January 2011

And Now The News…

“Welcome to Action News Dallas at 10. I’m Johnny Goodhair…”

“And I’m Linda Smoothskin.”

“At the top of the news, we actually go to Sports Director Randy Jockitch, who says he has a breaking story. Randy?”

“Thanks, Johnny. We have an intense war of words going on tonight…”

“Really. Randy? What did Jerry Jones say now?”

“It wasn’t Jerry Jones, Linda…”

“OK, then, A Mark Cuban story. Go ahead, Randy…”

“Not Mark Cuban either, Johnny.”

“A Cowboys player then. Demarcus Ware, maybe…He talks pretty good smack.”

“Not the Cowboys and not the Mavericks either. Heck, not even the Stars!”

“We’re leading off the news with a war of words from SMU? Nobody cares about SMU.”

“No. Linda, this involves the Rangers.”

“The Rangers? Are you serious? Since 1972, there has NEVER been trash talk going on about the Rangers.”

“Well, the times have officially changed. The big story today is, after 38 years in Arlington, people are trash-talking the Rangers and it’s making national news! First, Yankees President Randy Levine had this to say about new Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg: ‘He has been running the Rangers for a few minutes and seems to believe he’s mastered what everyone else is thinking. I think he should let Cliff Lee speak for himself. I’ll be impressed when he demonstrates he can keep the Rangers off welfare. What I mean is make them not be a revenue-sharing recipient for three years in a row, without taking financing from baseball or advance money from television networks. Then I’ll be impressed.'”

“The Yankees are talking nationally about the Rangers? This IS news!”

“It sure is, Johnny. Going back over the records, I can’t find one instance of the Yankees even acknowledging the Rangers’ existence, even the three years in the late 90’s when they met in the playoffs. In fact, I think they were under the impression then that they were just playing the Red Sox on a neutral field. And that’s not the only news.”

“There’s more?”

“There sure is, Linda. It’s also being reported that former Astro Lance Berkman, now a St. Louis Cardinal, said this about the Rangers: ‘The Rangers offered me $8 million to play for them in 2011, but I felt the Rangers caught “lightning in a bottle” in 2010 and would be an average team without Cliff Lee.’ He also disparaged the Rangers’ signing of third baseman Adrian Beltre. Berkman, as we know, signed on with the Cardinals in the off-season.” Rangers pitcher CJ Wilson called a local sports radio talk show and fired back some comments of his own.”

“Wait a minute. Randy. Now you’re saying not only did someone talk trash about the Rangers, someone on the Rangers knows how to talk trash BACK?”

“Nobody was as surprised by that as me, Johnny. Here’s what Wilson said in response: ‘I think it’s funny. [Berkman] was contemplating retirement, so I’m not going to take anything too seriously. I’m not going to get offended by anything he says. [...] Adrian Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in baseball, and he’s a pretty good hitter as well. I don’t know if anyone knows he hit .340 last year, which is definitely better than .220. I’m pretty stoked about having him on my team.’ So there you have it. For the first time in their history, the Rangers have achieved a level of success that has people trying to tear them down in the national media. Back to you, Linda.”

“What surprising news. Next thing you know, the Rangers will be the lead sports story during the Cowboys training camp in August. JUST KIDDING! That’s Action News for tonight. Have a great evening.” 

Hello, Goodbye, & Please Don’t Go

mike-napoli-_44 copy.jpgAnother unexpected move by the Rangers brass today, sending reliever Frank Francisco and some cash north of the border to the Blue Jays in exchange for Mike Napoli, making his stay with the Blue Jays all of four days after being dealt there by the Angels in the Vernon Wells deal. I wonder if Napoli even had a chance to talk to anyone in the Blue Jays front office before he was dealt again? Ah the life of a professional athlete.

 

 

Frankie Frank gave the Rangers some good years, but the fact Texas got to the World Series without their regular 8th inning set-up guy made him expendable. Many were surprised he accepted arbitration from the Rangers instead of testing the market, but I’m sure not in the mood to complain about that now.

When this deal was first announced, it both excited me and depressed me. Excited me to get another power bat in the line-up. Depressed me because, as primarily a catcher, that might mean the end of Matt Treanor’s days as a Ranger (I just sang his praises in my FanFest post a day ago).

 

matt-treanor-200aj121310 copy.jpgI perked up a little, though, when I realized Napoli also can play some first base. Then it all made sense to me. The Rangers don’t have to give up Treanor and there is now incredible flexibility in the line-up.

As a righty, Napoli can platoon with the left-handed Moreland at first base. That means Michael Young won’t have to worry about learning how to play first. MY will still back up the other three infield positions while primarily serving as the Rangers DH.

Meanwhile, Treanor and Yorvit Torrealba will be the two main catchers. If, however, one of them goes down with an injury, now you have Napoli as the back-up catcher and eliminate the need for the Rangers to call up Taylor Teagarden, who inspires the confidence of approximately 0 Rangers fans, give or take 2.

If Treanor stays, the man on the bubble now is Andres Blanco, who proved a capable defensive back-up in 2010 on the infield and even became a decent hitter when he got some regular playing time during Ian Kinsler’s second DL stint. Barring injury, the offensive line-up is completely set before spring training even begins, with the only decision left being do you keep Blanco and Treanor, or waive one of them to open a slot for a 5th outfielder. Since Moreland also played outfield in 2010, I think the 2011 Opening Day line-up has already arrived in Arlington.

Unless there’s another trade. As many off-season surprises Jon Daniels has pulled out of his hat so far this off-season (Adrian Beltre, Arthur Rhodes, Napoli and Torrealba), I wouldn’t put it past him to have another ace up his sleeve.

Fan Fest 2011

OK, I’ll admit it. Making the 8-hour drive to Arlington to attend my first Rangers Fan Fest had me feeling pretty giddy. Here it was, my first chance to actually get up close with my favorite team! Having never attended one of these events, I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I did expect to at least exchange a few words with some of my favorite players. In the end, any fan would consider themselves lucky if they even got those few words.

The price of success is everyone wants a piece of you. According to the Dallas Morning News, the attendance at Fan Fest’s first day was in the neighborhood of 6,000-7,000, literally double the crowd from the year before. Rangers officials were thrilled to have the entire event housed in the Arlington Convention Center. As big as the Center is, the Rangers could have still used more space!

Arriving 15 minutes before the doors opened, we found ourselves in a line that had not only snaked around the building, it was five rows deep! Even though the doors opened a full hour before the first autograph sessions, we weren’t able to get any autographs until the third session of the day. We felt fortunate to get five of a possible 16 autographs, but the highest profile of the five was back-up catcher Matt Treanor. No problem there, actually. I’m a big Treanor fan and our two sentence exchange was cordial. He seemed pretty pleased that I noticed how many times he managed 8-pitch or more at bats in 2010 (considered a quality at bat by the Rangers).

Michael Kirkman, who burst on the scene as a bullpen rookie in 2010, told me while his immediate goal is just making the ballclub in 2011, he really would like it to be as a starter. He’ll be in a battle with Derek Holland, Brandon Webb, Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman, maybe even Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz to make that rotation, so good luck to him.

I was pleased to meet Jamey Newberg, whose Rangers blog inspired me to start this one. He had a Rangers Trivia contest that I think I may have gotten about two out of ten questions right… and I used to have such a trivial mind!

During the many Q&A sessions, I got to ask manager Ron Washington a couple of questions, but what really perked my ears up was something another fan brought up that had totally escaped my attention: the 2011 American League All-Stars will be the first ever to be managed by someone wearing a Texas Rangers uniform! Way to go, Wash!!!

New owner Chuck Greenberg was omnipresent throughout the event, taking part in a 30-minute Q&A and being a constant presence on the floor of the Convention Center, making sure everything was running smoothly.

So much else happening- photo ops, souvenier shopping, displays to meander through, booths to visit… an exhausting day!

Hoped to get autographs from Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and David Murphy, but it was not to be. However, I did run into Lewis and Holland the day before the event at our hotel and thanked them for an awesome 2010 campaign! Also saw Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry in the lobby on Sunday but did not get a chance to say hello, as we were already late to make the long trek back home.

Enjoy some photos from the event.

<http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

Only a few more weeks until Spring Training!

 

And Now For Something Completely Different

 This post has nothing to do with the Texas Rangers (unless they were to sign this guy, which I doubt).

In fact, this is about something I know very little about, though some might say that about everything I write.

This is about minor league free agency and one player in particular.

First off, I don’t know much about minor league free agency and what is considered to be the “prime time” of signing minor league free agents. For all I know, we’re entering into that prime time period right now.

So here’s the deal.

My oldest makes a living catering to the fans of Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Me being a baseball fan, I have often contributed by following the alumni of the Texas State baseball program in their quest to work their way through the minors and make it to The Show.

Currently, the only Texas Stater in the bigs is Scott Linebrink, recently traded by the White Sox to the Braves.

Most of the time, these guys top out at the AA level before their dreams end. Some have great success early only to have it end due to injury. Others find themselves passed along the way by a prospect who takes their spot away. A couple keep plugging away only to have reached the six year point and become minor league free agents.

Which brings me to today’s story. I have not met this guy before. I’ve actually never seen him play. All I know about him is that he once played for Texas State and the statistics I’ve gleaned from milb.com, baseball-refernce.com and other sources. In other words, I have nothing to gain from promoting him, but I believe he needs to be promoted.

Matt Miller.jpgMatt Miller was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 13th round of the first-year player draft in 2004. His first full season was nothing short of amazing- a .331 average with 30 HR and 100 RBI for Asheville of the Sally League. While he never again duplicated those power numbers, in seven minor league seasons, Miller has done nothing but hit. He has been a mid-season or post-season All-Star every single year of his minor league career.

Just looking at some of the stats, I know he’s not considered to be any great shakes as a fielder (he plays the outfield). I also know he was considered a great prospect by the Rockies until his first full year in AA, when he slumped badly in the second half and finished at .262. At that point, he was dropped from the list of top prospects, never to return.

Since that time (2007), however, Miller has hit .344 in AA and .331 in Triple-A in 2008, .319 in Triple-A in 2009 and .325 in Triple-A in 2010. In seven minor league seasons, Miller is a career .313 hitter with 91 HR and 560 RBI. His star fell because of one bad half season out of seven. Now, he’s faced a logjam with the Rockies, considering the major league outfield there consists of Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Ryan Spilborghs.

Matt Miller is a minor league free agent. You would think out of 30 major league teams, there would be one who would want to take a chance on a player who’s been named to 10 different All-Star teams in 7 years and apparantly has never spent time on the disabled list in all that time, either.

Matt, here’s hoping someone gives you your chance soon.

Defending Michael Young’s Defense

Adrian Beltre.jpg

Michael Young.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              

                Adrian Beltre                                        Michael Young

Everything I’ve read about the Rangers’ signing of Adrian Beltre indicates he will be an outstanding defensive upgrade at third base over Michael Young, who’s manned the hot corner for the past two seasons.

Young will be transitioning in 2011 to the DH/Super Utility role on the Rangers to make way for Beltre. He’ll see most of his play at DH and presumably will spell virtually every member of the infield when they need a rest. What this does for Andres Blanco’s role on the 2011 Rangers remains to be seen.

I read the main Rangers fan sites on an almost daily basis and, again, all point to the defensive improvement Beltre will bring to the Rangers.

Having watched almost all of the Rangers games in 2010 (mostly on TV), I understand what people feel about the subject. I, too, saw many times where Young didn’t reach a ball that it looked like he should have had. In addition, the number of errors Young had in his second year at third base was higher than his first year (19 vs. 9), so it was easy to see Young had “regressed”.

Still, it’s important to note how thin the line is between a “bad” fielder, as many view Young, and a “great” fielder, as many view Beltre. Beltre is not only considered the superior fielder to Young in a career sense, but if you ask who the better fielder was in 2010, I’d guess the percentage voting for Beltre would be in the 90%+ range.

After reading some breakdowns comparing the two (Beltre was ranked the 4th best 3rd baseman in the sabermetrics UZR ratings, Young the 5th worst), there were things that struck me.

Both played about an equal number of games at 3rd base. Young played 28 more innings there than Beltre, the equivalent of about three games more. Both Beltre and Young committed 19 errors in 2010. Beltre participated in 4 more double plays than Young. Beltre also had more put-outs and assists than Young (some of this I would attribute to Elvis Andrus’ superior range).

But here’s the thing that stood out for me. According to stats reported on Bill James online, Beltre was 16 plays better than Young on balls hit to his left, one play better on balls hit straight on and six plays better on balls hit to the right in 2010. I’ll let this sink in. We’re talking a total of 23 plays over the course of an entire season. Divide that up over a 162 game season and this “huge” difference is the result of Beltre converting one more play every 7 games. That’s roughly one play a week.

One play a week is the defensive difference between bad and great. One play a week is the difference between thinking our guy is the greatest defensive player on the face of the earth or the biggest bum around!

It’s the same with hitting. Based on 600 at bats in a season, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is a grand total of 30 hits. Over a 162 game season, that means a .300 hitter gets one more hit roughly every 5 1/2 games. The difference between .283 and .300 is a mere 10 hits- one more hit every 16 games. One more hit about every 2 1/2 weeks.

We notice the difference with batters more easily because a batting average is just that- an average. Hitting is more an exercise in hot and cold streaks. Better hitters have longer hot streaks an shorter cold snaps, so it’s easier to pick up on good hitters than good fielders. 

The point? Maybe we should cut Michael Young a little bit of slack. Beltre’s been playing third base in the majors for 13 years to Young’s two and Beltre was only one play a week better than Young.

Oh, yeah, and the Rangers still made it to the World Series despite that “bum” at 3rd base. 

New Year, New Rangers

My, what a Christmas break I took. Working in a business where the holidays are the busiest time of the year, it’s a good thing baseball season isn’t in full swing. I don’t think I could survive Christmas and baseball at the same time!

Much has passed since my last missive. The Rangers lost out on Cliff Lee in a surprising last minute move that proves one thing- when you’re talking about the dollars a Cliff Lee is going to earn over the next five years, the deciding factor is obviously going to be- the city where Lee’s wife finds it easiest to get around in. In essence, that’s why Lee was willing to take less money and less years in the contract. For those of us who are married, can you honestly say how your spouse would feel wouldn’t enter into your decision? No matter how you slice it, Lee was going to be richer than Croesus, so why not make sure the wife is happy too? Win-win.

Meanwhile the Rangers moved on in ways I wasn’t even fathoming at the start of the off-season. After missing out on not only Lee but Zack Greinke as well, all Texas did in the pitching department is sign reliever Arthur Rhodes to a two-year deal (at age 41!) and inked Brandon Webb to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

Rhodes surprised me. He had an awesome year for the Reds in 2010, but I don’t see him in anything but the same role that Darren Oliver currently has with the Rangers- a 7th/8th inning lefthanded set-up guy. I guess if they split the duty, the thought is neither will wear down in the second half as much as they both did in 2010.

Webb is a less expensive gamble than Rich Harden was a year ago (though one at the time I probably wouldn’t have labelled Harden as much of a gamble as he turned out to be). I won’t bore you with the consesnsus- huge upside if he’s healthy. Only time will tell.

The aforementioned Harden has signed on with the A’s, a team he has had success with in the past. Now he will try to succeed as a bullpen pitcher for Oakland. The A’s also signed Brandon McCarthy who never realized his potential with the Rangers due to injury. With the A’s starting staff, I don’t see much of a role for McCarthy in Oakland either.

Max Ramirez, a catcher who saw part-time play with the Rangers over parts of the past three seasons, was dropped from the 40-man roster and has been claimed by the Red Sox, who almost got him a year ago except Mike Lowell couldn’t pass a physical in Texas. Pitcher Clay Rapada was also dropped from the 40-man and may or may not clear waivers.

Which leads us to the most immediate moves- the signing of Adrian Beltre and the agreement of Michael Young to move to DH/Utility Guy, thus also meaning the end of Vlad Guerrero’s one-year career with Texas. Popular opinion is- defensive upgrade, good move short-term, but a worry about the length of the contract (6 years).

Defensively, this appears to be a HUGE upgrade. Offensively, I would call it a slight downgrade. You’re basically swapping out Beltre for Guerrero, plus Young’s a year older. Odds are that part of the order will regress. HOWEVER, if Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz can stay healthy and Mitch Moreland continues to improve, the overall offensive attack should be fine, even when figuring Josh Hamilton can’t possibly improve on his 2010.

Texas will head into 2011 as the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL West champs. The Angels weren’t able to upgrade, losing out on both Carl Crawford and Beltre, although they will still be a better offensive team if Kendry Morales returns strong. The A’s added a little offense to their already potent pitching staff, but not enough to scare anyone (although their starting pitching is scary). About all the Mariners added offensively was Jack Cust (although I think Justin Smoak is going to be a thorn in our side for the next few years).

Entering 2011, it appears the Rangers only have one or two open roster spots. Catchers will be newly acquired Yorvit Torrealba and returning Matt Treanor. Infield is Moreland, Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Beltre, with Young and Andres Blanco to back up. Outfield is Hamilton, Cruz, David Murphy and Julio Borbon. That’s twelve players already. While Young will work out some at first base, the only real need in the field appears to be a right-handed Moreland type who can back up at first and in the outfield.

The relief staff is pretty set as well, with Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Frank Francisco, Oliver, Rhodes, and Darren O’Day. Starters are a little more fluid. Definites are Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, with the remaining three coming from a group of Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Webb. That leaves the two odd men out of the rotation battling with Michael Kirkman, Mark Lowe and rookie Tanner Scheppers for the long relief slot.

The starting rotation is the scariest thought. Losing out on Lee leaves the Rangers with no clear ace, although Wilson and Lewis are no slouches. The Rangers could really use Webb to eat up a lot of innings and Derek Holland to finally start realizing his promise. Otherwise, GM Jon Daniels will be doing more mid-season shopping.

I can’t help but feel there could still be a trade happening for a starting pitcher before the Rangers head to Surprise, Arizona for spring training. While you never know what might happen on the injury front, I think the Rangers have too many proven commodities with not enough spaces for them. For example, notice how the name Chris Davis hasn’t even been mentioned for a slot? Or Taylor Teagarden? Both started 2010 with the Rangers and are on the 40-man roster, but aren’t even considered as possibilities to break camp with Texas in April.

Starting to gear up for another season of Rangers baseball. Already have four regular season games on my travel schedule (double last year’s regular season number), as well as a trip to the Rangers’ FanFest later this month (hope to have plenty of pictures and maybe an interview or two to share). I’m still mulling a new name for the blog. Be looking for it by the open of the regular season.

 

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