by Peter Ellwood and Patrick Despain
The following is a conversation between Patrick Despain (Shutdown Inning editor/writer) and Peter Ellwood (Shutdown Inning writer) all about Josh Hamilton and his future with the Texas Rangers.
So Patrick, for the past month or so, much of Ranger nation has been debating whether the Rangers should sign Josh Hamilton, or Prince Fielder, to a long-term deal. Well, Fielder was signed by the Tigers for 9 years and $214 million, so what does that mean for the Rangers and Hamilton?
The impact on the Rangers and Josh Hamilton, probably goes from "if" they'll sign Josh to "when and how much". The years and dollar figures for Fielder, in my opinion, won't have much to do with Hamilton. I think Josh has made a home here, and he might accept a little less to be here with Wash and his friends in the clubhouse. That being said, it won't be cheap - probably somewhere in the 5/6 year range with an option at an AAV of $17M to $21M.
What if I were to suggest to you that I don't think the signing of Prince should have ANY impact on the Hamilton contract conversations? Furthermore, what would you say to the proposal that I don't think it's a good idea for the Rangers to sign Hamilton, unless it is at a rate well below the market value?
There are three things that scare me about Hamilton and his contract negotiations:
1. Obviously, health is a big concern. He is a big body, and is possible too strong and fast for his own good. Too many things that can too easily break. Giving any kind of long-term deal to a 31-year old with his health risk is scary because you never know which year is going to be his last.
2. There has been an extraordinary increase in the talk of Hamilton being a fan-favorite, the face of the franchise, etc. The last time those kinds of sentiments found their way into contract negotiations, we ended up with a Michael Young contract that we are regretting for the last three years of the deal.
3. Hamilton is a great guy, strong Christian, and very friendly. However, he seems to have a pretty good ego on him, and I don't think he sees his value the same way the Rangers need to see his value. In Hamilton's words, he wants to be treated "fair", doesn't want to even hear any kind of "lowball" offer, and he thinks he can "stay healthy a whole year and put up as good of numbers as anybody". Those aren't the words of a player willing to cut any kind of team-friendly or hometown discount type of deal.
I agree on the impact of Prince. No bearing at all on Hamilton.
(1) Health is a HUGE concern. However, some of his injuries have been of the "freakish" nature. The ribs from 2010, were a result of him turning his ankle. The shoulder last year was another one that just seemed strange, but it did happen. Giving a contract to him at this age is a risk, but one I'm willing to take...but at a comfortable level of yrs/$.
(2) When negotiating, the Rangers cannot fall into the "Face of the Franchise" mentality, like they did with Young. When that deal was made, the Rangers were a losing team and had to keep someone to put people in the seats. They don't need that now.
(3) I think his comments are just posturing. It's negotiating. However, pulling a Pujols and not talking about an extension once the season or Spring Training starts, is a concern for me. It should be a concern for Hamilton too though. If he gets hurt without an extension, his market value will decline drastically. The smart move for him is to get his agent on the phone with JD and work out a fair deal that works for both parties.
You make a good point about it being in Hamilton's interest to get a deal done before the season starts. I have always looked at it from the other side - if the Rangers want to keep Hamilton, it's in their interest to get a deal done before free agency. Since Jon Daniels took the reins, and since the new ownership has come in, I think they have demonstrated they are willing to loosen the purse strings to make impact moves, but they aren't willing to over-extend to get a deal done. Allowing Hamilton to hit the open market and start pulling in other offers would almost assuredly guarantee he will no longer don a Texas Rangers uniform. Some team will pay him for his 2008 value for every year of a long-term deal, but the Rangers front office is smart enough to not do that.
What if this turns into another pre-2011 C.J. Wilson type of scenario? It's essentially the same situation: a stud player under the Rangers control for one more year, who is very good but is not a sure thing for years to come. The Rangers offered C.J. a 3/$36m type of deal, which Wilson saw as being far too low. Wilson bet on himself to have a great 2011, and then he went out and did it, and made himself $40m in the process. I can see the Rangers making a similar offer to Hamilton. Lower than what he wants, but it's in their comfort zone. Hamilton would likely make the same choice Wilson did, bet on himself to have a great year, and then go get paid a bigger contract by someone else.
If that's how it plays out, how do you react to that? And, how do you think Hamilton reacts to that, would it have an impact on his play in 2012?
I think that will be Josh's plan. Play it out, hope for a good year. The one thing Josh has is his faith in himself. He's a confident guy, so he may very well take the route of CJ.
But, I don't think it impacts his play. I think he'll go out and do the same thing he's always done, run through walls, dive, slide head first, etc. I think he'll have a great year, depending on injuries. If he goes injury free, he'll be an MVP candidate once again. This is a real enigma for the Rangers. Take the chance by letting him play it out and having to pay big money, or get him low, or try to lock him up now and possibly over pay. What do you think?
If I'm Hamilton, I want to hit free agency at the end of 2012, and see what an open bidding market would get me. To not get to that point, any extension offer from the Rangers before the season starts would have to be within 10% of what I believe my maximum value is. So if I think I'm worth a 6 year, $120 million deal, a pre-season extension would need to be 5-6 years at $18 million per year. The 10% reduction is my risk coefficient for the "what if" of another serious injury in 2012. Anything less than that and I'm just going to play it out.
The Rangers have to consider the opportunity cost of signing Hamilton. If he is signed to a long-term deal, are you paying him to be your LF? 1B? DH? He is certainly not your CF any longer. This has to factor into the amount the team is willing to pay him. What kind of restrictions would it place on the club if all of a sudden Hamilton is the $18M/year "face" holding down the DH spot in 2 years? Isn't that what is driving us nuts about Michael Young's contract right now?
With the Yu Darvish and Rangers negotiations, I never doubted that a deal would get done. It was to the advantage of both sides to come to an agreement. With Hamilton and the Rangers, I'm not sure it is to the advantage of both sides to come to an agreement. Hamilton wants to hit free agency, and the Rangers probably want to have more time to see how some of their OF prospects develop before determining just how much they need Hamilton in the future.
No matter what, if a deal is not inked by Opening Day, I don't think Hamilton is a Ranger beyond 2012. Someone will pay more than the Rangers are willing to extend themselves for.
Peter and Patrick are Staff Writers for Shut Down Inning. You can contact Peter at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @Peter_Ellwood. You can email Patrick at Patrick.Despain@shutdowninning.com or Tweet him @ShutDownInning.
by Dan Allsup and Mike McGehee
Miguel De Los Santos has been pitching in the minor leagues for five years now.
He’s 23 years old. And he happens to be coming off of one of the most impressive performances for a pitcher in the Arizona Fall League. The same Arizona Fall League that is famous for producing hugely inflated offensive numbers for hitters.
De Los Santos was just 18 years old when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his elbow. A common surgery in baseball, but recovery times differ for each player. He has spent his time since then building up endurance in both pitch count and number of pitches. He had just 42 minor league innings pitched under his belt before he fell to injury.
The most promising quality in De Los Santos is the number one ranked change-up in the Rangers system according to Jamey Newberg of The Newberg Report. It was this change-up that allowed him to dominate most of the hitters he faced in the Fall League in Arizona this past year. Arizona is known for being an offense-first league with a favorable ballpark, atmosphere, and usually only allowing pitchers to go two innings at most. Still, De Los Santos shined.
De Los Santos started six games and appeared in nine games total over 30.1 innings. He was an undefeated 5-0 with a 3.26 ERA and a .178 avg/against. Over those innings De Los Santos struck out 40 batters while only walking 15. Not a bad ratio in the most hitter friendly league in baseball.
His change-up rises above his contemporaries because of its screw-ball action and his ability to repeat the same arm action as his fastball for his change-up. In fact, his change-up is so dominant; Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus recently graded it as the best in the entire minors. His is the kind of change-up that all Rangers fans are hoping the Maddux brothers can teach to Neftali Feliz this offseason for his switch into the starting rotation.
De Los Santos’ control issues stem from his unorthodox delivery; it's very wild and similar to Alexi Ogando. His curveball was his best pitch in his early years, but the evolution of his change-up - combined with his uncontrollable break to his curveball - has relegated the curveball to his third best pitch. Command and control issues seem to be the only obstacle in DLS' path to Arlington.
We have seen this issue manifested in other pitchers in the Rangers organization, most recently in Pedro Strop. Strop had one of the more dominating fastballs in the game, but hitters quickly learned that without command, they could simply watch four balls go by and take their base. Without a doubt, command is far more important than velocity, but De Los Santos understands this because his focus is arm slotting and his change-up.
With 94 IP being his career high in six minor league seasons, it's likely he won't be featured in the rotation. Not every prospect is built to be a top of the rotation starter. De Los Santos is an easy pick for a relief role because of his violent delivery, excellent make-up, strikeout pitch and left-handed delivery.
De Los Santos finished the 2011 year with the Frisco Rough Riders. It is unclear exactly where he will start his 2012 season, but it is not hard to see him in AAA ball quite quickly. The Rangers will be monitoring his progress and the young lefty is probably one good year away from a spring training invite. His plus change-up and arm slot should give every Rangers fan another reason to be very excited for the future.
ETAA: De Los Santos could see big league action as early as late this summer. To be safe, we think Ranger fans should be looking forward to this break out, knee buckling change-up debuting at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Dan Allsup and Mike McGehee are Staff Writers for Shut Down Inning. You can email Dan at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @SDIDan. You can reach Mike at Mike.McGehee@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @SDIMikeMcGehee
by Peter Ellwood
For me, it started in 2010. I dipped my toe into it, not knowing what exactly it was or where it would lead. To my surprise, it enhanced my knowledge and enjoyment of the things that I cared about the most. Then I began to contribute, and not just consume. I found myself having more conversations with complete strangers, from whom I learned much and also enjoyed the opportunity to share my viewpoint. Now, I have assembled a network of experts whose opinions I trust and respect, friends I’ve never met, and a look into perspectives I would not otherwise see.
The tool that’s provided all of these things to me is Twitter. I would not be writing on this site, and you would not be reading it, were it not for Twitter. It’s been a game-changing tool to those who use it, impacting the way we communicate, consume, and evaluate information.
There is perhaps no better source for breaking news, and this especially holds true for baseball news. The hot stove of the offseason is seemingly always set to a boil because of the quantity of information made available to the average Joe; all we have to do is follow the right people.
With great power comes great responsibility. And, because of the nature of some humans to garner the attention of others, that power has begun to be abused. No longer is it enough to trust legitimate resources to provide us news, analysis, or even humor. Now, several users are springing up who claim to be valid, but only add to the noise and confusion. Too much importance is being placed on the desire to be the first to report anything, with less regard for the accuracy and quality of the information provided.
Any form of online social media has always had the issue of the user who hides behind his/her computer screen and will write insulting, abusive, and discriminatory comments they would never dare to speak in a face-to-face interaction. These “internet muscles” have become an occupational hazard, and I think we have adapted to live with them. This new wave of soliciting false information is another hurdle to climb in the way of productive online consummation, and what a frustrating hurdle it has become.
The good news with Twitter is that you are in control of the information you receive. This means that if you are like me, you can exercise your option to be selective in who you choose to “follow”, thus reducing your exposure to cyber-bullies and phony attention-grabbers. You also have the power to not interact with these individuals, and abstain from granting them the attention they are going to such great lengths to receive.
Here at ShutDown Inning, we are committed to providing you quality content that enhances your enjoyment of the Rangers, and the sport of baseball overall. This holds true for everything you will find on our site, as well as what you will see on each of our personal Twitter accounts.
I encourage you to continue to interact with us on Twitter. Follow the beat writers, the national experts, and other Ranger fans as you so choose. It is a great tool; it would be a shame to allow a disruptive minority to force it to go to waste.
Peter is a Shut Down Inning Staff Writer. Email him at email@example.com, or you can reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood
by Peter Ellwood
One hundred and seven million, seven hundred and three thousand, four hundred and eleven dollars. $107,703,411. That is the guaranteed amount of money the Rangers are debiting from their checking account in order to see Yu Darvish button on a number 11 Rangers jersey for the next six years. The final amount could even go up from there, if Darvish achieves some high-performance incentives built into the deal. That is more money than the Rangers have committed to paying for one single player since the famed Alex Rodriguez deal, and makes Darvish only the sixth pitcher in baseball history to cost more than $100 million.
I am not an advocate of the posting system that brings most Japanese professional baseball players to the MLB. I think it is an extremely inefficient process that does not favor the player, or the MLB team. The posting fee ($51.7M in the case of the Rangers/Darvish) should go to the player, or be used by the MLB team to sign other players. Instead, that money is paid in full to the posting Japanese club within 5 days of a contract agreement being reached.
Even in light of the inefficiency of the posting process, and despite the heavy 9-digit price tag, I think the Rangers found themselves a bargain in the acquisition of Yu Darvish in this offseason.
The timing of when players make their money in Major League Baseball is oftentimes seemingly backwards. For instance, this offseason, we have seen enormous contracts given to Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. However, the majority of the value for those two players has come and gone. They are either at their peak, or their skills are already on the decline. Despite their best days being in the rearview mirror, of the money they will make in their entire career, 70%+ (Pujols) and 86%+ (Fielder) will come from this point forward. That is what you might call diminishing returns.
Darvish projects to be a solid #2 MLB starter, with an outside chance of being a #1. Two other players were signed as free agents this offseason with similar descriptions of their place in a rotation: C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. Including the posting fee, the Rangers are set to pay Darvish an AAV of $17.95M. Wilson signed a contract with the Angels for an AAV of $15.5M, and Buehrle’s deal with Miami was for an AAV of $14.5M. This puts the Darvish price tag at a 24% and 16% premium, respectively. So how can Darvish possibly be a bargain? As you likely know, Wilson is 31 years old, and Buehrle will turn 33 this season. Both pitchers are hitting that state of diminishing returns. On the other hand, the Rangers will have Darvish locked up for ages 25 – 30, the prime of a pitcher’s career. Instead of paying top dollar for what a player HAS accomplished, the Rangers are choosing to pay top dollar for what Darvish WILL accomplish.
Furthermore, the price tag of Darvish does not come with an offsetting cost of damaging the quality of the Rangers minor league system. The acquisitions of Wilson and Buehrle cost their new teams their first draft pick in the upcoming amateur draft. And this most certainly didn’t cost the Rangers a bounty of prospects like the Reds, Nationals, and Diamondbacks had to pay for Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill (respectively). Each of these three pitchers who were traded also project as a #2, maybe a #3 pitcher in a solid rotation. A prospect or a draft pick can only be given away or traded once. The Rangers lone sacrifice for acquiring Darvish was cash, and when the turnstiles start rolling on April 6, 2012, that cash will start replenishing once again.
Beyond the on-field benefits, the costs of the Darvish signing will be significantly offset by apparel, ticket sales, and more. The Rangers will cross the 3,000,000 attendance mark for the first time this season, I guarantee it. And Darvish will have played no small part in that. Not only is he an international star with huge marketing potential, he makes this team better on the field, and nothing draws the crowds in like a winning club.
There are risks that come with Darvish, certainly. No pitcher from Japan has ever lived up to his total price tag. That is not to say none have ever been successful, merely that the costs have outweighed the benefits. Darvish, however, is not your typical pitcher from Japan. He is a physical specimen at 6-5, 225 pounds. He is a committed workout junkie. He understands that he will need to pitch more “American” to succeed in the MLB. And, he wants to be the greatest pitcher in the world. Despite all this, the charisma and self-depreciating humor he displayed at his opening press conference signaled that he will also be a good fit in the Rangers clubhouse.
The fact that the Rangers signed Darvish is a banner day for this organization. This team’s owners, scouts, coaches, and front office all played a part in bringing number 11 here. It also exponentially expanded the size of the Rangers family and fan base. Wholeheartedly, I welcome the new multitude of Rangers fans that reside in Japan, and across the world.
There is much talk of finding the new market inefficiency in the aftermath of the Moneyball era we live in now. Perhaps the Rangers have found a market inefficiency within the inefficiency of the posting system. With this front office, I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised. Once again, they have demonstrated their commitment to constructing a franchise that is prepared to win, and win for many years. This time they did it by surveying the landscape of their environment, and then finding a $107 million bargain.Peter is a Shut Down Inning Staff Writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood
Image courtesy of the Associated Press
by Dan Allsup
"We see leg injuries like this all the time... from motorcycle accidents."
He was next in the lineage of the great Ranger sluggers. He was supposed to cement his name next to Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra, Jose Canseco and Pudge Rodriguez.
He had a cup of coffee in 1999, but 2000 was supposed to be The Year. He was the #6 overall prospect in baseball after hitting .336 in AAA, Oklahoma City as a 22 year old. He was overflowing with baseball skills- a legitimate five-tool talent.
He is and was, Ruben Mateo. His cool name was his sixth tool, this man was born to play baseball, and play it very well and look very good while doing it.
Since 1990, there have only been six Rangers prospects rank among the top 10 overall prospects in baseball, (as ranked by Baseball America), and Mateo was right in the middle of all the hype, hope and expectations for Rangers fans:
Mark Teixeira #1, 2003
Hank Blalock #3, 2002
Juan Gonzalez #4, 1990
Ruben Mateo #6, 2000
Ivan Rodriguez #7, 1991
Neftali Feliz #9, 2010
To The Scene of the Crime
The Buck Showalter led Diamondbacks strolled into Arlington to face the 27-25 Rangers, who were one game out of first place in the AL West. Tied at 3, going into the seventh inning, Jay Bell hit a solo shot off Rick Helling, to put the D’Backs ahead, 4-3.
The Rangers responded by sending their 5-6-7 hitters up. David Segui grounded out to shortstop, Tony Womack, on two pitches. Then Chad Curtis used two pitches to pop-out to Craig Counsell, at second base. Then came Mateo.
Mateo was sporting a .291 average, and was on his way to a 20-20 season in his rookie year. Mateo swung first-pitch and hit a grounder in the hole to Counsell, who fielded it cleanly, and threw Mateo out, but Mateo was able to make it close. So close he broke his leg, stretching to beat it out. He failed. He fell, and was out for the rest of the season.
June 2, 2000 was the last game Mateo played that season.
Going into June 2, 2000 the Rangers were one game out of first place, at 27-25. A few days after, the Rangers went on a nine-game losing streak, which buried them in the standings. After Mateo broke his leg, the Rangers went 44-66, finishing at 71-91. The Rangers fell to last place shortly after that day, and stayed there for a few years.
Mateo rehabbed in the off-season and by Spring Training, it appeared Ruben was his old-self. The only Ranger to have more home-runs that spring, in Port Charlotte, Florida, was the newly-christened Ranger- “Mr. 252”, Alex Rodriguez.
In Mateo’s rise through the farm system, to become one of The Game’s best prospects, General Manager Doug Melvin, was pestered by many other GM’s who wanted Mateo, and wanted him badly. Melvin was as consistent as they were persistent. No, every time.
Jim Bowden, of the Reds, at the time, was one GM in particular who fancied Mateo. And Mateo’s injury history didn’t dissuade Bowden.
June 15th, 2001, Melvin and Bowden agreed to deal Mateo and recently drafted 3B, Edwin Encarnacion for the Red’s top pitching prospect, Rob Bell.
The throw-in, Encarnacion, eventually became the most successful player in that trade, playing seven somewhat productive seasons in the majors.
Bell gave the Rangers, 199 innings of 6+ ERA pitching in his two seasons in Arlington.
Mateo never found his way after June 2, 2000. He never reached the 20-20 plateau in a season, or in his career- he finished his MLB career with 21 home-runs and 11 stolen bases.
Sadly, June 2, 2000 isn’t the worst part of this story. It is only part of the “Don’t wait too late to deal your prospects” warning. Grievously, we know how much Mateo could have netted at his peak trade value.
Roger Clemens was traded from the Toronto Blue Jays, February 18th 1999, to the New York Yankees for David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd.
Just before that deal was completed though, Melvin had finalized a deal to acquire Clemens for Ruben Mateo and pitchers, Esteban Loiaza and Johnathan Johnson.
This is what Doug Melvin had to say about the deal:
“It would have been a risky deal, but we basically agreed on it,''. Gord Ash, Toronto’s GM, told me he was ready to make the deal, but he wanted to go back to the Yankees first. ''He said he needed to make one more call, but he didn't think they'd give him the player he wanted,''. The Yankees, however, surprised Ash. They said yes to David Wells.
I commend Melvin for (nearly) making this deal. He was spot on with his timing, it just fell through, unfortunately.
But even more unfortunately, the Rangers faced Clemens in the playoffs, eight months later. The game Clemens started was the last postseason game the Rangers played until, 2010.
On October, 7th, 1999 the Rangers died a decade of baseball death.But the funeral didn’t take place until eight months later, on June 2, 2000. The Rangers were dead and they didn’t know it, until the Mateo crumbled in pain, on the first-base line that fateful day.
Clemens in Ranger Red
The ‘99 ALDS composed of these pitching match-ups:
Game 1: Aaron Sele/Orlando ‘El Duque’ Hernandez,
Game 2: Rick Helling/Andy Pettitte
Game 3: Esteban Loaiza/Roger Clemens
It was an extra phone-call away from being:
Game 1: Clemens/El-Duque
Game 2: Sele/Pettitte
Game 3: Helling/David Cone or Hideki Irabu
Clemens allowed 3 hits, over 7 innings, in Game 3. Just imagine if that was for the Rangers and not against them. Sure, the general public has great disdain for Clemens now, but in 1999, only people in Boston hated him. Texas would’ve embraced the Longhorn in him.
From 1999 on, Clemens pitched another nine seasons, winning two Cy Young Awards, was elected to four All-Star Games, and finished as high as eight in the MVP voting three times in that span.
As toxic as Clemens is now, he could have kept the Rangers alive and relevant during the dark 2000s. And furthermore his salary might have prevented the Rangers from spending $252 million, on the aforementioned Alex Rodriguez.
During the 2000s, the Rangers were in the desert wandering through baseball oblivion, with no pitching to lead them to a land of milk and honey.
Clemens could have been The Guy. He could have been the answer the Rangers desperately searched for in Chan Ho Park, Rob Bell, Colby Lewis (the first time), Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy and Kevin Millwood.
If you’re able to get the right guy, the first time, you save yourself immensely in money and prospects. If they had Clemens, maybe they wouldn’t have had to fight the, “Nobody wants to pitch in Arlington” label. Maybe a legitimate starting pitcher would’ve said “Yes” to the Rangers. Instead the Rangers begged Chan Ho to rob them blind.
Who knows where it would’ve gone. But in the in end it doesn’t really matter. The Rangers were horrible for a decade, and now they have learned from their earlier miscues and are poised to contend for a World Series for years to come. The 2000s in an odd way prepared the path for the current team.
The Reversal of Fortunes
Those ten years, are what I like to define as “The Curse of Mateo”. And it was reversed in exact opposite order of how “The Curse of Mateo” unfolded.
Current general manager, Jon Daniels, was able to close the deal on an “ace” starting pitcher, Cliff Lee. They gave up the top prospect, Justin Smoak, at the right time, and just before he was hindered by ailments, just like Mateo.
Since the trade Smoak has dealt with the death of his father, a thumb injury and a broken nose. He was also rumored to be traded again, as the Mariners might have found his replacement in Jesus Montero, which ironically was a player the Mariners almost traded Lee for.
Just like Toronto, Seattle had a deal finalized (with New York, this time) only to call Texas to see if they would part with whom Seattle really wanted, Smoak.
And Cliff Lee did what Clemens wasn’t given the chance to do- beat the Yankees in the playoffs.
The Rangers went from an embarrassment of a pitching staff, to now an embarrassment of pitching riches. The unqualified Park, Bell, Lewis, Padilla, McCarthy and Millwood are replaced by the more than adequate, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Lewis again.
The Mateo story is a painful one to recount, but with the back drop of his story, it makes it even more fulfilling to watch Elvis Andrus wield his glove at short, and Feliz blow easy-heat by all-stars and Derek Holland blossom in the playoffs.
Mateo’s story serves as a guide, a caution and reference for the Rangers. It’s depressing when the top guys miss, but you have to appreciate the ones that do and let go of the ones that fell short.
What we are in the midst of as Rangers fans, is something we narrowly might have missed in the 2000s. We’ll never know, but we ought to enjoy what’s in front of us now, before the “Ghost of Mateo” returns to hang over the ballpark like a Tom Hicks-darkcloud.
The “Curse of Mateo” and the current “Blessings of Smoak”, that we live under now, are tales of what can happen when you are able to close that huge deal.
No offense to Doug Melvin, but Jon Daniels was the man to not only end “The Curse of Mateo”, but he reversed it. He’s a deal-maker, he is truly The Guy.
The Rangers could soon be at a crossroads of a curse or blessing once again. Shortstop, Jurickson Profar, left-handed pitcher Martin Perez, and third baseman Mike Olt are the Rangers top prospects that teams are after. If Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, James Shields or someone else of that ilk becomes available, you can guarantee the Rangers are in it.
I don’t think JD would blink if he had to include some of his top prospects in a deal, to add that kind of firepower to the rotation. He of all people knows firsthand, how those deals materialize.
Dan Allsup is a Staff Writer for Shut Down Inning. Email him at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @SDIDan
by Peter Ellwood
The greatest source of disappointment is typically unmet expectations. I see this happen most often with movies. If a friend of mine tells me that I have to go see a movie because I’ll love it, very rarely do I find myself truly enjoying that movie. The reason being that in my mind, the standard for that movie has now been set to unrealistic levels.
In baseball, come springtime, hope always abounds for all 30 MLB clubs. Gone are the sorrows from the previous year, and now the old Dodgers mantra of “there’s always next year” has materialized into “this is our year”.
For the Rangers, they perhaps have more reason to hope than most of, if not all clubs. Two straight trips to the World Series, a young team that is gaining experience, and a couple of exciting offseason acquisitions are among several reasons to have a high standard for the 2012 baseball season for Texas Rangers fans. However, only 7% of all baseball teams make it to the World Series each year. Two consecutive trips is beating the odds, three consecutive trips is rare. Even more unique, no team since the 1923 Yankees has lost consecutive World Series, and returned for a third straight trip.
Beyond the overall pressure placed on the Texas Rangers franchise in 2012, I also have my concerns about what kind of individual performances fans think they’ll see from the nine men on the field each day. My aim is to do my part to break these bubbles of unrealistic expectations, with the hope of minimizing our collective disappointment, and optimizing our enjoyment of the 2012 baseball season.
1. The Rangers pitching rotation will regress in 2012 compared to 2011.
I am very excited about the state of the Rangers pitching staff. Led by Colby Lewis at age 31, and followed by 4 young, power arms in Derek Holland (25), Yu Darvish (25), Matt Harrison (26), and Neftali Feliz (24), there is a lot to look forward to in the future of the Rangers pitching staff. However, there are question marks throughout the rotation, despite our tendency to overlook them through our rose-colored lens.
Lewis struggled in the 2011 regular season, giving up an alarming number of home runs, while also seeing his strikeout rate fall from 2010 levels. There is no reason to expect that Lewis, one year older with an additional 223 innings on his arm, will improve from his 2011 form.
Holland and Harrison made great strides in 2011 towards achieving their potential, but they still have a long ways to go. As I wrote in my “Evolution of an Ace” piece here, after a similar season for Cliff Lee in 2005 that showed signs of improvement, he struggled the next 2 years before putting it all together in 2008. It is not out of the question that the league will adjust to these pitchers, and they’ll have to master a few finer points of their game before they truly reach that status of consistent rotation piece.
Like most, I think Darvish will be really special. But, it is not reasonable to expect that he’ll come out of the gates in 2012 pitching at the highest level he’ll reach in his MLB career. It’s going to be electrifying to watch him pitch, but for his sake, and our own, we need to refrain from the belief that he is going to be this rotation’s lead horse this season.
Neftali Feliz is without a doubt the largest question mark of the group. He has the stuff, and the pedigree, to one day have a home at the top of this rotation, but it would be a big step for him to make that jump this year – perhaps too big of a step.
Beyond these question marks, the 2011 Rangers rotation was unremarkably healthy, at a near unsustainable level. Only five starts were made all year by a pitcher besides the original five-man rotation, by far the lowest number of any team in Major League Baseball.
2. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz will not play 150 games
The DL trip for Hamilton and Cruz seems to be an annual event in Arlington. Every Spring, both players have committed to new techniques or playing styles to prevent any season-limiting injuries. To this point in time, these efforts have been fruitless, and there is no reason to anticipate that trend changing in the future.
The good news is that the Rangers have constructed a versatile and deep roster, and although without the big bats of Hamilton and Cruz the lineup is much less potent, the drop-off to greater playing time for David Murphy in the outfield is not so significant that this team can’t be competitive.
3. Mitch Moreland will not be an above-average first baseman
Unless the asking price for Prince Fielder comes down significantly, it appears the Rangers are committed to Moreland being the 2012 first baseman. This is all well and good, but we should not be mistaken in thinking that this means that Moreland will ascend to some new level of ability as a major league first baseman.
Some would make the argument that he is still young, and has room to improve at the big league level. Others will say that Moreland was severely hampered by a wrist injury in 2011, and so he will certainly be an important piece to this team in 2012. I think both of these arguments are flawed. First, Moreland is 26, so he is hardly a young prospect any longer. Second, it is bold to assume that all of Moreland’s second-half struggles were a result of his wrist injury, and not because of major league pitchers adjusting their game plan to attack his weaknesses. Even if we made such an assumption, combining Moreland’s 2010 season and the first half of 2011 (his best days in the major leagues), he sports a slash line of .266/.345/.456. This is absolutely acceptable, as long as the height of your expectation level is an average MLB first baseman.
There is no reason to think this Rangers team can’t win it all in 2012. I’ve only provided for you a couple of reasons why it’s dangerous to expect them to win it all in 2012. It’s important to maintain perspective – it is extremely difficult to make the playoffs in the MLB, and even more difficult to reach the World Series. If nothing else, let’s take this as a reason to appreciate the 2010 and 2011 Rangers seasons all the more.
This is also still a Rangers team with a roster filled with hungry and motivated players, led by a cavalcade of talented front office individuals and an ownership committed to winning. All the pieces are here, and you know I’ll be cheering my guts out for all 1,458 innings of Rangers baseball that are played in 2012.
Even if this season ends without a World Series championship coming to Texas once again, that doesn’t mean we can’t love every minute of the ride along the way. Peter is a Shut Down Inning Staff Writer. Email him at email@example.com, or you can reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood
by the SDI Staff
The crack of the bat turns some big name heads on a late summer afternoon.
Those heads happen to belong to names such as Ron Washington, Nolan Ryan, Scott Coolbaugh, and Jon Daniels. Someone is absolutely murdering the ball during batting practice. It’s not often these names all step on the field at the same time to watch a player not on the 25 man roster.
Yet, here they are. And they are here watching a kid. They are watching 16 year old (at the time) Ronald Guzman, a lefty, who has just been signed to a 3.3 million dollar deal as an international free agent. Guzman is still five years away from being able to buy his first legal drink in the US, yet he steps into the batters box a multi-millionaire.
The Rangers organization has been a major player in the international market since Jon Daniels first took a seat behind the GM desk. But, while the line may end with JD, it starts with the organizations ability and willingness to take the time to scout and develop players from all over the world. Guzman is just another example. The organization is quick to praise his make-up and work ethic when asked. The prospect may only be 17, but his body is mature beyond its years. Standing 6’5 and weighing 200 pounds, Guzman is an impressive specimen. Because of his height and overall athletic ability he isn’t just an elite athlete now, he projects to remain elite.
It is far too early to tell where exactly Guzman projects to play once he gets to the big leagues. MLB Trade Rumors is cited as thinking Guzman belongs in left field due to “below average arm and speed.” Jamey Newberg believes Guzman may eventually wind up at 1st base, but could break through as a DH to start.
His bat is just that good folks.
The Rangers organization may very well try to use Guzman at all of those spots as they develop the youngster. At just 17, there will be plenty of time for him to grow and focus on defensive skills in the field, but the Rangers won’t want to wait long to get the best hitting tool in the international draft into the majors for too long.
As with any other young prospect, the training program is crucial. Because of the rules allowing international free agents to be signed at the age of 16, the Rangers are going to be able to ensure Guzman has proper diet and exercise programs that he would likely not be exposed to otherwise. Guzman is still very young and raw. More importantly the Rangers believe in his dedication to baseball and his work ethic, a key to early success in the minors.
The bat cracks again as some current Rangers begin to trickle out of the clubhouse to watch the exhibition Guzman is putting on at the plate. Players like Josh Hamilton let out audible “wows” and praise the bat speed of the young man who has used that very bat to make himself millions while he is still considered a minor.
Ronald Guzman is far from being major league ready in the field, but he hits at a major league level already. Ease of motion, wrist control, and bat speed are all plus tool for the youngster who has miles of ceiling ahead of him in his baseball career. Our inclusion of him on the SDI top 10 prospects list is maybe a little aggressive. There is still much work to be done, but the flashes of potential he has shown are enough to wow some people whose opinions we respect.
ETAA: At 17 years old, the Rangers will not need Guzman to rush to the majors anytime soon. They will continue to have plenty of power bats and will let him develop into the player he can truly be. Don’t expect to see Guzman even sniff the majors until he is at least 20, maybe 21.
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Image courtesy of USA Today
by Chris Kautz
My last two articles have been spent detailing the top six spots of Texas Rangers 2012 batting order as I would like to see them. Obviously it will change based on who is injured or needs a rest, what hand the opposing pitcher throws with, or what Wash's gut tells him. I'm just outlining what I think the everyday lineup with everyday players should look like. Here's a recap of where we are so far:
1. Ian Kinsler--Kinsler proved last year that he can be effective in the leadoff spot.
2. Michael Young--As one of the top average and RBI guys on the team, I love getting him as many at bats as possible.
3. Josh Hamilton--The three spot is the perfect compromise for Hamilton between number of at bats and maximizing his power.
4. Adrian Beltre--Beltre at clean up makes sense to me. He almost never walks, so being surrounded by feared hitters will give him the best pitches to hit.
5. Mike Napoli--It will be a great surprise if Napoli repeats his 2011 performance. Even if he doesn't, I feel his approach and power potential locks down the number five spot for him.
6. Nelson Cruz--The only thing that keeps Cruz from moving up in the order is his colossal streakiness (if that's a word). He'll still have plenty of folks to drive in, and won't be as much of a rally killer when he's in a funk as he would be if he were higher in the order.
Today I will round out the bottom third of the order. There typically isn't a lot of talk about the bottom three spots, but I believe they can be a key part of a high caliber offense. Here's who I see filling them:
7. Whoever plays center field--I foresee a platoon of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin in center, at least to start the year. Gentry hasn't proven that he can consistently give quality at bats, and we just haven't seen enough of Martin at the big league lever to guarantee him a full time spot. It's entirely possible that one of them will stand out in spring training and win the job, but I think they'll both play a good deal in the early parts of the season. I do have high hopes for whichever one of them ultimately wins out, though. I would love to have one of these guys develop at the plate enough that they can take Kinsler's spot leading off. It'd be great to have a light hitting, high on base percentage speedster at the top of the order.
8. Elvis Andrus--Elvis hit second for the vast majority of the 2011 season. While the ultimate result is difficult to argue with, I feel Elvis should have been moved down in the order. His overall numbers weren't terrible (.279/.347/.361), but I'm much more comfortable with Young in the two hole. I also like the idea of Elvis causing havoc on the bases late in the order. I'm guilty of over appreciating the stolen base, and my pulse quickens just thinking of Elvis and Gentry/Martin on base at the same time. Elvis is another guy, and possibly the most likely, that could take the leadoff spot from Kinsler if he gets going.
9. Mitch Moreland--I like Mitch. I like Mitch a lot. I think he's going to develop into something really special. Unfortunately, he was a notch above useless at the plate late last season. Some of that was, undoubtedly, due to his bothersome wrist injury. I expect good things from Mitch this season, but as of now he belongs at the bottom of the order. Once he proves the problems were in his wrist and not his head, he may climb a spot or two. All this is, of course, assuming that the Rangers don't sign Prince Fielder. If they do, Moreland will be lucky to get an at bat here and there filling in for Cruz or Fielder (assuming he doesn't play all 162 again).
So there it is. That's what I'd like to see Wash run out there on opening day. Many will have other ideas, and I'd love to hear them. Heck, I could be convinced to shuffle a couple of spots depending on what mood I'm in. Overall, though, I think this lineup will get things done. With the quality of players you're working with it's difficult to come up with an order that doesn't make some kind of sense. I just can't wait for Kins to step to the plate for the first time...I could use some baseball.
Chris Kautz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning.com. You can email him at Chris.Kautz@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @SDIChris
by Danny Fowler
Some things are bigger than back end loaded contracts and injury issues, some things require you to think with your heart not your brain. As I sit back and watch the growing excitement at the reports of the Rangers still being players in the Prince Fielder game, I can’t help but think about what it will cost on a personal level.
We have all heard if Prince is signed we lose Josh Hamilton and there is logical support for that to be the case. Hell, just about every other writer on the SDI staff is in full agreement that Josh should be sent packing. I on the other hand would love to see Hamilton around the RBiA until the end.
I remember thinking when the move was first made to acquire Josh that this guy was a fraud. Here’s a guy who let drugs destroy all that natural talent, an addict who is just saying he is clean to get a paycheck until he relapses but somewhere in that season I started to invest in pulling for him. I’m not talking about the kind of rooting we all do for whoever wears that red, white and blue, I’m talking about the kind of rooting you only do for family members or close friends. I started to buy into him staying clean; I started cheering on a phenomenal player that at his core is really just like tons of people I have known in my life. Josh is in a daily fight for the rest of his life! It is that struggle that makes Josh my heart’s favorite Ranger.
My connection to him is not only sports it’s downright personal. He is a Ranger through and through, when I think about winning I send a good deal of the credit in Hamilton’s direction. It is my hope that the team’s front office has the same love affair with Josh that the fan base seems to have. Yes, if you give him the 7 years he wants there is a good chance his skills will decline below what is expected of a guy making that kind of money and no that is typically not the recipe for success. I have been accused of being loyal to a fault and I am loyal to Josh.
Prince Fielder is a shiny new toy that would hit a ton at the Ballpark. Prince Fielder is younger, Prince Fielder is healthier, but Prince Fielder is no Josh Hamilton. Josh is the heart, the identity, the face of that I see when I think about this club. I choose to pay him after his abilities fade because I want him to finish as a Ranger, I choose to have him under contract until he is 38 because I can’t imagine Josh not being here, I pay Josh his money because Josh is and always should be a Ranger. I pay Josh his money because most importantly he has earned it.
My argument is 100% from the heart, I won’t give a bunch of stat lines to prove why he is worth it but I will say that blood is thicker than water and Josh, no doubt, bleeds Ranger Red.
Dear Jon Daniels, Join my cause.