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November 27, 2010

Weekend Photo

Route 66, Texas/Oklahoma border, February 2003

Posted by Lucas at 08:07 PM

November 09, 2010


On the evening of November 1st, catchers BENGIE MOLINA and MATT TREANOR, infielders JORGE CANTU and CRISTIAN GUZMAN, and pitchers FRANK FRANCISCO and CLIFF LEE became free agents.

Guzman cashed $16 million during the past two years (mostly from Washington, thank goodness), for which he provided all of 0.6 wins above replacement. He nearly scuttled Texas’s trade for him, which in retrospect might have been better for all concerned. Guzman was a cipher at the plate, didn’t play after September 8th, and, worst of all, robbed the Newberg Report of its player-blogger. Although a better player than he showed in Texas, Guzman doesn’t bring much more to the table than Andres Blanco, who is under team control.

Like Guzman, Cantu could start for a bad team but is better suited to a utility role, at which he’d be useful to the Rangers. Doubtlessly, he’s seeking more at-bats and money than Texas would be willing to offer.

Treanor achieved six years of MLB service and free agency without ever earning more than $750,000, so, unlike Guzman or Cantu, he won’t be staring at a pay cut. Though Treanor is barely above replacement level, he’s a known quantity and works well with C.J. Wilson and others. I also doubt Texas will enter 2011 with Taylor Teagarden or Max Ramirez higher than third on the depth chart. Wherever he signs, a year at around $750,000 feels right.

Molina has hinted at retirement. Though he’ll always be remembered fondly in Texas , he’s very close to the end. From 2005-2009, Molina averaged 18 homers and 23 other extra-base hits. This year, those figures declined to five and 13. He could be an acceptable backup if so inclined, but it’s hard to envision him starting another 100 games for anyone.

A disastrous opening week and last-season injury cost poor Francisco a lot of money. Fact is, Francisco was the equal of Neftali Feliz after mid-April except for a substantial margin in BABIP. Thanks to the quirks of the free agent system, Francisco might spend 2011 in Arlington. Assuming Texas offers arbitration, and it should, the signing team will forfeit either its top pick or a second rounder in 2011. That eliminates half of his suitors, as hardly any team would forfeit its first-round pick for a good-but-not-elite reliever like Francisco. (The Wade-helmed Astros might, but they finished in the lower half of the standings and would surrender only a second rounder. In any case, signing Francisco to three years at $5 million per makes more sense than Wade’s similar tender to Brandon Lyon.)

Per Fangraphs, Lee has been worth close to $30 million in each of the last three years. He won’t make that much, but $20 million is a floor and $25 million is reachable. C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana both earn about $23 million annually. Despite all he provided for Texas, simply declining to bid for him would be defensible, albeit hugely unpopular. Lee is already 32, four years older than Sabathia and three years older than Santana when they signed their respective blockbusters. He’s also pitched 520 innings during the last two seasons (including playoffs). Do his age and workload merely confirm his durability or warn of impending breakdown?

If Texas could somehow sign Lee to an upgraded version of Roy Halladay’s deal – say, three years and $70 million plus a difficult-to-achieve vesting option – I’d be thrilled. That won’t happen, of course; Halladay was never on the open market and signed an extension with his present team. Despite his advanced age, offering Lee fewer than five years doesn’t get a return phone call.

Lee is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward signing. In any given season, he could raise a flag atop your stadium. He could also suffer an injury or show his age while absorbing funds that are no longer available for other players. I’ll understand if the Rangers are outbid, and at some point during the next three to four years Texas fans will likely sigh in relief as Lee nurses a sore elbow on New York’s disabled list. That said, his departure would leave a hole that can’t be filled.

Texas declined its half of a mutual option for 2011 with outfielder VLADIMIR GUERRERO, buying out his contract for $1 million and making him a free agent.

Evidently, the $9 million 2011 option was a contrivance to defer $1 million of his 2010 salary. Clever. So, should Texas want him back, and at what cost?

Part of the equation is simple. If any team offers a guaranteed two years, Texas should congratulate Guerrero’s agent and move on. A one-year deal is trickier. Offering less than Guerrero’s effective 2010 remuneration of $7.5 million seems superficially absurd in light of his .300 average and 29 homers. However, his performance after the All Star Game justifies concern.

To say Guerrero outright collapsed in the second half is an overstatement -- he had a fine September after a terrible July/August – but he certainly showed signs of reaching the bitter end, particularly in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the future Hall of Famer, one of 2010’s indelible images will be his stiff-legged bumbling in right field in Game 1 of the Series.

Per Fangraphs, Guerrero provided 2.6 wins above replacement for his employers in 2010, worth about $10 million on the open market but at a modest cost of $7.5 million ($6.5 plus $1 deferred) to Texas. As for 2011, let’s pretend his plate appearances drop from 643 to 550, his pro-rated offensive production (in terms of batting runs) declines by 20%, and he never steps onto the outfield grass. Such a performance results in about 1.4 wins above replacement, meriting $5.6 million in the 2010 dollars. That’s a reasonable guess, but recall that only two years ago an injured and suddenly, seemingly geriatric Guerrero managed only 0.8 wins. Also, he’s likely to spend a few games in the outfield, where his value decreases by the inning. I’d say the tails of his 2011 bell curve indicate a range between zero and 2.5 wins.

Undoubtedly, GM Jon Daniels won’t stand pat this winter; immediately after the Series, he stated his intention to enter 2011 with a better team. Unfortunately, resigning Guerrero doesn’t help to accomplish that goal, even if signed to a team-friendly deal. Vlad is unlikely to replicate or excel his 2010 and could deteriorate substantially.

What of the potential internal replacements? After several memorable trades and drafts, newfound postseason success, and years of memorializing by paid writers and assorted hangers-on, Texas’s farm system is receiving more mainstream praise than ever. That said, the farm isn’t an amorphous blob from which to draw useful parts at will. In truth, Texas is presently lacking in ready-for-promotion bats. (Note that the paucity of hitting prospects stems partially from two high-upside events: the trade of Justin Smoak [and others] for Cliff Lee, and Mitch Moreland’s graduation to the Majors.) The internal bat most likely to emerge from the farm to damage MLB pitching in 2011 belongs to Chris Davis, who may yet rejuvenate his career but has virtually no chance to earn a significant role on the active roster in March. Really, the pickings are that slim. Can you imagine Texas contemplating the out-of-options Max Ramirez or Chad Tracy (not the former AZ slugger), who has belted 43 homers in the last two years but is probably facing a second consecutive exposure to the Rule 5 draft? The most promising upper-level position player, OF Engel Beltre, needs to handle AA before entering the discussion.

Signing Guerrero to a one-year deal for $5-$6 million isn’t abhorrent, but again, at best it’s a water-treading move. At worst, it hurts Texas in the standings.

Here’s ex-Velvet Underground bassist/violist John Cale at CBGB’s singing about a different type of free agent. Joey Matches has his hip-hop. I have... this:

John Cale, “Mercenaries?, Sabotage/Live (1979)

Posted by Lucas at 09:59 PM

November 03, 2010

A Moment of Navel-Gazing

February 2010: the pic that transformed shelter cat “Barry” into my cat “Ranger.”

Every once in a while, radio stations in some of Texas’s minor-league cities have me on to discuss the local prospects and the Rangers. In one early April interview*, I surprised a host (and myself, really) with my optimism at Texas’s chances to win the division. Not that I believed Texas would wins 95 games, or even 90, but I felt the lack of a single good or bad team in the West left the door open for everyone. Thus, the AL West club that combined a hot streak with a key in-season acquisition would win the division with perhaps as few as 84 games. Forced to choose, I selected the Angels, who always seemed to outperform expectations, but I insisted that Texas had a very good chance to play in October for the first time in eleven years.

Author reaction to ALCS Game 1 8th inning.

* (Some interviews are better than others. In one, I expounded on how Texas evolved into a competitor with improved defense and pitching, and that its offense was merely good, not great. The very next question: “So, Scott, everyone knows the Rangers can mash the ball, but will they ever get any pitching?”)

World Series-bound, #1.

The Rangers, in fact, rode a hot streak (20-5 through most of June, after which they were only 44-43) and made the essential acquisition of Cliff Lee. That trade effected a paradigm change for discerning fans. Much of the national media (and many locals) would continue to describe the Rangers as underdogs and upstarts because of their decades-long inefficacy. More careful observation revealed an organization focusing on a lengthy October run. Amazingly, in early July, the hapless Rangers were constructing a World Series contender.

World Series-bound, #2.

Notwithstanding some tactical miscues, Ron Washington excelled at keeping the players upbeat and relaxed (which, coincidentally, made the team very easy to root for and fun to watch). The late-90s Rangers were notoriously uptight in the postseason, with them and their fans seemingly in thrall to the Yankee Mystique. In contrast, at no point during the last month – not after losing twice at home to the Rays, not after the ALCS Game 1 debacle, and not down 3-1 to the Giants – did I feel the sense of doom that pervaded the 90s. As soon as Texas won that first game in St. Petersburg, the past disappeared. Win or lose, the 2010 Rangers would stand apart.

This banner was not photoshopped.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the Series. Despite all Texas achieved, there’s an opportunity lost. In postseason baseball, the “better” team loses a substantial portion of the time. Though I never felt they were more than very slight underdogs in any series, the Rangers did advance to the World Series with the worst record among AL competitors. Next year, the Rangers could be significantly better during the regular season but lose in the divisional round to an inferior team. They could miss the playoffs altogether. Nothing is guaranteed.

The last pitch of Texas’s one World Series victory.

That said, this was a special year. I’ve been following this team since moved to Arlington in 1972. Though I’m too young to remember, my father says he took me to see the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in what was then known as Turnpike Stadium. 2010 was the belated payoff for me and all the fans who’ve been there since the beginning (though just about any fan of more than a few years has undergone his or her fair share of suffering). Texas will never again win a postseason series for the first time, never vanquish the Yankees for the first time, and never win a World Series game for the first time. I was able to watch it all, often in person, always with my wonderful wife, and for that I am very grateful.

Posted by Lucas at 05:53 PM

November 01, 2010

Mitch Moreland Goes Yard


Not too a bad photo considering I was by the left field foul pole.

Posted by Lucas at 06:50 PM