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February 26, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Less Than 100%
“Tentative” was the word used by manager Buck Showalter to describe ALFONSO SORIANO’s participation in Spring Training drills. Soriano missed the last two weeks of 2004 with a torn tendon below his hamstring and didn’t start running until recently. Management considers him healed but a bit gun-shy, worried that he’ll reinjure himself, and they may hold him out of the first few intra-squad games as a precaution. He may return to the leadoff spot (where his mediocre OBP is ill-suited, but what the hey) and improve on last year’s eighteen steals. As mentioned last week, he should rebound somewhat from last year’s disappointing season, but another 40-steal season is improbable. Think high twenties.

Cordero Almost 100%
Near-elite closer FRANCISCO CORDERO missed the first few days of drills with a sore shoulder, throwing a little fear into people like me who own him in a keeper league. The team doesn’t consider the situation serious. He’s participating in long toss and could throw in anger in a few days. Fellow reliever FRANK FRANCISCO, a potentially useful reliever in AL-only leagues, hasn’t throw at all because of elbow soreness and will be shut down until at least the end of the month. OF/1B JASON BOTTS, a longshot to make the team as a DH, has been sidelined with back spasms. Botts probably will begin the season in AAA but has a chance to make a late-season impact in Texas.

Everyone Else Is Healthy
Texas didn’t participate much in the offseason feeding frenzy and should write out a lineup very similar to last year’s. Soriano will probably lead off, followed by shortstop MICHAEL YOUNG and 3B HANK BLALOCK. 1B MARK TEXIERA will bat fourth, newcomer RICHARD HIDALGO fifth, and fellow outfielder KEVIN MENCH sixth. As of today, a platoon of DAVID DELLUCCI and GREG COLBRUNN would DH. LAYNCE NIX and ROD BARAJAS will finish the order, with GARY MATTHEWS replacing Nix frequently against lefties. Young has lost his eligibility at 2B but that doesn’t affect his value much. Teixeira retained OF eligibility in ESPN leagues, giving him a slight boost. The top six batters are draft-worthy in mixed leagues. I’ll get into stat predictions and discussions of upside and downside next week.

As with last year, Cordero is the only Ranger meriting a spot on every draft list. Both KENNY ROGERS and RYAN DRESE should win their fair share of games but otherwise offer pretty mediocre fantasy stats to mixed-league owners. CHAN HO PARK is already tinkering with his delivery less than a week into Spring Training, much to Showalter’s dismay. He’ll make the rotation or finally be cut. Either way, avoid him. Vet PEDRO ASTACIO is back from two years lost to injury. Youngsters RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, CHRIS YOUNG and JUAN DOMINGUEZ have potential, but their uncertain status and lack of experience make them too risky. Should anyone step up (or out), I’ll keep you informed.

About the Ballpark
The Ballpark In Arlington (yes, I know it has a new and improved name) wasn’t always a hitter’s heaven. It played neutral or only slightly hitter-friendly until 2002, when construction of a premium group of seats known as the “Gold Club” altered wind currents near the playing field. The Ballpark “catches” the prevailing southern winds and pushes them in the opposite direction, straight out to center field. Thus, more fly balls end up in the seats, and those that don’t have warped trajectories that play havoc with center fielders. Many parks inflate homers but suppress other types of hits such as doubles and triples. Last year, The Ballpark wasn’t profoundly homer-friendly but inflated all types of hits, resulting in the best hitter’s environment in the American League.

In 2004, the aggregate batting line in the AL was .270/.333/.433. Adjusting for the home park, a Ranger would have to hit .283/.353/.455 just to be average. That’s an increase of 13 points in batting, 20 in OBP, and 22 in slugging. Similarly, a league-average AL would post an ERA of 4.63 in an average park but would have a 5.05 ERA in Texas, an increase of almost one-half run. Individual results will vary, of course; Soriano’s lackluster 2004 is living proof. Still, these are figures to keep in mind when a player joins or departs the Rangers. The Ballpark isn’t the Coors Field of the American League, but since Kansas City moved the fences back, Texas owns the best AL hitter’s environment by a healthy margin.

Posted by Lucas at 02:34 PM

February 25, 2005

And Even More Signings

Texas signed pitchers R.A. DICKEY, JUAN DOMINGUEZ, and KAMERON LOE and 2B JASON BOURGEOIS to one-year contracts.

Dickey gets $372,500 in the Majors and $270,000 in the minors. The others get the minimum of $316,000 while in the Majors. With an option remaining and the improved bullpen, Dickey may spend part of the season in AAA.

Posted by Lucas at 09:17 AM

February 20, 2005

Chris Richard joins Rangers

Texas signed OF/DH Chris Richard to a minor-league contract.

Richard has a career line of .258/.324/.452 over four mostly abbreviated seasons. Shoulder problems ruined his last two years. He'll compete for a spot in AAA with a chance to play in Texas if half the team gets hurt.

Posted by Lucas at 03:29 PM

More signings

Texas signed pitchers FRANK FRANCISCO, AGUSTIN MONTERO and NICK REGILIO to one-year contracts.

Francisco will receive $321,500, the others $316,000 for time spent in the Majors.

Posted by Lucas at 03:24 PM

February 19, 2005

ESPN Column

Francisco and Francisco Show Up Sore
Closer FRANCISCO CORDERO and ace setup man FRANK FRANCISCO watched their teammates from the dugout during the first day of Spring Training. Cordero has a sore shoulder, Francisco is nursing a sore elbow. Neither situation is considered serious; in Cordero’s case the team didn’t even order an MRI. Nevertheless, it’s a situation worth watching for fantasy owners. When upgrading or downgrading players before the draft, health means much more than statistics. Any banjo hitter can bat .500 over a few games against substandard competition, and any superstar can slump for a couple of weeks. Grapefruit and Cactus League stats disappear on Opening Day, but bad knees and shoulders remain.

Teixeira or Blalock?
Given the choice, who would you draft first? That’s a tough question to answer, as both finished with similar fantasy numbers in 2004. The conventional wisdom suggests taking Blalock because of positional scarcity at third base, but is that wisdom correct? Third base now has a plethora of superior fantasy players, with guys like A-Rod, Beltre, Rolen, Chavez, Mora, Aramis Ramirez, and Blalock vying for supremacy. First base does have more depth. Regarding the players themselves, Blalock ought to improve on last year’s .276 average but seems fully developed in the power department. Teixeira has genuine breakout potential, could become an elite slugger as soon as this year, and has retained outfield eligibility in ESPN leagues. I would chose Teixeira.

Kevin Mench’s Excellent Adventure
Last year at this time, outfielder KEVIN MENCH slept uncomfortably Buck Showalter’s doghouse. Frequent injuries, an unwillingness to play winter and a seemingly carefree style did not score points with management. Now, he’s the everyday left fielder, someone the Rangers would rather keep than trade. Teammate RICHARD HIDALGO is the “name” and will be drafted before Mench, but Mench ought to produce similar numbers and could be a late-round steal. That said, don’t get carried away; he does have an injury history and has never surpassed 500 plate appearances. Mench crushes lefties and gets by against righties.

Alfonso Soriano’s Bogus Journey
Despite having by far his worst season in three years, ALFONSO SORIANO ranked among the elite fantasy second baseman in 2004. That couldn’t have mollified owners who drafted him in the first round and speaks more to the weak competition at the position than his own merits. Soriano produced 37 fewer runs, ten fewer homers and seventeen fewer steals than the previous season. He adapted well to The Ballpark but inexplicably suffered on the road (.244/.291/.444) and didn’t produce with runners in scoring position. In previous years, neither situation had bothered him. Expect at least a partial return to former Yankee glory in 2005. He should approached 100 runs and RBI and again surpass 30 homers. Even if he leads off, don’t count on more than 20-25 steals.

Designated Mediocrity
The Rangers don’t have what anyone would consider a wonderful DH situation. As it now stands, DAVID DELLUCCI would garner most of the at-bats against righthanders, and GREG COLBRUNN would bat against lefties, with others filling in as needed. Dellucci doesn’t hit that well for a corner outfielder, much less a DH, so Texas is looking for improvement even as Spring Training begins. Rumored targets include Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney and Detroit’s Bobby Higginson and Rondell White. Unfortunately, all have plus-sized contracts, and Kansas City would want Kevin Mench. Losing Mench to gain one of these guys isn’t a net positive, even when ignoring salary implications. Texas also will watch ADRIAN GONZALEZ and AA standout JASON BOTTS in the hopes that one will step up.

Posted by Lucas at 02:20 PM

February 17, 2005

Three more signed

Texas signed reliever ERASMO RAMIREZ and starters NICK MASSET and JOSH RUPE to one-year contracts.

Terms weren't disclosed, but Masset and Rupe are new to the 40-man roster and almost centainly will earn the minimum should they reach the Majors this season. Ramirez probably received a token raise. 24 of the 40 players have contracts.

Posted by Lucas at 08:24 AM

February 16, 2005

Gonzalez signed

Texas signed Adrian Gonzalez to a one-year contract that will pay him $316,000 while in Texas and $76,000 in the minors.

Gonzalez appears to be a longshot to make the Opening Day roster, but he'll be on the short list of call-ups should a position player struggle or suffer an injury.

Posted by Lucas at 12:17 PM

February 15, 2005

Laird Signs

Texas signed catcher GERALD LAIRD to a one-year contract. Laird will earn $325,000 (pro-rated) in the Majors and $240,000 (pro-rated) in the minors.

Is Laird a Major League catcher? It's a legitimate question. Laird offered good defense and a power-bereft .300 average during the first six weeks of 2004. Upon his premature return from a serious thumb injury, he offered destitution, forcing the Rangers to start Rod Barajas almost every game. A Laird who could imitate his seasons in the high minors (.260/.340/.420) would be most welcome.

Rod Barajas and Sandy Alomar are known qualities. Barajas will hit .240 while popping one home run and drawing one walk every two weeks. At his advanced age, Alomar wouldn't be much different than Barajas as an everyday catcher, but with him you get the bonus of imminent breakdown.

Ranger management, for now, is saying that Laird isn't good enough to start over someone who will hit .240/.260/.390. Whether true or not, it's a disappointment.

Posted by Lucas at 12:22 PM

February 10, 2005

ESPN Column

What To Play? A Few Suggestions
As always, ESPN will offer a variety of league sizes, scoring methods and draft systems to the fantasy owner. Based on several years of play, I offer the following recommendations. 1) Get your friends to join with you. The game is always more fun with people you know. 2) Take part in a live draft. I guarantee that the most fun you’ll have in the league all season will be on draft day. Set aside a block of time and draft the team you really want. If you absolutely can’t draft live, choose the Multi-List option. I’ve found that this option is more likely to give you a team that fits your draft strategy.

3) In mixed leagues, join a twelve-team league. Unless you’re completely new to the game, a twelve-team mixed league offers the best challenge. Smaller leagues will have too many good players on the waiver wire, tending to compress differences between teams. A larger league places more emphasis on the draft, clever trading, and strategic free-agent acquisitions. 4) In AL-only leagues, typical owners should choose an eight-team league. In a ten-team league, the combined fantasy rosters will require more hitters than real-life everyday players. If you’re a serious owner who seeks out small edges from platoons and injury substitutions, a larger league is definitely for you. Owners who don’t want to know every fifth outfielder in the AL will be happier in an eight-team league.

Questions About Teixeira
Reader “MP” recently sent in a well-reasoned explanation of why 1B MARK TEIXEIRA might not be as productive this season as most assume. He argues that Teixeira’s monstrous July -- .300/.379/.750, 13 homers, 30 RBI – was a performance that a Bonds, Guerrero or Pujols might accomplish once in a while, but for Teixeira it’s far less likely to reoccur. Thus, a potential owner might be wise to slightly discount his 2004 performance. It’s a valid argument, but in doing some research I discovered that such months are much more common than you might think. That July, Teixeira’s OPS of 1.129 was surpassed by seven players, including Bonds, Pujols, and lesser names like Carlos Lee and Jeromy Burnitz. A whopping 21 players had an OPS of 1.000 for the month. Other months are no different.

Almost any competent Major League hitter is capable of tossing out a line of .300/.400/.650 over a 25-game stretch. David Dellucci, of all people, did so twice last season. The important issue is how these players hit the rest of the time. In Teixeira’s case, he posted an OPS under .870 in only one month last season. Yes, July was an anomaly, but he also hit very well in four of the other five months. Meanwhile, Dellucci had a sub-.500 OPS in June and September and a .783 OPS on the season. The lesson is not to let short-term performances sway your assessments of players, especially in the first few weeks of the season. You should expect an occasional tremendous or terrifying month from just about every player.

Floyd And Other Outfielders
The Rumor Mill is churning out “Cliff Floyd To Texas” pulp again. If Texas does acquire another outfielder or legitimate DH, it won’t affect other fantasy-worthy Rangers much. Right now, Texas features the twin terrors of Dellucci and GREG COLBRUNN at DH. Another bat would cost them the most playing time, not KEVIN MENCH or LAYNCE NIX (who is fantasy-worthy now but has the potential). Incidentally, Texas is discussing a long-term deal with Mench, perhaps indicating that, yes, they intend to start him practically every game.

Vote For Pedro?
Texas won the dramatic PEDRO ASTACIO sweepstakes last week. The Major League contract bestowed upon him pretty much insures his place in the rotation barring injury or utter collapse. Historically, Astacio is a better pitcher than his career 4.61 ERA would indicate; four years in Colorado will ruin anyone’s numbers. More recently, injuries have limited him to a handful of mostly dismal innings. Hardcore owners in AL-only leagues might want to keep an eye on him as an extra double secret sleeper. The rest of you may ignore him with impunity. His signing makes the last rotation spot a horse race between CHRIS YOUNG, RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, and JUAN DOMINGUEZ.

Posted by Lucas at 12:59 AM

February 09, 2005

Contracts

Texas signed pitcher RYAN WING to a one-year contract for $316,000. UT MARK DEROSA signed a one-year deal for $500,000 plus incentives.

Wing's deal will be pro-rated for time spent on the ML roster. DeRosa is an NRI; his deal is contingent upon making the team. In addition to the base salary, he can earn $20,000 for reaching 200 plate appearances and $20,000 for each additional 25 PAs up to 425. So, if Hank Blalock retires in June, DeRosa might earn a full $700,000.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram also shed light on Pedro Astacio's complicated incentives:

$800,000 base
+50,000 for reaching 80 innings
+50,000 for each additional 10 innings up to 150
+100,000 for each additional ten innings from 160 to 210
+8,333 for each start of 10 through 18
+16,667 for each start of 19-24
+25,000 for each start of 25-27
+33,333 for each start of 28-33
+75,000 for everry 30 days on active roster
+ up to 350,000 in award bonuses

There will be a quiz tomorrow.

Posted by Lucas at 07:11 AM

February 06, 2005

Nivar signs for minimum

Texas signed 2B/OF RAMON NIVAR to a one-year contract for $316,000.

I assume the $316,000 applies only to time spent on the ML roster. Nivar was a decent prospect once. Now, his ceiling appears to be as a utility man.

Posted by Lucas at 01:25 PM

February 04, 2005

Bukvich Snared

Texas claimed pitcher RYAN BUKVICH off waivers from San Diego.

Until his 2002 call-up in Kansas City, Bukvich offered a Nolan Ryan-like performance; in 148 relief innings, all in relief, he put forth a 1.28 ERA and (on a per-nine-inning basis) a miserly 5.2 hits, a whopping 11.7 strikeouts... and a grisly 4.6 walks. At a higher level of competition, he seems to have become a random vector generator, walking 6.4 per nine innings while hitters have caught up to his fastball to an extent. In the Majors, Bukvich has 35 strikeouts and 35 walks in 42 innings.

Bukvich reminds of the Chris Rock routine. Rock talks about not wanting to end up the old guy at the club. "He's not old, just a little too old to be in a club." That's Bukvich, who turns 27 in May. He's not old, just a little too old to be a prospect.

The arrival of Bukvich and Astacio gives Texas a full 40-man roster for the moment. With the likely promotion of Greg Colbrunn and a yet-to-be-determined middle infielder, the Rangers have more shuffling to do.

Posted by Lucas at 06:47 PM

Rangers ink Astacio

Texas signed pitcher PEDRO ASTACIO to a one-year, Major-league contract and added him to the 40-man roster. Terms were not disclosed.

Astacio was asking for $700,000 up front and $1.3 million in incentives, quite a generous self-assessment considering his ERA+ of 77 during the last three years. What he will receive from Texas is not known at this time.

Even with a surgically repaired shoulder, Astacio probably represents a step up from John Wasdin in terms of an AAA insurance policy. Texas used sixteen starters last year; for him and almost any veteran in Oklahoma with a decent arm, the question isn't if they'll be called up, but how often. Astacio would be a fine NRI. Unfortunately, the Major-league contract essentially guarantees a spot in the rotation. My thinking was that a strong Spring Training from Juan Dominguez or Ricardo Rodriguez would get one of them a spot in the rotation. Now, Rogers, Drese, Park, and Astacio are in place and last spot is presumably Chris Young's to lose.

Not to seem overly pessimistic, but the rotation as a whole has a high risk of failure. Rogers pitched well last year but is 40. Drese pitched very well last year but has a very spotty track record. Young is promising but unproven, certainly no lock to provide 180 league-average innings. Chan Ho Park is Chan Ho Park. And Astacio has 45 awful ML innnings to his credit over the last two years. There is a chance, not a small one, that the rotation could approach 2003 in terms of historic ruination.

UPDATE: Astacio gets $800,000 for signing his name and up to $2.2 million in attendance and performance bonuses. Furthermore, John Hart proclaimed him a "quality guy," presumably in reference to his pitching ability and not his character. Astacio pleaded guilty to punching his estranged, pregnant wife in 1999 and temporarily faced deportation to the Dominican Republic.

Posted by Lucas at 05:57 PM