January 2012

A Wash Extension & A New Gig For Mr. Ranger?

Throughout the off-season, Rangers fans have heard the following: The front office was working with Mike Napoli on a long-term extension, then came to an impasse in negotiations. Derek Holland? Same story. Ditto Ian Kinsler. And Josh Hamilton (although that still seems to be a work in progress).

Ron Washington: 5th in Wins Among African-American Managers

With all this talk of extensions or long-term deals not coming to fruition, it was gratifying to see the Rangers finally reached terms with someone. Ron Washington has signed an extension that will keep him as manager through the 2014 season. Hard to believe all Wash got from the Rangers’ first World Series appearance in 2010 was a new 2-year contract. Now with a second WS showing under his belt, they saw fit to extend him earlier. It’s still hard to believe the club wouldn’t grant him more like five years, but at least we know the continuity will be there for the next three. Unless it isn’t. Which can happen to any manager with a contract. Sorry, the cynic in me just came out…Hey, even though contracts are made to be broken, this extension sends the right message through the organization that we believe in you and your team. And that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, I noticed a tweet this morning from Mr. Ranger himself, Tom Grieve. Grieve goes by the tag “Tagdonttweet” on Twitter, which is apropos because in all the time I’ve been following him, this is the first tweet I’ve seen from him. Grieve, for you non-Rangers fans, is an organization lifer. He broke into the bigs with the Washington Senators, played a few seasons in Texas after the team moved, served as the GM for a number of years, and has spent the last several years as the color commentator on Rangers TV broadcasts. He was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2011. He also could be confused with comedian Tom Smothers.

Anyway, this morning’s tweet simply asked, “How would you feel if your ol’ pal tagdonttweet ended up in the @MLBFanCave? It could happen.”

Could it be? Could Grieve be in line for the year-long MLB Fan Cave assignment, watching every single game throughout the 2012 season? And if so, would that mean his departure from the Rangers broadcast booth for at least the 2012 season? TAG isn’t the greatest of color commentators, but he does have some insights and comes across as a genuinely nice guy who appreciates all the fans who send cookies and cakes up to the press box to the point that he acknowledges them nightly on the broadcasts. 

If he gets the Fan Cave gig I’ll be happy for him, but I’d hate to see yet another change in the Rangers broadcast booth. Play by play man Josh Lewin was let go following the 2010 season and the Rangers were forced to replace Lewin’s replacement, John Rhadigan, just a month into the season following mountains of complaints about his performance (Rhads had never done play by play before). Enter Dave Barnett, who looks to be a keeper for 2012.

The big thing would be this: If Grieve leaves for the Fan Cave, it would be the first time since 1979 he wouldn’t be working for the Texas Rangers organization. He’s been with the Senators/Rangers organization for 45 of his 47 years in professional baseball.

It just wouldn’t be the same without him.

A Minor Deal With Major Implications

It didn’t get much fanfare, but the Rangers yesterday signed Orioles farmhand Kyle Hudson to a minor league contract and an invite to join the major leaguers for Spring Training. Hudson is a speedster with lots of stolen bases and no power to speak of. Yet this signing appears to send a number of messages.

Despite Hudson’s big league career consisting of 28 September at bats at the end of 2011, his signing could be a sign of other things to come or of the Rangers front office not having confidence in the situation before Hudson’s signing.

OK, now that I’ve spent two paragraphs being cryptic, let me explain.

Hudson, you see, is a center fielder. A left-handed hitting center fielder. A left-handed hitting centerfielder with speed. So far, that also describes incumbent Julio Borbon, who many may have forgotten about, as he went on the DL with an injury in May 2011 and ended up spending the rest of the season in AAA Round Rock due to the play of Endy Chavez.

Here’s where the roads diverge. Hudson has a reputation of being a good defensive center fielder as well. Borbon’s defense has been much-maligned.

It’s pretty sure that Craig Gentry has already nailed down a roster spot with his center field play and defense of a year ago, platooning in center with Chavez.

Thus, the Hudson signing tells me four things:

1) The Rangers aren’t confident Gentry can handle center field on a fulltime basis (ie batting vs. right-handers)

2) The Rangers have lost confidence in the southpaw hitting Borbon.

3) The Rangers think Leonys Martin, the Cuban defector they signed to a multi-million dollar contract less than a year ago and played CF for AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock, is not quite ready for primetime in Arlington.

4) Considering another Cuban defector, CF Yeonis Cespedes, is thought by scouts to be big league ready, the Rangers are unlikely to try to sign him.

That’s a lot to infer from one minor league deal. And yet it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Kyle Hudson on the major league roster for the Texas Rangers on Opening Day 2012.

Trade Options A Month Before Spring Training

Now that Yu Darvish is in the fold, the question now becomes: What will the composition be of the Rangers pitching staff? It becomes an even bigger question with rampant speculation the Rangers are in on Roy Oswalt, who still hasn’t signed with anyone.

Going off on a new tangent: Have you noticed what back to back appearances (and new ownership) has done on the MLB speculation front. The Rangers have been listed by many of the national scribes as “in” on virtually every big free agent or trade target to come up. With the exception of Albert Pujols, the Rangers have supposedly been “in” on Prince Fielder, CJ Wilson (understandable), Gio Gonzalez, Matt Garza, Roy Oswalt, Yu Darvish, Ryan Madsen, Mark Buehrle… you get the idea. Three years ago, hardly any of those names would have even been mentioned in connection with the Rangers. Now they’re supposedly in on everyone.

Back on track: So, assuming Oswalt doesn’t sign, here’s how the Rangers pitching staff shapes up going into 2012:

Starters:

Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz

Relievers:

Scott Feldman, Joe Nathan, Koji Uehara, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama

That’s a 12-man staff right there with no trace of rookies anywhere. There’s also no trace of a lefty in the bullpen.

Conclusion: The Rangers aren’t done yet.

Whatever will happen will most likely be a trade at this point. Uehara has been reported to have drawn interest from quite a few teams, and he reportedly turned down a trade to the Blue Jays, as his contract allows him to veto some teams. Mike Gonzalez is still out there as a free agent lefty, but since he played for Texas last season, if he really wanted to come back, don’t you think it would’ve happened by now?

If Oswalt were to sign, there’s no question it would be announced in conjunction with a trade, probably of Matt Harrison (and maybe Uehara as well) for either a center fielder or some southpaw bullpen help or both.

My only problem with this is this isn’t the Roy Oswalt of a few years ago. This is a guy who now has recurring back problems and managed only a 9-10 record for the National League’s best team record-wise in 2011. I just don’t see how he could be considered an upgrade over Harrison, even if a subsequent trade brought Texas other necessary pieces.

This team is still looking to add pieces for 2012: a utility infielder and a lefty in the bullpen are the prime needs. Would an Oswalt signing bring it about? I have my doubts. But I don’t doubt there’s more off-season news coming from the Texas Rangers between now and the last week of February.

The Prince Fielder Watch

After being such lovable losers for 40 years, Rangers fans are now getting greedy. Look at the fan sites and it’s seen in great detail. It’s now not enough to go to two World Series in a row (although maybe it would have been if they’d managed to win one of them). According to the fans, it’s time to aim even higher.

Can The Rangers Afford Fielder Too?

So it is that, less than 24 hours after Texas signed Japanese import Yu Darvish to a 6-year, $60 million contract (along with a $51.7 million posting fee), that Rangers fans are speculating and coming up with justifications to also sign Prince Fielder to a monster contract. Among the reasons: 1) Josh Hamilton becomes a free agent after 2012 and signing Prince will allow the team to let Hamilton walk; 2) Michael Young becomes a free agent after 2012 and there’s no way he will be re-signed; and 3) Hey, it’s not our money but we’re pretty sure the ownership group can afford it!

I have long been in the camp that Fielder will not become a Ranger, even if that’s his desire. The signing of Darvish makes those chances even more remote. Money aside, I just don’t see Fielder being a good fit for the Rangers, despite his career stats thus far.

1) Rangers teams are known for their aggressiveness on the basepaths. Fielder does not provide this.

2) The Rangers under Ron Washington put an emphasis on defense. While Mitch Moreland isn’t any great shakes at first base defensively, neither is Fielder.

3) The Rangers of 2011 were as versatile as any line-up in baseball. Michael Young was available as a DH and super utility player on the infield. Mike Napoli also got playing time at first base. Fielder hurts the versatility of the club BECAUSE he hasn’t been hurt over his career. With Fielder playing every day, you take away at bats from both Young and Napoli, both .300 hitters in 2011 and you affect the overall versatility of the roster.

 4) Any successful team is going to have payroll increases to try to maintain that success for as many years as possible. A Fielder signing on top of the Darvish signing will have a trickle down effect on what the Rangers will be able to afford to pay the core over the next few years: Hamilton, Kinsler, Napoli, Holland and Feliz first and foremost, followed by decisions concerning the Rangers futures of Young, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, Moreland, Matt Harrison and Mike Adams. Going after Fielder now thus would affect decisions concerning as many as eleven other players.

The argument in favor of a Fielder signing that I understand is the vocal group that truly believes Hamilton plans to walk after the 2012 season, which would leave a big offensive void. Even if that is the case, though, I trust this front office to have already put a plan (or multiple plans) into place to address this.

Yu Light Up My Life

It took every second of the 30 day negotiating period, but Yu Darvish officially is now a Texas Ranger, having signed a 6-year, $60 million contract. Frankly, if he ends up being as good as advertised, $10 mil a year for six years might look like a bargain (although if you include the massive posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters, it averages out to more like $18 mil a year).

There’s only one thing we know for sure is going to happen- every possible pun using the word “Yu” is going to be seen throughout the 2012 baseball season and beyond, but mostly in the first year. Taking the musical route, here is the first partial list of possibilities (and the artists who made the original song).

Song Played A Year Ago Before Anyone In America Knew Who Darvish Was:Who Are Yu”, The Who

Song Heard in the Dallas Metroplex at 4 PM CST Today:Yu Belong To Me”, Carly Simon

Song Played In All But One Other Major League Market at 4 PM CST Today:Forget Yu”, Cee-Lo Green

Song Played In New York City At 4 PM CST Today:F*** Yu”, Cee-Lo Green

Song Played At Darvish’s First Rangers Start:I Love Yu”, Climax Blues Band

Song Darvish Will Sing Before Every Start:I’m In Yu”, Peter Frampton

Song Played The First Time Darvish Gets Shelled In A Game:Yu Always Hurt The One Yu Love”, The Mills Brothers

Song To Be Played When Texas Wins The World Series:Yu Make My Dreams Come True”, Hall & Oates

Feel free to add your own Yu puns in the comments. Get it out of yu system.

Martin Luther King Day

Today is the day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his efforts to improve the civil rights of African-Americans and other oppressed minorities in the United States.

It brought to mind the series of posts I did just a couple of months ago concerning the continued dearth of African-American managers in major league baseball, not to mention the low numbers of Hispanic managers as well. The most recent of these posts can be found here. Rangers manager Ron Washington, in five seasons, already ranks #6 in wins by African-American managers and should reach #5 on the list in 2012. I have now established a permanent page, which will be updated with each managerial change, showing all the managers hired in MLB between 1975, when Frank Robinson became the first African-American manager hired, to the present. That page can be found here.

I brought this subject matter up with some of my brethren in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and an interesting point was brought up. Every year, MLB honors Jackie Robinson for being the first to break baseball’s color barrier. Yet over the years the African-American presence among major league baseball players becomes less and less. Looking at my beloved Texas Rangers, if no further changes are made between now and Opening Day, the Rangers will not have a single African-American player on their 25-man roster. Last year, Darrin Oliver and Arthur Rhodes were the only African-American players on the Rangers roster.

It is true that major league baseball has evolved into truly international proportions. This year’s Rangers roster could include three Japanese players and 7-9 Latin players. What is just as true is, for whatever reason, baseball has become less prominent in the African-American community. I haven’t done any studies into this, but off the top of my head, I’d say this partially has to do with the expense of playing baseball. This not only affects kids learning how to play on the sandlots and streets, but also later on, as many schools have dropped baseball as a sport due to high expenses and low attendance.

This is a shame. MLB is sponsoring a program to help bring back baseball in the inner cities and they should be applauded for that. I hope even more is done in the future, because it would be a shame for a sport that celebrates the breaking of the color barrier annually to see the participation in that sport dwindle down to nothing again.

Spirit Of 76, The Hall Of Fame Vote & Other Sundry Matters

After a well-earned rest consisting of being sick as a dog for about a week, your humble scribe feels human again and finally able to write down a coherent thought or two to open 2012.

Spirit of 76:

Having not checked on such things lately, I only recently discovered this blog made MLBlogs Top 100 blogs for 2011. Among the “amateurs”, World Series 41, Rangers Fan 1 ranked 76 on the Hot 100 and thus worthy of allowing me to add the nifty little image you see on the right of this column. Of course, this blog wouldn’t be anywhere if there weren’t readers out there stopping by for a visit, so it is with humble thanks to each and every one of you that I proudly post the “Top 100″ image on this blog. Seriously, without your views and comments, I probably would have given up the ghost of this column long ago, but I promise to continue writing as long as you continue reading. Thanks again. This brings me to the next topic…

The Name Of The Blog

I’ve already received a couple of public comments asking whether this space will be renamed yet again. As most of you are aware, the original name of this blog was “World Series 40, Rangers Fan 0.” It was renamed when my beloved Rangers made the World Series for the first time. Now, if I were to continue on in the same vein, the 2012 name for the blog should rightly be “World Series 42, Rangers Fan 2.” Somehow, though, I feel like back to back World Series appearances have rendered the title less amusing than its original intent. Therefore, keep coming back to this space, as a new, and probably more permanent name will be unveiled. I’ve tossed a few ideas around in my mind, though none of them seem quite catchy enough. I’d gladly entertain suggestions from my readership as well, so feel free to pass along ideas in the comments section!

The Hall of Fame Vote

The Hall of Fame Class of 2012 was announced today and Barry Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds was the only player named on this year’s ballot. This being a Rangers-centric blog, I bring the HOF vote up to show how the Rangers came out on this year’s ballot. Rafael Palmeiro was the highest ranking Ranger on the ballot, still finishing far off the pace with 12.6% of the vote in his second year of eligibility. Juan Gonzalez, in his second year of eligibility, couldn’t muster the minimum 5% to stay on the ballot, getting only 4%, while Ruben Sierra didn’t even manage to garner one vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Palmeiro and Gonzalez are both hurt by the steroids issue. Juan Gone was hurt even more by the fact he was constantly hurt. Despite being a 2-time MVP, Gonzalez spent much of the latter part of his career on the DL. Juan was front and center on the steroids issue, though, having made an appearance in the infamous Mitchell Report, so even had he had a few more healthy years he probably would have had a hard time getting into the Hall.

Palmeiro is another case. Raffy probably will never make the Hall, simply because he was so insistent he had never crossed the line when speaking to a Congressional hearing on steroids, then getting busted for a positive result mere months later and getting suspended for 50 games. Was it the first time Palmeiro had used steroids? Even if it was, there’s direct evidence he would use something to give him an extra edge. Does anyone besides me remember the TV ad he did for Viagra when it first came out? While I don’t know if Viagra has been added to MLB’s list of banned substances, I do know it was listed as being a drug of concern to MLB. I loved Raffy when he was with the Rangers and it kills me to see him wrapped up in all the controversy. Still, I can’t support his case for the Hall of Fame because of it.

As for Sierra, he was a once promising player whose fortunes fell rather quickly after a few good years. There was never any strong case to be made for Sierra to make the Hall.

The next Ranger to enter the Hall of Fame? Without a doubt, it will be Ivan Rodriguez the first year he’s eligible. That won’t be for at least another five years.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for me. Thanks to every one of my readers, whether you’re regular visitors or one-time viewers.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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