Archive for March, 2008

First pitch

March 31, 2008

I’m always thinking about how negative I am on the Rangers these days, and what I can do to get out of it. The obvious answer is for the Rangers to win, but that’s not something I can control (they can’t either). The less obvious answer is to try to be more positive. But if you’re a believer in nurture over nature, then you’ll realize how hard it is. Whether they want to or not, everything coming from the media is entirely negative about the Rangers. Most everyone picks them either last or third (depending on how bad the A’s will be), and even when the spin is a positive story, it somehow winds up being negative.

Take TR Sullivan on mlb.com today, for example.  The story is not “hey, great second half last year, maybe they can keep it going in 2008”.  Instead it’s “hey, they sucked beginning last year, will they do it again?”.  Now, that’s fair enough, because the biggest question I continue to have about the Rangers is preparation.  They were woefully underprepared to begin last year, not only as part of the season but in every single game, as their starters choked over and over.  It was Ron Washington’s first year in charge, so you might give him a mulligan, but then you remember that he’d been a coach in a winning team for a decade, and should have learned something there.  And that Mark Connor has a long track record (albeit a bad one).  And that the coaching staff has hardly changed, and the roster has hardly changed (and most of those changes are not for the better).

But you could watch Newy Scruggs diss the Rangers every night on NBC5, or the writers in the papers putting their polite spin on a losing team, and you could realize it could be worse.  We could be Kansas City fans, or Devil Ray fans.  Every year their media tries to spin things positively and really, they know the fans don’t believe them but they have to say it just so they can sell papers.  I don’t have to sell papers, I don’t have to sell anything, so I can be as positive or negative as I want.  You all can skip over the parts you don’t want to read, and some of you will take the good bits out and some will take the bad bits out.  It’s like reading Jamey Newberg for the last few weeks, all the stuff about his kid getting to do things with major leaguers, and knowing my kid won’t get that chance.  My kid who, by the way, asked me tonight if he would be allowed to hug Michael Young (his favorite player) and Josh Hamilton (he has no clue who Hamilton is, but he’s happy because they share a first name).  I had to tell him yes, of course, and put off until another day the tears when he doesn’t get to meet them.

Still, it’s Opening Day, and you’ve got to be happy about that, right?  After all, it’s the first meaningful game the Rangers have played since… last Opening Day.  Today, we’ll ignore the fears of coming home with an 0-6 record against division opponents, and think back to 2005, when we started on the road against the same two teams (in opposite order) and went 3-3.  I think most people around here would be happy if we split this road trip.  Disbelieving, but happy.

I can’t find the link, but Jim Reeves in the Star Telegram last week reported on a Boston Globe ranking of managers, having interviewed hundreds of players, coaches, scouts etc.  Ron Washington ranked 28th out of 30 managers.  The two below him weren’t rated because they’ve never managed in the majors before.  Do you think he can improve?

Since everyone thinks it’s all about health this year (they lost because they weren’t healthy last year, they’ll win if they stay healthy this year) and not about talent, let’s hope we don’t get more injuries.  Although with McCarthy going to the 60 day DL today (a surprising move, since he should have been healthy in a few weeks), we’ve already lost our best pitcher from last year.   Don’t forget to keep an eye on those guys we gave away (Danks, Vazquez), but an even closer eye on the guys coming up, the ones who might get us winning in 2010.

Okay, enjoy.  First pitch at 5.40 Dallas time, which is a really sucky time to start a game.  I’m going to have to skip out of work early to see it.  I guess it could be worse, it could be a 1.05 game, which I’d miss completely.

Go Rangers!

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Finalizing the roster – I didn’t make it (again)

March 30, 2008

As I was reading through the final roster tonight, I was reminded that Josh Hamilton shares my birthday and John Rheinecker shares my wife’s birthday. It seemed to me that there have been many occasions when she’s had a Ranger share hers, but hardly any have shared mine. So, looking it up at Baseball Reference, I discovered that she had only shared with Rheinecker and Jerry Hairston, both in 2006 and 07, whereas I had previously had Ricardo Rodriguez in 04 and 05.  That surprised me, because I expected either a lot more, or perhaps one longtime player, because I know we’ve talked about it regularly.  Even comparing other teams (we do that when we read the program) there appear to have only been a few, and not very famous, opponents lately.  Hopefully Hamilton will end up being the best of our birthday matches.

What triggered that line of thought was actually a shocking discovery:  I believe that this year, for the first time ever, I will be older than anyone on the Rangers Opening Day roster.  Eddie Guardado was born in 1970, and I’m a 69er.  Last year both Sosa and Kenny Lofton were ahead of me.  This is one of those sad moments in life.  Realizing something like that makes me feel just a little bit older.  I might even have to accept that I probably will never play major league baseball (unless I pull a Billy Crystal, which gives me another 20 years to try and get famous).

I thought I would take a look today at the roster, and compare it to what I projected back in October, when I did my season-ending wrapup by position.  That might say something about what conventional thought was back then, and what actually happened over the winter.  So, here we go:

C:  I expected Laird to be traded, Saltalamacchia to get the job full-time, and one of the older guys to be backup/mentor to Salty.  I got that last part right, in that they brought back Melhuse to be backup, but despite many rumours even in the last week, Laird is still here, and has the job, and Salty is going back to AAA for more seasoning.

1B:  I predicted they’d make a splash at first, because of the lack of options internally (Frank Catalanotto and Jason Botts were my leading contenders).  Not sure you’d call Ben Broussard a splash, more of a puddle, really.  Cat and Botts are both around, Botts having done some work to try and get playing time at first.  With luck, Botts will force his way into the lineup.

2B:  I said Kinsler was entrenched, and they handed him a multi-year deal to verify it.  He ought to be there for a while.

3B:   All depended on the health of Hank Blalock, and he appears to be okay, so much so that Chris Davis is making the move across the diamond because he should be blocked at third.  With Travis Metcalf injured and out for a while, Ramon Vazquez will hold down the backup infield position, which is lucky for us because his OPS+ of 77 last year clearly signalled a renaissance for a guy who hadn’t been that high since 2003 (yes, this is sarcasm).  Better hope ol’ Hank doesn’t miss another chunk of the year.

SS:  Michael Young starts the year here, but will he finish it?  I questioned his commitment to more rebuilding, and he hasn’t demanded a trade yet, but I wouldn’t bet on him being here on Opening Day 2009.  Jim Reeves had an article in the Star Telegram this week saying Young should be named captain.  Guess he forgot to mention who the last Rangers captain was (and I’m not talking about the horse), and how long he lasted in the job.  Boy that would be ironic.

LF:  I suggested the Rangers would go for a marquee free agent CF over the winter, and have Murphy/Byrd/Botts split time in left.  I was at least partially right, as they got a CF and moved Byrd to left, with Murphy going to back up every outfield position.  Botts slides to first, and Catalanotto will get a few catnaps, since he’s been relegated to fifth outfielder/DH duty.

CF:  With so many CF free agents, I thought the Rangers would throw a ton of money at one of them, and they tried, but missed.  They actually did a pretty good job though, in trading for Josh Hamilton.  How will he fare in the expansive outfield in Arlington?  TBD.  In the meantime, I bet they sell a bunch of t-shirts.

RF:  I said we shouldn’t count on any kind of stability in right, and I was right about that, because they brought in Milton Bradley, who you could just about put in the dictionary under the definition “unstable”.  Some of the other choices made themselves unpalatable, such as Nelson Cruz, who choked every time he was given the opportunity to step up.  With his waiving today, he’ll almost certainly be in another uniform very soon.

DH:  At least they didn’t bring back Sosa.  This is going to be a patchwork position, with Bradley playing here if he’s not fully fit, and Cat and Botts getting some time in.  DH really should be a good hit/no field position, and to be contemplating Frank Catalanotto as your starting DH is pretty much waving the white flag before the season begins.

Starters:   Boy oh boy.  I said Millwood, Padilla and McCarthy are locks, with Gabbard and Volquez filling out the rotation and Eric Hurley knocking on the door.  Three of them will actually be in the Opening Day rotation – the three you wouldn’t choose.  Millwood, Padilla and Gabbard will be joined by Jason Jennings (free agent filler) and Luis Mendoza (last man standing).  McCarthy starts on the DL, Hurley starts in AAA, and Volquez will win 10-15 games for Cincinnati.

Relievers:  I thought the Rangers would go for a proven closer, and they did, but surprisingly enough they didn’t give him the job.  Eddie Guardado will slot in behind CJ Wilson.  Bad for Joaquin Benoit, who pushes down a spot (at least until July, when a contender comes to trade for Eddie).  I thought Aki Otsuka might be back, that didn’t work out.  Then there’s the whole list of dreck filling out the line.  Fukumori has looked pretty decent, but after that you’re really just filling in names.  It makes me wonder how on earth the bullpen can be rated so well – and if they’re so good, can’t we get a starter for some of them?  Oh, and the Rangers went out and traded for Dustin Nippert yesterday, to be last man in the bullpen.  Really?  Tejeda wasn’t even worth that much of a gamble, to send him out a few times in April when there’s nothing on the line?  Okay, he may not be any good, but you’re talking about the 25th man on the roster, it’s not like a critical spot.

So, there you have it.  A pretty reasonable set of guesses at the roster, most of them were correct.  Of course, you could probably do this exercise for every team and have them mostly right.  The only problem I have is the great predictability in the team.  You’re sending out largely the same team as last year, and expecting them to be better?  They won 75 in 2007, and the older ones got a year older, and the younger ones weren’t that good to begin with.  Expect a few career years, expect a few flops, that always happens.   But put your over/under at 70 wins, and try not to be too surprised if they get a few more than that.

What is he thinking?

March 27, 2008

Just a short one tonight, because it’s late.  I read in the Star-Telegram today (apparently someone at the office has begun a subscription and is bringing it in regularly) that Ron Washington said a few days ago that he preferred Mench over Botts, and that if Botts made the team “he didn’t have to play him”.  This is exactly the fear I talked about yesterday, that they would let Botts rot on the bench for a few weeks, say he wasn’t hitting and dump him somewhere.

Now, what can Ron Washington possibly be thinking when he says this?  Even if it’s your actual thought as a manager, you would have to be insane to say this out loud, especially to the media.  The whole article was about how the Rangers had discussed the competition between Botts and Mench and decided that Botts would be on the roster.  It said that Washington was opposed, but that Jon Daniels had the final say (as he should).

I think Art Howe ran into similar problems when he was managing Oakland, didn’t he?  That GM Billy Beane had chosen the team, but Howe didn’t like them all, and didn’t approve of the statistical approach that Beane took to choose the team, and so snubbed some of the players who Beane wanted to play.  Wasn’t that part of Moneyball?  I don’t think I’m imagining it.  Anyway, Howe was fired from Oakland, and is now the bench coach for the Rangers, whereas Washington was the third base coach in Oakland at the time, and is now manager in Texas.  Birds of a feather flock together.  I’m all for Washington making in-game decisions (or I should say I’m all for the manager making in-game decisions, since I don’t believe Washington should be the Rangers manager), but he should be using the full set of cards he is dealt, not deciding he doesn’t like some of them.  I don’t know what he has against Botts.  I do know if you’re playing poker, you can’t say you don’t like threes and will never use them, because you might just flop a set and win a hand with them.

Remember, Howe is the manager-in-waiting.  It would be a cunning move on his part to put the idea into Washington’s head that he doesn’t need to use Botts.  Then all Washington has to do is blurt it out.  It’s kind of a Bush-Cheney thing, with the figurehead up front and the evil genius hiding in back.  Okay, maybe I’m being a bit too Machiavellian here.

Anyway, all I ask for is for Botts to get a fair shake this year, not mess him around with an at-bat or two here and there.

Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, the whole Salty thing is a mess.  He’s the centerpiece of the Tex deal, and he’s beaten out by a guy who could barely hold his head above water last year.  I like Laird, liked him ever since he was the new Pudge in fact, but in terms of the franchise future, Salty is the man.  Get him the games, get him the experience that will be useful in a couple of years when the team is contending.  Hmm, on second thoughts:  maybe it will help to have him in Oklahoma, it gives him a chance to be catching some of the guys he will be catching in 2010.  How many of the current pitching staff do you expect will be around then?  Two or three, maybe.  Salty might get to pitch to two or three in OKC in April alone.

I’ll have the sugar water, please

March 26, 2008

Confirmation that Jason Botts made the team is tempered by the fact that he is going to be a backup first baseman and DH. So, a guy who should be playing full-time will get to sit on the bench, and in a month or so (i.e. when Mench’s requirement to be added to the major league roster or released) they will point to the fact that Botts is not hitting and say he’s not going to make it. Never mind the fact that Ben Broussard is a barely above average major league hitter who is on the wrong side of 30. Despite Broussard sharing my wife’s maiden name and hometown (sadly, they are not related) I cannot believe the Rangers would let Broussard take at-bats that Botts should be getting. Although once again we’ve been saying that for a long time. The Rangers seem, for the last several years, to want to keep their top prospects in the minors, where they can excel at looking like prospects, instead of actually doing it in the bigs. Which means the player gets frustrated and leaves as soon as they can (if not traded), and the team loses overall.

Jamey Newberg today said:  “On May 15, 2000, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was working in Boston for international food and beverage company Allied Domecq, the job he’d landed after graduating a year earlier from Cornell with a degree in applied economics and management.”  I don’t think I knew that, or at least I had forgotten it.  But it just reminded me of John Sculley, who was the president of Pepsi when Steve Jobs asked him “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”, and hired him as CEO of Apple Computer.  His tenure turned out to be a disaster for Apple, or at least an unfocused mess.  Do you think JD got the same speech somewhere along the line?  Wanna sell soda, or run a major league baseball team?  The unfocused mess part would certainly apply right now.

A month or two ago the powers that be in the English Premier League announced they were going to add a game to their schedule, to be played outside of England.  In their schedule right now, every team plays every other team, once at home and once on the road, for a total of 38 games (20 team league).  They want a 39th game, to count in the standings, to be played in major cities around the world (think NY, LA, Tokyo, Sydney etc).  It’s all for the money, of course.  Now, me, I would travel pretty much anywhere in the US to see Arsenal play.  But the funny part is that this idea was howled down in England, from both the fans and the media.   Soccer teams in England are really much more local than teams are here, in that distances are much smaller.  To give you an idea, the two biggest teams in England, Arsenal and Manchester United, are only a couple of hundred miles apart, and few teams in the league are much further apart, and often much closer (Arsenal’s local rival, Tottenham, are just a couple of miles down the road).  This is a large reason why there was much violence in European soccer in the past (it has largely disappeared, even if the reputation has not), and why it hasn’t been seen in the US.  If Arsenal travel to Manchester, they take several thousand fans with them.  If the Rangers travel to the Yankees, the tv guys have fun picking out the half dozen Rangers caps in the crowd (and those people are pretty brave, I think I would think more than twice about wearing a Rangers cap if ever I get to go to Yankee Stadium).

But I digress.  The point is, the fans were hugely upset that their teams would be playing on the other side of the world, in games that actually counted in the standings (English teams play all over the world in friendly games).  The idea of it happening has almost been killed off, after barely being mentioned as a possibility in years to come (hey, when is Hicks going to get Liverpool to come play here in Frisco?  I’d go to that, too, even if it is Liverpool).

All that to point out that Major League Baseball opened the season in Tokyo today, spreading their legs like a Eliot Spitzer hooker to get a few more yen out of Japan.  And they do it all over the place, to try and increase their international market.  How do Oakland  fans feel, knowing that two of their home games are being played on the other side of the world?  How much would Boston fans be screaming if they would have gotten two less games of their beloved Red Sox?

By the way, you should be pleased to know that today the Rangers are out of last place for the first time since April 24 last year.

I’m supposed to do predictions before the season starts, but one or two games won’t matter, will they? I’d still put the Rangers somewhere between 70-75 wins, battling Oakland for last place.

I got to read the Star-Telegram today, not often I get to see it, but there was a piece in there about signing John Patterson.  I read it negatively, of course, and reading between the lines all I could see was that Mark Connor is an idiot.  Basically the signing was his call, because he had worked with Patterson in Arizona years ago.  He was remembering this guy who could throw mid-90s, but after injury he’s down to mid-80s.  Yet another project.  I don’t mind the 99 to 1 shots that they talked about, but not when you base the franchise’s entire philosophy on it.  Try some of the 10 to 1 or 20 to 1 guys in the minors, at that rate you’ll get five of them before you get Patterson to work out.

If you’re wondering, Edinson Volquez has 26 strikeouts this spring, second in the majors, to go with his 2.70 ERA.  Franklyn German has 10 to lead the Rangers.  Luis Mendoza, who will be the Rangers fifth starter, after such an outstanding spring according to Mark Connor, has 5 strikeouts and a 5.40 ERA.  I know, I know, it’s only spring training.  You never count your cards until the dealing’s done.  And you never count your pitchers until they’re wearing someone else’s uniform.

A week, a year, who cares?

March 24, 2008

We’re a week away from Opening Day, and I’m so full of a lack of enthusiasm that it’s depressing.  I saw part of one game on tv, and couldn’t be bothered watching any more than a half inning.  I think this is the first time in years that I’ve actually gone into the season thinking that it’s going to be a year of losing.  Oh sure, we always lose, but we always start the year with the “if this happens, and this happens, and this happens, then we can win it all”.  Those this’s usually are something along the lines of the Rangers trading scrubs for superstars (instead of the other way round), getting off to a great start (say 20 or 30 wins in a row) and freaking the rest of the league out, and probably something along the lines of a strike in April, when we’ve pulled away to a two game lead (hey, it happened once – the strike while the Rangers were leading, I mean, not the two game lead).

This year, I just feel beat down.  Despite the pitching being the calamity it has always been, they did nothing about it.  Nothing.  This is a huge indictment of the team, but Tom Hicks is busy trying to stay afloat in English soccer, Jon Daniels is busy with his eighth grade algebra homework, and Nolan Ryan is busy wondering what he walked into.  Meanwhile, Ron Washington is sucking down the delusional pills (“I think we can, I think we can”), and good old Mark Connor is doing what he does best – preparing his pitchers for their months on the DL.

Seriously, three fifths of the expected rotation has injury question marks (Millwood, Padilla and McCarthy), one fifth has talent question marks (Gabbard, who may have already peaked in his career) and the last fifth hasn’t thrown a good game in 20 years (Jennings).  Never mind that they sucked last year, and somehow were going to magically find the fountain of youth this year.  Not going to do it when you have a pitching coach who doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Unfit, unprepared, get ready to tank April, just like last year.  How many times do we repeat this until he is fired?

But never fear, the Rangers went out and signed John Patterson, in their quest to win the “most days on the DL” contest, or maybe the “most broken down guys who you just hope can pan out enough that they might be worth a trade for some third level prospect” prize.  I mean, what are they going to do with Patterson?  Yet another guy whose best year was a long time ago (2005 in his case), who has been so injured that even the Nationals let him go.  Was there really a big demand for his services that the Rangers had to offer him something before someone else snapped him up, and he carried them to a World Series?  How many innings will he get in the minors before we release him?  How many of those innings could have been thrown by someone who is an actual prospect and can use the experience?  How long, how long must we sing this song?

Meanwhile, on the hitting side, Josh Hamilton has used up his entire season’s worth of good luck, unfortunately he has done it in Arizona, the part of Arizona that doesn’t count, that is.   I’d love him to succeed here, but come on, the hype machine has been in overdrive, hasn’t it?  Milton Bradley hasn’t had much press yet though, that’s what happens when you give someone a chance even though they’re injured and likely to miss at least part of the year.

The only good news appears to be that Jason Botts is going to get a chance.  He beat out the mighty Kevin Mench, which certainly surprises me – surely Mench has the “proven big league” experience that should have gotten him the nod?

Newy Scruggs on NBC5 tonight said that the Cubs are the lovable losers, does that make the Rangers the hateable losers?  No, Newy, the hated team is the Yankees, and we hate them not just for their winning but their arrogance.  The Rangers are the ignored losers.

If you’re counting, the Rangers are 14-10 this spring.  But if you are counting, you should know that spring stats are meaningless.  There is little if any correlation between spring and the regular season.  After all, the Devil Rays are 16-5, and we all know they’ll be battling Baltimore for last place.  But if you want to count spring stats, the Rangers have the fifth best AL record this spring, too bad that Anaheim and Oakland are second and third.  The Rangers had winning spring records from 2000-03 and again last year.  Didn’t do too much for them in the final count, did it?

Still, it’s spring.  Hope springs eternal, and all that.  The spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the pitchers is?