  History would have preached a bit more patience.

The day that news broke of the Choo signing, the shortest day of the year, was the six-year anniversary of the trade for Josh Hamilton.

In 2010, Texas didn’t acquired Beltre and Napoli until January.

In 2011, Texas learned on December 19 that it won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish.  The Rangers signed him in mid-January.

The headlines aren’t always made at the Winter Meetings.

But there’s usually groundwork being laid then, if not before.

According to Rosenthal and others, Daniels and Thad Levine and Ron Washington flew to California before the Winter Meetings to visit with Choo and Boras.  But, Rosenthal reports, the Rangers didn’t offer Choo seven years until after the Winter Meetings.

Did the early winter commitment to Soto as a potential starter behind the plate fire you up?  Did the signing of the underachieving Arencibia to back him up make sense?

Maybe it does now, given what the next step in the plan was.

The tactic is subject to change each year.  The Rangers signed Beltre and traded for Napoli as January fallbacks, reportedly, once they determined they were out on Cliff Lee.  The next off-season, they signed Joe Nathan less than three weeks after the World Series ended, wanting to beat the market and send a quick message to Neftali Feliz about the role they planned for him.  The winter after that, they were labeled the team that would dictate how the Winter Meetings would go, but Plan A and Plan B and maybe Plan C fell short and instead it was the winter of A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman.

This winter has been more methodical — and successful — as early moves paved the way for impact moves in November and December.

Maybe they’re done.

Maybe they’re not.

*          *          *          *

Since he became a regular in 2008, there have only been nine qualified players who have posted a better OBP than has Choo, and three of them — Manny Ramirez, Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones — are either retired or semi-retired.  Of the other six, only one is an outfielder — Mike Trout.  Put another way, the only outfielder in the past six years to get on base at a better rate than Choo is the best player in baseball.  That’s nothing at which you should shake a stick.

— Paul Swydan, FanGraphs

The Rangers, in their 42 seasons, have had three players reach base at a greater rate for an entire year than Choo’s .423 on-base for the Reds in 2013: one in the 1980’s (Toby Harrah, .432, 1985), one in the 1990’s (Will Clark, .431, strike-shortened 1994), and one in the 2000’s (Milton Bradley, .436, 2008).

Not a burner on the base paths, Choo may not profile as the prototype leadoff hitter, but in many years neither did Kinsler.  Choo’s elite base-reaching ability, however, a tremendous separator between the two, stands to create more early pressure on the opponent, especially if Elvis Andrus can build off his second half in 2013.  Choo has hit for a higher average than Kinsler lifetime (.288 to .273) and, though he has never hit 23 home runs (Kinsler has done it four times), he’s outslugged Kinsler over his career (.465 to .454).  He averages 20 steals (in 27 tries) for every 162 games (compared to 26 of 32 for Kinsler).

But the real difference is in the key leadoff stat, the frequency of getting on base.  Choo has a career .389 on-base percentage, Kinsler .349.  Since 2008, the only active players with a higher OBP than Choo are Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols.

Last year, the two best on-base percentages in baseball against right-handed pitchers were Votto (.464) and Choo (.457).  Think about that: against righties, Choo reached based nearly half the time, for an entire year.

In raw number of times on base, only Trout and Cabrera have outperformed Choo the last two seasons.  Right after Choo is Fielder, and then Andrew McCutchen and Votto.

Stated another way, the two best players in the American League are the only players to reach base more often than Choo and Fielder the last two years.  And the two best players in the National League (at least arguably) reach base a whole lot, too — but not as often as Choo and Fielder.

While we’re talking about Choo and Fielder, consider this:

In 2013, Texas leadoff hitters posted a collective slash line of .266/.336/.386.

Compare Choo’s 2013 (.285/.423/.462), or his career slash (.288/.389/.465).

Number two hitters slashed .258/.311/.340 for the Rangers last year.

Andrus, batting second, was mildly better than that on his own (.278/.329/.348), but he had such a good second half (.313/.369/.405) after his slow start that there’s at least reasonable hope that, in his age 25 season, he can extend that stretch of production.

Ranger three-hole hitters hit .262/.327/.398 in 2013.

Fielder hit .279/.362/.457 last year — in what was without question his worst season in the big leagues.  His career slash is .286/.389/.527.

The first inning could be fun again.  (And, as Boras bullet-pointed, according to Peter Gammons: Texas had a .780 win percentage when scoring first last year.  Not sure how that compares with league average, but it’s cool to think about.)

Merry Christmas, Adrian Beltre.

While we’re talking about Choo and Andrus and Fielder and Beltre:

Merry Christmas, Scott Boras.

Think back to July 31, 2007, when the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira.  The idea that the Ranger offense, six years later, would be anchored by four Boras clients at the top, playing under contracts worth $558 million, sort of blows the mind.

(And you can bet Boras is not done trying to convince Texas that his client Kendrys Morales would fit nicely at DH — at number five in the order.)

Among National League hitters, only Jayson Werth (4.24) saw more pitches per plate appearance in 2013 than Choo (4.23).  He was eighth in that category overall, but none of the seven hitters ahead of him (Napoli, Adam Dunn, Carlos Santana, Mauer, Werth, Jose Bautista, or Brett Gardner) was particularly close to Choo’s 263 total bases.

Three Rangers have ever had a season seeing more pitches per trip than Choo saw last year: Jose Canseco in 1994 (4.45), Mickey Tettleton in 1996 (4.38), and Tettleton in 1995 (4.34).  Choo’s career mark of 4.03 trails Rusty Greer’s 4.03, the best lifetime number for a Ranger, by milli-fractions.

Here’s a sickening set of numbers: After pitchers got to two strikes on Choo in 2013, his on-base percentage was .348.  After two strikes.

Choo (.348) reached base with greater frequency after two strikes than Kinsler (.344) did all year long.

In fact, the only Rangers hitter who reached base more frequently in 2013, regardless of count, than Choo did with two strikes was Beltre (.371).

Choo drew 112 walks in 2013, more than any Ranger other than Harrah (113 in 1985) ever has.  In fact, the most a Rangers hitter has walked in a season since Rafael Palmeiro’s 104 free passes in 2002 was Kinsler’s 89 in 2011.

The walks, plus the unusual tendency (at least in 2013) to get drilled, fueled a crazy park-adjusted Choo OPS (OPS+) of 143 — which was still only the third-highest OPS+ season of his career.  In fact, Choo’s OPS+ over his nine-year career is 134.  Kinsler has had only one season at that same level.

And here’s another Choo/Kinsler note, which if nothing else may have some aesthetic value: According to FanGraphs, Choo has popped up on the infield six times in the last three seasons combined (compare that with 249 line drives).  That includes one pop-up in 2013.

Kinsler?  Over the last three years, 90 infield pop-ups.

(Granted, Choo will strike out a lot more than Kinsler, and an out’s an out.  But there you go.)

The idea of adding Choo’s elite approach to the lineup goes well beyond his impact at leadoff (if that’s where he hits).  The thought that the plate discipline and the tough, grinding at-bats that he and Fielder bring might rub off on Andrus and Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin — for years . . . .

Oh, man, that fires me up.

Especially when I think about the late innings, if things do start to really come together for the two younger players, and opposing bullpens are faced with the task of seeing Profar and then Martin and then Choo and then Andrus, before getting to the big bats.

Choo is such a good fit here, at least for now.

Another Swydan comment to close out this section, if you don’t mind: “FanGraphs has Choo as having been worth more than $20 million in three of the past five seasons, and those estimates may be conservative.  Having so many big contracts on the books for so long isn’t great, but if there is one skill I’m willing to bet on experiencing a slower decline, it’s OBP, and Choo and Fielder have that in spades.”

Such a good fit.

*          *          *          *

If you wish Choo were better against lefties, you’d just be wishing he were better, and everyone wants every player on their team to be better.  Choo is what he is, and he’s good, and he happens to just pile up his biggest offensive contributions when there are righties on the mound.  Righties throw a lot more innings than lefties do.

— Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs

Here’s a fascinating note from Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info: On June 24, 2011, the Indians fell to the Giants, 4-3, a game in which San Francisco starter Jonathan Sanchez wasn’t very sharp.  The lefthander held Cleveland to just two hits over 4.2 innings, but he walked six batters and drilled another, Indians number five hitter Shin-Soo Choo, with a 2-1 fastball up and in.  It broke Choo’s thumb, and cost him seven weeks.

From 2008 (Choo’s first relatively full season in the big leagues) through that trip to the plate against Sanchez, according to Havens, Choo hit .266/.346/.383 against left-handed pitching.

Since then, he’s a .217/.337/.296 hitter against southpaws.

Meanwhile, his overall numbers, against all pitching (.293/.388/.477 before, .286/.399/.457 since), haven’t changed all that much, indicating that he’s gotten significantly better against right-handed pitchers, to counterbalance the dip against lefties.

But he still finds a way to reach base with lefthanders on the mound.  In 2011 (the year that was interrupted by the Sanchez plunking), Choo hit .269 against lefties and reached base at a .336 clip.  Last year, he hit only .215 against same-siding pitching — but had a .347 OBP.

Yes: Choo’s brutal showing against lefthanders in 2013 nonetheless included a higher on-base percentage (.347) than Kinsler put up against all pitching (.344).

That’s not to overlook that Choo is a much different hitter against lefties.  Still, quick question: Who are C.J. Wilson, Scott Kazmir, James Paxton, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, Dallas Keuchel, and Brett Oberholtzer?

Those are all the lefthanders projected at this point to pitch in the 20 AL West rotations slots outside of Arlington.

Think on that a bit.

As Sullivan puts it, “Choo’s going to help the Rangers score a lot more runs, and for every big plate appearance he gets against a lefty, there’ll be two or three he gets against righties.  He’s really very good, against righties.”

Keri notes that, sabermetrically, only Chris Davis and David Ortiz were better against righthanders in 2013.  Expand the inquiry to 2009 through 2013, and only Votto, Cabrera, and Fielder have been better than Choo.

The Cubs signed Jonathan Sanchez to a minor league contract last week.  They apparently plan to look at him as a reliever.  The only time the Rangers are set to face the Cubs in 2014 is in a split-squad exhibition game on Tuesday night, March 18, in Surprise.  Maybe Choo will travel to Maryvale for that afternoon’s game against the Brewers instead.

*          *          *          *

[H]ere’s the guarantee the Rangers are getting, and it’s one they’ve no doubt researched in recent weeks: Nobody will outwork Shin-Soo Choo.  Nobody will out-hustle Shin-Soo Choo.  Nobody will approach the goal of winning a World Series more passionately, more genuinely.

— Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com

Nobody ever questioned Adrian Beltre’s or Mike Napoli’s or Joe Nathan’s motor, but none of them had won a ring or had much of any post-season success at all, and that story line came up when Texas acquired each of them.  The hungry Rangers like hungry players.

— Newberg Report, August 10, 2013

That last quote was part of my writeup after the trade for Alex Rios.  The hypothesis was that Rios, who was dogged by a reputation of not playing hard in Chicago, but whose career year came in the one season his team was in contention, might thrive in the pennant race Texas was thrusting him into.

Choo has had one big league playoff game in his nine seasons.  That was three months ago, when his Reds lost to the Pirates.

(Incidentally, not to cross-pollinate, but in that game he homered off lefty reliever Tony Watson, who has surrendered only four home runs to left-handed hitters in his three big league seasons, spanning 288 plate appearances.)

Castrovince was on the Indians beat from 2006 through 2010, all of which were Choo seasons in Cleveland.  His assessment of Choo, and the homework the Rangers undoubtedly did on the player, are good enough for me.

And for those of you brandishing the fact that the 31-year-old Choo has never made an All-Star Team, I offer this in response:

Beltre, in the 13 big league seasons he’d played before signing with Texas, had been an All-Star only once.  In the age 31 season he’d just completed with Boston.

*          *          *          *

Jon Daniels has put a lineup together that is good enough to go all the way.

— Jim Bowden, ESPN/XM

Oh, and great signing. Exactly what Rangers needed.

— Joe Sheehan, The Joe Sheehan Newsletter

While they’re not really the same, the Choo and Fielder acquisitions remind me a bit of that week in 1988 that was one of my favorite in Rangers history — that three-day stretch when Tom Grieve traded for Palmeiro and traded for Julio Franco and signed Nolan Ryan.  The Palmeiro and Franco adds were a huge step toward revamping an all-or-nothing Texas offense, and maybe we’re about to see a similar facelift with Choo and Fielder.

Choo and Fielder and Matt Harrison, added to a club that won 90 games for a fourth straight season.  Choice and Arencibia and Lewis added on the fringes.  Profar replacing Kinsler, which for now will probably be a bit of a downgrade — but maybe not.

And not so much as a dent in the prospect war chest.

Four lefties in the lineup (Choo, Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Martin), four righties (Andrus, Beltre, Rios, the catcher), one switch-hitter (Profar).

The Rangers could have spent more on Ellsbury than they did on Choo.  But I’ll take Choo’s durability and base-reaching and arm.

They could have signed Cruz instead of Choo.  I’ll take the better baseball player, and the younger one.

They could have traded for Matt Kemp or Bautista or Santana or Gardner.  I’ll keep the prospects.

With Choo, you can be more patient with Choice, and with Nick Williams.  You have less urgency, and more flexibility, when it comes to what to do about Rios’s $13.5 million option for 2015.  You have the added dimension of plugging Profar and Martin in at the bottom of the lineup, if you’d like, and that could be huge.

I’m not suggesting the Rangers will be able to use (or interested in using) cash to wallpaper their mistakes (also known in Yankees lexicon as “Whitsoning,” or “Tartabulling”).  There are going to be concerns that Texas is committing too much money to Choo, and too many years.

But the landscape in baseball is changing, and given how many clubs are coming into far more money than they used to operate with, we’re at a point in the game where the carefully measured overpay is part of the arsenal.  Texas always has a Plan B and a Plan C, but as we saw last winter, sometimes those fallbacks fit the fiscal restraint model yet don’t amount to enough baseball games won.

In hindsight, I’m eventually going to be OK as a Rangers fan with 2012 and 2013 in the large scheme of things, because four straight years of 90 wins and of 162+ is not something to be taken for granted, given how hard it is to win in this sport.

But that’s not to say there’s not that ache — that relentless itch — to get back to that final doorstep this team was on in 2010 and especially 2011, and to blow the door down this time.  We’re all as hungry as Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre and JD and Ray and Bob to get there, and with the window still very much open, and this franchise well positioned to keep it that way for most if not all of these next seven years, I’m having a difficult time losing any sleep over the fact that a winning baseball player like Choo is going to be around to help his team grind things out and walk right through that door behind which the biggest flag rests.

History.

I know exactly where I was when Eric Nadel called his first Texas Rangers game.

I was by a radio.

I was 10 years old, but this isn’t recollection by convenience.  It’s not 333,439 claiming they were among the 33,439 in attendance at Nolan’s seventh no-hitter.  I’ve got proof.

Nadel first game -- scorebook -- smaller copy

I kept a scorebook that Saturday afternoon.

Because, yes, even at age 10, I knew how to party.

In comparing the actual box score from April 7, 1979 to my own book, it looks like I didn’t yet grasp that walks and hit-by-pitches and sacrifice flies and bunts didn’t count as at-bats, and that I gave the great Johnny Grubb a triple rather than an E-8 on his fifth-inning shot to center before giving Grubb my own Player of the Game nod (and questionable portrait), and that I wasn’t yet the pitching-first baseball fan that I am today, because there’s really no way Grubb should have been singled out ahead of Fergie Jenkins.

But what I do know about that Opening Day contest — which according to the schedule was delayed two days, presumably by weather, resulting in a one-game series in Detroit before Texas would open at home against Cleveland three days later — is that the game was brought to me in part by the new guy Nadel, either with the radio on and the TV muted, or possibly (in those days) by radio alone.

For nearly 35 years, Eric Nadel has (along with Chuck Morgan) been for me the voice of baseball, and one of my most valued teachers.  The “Hello, everybody” and “So long, everybody” salutes that punctuate every broadcast, the can’t-miss pre game manager’s shows, the daily description (in exquisite detail) of the opponents’ uniform piping, the vocabulary that changes a little each year based on whose old-school tapes he listened to for hours over the previous winter, the huge moments during which you could hear Eric coming out of his chair, the obvious preparation and professionalism and absolute precision, the perfect balance of baseball wisdom and comfortable, energetic conversation that makes every baseball game a seminar and a sanctuary . . . all of it is Rangers baseball to so many of us.

Eric Nadel and Brad Sham, more than anyone, have consistently elevated the sports that they describe, and have made me the sports fan (and the mute-the-TV guy) that I am.

Eric’s a friend.  To all of us.  He’s made baseball better, every day, for basically my entire life.

The Ford C. Frick Award that Eric won last week is presented, annually, to one broadcaster for making “major contributions to baseball.”

Every day, man.

I think Eric used to call innings 4, 5, and 6 back in the early days, and if so it was his description on April 7, 1979 that took a 2-1 Texas lead to a 5-2 margin in my scorebook, a three-run edge that Jenkins would easily preserve, giving Texas its first of what would be six straight wins to start that season.

I don’t remember whether Eric told us that (the future Tiger) Grubb’s first-inning blast off (future Ranger) Dave Rozema was “history,” but I know that it’s pretty cool that in his first big league baseball game at the microphone, he got to narrate, for a local fan base that included at least one 10-year-old with a scorebook in hand, a complete-game victory fired by a future Hall of Famer.

There have been thousands more Texas Rangers games that Eric has called since that day, thousands of ballcap lids and sleeve lengths to illustrate verbally, countless instances of the words “whistled” and “replete” and “vomitory” and “American League Champions,” and, as of a week ago this morning, one more Hall of Famer who worked that April 7, 1979 game.

Congratulations, Eric.  There’s a smile in my voice as I type this, and I just might be coming out of my own chair.

Thanks.

We packed the Twilite Lounge last night with more people than the fire marshal probably would have OK’d, and up above the bar, while we talked Rangers baseball for more than two hours, there was an NFL game on mute.  Which seemed appropriate.

Thanks to Agustin Gonzalez and Jamie Kelly of Paranoid Fan for putting on the event, Ben Rogers for doing Ben Rogers things, Danny Balis for opening his place up for us, Grubes and TepidP and the folks from Shutdown Inning for classing up the joint, and all of you who came out (not the least of which are those of you who allowed me to come home with one fewer box of World Series Bound Editions than I arrived with — my wife thanks you).  (I can ship more 2011 books [2010 World Series season] and 2012 books [2011 World Series season] immediately if any of you need holiday gifts.)

The Rangers are hosting the 2013 Cowboy Santas Toy Drive Finale today at the Ballpark from 4:30-7:30.  You can bring new, unwrapped toys and books (appropriate for newborns through age 12), and your kids can play in the KidsZone and bounce between the face painting, balloon artist, and photo booth stations (with a special appearance by Santa Claus).  The Rangers will have holiday movies showing on a video screen in the center field Vandergriff Plaza area, and Sportservice will provide food and drink specials.

These current and former Rangers players, coaches, and media will sign autographs at the event as well:

4:30-5:30:  Ron Washington, Bobby Jones, Benji Gil, Jose Guzman, Jim Sundberg, Todd Van Poppel, Emily Jones

5:30-6:30:  Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Steve Buechele, Rusty Greer, Tom Grieve, Dave Hostetler, Kevin Mench, Matt Hicks

6:30-7:30:  Tanner Scheppers, Shawn Tolleson, Tim Crabtree, Larry Hardy, Mark McLemore, Pete O’Brien, Steve Busby

Thanks again to everyone who helped make last night a really good night of mid-December baseball.

Twilight, and Twilite.

The intended theme of my season-ending Rangers report, following a second straight year that didn’t go past 163, was that if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.  That what we should expect (insist on?) from the pro sports teams that we invest our time and money and emotional well-being in is that they’re committed, in whatever ways they’re financially capable, to being the best they can be at every position, on the field and on the sidelines and in scouting and in player development and in the front office.

After years of ignoring my own message when it comes to my football team, I’ve finally had it.  I spilled my raw thoughts and emotions on Twitter and on Facebook last night and I’m not going to litter this space with them, as much as I have the urge to talk about fiduciary duty and return on investment and (hat tip: Troy Villarreal) delusions of adequacy.  You’re (presumably) a Texas Rangers fan, and that’s a far more healthy place to be.

A commitment to being the best they can be is not a string of empty words at 1000 Ballpark Way.  It’s a set example, a measure against which I’m finding it much easier this morning, after sleeping on it, to walk away from the football team down the street, until they demonstrate something 180 degrees different and begin to disinfect, which I expect to be never, not that you should care about the state of my football allegiance.

As if scheduled with purpose, a day after that football mess and a mere two months from Pitchers & Catchers, the folks at Paranoid Fan have lined up a big baseball-fest for tonight, and I wish it started in about 10 minutes.

Ben Rogers of 105.3 The Fan and I will be at the Twilite Lounge (2640 Elm Street in Deep Ellum) to talk Rangers baseball starting at 7:00.  (You can show up from noon to 3 when Bob & Dan air their midday show on The Ticket live from the Lounge, though prepare for a Cowboys segment or nine during their three-hour slot.)  I don’t know if Grubes will show up for Bob & Dan’s show (after their bitter, messy split a couple years ago), but he’ll be there tonight.  More details here.

The bar will be open and the pizza will be free.  Ben and I will do a little Q&A and then we’ll open it up to the floor.  The folks from Shutdown Inning will be on hand to sell their Rangers book, and I will have Newberg Report Bound Editions from the 2010 World Series season (2011 book) and the 2011 World Series season (2012 book) available for $20 each as well.

These:

2011f     2012f-1 copy

 

 

 

 

 

Wouldn’t a pair of 360-page books about your favorite baseball team, reliving the two greatest seasons the franchise has had in raw and emotional day-to-day detail, with lots of cool pictures and lots of prospect rankings and commentary, and forewords by Chuck Greenberg and Brad Sham (2011) and Thad Levine and Ben & Skin (2012), make pretty useful holiday gifts for those on your list of people to get holiday gifts for?  (You can order them in advance here, as a few have already done, and I’ll have them set aside for you tonight.  But you can also purchase the books at the event.)

I’ll sign them if you’d like.  I bet Ben will, too.

I bet Brad would, too, once the football season is over.

Which, by the way . . .

Never mind.

See you tonight.

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