December 2010

Poker Face

Can’t read my, can’t read my

No he can’t read my poker face

You’ve got to give the Philadelphia Phillies credit. In the high stake poker game for Cliff Lee, while the Rangers and Yankees were staring each other in the face, raising and calling, the Phillies were the ones holding the cards and claimed the biggest chip of the free agent market in Cliff Lee.

Most of us used to hearing about the annual sweepstakes involving Scott Boras clients had learned to discount any time a “mystery team” was mentioned as getting involved. This is a favorite Boras ploy to get the real teams in the running to up their bids to his client. So when a “mystery team” was proclaimed in the press concerning Lee, I know I took it with a massive grain of salt. Who’d a thunk this time there actually was a “mystery team“?

While I’m saddened to see Lee go, I think I am like most Rangers fans in saying if we couldn’t get him, at least A) he’s not going to the Yankees and B) he’s going to another league.

We will thank him for what he did in helping the Rangers achieve their first ever World Series appearance. I’m sure his former teammates will want to socialize with him when they visit Philadelphia during interleague play in June 2011. If those games were played in Arlington, the fans would probably cheer him in his first appearance, much as the Angels did for Vlad Guerrero 2010. If that game were to be a World Series game, though, all bets would be off.

There are strange things to consider in all of this. By all accounts, the Rangers and Yankees were close enough on the money, but Lee wanted a 7th year from the Rangers and the Rangers wouldn’t do it. Yet Lee turned around and accepted a five year contract with the Phillies. On the Philadelphia end, this is a team that traded Lee to Seattle a year ago because they didn’t want to pay him $100 million, yet a year later they sign him for $120 million.

I’m really of the opinion that Lee took the Lebron James approach to things. If what has been reported is correct (and there’s so much speculation involved by reporters in these things that you never know if it is), then the Yankees and Rangers were the only serious suitors for Lee’s services and it was Lee himself who reached out to the Phillies.

In free agency, it’s usually reported that the teams are the ones who approach the agent and say we’re interested in your guy. That’s probably why the money usually wins out (and thus, the Yankees usually win out). But what if the high profile free agents like Lee suddenly say, “Let’s call that team” on a regular basis. We could see a major shift in baseball’s power balance much the way the NBA has with the recent Lebron James/Chris Bosh move to the Heat and Carmelo Anthony’s insistence of not playing for anyone else but the Knicks if he leaves Denver.

You have to envy Lee’s position. Not only is he getting the payday he’s been waiting for, he doesn’t have to be “THE GUY” for the team he signed with. With the Phillies, he doesn’t have to be the ace. That’s Roy Halladay’s job. In fact, he could even cede the #2 role to Roy Oswalt and be the most expensive #3 starter in baseball.

One caveat, though: For all those already anointing the Phillies as the probable 2011 champs, remember this. Following the free agent season of 2010, after the Winter Meetings and all the off-season trades and signings, does anyone remember who most of the sports pundits congratulated for improving their teams the most? The Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles, that’s who. The Mariners were even the cover story for ESPN The Magazine’s baseball preview issue. As the old saying goes, that’s why they play the games.

Where my Rangers go from here, who knows? They still have to address the DH issue, with popular opinion being the re-signing of Vlad Guerrero. They’re constantly mentioned as possible trade partners for Matt Garza or Zach Greinke. And Adrian Beltre is a name being mentioned more and more, although I can’t see that happening unless Michael Young is willing to become a full time DH or a former Ranger, both of which I find highly unlikely.

There’s still a lot of off-season to play out. These games can be just as fun as the real ones to follow!

Post-Season Hardware Versions 3.0 and 4.0

Two more accolades coming the Rangers way in the past week and a half: Vladimir Guerrero wins the Edgar Martinez Award for being the AL’s best designated hitter. And Baseball America just awarded Rangers GM Jon Daniels it’s Executive of the Year honor.

Guerrero’s award was wholly unexpected. By that, I mean I didn’t even know there was an Edgar Martinez Award given to the league’s best DH. That shows how “gifted” the Rangers DH’s have been over the years. Since there is an award, it would have been hard not to give it to Vlad. With apologies to Jim Thome, Guerrero easily had the best year among AL DH’s, as much by virtue of the fact he played almost every day where Thome did not. I know not whether Vlad will be back with the Rangers in 2011 or not, but those Ranger fans who believe it will be easy to replace Guerrero might be surprised to learn how vulnerable the lineup can be without him.

Deciding who the Rangers want to DH is just one of the questions GM Jon Daniels has to answer in the off-season. Now he can do so as the reigning “Executive of the Year”. Daniels deserves the award, but it was years in the making and really started four seasons ago when Mark Teixeira was sent to the Braves for a package that included Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Most awards of this nature come in the season a team goes to the post-season, but more often than not, the grunt work that led to post-season glory started long before then. Daniels is no exception. Still one of the younger GM’s in the game, Daniels has been a key reason for the Rangers’ success. Here’s hoping he’s with Texas for a long long time.

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