Keys to 2013: Texas Rangers

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Starting Pitching Key: Yu Darvish

The Rangers’ starting rotation isn’t as deep as it once was. They know what they can expect from Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. The back of the rotation is a giant question mark and they don’t even have Scott Feldman to step in as a swingman while they wait for Martin Perez and Colby Lewis to return from injury. Alexi Ogando has proven he can be effective as a starter, but the key for the Rangers rotation is Darvish.

Darvish was everything the Rangers could have wanted when they paid the big posting fee (almost $52 million) and signed him to a $50.5 million contract. If he evolves into a season-long Cy Young contender, the Rangers are a title contender. If he falters, their search for starting pitching will get serious.

Relief Pitching Key: Joakim Soria

Soria is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers have a hole in the eighth inning with the departure of Mike Adams and the shifting of Ogando to the rotation. They’re also waiting for the return (probably late in the season if they’re still contending) of Neftali Feliz.

A major question regarding the Rangers’ bullpen is whether the new delineation of duties with Nolan Ryan’s possible departure and GM Jon Daniels’s promotion leads to a more conventional pitch count/innings limit for the starters that was decidedly abandoned when Ryan was truly in charge. If the Rangers switch strategies, the bullpen will be pushed harder and be increasingly important.

Offensive Key: Lance Berkman

If Berkman is healthy, he’s going to hit. A knee injury limited him to 32 games for the Cardinals in 2012 and he considered retirement. Now, with the Rangers, he can be a designated hitter and not worry about playing the field. Less stress will be placed on his knees. He still hits and walks and with the Rangers friendly home ballpark, it’s reasonable to expect Berkman to hit 25+ homers and post a .380 OBP.

Defensive Key: Craig Gentry

The Rangers’ offense is not the machine it once was with Josh Hamilton gone. Gentry can run, but that’s secondary to catching the ball in center field. The Rangers are not as deep as they’ve been in the last several years and their margin for error is diminished. Fundamentals are imperative to overcoming these changes and not missing the offense from Hamilton too greatly.

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Javier Vazquez’s Comeback and Potential Suitors

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Javier Vazquez surprisingly retired after a solid season for the Marlins in 2011 in which he posted a 13-11 record; a 3.69 ERA; a hits/innings pitched ratio of 178/192 with 50 walks and 178 strikeouts. It must be added that he also had a dreadful start, pitching terribly until mid-June. For the entire second half, he was a different pitcher, one who was in demand as a free agent and chose to “retire” at age 35.

He can still pitch, just not as a Yankee, having failed there twice. I certainly wouldn’t bring him back to the Yankees, nor to Boston or Baltimore, but every other contending or would-be contending club is an option and Vazquez, while not saying he’s definitely returning, will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and has said he’s considering a comeback to MLB. For a $10 million payday, why not?

So which teams could use Vazquez and meet the criteria as contender?

Let’s take a look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays don’t really need another starter, but I suppose they could trade Ricky Romero and attach Adam Lind to him to get Lind’s contract off the roster in exchange for a 1B/DH bat and install Vazquez into the spot, but I’d keep Vazquez away from the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Vazquez isn’t coming back for an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary, which is essentially the only method in which the Rays invest in free agents as they did with Roberto Hernandez (née Fausto Carmona). Tampa would be a good spot in every aspect, but they can’t pay him.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians agreed to terms with Brett Myers yesterday and are using him as a starter. They’re clearly intent on trying to win within their means under new manager Terry Francona and Vazquez would fall into the veteran starting pitcher template. Francona’s gentle handling of his players would suit Vazquez.

Los Angeles Angels

Vazquez is better than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, but again, teams didn’t know Vazquez was available. The Angels don’t have any room for him now.

Texas Rangers

His penchant for allowing home runs is a concern in Texas, but their infield defense would also help him greatly. They’re a contender, would prefer a pitcher on a short-term contract and have had success with pitchers like Colby Lewis who’ve left for Japan and came back to MLB making Vazquez’s departure and return a non-issue.

The Rangers are a definite possibility.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are waiting out Adam LaRoche and his free agency tour. In a free agency family tree sort of situation, LaRoche might go to the Red Sox if their contract snag with Mike Napoli isn’t ironed out and the deal comes undone. If that’s the case, the Nats won’t be able to trade Mike Morse. If they can trade Morse, they can move him for a starting pitcher. Or they can sign Vazquez and worry about the other stuff later.

Vazquez spent the first six years of his career with the Nats organization when they were in Montreal. He’s a perfect fit back in the NL East where he had his best years and pitching for a legitimate World Series contender in Washington.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have enough starting pitching, so much so that they traded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden. But Brandon Beachy is returning from Tommy John surgery and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are kids, so there’s a spot for a veteran like Vazquez if they want him. Vazquez had the year of his life with the Braves in 2009, won 15 games (he should have won 22) and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. It’s doubtful they’d do it, but it’s logical.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vazquez is better than John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick—the two pitchers at the back of the Phillies rotation and gigantic steps down from the top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—but the home run ball would be an issue for Vazquez and the Phillies offense and defense aren’t what they once were to account for Vazquez’s faults. He’d surrender a ton of homers in Philadelphia. He’s probably ill-suited mentally to the fans of Philadelphia booing him if he pitches 6 no-hit innings and then gives up a run in the seventh with the team leading 10-1.

Milwaukee Brewers

They desperately need starting pitching and have money to spend, but I’m not sure they’re contenders even though they can hit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They just spent a large portion of available funds on Francisco Liriano. But they might be able to swing Vazquez. They’re intriguing for Vazquez and vice versa. The Pirates are a NL Central club with a big ballpark and enough young talent to be taken seriously as a contender, so perhaps they can work something out with Vazquez if they clear some money elsewhere.

San Diego Padres

The Padres don’t have a ton of money to toss around nor status as a winter contender, but they could surprise in 2013 with their onrushing young talent. They also brought the fences in and lowered the walls at Petco Park, which would affect a homer-prone pitcher like Vazquez.

They could jump in on him in a surprise move.

Vazquez didn’t plan this very well if he wanted to start a bidding war. He realistically could’ve guaranteed himself $12 million if he’d made his services available at the conclusion of the 2012 season and seen the bidding go up with a 1-year deal plus an option with the requisite buyout. He could’ve made $15 million if he’d played it right.

All things considered, Vazquez and the Nationals are destined to wind up together. That’s if he decides to pitch; and if the Nats don’t trade Morse; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t try to prove himself “right” by going after Vazquez again for the Yankees.

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2012 Preview/Guide—Texas Rangers

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Texas Rangers

2011 Record: 96-66; 1st place, American League West.

Defeated Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS 3 games to 1.

Defeated Detroit Tigers in ALCS 4 games to 2.

Lost to St. Louis Cardinals in World Series 4 games to 3.

2011 Recap:

Despite losing Cliff Lee from the 2010 American League pennant winners, the Rangers again rolled to the division title in the AL West, knocked out the Rays in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS.

They came within one strike of winning the World Series in the ninth inning of game 6 before the Cardinals tied the game against closer Neftali Feliz.

The Rangers scored 2 runs in the top of the tenth on a home run by Josh Hamilton and again were within one strike of winning the World Series and the Cardinals tied the game again.

In the bottom of the eleventh, David Freese homered to win the game for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals won game 7 and the World Series.

2012 ADDITIONS:

RHP Joe Nathan signed a 2-year, $14.75 million contract with club option for 2013. (Twins)

RHP Yu Darvish’s rights were purchased from Japan for $51.7 million and he signed a 6-year, $56 million contract.

1B Brandon Snyder was purchased from the Baltimore Orioles.

OF/1B Brad Hawpe signed a minor league contract. (Padres)

RHP Sean Green signed a minor league contract. (Brewers)

LHP Mitch Stetter signed a minor league contract. (Brewers)

OF Kyle Hudson signed a minor league contract. (Orioles)

OF/1B Conor Jackson signed a minor league contract. (Red Sox)

LHP Joe Beimel signed a minor league contract. (Pirates)

C Luis Martinez was acquired from the San Diego Padres.

RHP Greg Reynolds was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

INF Luis Hernandez signed a minor league contract. (Mets)

LHP Neal Cotts signed a minor league contract.

2012 SUBTRACTIONS:

LHP C.J. Wilson was not re-signed. (Angels)

OF Endy Chavez was not re-signed. (Orioles)

LHP Darren Oliver was not re-signed. (Blue Jays)

C Matt Treanor was not re-signed. (Dodgers)

RHP Darren O’Day was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles.

C Taylor Teagarden was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.

RHP Brandon Webb was not re-signed.

RHP Tim Wood was not re-signed. (Pirates)

INF Andres Blanco was not re-signed. (Nationals)

1B/OF Chad Tracy was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

2012 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Colby Lewis; Derek Holland; Neftali Feliz; Yu Darvish; Matt Harrison; Alexi Ogando.

2012 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Joe Nathan; Mike Adams; Koji Uehara; Scott Feldman; Mark Lowe; Michael Kirkman; Yoshinori Tateyama; Joe Beimel; Sean Green.

2012 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Mike Napoli; 1B-Mitch Moreland; 2B-Ian Kinsler; 3B-Adrian Beltre; SS-Elvis Andrus; LF-David Murphy; CF-Josh Hamilton; RF-Nelson Cruz; DH-Michael Young.

2012 PROJECTED BENCH: C-Yorvit Torrealba; OF-Julio Borbon; OF-Craig Gentry; 1B-Brandon Snyder; C-Luis Martinez; OF/1B-Conor Jackson

2012 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: RHP-Greg Reynolds; RHP-Jacob Brigham; INF-Luis Hernandez; RHP-Cody Eppley; LHP-Miguel De Los Santos; RHP-Justin Miller; LHP-Martin Perez; RHP-Neil Ramirez; RHP-Matthew West; OF-Engel Beltre; OF/1B-Brad Hawpe; LHP-Mitch Stetter; OF-Kyle Hudson; OF/1B-Brad Nelson; LHP-Neal Cotts.

FANTASY PICKS: RHP-Joe Nathan; RHP-Yu Darvish; RHP-Neftali Feliz; RF-Nelson Cruz; RHP-Alexi Ogando.

MANAGEMENT:

The new ownership group led by team president Nolan Ryan along with GM Jon Daniels has authored a case study in how to rebuild a financially strapped and moribund franchise from nothing to the dominant team in the American League within a reasonable budget.

Ryan, having been one of the best and most durable pitchers in the history of baseball and definitely not babied as pitchers are today, has implemented a new strategy of letting the pitchers pitch rather than utilize a random number of pitches and innings to limit their development.

There’s still something to be said for proper mechanics and common sense in conjunction with the application of new science.

Because Ryan is a Hall of Famer and running the team, he’s in a unique position to try something different and be responsible for the aftermath¾good or bad.

Daniels overcame a rocky start as GM when he made perhaps one of the worst trades in the history of the game sending Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

He has since become intelligent and flexible in finding players through the draft; made brilliant trades of his own star players like Mark Teixeira and brought in multiple pieces like Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz that expedited the rebuilding process.

The Rangers put together a deep farm system that has allowed them to make in-season acquisitions of terrific set-up man Mike Adams and to be involved in pursuing Carlos Beltran.

This front office is willing to spend money and take risks regardless of what outsiders say as they showed when they won the bidding for Yu Darvish and signed Joe Nathan to move Feliz into the starting rotation.

The Rangers are one of the best run clubs in baseball because of the diversity in the front office and willingness to do things using the old and new schools of thought.

Oh, and they added Greg Maddux to the front office as a special assistant this past winter.

It’s funny how Ron Washington was laughed at and ridiculed until those who know absolutely nothing about the inner workings of a baseball clubhouse and the type of methods and messages that get through to players heard the recorded pep talk Washington gave to his club before game 7 of the World Series.

More than once self-proclaimed baseball “experts” who know how to calculate a player’s OPS while he’s running to first base after a single to left field said they found a new “respect” for Washington for that profane and hilarious tirade about what his team was going to do to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter.

Of course they lost. Of course one could point to several strange decisions Washington made in the course of the series that might’ve cost the team the World Series. But that’s irrelevant. Even before he failed the drug test in 2010 and came up with the preposterous excuse that it was the first time he’d tried cocaine (that’s backward lottery-level unlucky), the players always loved Washington and played hard for him because they know he has their backs.

Sometimes it’s more important for the players to do whatever they can to win for their manager than it is to have a strategic genius they don’t want to play for.

The Rangers front office gives Washington the players to win, they let him have the statistics he needs to know and they let him do his job. The end result has been two consecutive AL pennants and you can’t argue with those results.

In January of 2012, Washington was rewarded with a 2-year contract extension through 2014.

STARTING PITCHING:

With the departure of C.J. Wilson to the Angels, the Rangers are dealing with an All-Star pitcher’s departure. They don’t have a specific “ace” of their staff…yet. But Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish both have the potential.

For right now, the veteran Colby Lewis should be considered their number one and the anchor.

Lewis returned from Japan in 2010 and was their most consistent pitcher in that year’s playoffs.

Last season, he went 14-10 and his overall numbers look far worse than they did in 2010, but it’s misleading. He did allow a league-leading 35 homers, but his ERA was bloated to 4.40 by games in which he got punished for 9, 6, 7 and 6 earned runs. Apart from that, he was consistently good. In 200 innings, he allowed 187 hits with 56 walks and struck out 169. Lewis doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch and work his way out of trouble.

He’s a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.

25-year-old lefty Derek Holland was brilliant in the ALDS and the World Series. During the regular season, he led the American League with 4 shutouts and went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 198 innings. Holland has a mid-90s fastball, a changeup, a slider and a curve. Holland has All-Star and Cy Young Award-contending potential.

The Rangers flirted with the idea of shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation last year by letting him start in spring training, he moved back into the bullpen and endured some shoulder trouble that might have been as a result of the abrupt changes back and forth.

The Rangers knew that the decision had to be made once and for all. The ambiguity of not having a big league closer to replace Feliz and to leave the job open to made it a possibility that Feliz would have to move back out of necessity. That was solved when they signed veteran Joe Nathan and officially moved Feliz into the rotation to stay.

The Rangers have experience with transitioning relievers to the starting rotation successfully after doing so with Wilson and Alexi Ogando.

Feliz also might have had shellshock from blowing game 6 of the World Series after two were out, so it’s best to take him from that pressure-packed role and let him start. He’s only about to turn 24 in May and with his arsenal of pitches¾a fastball that’s reached 100-mph, a cutter, a slider and a changeup¾he’ll be able to mix and match and change speeds more effectively than he could as a reliever.

He’s probably going to be limited in his innings, but he racks up the strikeouts and will make the shift well.

When I first heard the stories about Yu Darvish, all I could think about was the misplaced and retrospectively inaccurate hype about the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu. Because of that, I was dubious as to whether teams should spend the vast amount of cash up front simply to win his rights and then pay him what amounted to a free agent contract.

The total amount for Matsuzaka wound up at over $100 million and it promised to be that much or more for Darvish.

I would’ve refrained from pursuit.

Then I watched video clips of Darvish pitching and saw that he’s going to be a star.

He has a deceptive, power motion and a wide variety of pitches with a fastball, a cutter, a slider, a forkball and a wicked off-speed curve.

Darvish’s motion combines the quirkiness of Rick Sutcliffe’s wrist hook; the hip turn and leg drive of Tim Lincecum; and the inventiveness and array of stuff of David Cone.

His ethnicity is unique with an Iranian father and Japanese mother, he’s a big personality and extremely handsome.

Darvish is going to be a megastar.

Lefty Matt Harrison went 14-9 in 30 starts, pitching 185 innings and allowing 180 hits and only 13 homers. He walked 57 and struck out 126.

He’s effective against lefties and righties and for a pitcher to pitch his home games in the hitters’ heaven of Arlington to only allow 13 homers is amazing.

Harrison has a fastball that reaches the upper-90s, a changeup, a curve and a cutter and, like Holland, has All-Star potential.

Alexi Ogando was a dominating set-up man in 2010, moved into the rotation in 2011 and made the All-Star team. Ogando was so dominant in the first half (opposing hitters had an OPS of .591) that a good second half looks worse than it is. But a .743 OPS is still good. Ogando has a mid-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider and is murder on right-handed hitters.

The Rangers have six capable starters so they can be cautious with both Feliz and Darvish by occasionally using a six-man rotation to get both accustomed to their new role and surroundings. Doing this would let them refrain from using an innings/pitch limit based on specious numbers and let the workload stay under control more naturally.

BULLPEN:

Veteran closer Joe Nathan was signed 2-year, $14.75 million contract with an option for 2014 to replace Feliz.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010, Nathan returned as the Twins’ closer to start the season, was used cautiously and got off to a bad start in April and May. He went back on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his elbow. He was demoted to set-up man, reinstalled as the main man in July and regained the form that made him one of the best short relievers in baseball over the past decade.

His velocity was back in the 92-93 range after hovering around 90-mph in April and his strikeout numbers were at one-per-inning.

For some pitchers it takes more than the usual one calendar year for them to regain their form following Tommy John and that appears to have been the case with Nathan.

For the Rangers, his signing allows them to get an inexpensive former All-Star with extensive experience (albeit struggles in the post-season, especially against the Yankees) and a potential big time starter in Feliz.

Mike Adams was acquired from the Padres at the trading deadline and was the same dominant set-up man he’s been for years with the Padres.

Adams throws one slider after another with a quirky, stressful overhand motion. He’s more effective against righties (.439 OPS), but is solid against lefties as well (.538 OPS).

He’s had multiple arm problems in the past because of that stressful motion and the reluctance of Washington to use him in the World Series was either strategic ineptitude (possible), or something was bothering Adams which the Rangers did not disclose.

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and someone is going to pay him big money as a closer or set-up man if he has a good year with the Rangers and is healthy.

Koji Uehara has been the subject of trade rumors at the time of this writing and the Rangers are listening to offers.

Uehara racks up the strikeouts and throws strikes (85 k’s and 9 walks in 65 innings in 2011 with the Rangers and Orioles) and his numbers are almost identical against righties and lefties. He doesn’t throw particularly hard (around 89-90 mph), but he has a great split-finger fastball. His one issue¾and it’s a big one¾is the home run ball. He allowed only 38 hits in those 65 innings and an absurd 11 home runs. Then he allowed 3 in 1 ⅓ innings in the playoffs.

I think I could hit a homer against him.

Scott Feldman pitched brilliantly in the post-season until the World Series.

Having won 17 games in 2009 by imitating Roy Halladay’s motion, Feldman looked like he was going to be a rotation stalwart. Injuries, particularly to his knee, ruined his 2010 and a large chunk of 2011. There was debate as to whether he’d even be on the post-season roster in 2011, but he was and played a key part in the Rangers winning the pennant. He was knocked around in the World Series by the Cardinals.

Having been a starter, the righty Feldman has a starter’s arsenal with a sinking fastball, a cutter, a changeup, a slider and a curve.

Mark Lowe allowed the game-winning homer to David Freese in game 6 of the World Series.

Lowe has a high-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider. As a second-tier reliever for the Rangers, in 45 innings, he walked 19 and struck out 42. Lowe allowed 6 homers.

Michael Kirkman is a lefty with a 95 mph fastball, a changeup and a slider. He’s put up big strikeout numbers in the minors and held lefties to a .622 OPS and 0 homers in 49 plate appearances last season.

36-year-old Japanese righty Yoshinori Tateyama is a crafty junkballer with a sinking fastball, a change and a curve. In 44 innings, he struck out 43 batters and allowed 8 homers. Lefties beat him up with a .909 OPS, but he held righties to a .189/.230/.274 slash line.

Veteran lefty specialist Joe Beimel signed a minor league contract. The 35-year-old had a bad year for the Pirates in 2011.

He throws across his body and relies on a sinker and slider and, as relievers numbers tend to fluctuate, it’s reasonable to think the Beimel could have a comeback season with the Rangers.

Sean Green signed a minor league contract after spending 2011 with the Brewers organization. He was in Triple-A for the majority of the season, but there’s no point in judging Green on his past stats and what he’s done as he makes the transition from an over-the-top sinkerballer to a sidearmer. As a sidearmer, he can be an effective righty specialist for the Rangers.

LINEUP:

I found it laughable that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was considered a “genius” not just for finding a taker for almost all of Vernon Wells’s contract, but also got a productive hitter in Mike Napoli…then none of those who were calling him a genius acknowledged that the Blue Jays didn’t think any more of Napoli than the Angels did by spinning him off to the Rangers for Frank Francisco.

Natually, after the year he had, both the Angels and the Blue Jays would’ve been far better off with the Napoli than Wells or Francisco.

Napoli has a massive year at the plate with a 30 homers in 432 plate appearances with a slash line of .320/.414/.631. That’s a ridiculous 1.046 OPS.

To put that in perspective, NL MVP Ryan Braun’s OPS was .994; Jose Bautista had a 1.056 OPS.

And before you start thinking that Napoli was a Josh Hamilton-style product of hitting in Rangers Ballpark, he hit better on the road than he did at home.

His numbers were also nearly identical hitting against lefties or righties.

Napoli’s BAbip was .344, so he’s not going to repeat those numbers, but he’s a far better hitter than anyone ever gave him credit for and as a pending free agent, he’s going to want to have another big season at age 30.

He’s also had a good year defensively and threw out 36% of basestealers.

Napoli isn’t fully recovered from a severe ankle sprain suffered in the World Series, but should be good to go at the start of the season.

The Rangers were courting Prince Fielder, but weren’t going to match the Tigers’ offer. If Victor Martinez’s injury hadn’t spurred the Tigers to spend big on Fielder, there was a chance that Fielder would’ve signed a shorter term contract with the Rangers to try and win a championship and be a free agent again in 3-5 years.

With Fielder off the board, the Rangers will again have Mitch Moreland and Napoli playing first base.

Moreland is a player for whom WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a valuable stat because the Rangers would be able to find a first baseman somewhere or play Michael Young at first regularly and get themselves a DH who’d be more productive than Moreland. Moreland was a -0.2 WAR player last season in spite of hitting 16 homers and 22 doubles. In comparison to other first basemen in baseball, that’s not very good. First base is generally a power position.

If Moreland doesn’t hit, the Rangers will probably play Young and Napoli at first base and look to upgrade their offense as the season moves along with a power bat.

Don’t be surprised to see them pursuing David Wright of the Mets.

Ian Kinsler had his usual extreme home/road splits as he mashed the ball at home with a .933 OPS and posted a .730 on the road. Unlike recent years, though, he had 16 homers at home and 16 on the road.

Kinsler is a very good defensive second baseman, hits plenty of extra base hits and steals 30 bases a year. His average dropped to .255, but his BAbip was .243, so that was bad luck and his average should rebound back to his career numbers of around .275-.285.

It took me awhile to come around as to how good a player Adrian Beltre is. Because Beltre had such a tough time putting up offensive numbers during his time with the Mariners, his numbers were mediocre and his defense wasn’t as appreciated as it is today.

Now Beltre is considered one of the best players in baseball and is building a reasonable Hall of Fame case with at least 4-5 productive years in his future.

Beltre won his third Gold Glove and his second Silver Slugger award. He had an .892 OPS with 32 homers and 33 doubles. He took advantage of the friendly confines in Arlington by hitting 23 of his homers and having an OPS of 1.078 at home.

Beltre hit 5 homers in the post-season, including 3 in one game against the Rays. He’s a leader on and off the field and was a prescient and brilliant signing for the Rangers.

Elvis Andrus is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop and stole 37 bases in 2011. The 23-year-old is improving at the plate as he matures and hitting the ball with more authority. Last season, he raised his average .14 points to .279 and his OPS from .643 to .708. Eventually, he’s going to hit 8-12 homers to go along with his speed and defense.

David Murphy plays regularly against right-handed pitching. He struggles against lefties.

Against righties in 348 plate appearances, Murphy had a slash line of .296/.348/.461 and hit all of his 11 homers against righties.

Josh Hamilton missed a chunk of the season with a broken arm and it hindered his power and contributed to the decline in his numbers from his MVP season in 2010.

Hamilton still hit 25 homers and drove in 94 runs with an .882 OPS and hit the homer that gave the Rangers the lead in game 6 of the World Series and came within one strike of winning the championship.

He’s a great talent.

But none of that is relevant for his 2012 season.

In early February, Hamilton publicly fell off the wagon and had several drinks in a Texas bar/restaurant. This was the first public misstep for Hamilton since 2009 when he was also caught drinking and partying with fans in an Arizona bar.

Hamilton is a free agent at the end of the season and he and the Rangers have tabled talks for an extension. Prior to this, his representatives were implying that they wanted a Prince Fielder-level contract of $200 million. Even before he got caught drinking publicly¾and I don’t believe those are the only times he’s had a drink ¾I would’ve hesitated before signing him to a long-term deal and handing him a guarantee of $100+ million regardless of what he does on or off the field.

Now? Forget it.

He can’t be trusted.

Much was made of the departure of Hamilton’s “accountability partner” (basically his babysitter and sounding board) Johnny Narron, who left to take a job with the Brewers.

Hamilton was functioning without a designated “accountability partner” and had a couple of drinks.

Does that justify it? Is it a viable excuse that because he didn’t have someone to say, “NO JOSH!!!” that it’s okay that he drank?

Hamilton is a family man with three daughters with his wife (she has another daughter as well). He’s an adult. He needs to control himself and understand that he has hundreds of millions of dollars and people depending on him to stay sober and clean. The “accountability partner” or personal problems are not an excuse to go right back into the behaviors that almost destroyed the life of the former number 1 pick in the draft.

I would not sign Hamilton to a massive long-term contract unless he agreed to the unprecedented caveat that if he falls off the wagon and it affects his play, that the contract can be nullified by the team that signs him.

His representatives would never agree to that, but Hamilton might.

Even with that, I’d go as high as 3-years and $60 million, but that’s it.

He’s a great player. He has to stay straight.

Nelson Cruz missed 28 games last season with multiple leg injuries and his production at the plate dropped from a .950 OPS to .821. He still hit 29 homers during the regular season.

Cruz made up for it in the playoffs as he hit an absurd 6 home runs in the ALCS against the Tigers and was the ALCS MVP. He then hit 2 more in the World Series.

Cruz was held responsible in certain circles for not securing the catchable game-tying triple off the bat of Freese in the bottom of the ninth inning in game 6.

It was a catchable ball, but it was a tough catch. Blaming Cruz is a bit extreme for what would’ve been a really good play to end the game and the series.

Michael Young suddenly found himself appreciated for what he does rather than ripped for what he doesn’t.

Young requested to be traded when he was again asked to move to a new position when they signed Beltre.

Young batted .338 (.367 BAbip), with 213 hits to lead the league. He only had 11 homers, but drove in 106 runs, but had a .380 OBP and .474 slugging.

Young is and always has been a very good hitter who doesn’t walk enough to suit the tastes of the new age experts who are permeating baseball and baseball analysis. He’s not a great defensive player, but he can play anywhere on the infield and is a well-liked leader in the clubhouse.

BENCH:

Backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba had his usual passable season at the plate and was very good defensively, but that’s not the first thing people think of now when hearing his name.

While playing in the Venezuelan League this past winter, Torrealba was arguing a call at home plate and shoved/hit the umpire in his mask. He was immediately suspended from the league for 66 games and the video of the incident went viral.

Torrealba is not Milton Bradley and has never shown this kind of temper. He’s a respected and well-liked player and it was a mistake.

There were questions as to what the Rangers were going to do about it, if anything. There’s really nothing they can do about it since it was an incident in an entirely separate league and out of the jurisdiction of MLB. If they or the Rangers tried to punish Torrealba the MLBPA would fight it to the last and they’d win.

What will probably happen is that Torrealba will apologize (and I’m sure he’s legitimately sorry) and, at the behest of Nolan Ryan, will speak to children at schools about why what he did was wrong.

It was an unfortunate and isolated incident in an otherwise respectable career.

Julio Borbon played regularly in 2010, but missed time in 2011 with hamstring woes.

The lefty batter can play center field and has speed to steal 20 bases. He has no power.

Craig Gentry is a good defensive center fielder with speed. He might see substantial time in 2011 with Hamilton playing left field. Gentry stole 18 bases in 18 tries and he’s hit for some pop in the minors and takes his walks. He’s 28 and bats right-handed.

Former Orioles’ first round pick Brandon Snyder was purchased by the Rangers. The right-handed hitting first baseman has only had 37 big league at bats, but he hit 14 homers and had 21 doubles in Triple-A Norfolk last season.

Catcher Luis Martinez was acquired from the Padres in December. He’s 27 and bats righty. He has a career .725 OPS in the minors and has a 33% caught stealing rate.

Conor Jackson signed a minor league contract after spending 2011 with the A’s and Red Sox.

Jackson was a first round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2003 and was on his way to becoming an All-Star before injuries and illness derailed him.

In 2008, Jackson hit 12 homers, drove in 75, batted .300 and had a .376 OBP. He was also a good defensive left fielder.

Since then, he’s done nothing.

With the A’s in 2011, Jackson had a .658 OPS and 4 homers in 368 plate appearances. Perhaps joining the Rangers and hitting in the Ballpark will help him return to form. He’ll be 30 in May, so there’s time for him to rejuvenate his career.

PREDICTION:

The Rangers are one of the best run, smartest and most aggressive teams in baseball. They use new age stats and old school trust in common sense by letting their pitchers go deeper into games and throw more pitches than the generally accepted limits that have hindered the development of countless youngsters in other organizations.

On offense, they hit for power, have speed and get on base.

They have a deep starting rotation, a diverse bullpen and are ready and willing to make improvements during the season.

Defensively, they’re excellent.

The loss of C.J. Wilson was addressed by the signings of Nathan and Darvish and by moving Feliz into the rotation.

The argument could be made that the team that has won the last two American League pennants is now better than it was in 2010-2011.

In fact, they are.

In spite of the high-profile acquisitions by the Angels, the Rangers are still the best team in the American League and are going to win the AL West and advance to their third straight World Series.

PREDICTED RECORD: 93-69

All 30 teams are detailed identically to the above sample with relevant statistics, evenhanded analysis and brutal truths.

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//

Yu Darvish and the Rangers

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After the rumors and speculation based on nothing other than ill-informed non-reporting, the Rangers won the bidding for Japanese star pitcher Yu Darvish.

Let’s look at how it affects everyone involved.

For Darvish and the Rangers.

The Rangers are a high-quality organization with a loyal fan base and newly formed winning tradition; they’re smart and cohesive and do what they have to do to improve and adapt on the fly.

Mike Maddux is one of baseball’s most respected pitching coaches; the team won’t expect Darvish to arrive and be a Roy Halladay-like force. He’ll be a cog in the machine backed up by a deep and diverse bullpen, a high-octane offense and great defense.

The club will make every possible concession to help Darvish be comfortable on and off the field; they know pitching and have benefited from a pitcher in Colby Lewis who’d gone to Japan after failing in North America, changed his approach and had success before returning to be a durable, solid and mentally tough starter.

Darvish will still be seen as something “other” because of his unique heritage of being half-Japanese and half-Iranian; he’s very good looking and has a marketable personality.

It also helps that he’s a star-level talent.

I analyzed Darvish’s mechanics and projected his future in the big leagues here on October 20th complete with video comparisons to other pitchers—past and present—and photos.

Despite losing C.J. Wilson, the Rangers have bolstered their starting rotation in a relatively inexpensive fashion. They signed Joe Nathan to take over as closer and are shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation; now they’ve won the right to negotiate with Darvish.

They’re not surrendering any draft picks for Darvish.

The cost—$51.7 million—is steep, but if they were going to sign Wilson, they would’ve needed to match the Angels contract of $77.5 million; Darvish will cost them the posting fee plus around $60-70 million to sign to a contract; but he’s younger than Wilson and potentially much better. He’s going to be worth every penny.

For those not realizing how good Darvish is or that the team that bought his rights are the best in the American League, you’re going to learn. Soon.

Hope for the weary and downtrodden.

Former Rangers owner Tom Hicks had the club essentially taken away from him when his financial empire collapsed; GM Jon Daniels traded Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

The Rangers newfound status as a force is a lifeline to teams like the Mets and Dodgers with ownerships that are teetering and whose financial and on-field futures are clouded.

The Rangers were mired in bankruptcy and run by a GM who’d made possibly the worst trade in the history of the sport.

Look at them now.

They’re the dominant team in the American League for two straight seasons; are spending money and spending it wisely; and are a legitimate threat to the decade-long, preseason ticket-punched playoff berths for the Yankees and Red Sox.

Things turn around quickly once the house is in order; the Rangers are proof.

The balance of power.

Amid all the controversy and disarray surrounding the Red Sox; with the Yankees being the Yankees and a large segment of their fan base acting as if they’ve just won the World Series and they’re going to get whatever they want (just because) regardless of reality, it’s glossed over that the Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions.

The Red Sox dysfunction is still palpable; the Yankees have done absolutely nothing this winter aside from making sure to keep CC Sabathia and re-signing Freddy Garcia.

With the Angels having spent over $300 million on Wilson and Albert Pujols; the Rangers winning the bidding on Darvish, signing Nathan and shifting Feliz to the starting rotation, the balance of power has shifted West.

If you want to see where the Wild Card is likely to come from, don’t look to New York and Boston; look to Anaheim and Arlington.

The posting fee nonsense.

MLB needs to act more like the NFL—they’re a monopoly; they hold all the power; they need to exert that power.

The NFL takes great advantage of their status; MLB doesn’t.

With the posting process, what are the Japan counterparts going to do if MLB changes the plot?

Nothing.

The posting process should be altered so the Japanese club gets their money and the player will have an option of where to go rather than being a purchased piece of chattel who has no option but to go wherever he’s sent regardless of preference.

Teams interested in a Darvish-type should be asked beforehand to ante up an pre-set, non-refundable amount of money into the pot; the total amount of money accrued is the posting fee; and each team that contributed has the right to negotiate with Darvish.

The Japanese team would get their money and it would probably be close to what the Darvish posting bid was; each MLB team would be taking on a certain risk by bidding because they wouldn’t get the money back; and the player would be a free agent and allowed to go where he wants and would make more money than he would under the current rules. It could even be tweaked so his former Japanese club gets a percentage of his contract for more incentive to partake.

And if they don’t want to, MLB should pull the NFL strong-arm tactic and say they’re doing it anyway and if you don’t like it, take a hike.

That’s how to run a dictatorship!

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ALCS Preview: Detroit Tigers vs Texas Rangers

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Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central; defeated New York Yankees in ALDS 3 games to 2) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West; defeated Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS 3 games to 1).

Keys for the Tigers: Win Justin Verlander‘s starts; score against the Rangers mediocre starters; don’t tempt fate; stick to the script.

Justin Verlander is rested and ready for game 1 of the ALCS after manager Jim Leyland steadfastly refused to even consider using him in game 5 against the Yankees. They won, so they have their pitching set up the way they want it.

Verlander is in the midst of one of those magical seasons and his chance of being the key to dispatching the Yankees was interrupted by the weather. He’ll have another chance against the heavy hitting Rangers. Historically, he hasn’t had much trouble in the hitter-friendly confines of The Ballpark in Arlington, but the Rangers have some hitters who can crush a fastball, notably Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton. Michael Young is 6 for 26 in his career vs Verlander with 3 doubles.

The Rangers starting pitching isn’t all that impressive. C.J. Wilson got knocked around in his game 1 start against the Rays, but none of the Tigers hitters have done much with him in their careers. The Tigers don’t want to enter the late innings with Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz coming at them—they didn’t do much with the Yankees bullpen and won’t do much with the Rangers bullpen either.

The Tigers aren’t particularly patient at the plate on the whole and when they get runners on base, they have to cash them in. They didn’t do that against the Yankees and won anyway; they don’t want to push their luck.

With a lead, the Tigers handed the ball to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde and it worked; if they’re able to get from solid performances from their starters and enter the late innings with a lead, they’ll win the series.

Keys for the Rangers: Get their starters out of the game if they’re struggling; cash in on baserunners; get the game to their bullpen with a lead.

The Rangers penchant for pushing their starting pitchers deeply into games to get the number of innings they want extended inexplicably to game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays.

Why manager Ron Washington left Wilson in to absorb a beating and essentially put the game out of reach is mind-boggling. That can’t happen in the post-season.

Colby Lewis has proven himself to be a big game pitcher who thrives in the playoffs; I’m not sold on either Matt Harrison or Derek Holland.

Ryan Raburn is—get this—8 for 12 vs Harrison with 2 homers and 2 doubles. Brandon Inge is 3 for 7 with 2 homers; and Alex Avila is 4 for 4 with a homer.

Against Holland, Delmon Young is 6 for 12 with 2 homers; the other Tigers experience against him is limited and not noteworthy.

Has Ogando usurped Adams as the eighth inning man? Or was that just for the last series and because Adams was struggling? Does Adams get a reboot as the set-up man?

Miguel Cabrera is 4 for 4 in his career vs Adams.

Cabrera murders Ogando as well with 5 hits in 9 at bats and a walk.

Inge is 2 for 2 with a homer in his career vs Feliz.

One of the reasons the Tigers beat the Yankees is because the Yankees left so many runners on base; the Rangers can’t repeat that mistake.

I doubt we’re going to see Koji Uehara and his gopher ball with anything important on the line in this series, but it is Ron Washington managing the Rangers and he wears a path out to the mound late in games and he does…strange…things.

What will happen.

The Tigers starting pitching is clearly better than the Rangers and they have an advantage in that their manager isn’t going to do something deranged to blow a game up. The bullpens are evenly matched when it gets down to crunch time; if the middle-relievers Phil Coke, Darren Oliver, Daniel Schlereth, and Scott Feldman have to be counted on at any point, that means strategies are flying out the window and both sides are trying to survive.

The Tigers will get to the Rangers starters; Verlander may get touched up in one of his games, but the Tigers will mitigate it by scoring enough runs to win.

Adams has been having control problems, but the Tigers are over-aggressive; if they’re patient, they can get to the Rangers bullpen.

Cabrera was relatively quiet in the ALDS and that’s not going to continue.

Avila was also held down in the ALDS, but he hits Lewis and Harrison well and is going to go on a hot streak in this series.

Getting past the Yankees was the hard part; getting past the Rangers will be easier and that’s what the Tigers are going to do.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX.

ALCS MVP: ALEX AVILA.

//

Tampa Bay Rays vs Texas Rangers

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Tampa Bay Rays (91-71; 2nd place, AL East; won Wild Card) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West)

Keys for the Rays: Don’t be satisfied with simply making the playoffs; expose the Rangers starting rotation; force Ron Washington into mistakes; play solid defense; B.J. Upton.

It goes one of two ways with teams that make a frantic late-season run into the playoffs out of nowhere: they either maintain their good play and streak on (the 2007 Rockies); or they get into the playoffs, are satisfied with that and get bounced early (the 2007 Phillies).

Neither the Rockies nor the Phillies had the playoff experience that the Rays do—they’ve been here before—so they won’t be relaxed and happy that they proved a point by overtaking the Red Sox; they’re here to win.

The Rangers starting rotation is overrated after C.J. Wilson.

Colby Lewis was excellent in the playoffs last season, but he allows a lot of homers and was very inconsistent in 2011. Lefties feast on him making him a target for Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, Casey Kotchman and Ben Zobrist.

I don’t trust Derek Holland—the Rays beat him up twice this season.

I don’t trust Matt Harrison—both Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria hammer him.

With all the extra bullpen arms Rangers GM got for manager Ron Washington, it leads down the road of overmanaging and making unnecessary changes once the starters are out of the games. Koji Uehara‘s strikeout numbers are impressive, but so too are the towering homers he gives up (11 out of the bullpen for the Orioles and Rangers is a lot); and Mike Adams has never pitched in the post-season.

The Rays are in this position because of their superior defense and a strike-throwing pitching staff—they can’t make any mistakes if they’re going to hold down the Rangers potent offense.

B.J. Upton is on a mission. He wants to get paid after next season and don’t discount the extra motivation of a potential World Series matchup with his brother Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks. When he’s playing as hard as he can—aggressively and smart—he’s something to watch at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths. In fact, he’s unstoppable.

Keys for the Rangers: get depth from their starting rotation; take advantage of Kyle Farnsworth‘s gopher ball; score a lot; mitigate managerial mishaps from Washington; keep the Rays off the bases; stop Upton and Longoria.

If Wilson and Lewis pitch as well as they did in last year’s post-season, the Rangers are going to be hard to beat. They have a lot of power and a superior defense behind their pitchers which is the actual strength of the pitching staff—not the pitchers themselves. They pound the strike zone and let the fielders—especially a nearly impenetrable infield—help their cause.

Washington tends to make too many moves once he gets into the bullpen; the Rangers push their starters during the regular season and will push them deeper in the playoffs to avoid that eventuality.

Farnsworth had a fine year closing for the Rays, but he’s still a manager’s nightmare with his wildness and tendency to allow homers. The Rangers have a group of bats who can crush a fastball—Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz.

Yorvit Torrealba also has a flair for the dramatic and has gotten big post-season hits before.

Because the Rays steal plenty of bases, it’s best to keep them off-base entirely. With their defense and strike-throwing pitchers, this is a reasonable goal for the Rangers.

Upton and Longoria have carried the Rays over the past month. If they don’t produce, the Rays lose.

What will happen.

Because they finally broke their playoff hex a year ago, got past the first round; beat the Yankees; and made it to the World Series, the Rangers are a battle-proven and experienced group in their second straight season in the post-season.

But the Rays have experience of their own from the World Series run in 2008 to last season when they lost to…the Rangers.

The Rays were beaten last year in large part due to the unreliability of closer Rafael Soriano. Soriano’s gone and the Rays overall pitching is in better shape now than it was a year ago.

I don’t like the Rangers bullpen despite the acquisitions of Adams and Uehara and the presence of Neftali Feliz.

Their starting pitching after Wilson is still questionable and they’re going to have to score plentiful runs to outshoot the Rays.

The Rays pitching is in a bit of perceived disarray after their desperate climb over the Red Sox to take the Wild Card; they’re starting rookie Matt Moore—their top prospect—in game 1.

But it could be the triumph of the uncluttered mind and the self-confidence of youth that makes starting Moore a brilliant maneuver.

The Rays have used young pitchers in key spots before. David Price closed games for them in 2008 and if they think Moore can handle it, I wouldn’t bet against that analysis.

A year ago, the Rangers were the team playing with low expectations and bent on killing demons of past post-season failures; they had a full-blown ace at the top of their starting rotation in Cliff Lee; they played with reckless abandon and a go-for-it mentality of “no one expects us to be here”.

The Rays are in that exact same position this year.

Wilson thinks he’s an ace—ask him and he’ll tell you in depth—but that doesn’t mean he is one on a level with Lee; if doesn’t mean he’s going to gut it out as James Shields and Price will. And don’t discount the financial aspect in Wilson’s mind as he tries to increase his free agent paycheck after the season a la Lee and Carlos Beltran.

No one expected the Rays to be here before or during the season; in fact, the consensus I’ve seen doesn’t think they’re going to be around that long either in the post-season.

But the Rays are here to stay.

They’re going to the ALCS and the Rangers are going home.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FOUR.

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The Defensive Equation With The Brewers And Rangers

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Neil Paine writes a piece in the NY Times about the Texas Rangers recent hot streak, how their defense has contributed to winning this season and last.

They’ve done it without an array of “name” pitchers like those of the Phillies, Giants and Brewers; instead, they’ve relied on converted relievers Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson; young, unspectacular strike-throwers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison; and a scrapheap pickup Colby Lewis.

While the names are unfamiliar, the results are excellent.

Is it due to the strategy to tell these pitchers to pound the strike zone and let the superior defense take care of the rest despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ ballpark in Arlington?

It certainly appears so.

The Brewers have gone in the opposite direction as the Rangers in terms of putting their team together. Whereas the Rangers built their club with this intention clearly in mind based on the deployment of players and execution of plans, the Brewers have a starting rotation of Cy Young Award quality-talent with Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo; a solid, gutty craftsman in Shaun Marcum; and a workmanlike veteran Randy Wolf.

The Brewers defense is also slow-footed and lacks range. Despite having pitchers in their starting rotation who are better than those on the Rangers, their ERA+ is in the middle-of-the-pack of the National League.

If a team brings in starting pitching the level of that which the Brewers have, ignoring the defense is a huge mistake.

The Brewers are top-heavy with bashers who are more suited to DHing like Prince Fielder; and other regulars who probably shouldn’t be playing at all in Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt.

The Rangers are deeply balanced and have built their team based on that conscious decision to focus on the factors of pitching and defense with a fair amount of power thrown in.

How much better would the Brewers be if they shored up the defense at third and short and would it behoove them to do so? And would fixing this issue now with the acquisition of a defensive ace at short the likes of Jack Wilson or Jason Bartlett help? There’s been talk of Rafael Furcal who’s been injured and awful, but a pennant race might wake up his game—if he’s healthy. They’d get him for nothing.

The Rangers success with this template is a better option than what the Brewers did. All that great pitching isn’t doing much good if the infielders don’t—or can’t—catch the ball.

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Kazmir’s Circumstantial Value

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Scott Kazmir‘s value is based on the following (in no particular order): he’s breathing; he’s left-handed; he’s a recognizable name; he’s available; and he’s cheap.

Because the Angels released Kazmir and are on the hook for the remainder of his salary (said to be about $9 million with his buyout), he’s floating around free.

Or basically free.

Teams with serious pitching issues are going to have a look at Kazmir; the team that signs him will only have to pay the big league minimum.

But is he even worth that?

Perhaps someone will think they can “fix” whatever ails him; whatever is causing him to get blasted in the minor leagues on a rehab assignment. A back problem sent him to the disabled list after on disastrous big league appearance this season and he’s been hideous in Triple A.

People know who Kazmir is because he was once a top prospect and rising star; he was part of one of the worst trades in recent baseball memory when the Mets sent him to the Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano. He’s still young—27—but because his results have been so terrible, no one should expect anything at all. In fact, if he’s able to rejuvenate his career into something more than as a journeyman lefty specialist a la Royce Ring, I’ll be stunned.

Sometimes there are side issues that have to be accounted for as was the case with a Colby Lewis, R.A. Dickey or Heath Bell who needed an opportunity more than anything else.

With Kazmir, the stuff that once made him a strikeout machine and All-Star appears to have deserted him. Triple A hitters aren’t young kids who’d be awestruck by facing a legitimate big leaguer; they’re veteran bats who are interchangeable with the 24th and 25th man on the major league roster; if they were ripping Kazmir, what are true big league mashers going to do to him?

He’s worth a look-see, but judging by numbers and perception, Kazmir is done.

Maybe he should start throwing sidearm.

And I’m not kidding.

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Under The Radar, Available And Cheap

Hot Stove
  • I think they might be useful:

For all the “name” free agents available, there are many players who are picked up off the scrapheap as an afterthought only to serve a great purpose to a club in one way or the other. It might be on the field; it might be in the clubhouse; or it could be as trade bait late in the season.

Let’s take a look at some free agents I see as useful.

Josh Banks, RHP

No his numbers aren’t impressive and he throws an absurd eight different pitches, but if he’s told—not asked, told—to cut down on that vast array of mediocrity and limited to the stuff that works, then he can be effective.

The more pitches a pitcher thinks he can throw, the less stuff he has. I know this because when I used to pitch (don’t ask), I had a similar arsenal; the only ones that were of any use were my curve and changeup, but you couldn’t tell me that then—I used to be difficult if you can believe that.

Certain pitchers have been able to throw that number of pitches. John Smoltz couldn’t wait to break out his knuckleball; but Smoltz was one of the most egotistical pitchers you could ever encounter; he had reason to be, Josh Banks doesn’t. And you can bet at crunch time, Smoltz wasn’t throwing a knuckleball.

As a cheap pickup for bullpen help, why not have a look at Banks?

Jorge Cantu, INF

Cantu’s one of those “oh him” players who has drastic peaks and valleys in his career, but always resurfaces someplace to rejuvenate his career. He was dumped by the Rays and Reds and ended up with the Marlins as a minor league free agent and pounded out a load of extra base hits.

Cantu was atrocious for the Rangers after a mid-season trade, but if he’s given a chance to play, he’ll pop 50 extra base hits. He’s not a great fielder, but he can play first, second or third adequately enough; he won’t cost a lot of money either, so if he’s not hitting, there won’t be a reluctance to bench him because of money.

Tim Byrdak, LHP

Byrdak is a veteran lefty who has been effective as a specialist for years. While many teams are looking at the annual floating lefty like Joe Beimel, Byrdak might be cheaper and would be at least as good.

Justin Miller, RHP

When he’s healthy, Miller gets people out with his slider. His strikeout numbers with the Dodgers in 2010 were very good (30 in 24 innings) and while his control is historically mediocre, he threw strikes last season.

Willie Harris, OF

Perhaps I’m having flashbacks (post-traumatic stress?) to the way Harris always seemed to torment the Mets with a big hit or sparkling defensive play in the outfield, but he has three attributes that should make Harris attractive to a contending team: he can run, he can catch the ball in the outfield and he walks.

I’d think the Phillies might have interest in Harris as a defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez. And to torture the Mets.

Micah Owings, RHP

I have a problem letting go of things that I see as salvageable.

Owings is one such thing.

Maybe it’s that he’s hypnotizing me with his ability to hit, but maybe it’s what he’s shown on the mound. To me, Owings is still a pitcher who might fulfill his potential as a pitcher and if he doesn’t, he can still be an extra bat.

Given the way certain players have been “foundlings”—R.A. Dickey, Colby Lewis—from whom teams have gotten surprising and cheap production, there’s nothing to lose from looking at a player based on availability and a roll of the dice to see what they come up with; they might even unpolish a gem.

  • Subterfuge?

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is implying that his text messages with Andy Pettitte give him the sense that the lefty is leaning toward retirement—ESPN Story.

Is this accurate? Or it is two players commiserating to make more money for the group and stick it to the team?

The Yankees need Pettitte. He knows it and they know it. Pettitte was unhappy with the way the team played hardball in the contract negotiations last year and he might be using this as a lever to extract more money in a new deal.

Amid all the accolades doled on the “Core Four” of Yankees championship players for being classy, it’s been something of a rocky road as they age. Derek Jeter‘s free agency sullied both him and the team; Mariano Rivera flirted with the Red Sox (the Red Sox!!!); Jorge Posada has been basically told, “you’re going to DH and like it”; and Pettitte is vacillating on pitching again.

I don’t see Pettitte retiring. Players know when they’re done and Mike Mussina exemplified this when he hung it up after a 20-win season knowing the team wanted him back. Pettitte’s not going to know what to do with himself if he doesn’t play; and he can still pitch.

It’s not unheard of for players to join together in such schemes to plant nuggets into the public consciousness to craft a “wag the dog” style scenario against their bosses.

Like Jeter, Pettitte is no angel; he’s not above using circumstances to his advantage. Whether or not he’s doing that now is unknown, but don’t think he’s above it, because he’s not.

  • Viewer Mail 12.29.2010:

Matt writes RE the Yankees:

It suddenly occurs to me that Carl Pavano is a perfect fit for the Yankees right now. They desperately need that reliable, veteran strike-thrower in their rotation and the 2 year strong money contract Pavano will require fits nicely into their window of contention with their current group. How ironic.

God that would be funny, but I think they’d sign Jose Canseco as a pitcher before they went to Pavano.

Mike Fierman writes RE Brandon Webb:

I understand the rangers felt like they had to do something and I get it that Webb is someone with such a well of talent that you go ahead and take a chance on him. What I don’t get, especially for a team with a 50 mill+ payroll is how you can allocate a guaranteed 3 million to this guy. if that deal was such a no-brainer then how come richer teams like the Yankees give him a MLB contract?

That’s what I was wondering. I had Webb pegged for the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies. From the reports that have been circulating, his injury is ominous for a return to form. And Webb wasn’t a good pitcher, he was a great pitcher.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jorge Posada:

You really think the Yankees have treated Posada shabbily? He got paid handsomely with his last contract. Now he’s an aging catcher with diminished skills. I love him but I don’t want to see him behind the plate for every game anymore.

I think they’ve disrespected him. Money is beside the point. Was it necessary to blame Posada for the struggles of A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain?

He was good enough to catch Roger Clemens, Pettitte, David Wells and Mike Mussina, but A.J. Burnett has the audacity to complain about Posada? And don’t get me started about Chamberlain—I’d have let Posada beat him until he fell into line.

The issues between pitchers and the catcher should never have gotten into the papers; in fact, they should’ve been handled by the manager who was a former catcher for those same pitchers on the championship teams, Joe Girardi.

His skills are diminishing and obviously at his age, he can’t catch 120 games anymore, but that has little to do with calling a game. Posada’s not innocent here—he’s hard-headed to a fault—but they’re not treating him right.

Matt Minor writes via Email RE Ichiro:

paul, i was reading through joe posnanski’s archives and came across this. I think you’ll love it.

http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2010/09/nolan-and-ichiro.html

Thanks for the link.

Ah, Ichiro.

Here’s what I don’t get: I was attacked for saying Ichiro wasn’t as great a hitter as some suggest; for saying that he has the bat control to hit for more power if he chooses to and that his relentless pursuit of singles is a selfish endeavor to accumulate numbers rather than help the team win.

Posnanski caveats his accurate assertion that Ichiro isn’t a top tier offensive player by saying: “What I do think is that Ichiro Suzuki is one of most dazzling and unforgettable hitters I’ve ever seen. I get a jolt every time I see him step to the plate.”

Does Posnanski really think this? He wrote it, so I would assume he does. I don’t find Ichiro’s hitting all that engaging. I have little interest in watching him slap singles between third and short and he plays for an atrocious team in large part because of Ichiro’s style of hitting singles while having no one behind him to drive him in. It’s a vicious circle.

I’ve said this for years: Ichiro is overrated because his talents are misused—not due to the interpretation of his value by others.

Browsing through the comments to Posnanski’s posting, I was struck by the absence of vitriol as if they’re afraid to disagree. No one had an issue coming at me when I unloaded—accurately—on Ichiro a few months ago, but they had legitimate reason to be frightened when I retorted because I have no compunction about blasting back with no thought to collateral damage.

Let’s see if anyone comes back at me now.

Let’s….see….