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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Ask BA on the Rangers 

The latest Ask BA has two of its four questions relating to Rangers topics -- first, a query about why Baseball America ranked the Rangers where they did in the organizational rankings, and second, a comparison of Juan Samuel and Alfonso Soriano.

I always thought Samuel was a pretty good comp for Soriano, although Soriano has been a better player. I liked Samuel when I was growing up, and was absolutely mystified about why he fell of the map when he did. Another similar player -- Latin American second baseman with some pop and little fielding ability -- is Carlos Baerga, who crashed and burn young, as well, although he's revived his career as a utility player as of late.



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Rangers scouting Kazmir 

The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that the Rangers had a scout at Port St. Lucie, Florida, yesterday, to watch Scott Kazmir throw batting practice.

The paper speculates that the Rangers interest would be in connection with a much-rumored Soriano to the Mets trade.

The Rangers passed on Kazmir in the 2002 draft, although he has now established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. The general feeling seems to be that any Soriano trade to the Mets would have to involve either Kazmir or stud shortstop prospect Jose Reyes for the Rangers to be terribly interested.

My question would be, if the Rangers were to deal Soriano for Kazmir, whether the Rangers would then seek to use the high-touted lefty as a chip in a trade for an established player, particularly a pitcher, or if they would be acquiring him with the idea of keeping him in the system.


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Be A Scout (Without Leaving the Comfort of Your Home) 

One of the regular contributors to Baseball Primer is asking folks to grade the defensive abilities of players they watch regularly.

In the words of the author: "For any player that you've seen play in at least 20 games over the last 2 years, I want you to judge his performance in 7 specific fielding categories."

Should be an interesting study, and anyone who has watched the games and has thoughts on the matter should go on over there and participate for those players you are familiar enough with to feel comfortable grading.

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Buck Showalter is evil 

In Friday's DMN, we get a glimpse of Buck's lineup plans.

Once again, my worst fears are confirmed.

What do we have in store for us this year?

Apparently, a left field platoon of Kevin Mench and the utterly useless David Dellucci. Brilliant idea, Buck...we have a rebuilding team, with a young outfielder who the club needs to make a decision on. So what do we do? Sit him 70% of the time so that a veteran benchwarmer who has never been any good can get playing time. And why does he deserve playing time? Because he's one of "Buck's guys".

Along the same lines, Nix is apparently going to be benched against lefties, and Hank Blalock may not get much more time against lefties than he did last season. I guess Hank's self-esteem is much too fragile to bear up against the possibility of struggling against a lefty...hell, he was only the guy who hit the game winning homer in the All-Star Game last year, and the new recipient of a 5 year, $15 million contract. Much better to let him cool his heels against lefties and let Herb Perry play, instead...after all, he's the type of lousy, scrappy vet that Buck seems to love.

And best of all, it sounds like we can look forward to lots of games with The Two Youngs at the top of the lineup. Apparently, Buck is an adherent of the "Who needs OBP when you have speed?" school of thought.

The sooner Buck Showalter gets canned, the better. But let's not forget...he's probably not going anywhere for a while. After all, ARod was shipped out, in no small part, because Buck wanted him gone.

What a miserable time to be a Ranger fan...

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More shocking news... 

Juan Gonzalez is showing up late to spring training with the Royals.

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Yankees release Aaron Boone 

More fallout from the ARod trade, as the Yanks release Aaron Boone.

This is a situation where they were saved from their own stupidity anyway...Aaron Boone isn't very good, and was vastly overpaid. Now, because Boone was playing basketball and tore up his knee, they get to send him on his way and only pay him 30 days worth of his salary, thus saving almost $5 million...

I imagine we'll see Boone and the player's union challenge his release, and seek arbitration on the issue.

Still, this begs the question...why in the world did the Yankees give up Brandon Claussen, their best pitching prospect, in order to get Aaron Boone, when they already had Robin Ventura (who is just as good as Boone)?




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Cubs about to lock up Kerry Wood 

Reports out of Arizona indicate that the Chicago Cubs and Kerry Wood are close to completing a multiyear deal.

Wood is available for free agency after the 2004 season, and there was some speculation that he would be high on the Rangers' list of free agent targets, particularly since he went to high school in the Metroplex. However, his family has since moved away, and Wood appears to have few ties to the area left.

Which is just as well...Kerry Wood is one of those players who has an ace reputation without putting up ace numbers. He throws a ton of pitches, has had arm problems in the past, and has been ridden hard by Dusty Baker...I don't see him aging well...

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Ismael Valdes now Ismael Valdez 

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that former Ranger Ismael Valdes is now to be known as Ismael Valdez.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The fawning begins... 

Right on cue, Kevin Sherrington pens a love letter to Mike Young for the noble sacrifice of agreeing to play the position that he should be playing anyway.


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Young volunteers to play short 

Mike Young went to Buck Showalter today and volunteered to move to shortstop.

Prepare for a barrage of articles from the DFW media railing on management for not signing such a great, unselfish team player to a long-term deal.

Like the little blurb at the end of Fraley's latest pap.

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Rafael Soriano out for a month 

Seattle's terrific young pitcher Rafael Soriano, the other Soriano in the AL West right now, is going to be out for a month with a strained oblique muscle.

That timetable could have him back by the start of the season, but it seems more likely that he'll start the season on the D.L., given that he'll have missed most of spring training.

That means that there's a chance the Rangers won't see him in their two April series against the Mariners...which, considering that Soriano was one of the Mariners' best pitchers last year (even though he's being wasted in a middle relief role), isn't a bad thing if we are hoping to see the Rangers avoid stumbling out of the blocks yet again...

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Monday, February 23, 2004

Baseball America Rangers Chat 

Baseball America Rangers' Chat is now up.

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More on Galloway and Young 

A few follow up comments on Randy Galloway's column where he took the Rangers to task for considering trading Mike Young, and for not locking him up long-term.

Galloway, incorrectly, called Young one of the best all-around players in the game. This is simply not true, and I'm not sure how any reasonable person could make that claim with a straight face. Take a look at Young's performance over his almost three year major league career, and what the statistics show is a mediocre offensive player. Young's EQA the last three years has been .242, .239, and .270, with a career mark of .252; considering that the average for all major leaguers is a .260 EQA, that's not impressive. Young's OBP and slugging percentage, meanwhile, have been .298/.402, .308/.382, and .339/.446 over the last three years -- again, not that great, particularly for a player who plays half his games in the hitter's paradise known (at least for now) as TBIA.

Young is, no question, a terrific defensive second baseman, and will probably be a terrific defensive shortstop this year, once he adjusts to the switch. And let's not forget, it isn't as if this is a foreign position for Young...he came up through the minors as a shortstop, and only switched positions because of the presence of Alex Rodriguez.

Nevertheless, Young is essentially a slick fielding middle infielder with a decent bat. And given that, prior to 2003, calling his bat "decent" was probably overly generous, it is hard to find fault with the Rangers' decision not to offer him a long-term deal, as they did with Hank Blalock.

Young's cheerleaders (and in the DFW media, they are legion) will point to Young's 2003 season as evidence that he's improving, that he's going to take another step forward this year and improve even more. The problem with that assumption, though, is that Young's improvement in 2003 was almost entirely driven by an increase in batting average -- his walk rate actually declined from previous years, and his isolated power was no different. While increases in offensive production that are driven by boosts in power or plate discipline (particularly with young players) are often harbingers of things to come, offensive production increases that are batting average driven are far less likely to carry over from year to year.

Thus, it would seem more likely than not that Young will regress a bit offensively this year, or at least stagnate. And if Young doesn't improve offensively, or worse yet, if he goes backwards, what you have is a slick fielding middle infielder who is valuable so long as you can pay him the major league minimum, or at least no more than about $2 million per year. Once his price jumps above that level (and it likely will in arbitration, after the 2005 season), he is a liability, not an asset.

Which is why the Rangers are wise to pass on offering Young a multi-year contract. To buy out his 2006 and 2007 seasons, the Rangers would likely have to offer at least $3 million and $5 million, respectively, and the odds are extremely slim that Young is going to be productive enough offensively to justify that cost. It makes more sense to ride it out on a year to year basis, allow the team the option to non-tender Young once he gets to the point where the arbitration process would pay him more than he could get on the open market.

As for Galloway's ranting about the possibility of the Rangers trading Young, well, I think they need to keep their options open. I think Young is non-tendered after 2005 regardless of whether he is here or elsewhere, so while I don't think it makes sense for them to be actively shopping him, if the right offer comes along where a team is willing to give up good young talent to the Rangers in order to land Mike Young, the Rangers absolutely need to consider the deal.


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Baseball America's Ranger prospect chat today 

At 1 p.m. CST, Baseball America will be hosting a chat session where Alan Simpson, who handled the prospect rankings for the Rangers, will be answering questions.


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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Randy Galloway gets way too excited 

No other way to explain his assertion that Mike Young is one of the best all-around players in baseball.

Oh, and he shouldn't be moved to shortstop, even though he'd be much more valuable as a shortstop than as a second baseman.

Mike Young still can't hit, which is one of the basic attributes that someone would seem to need in order to be one of the "best all-around players in baseball".


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Way to go, Buck, you jackass 

Lest a gritty veteran get the wrong idea, Buck Showalter has now made it clear that the Rangers starting catching job is not up for grabs, that Einar Diaz, and not Gerald Laird, will be the starter.

Let's see...we have a position where the Rangers were so weak coming into last season that John Hart made a disastrous trade, giving up Travis Hafner for the overpriced, mediocre at best Einar Diaz.

Einar Diaz was awful last year, and Gerald Laird had a pretty decent year at AAA behind the plate, and garnered generally positive reviews for his performance in September.

Diaz is making $2.5 million this year, and won't be back after the season; meanwhile, the Rangers need to decide whether Laird is their future.

So what does Buck do? Make it clear to the young player that, no matter how hard he worked this offseason (and by all accounts, Laird worked his tail off to get ready for spring training), and no matter how well Laird performs in the spring, he doesn't have a chance at the job.

How is this in any way productive? How does this help the team? Why would Buck feel the need to come out and make this declaration? Is he afraid Einar Diaz, who has no future with this club, might get his feelings bruised otherwise?


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Top 50 prospect list 

Jamey Newberg's report today offers his Top 50 Rangers prospect list.

My initial thoughts...Snare, Laird, and (especially) Echols and Will Smith are too low, while Hudgins, Wishy, Gold, Hughes and Jason Jones are too high.

But a very comprehensive list, from the person who probably knows more about the Rangers farm than anyone not on the Ranger payroll...


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Saturday, February 21, 2004

The Nolan Ryan Curse... 

Oh, good...Juan Dominguez has gotten fat...

That's not a good sign. More important, of course, is whether he'll develop a breaking ball, which will likely spell the difference between his future being in the pen or in the rotation.

On another note, Ben Kozlowski is not supposed to be ready until May, which would put him on a normal schedule for return from T-J surgery...

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Friday, February 20, 2004

On Blalock and Rogers 

Nice little puff piece on Hank Blalock's desire to make sure he can take care of his family, and the fact that he went against his agent's advice in signing the contract offer from the Rangers.

Kenny Rogers, meanwhile, is mad that the Rangers traded ARod.

I'm glad that at least one person in the organization is upset about it...

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Why I hate John Hart and Tom Hicks 

Because of things like this:

"GM John Hart and club owner Tom Hicks said the signing [of Blalock], which is contingent on Blalock passing a physical, is an example of what the team can do with the money freed up by shedding Alex Rodriguez's contract."

You have got to be kidding me.

You mean that Tom Hicks really thought that the Rangers couldn't afford to pay Blalock $7 million in 2008 unless they dumped Alex Rodriguez?

They are paying the Yankees MORE every year between now and 2008 (the last year of the Blalock deal) than they will be paying Blalock.

And yet these fools really want us to believe that, somehow, locking up Blalock through his arbitration years is something that wasn't feasible unless they dumped ARod?

These two are insulting my intelligence, and are insulting the intelligence of every fan, by making such claims.


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Sickels Chat at Baseball Prospectus 

Baseball Prospectus is hosting a chat with John Sickels on Thursday.

Sickels is a prospect guru who writes for espn.com. Very knowledgeable. If you have any questions for him, go submit them now...

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Josh Hamilton Suspended For Drug Policy Violations 

Baseball America is reporting that Devils Ray prospect Josh Hamilton has been suspended for violating major league baseball's drug policies.

I'm having a hard time remembering the last time someone was suspended for drugs in major league baseball...which would seem to indicate how serious Hamilton's problems are.

Hamilton was the first pick in the 1999 draft, selected ahead of Spring, Texas pitching phenom (and current Marlin stud) Josh Beckett. Thought to be a future superstar, Hamilton's career has been de-railed because of injuries and numerous "off-the-field" problems that were never (until now) identified, but were rumored to be substance related.

Hopefully, Hamilton can get his career, and his life, back on track.

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Soriano older than previously thought 

It turns out that Alfonso Soriano is 28, not 26.

So the Rangers aren't even really getting any younger in this deal.

But at least Tom Hicks thinks he's saving money. That should make us all happy.

To borrow a line from the folks at USSMariner, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Tom Hicks burned down The Ballpark in Arlington to try to collect the insurance money.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Blalock signs 5 year deal 

In non-ARod news, the Rangers announced that they've signed Hank Blalock to a 5 year deal. Supposedly, it is for a total of around $15 million.

This is a very nice move, but in the wake of the kick in the groin which is the ARod trade, I'm not real fired up about praising the Rangers too much for it.


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Monday, February 16, 2004

Baseball Prospectus - Prospectus Roundtable: The Rodriguez-for-Soriano Deal 

Baseball Prospectus rips Tom Hicks a new one.

I agree with their analysis.

What a horrible, horrible trade for Texas.


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Henn the PTBNL in ARod deal 

The New York Post is reporting that Sean Henn will be the PTBNL in the ARod trade.

Henn is a nice prospect...a guy who can bring it, but who has been slow to return from Tommy John surgery.

This is still an awful trade, though.


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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Rangers paying $43 million of ARod's salary 

$3 million in 2004, $6 million each in 2005, 2006 and 2010, $7 million apiece in 2007 and 2009 and $8 million in 2008.

It just keeps getting worse and worse.

I'm disgusted with Hicks, Hart and Showalter right now.


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The Oracle weighs in 

BP's Transaction Oracle correctly pans the deal.

Geez, what a horrible trade.

What a bad time to be a Ranger fan.


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ARod traded 

The Rangers are apparently going to be eating something like $40 million over the last 7 years of his contract, plus all his deferred money.

In exchange for Alfonso Soriano and a minor leaguer.

I feel sick.


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Saturday, February 14, 2004

The hypocrisy of Tom Hicks 

Apparently, the Rangers aren't just going to ship ARod to New York, but they are going to pay $7 million per year for the privilege.

So all that warm and fuzzy talk that Hicks and the Rangers brass was giving us the past few weeks, about how the Rangers were going to build around ARod on wanted him here long-term, was just b.s. Which is what really pisses me off about this whole ordeal.

This entire offseason has been a fiasco. And for Hicks and Co. to turn around and take a huge financial hit, in order to foist ARod onto another team, simply gives the organization another black eye, and gives more credence to the belief that Hicks is just trying to strip the team in order to turn around and sell it in the near future.

At this point, I hope he does. Paying the Yankees anything to take Alex Rodriguez is a betrayal of the fans by this organization, and displays a cynicism by the organization -- they apparently don't care that they've been exposed as frauds, by dumping ARod right after claiming they were going to build the team around him. They apparently figure that those of us who have stuck around are suckers, who don't give a damn about how the team is run.


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Newsday.com - A-Rod Bronx Bound 

New York Newsday is claiming that the Rangers and Yankees have agreed to a trade of ARod.

The deal would involve Alfonso Soriano and a minor leaguer going to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez.

I'm hoping that this isn't true...

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The AL West preview -- the infield 

Continuing with our preview series...we have Anaheim's infield preview here, Seattle's here, and Oakland's here...

In my preview of their 2004 outfield, I described the Rangers as an organization in flux, epitomized by the outfield, which has been almost completely overhauled since the beginning of 2003. The infield, on the other hand, reflects the exact opposite situation – the 2004 Rangers are returning their four regulars from the 2003 infield, which represent the core that they are seeking to rebuild around. And while there are areas which are major question marks for the Rangers coming into this season, Mark Teixeira, Mike Young, Alex Rodriguez, and Hank Blalock give the Rangers four terrific young players that offer hope for the future for Rangers fans.

First Base

At the beginning of last season, Hank Blalock was playing third base, Rafael Palmeiro was playing first base, and Mark Teixeira was seeing time spelling each of them at both corners, while also playing some DH and some outfield. A third baseman in the minors, Teixeira only began playing first base during spring training of 2003, and was behind a player in Palmeiro who had multiple gold gloves and no desire to switch to a designated hitter role. However, by summer time, Teixeira had supplanted Palmeiro at first, and was earning rave reviews for his defense at first base.

While Teixeira came up as a third baseman, his defensive abilities there were always a bit suspect, and there was some speculation that, like Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and other young power-hitting third basemen, he would end up shifting to first base. With Blalock in place, the decision to move Teixeira became much easier (although there were some discussions about moving Blalock to second). Teixeira struggled a little bit at first at first, but his athleticism ultimately translated to the new position, and he impressed Buck Showalter with his quick reactions and ability to dig out low throws while manning first base. Given Teixeira’s work ethic and ability, one can expect him to continue to improve defensively at first base, and he could end up as a gold glove candidate at the position, should he stay at first base long-term.

Offensively, Teixeira got off to a remarkably slow start, one reminiscent of Hank Blalock’s terrible April in 2002 that got him sent back to Oklahoma. His playing time, particularly early in the season, was erratic, and there were some suggestions that Teixeira was going to end up following in Blalock’s footsteps and get sent down to AAA – Ruben Sierra, when he was traded to the Yankees, claimed that Buck Showalter told him that he had to bench him because the front office said Teixeira had to either play regularly or get sent down. However, Teixeira heated up in May, and ended up posting several consecutive months of 800+ OPSs, before slumping late in the season.

As the fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft (who was considered the second best prospect in the draft, behind Cubs ace Mark Prior), Teixeira has been under the microscope since coming to the Rangers, and was widely regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball coming into the 2003 season. A switch hitter with a good batting eye and the fabled “light tower power”, he posted an 811 OPS last year, and it would be a major disappointment if he failed to improve on that mark in 2004. The Rangers are hoping to see his plate discipline return in the coming season…although Teixeira had high walk rates throughout his collegiate and minor league career, he walked just 44 times in 2003.

Although Teixeira could end up moving to a corner outfield spot if stud first base prospect Adrian Gonzalez steps up this year at AAA, he seems likely to start at least 150 games at first for the Rangers in 2004. He’s a popular candidate for a breakout year, and an OBP in the .360-.380 range, with a slugging percentage somewhere between .500-.550, would seem to be realistic goals for him.

Thus, overall, an improvement offensively and defensively at first base seems to be a reasonable expectation.

Second Base

Coming into the 2003 season, the future of Mike Young with the Rangers seemed to be up in the air. Rumors swirled that G.M. John Hart, after showing interest in Bret Boone after the 2001 season, made a push at bringing in free agent Eric Young to take over at second base following the 2002 season, and Hank Blalock took grounders at second base in the spring, with an eye towards possibly moving him there to make room for Teixeira at third. Young seemed like a likely candidate to be moved in the Rangers’ never-ending quest for starting pitching. Young stuck it out, though, and ended up pairing his sterling defense with an improved batting average, marking 2003 as his best season thusfar.

Defensively, there have never been any questions about Young at second base. He came up in the minors as a shortstop, moving to second because of the presence of a certain perennial all-star. He has good range, and his strong arm allows him to turn the pivot on the double play as well as any second baseman in baseball. Young should continue to provide gold glove caliber defense at second base for at least the next half-decade.

Offensively, there are more question marks. The criticism about Mike Young, coming into the 2003 season, was in regards to his lack of production, with an OBP barely above .300 and a sub-.400 slugging percentage after two major league seasons. The problem was compounded by Jerry Narron’s old-school lineup construction, which followed the 1970s-era conventional wisdom of hitting your speedy middle infielder in the leadoff spot, nevermind if he can get on base or not. 2003 saw Young’s OBP and slugging both improve, to the point where he was a productive offensively player (for a second baseman, anyway), even if he still wasn’t a good leadoff hitter.

The problem with expecting Young to continue to improve, or even maintain his 2003 production, is that his offensive gains were due almost entirely to a 44 point increase in batting average between 2002 and 2003. Young still has just mediocre power, and his poor walk rate did not improve in 2003. Given that batting average tends to fluctuate more than power or walk totals, it makes it more likely that 2003 was a career year for Young; I think it is more likely that the Rangers will see a drop in production from Young in 2004, with his OPS dropping from the 785 that he posted in 2003 to around 700.

So from second base, while it seems likely that Young will likely regress some offensively, the Rangers should still see top notch performance defensively.

Shortstop

Well, as you may know, there’s a guy named Alex Rodriguez who plays that position for the Rangers. Reigning MVP. Second-best player in baseball. Gold glove defender, potent offensive player, reliable, a leader. A guy who’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and who, fifteen years from now, we’ll be comparing to Honus Wagner while debating whether he’s the best or second best shortstop in baseball history.

What more can I say? He was great in 2001, great in 2002, great in 2003, and he’ll be great again in 2004. He’s the highest paid player in baseball, and worth every penny.

In terms of whether he’s more likely to improve or decline, I think it is a coin flip. ARod was slowed by the neck problem early in the year, but was white-hot late in the year. One would expect him to regress towards the mean, but he’s in the midst of his prime. Honestly, I think he’s just as likely to improve slightly as to drop slightly going into 2004…with ARod, what we saw last year is most likely very similar to what we’ll get this year.

Third Base

Coming into 2003, Hank Blalock had some doubters that he had to win over. After a 2001 season where he tore through the Florida State League and the Texas League like Gerry Fraley through a buffet line, he won the starting third base job in 2002 with the Rangers, only to struggle early, never really get into a groove, and get sent back to Oklahoma, where he ended up missing time to an injury before bouncing back late to put up respectable numbers.

With Mark Teixeira breathing down his neck, there were constant suggestions that Blalock might be moved; even if he wasn’t, another bad start could end up with him being passed by Teixeira, resulting in Rangers fans flashing back to Ruben Mateo and Fernando Tatis as yet another heralded prospect flamed out.

Such worries were unfounded. Blalock started off the season well and ended up being named to the All-Star game, where he etched his name in the public consciousness by smoking an Eric Gagne fastball into the right field bleachers. His first half suggested that the constant George Brett comparisons may not have been too far off, as he posted a .323/.375/.524 line; however, he wore down in the second half, reportedly losing weight as the season went on, and while his power stayed, his average dropped, as he posted a .272/.319/.520 line after the break that was more reminiscent of Tony Batista than George Brett.

Buck Showalter claimed early on that he would rest Hank Blalock against “tough lefties”; little did we know that “tough lefties” would include guys like Mark Hendrickson and Jeroime Robertson. Worse yet was the fact that sitting Blalock meant Donnie Sadler, one of the worst players in baseball, would be getting the start (one of the lowlights of last season was when Showalter claimed he wanted to find more ways to get Sadler into the lineup). Still, given Blalock’s struggles against lefties (much like fellow AL West third bagger Eric Chavez), and his late fade, one may have to give Showalter the benefit of the doubt here.

I expect Blalock’s numbers to stay static in 2004, and possibly exhibit a slight decline, mainly because I expect to see Blalock get more plate appearances against lefties, which will lower his overall rate stats. An OPS in the 850-880 range would seem to be reasonable. Defensively, Blalock was good in 2003, although he had a tendency to rush his throws, which resulted in more throwing errors than one would expect. If Blalock (who just turned 23 this past November) settles down more this year, with more experience in the big leagues under his belt, his error total should drop.

So, offensively, Blalock’s raw numbers may stagnate, but the overall production should increase, as it will be Blalock and Perry playing 3B (with Blalock getting more ABs against lefties than he did last year), than Blalock and Sadler. There may be some drop defensively, due to Perry (a weak defender) getting the innings Sadler did last year, but the overall drop should be minor.

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Newsday chimes in, as well... 

Oh, good.

Newsday claims that the Rangers and ARod are both "desperate" to get Alex out of Texas, and that Alex has a "horrible" relationship with Showalter.

And as I'm typing this, ESPN just had an update saying that the Rangers shot down the proposed deal, but that that doesn't necessarily mean that the trade won't happen.

I'm really sick of this.


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New York Post ARod nonsense 

Now the New York Post is stirring the pot again, with an article about the Yanks wanting to trade for ARod.

Sigh.

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Jack Wilson wins his arbitration case 

Jack Wilson of the Pirates won his arbitration case yesterday, getting $1.85 million from the Pirates, rather than the $1.4 million Pittsburgh offered.

This begs the question, though...with Pokey Reese, Royce Clayton, and the Reys Sanchez and Ordonez bouncing around out there for next to nothing, why would you offer a decent field, no hit guy like Jack Wilson arbitration? What's the point? Even if you win, you lose, since you can get a player just as good as Wilson for less than $1.4 million.

And they are likely going to just non-tender him next season, since he won't be worth the $3 million he'd be likely to get in arbitration after the 2004 season any more than he's worth the $1.85 million he's getting this season.

Another baffling decision from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that decided going into 2003 that they'd rather let Randall Simon play 1B than Craig Wilson...


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On the Nolan Ryan flap 

I was thinking about writing something about the whole media overreaction to Nolan Ryan leaving the Rangers, but Jamey Newberg today said it better than I could have.

Check it out.


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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Baseball Prospectus 2004 

It still hasn't been released yet, which is causing me much angst, although Amazon insists that it will be shipping soon. But if you haven't ordered it yet, or aren't familiar with it, check out this year's edition of Baseball Prospectus, which costs less than $15 and is jam-packed full of good stuff, including stats, projections and analysis on every major leaguer and a ton of minor leaguers.

For a baseball fan, well worth the money.



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More shocking news 

Gerry Fraley is still mad at the Rangers.

I'm at a bit of a loss, though, as to how he expects Nolan Ryan to put the Astros "over the top" this year...does anyone (besides Fraley) really think that the difference between the Astros making noise in the playoffs, and crapping out again, is Nolan Ryan?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

On Scott Heard 

Today's Ask BA covers, among other things, Scott Heard's sudden retirement.

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DePodesta to the Dodgers 

Peter Gammons is reporting that the Dodgers will name Oakland A's assistant G.M. Paul DePodesta as the new Dodger general manager this weekend.

Great opportunity for DePodesta, if true. The wunderkind Moneyball star has been a popular stathead nominee for G.M. positions in the past, and this gives him an opportunity to work with a pretty significant payroll.

And for the Rangers, it helps, as it weakens the A's front office, and sends DePodesta to the other league.


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The folks at QuesTec 

Thanks to Tom Verducci with Sports Illustrated for pointing this little tidbit out...

The folks at QuesTec list, under their "Recent News" heading on their website, various articles about QuesTec. The most recent is 14 months old.

I like the QuesTec system, but something like that doesn't exactly inspire faith in the notion that they are a cutting edge, ahead-of-the-curve company.

Or maybe they just didn't want to have to acknowledge the temper tantrums of Curt Schilling and Tom Glavine.



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Shocking news... 

This is a real shock, I know, but...Gerry Fraley is still mad about Alex Rodriguez being a Ranger.

I know it is a slow time in sports news, but still...is the best he can come up with this nonsense? Stirring the pot about how Alex Rodriguez's actions are a "slap in the face" to Buck Showalter?

Gerry needs to get over it and move on...

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Monday, February 09, 2004

More on the Robb Nen situation 

Not much going on with the Rangers right now, but there is more news on the Robb Nen situation.

Nen is now saying that his shoulder problem was misdiagnosed from the beginning, which is why he had to have three surgeries. Apparently, Nen is back up to throwing 88-89 mph, but the problem with his rotator cuff is such that, if he is able to return (and it sounds like it is still an "if" at this point), he may never get his velocity all the way back to where it was.


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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Baseball America on the Lamb trade 

More details from BA on the trade, and Jose Garcia.

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Lamb traded 

Jamey Newberg is reporting that Mike Lamb has been traded for 22 year old Venezuelan pitcher Jose Garcia of the New York Yankees.

This is a bit surprising, mainly because Garcia looks like he might be a decent prospect. He pitched most of last season with low-A Battle Creek (where he was named to the Midwest League All-Star team), before being promoted to high-A Tampa late in the season.

His stats (and please note, if you use that link, that the Jose Garcia we are talking about is the one who was with the Yankees, not the myriad of other Jose Garcias) reflect a pitcher with pretty decent peripherals, not a lot of strikeouts but a good K/BB ratio, while also doing a relatively good job at keeping the ball in the park.

Whether a player's age is correct or not is often a concern with Latin players, but Garcia is from Venezuela, which has generally not had a problem with "Age-Gate", so Garcia probably really is 22 years old. That's a little older than you'd prefer for a guy at low-A, but nevertheless, he's someone who looks like he's at least a C+-type prospect...comparable to, say, Ben Keiter in the Ranger system.

Not a bad return, all in all, for a player many thought the Rangers would lose on waivers.


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Monday, February 02, 2004

Teixeira makes Rotoworld's underrated list 

In their evaluation of first basemen coming into the 2004 season, Mark Teixeira made Rotoworld's list of underrated players, as they expect him to significantly improve this year.

Of course, bringing up bad memories, they also have Travis Hafner on the list.

But hey, at least we have the joy of paying Einar Diaz $2.5 million this year...

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Oakland DFA's Ramos 

Mario Ramos, who was claimed off of waivers from the Rangers by the Oakland A's earlier this season, has been designated for assignment by the A's to make room for Eric Karros.

The Rangers are unlikely to try to re-claim Ramos, given that they'd have to remove from the roster one of the players they elected to keep instead of Ramos in the first place to make room for him.

The Karros addition, at 1 year, $1.05 million, isn't a bad move for the A's. With Scott Hatteburg and Erubiel Durazo at 1B and DH, and with Eric Chavez (who is extremely vulnerable to lefthanded pitchers) in the middle of the lineup, the A's were aching for a cheap lefty-killer to platoon at 1B, and Karros fits the bill.


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AL West Preview -- Outfielders 

The Texas Rangers are currently an organization in a period of flux, trying to transit from a team that was trying (unsuccessfully) to compete with a largely veteran group of players, to a team that is in the process of rebuilding. Nowhere is that flux more evident than in the outfield, as the Rangers will enter the 2004 season with an outfield situation that has experienced wholesale changes from a year ago.

The initial reaction by most is that the Rangers will suffer a significant offensive drop with the Mench/Nix/Jordan outfield, given the loss of sluggers Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett. It should be noted that, while that duo posted a 900 OPS last year (a figure that no member of the 2004 outfield is likely to match), the two combined for just 597 ABs between them – basically, one season’s worth of at bats. And it should also be noted that, while Juan and Carl were posting good numbers, the rest of the outfield was weighing them down significantly.

At the beginning of the 2003 season, the Rangers starting outfield consisted of Carl Everett in left field, Doug Glanville in center field, and Juan Gonzalez in right field, with Jermaine Clark and Ruben Sierra coming off the bench. Of that group, only Juan Gonzalez and Jermaine Clark finished the season with the Rangers organization, and even Clark has an asterisk by his name – he was claimed off of waivers April 30 by the San Diego Padres, only to be shipped back to Texas in July for a PTBNL.

Carl Everett, of course, was sent to the ChiSox in a deal that netted the Rangers pitching prospects Josh Rupe and Frankie Francisco, along with outfield prospect Anthony Webster. Glanville was also sent to the Windy City, but to the Cubs, in exchange for Jason Fransz. Sierra, meanwhile, was dealt to the Yankees for outfielder Marcus Thames.

Even the players who replaced those who departed mid-season didn’t necessarily hang around. Ryan Ludwick, who made a miraculous recovery from a hip injury and tore up the PCL in the first part of 2003, got promoted to Texas in the summer, played eight games with the Rangers, and ended up getting shipped to the Indians for Ricardo Rodriguez and Shane Spencer. Ramon Nivar, who shot his way to the majors in August after starting the season in AA, spent almost a month playing center almost every day, struggled mightily (posting a .211/.253/.267 line in the majors), and was sent back down on August 31, never to return.

By season’s end, the 2003 Rangers were rotating Spencer, Thames, Clark, Jason Jones, Laynce Nix, and Ryan Christenson among the starting outfield spots, with Juan Gonzalez and Kevin Mench stuck on the disabled list. With Spencer, Thames, Clark, Christenson, and Gonzalez all leaving the team as free agents, and Ludwick, Glanville, Everett and Sierra having been traded, the 2004 Rangers are virtually reconstructing their outfield from scratch.

Left Field

The 2004 Ranger outfield looks like it will have Kevin Mench (who started and ended the 2003 season on the D.L., with stints with Texas and Oklahoma in between) getting the majority of the time in left. Mench first landed on the map with a huge 2000 campaign, that saw him named Florida State League MVP, and that resulted in him being named to numerous prospect lists. Since then, he’s been up and down, showing flashes and streaks that suggest that he can be an impact offensive player in the majors, while also struggling with injuries and slumps.

While Mench is a downgrade over Carl Everett, last season’s starting left fielder, it should be noted that Everett was in left for fewer than half of the Rangers’ games last year. 2003 Ranger left fielders posted an aggregate 776 OPS, which is not terribly impressive, particularly given the favorable home park. Mench’s history suggests that, if can stay healthy and in the lineup, he can at least match that figure; Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections project an OPS of 825 for Mench this year, a number that seems quite reasonable. If he can stay off of Buck Showalter’s bad side and avoid the nagging injuries that have plagued him, Mench is a decent darkhorse candidate to have a breakout year – a 900+ OPS isn’t out of the question. Thus, improvement from the left field spot primarily depends on Mench stepping forward, staying healthy and establishing himself.

Defense is another matter. Mench is a guy who provides more effort than ability in left; he can handle the job defensively, but he won’t be winning any gold gloves. And of course, everyone remembers the incident from two years ago where he caught a fly ball, then threw it into the stands, under the mistaken impression that it was the third out, allowing a runner to score from second. Still, Mench shouldn’t be any worse than the guys who were out in left last season.

Center Field

The 2003 Rangers, however, were crippled (once again) by their terrible production from their center fielders, who posted an aggregate 612 OPS. The main culprits were Glanville (with a 653 OPS at CF), Christenson (510), Nivar (531), and Donnie Sadler (485). This quartet combined for 80% of the Ranger at bats at the center field position, making it an inexcusable black hole in the Ranger lineup. This is nothing new for the Rangers, however, who have struggled to find a reliable center fielder since Daryl Hamilton departed after the 1999 season.

It seems likely that Laynce Nix will get the majority of the playing time in center field this year. While I still have some questions about whether he’s quite ready for a major league job, he is a favorite of Buck’s, and after posting a 729 OPS last year in 193 plate appearances, ZiPS projects him to post a 785 OPS in 2004. Even with David Dellucci and Eric Young possibly spelling him, the Rangers should be significantly improved offensively in center field. A 100 point jump in OPS is not out of the question, which would most likely more than outweigh any possible drop in production from the corner spots.

Defensively, the Rangers once again aren’t doing their pitchers any favors in the outfield. Center field is always the most critical position in an outfield defense, and the spacious outfield in TBIA makes it even more so. There are some questions about how well Nix can handle the responsibilities; he is one of those tweeners, a guy who can handle the defensive responsibilities at a corner spot very well, but may not have the range to man center. Thus who are Nix fans compare him to Brian Giles; his detractors usually bring up Gabe Kapler.

The situation will no doubt become exacerbated as Nix grows older; he’s a weightlifter whose frame suggests that he will fill out even more as he ages, making it likely that his added bulk will reduce the amount of ground he can cover. Nevertheless, it looks like the Rangers will roll with Nix as the starter, and hope that he can be adequate in the role this season.

Thus, it looks like another season of borderline catchable balls falling in the gaps, while we Ranger fans curse Hicks and Hart for not making a play for free agent center fielder Mike Cameron, and pray that Boras and Hicks are still tight when Carlos Beltran files for free agency after the 2004 season, allowing Nix to move to right field, where his defense would be an asset, rather than a liability.

Right Field

As with left field, it initially would look as if the Rangers could expect a serious drop in production from right field in 2004. Last year, right field was primarily manned by Juan Gonzalez, two-time MVP and generally feared hitter. Alas, Juan played in only half the games last year, and in his absence, right field was generally manned by a collection of second-raters; right fielders posted an aggregate 793 OPS for the Rangers in 2003.

The starting right fielder for the Rangers in 2004 will be ex-Cardinal, ex-Brave, most recently ex-Dodger, and former Atlanta Falcon safety Brian Jordan. Jordan is a quality lefty masher and good defensive player, when healthy; unfortunately, Jordan missed the second half of last season with a knee injury, and at his age and with his medical history, he’s always going to be a question mark.

If he can give the Rangers 120-130 games in right field, though, he’ll likely earn his $1.5 million salary for the 2004 season. ZiPS projects Jordan to have a 799 OPS for 2004, which isn’t bad for the money; plus, he’s a “character guy” who Buck will love because of his veteran grit, leadership, and willingness to kick some ass when need be. Given the motley collection of backups the Rangers have for Jordan, the overall offensive production from right is likely to drop in 2004, but unless Jordan is out for a substantial length of time, it isn’t likely to be a dramatic dropoff.

Defensively, Jordan has always been a good defensive right fielder when healthy, although at this stage of his career, there is never going to be any guarantee that he’ll be able to stay healthy. Still, he is likely to be an upgrade from Juan Gonzalez out there.

Backup Outfielders

Former D-Back and Yankee David Dellucci will likely be the primary backup outfielder, with utility infielder Eric Young also filling in from time to time. Holdover Jason Jones will likely compete with NRI Peter Zoccolillo and Tydus Meadows (who was astutely nabbed by Grady Fuson in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft) for the right to shuttle between Oklahoma and Texas when one of those five goes down. Dellucci, in particular, is likely to get at bats in right field, spelling Jordan against some righthanders, and it has already been suggested that Young may take at bats away from Mench if he gets on Buck’s bad side.

Regardless, there is a fair chance that one of the outfielders will go down. Brian Jordan has struggled off and on with injuries his whole career, and is coming off knee surgery that prematurely ended his 2003 campaign. Kevin Mench, meanwhile, has been plagued by a variety of problems since his breakout 2000 campaign with Charlotte in the FSL, including most recently a wrist problem that ended his 2003 season. It would be a major surprise if one of those two players didn’t end up spending a fair amount of time on the D.L. in 2004. And given that the Rangers are likely to want Ramon Nivar to be playing every day in AAA, which makes him an unlikely candidate to be called up to fill a 5th outfielder role, one of the J/Z/M trio is likely to see time at The Ballpark in Arlington – most likely Jones, given Buck Showalter’s apparent mancrush on him which developed after Jones was promoted last season (although that still didn’t keep Jones from being dropped from the 40 man roster this winter).

Given what the Rangers can realistically expect from their backup outfielders in 2004 (ZiPS projects an OPS of 707 for Dellucci, 713 for Young, with the J/Z/M trio falling in the 750-800 range), it appears that should one of the starters struggle or miss an extended period of time to injury, the dropoff in offensive production will be significant. Defensively, it is more of the same. Dellucci is another tweener, a guy who is okay in a corner but somewhat overmatched in center, while Young has very limited experience in the outfield, and none of the J/M/Z crew is known for their defense.

Conclusion

So while the Rangers don’t have the star power that they have had in past years in the outfield, and while the outfield certainly pales in comparison to the terrific young infield the team has assembled, look for this year’s outfield to hold its own in 2004. While we are unlikely to see any significant gains in production over last year’s outfield, I think the fears of a big drop in runs scored due to the departure of the big names are rather overblown.

The Rest of the West

For the rest of the AL West:

Check out Anaheim's preview here...

Seattle's preview is found here...

And Oakland's preview can be found here...



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Sunday, February 01, 2004

Starting Monday -- A.L. West previews 

As part of a special effort to spread knowledge amongst the fans of A.L. West teams, I've teamed up with Athletic's Nation, Mariners Wheelhouse, and LeoneForThird to do a special preview series on changes amongst the respective AL West teams going into the coming season.

On Monday, I'll be previewing the Rangers outfield going into 2004, and each of the other three sites will have pieces on the changes for A's, Mariners, and Angels, respectively. Periodically thereafter, we'll be posting pieces on the other aspects of the teams.

I hope y'all will check it out...these folks are all terrific writers, and should offer some good insight on the year to come.


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Rangers looking at new medical device 

The Baltimore Sun is reporting today on several sports teams' interest in the BTE Primus, a device that has been used in hospitals in recent years to help treat muscular-skeletal injuries. The BTE Primus is a device that allows the replication of virtually any type of motion the human body is normally capable of.

The Sun article focuses on the Baltimore Orioles' decision to start using the Primus this year, indicating that the initial plans are to use it for arm and shoulder strength and flexibility tests. However, the article also mentions that the device as "pricked the curiosity" of a few other sports teams, mentioning specifically the Rangers and the Dallas Stars.

Although the article is unclear about whether the Rangers have decided to go with the BTE Primus, or if they have merely looked into it, given Grady Fuson's focus on pitcher injuries, and methods of preventing them (particularly with young pitchers), it wouldn't be surprising if the Rangers were in the process of implementing a plan similar to Baltimore's, in an effort to gather more data on the young pitchers in the system and utilize that to try to prevent injuries down the road.

In the meantime, though, it is heartening to see that, despite the belt-tightening going on at TBIA, the team is still trying to keep on the cutting edge in regards to player injuries. Will Carroll, who writes the excellent Under the Knife column for Baseball Prospectus, has commented before that the Rangers have one of the top medical staffs in baseball. With more and more attention being on focused on ways of treating and preventing injuries to players, who represent multi-million dollar investments for an organization, it is good to see the Rangers staying on the forefront on medical matters.


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Hicks says no Fuson to the Dodgers 

Yesterday, there was an article out of L.A. that indicated that Grady Fuson could be a candidate for the Dodger G.M. job.

Today, Tom Hicks indicated that Fuson wouldn't be going anywhere, that Hicks is working with Fuson on a contract extension, and that he's going to be the next Ranger G.M.

Very good news for Ranger fans...


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