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January 28, 2005

ESPN Column

Scoping ESPN’s Mock Draft

ALFONSO SORIANO (1st round / 5th overall): Soriano struggled throughout the season despite moving to a hitter’s park, then missed the last two weeks with a muscle pull. Still, he led all second basemen in homers, was second in RBI, sixth in steals, and tenth in average and runs scored. Soriano ought to perform better this year, probably not as well as his Yankee heyday, but well enough to return to elite status among second basemen. Positional scarcity is sometimes overrated, but in this case, I would pick Soriano over someone like Carlos Beltran. The combination of Soriano and the tenth-best outfielder is likely to perform better than Carlos Beltran plus the tenth-best second baseman. Note that the walk-averse Soriano takes a value hit in sabermetric leagues.

MARK TEIXEIRA (3RD / 15TH): Until most Ranger batters, Teixeira only improved as the season progressed, smacking 20 homers and driving in 64 in the 75 games after the All-Star break. He doesn’t turn 25 until the first week of the season ends. A 40-homer, 120-RBI season is in his sights. MICHAEL YOUNG (5th / 49th): Unlike with Teixeira, I believe Young is about as good as he’s going to get. Even with some decline, he’ll rank among the best at a position with only one elite fantasy player remaining, Mr. Miguel Tejada.

FRANCISCO CORDERO (6th / 57th): Not an elite closer, but very solid. Expect somewhere between his very good 2003 and his fantastic 2004, meaning 40 saves, 80 strikeouts and an ERA in the mid to upper twos. Division-mate Francisco Rodriguez was chosen 71st in the ESPN mock draft. Given the choice, I’d take Rodriguez, who probably will offer a slightly better WHIP and more strikeouts. HANK BLALOCK: (6th / 58th): Blalock slumped badly in the second half (.240/.338/.406) but still managed a near-elite fantasy season. He, Aramis Ramirez and Eric Chavez should finish pretty close in value. I’d rather have Blalock in the sixth round than Chavez in the fourth.

RICHARD HIDALGO (16TH / 158TH): A risky pick in a round full of them. Hidalgo’s stats have caromed wildly from year to year; over the last six years, he’s batted above .300 twice and below .240 three times. I think something similar to his 2003 campaign is a reasonable expectation, perhaps with a few more homers but a lower average and fewer steals. I’d pick him over fellow 16th-rounders Sean Burroughs and Jacque Jones in a heartbeat. KEVIN MENCH (24th / 231st): On the other hand, I’d take Mench in the 24th over Hidalgo in the 16th. Without a legitimate DH on the roster (David Dellucci?), Texas practically has to play Mench every day. He might equal or surpass Hidalgo’s output.

Among the undrafted hitters, none stands out. OF LAYNCE NIX certainly has the potential to become a worthwhile fantasy hitter, but I wouldn’t risk a draft pick in any mixed league with twelve or fewer teams. Catcher ROD BARAJAS clobbered the ball in May and June, after which he resumed his woefulness. I’m concerned about his value even in AL-only leagues. Having lost the Delgado sweepstakes, Texas probably will offer a DH platoon of DAVID DELLUCCI and GREG COLBRUNN, about which I have nothing to say. No one selected any starting pitchers from Texas, for reasons that should be obvious. Eric Karabell touted KENNY ROGERS as a source of wins, but I’m skeptical. Rogers is 40, his other stats are mediocre, and wins are a fickle thing, being so dependent on run support.

Posted by Lucas at 07:40 PM

January 26, 2005

It Occurred To Me...

As far as I can tell, Francisco Cordero has the longest tenure on the current 40-man roster. Cordero, as you probably know, came to Texas in November 1999 as part of the notorious Juan Gonzalez trade.

If I'm right about Cordero, nobody on the Rangers' last division-winning club is still on the 40-man roster, not even anyone who was a minor-leaguer at the time.

Life is short.

Posted by Lucas at 11:49 PM

Rodriguez Signed!

Texas signed pitcher WILFREDO RODRIGUEZ to a minor-league deal.

Oh, that Rodriguez.

Rodriguez signed with Houston as a 17-year-old, tore up two levels of A ball in 1998-1999, struggled in AA in 2000, and received a cup of coffee in the Majors. Rodriguez, an apparent trivia buff, made the most of his brief tenure by allowing Barry Bonds his 70th homer of the season.

Rodriguez missed 2002-2003 with Tommy John surgery and pitched poorly in the Montreal system last year. The Fort Worth Startlegram reports evidence of quality pitching in the winter league.

Posted by Lucas at 11:29 AM

January 21, 2005

Moreno waived, claimed

Texas announced that Philadelphia has claimed pitcher EDWIN MORENO, who had been placed on waivers.

Moreno suffered throughout 2004, missing two months with a sore elbow and pitching poorly upon his return. Repeating at AA, he allowed almost fifteen baserunners per nine innings and his strikeout rate fell to an uncomfortably low 4.7 per nine.

Moreno's departure drops the roster to 38 players. Texas will need to add at least two before the season begins: a middle infielder to be determined plus one or both among Carlos Delgago (if he signs) and Greg Colbrunn.

Posted by Lucas at 03:51 PM

January 20, 2005

NRI granted to DeRosa

Texas signed infielder MARK DEROSA to a minor-league contract with an invite to Spring Training.

DeRosa will fight Manny Alexander, Marshall McDougall, Esteban German, and probably some others for the backup infielder spot. DeRosa has the advantage of hitting better than Alexander (not a rare asset, to be sure) and can play some outfield in a pinch. He has a pretty good chance to make the team.

Posted by Lucas at 06:10 PM

January 19, 2005

Almanzar signed

Texas signed reliever CARLOS ALMANZAR to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, avoiding arbitration.

As usual, John Hart avoids the potential for acrimony by signing all the arbitration-eligible players to contracts prior to the hearings. A wise practice in genenal, though the $1.8 million bestowed upon Rod Barajas still baffles me.

So, barring additional signings and trades, Texas looks to imitate the 2003 Angels, going into the season with a roster largely similar to the prior year. The '03 Angels fell very hard after their World Series victory. That isn't necessarily an indictment of the Rangers' relative inactivity, as the '02 Angels enjoyed good health and a covey of career years, while the '03 Angels enjoyed neither.

Posted by Lucas at 05:58 PM

January 18, 2005

Matthews Returns

Texas signed outfielder GARY MATTHEWS JR. to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, thereby avoiding arbitration.

Matthews will serve as 4th/5th outfielder and spot Laynce Nix in center against lefties. He displayed excellent defense and surprising power last year for Texas after being dismissed by Atlanta. A repeat of his .461 slugging percentage is unlikely, but even so, Matthews provides a good insurance policy if Nix can't pull his OBP above .300.

Posted by Lucas at 01:35 PM

ESPN Fantasy Column

Jogging and Stretching on the Horizon
Pitchers and catcher report as soon as February 17th. In less than one month, ESPN and other, lesser networks will supply video of baseball players jogging, stretching, tossing the medicine ball, playing lawn darts, what have you. About two weeks after that, they start playing actual games that mean nothing statistically but everything to guys like me who can name exactly two present-day LA Lakers (Kobe Bryant and Chris Mihm, with whom I share a university). I’ll delve into comprehensive evaluations of the Rangers as Spring Training takes place, but for now, let me present some basics:

Your Starting Lineup

If Buck Showalter had to present a lineup card today, it might look something like this: MICHAEL YOUNG at short, HANK BLALOCK at third, ALFONSO SORIANO at second, MARK TEIXEIRA at first, RICHARD HIDALGO in right, KEVIN MENCH in left, DAVID DELLUCCI at DH (against righties only, with GREG COLBRUNN battling the lefties), LAYNCE NIX in center (spotted by GARY MATTHEWS against some lefties), and ROD BARAJAS behind the plate. Dellucci and Matthews will back up the outfielders and SANDY ALOMAR JR. will caddy for Barajas, while Gerald Laird will sulk in AAA until Alomar suffer his requisite injury. Right now, Texas has no one on the 40-man roster to back up at second, third or short.

Soriano adapted surprisingly poorly to the hitter-friendly Ballpark, which actually can present some difficulty to right-handed pull hitters. I expect some improvement (assuming he remains a Ranger), if for no other reason than his previously established performance was so much better. If Showalter decides to bat Soriano first, expect a substantial improvement on last year’s 18 steals. 40? Nice try. Perhaps 30. Hidalgo’s annual stats seem randomly generated; what he’ll offer this year defies prediction. I think he’ll perform reasonably well, based on the Delphian visions contained in this morning’s coffee grinds. The Most Likely To Decline Award goes to Barajas, who channeled Mike Piazza for a few giddy weeks last May and June but otherwise batted as he usually did, which is to say, poorly.

On The Mound
Ranger pitching spearheaded last year’s 18-game turnaround, and the offense bore most of the responsibility for losing the division lead. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Texas batted a paltry .248/.316/.432 after the All-Star break while the hurlers posted a 4.46 ERA, quite respectable considering where they play half their games. Having said that, as in previous years, most Texas pitchers won’t be worth the trouble in fantasy leagues. KENNY ROGERS and RYAN DRESE will chew up their innings and get a fair share of wins, but they also sport mediocre ERAs and WHIPS and have low strikeout rates. Though Texas has several youngsters who could step up, including RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, JUAN DOMINGUEZ and CHRIS YOUNG, they’re too risky to draft in all but the very largest of AL-only leagues.

FRANCISCO CORDERO leads a bullpen that had the lowest ERA in the American League last year. Cordero isn’t a Gagne or Lidge, but he has moved into the second tier of fantasy closers. He should deliver forty or more saves, 70 or more strikeouts, and a sub-three ERA. In most mixed leagues, only a handful of middle relievers merit a roster spot. I wouldn’t draft FRANK FRANCISCO, but if any Ranger setup man has the stuff to help a fantasy team, it’s him. The dreadful chair-throwing incident won’t result in any jail time or deportation for the Dominican Republic native. In AL-only leagues, Francisco merits a late-round flyer.

Posted by Lucas at 08:33 AM

January 17, 2005

Soriano signed

Texas signed 2B ALFONSO SORIANO to a one-year, $7,500,000 contract, avoiding arbitration.

Reasonable, given the circumstances. Soriano becomes the third highest paid player on the team, behind Chan Ho Park and Alex Rodriguez. While I'm not the president of the Fonzie Soriano Fan Club (or even a member), I do expect him to produce better in 2005. However, now that his cost is certain, Texas might pursue a trade more aggressively.

The Rangers now have fourteen players signed at a combined salary of just over $52 million. Matthews and Almanzar are arbitration-eligible, and the rest are subject to the whims of management. Assuming no other significant transactions, the team's Opening Day payroll (including A-Rod) ought to be in the range of $56-58 million, $29.5 million of which will fall into the hands of Park, Rodriguez and Soriano.

Posted by Lucas at 11:44 AM

January 13, 2005

Yan waived

Texas outrighted infielder RUDDY YAN to AAA Oklahoma and removed him from the 40-man roster.

The Rangers claimed Yan less than two months ago from the White Sox. It's unfair to say he was Ben Kozlowski's direct replacement, as Texas dropped and then lost Kozlowski six weeks before. That doesn't make the sequence of events any less mystifying.

Yan's departure drops the roster to 39, leaving room for another free-agent signing.

Posted by Lucas at 08:10 PM

January 08, 2005

Barajas gets paid

Texas signed catcher ROD BARAJAS to a one-year, $1.85 million contract.


Last year at this time, Barajas was a non-roster invitee on one of the worst teams in baseball. Now, he's a millionaire.

Barajas earned a 270% raise over last year's $500,000. More to the point, Texas gave him a 270% raise to avoid arbitration. Arbitration must be worse than death to John Hart.

From the beginning of the 2004 season through June 24th (an eighteen-inning marathon against Seattle), Rod Barajas saw the ball as never before, batting .284/.293/.627 and belting twelve homers in 134 at-bats. Yes, that's a .009 difference between his on-base percentage and batting average, courtesy of one walk and a couple of HBPs. Well, he was locked in.

That stretch represents about 15% of his career. In the other 85%, Barajas has batted .217/.259/.338 with 14 homers in 733 at-bats.

Defensively, Barajas is considered average, perhaps better than average. He would need to catch like a 25-year-old Pudge Rodriguez to offset his offensive inability, and he most certainly does not.

Barajas deserves much praise for his role in the Rangers' first-half surge that resulted in meaningful September baseball for the first time in five years. Unfortunately, as with Herbert Perry before, the Rangers appear to have paid him as a reward for previous performance, not for a realistic assessment of how he might play in 2005.

Revisiting the statistical breakdown, I'd say, at absolute best, there's a 15% chance Barajas hits well enough to justify his contract. More likely, he'll hit about .240/.270/.390 and combine with Sandy Alomar to provide the one of the worst-hitting catching tandems in baseball.

Posted by Lucas at 07:25 PM

January 05, 2005

Zim becomes free agent again, for the moment

Major League Baseball has rejected the minor-league contract reliever Jeff ZImmerman signed with Texas. Apparently, Texas signed him to the deal despite not offering him arbitration. That is a no-no.

Technically, Texas can't sign Zimmerman until May 1st, but they may ask the other clubs for permission to sign him when Spring Training starts. It's no lock, but I'd guess that Zim ends up in Texas when the dust settles.

Posted by Lucas at 01:47 AM