Archive for the ‘Texas Rangers’ Category

Zim Corrals Ponies

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

After enduring the adventures of a shakey bullpen — which squandered a workmanlike outing from Nats starter Ross Detwiler — a Ryan Zimmerman blast in the bottom on the ninth inning propelled the Anacostia Nine to a nail-biting 7-5 walk-off win against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Zimmerman walk-off marked the seventh time “the face of the franchise” had provided the necessary difference in a key win, a major league leading mark that has baseball abuzz with talk of just how important the former Cavalier is to his team. The victim this time was Phillies’ reliever Brad Lidge, who entered the ninth inning at Nationals Park with a 5-4 lead and the game apparently well in-hand. “He has his moments,” Philllies’ manager Charlie Manuel said of Lidge in the wake of Zimmerman’s blast. That seemed an understatement: the legendary late-innings strikeout king (more than one per inning, on average) Lidge sports a 5.57 ERA and has given up 21 hits in 21 innings — never a good sign.

The blown save highlighted the challenge the Phillies face in their race to catch the Chops for the N.L. East crown. While Phillies’ fans (and the national media) are oohing and ahhing about the addition of Roy Oswalt, the Phillies are struggling to find some stability in the back of their bullpen. The search has become nearly interminable. The Pony bullpen is ranked 10th in the National League with a spiraling ERA and no, ah . . . relief in sight. Phils’ skipper Manuel is feeling the pressure, as evidenced by his testy answers to reporters’ questions about whether choosing to pitch Lidge over, say, Ryan Madson remains the team’s best option. “I hear you guys say that for two years,” Manuel said. “I hear this and that, this and that. What the hell? We try this guy. We try that guy. We try this guy. Then I hear you [complain] to me sometimes about their roles. ‘Guys don’t know their roles.’ I can go on all night now. Let’s just drop it right there.”

The Guzman Swap: Less than twenty-four hours after baseball’s July 31 trading deadline, the game’s pundits are weighing in on the deadline’s “winners” and “losers.” In this, at least, there seems to be a growing consensus. The Yankees (with the addition of Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood), Padres (who signed up a needed bat in Ryan Ludwick) and Rangers (who snagged Cliff Lee, Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman) were the winners, while the Red Sox, Tigers and Giants (who did little — or nothing) were the losers. The judgments sound about right, but only if you are attempting to calculate what moves would put a team into the post-season. Garnering less attention are those teams (like the Nats) that traded over-welcome veterans to pursue longer term strategies. In fact, it’s possible to argue that in terms of value-for-value (and in terms of strengthening a franchise), the Nats can claim to be one of baseball’s trade deadline winners. Not only did the Nationals hang onto fan favorite Adam Dunn (true: it remains to be seen whether he can be signed long-term), they obtained a needed catcher of the future in Twinkie catching phenom Wilson Ramos.

An even stronger case for a Nats “win” can be made in a cursory study of Mike “the Don” Rizzo’s decision to swap team holdover Cristian Guzman for two minor league Texas Rangers’ pitchers. While Baseball Tonight and MLBN’s late night pundits cite Guzman’s incontestable value for a surging Rangers’ squad (Guzzie made a nearly spectacular play in last night’s Rangers’ triumph over the limping Belinskys), the acquisition of Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark, two semi-spectacular speedballers from the Rangers AA affiliate in Frisco of the AA Texas League, can be counted as solid additions. Tatusko and Roark are keepers and, if their current arc is any indication, could be stalwarts in a Nats starting rotation in 2012 — or even earlier. Both Tatusko and Roark are rough cuts (young, but built for baseball), who were drafted by the Nolan Ryan-driven Rangers vision, which rewards fastballs, control and endurance. Ryan Tatusko’s fastball is 91-95 on the gun, while Tanner Roark is a strike-em-out fastballer who rarely gives up walks. Tatusko has been back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen at Frisco, but he could go either way, while Tanner is a straight starter, albeit with a history of posting higher-than-we-would-like ERAs.

There’s a growing handful of commentators who pooh-pooh the acquisitions. The genetically anti-Nats blog Bleacher Report views the two as “fringe” pitchers, plowing away through the minors, while the predictably smug SB Nation mouthes a “me too, me too” judgment. Call to the Pen’s views are far more credible. CTTB projects both Tatusko and Roark as likely to get good looks at Triple-A before any possible stint in the majors (perhaps a year away), and opines that both have plus (but not plus-plus) upsides: “The Nationals made a solid trade here.” Then too, both Tatusko and Roark have stellar records, even for the Texas League. Tatusko is 9-2 with a 2.97 ERA at Frisco while Roark is10-5 with 75 strikeouts. It’s hard to imagine the Ryan-led Rangers would draft just anybody to make a walk to the mound, or that Mike Rizzo would swap-and-pay Cristian Guzman to travel to Dallas in exchange for anyone he believes is a “fringe” prospect. And we all know: if past performance is the best guide to future production, David Clyde would be in the Hall of Fame and Gregory Alan Maddux would be coaching the junior varsity baseball squad in San Angelo, Texas.

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Buying And Selling

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .

So who’s out there?

There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.

Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”

It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.

The “Other Hank” . . . and Ian

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Somewhere in the back of every fan’s mind is a list of baseball injustices. For Cubs fans it’s that Ron Santo isn’t yet in the Hall of Fame, for Pirate’s fans it’s that Roberto Clemente wasn’t named the NL MVP in 1960. There’s an argument on the net about whether Tim Raines, one of baseball’s great on base players should be in the hall, whether Jeffrey Maier or Steve Bartman should have been called for interference, whether Satchell Paige was justified in being irritated that Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier. But in terms of pure injustice, few can top the unstated but embarrassing slight suffered by Texas Rangers fans who saw perhaps the game’s best second baseman (who came up as a shortstop in ’04) held out of the all star game. Even Boston Red Sox fans were upset.

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It’s not any easier to talk about the Kinsler slight now that the game is over. Not only is Kinsler a possible AL MVP, the American League went into the St. Louis “Midsummer Classic” with (count ’em) one second baseman — the well-deserving Aaron Hill (who’s an institution on my list of baseball’s most underrated players). Hill became a starter after Dustin Pedroia (here he is, in case you’ve forgotten) decided to spend time with his wife, who’s enduring a difficult pregnancy. To take Pedroia’s place, Hill was made a starter and Tampa Bay Ray Carlos Pena was named to the team. The naming of Pena meant that the AL might have fielded an all-Tampa Bay infield, particularly after Ray’s coach Joe Maddon named hometown favorite Ben Zobrist as a possible second baseman. Zobrist is a hell of a hitter, but Tampa Bay fans look at him as a “super-uilityman” — and he’s played nearly half his games in the outfield and shortstop. And since when does a “super-utility-man” get named to the all star game? Still, there was a chance that Kinsler might appear after Evan Longoria decided not to play, the result of an infection his throwing hand. But AL manager Joe Maddon picked Angels’ third baseman Chone Figgins to take Longoria’s place. Who knows, maybe there’s something about Kinsler that Maddon doesn’t like, but it certainly can’t be his qualifications: he’s hitting .337 with 14 home runs, 58 RBIs, 84 runs and 23 stolen bases — better numbers than any other AL player at the position. Not bad for a guy who finished second in fan voting and got to spend the all star break at a Starbucks in Dallas.

The slight of Ian Kinsler has rightly angered Ranger fans, but this isn’t the first time that a great player and potential MVP was overlooked in “the Midsummer Classic.” In 1954, feared Cubs hitter Hank Sauer was given three days off during the all star break, despite the fact that he was having a phenomenal year. Baseball’s older veterans still talk about the Sauer slight, noting that he’d won the rain-shortened 1952 classic with a home run — a year in which he’d led the league in homers and RBIs — and was one of the game’s most-feared hitters. In 1954, they note, he was having a career year and single-handedly carrying a bad team. Sauer (nicknamed “the Honker” for his big nose) was hardly a defensive whiz (he once misplayed a fly ball during a night game and explained that “I lost it in the moon”) and might have been the slowest outfielder in the National League. But his Wrigley Field blasts were the stuff of baseball lore and Cubs fans loved him: whenever he hit a homer, Cubs fans in the rightfield bleachers showered him with packets of tobacco. On Hank Sauer Day, a celebration of his career, there was so much tobacco on the field that it took five wheelbarrows to remove it. “I loved playing in Wrigley Field,” Sauer remembered during his retirement. “Fans would throw tobacco to me. What I couldn’t put in my pocket, I’d store in the vines. I supplied the whole club with tobacco.”

The Sauer injustice remained unmentioned by the Cubs outfielder throughout his career and into his retirement. When asked about it he dismissed it with a shrug, adding that a lot of people in the league that year were more focused on Chicago’s new rookie phenom — shortstop Ernie Banks. Then too, as Sauer himself would have admitted, he hardly deserved to be on the starting nine in ’54. The NL outfield was packed: with Stan Musial, Duke Snyder and Jackie Robinson, a veritable murderers’ row, named as the league starters. But that Sauer should have been on the team is not in question. The same holds true for Kinsler.

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