The Ranger Rundown by Scott Lucas
In 2001, the Rangers had a very good offense trumped by the worst pitching performance in franchise history. New GM John Hart immediately put his imprint on the team with several high-profile trades and signings. The Rangers will almost certainly be better than last year, although they retain the misfortune of sharing a division with the Mariners and Athletics.
Spring Training will be a boon to the Port Charlotte hotel industry. The Rangers will have over 60 players in camp, about 20 of whom are non-roster invitees. Amid these crowded conditions, here are possible answers to five major questions entering Spring Training:
Who gets the outfield at-bats?
The Rangers currently have five outfielders who started last year when healthy: Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett, Gabe Kapler, Frank Catalanotto, and Rusty Greer. Including the DH, there’s only four places to put them. Kapler looks to be the odd-man out; he was rumored to be involved in several trades and may be gone by Opening Day. Creative options for getting them more playing time include putting the Cat back at second base in place of Michael Young (remember that Hart favors offensive-oriented second baseman) and spotting Greer at first for Palmeiro once in a while. Platoon and part-time situations are death to fantasy league owners, so early detection of the winners and losers of Spring Training battles will be key. Injuries may define outfield roles more than talent, as all but Cat have missed substantial playing time over the last few years.
Who’s on third?
In 2001, Mike Lamb received most of the starts at third after Ken Caminiti’s departure and offered a .306 average augmented with little in the way of power, walks or defense. The Rangers will have new additions Herbert Perry and Ed Sprague in camp fighting Lamb for at-bats. These acquisitions indicate the Rangers feel superprospect Hank Blalock isn’t quite ready for prime time. The other superprospect, 3B Mark Teixiera, will probably start in AA.
Who starts on the mound?
Chan Ho Park, Ismael Valdes, Kenny Rogers and Doug Davis are set. The fifth starter could be Dave Burba (who isn’t as bad as he appeared in Cleveland last year), Rob Bell, Aaron Myette, Justin Duscherer, Hideki Irabu, Steve Woodard, or Chris Michalak. Any Rangers starter comes with a warning label stating that half of his starts will be in the Ballpark in Arlington. While the Ballpark was relatively neutral in 2001, it typically favors hitters over pitchers. Park could pitch just as well as last year but see his ERA climb over 4.00 in the Ballpark.
How will the bullpen be structured?
Jeff Zimmerman appears to hold the closer’s job going into the season, but John Rocker might usurp that role if he returns to form and/or Zimmerman falters.
Whither Pudge Rodriguez?
Pudge enters the last year on a contract negotiated with a “home team discount” and without benefit of an agent. The Rangers will get no such favoritism this time, and they have to ask whether they can offer a long-term deal larger than Jorge Posada’s (5 years, $51 million) to a 30-year-old with eleven years of wear-and-tear behind the plate and two consecutive years with season-ending injuries. The fantasy implications include the possibility of another injury, a mild decline in stats due to the natural aging process, and, if you’re in an AL-only league, a trade to an NL team (although Pudge has 10/5 rights and can veto any trade).
STARTING PITCHING PROJECTIONS:
You already know that The Ballpark in Arlington favors hitters. The Ballpark ranked sixth in baseball for run-scoring from 1999-2001 and allows about 8%-10% more homers but 10% fewer strikeouts than a league-average park.. So, don’t confuse the Ballpark with Coors or Astros Field, but realize that owning a typical Ranger pitcher will get you a bushel of “Pyrrhic Victories”: help in one category (wins) offset by destruction of two others (ERA, WHIP).
In the history of the Ballpark, only two starting pitchers (min. 162 IP) have finished a year with an ERA below 4.00 (Kenny Rogers in ’95 and Ken Hill in ‘96), and Rogers is the only pitcher finishing with a WHIP below 1.30. The averages for all starting pitchers: 4.63 and 1.47. If you like that, I have a garage full of velvet Elvis paintings to sell you.
CHAN HO PARK (projected for 16 wins, 4.10 ERA, 205 SO, 1.36 WHIP, based on 220 IP): Park will be an effective, winning pitcher for the Rangers, but his fantasy value takes a hit moving from Chavez Ravine to the Ballpark. Park will lose a few strikeouts and see his ERA and WHIP increase. I’m not suggesting that Park will actually pitch worse than in 2001, just that his pitching environment has declined. As such, Park is no longer a top-notch fantasy starter.
ISMAEL VALDES (11 wins, 4.87 ERA, 124 SO, 1.44 WHIP, based on 180 IP): Valdes also loses value moving from Anaheim to Arlington. His strikeout rate dropped 12% in 2001, and balls put in play in the Ballpark tend to land in Waco. Durability is also an issue, as Valdes has made only 47 starts in the last two years. His signing was good for the team, but that doesn’t make him a worthwhile fantasy player except at the back end of an AL-only roster. By the way, I love how MLB.com recently referred to him as “a non-roster right-hander trying to crack the Texas staff.”
DOUG DAVIS (13 wins, 4.72 ERA, 140 SO, 1.53 WHIP, based on 200 IP). Davis established himself as a legitimate pitcher and was the Rangers’ best starter in 2001. Davis improved mostly by reducing his walk and homer rate, and if he can keep them low he’ll be effective and a decent late-round draft choice in AL-only leagues.
KENNY ROGERS (10 wins, 5.33 ERA, 113 SO, 1.55 WHIP, based on 180 IP): Rogers was unusually homer and walk-prone in 2001 but his strikeout rate didn’t drop, so he probably still has some gas in the tank. Whether you want that gas poured on your fantasy lineup and set aflame is up to you. Reportedly, he is completely healed from last year’s rib injury and has regained his velocity, but until I see tangible results, I’m predicting results in-between his numbers for 2000 and 2001.
FIFTH STARTER. This spot is wide open. I’m reasonably confident that it won’t be DARREN OLIVER. As for the other prospects, you might read elsewhere about Ranger X being in the best shape of his life or having something to prove, but don’t waste your draft picks on the basis of these anecdotes or an impressive two-inning stint in a “B” game. Rangers scouts watched New York’s Orlando Hernandez pitch in Friday’s exhibition game.
Thanks to 2000-2001 correspondent Mick Doherty for his help and advice.
INFIELDER BATTING PROJECTIONS:
I don’t expect the Rangers to score 1,000 runs this year. Their offense is phenomenal, but they have too many hitters who would rather jump off a cliff than take a walk (Pudge, Lamb, Young, Cat, Gonzo). The ’99 Indians are the only DH-era team to score 1,000 runs, and they had a .372 on-base percentage and 743 walks. The Rangers just aren’t that patient, and having several older injury-prone players doesn’t help. My crystal ball shows a .351 on-base percentage and 940 runs scored.
C – IVAN RODRIGUEZ (.319 / 82 / 29 / 85 / 10, in 500 PA). Pudge has missed 120 games over the last two years. Still, he’s the class of the American League. Even if he does get hurt, keep in mind that four months of Pudge plus two months of a waiver pickup is better than a full season from most catchers. Don’t be afraid of him. 1B – RAFAEL PALMEIRO (.280 / 95 / 42 / 118 / 1, in 675 PA). Palmeiro is slowly but tangibly declining. One of these years he’ll break down, but not this year. Expect the usual or very close to it..
2B – MICHAEL YOUNG (.258 / 75 / 15 / 68 / 4, in 500 PA). The Rangers like Young and he won’t lose too many at-bats to Catalanotto. His average isn’t great and his on-base percentage is worse, but Young’s runs, power and RBIs are respectable, especially in AL-only leagues. He’s also practicing at shortstop, which would allow him to backup ARod and the Rangers to carry an extra pitcher, but don’t expect enough starts for him to qualify at that position.
3B – MIKE LAMB (.301 / 68 / 7 / 54 / 3, in 450 PA). Lamb gives you batting average and not much else, but the real problem for fantasy owners is playing time. His poor defense could force Perry or Sprague into a more prominent role, he has Hank Blalock nipping at his heels, and he’s trade bait. He’s a high risk, low reward type of player you should avoid. That said, the Rangers will give him every opportunity to succeed to maximize his trade value. 3B – HERBERT PERRY or ED SPRAGUE. They have negligible value barring an injury to Palmeiro or Lamb.
3B – HANK BLALOCK. Blalock probably starts the year in AAA. In ESPN’s AL-only leagues, he’s being drafted higher than Lamb. He might be a first-ballot Hall of Famer someday, but you, the fantasy owner, must remember that you’re not drafting based on his potential career numbers, you’re drafting based on what he’ll do THIS YEAR. Furthermore, don’t project him based on how he hits this spring. Ruben Mateo hit .343 and slugged .643 last spring, now he’s a fantasy unperson. If you pick Blalock, make sure you already have a decent third bagger in place.
SS – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (.319 / 138 / 50 / 139 / 17, in 675 PA). What do you want me to say? He’s pretty good. Don’t expect 162 games played again, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be #1 on your draft board.
QUICK STARTER NOTES… DOUG DAVIS has secured his starting spot. The Rangers will add more pitching if possible and have scouted Colorado’s JOHN THOMSON, Toronto’s CHRIS CARPENTER, and the Yankees’ ORLANDO HERNANDEZ. El Duque has pitched progressively worse every year and is homer-prone, not what you’re looking for in a Ballpark pitcher.
QUICK RELIEF NOTES… Expect JEFF ZIMMERMAN to get most of the save opportunities. JOHN ROCKER might get a few chances when a tough lefty is up with the game on the line, but Zimm is the man.
OUTFIELDER HITTING PROJECTIONS:
The Rangers probably have the deepest quality outfield in the majors, a blessing for the team but a potential curse for the fantasy owner. The question isn’t how well they’ll play but how much. Five outfielders, only four positions (including the DH); mathematically, about 2,800 plate appearances to share among them. All but Catalanotto are injury-prone, so Manager Jerry Narron’s game-day decisions on whom to play may be a function of who’s healthiest.
OF/1B/2B/3B – FRANK CATALANOTTO (projected for .310 / 93 / 16 / 69 / 15 in 600 plate appearances). His eligibility at multiple positions is a huge bonus. Expect Cat to lead off and get the bulk of the starts in left field while spotting at 1B and 2B. One question is whether the Rangers will continue to rest him against lefties, even though his career on-base percentage against lefties is higher than any other Ranger outfielder.
OF CARL EVERETT (.280 / 81 / 26 / 89 / 8 in 550 PA). Will Everett rebound from last year’s disaster? He’s recovering from knee surgery, has yet to play in a spring training game, showed up to camp overweight, and may begin the year on the DL. Expect a partial return to his former greatness and at least 25 games missed due to injury. Also, Everett hit very poorly against lefties in 2001, so be ready to platoon him in your lineup (if the Rangers don’t do it for you).
OF JUAN GONZALEZ (.321 / 102 / 36 / 128 / 2 in 600 PA). A genuine four-category stud. Like Everett, he misses an annoyingly high number of games, but he’s money in the bank. Gonzalez hit at least 39 homers for Texas from 1996-1999, so my computer-assisted projection may be low.
OF RUSTY GREER (.289 / 73 / 12 / 65 / 2 in 500 PA). Injuries and declining performance have relegated Greer to a part-time role. Greer no longer hits lefties well and is a poor defender even in left. The Rangers hope to keep him healthy and productive by playing him mostly at DH, but of all the outfielders, he has the greatest downside. He’s already missed five spring games with a strained hip. (It’s depressing to write this about a man my age.)
OF GABE KAPLER (.287 / 69 / 16 / 66 / 17 in 500 PA). Kapler’s disadvantage is that both Cat and Greer hit better than him against righties, so he is logically the odd man out against most opposing pitchers. But since Kapler can play any outfield position capably, he’ll fill in for Everett, Gonzalez and Greer while they’re recuperating from various maladies.
NOTES. No one has taken the lead in the race for 5th starter, not that you’d want the winner on your team. GM John Hart continues to indicate he may trade for another starter. Several pitchers were sent to minor league camp, but no surprises. Another wave of cuts comes Thursday.
RELIEVER PROJECTIONS + THE ASCENSION OF HANK BLALOCK:
The Rangers have said nothing officially, but the local papers have anointed Hank Blalock the starting 3B. Lately, he has started at third while MIKE LAMB spots at other positions or pinch hits. I don’t have a stat projection for him, but the Stats 2000 Handbook predicts.312 / 44 / 10 / 53 / 2 in 300 plate appearances. If he gets 500+ PAs he becomes a very good fantasy player, though not Pujols-esque.
WHAT ABOUT LAMB? Lamb’s fantasy value, never very high anyway (I predicted .301 / 68 / 7 / 54 / 3 in 450 PA), would nearly disappear if he is demoted to a utility role. His best bet for playing time would be with a different team. If you accidentally drafted Jeff Burroughs instead of Sean, you might want to pick up Lamb as your 3B, but Lamb’s “high-risk low-reward” profile was never more apparent.
RELIEVER PROJECTIONS. JEFF ZIMMERMAN (Projected for 25-30 SAVES / 77 SO / 3.50 ERA / 1.20 WHIP in 70 innings). Zimmerman’s elbow soreness might land him on the DL to start the season, but he and the Ranger brass emphatically deny it’s a serious problem. Also, his ERA and WHIP probably won’t be as gaudy as last year. Still, expect Zimmerman to get most of the save opportunities.
JOHN ROCKER (5-10 SAVES / 95 SO / 3.93 ERA / 1.44 WHIP in 70 IP). Assuming Zimmerman remains healthy and pitches well, don’t expect too many saves from Rocker. His best chance for saves might come early if Zimm starts on the DL. He’s behaved during Spring Training, but he’s also pitched just like he did in Cleveland: poorly. Although he should post better numbers than he did in Cleveland, he is clearly not the pitcher he was in 1999. Be ready to ride the rollercoaster.
TODD VON POPPEL (87 SO / 4.23 ERA / 1.44 WHIP in 80 IP). Von Poppel remains with pitching coach Oscar Acosta, who evidently found a way to turn him into a quality pitcher. Wrigley Field has been unusually pitcher-friendly the last two years, so don’t expect quite the same numbers. JAY POWELL (53 SO / 4.73 ERA / 1.57 WHIP in 70 IP). Powell’s 2001 ERA of 3.24 was a career best (pitching in Houston and Colorado, of all places) despite a career worst rate of homers allowed. He was very lucky last year. He won’t be this year.
OTHER BULLPEN CANDIDATES: At this time, the other bullpen spots remain undecided. The Rangers may begin the season with thirteen(!) pitchers to allow more time for evaluation. Former “closer of the future” FRANCISCO CORDERO has pitched well, as has RUDY SEANEZ. FIFTH STARTER: Barring a trade, DAVE BURBA, HIDEKI IRABU or STEVE WOODARD will get the nod, not that any of them are fantasy-worthy. Prospect COLBY LEWIS has is destined for AAA, but keep an eye on him for the future.
Trade Winds, Position Battles and Injury Notes
The Rangers continue to hunt for another starting pitcher. Just in case they make a deal, I threw the rumored candidates into my computer projection model, which adjusts for ballpark effects. As you know, most pitchers will suffer by moving from their home fields into the Ballpark. Pitchers who already allow too many homers or strike out too few batters will be in for a Summer of Discontent.
BRAD PENNY (14 Wins / 129 SO / 4.08 ERA / 1.37 WHIP in 200 IP as a Ranger). He’s hurt by moving from Florida to Texas, but not too much. He’d easily be the second best fantasy starter for the Rangers, significantly trailing Park only in strikeouts. MATT CLEMENT (12 / 143 / 5.05 / 1.55 in 200 IP as a Ranger). Lots of potential but a horrendous walk rate. Barring unforeseen self-improvement, he’d damage your fantasy pitching staff wearing Ranger blue.
BRUCE CHEN (10 / 138 / 5.20 / 1.47 in 180 IP as a Ranger). Moving from Shea to the Ballpark kills his stats, at least according to my computer. I doubt he’d be that bad, but his career development seems to have stalled. CHRIS CARPENTER (13 / 151 / 4.67 / 1.43 in 210 IP as a Ranger). He’d be the #2 on this staff but not much better than Valdes or Davis. If the Rangers really had pulled off that Blalock/Kapler/Ramos for Carpenter/Wells trade, I would have rounded up a posse to forcibly install a new GM.
SCOTT ERICKSON (No projection). His ERA has been 4.81 or worse six of the last eight years. His last good year was 1998. He’s coming off surgery. He’s scheduled to make over $6 million this year. I don’t care how “filthy” his “stuff” is. No thanks. ORLANDO HERNANDEZ (11 / 126 / 4.70 / 1.37 in 180 IP as a Ranger). His progressively worsening year-by-year stats are troublesome, but he’s had a good spring. With Sterling Hitchcock’s problems, the Yanks probably hold on to him.
OTHER NEWS. HANK BLALOCK is the opening day starter at 3B. MICHAEL LAMB is playing several positions (including his college position of catcher) in hopes of becoming a super-utility player. FRANK CATALANOTTO will play second base more than previously expected, helping his value (and, indirectly, GABE KAPLER’s) but hurting MICHAEL YOUNG. Young is also A-Rod’s backup at short but doesn’t qualify yet. JEFF ZIMMERMAN will pitch only against minor leaguers so that he can come off the DL earlier if the Rangers decide to put him there. JOHN ROCKER finally had a good outing on Friday.
GABE KAPLER is the most likely fantasy-worthy player to be traded. He is signed through 2003 for reasonable money. If he stays, he’ll get plenty of plate appearances subbing for the injury-prone Greer, Everett or Gonzalez. RUSTY GREER and CARL EVERETT have gigantic salaries and gigantic questions about their capability and durability. They aren’t going anywhere. Everett played center field Saturday and limped noticeably, although he handled several fielding opportunities without incident..
Rangers drafted in my eight-team, AL-only, ESPN league on March 21 by round and overall rank:
ALEX RODRIGUEZ (1/1), IVAN RODRIGUEZ (2/9), JUAN GONZALEZ (2/12), RAFAEL PALMEIRO (4/25), JEFF ZIMMERMAN (5/38), HANK BLALOCK (7/52), CARL EVERETT (7/55), FRANK CATALANOTTO (8/57), CHAN HO PARK (8/60), GABE KAPLER (10/78), JOHN ROCKER (11/87), RUSTY GREER (18/137), MICHAEL YOUNG (18/144), MARK PETKOVSEK(!!!) (19/147). TODD VON POPPEL (23/178), DOUG DAVIS (24/190). I had Blalock ranked 82nd.
Gammons on Pudge / Plague of Injuries
Peter Gammons, 23 March 02: “Pudge Rodriguez’s knee: ‘There will be some stuff coming out soon about it,’ says an associate of the superstar catcher. ‘And it's not good.’ “ I enjoy Gammons’ column, but I hate statements like this. Ever since, I’ve received emails from terrified fantasy owners requesting clarification of the meaning of “stuff,” “soon,” and “not good.” I will provide what I know and don’t know about this situation.
WHAT I DON’T KNOW. Pudge’s fantasy owners and those considering drafting him want to know what this ominous quote portends. I have absolutely no idea. Frankly, the quote is speculative, vague, and without attribution. To the best of my knowledge, this “disclosure-to-be” has not been corroborated, not by ESPN.com, other media websites, local papers, Rotowire, Jamey Newberg’s website, or Entertainment Tonight. It may prove true, but the reader has no means of making an educated guess of its veracity or importance. Your guess is as good as mine.
WHAT I DO KNOW. Rodriguez is recovering from knee surgery and reported to camp 15-20 pounds overweight. Scouts rightly questioned how the extra weight would affect his performance and durability. Rodriguez explained that he couldn’t perform his usual offseason conditioning program due to the surgery. By his own admission, he is trying to play his way into shape.
WHAT ELSE I KNOW. Rodriguez has played in 14 Spring Training games. The Rangers understandably have been cautious about his workload. Also, he missed several games attending to his ill mother in Puerto Rico. He is hitting .308 and slugging .410 through Wednesday. He will be a free agent at the end of this year. In essence, he is playing for his next contract. A poor, injury-filled year could force him to accept a shorter, smaller contract in 2003.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO. You, the reader, must decide the importance of Gammons’ article relative to other factors such as Pudge’s knee surgery, his weight, his Spring Training performance, and his contract situation. Barring late-breaking news, I’m sticking to my original projection of 500 plate appearances (about 120 games) for Pudge with stats typical of his career.
CLOSER PROBLEMS. JEFF ZIMMERMAN is on the DL and probably out through April. Unfortunately, JOHN ROCKER has a 2.18 WHIP this spring, and I’ve been asked who would take his place if he can’t do the job. JAY POWELL would be the most likely choice, but he has an injured finger and might also be DL-bound. DAN MICELI has 32 career saves but only nine in the last six years. TODD VAN POPPEL has good stuff but isn’t a “proven closer.” In the short run, the Rangers will live or die with Rocker; beyond him, probably either Miceli or a closer-by-committee. I honestly can’t recommend anyone.
STARTER PROBLEMS. CHAN HO PARK pulled a hamstring Wednesday and is day-to-day. The injury isn’t considered serious, but hamstring injuries are notoriously troublesome. ISMAEL VALDES has an irritated elbow and will throw in practice Thursday. KENNY ROGERS missed his start today (Thursday) due to a tight hamstring. Valdes and Rogers aren’t fantasy-worthy even when healthy, but if you own them, watch for news on their progress and get ready to find a replacement. At this rate, I might be the Opening Day starter (I’m left-handed!).
OPENING DAY / FEARFUL PREDICTIONS
NO MORE INJURED STARTERS. The recent injuries to four-fifths of the starting rotation - CHAN HO PARK, KENNY ROGERS, ISMAEL VALDES and DAVE BURBA - appear to be minor, and all four are expected to make their initial starts. HIDEKI IRABU will step in if anyone falters. I expect Burba to pitch respectably (relative to his teammates), but only Park comes recommended on a fantasy team. The others aren’t much more than gap fillers in AL-only leagues.
STLL MORE INJURED RELIEVERS. JEFF ZIMMERMAN could be sidelined until mid-May according to manager Jerry Narron. Two MRIs revealed nothing more than elbow tendinitis. I say “nothing more,” but if you’ve had tendinitis you know how painful it is and how long it lingers. Zimmerman looks to miss at least 40 games. In his latest column, Peter Gammons commented that Zimm might be lost for the year, a prediction that (sigh…) I haven’t seen anywhere else.
JOHN ROCKER did his best Mitch Williams impersonation Friday night, loading the bases but striking out the side in saving a 4-2 win over the Mets. Don’t assume that the Rangers will yank him from the closer role if he blows one or two save chances. GM John Hart is in love with him, and the Rangers will be very patient with his erratic performances. That said, if you’re a Ranger fan or Rocker owner, you might want to start buying your Maalox in bulk.
DEFENSE? One factor to keep in mind when assessing Ranger pitching is the quality of the defense behind it. At least some of the time, the starting outfield will be Rusty Greer, Carl Everett and Juan Gonzalez. Combine that with Catalanotto at second, and, well, you begin to understand why GM John Hart puts so much emphasis on pitchers who get strikeouts. Everett has had the worst or next-to-worst defensive range factor in the Major Leagues for three years running.
BENCH WARMERS. The Rangers will face a few more lefties than usual during April, and RUSTY GREER will sit against most left-handed pitchers (meaning GABE KAPLER should play). CARL EVERETT will always play (when healthy) but is woeful against lefties (.197 last year, .257 career). FRANK CATALANOTTO is not expected to sit against lefties as happened much of last year. If Cat plays second base on a semi-regular basis, Kapler should be the prime beneficiary of more playing time, with MICHAEL YOUNG having a reduced role.
REPORTING NOTES. During the year, I will try to analyze the fantasy implications of trades and injuries as soon as possible after they occur, but I won’t try to scoop anybody on the news itself. Frankly, there’s plenty of baseball writers who do that for a living, and ESPN’s Ranger message board might be the quickest source of all. Also check out the message board at Jamey Newberg’s site for articulate discussions of trades and injuries.
PREDICTIONS. Other writers offer fearless predictions. Mine are fearful. I assure you that most of them will be wrong. The Rangers score 930 runs, allow 870, and finish in third place with an 86-76 record behind Oakland (96-66) and Seattle (92-70) but ahead of Anaheim (78-84). Team ERA: 4.86. Team batting: .288/.348/.489.
One and Five. The twenty-ninth best record in baseball. A .225 team batting average with a .651 OPS. A 6.00 team ERA. Management brought 60 players to camp and ostensibly kept the best 25 (waiving three decent prospects in the process), so they can do little but hope for the best. Oh, for the days of Kevin Elster and Roger Pavlik, when the Rangers were a winning team.
TEARING IT UP
GABE KAPLER is the only regular batting above .278. He’s started all but one game, and with Jerry Narron intent on resting CARL EVERETT’s knee occasionally, Kapler appears to be a worthwhile fantasy outfielder. As for Everett, he would have been benched Sunday if not for the rainout. When asked about his knee, he said “there’s no such thing as 100%.” Or dinosaurs. He looks awfully slow in centerfield, though no report I’ve seen has linked his knee to his weak hitting. Don’t worry about him just yet, but keep an eye on him.
Almost everybody. Even ALEX RODRIGUEZ is 3-for-23 to start the year. Don’t worry. A-Rod had an 8-for-41 stretch last year, but no one noticed because it was during June. HANK BLALOCK is 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts since singling in his first Major League at-bat. The Rangers aren’t shipping him back to Oklahoma yet, but he’ll rest against tough lefthanders. Three of the Rangers’ next five games are against lefties. Thus, HERBERT PERRY will start more often this week. If Blalock continues to struggle, Perry could play enough to help owners desperate for 3B help in AL-only leagues.
AT THE PLATE
Jerry Narron’s lineup card is frustratingly random thus far. RUSTY GREER, expected to sit against many lefthanders, has missed just one game and led off against two left-handed starters. FRANK CATALANOTTO, who’s bat was supposed to be in the lineup every day, has been benched for two games. As expected, MICHAEL YOUNG isn’t playing much, starting only against lefties. Hopefully, Narron’s lineup will become more formulaic as the season progresses. Regardless, owners should bench Greer and possibly Everett against lefties if they have the roster flexibility. Neither hits lefties well.
FROM THE RUBBER
JOHN ROCKER was dreadful in his one appearance, nearing blowing a five-run lead in the 9th against Oakland. He remains the team closer. The Ranger bullpen has an 8.62 ERA, 2.30 WHIP (including 18 BB in 15.2 IP), no wins and no saves. Avoid them like the plague. HIDEKI IRABU pitched respectably Saturday (5.1 IP, 6 baserunners, 3 SO) and will continue to start in Park’s absence. DOUG DAVIS and ISMAEL VALDES had Quality Starts in their first outings, but no Ranger starter (except a healthy Park) has much fantasy value in ML-wide leagues. Davis has the most upside.
ON THE MEND
Closer JEFF ZIMMERMAN threw off flat ground Sunday without soreness and is hoping to return in mid-May. Reliever JAY POWELL’s tendinitis isn’t improving and his return is not imminent. Fellow reliever RICH RODRIGUEZ has a circulatory problem in his throwing hand and is out indefinitely. CHAN HO PARK can rejoin the club on April 17th.
OF KEVIN MENCH, who like Blalock had a terrific spring, was called up to replace Rich Rodriguez, thereby abruptly ending the silly experiment with a 13-man pitching staff. He’s the team’s sixth outfielder and should play sparingly. P FRANCISCO CORDERO took Jay Powell’s spot. He’s got the stuff but has never used it effectively in Arlington.
Forget what you’ve read about the disagreeable personalities on this team. The Rangers are the nicest bunch of guys in baseball. The offense hits with admirable politeness and restraint. The bullpen offers nightly apologies for the team’s surprisingly respectable starting pitching in the form of numerous free passes and dead-straight fastballs. Carl Everett, that big ol’ teddy bear, graciously lets hitters stretch singles into doubles like a dad playing with his young son. Don’t you just want to give them all a big hug?
TEARING IT UP
DOUG DAVIS has been brilliant, allowing 9 hits and 3 walks in 16 innings. He’s holding opponents to a .167 batting average. He usually allows a rather high number of baserunners, but as long as he keeps the ball in the park, he’ll be effective. He’s owned in just 19% of ML-wide leagues. RUSTY GREER has reverted to his 1996 form for the first two weeks, hitting .341 with a .400 OBP. It’s premature to assume his injury-related ineffectiveness is behind him, but he’s starting and playing well against lefties, and he could help owners needing average and runs.
In his last 47 games, CARL EVERETT is hitting .129 / 23 / 8 / 24 / 1 with a .180 on-base average. He simply isn’t capable of playing center field and has started there just once in the past six games. He’s DH-ing and sitting out more frequently to rest his knee and hopefully bring his bat around. IVAN RODIRGUEZ isn’t hitting for average or power, but his knee appears to be holding up. RAFAEL PALMEIRO is hitting .208 though his power is adequate. Pudge and Raffy will turn it around. Stay with them.
AT THE PLATE
To the extreme annoyance of his owners, FRANK CATALANOTTO has started only 3 of 7 games against lefties. The team won’t face nearly as many lefties outside the division, so Cat’s playing time should pick up. For now, if the Rangers are facing a lefty you should bench him because he might not be in the lineup. Gonzalez’s injury and Everett’s ineffectiveness have made GABE KAPLER and Greer everyday players for the moment. HERBERT PERRY’s knee bruise has made HANK BLALOCK an everyday player again, but Blalock continues to struggle. Don’t drop him yet, but bench him if you can.
FROM THE RUBBER
KENNY ROGERS has been a pleasant surprise, but he really hasn’t pitched as effectively as his 2.64 ERA suggests. He has a 1.47 WHIP, always seems to be pitching out of jams, and is averaging just three strikeouts per start. BURBA, VALDES and IRABU have shown flashes of competence but are risky choices even in AL-only leagues. Irabu might miss his next start with an upcoming off-day. JOHN ROCKER logged his first save by striking out the side, bringing his ERA down to 12.00 and his WHIP to 2.67. He and the rest of the bullpen have been an appalling, unmitigated disaster.
ON THE MEND
Closer JEFF ZIMMERMAN will resume throwing from flat ground on Tuesday. Mid-May is his earliest possible return date. June appears more realistic. CHAN HO PARK’s hamstring will keep him out until mid-May, much longer than previously thought. JUAN GONZALEZ will miss 2-4 weeks with an injured hand. Relievers JAY POWELL and RICH RODRIGUEZ aren’t expected back any time soon.
Expected to play only against lefties, OF KEVIN MENCH has started six consecutive games. I don’t think he’ll be an everyday starter, though he might help you in an AL-only league. Deposed 3B MIKE LAMB was called up to replace Gonzalez. He made his debut as a catcher in the 9th inning on Sunday. He won’t play enough to help anyone.
After yet another heartrending, heartrendering implosion by the bullpen, the Rangers optioned John Rocker to AAA Oklahoma City. No replacement closer has been announced, and none may be forthcoming. Narron may employ the dreaded closer-by-committee system, or go with whoever is hot, or divine his closer by use of a Ouija board. Judging from my email inbox, many of you are desperate for help in saves, so I’ve handicapped the field.
Use your best judgment. As mentioned, no replacement has been announced by the team. Also, remember that saves are just one category. Don’t upend your roster just for the chance of a few saves. Any of these guys could do more harm than good.
TODD VAN POPPEL (2-1 odds) – Probably the best, though by a small margin. He has a 7.50 ERA but just a 1.17 WHIP in 6.0 innings. He averages about one strikeout per inning and isn’t too homer-prone. Rotoworld claims he’s the prime candidate for the job.
HIDEKI IRABU (3-1 odds) – He pitched well in a one-inning relief stint Tuesday night. The knock against him as a starter is his inability to get hitters out the second or third time through the order. Arguably, he’s more effective in short stints. He has a 0.00 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 2.1 innings as a reliever. Rotowire (different than Rotoworld) claims that he and Seanez are the most probable choices.
FRANCISCO CORDERO (5-1) – He isn’t on the 25-man roster as of today, but he may be called up to replace Rocker. He was once considered the closer of the future but injuries and poor performance have stalled his career. He definitely has the stuff but has never developed proper control. He has a 2.08 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 4.1 innings in AAA, but is issuing walks at the rate of one per inning.
DAN MICELI (10-1) – Has the most career saves of any candidate, but hasn’t closed regularly since 1995. This year, he’s performed terribly in high-leverage situations.
RUDY SEANEZ (10-1) – Rotowire claims he’s one of the candidates. He’s actually pitched worse than his 10.12 ERA indicates, allowing 15 baserunners in 5.1 innings.
STEVE WOODARD (20-1). Nope.
CHRIS MICHALAK (20-1). Nope.
JOHN ROCKER has minor league options, so he must report to Oklahoma City within 72 hours or forfeit his contract. I believe he can’t be recalled to Arlington for 10 days.
JEFF ZIMMERMAN has his scheduled throwing session pushed back from yesterday to this Friday. Additional tests revealed bone spurs in his elbow. JAY POWELL has tendinitis and possibly a torn tendon in one of his fingers. He’s shut down until further notice.
“THE BEST 5-13 TEAM IN BASEBALL”
If you’d known with certainty that the starters’ ERA would be 4.09 after 18 games, what would you have guessed for their record? Probably not 5-13. The Rangers have held the lead going into the 6th inning or later in eight of their 13 losses, and in three of those losses, a 9th inning lead was lost. Unbelievably, the bullpen actually has pitched worse than its 7.11 ERA indicates. The Rangers have been outscored by only 9 runs and have a “Pythagorean record” of 8-10, which of course means absolutely nothing. They have very little time to right the ship before it sinks.
TEARING IT UP
Following my lukewarm non-endorsement last week, KENNY ROGERS tossed a brilliant 5-hit shutout Friday night. Although he’s clearly better this year following rib-removal surgery, he remains a risky acquisition in ML-wide leagues. He’s allowing opponents a .231 batting average and just one homer in 26 innings, both far better than any year in his career. He just won’t keep up that pace. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasure to watch him pitch well again. RUSTY GREER’s revival continues. He won’t hit .342 for the whole year but could be an adequate source of runs and average in any league.
CARL EVERETT horrific displays of batting and fielding show no sign of abatement, but with Kapler’s recent injury, the team has little choice but to put Everett in centerfield every day. HANK BLALOCK’s mini-tear ended with a 4-for-28 slump in his last 8 games. A now-healthy HERBERT PERRY will get the starts against lefties and could pick up starts against righties if Blalock can’t produce. MIKE LAMB started every game against Seattle over the weekend but didn’t do much. He’ll gain 1B eligibility in ESPN leagues with two more starts, but he’s worthless at that position in a fantasy league.
AT THE PLATE
FRANK CATALANOTTO made his first start in the outfield Friday. With fewer lefthanded pitchers to face and injuries to teammates, he should play more often. MICHAEL YOUNG should also play more often, but not enough or well enough to help in ML-wide leagues. In his young career, he’s hit lefties for power much better than righties. KEVIN MENCH’s string of 9 consecutive starts ended Friday. He should continue to start against lefties. BILL HASELMAN could help owners truly desperate for catching. He averages 14 homers and 60 RBI per 162 games-played and a .261 batting average.
FROM THE RUBBER
HIDEKI IRABU was a savior for one day but blew his next save attempt. He should get at least one more chance, but his leash is short. TODD VAN POPPEL has 7 strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP in 8 IP despite a 5.62 ERA. Why the Rangers aren’t using him more is a mystery to everyone but Jerry Narron. DOUG DAVIS struggled for the first time in his last start. If you just picked him up, don’t be too disappointed. His ability to prevent walks and homers was still good. ROB BELL might be called up to start Saturday. If not, STEVE WOODARD could get his first start. Avoid them.
ON THE MEND
IVAN RODRIGUEZ will be out 4-6 weeks with a herniated disk. Surgery won’t be required unless other treatments fail. Will he be able to catch frequently and hit for average and power upon his return? With this type of injury, I’m skeptical. JUAN GONZALEZ was supposed to have tested his injured hand recently, but I’ve heard no news. He’s eligible to return from the DL this week, but early to mid-May is more probable. JEFF ZIMMERMAN may be placed on the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster. If so, he wouldn’t be able to return until June 1.
MORE INJURIES. CHAN HO PARK’s rehab is progressing and he should be back by mid-May. GABE KAPLER has missed five games with a strained rib muscle and may face DL placement. Bench him until you see his name in a boxscore. JAY POWELL was diagnosed with a torn finger tendon but was cleared to throw anyway. He won’t be back in the near future. CALLUPS. OF JASON ROMANO was called up for bench support. He won’t play enough to help owners even in deep AL-only leagues.
Pitching and Defense? The Rangers?
The Rangers took four of six from Cleveland and Toronto despite just once scoring in excess of four runs. How? Steady starting pitching, a solid bullpen and defense. The Rangers are 10th in runs scored and 6th in runs allowed. End-time prophets might see this as a sign of impending doom, but seasoned fantasy owners need not worry. The offense will pick up, and the starting pitching won’t maintain a 4.28 ERA. Does this team have a chance? We will find out very soon. 20 of the next 31 games are against the struggling Blue Jays, Royals, Tigers and Angels.
TEARING IT UP
HIDEKI IRABU is the man. As long as he doesn’t completely fall apart, he should hold John Rocker at bay until Jeff Zimmerman returns. ISMAEL VALDES has a 3.60 ERA and is allowing just a .217 batting average. Neither will last. Likewise, KENNY ROGERS continues to pitch masterfully, but I still (still!) advise caution. If you’re going to pick him up, at least browse his career numbers first. And if you pick up ROB BELL in a mixed league, I’ll bop you on the snout with a rolled-up newspaper. Despite his good start, it is just one start, so even in AL-only leagues he’s a huge risk.
GABE KAPLER is healthy again but batting only .087 with runners on base. He has one RBI in 62 at-bats. His career average is .255, so he should come around. BILL HASELMAN has disappointed since taking over for Ivan Rodriguez. Given their alternatives, the Rangers will play him until he keels over, so if you’re desperate for a catcher… well, he’s a catcher. FRANK CATALANOTTO’s average isn’t there yet but at least he’s playing more, starting 8 of the last 9. His run total remains high thanks to his newfound willingness to take walks.
AT THE PLATE
Are CARL EVERETT and Rob Deer related? Everett is hitting .165 but is on pace for 34 homers and 88 RBI. He’s been relegated to RF and may face reduced playing time when Gonzalez returns. 2B MICHAEL YOUNG has been hot (.324-5-1-3-0) in limited playing time but is still relegated to starting primarily against lefties. He has modest value in an AL-only leagues though only in a carefully monitored platoon. Don’t play him every day. KEVIN MENCH was sent back to AAA to play regularly. He’s no longer worth a roster spot in any fantasy league.
FROM THE RUBBER
DOUG DAVIS is the most-dropped player in ML-wide leagues. His ERA stands at 4.33 after two consecutive poor outings. He’s not worthless, just understand that expecting ANY Ranger starter to post a sub-4.00 ERA is expecting too much. JOHN ROCKER has pitched adequately in a setup role since his paid vacation, but his fantasy value is now speculative at best. Without the saves, he’s awfully risky. For those in 20-team AL-only leagues, DAN MICELI refused a minor-league assignment and will be released. He will head down to south Texas to hunt quail with close friend John Boles.
ON THE MEND
Finally, some JUAN GONZALEZ news, albeit bad news. He won’t attempt to swing a bat until May 3-6, at which time he’ll be reevaluated. JEFF ZIMMERMAN may have surgery that would push his return to the All-Star break. He might not be back before then regardless. CHAN HO PARK threw a successful bullpen session and will throw a simulated game on April 30. Even if all goes well, he is probably still two weeks away. JAY POWELL is throwing on the side and trying to get into game shape. He, like Zimmerman, cannot return before June 1.
CALVIN MURRAY has started six consecutive games and batted 7-19 since becoming a Ranger, but don’t be fooled by this career-.240 hitter. Although switching from Pac Bell to the Ballpark adds about 20 points in average, his fantasy contributions should be limited to a few runs and steals. If nothing else, MIKE LAMB proved just how hard the job of catcher is with his performance last Thursday. Recent acquisition and fantasy zero HECTOR ORTIZ now caddies for Haselman.
Rangers Achieve Mediocrity, Now Struggle For .500
The Rangers completed a twelve-game stretch against Toronto and Cleveland with an 8-4 mark despite scoring five or more runs in just four games. They can't rely on their starting pitching and recently solid bullpen to carry them forever. At this point, the Rangers must finish 77-55 just to reach 90 wins, which itself guarantees nothing. This week, the Rangers host 19-12 Chicago and a Detroit squad that is 10-8 since their initial 11-game losing streak.
Behold HIDEKI IRABU! Everyone's favorite portly amphibian has seven saves in eight chances and has allowed only one earned run as a reliever. Count on him holding the closer's job until Zimmerman's eventual return. I described MICHAEL YOUNG as a platoon player last week and he's started six consecutive games and batted second(!) since then, hitting a tepid .259-4-0-1-2 after a very hot start. I'm of the opinion that Jerry Narron is playing a hot hand and won't start Young every day for much longer unless he heats up again.
I was more accurate in my lukewarm assessment of CALVIN MURRAY, who hit .181-3-0-1-0 last week after a hot start. Murray's not totally worthless in an AL-only league, but don't expect anything beyond a handful of runs and steals. CARL EVERETT strained a calf Saturday. His own. He'll miss at least a few games and might be DL'ed. Keep him benched until you see his name in a lineup. When Gonzalez returns, Everett may be forced into a part-time LF/DH role. Expect him to react with the professionalism and maturity that has marked his career. He has a 184 batting average since last June 19.
Will GABE KAPLER be a Ranger for long? He's been prime trade bait since Spring Training but injury concerns among other players have necessitated his presence. If Gonzalez's hand is okay and Everett's calf strain isn't serious, he finally might be dealt. Presumably, he'd play every day for another team so his value would increase. Of course, if you own him in an AL-only league and he's traded to the Dodgers, he becomes an unperson. Watch the wires and be ready to make a move. In the meantime, he should get most of the starts in Everett's absence.
The "Bell Curve" has been solid for two consecutive starts, but ROB BELL won't pitch more than two additional games before heading back to AAA to make room for Park. He should be first in line to replace an injured starter on the big-league club. KENNY ROGERS finally had a bad start. I'll say it again: He, DOUG DAVIS and ISMAEL VALDES aren't bad pitchers but have very, very marginal value in ML-wide fantasy leagues. They'll hover around the range of slightly-better-than-mediocre to slightly-worse-than-mediocre all year.
CHAN HO PARK is almost ready to return and is resisting the idea of making a rehab start beforehand. If he gets his way, he'll start this weekend against Detroit, if not, he'll start the weekend of May 17-19. Either way, get ready to activate him. JUAN GONZALEZ will find out very soon whether he can resume swinging a bat. Expect him to miss 1-2 more weeks. JEFF ZIMMERMAN had successful elbow surgery and will begin throwing in late-May. He could return by mid-June, but late June or early July is a safer bet.
MORE INJURY NEWS: JAY POWELL should be ready to return by May 31. He'll be a middle reliever like Seanez, Rocker and Van Poppel with limited value even in AL-only leagues. If Everett is sent to the DL, JASON ROMANO and KEVIN MENCH are the probable callups from AAA. Either would be a spot starter and pinch hitter/runner with negligible value in any fantasy league.
Because of recent roster moves and changes in injury status to various players, I’m providing a brief update.
ISMAEL VALDES will not start Thursday because of a stiff back that has bothered him intermittently all season. Thursday’s starter will NOT be STEVE WOODARD as many wire services are reporting. The Rangers recalled JOAQUIN BENOIT (3-2, 2.37 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 40 SO in 38 IP for AAA Oklahoma City) to start and optioned reliever/fantasy non-entity RANDY FLORES back to AAA. Right now, the Rangers hope Valdes will make his next start, but if not, a DL trip is possible. Benoit is probably headed back to AAA after this start.
CHAN HO PARK will not make a rehab start. Barring something unforeseen, he will start this Sunday against Detroit. He reported no hamstring pain after throwing to Ranger hitters in a practice session.
ROB BELL was optioned to AAA. If Valdes is placed on the DL, Bell could be recalled and re-enter the rotation. Optioned players normally must wait 10 days to be recalled but not if replacing an injured player. He’s a marginal pitcher even in AL-only leagues, but if you do own him, wait a day or two before dropping him because he might be back sooner than expected.
CARL EVERETT was placed on the disabled list with a strained calf. KEVIN MENCH was recalled from AAA and started Wednesday night. I’d expected him to start only against lefties, but the local papers say he’ll get plenty of action. He’s an adequate outfielder for AL-only leagues, but don’t go out of your way to get him.
JUAN GONZALEZ is swinging the bat against live pitching for the first time since April 9. He should return in 1-2 weeks. What about IVAN RODRIGUEZ? I haven’t heard a word about him in weeks. The original timetable was 4-6 weeks, which would have set his return in the range of May 21-June 4. I wouldn’t count on him returning before June 1. In fact, 4-6 weeks from TODAY seems more likely, but that’s just my opinion. The vital questions are how often and how well will he play upon his return?
JAY POWELL will start his rehab assignment May 20 and could return to the big leagues by the end of the month. He’ll be a middle reliever like Seanez, Rocker and Van Poppel and has limited value even in AL-only leagues.
Park Up, Blalock Down, Juan Gone On The Way
On Tuesday, the Rangers begin a 12-game road trip against Chicago and face Detroit, Minnesota and Kansas City in subsequent series. All but Detroit have hitter-friendly parks and only Minnesota has an ERA better than league-average, so the Rangers’ hitters have an opportunity to provide considerable assistance to your fantasy squads despite the arduous travel.
CHAN HO PARK returned to action with a 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 HR, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO performance in which he threw 53 of 78 pitches for strikes. His hamstring is fine. Cautious owners who left him on the bench last Sunday should activate him at once. As predicted, JOAQUIN BENOIT was a rent-a-starter and returned to AAA. The 11% of you who caught him in AL-only leagues can throw him back into the water now. In the near future, ROB BELL is the best bet to replace an injured starter should the need arise.
Capping a miserable six weeks, HANK BLALOCK was relegated to AAA Sunday. The Rangers want to give him a few weeks (or more) to regain his swing and confidence. Jerry Narron made the rather disheartening comment that Blalock’s swing was too long and he wasn’t making adjustments. Watch his AAA performance or read here for updates because he could return soon if he regains the stroke that made him the toast of Spring Training. His keeper-league owners should not panic.
In the meantime, HERBERT PERRY will get the majority of starts in Blalock’s absence and suddenly has fantasy value. He’s owned in 86% of AL-only leagues and 1% of mixed leagues. For those desperate for 3B help in deep ML-wide leagues, Perry is a decent stopgap. This is pure speculation, but FRANK CATALANOTTO might get an occasional start at third in order to get the bats of Cat and Young into the same lineup.
JUAN GONZALEZ will bat against live pitching in extended Spring Training in Florida and is expected to join the Rangers Thursday in Chicago or Friday in Detroit. Comerica is the worst park in the Majors for righthanded sluggers, but that shouldn’t deter you from activating him. KEVIN MENCH or JASON ROMANO will be sent down to AAA upon his return.
RAFAEL PALMEIRO (calf) and FRANK CATALANOTTO (groin) are day-to-day. Palmeiro’s injury apparently isn’t as bad as originally feared and he could return to action by Friday. Still, the Rangers may be forced to put one of them on the DL because the bench is so depleted. IVAN RODRIGUEZ’s future should be established by this weekend. He received a cortisone injection last week as a last-ditch attempt to prevent surgery. I’ve heard no word of whether CARL EVERETT will return on May 20 when he is first eligible. JEFF ZIMMERMAN should begin throwing sometime next week.
Speaking of MICHAEL YOUNG, he’s hitting .309-8-1-10-2 in 13 games as an everyday starter. I was dismayed when Jerry Narron gave him the #2 spot in the order, but he’s earned the promotion by taking more pitches and drawing walks at a better rate than last year. You’d have to watch him carefully, but if you’re in a deep mixed league he could help you. Stump Your Friends: What recently retired player has the worst ERA in Ranger history? Jose Canseco at 27.00.
The position of ESPN Fantasy Baseball Correspondent confers all sorts of goodies: endless adulation, groupies, travel by private jet, free pectoral implants, etc. Yet, there is a downside. When the Rangers lose two straight to Detroit, I actually have to watch it happen. (Ignore Paragraph Titles)
I have yet to read a single word from a reputable source regarding JEFF ZIMMERMAN’s role when he returns. Here is my guess, which you may disregard at will: if the Rangers are within shouting distance of a playoff spot and HIDEKI IRABU is still closing with great success, the Rangers will have little choice but to keep Irabu as closer. Zimm gets his old job back if the team is clearly out of the hunt (which is increasingly likely) and/or Irabu is struggling. I know that’s awfully equivocal, but lacking hard news or even statements from the team, that’s the best I can do.
Doctors cleared IVAN RODRIGUEZ to resume “baseball activities” next week. That doesn’t necessarily mean his back is healed, just that he’s been permitted to test it. Look here and at news wires for further updates. RAFAEL PALMEIRO avoided a DL stint but hasn’t started since May 12. He reportedly will pinch hit or DH the remaining seven games on the road trip. Masochists can pick up MIKE LAMB (.197-5-1-3-0), who will start most games at first in Raffy’s absence. Lamb is an empty .300 hitter on his best days.
FRANK CATALANOTTO’s groin was healing nicely when he seized up with back spasms. Cat now provides company to Everett, Powell, Zimmerman and Pudge on the DL. He is eligible to return May 26 but may not be ready until June 1. His injury further solidifies the status of MICHAEL YOUNG (.302-16-2-16-4). He doesn’t hit righties very well, but he’ll play every day at least until June. Like HERBERT PERRY, Young isn’t anything special but won’t hurt you in medium-to-deep mixed leagues.
CARL EVERETT (.173-9-5-16-0) will return May 21 when the Rangers start a series with Minnesota. KEVIN MENCH or JASON ROMANO should be sent down to AAA upon his return. GABE KAPLER (.274-14-0-9-4) has hit better than Everett (faint praise indeed) but not well enough to start every day, so I expect the Rangers to give Everett another opportunity to turn his season around.
PITCHERS. DOUG DAVIS owners beware: the Rangers hinted that he could be skipped in the rotation if he continues to struggle. He has a 6.83 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in his last five starts. His ERA and WHIP for the season (4.53, 1.35) are close what you should expect from him. ISMAEL VALDES (3 wins, 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) has exceeded expectations. He’s holding opposing batters to a .211 average. His career average is .253, and most of that career was in pitcher-friendly Los Angeles, so don’t count on him posting such gaudy numbers in the future.
FARM HANDS. 3B HANK BLALOCK is hitting .167-0-0-3-0 in three games at AAA Oklahoma City. Potential replacement starter ROB BELL is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 27/9 SO/BB ratio in 41 IP. Teammate JOAQUIN BENOIT is 3-2 with a 2.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 46/19 BB/SO ratio in 53 IP. As I’d mentioned, Bell, not Benoit, should be the first choice to replace an injured/deposed Ranger starter.
Welcome to the dark and disturbing world of the American League West. Seattle lost three consecutive games at home… to Tampa Bay! Anaheim is 27-17 and among the league leaders… in offense! Oakland optioned the entire right side of their starting infield to AAA, then traded Jeremy Giambi to the Phillies… for Jason Alexander and a bucket of wings! The Rangers… well, the Rangers are 20-25, 9.5 games out of first. Scary, but oddly reassuring.
On Wednesday, IVAN RODRIGUEZ began working out in an attempt to stave off back surgery. He felt discomfort after Wednesday but not after Thursday’s exercises. He will attempt to work out for 2-3 weeks before he and the team determine whether surgery is necessary. RAFAEL PALMEIRO has a sore ankle in addition to his sore calf. He’ll play DH and sit occasionally at least until Monday. MIKE LAMB has started at first in his place. His playing time will decrease drastically once Raffy is healthy, so the 49% of you who own him in AL-only leagues should be ready to bench or drop him.
CARL EVERETT is back in the fold and will see significant playing time in left field. Over the last five games he’s hitting .368, which for him is an epic achievement. Except in the shallowest of AL-only league, he’s a must-play. In mixed leagues, proceed with caution. He could produce at a better rate than the average outfielder, but the risk of further injuries and/or a persistent slump remains high. Acknowledge that risk before you pick him up.
Until the Rangers close their eyes, cross their fingers, and stick Everett back in center, GABE KAPLER remains the best option and will start most games. Nevertheless, Kapler isn’t worth much in mixed leagues. CALVIN MURRAY and JASON ROMANO are better fielders but aren’t hitting at all don’t belong on any fantasy team. Once again, JOHN ROCKER was optioned to AAA Oklahoma City. He is still owned in 8.6% of mixed leagues and 37% of AL-only leagues. Drop him. Drop him with extreme prejudice. His replacement is RANDY FLORES, who is probably a swell guy but not anyone you need to know.
JUAN GONZALEZ is hitting .181-1-0-0-0 since returning from the DL and .217-5-0-0-0 in 50 at-bats for the season. What can I say? He’s a stud, and you have to play him unless you have an incredible alternate. Hopefully a long weekend against Kansas City pitching will resuscitate him. HERBERT PERRY has posted a very respectable .350-9-1-4-2 since HANK BLALOCK”s demotion. As I mentioned on May 14, Perry is adequate stopgap 3B in mixed leagues. After a slow start, HANK BLALOCK is batting .324-8-1-8-0 with a .333 OBP and .595 slugging average in eight games in AAA.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY? Their last five starts: KENNY ROGERS (3 wins, 16 SO, 4.13 ERA, 1.32 whip), ISMAEL VALDES (1 win, 19 SO, 3.60 ERA, 1.30 whip), DOUG DAVIS (1 win, 11 SO, 6.41 ERA, 1.95 whip), DAVE BURBA (2 wins, 24 SO, 5.17 ERA, 1.24 whip). As for the other starter, don’t worry about CHAN HO PARK just yet. While it’s no excuse, he pitched in cold, wet Detroit last Saturday. His hamstring isn’t quite 100% and he is probably still a bit rusty. He starts Friday against Kansas City, which has a .669 OPS.
FARM HANDS. As you know, former Ranger Carlos Pena was demoted to AAA . Have the Rangers’ acquisitions in that trade fared any better? Ostensible centerpiece MARIO RAMOS has been batting practice fodder. He has a 2-4 record, 6.59 ERA, a 20/29 BB/SO ratio and 13 HR allowed in 56 innings in AAA. 1B JASON HART is batting .263/.355/.515 with 10 homers in 44 games in AAA. CF RYAN LUDWICK is batting .272/.363/.516 with 8 homers in 46 games, but in AA Tulsa, catcher GERALD LAIRD is hitting a meager .215/.285/.289. Only Ludwick and Hart are on the 40-man roster.
In Lieu of Actual Achievement, Copious Activity
Commence roster reconstruction. After an embarrassing 2-9 road trip crushed the Rangers’ faint hopes of playoff contention, John Hart shipped out Doug Davis, Steve Woodard, and Chris Michalak. In their places are Rob Bell, Anthony Telford and… Juan Alvarez? Who? Doesn’t matter. While the pitching staff has absorbed most of the blame for the Rangers’ recent woes, they actually are on pace to allow 151 fewer runs than in 2001. Unfortunately, the offense projects to score 159 fewer runs. Meet the new team, same as the old team.
Arlington to Oklahoma City? North on I-35, 210 miles
DOUG DAVIS, owned in 91% of ESPN’s AL-only leagues, was optioned to AAA for the second consecutive May. Davis’ WHIP of 1.49 is lower than last year’s 1.55, but he’s allowing homers at a higher rate and has a dire 22/28 BB/SO ratio. Will he rebound quickly as he did last year? In the last four months of 2001, he won nine games with a solid 3.76 ERA but a shaky 1.49 WHIP. Thus, even at his best, his WHIP has been very high. Pitching is thin in AL-only leagues, but Davis’ return is not guaranteed, nor is his performance. Davis has always been waiver-wire fodder and belongs there now.
The Bell Tolls… For Thee?
Rob Bell returns to Arlington and assumes Davis’ spot in the rotation. In three earlier starts, he posted a 4.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 14 SO in 17 innings. In AAA, Bell has a 5-0 record, 3.27 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 14 BB/38 SO ratio in 52 innings. He’s worth a spot in AL-only leagues for owners in need of pitching, but don’t go out of your way to get him. In mixed leagues, better options should be available. For fantasy purposes, he is only a marginal upgrade over Davis except in terms of strikeouts. One warning: Bell’s start Wednesday will be on three days rest.
Ivan Rodriguez, Bionic Man
How well are IVAN RODRIGUEZ’s workouts progressing? The Dallas Morning News reports he could be activated as early as next Monday! I’m no doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but that seems highly improbable and very hasty. In any case, he is unquestionably worth keeping until his situation is resolved. The team doctor will examine him today and could clear him to begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday. Assume a more realistic timetable of 2-3 weeks, and if he returns sooner, consider that icing on the cake.
Still More Injury News
If only RAFAEL PALMEIRO’s medication would increase the blood flow to his injured calf muscle where it’s needed. Palmeiro had hoped to resume 1B duty by now but doesn’t appear close to ready. He’ll DH for an indefinite period. FRANK CATALANOTTO, already eligible to return from the DL, begins a rehab assignment today and may rejoin the team on Friday. He could (and should) supplant MIKE LAMB at first if Raffy isn’t ready. I’ve heard nary a word about JEFF ZIMMERMAN lately. Presumably, his rehabilitation is progressing and a late June or early July return is still expected.
The team’s plummeting winning percentage affects HIDEKI IRABU in two ways, neither beneficial to fantasy owners. One, it could compel a trade to a contender needing an emergency closer or (uh-oh) another middle reliever. Two, it increases the chance of Zimmerman getting his closer job back when he returns. In a lost season, why keep rent-a-player Irabu at closer when Zimmerman is signed through 2004? The Rangers have announced nothing; it’s just my opinion. Nevertheless, Irabu deserves a close watch, because his role could change for the worse by the end of July or before.
CHAN HO PARK is not dead or missing. He pitched capably last Friday and had a 3-1 lead before rain washed his statistics away. He threw only 61 pitches and will start Tuesday on three days rest. Meanwhile, the Rangers will skip DAVE BURBA’s turn in the rotation this week. HANK BLALOCK is hitting .333/.365/.563 in 12 AAA games. Tuesday morning, MLB.com proclaimed “Rangers offense making progress” on the basis of Everett’s three-hit night and Gonzalez’s stolen base. I think not.
Looking Up At Mediocrity
The Rangers are on a 69-93 pace, which would be their worst record since 1985. Sunday’s shaky 8-6 win fits the team’s M.O. perfectly: score early, score often, and hold on for dear life. The pitchers are on pace to allow 840 runs (I’d predicted 860). They aren’t good, but at least they are fulfilling their end of the bargain. On the other hand, the hitters are on pace to score a mere 756 runs (I’d predicted 930. Ugh.). Despite occasionally terrible starts and some dramatic bullpen collapses, it’s the hitters who have failed. Today’s titles are sponsored by Z-109 Classic Rock.
For What It’s Worth
CHAN HO PARK had an incredibly frustrating start Sunday, dominating for four innings before collapsing completely. I’d told owners to be patient with him, and those who followed my advice are probably calling me bad names, but I still think he’ll come around eventually. KENNY ROGERS was masterful in his last start but threw 127 pitches. Don’t be too surprised if he regresses in his next few starts. To the surprise of no one outside Rangers’ management, ROB BELL pitched on just three days rest and was shelled. He’s a high-risk proposition even in AL-only leagues.
Not Forever Young
MICHAEL YOUNG concluded an ugly May with a brutal 0-for-18 stint. Despite his .212 batting average in May, his other stats were respectable (10 runs, 2 homers, 15 RBI, 3 steals) primarily because Jerry Narron seemingly was so enamored with his .310 OBP in the #2 slot. Young is now back in the #9 slot and eventually faces a reduction in playing time with the impending return of Catalanotto. He started 12 of 23 possible games to start the year, and he may face a similar scenario (say, starting one-half to two-thirds of the time) in the near future.
I Do/Don’t Believe in Zimmerman
JEFF ZIMMERMAN hopes to begin a rehab assignment in four weeks and return to Texas in mid-July. He has yet to throw from a mound. I predict (based on no facts whatsoever) that HIDEKI IRABU won’t maintain the closer’s job for Texas all season; he’ll lose his spot to Zimmerman or be traded to a contender needing relief help (e.g., Boston). Whether or not that comes true, Irabu has at least five weeks of shelf life remaining. Lately, Irabu has been traded heads-up for the likes of Tim Hudson, Preston Wilson, Bob Abreu and Juan Gonzalez. I’d trade Irabu for any of those guys in a heartbeat.
I Want You Back
IVAN RODRIGUEZ has caught in portions of two minor league games with no apparent soreness and is on schedule to rejoin the Rangers this Friday. My prediction of his play compared to past years: not quite as often, not quite as well, but still better than most. Originally set to return last weekend, FRANK CATALANOTTO received another cortisone in his ailing back and hopes to begin a brief rehab stint this Friday. He probably won’t return before June 10. When he does, say goodbye to MIKE LAMB’s playing time. The Rangers need Cat’s bat in the lineup, whether at 1B, 2B or DH.
Break On Through To The Other Side
After their four-game trip to Anaheim, the Rangers play 18 of the next 22 games against National League opponents. The Rangers will host Atlanta and Pittsburgh, travel to the Cubs and Cincinnati, and split six with Houston. This weekend against Atlanta, the Rotation Gods favor the Rangers as they will not face Maddux or Glavine. They won’t play in an NL stadium until June 14, so you needn’t worry about losing the DH just yet. The Rangers probably will continue to play RAFAEL PALMEIRO at DH some of the time to insure he’ll be well enough to handle 1B duties for interleague road games.
Oh Lord, Stuck in OKC Again
How badly does DOUG DAVIS want to return to Arlington? In his first AAA start, he pitched seven innings, allowed one hit, walked none, and struck out seven. HANK BLALOCK is hitting .390/.422/.571 in 18 games in AAA. If his problem was a temporary loss in confidence, he appears to have regained it; however, HERBERT PERRY’s solid play reduces the urgency of recalling Blalock in the near future. In seven innings, JOHN ROCKER has one walk, twelve strikeouts, and no earned runs allowed.
IVAN RODRIGUEZ is catching tonight against Atlanta. The cautious among you should hold onto your backup catcher while Pudge proves his back is sound, but definitely belongs in your lineup. BILL HASELMAN resumes his backup role and relinquishes his marginal fantasy value. TODD GREENE remains on the roster as a backup catcher and temporary 1B along with MIKE LAMB. Meanwhile, CHAN HO PARK allowed five first-innings runs as I type. I still believe he will pitch respectably, maybe, someday, but for now he belongs on your bench until he regains his earlier form.
Bullpen Collapses Into Singularity, Stephen Hawking Impressed
Following HIDEKI IRABU’s recent, spectacular failures, ANTHONY TELFORD saved Thursday night’s game. Irabu admitted he had a sore back and made some baffling, equivocal statements about his desire to close. He needs a new translator. Telford has pitched well overall but was terrible Thursday and very lucky to get the save. Irabu should get another chance, but Telford might steal a few opportunities should they arise. With Seanez out and Irabu struggling, the Rangers may pitch Telford until his arm self-amputates. Telford has pitched in seven of ten games and thrown 149 pitches since his recall.
Is help on the way? Well… JAY POWELL should return on Sunday. He could figure into the closer equation, but he was scary-bad in his AAA rehab assignment (13.50 ERA, 2.05 WHIP). Let’s say he’s a bit rusty. At first, expect him to pitch in less challenging situations. Conversely, JOHN ROCKER has pitched very well (0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 12 SO in 7.2 IP) for Oklahoma City. The Rangers are in no hurry to bring him back and ought to be VERY cautious in how they use him when he returns. JEFF ZIMMERMAN remains on schedule to return in mid-July.
Entire Roster DL’ed, Team Forfeits Remainder Of Schedule
RUSTY GREER was placed on the DL Friday, retroactive to June 4, with a strained back. Fellow outfielder CARL EVERETT is also on the DL until June 18 with a strained hammy. Neither is worth keeping in mixed leagues unless you have a deep bench; even AL-only owners should look hard for a replacement. FRANK CATALANOTTO is eligible to return, but his back spasms won’t go away. He won’t play until the middle of next week or the following weekend.
Hello. I’ll Be Your Starting Outfielder This Evening.
With Greer and Everett out, GABE KAPLER will play every game, right? Wrong. Friday’s starting outfield includes JASON ROMANO and recent call-up RYAN LUDWICK. Until Catalanotto returns, one or both could be in the lineup every day. Romano has started five of the last six, is also eligible at 2B, and could help AL-only owners needing short-term help. Ludwick, received in the Carlos Pena trade, batted.271/.367/.524 in AAA. He stole a base Thursday night in his debut but had only two in 57 AAA games. Keep in mind that most rookies are risky fantasy plays.
News Concerning Players of Dubious Value
DAVE BURBA will start Sunday. The Rangers have bypassed him on off-days, and he might lose his rotation spot altogether if he doesn’t improve. JOAQUIN BENOIT, a promising but green youngster currently in long relief, might get the first shot at his job, or DOUG DAVIS could reclaim his rotation spot if he continues to pitch lights-out in OKC. If not for Cat’s balky back and a chaotic outfield situation occupying Romano’s time, MICHAEL YOUNG wouldn’t be an everyday player. He’s hitting .208/.261/.296 against righties and has about one week to justify additional at-bats.
No Interleague Play Issues Just Yet
The Rangers begin Interleague play with home series against Atlanta and Cincinnati, so you needn’t worry about losing the DH until next Friday. RAFAEL PALMEIRO, hobbled by a strained ankle ligament in addition to a sore calf, may not be ready to play 1B by next Friday when the Rangers travel to Houston. Have a replacement in mind. I’d warned that temporary 1B MIKE LAMB wouldn’t start much longer, but Raffy’s injury and Lamb’s suddenly hot bat makes him a decent, short-term pickup in AL-only leagues.
Rangers visit Minute Maid, Wrigley, PNC
Texas begins its road sequence of interleague play with three games in Houston followed by Chicago and Pittsburgh. The loss of the designated hitter affects Rafael Palmeiro more than anyone else, as his bad calf/ankle/etc. could cost him at-bats. NL-style play won’t hinder other Ranger hitters worth owning in mixed leagues. For AL-only team owners, Mike Lamb and Todd Greene face the greatest reduction in at-bats assuming Raffy can handle first base. Today headlines sponsored by the Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street.”
Just Wanna See His Face
RAFAEL PALMEIRO can’t hide as the DH any longer. Will he start in all nine road games? Watching him on the field, it’s hard to see how. He moves like a glacier on the basepaths. He simply isn’t healthy. Nevertheless, he’ll probably fight his way through five or six starts and pinch hit in other games. I’d suggest starting him for now unless a solid alternative is available. More important, confirm his availability on a daily basis. He had an MRI on his ankle Thursday; as of Friday aftenoon, the results are unknown. I’ll provide updates as his situation develops.
Today, ANTHONY TELFORD is the Rangers’ closer. In a few weeks, or by tomorrow morning, he may not be. JOHN ROCKER will get a chance to close if he continues to throw as well as he did in AAA. Will HIDEKI IRABU get another chance? Probably. JAY POWELL? Probably not in the near future, but he might if he throws a few more quality innings. Remember, saves are just one category. Don’t drop a genuinely useful player to snag a few saves from one of the Rangers’ bottomless supply of would-be closers. As for JEFF ZIMMERMAN, I’ve heard nothing lately; presumably he remains on schedule to return in mid-July.
Torn and Frayed
FRANK CATALANOTTO is set to begin a rehab assignment on Monday and may return on June 24. He has a stress fracture in his back, not just spasms. Likewise, RUSTY GREER and CARL EVERETT won’t return before the 24th despite being eligible early next week. Greer recently submitted to a bone scan to determine whether he has a stress fracture. Everett may find himself in a part-time role. As I mentioned last week, neither has value in mixed leagues unless you’re in a deep league with a deep bench. Formerly injured, now svelte catcher IVAN RODRIGUEZ is hitting .454-2-0-2-0 since rejoining the team.
Let It Loose
Rookie RYAN LUDWICK has started seven consecutive games and hit .296-4-0-4-1. KEVIN MENCH is back yet again and has started three straight games, hitting .268-9-2-13-1 in 56 at-bats for the season. AL-only owners needing short-term outfield help should consider them, although either could disappear when Greer or Everett returns from the DL. Meanwhile, GABE KAPLER’s bruised knee has improved but his performance has not, relegating him to a bench role for the time being. In mixed leagues, JUAN GONZALEZ is the lone valuable player among Ranger outfielders. The others won’t play often enough or well enough to help you.
All Down The Line
The Rangers won’t need a 5th starter until June 22, so ROB BELL is back in AAA. He should get the call over DOUG DAVIS or JOAQUIN BENOIT. After a sparkling debut, Davis struggled in his last two starts for OKC and shouldn’t return to Arlington anytime soon. DAVE BURBA is back in the rotation but has only seven strikeouts in his last four starts. KENNY ROGERS has struggled twice since his 127-pitch complete game June 1st. He’ll recover but won’t maintain his 3.28 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. CHAN HO PARK tossed what passes for a quality start in Arlington, allowing four runs in six innings. Bench him until he shows genuine progress.
MIKE LAMB won’t play often assuming Raffy is able to start, but Narron intends to spot Lamb at third to rest HERBERT PERRY, who has started 29 consecutive games. In shallow leagues (AL-only), Lamb belongs on the bench unless Raffy can’t play, but in deep leagues he’s worth a shot. As for Perry, he’ll continue to start most games at third. HANK BLALOCK’s recent elbow strain turned out to be inflammation of an old fracture. Blalock probably does not need surgery, but his injury buys Perry more time as an everyday player.
Rangers Creep To Within 12 Games Of .500
The constant injuries and transactions take their toll. I’ve felt like Larry King lately, writing tiny snippets on an impossibly wide variety of topics. And man, was his column inane. This time, I’ve cut the players discussed down to a functional 18, beginning with… ROB BELL will start Saturday on three days rest. He was limited to 60 pitches on Tuesday, but owners should keep him benched. The risk of disaster is too high. JOAQUIN BENOIT will team with DAVE BURBA in Monday’s doubleheader against Anaheim. If Burba doesn’t pitch respectably, Benoit could steal Burba’s rotation spot.
Cordero annointed Closer Of The Moment
FRANCISCO CORDERO saved Wednesday’s and Thursday’s games. Wednesday, the game was close throughout, and Irabu, Rocker and Powell had already pitched. By the 10th inning, the choices were TODD VAN POPPEL (whom the Rangers are determined never to use in a meaningful situation), RANDY FLORES (too green), and Cordero. Thus, the Rangers essentially used Cordero by default. On Thursday, he pitched in what was the Rangers’ first conventional save opportunity (ahead by 1-3 runs in 9th inning) since June 6. He allowed two baserunners but struck out the side. Nab him if he’s still available.
Among other candidates, HIDEKI IRABU has pitched better lately and may get another shot if Cordero falters. JOHN ROCKER also has looked good at times but always seems to give up one backbreaking hit per appearance. ANTHONY TELFORD has been overly generous (1.70 WHIP) and is pitching earlier in games lately. He’s out of the mix. As for JEFF ZIMMERMAN, he is supposed to attempt throwing off the mound by this weekend. Late July looks more realistic than mid July for a return date.
Perry now, Blalock soon?
HERBERT PERRY pulled a hamstring in Wednesday’s game. He’s day-to-day and was able to pinch hit Thursday. Many readers have inquired about Perry, who has nine homers in 172 AB and leads the Majors in RBI in June. Is he really this good? Will he start the rest of the season? Alas, I believe the answers are “no” and “no.” The Ballpark is a hitter’s paradise, but that doesn’t explain why his home run rate has doubled (1 per 19 AB this season compared to 1 per 38 AB for his career). Logically, his power should decline slightly.
HANK BLALOCK is the future, not Perry. Blalock is hitting .366/.398/.554 in Oklahoma. His walk rate (six in 108 PA) is disappointing, but overall he has nothing left to prove in the minors. Since the Rangers’ season is effectively over (surely they realize this), they almost certainly will recall Blalock and start him every day to give him more ML experience to build on for next year. When that will happen, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t count on Perry being the starting 3B for more than six weeks. That’s just my opinion, so take it for what you will.
178 words about the injured
JUAN GONZALEZ re-injured his right thumb and has missed two games. Same thumb, different injury; this owwie is higher on the thumb, not in the webbing between the thumb and index finger. Gonzalez claims he won’t have to revisit the DL, but regardless, bench him until you see his name in the lineup. RAFAEL PALMEIRO has started four of six interleague road games. He runs slightly faster than Jesse Owens (who is dead) but has homers in three consecutive games. Expect two starts in the Pittsburgh series, three if you’re lucky.
FRANK CATALANOTTO (stress fracture in back) - Rehab assignment delayed for a few days, possibly back by end of June or early July. CARL EVERETT (hamstring) - May begin rehab assignment next week and return by end of June, though the Rangers are in no hurry to recall him. RUSTY GREER (back) - No news, out indefinitely. GABE KAPLER (knee, wrist) – Has started three of last 13 games, hitting .256-20-0-14-5. Still owned in 11.5% of mixed leagues. For what reasons, I dare not guess.
Rangers Creep To Within SEVEN Games Of .500
Five-game winning streaks are nice, but Chicago and Pittsburgh aren’t exactly the ’98 Yankees. Extending the streak to seven by sweeping a doubleheader from Anaheim makes it legitimate. The Rangers aren’t going to “pull an Oakland” and rise up from the depths to grab a playoff spot, but they can at least be competitive while deciphering the best mixture of veterans and youngsters for 2003. Today’s minimalist titles are sponsored by “slowcore” band Low.
CHAN HO PARK tallied his first quality start of the season on Sunday, albeit against the punchless Pirates. If he pitches well again on Friday against Houston, he just might be ready to start for your fantasy team. DAVE BURBA has made two consecutive quality starts without allowing a walk. His rotation spot seems secure for the time being. JOAQUIN BENOIT pitched respectably Monday but was sent down to AAA immediately after the game. Benoit will enter the rotation permanently at some point, but he, like ROB BELL, has minimal value in mixed leagues and is a risky choice even in AL-only leagues.
FRANCISCO CORDERO strained a shoulder muscle in the opener of last night’s doubleheader, so HIDEKI IRABU got the save in the nightcap. Cordero is day-to-day. He’ll get his chances, but he probably won’t pitch for a few days. Jerry Narron will employ the dreaded closer-by-committee in the meantime, mentioning Irabu, JOHN ROCKER and JAY POWELL as committee members. Expect Irabu to get most of the save chances. JEFF ZIMMERMAN is throwing off a mound successfully. He remains about one month away, barring additional setbacks.
HERBERT PERRY came within microns of being placed on the DL but reported substantial improvement in his hamstring on Sunday. He played the nightcap of Monday’s doubleheader. Less fortunate is teammate GABE KAPLER, placed on the DL Monday to make room for Benoit. Kapler wasn’t hitting well or playing frequently and doesn’t merit a roster spot even in AL-only leagues. Believe it or not, FRANK CATALANOTTO began a rehab assignment in Tulsa Monday and could return in a week. JUAN GONZALEZ is back in the lineup. As always, you’ll have to watch him closely for whatever malady afflicts him next.
KEVIN MENCH’s recent surge has caught the attention of mixed league owners. Mench is hitting .304-19-6-19-1 with a .393 OBP and .565 SLUG in just 92 at-bats. Is he for real? Yes, but with qualifications. Mench's minor league stats are actually worse than his ML numbers to date. Mench has hit .214/.342/.480 in AAA and .265/.319/.509 in AA. Though his patience has improved and his future is promising, Mench isn’t quite as good as his ML numbers attest. Also, the eventual return of Catalanotto and Everett should cut into his playing time. He could offer short-term help, but in a few weeks, his value may dissipate.
MICHAEL YOUNG is owned in 67% of mixed leagues thanks to his recent hot streak and the shallow pool of 2B talent. Young has been extremely inconsistent, hitting .333 in April, .212 in May and .321 in June. Owners picking him up recently admire his line of .387-10-4-14-2 since June 10th, but he also had a terrifying 12-game stretch beginning in late May in which he hit .063-1-0-1-0. His current, overall average of .271 is about what you can expect, though you’ll have to ride the rollercoaster to get there. Owners with roster flexibility should bench him against tough righthanders.
I was born in 1968. If you were born on or near that year, seeing “Darryl Kile: 1968-2002” has to stop you in your tracks. When someone your age and ostensibly in top physical condition goes so suddenly, you can’t help but wonder about yourself. The obvious lesson is to appreciate every day you have, though it’s a lesson more easily taught than learned. On a more upbeat note, congrats to the Texas Longhorns (my alma mater, if you hadn’t guessed) on winning the NCAA baseball championship.
Reality Rears Ugly Head, Says “Boo!”
Remember, just last Tuesday night, when the Rangers seemed capable of re-entering the playoff hunt? Oh, those were a delicious few hours, weren’t they? As long as we’re dreaming, right after the Rangers clinch the division, the first boy/girl who ever dumped you will call to apologize. You will win the lottery. SUVs will fall out of fashion. The U.S. Government will admit that most of the PATRIOT Act is a cynical ploy to limit the freedoms it ostensibly is charged to protect. And finally, Rangers over the Diamondbacks in seven. Hey, why not dream big?
Coco on the shelf
The MRI on FRANCISCO CORDERO’s shoulder revealed nothing more than a strain which doesn’t appear too serious. He is eligible to return from the DL after the All-Star break and just might do so. Thus, as I am legally bound to say in each column, “HIDEKI IRABU will get most of the save opportunities in the absence of [Cordero/Zimmerman/Jeff Russell/Jim Kern], with JOHN ROCKER and perhaps JAY POWELL getting the odd chance.” JEFF ZIMMERMAN is throwing sliders without pain and will throw batting practice Saturday. He’ll begin a rehab assignment soon. He is still aiming for a mid-July return, though late July is a safer bet.
Cat finds his way home
FRANK CATALANOTTO returned to the lineup Friday. He will lead off while shuttling mostly between 1B and DH, allowing Palmeiro to rest his calf and ankle. Thus, MICHAEL YOUNG and KEVIN MENCH stand to lose little or no playing time because of Cat’s return. MIKE LAMB, on the other hand, should see a significant reduction in at-bats. Four days after I expressed skepticism of Mench’s .958 OPS, his current OPS stands at 1.024, which would be third in the AL in OPS (between Sweeney and Thome) if he had enough plate appearances. I’m sorry, but he’s not THAT good. Expect a mild dropoff.
Since June 2, HERBERT PERRY is hitting a tepid .225-9-3-20-0 with a .686 OPS. The RBIs are nice, the rest is not. Meanwhile, HANK BLALOCK is hitting .377/.408/.551 in 33 games for AAA Oklahoma. When Perry was injured last week and a DL stint was considered, the Rangers weren’t thrilled at the prospect of recalling Blalock, whom they felt needed more at-bats in the minors. Nevertheless, the Rangers almost certainly will recall him at some point. I’d be very surprised if Blalock doesn’t spend the last six weeks (or more) of the season as the Rangers’ everyday 3B.
KENNY ROGERS missed his last start with a stiff back and may miss his next one. You don’t want a stiff-backed Rogers pitching for your fantasy team, so you’re probably better off benching him for a few days. CARL EVERETT has refused a minor-league rehab assignment, as is his right. Since the Rangers don’t really care if he returns but want him to be 100% healthy if he does, they simply have declined to activate him. Still, RYAN LUDWICK doesn’t look quite ready for prime time, so Everett will probably get another chance to justify his contract.
Lucille, Nezzie, Charles, Terri, etc.
Up until the All-Star break, I’ll be visiting family (listed above) in South Carolina, so I will be unable to answer your emails during this time. I should be able to post another column during my trip by employing the Internet connection of the Lancaster public library for decidedly uneducational purposes. I also hope to see a the Rangers’ A-level club in Savannah, GA, where first-round pick Drew Meyer will make his professional debut.
The Summer Of Our Discontent
For the third consecutive season, a Rangers team expected to be competitive, if not a genuine playoff contender, is trudging toward 90 losses. I’ll say it until I’m Ranger-blue in the face: the offense bears more responsibility for their 39-46 record than the pitching. Yes, the Rangers’ ERA trails every AL opponent, but they’re also on pace to allow 109 fewer runs than in 2001. The offense, considered one of the best in the majors on paper, is only seventh in the league in scoring and is on pace to score 86 fewer runs than in 2001. The late-inning bullpen disasters provide more drama, but the offensive failures in earlier innings are equally damaging.
Alas, dear reader, it may get worse. The Rangers have achieved a .453 winning percentage on a relatively easy schedule. Of the 76 remaining games, 45 are against Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim, New York and Boston. Also, 42 of the last 76 games are on the road, where they currently sport a .410 winning percentage and have scored only 4.5 runs per game compared to 5.3 at home. With another lost season and the potential for several trades before the deadline, the question is more “who will play” than “who will play well.”
In the Outfield
JUAN GONZALEZ will play when healthy. Today, he will have an MRI on an injured thumb that has drained his power. CARL “Team Player” EVERETT is hitting .143-3-1-2-0 since returning from the DL after refusing a minor-league rehab assignment. The Rangers should continue to start him, if only to assess whether they should eat his contract. Though KEVIN MENCH has batted just .167-1-1-5-0 in his last seven games, he has played well enough to start most games even when RUSTY GREER and GABE KAPLER return. Greer could see increased playing time at DH if Catalanotto is traded. Kapler won’t play much unless someone gets hurt, a definite possibility.
Around the Horn
RAFAEL PALMEIRO will shuttle between 1B and DH. With his no-trade clause and desire to stay in Texas, he probably isn’t going anywhere. MICHAEL YOUNG is entrenched at 2B. He has shown mild improvement in his ability to hit righties (.255/.305/.399). HERBERT PERRY will starts most games at 3B in July, but expect HANK BLALOCK (slumping lately but still hitting .330/.367/.466 in AAA) to take his place sometime in August. IVAN RODRIGUEZ, with 10/5 trade-veto rights and no desire to leave, probably will finish the season a Ranger. The Rangers have an adequate shortstop whose name escapes me at the moment.
On the Mound
The only starters certain to pitch every fifth day are CHAN HO PARK and ROB BELL. Houston and Boston are interested in KENNY ROGERS, who has only eight strikeouts and a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts, and a contender might take ISMAEL VALDES also. DAVE BURBA could be traded for scrap, cut, or moved to the bullpen. Thus, JOAQUIN BENOIT, AARON MYETTE and possibly COLBY LEWIS could vie for full-time starter status in the second half. All are promising but have been very wild in the Majors and are too risky to pick up even in AL-only leagues. Deposed starter DOUG DAVIS has a 5.25 ERA in AAA, though he’s allowed only eight walks in 57 innings.
Today, HIDEKI IRABU is the closer. By early August, it should be JEFF ZIMMERMAN. Zimmerman has thrown two scoreless innings (with no hits and one walk) for A-level Charlotte. He appears to be healthy. Barring a setback, he could return in about two weeks. FRANCISCO CORDERO’s shoulder still ails him, and his opportunity to close games has evaporated. One note regarding the fantasy prospects of any Ranger pitcher: after a one-year aberration as a neutral site, the Ballpark has resumed its status as an extreme hitters’ park. Rangers and their opponents are scoring a combined 10.98 runs per game in the Ballpark compared to 9.44 on the road.
Cat Placed In New Home?
Word on the street has FRANK CATALANOTTO heading to the Dodgers. Why move him and not one of the disappointing outfielders? Gonzalez, Greer, Everett have limited or full no-trade clauses. Regardless, no team would take on the salaries of Everett or Greer. And, they and Kapler are already signed through 2003, while Cat isn’t but has arbitration eligibility. If you own him in an AL-only league, prepare to dump him. His value will take a hit even in mixed leagues because of the move from the Ballpark to Chavez Ravine.
Rivera Recalled, Rocker DL’ed
Derek Jeter’s homeboy RUBEN RIVERA was recalled and is the starting CF Thursday night. Greer and fantasy non-entity RICH RODRIGUEZ were also activated. JOHN ROCKER was placed on the DL (drop him), and TODD GREENE and Ranger-for-a-day DONNIE SADLER were waived. No idea on how often Rivera will play. He has some pop, averaging 23 homers per 600 at-bats, but a career line of .218/.310/.405. Only AL-only owners desperate for outfield help need apply. FRANK CATALANOTTO did not start Thursday night. Whether because of his groin pull or a lefthanded opposing pitcher, I haven’t heard.
An Uncertain Future
After losing 50 of their first 90 games, the Rangers play 45 of their final 72 against Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim, New York and Boston Presumably, last weekend’s dismal series against Minnesota convinced the Rangers that they have absolutely no chance of contending this season. They certainly deserve no blame for believing in themselves, but belief and reality don’t always intersect. GM John Hart will attempt to move several fat salaries in the upcoming weeks, meaning the Rangers’ roster could change dramatically. Fantasy owners, especially those in AL-only leagues, should prepare for these changes.
Zimmerman’s uncertain future
Peter Gammons included the “expensive” JEFF ZIMMERMAN (along with Greer and Powell) as part of a possible trade to Colorado for Mike Hampton. Surely not. In the midst of a three-year $10 million contract, is Zimmerman really that expensive? Considering premium closers cost $6-10 million per season and top-notch setup men cost $3 million or more, Zimmerman’s salary appears quite reasonable. Also, why would a team with a bullpen ERA of 5.43 trade a reliever with a career ERA of 3.27? Meanwhile, Zimm has pitched three scoreless rehab innings and could return as early as next Sunday. Expect him to resume closing duties not long after he returns to Arlington.
Greer’s uncertain future
RUSTY GREER reinjured his back and elbow and may need surgery. In my opinion, he won’t play again this season. If he does return, he won’t play very often. I understand the difficulty of filling rosters in AL-only leagues, but Greer has no value. Drop him. KEVIN MENCH and CARL EVERETT will split time in left, with Mench getting the most of the starts. Mench has cooled off lately, hitting .219-2-2-6-0 in July. He’s a rookie, so slumps like this are to be expected, and he could never hope to maintain the 1.024 OPS he had as of June 28. For that matter, he won’t maintain his current OPS of .927, but he should still be a valuable player.
Catalanotto’s uncertain future
The “done deal” sending FRANK CATALANOTTO to the Dodgers remains undone. Greer’s injuries suddenly make the Cat less expendable, though the Rangers would still move him at the right price. With KEVIN MENCH shining in left and MICHAEL YOUNG entrenched at 2B, Cat has no single position to play regularly. Also Gonzalez, Greer, Everett, Palmeiro and Kapler are signed through 2003, and all but Kapler have limited or full no-trade clauses. As long as Cat remains a Ranger, he’ll start most games against righthanded pitchers and will sit against most lefties.
Rivera’s uncertain future
RUBEN RIVERA is the Rangers’ latest permanent centerfielder, relegating CARL EVERETT to DH and backup OF duties. Rivera has decent speed and power, averaging 19 homers and 15 steals per 500 plate appearances, but also sports a career batting average of just .219. He batted a robust .276/.366/.592 in AAA, but that’s nothing new for this notorious “Quadruple-A” player who rips minor-league pitching but flounders in the bigs. He’s available if you’re truly desperate for OF help in an AL-only league (and since he’s already owned in 45% of ESPN leagues, you must be). In mixed leagues, don’t bother.
Rogers’/Valdes’/Burba’s uncertain future
Various contenders are scouting KENNY ROGERS and ISMAEL VALDES. Either could be gone by July 31. Rogers has a no-trade clause but might waive it if the right team is involved (hint: not the Mets or Yankees). Perhaps no one is scouting DAVE BURBA, but he has a 3.77 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in his last five starts and could be had for next-to-nothing. Expect JOAQUIN BENOIT to join the rotation on a permanent basis in the near future. Like ROB BELL, Benoit is a risky fantasy play even in AL-only leagues. Yes, Benoit is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA, but that 1.67 WHIP and 11/5 BB/SO ratio is mighty scary.
Nonsense heard while driving to South Carolina
From WLAC-Nashville: only five or six baseball teams have the financial ability to compete, and one team that CAN’T compete is Seattle. And, from Sporting News Radio: Sammy Sosa is baseball’s most overrated player because he hits so many homers with the bases empty. Now, from your faithful correspondent: the facts. According to MLB, Seattle’s 2001 gross revenue trailed only the Yankees. As for Sosa, from 2000-2002 he has one homer per 10.1 at-bats with the bases empty and one per 11.1 with runners on, not a significant difference. With two on or bases-loaded, he has one per 9.1 at-bats. Amazing what two minutes of Internet research can disprove.
Death on the Installment Plan
Until Friday night’s nightmare of a loss in Oakland, the Rangers had managed to lose eight of nine despite being outscored by only six runs (39-45), which must have had Pythagoras weeping. A 1999 study by Baseball Prospectus concluded that teams with monumentally terrible bullpens tend to have actual records worse than their Pythagorean records. The 2002 Ranger bullpen is reinforcing that conclusion with a bloodthirsty vengeance.
I Can’t Get No Relief
JEFF ZIMMERMAN felt severe pain in his throwing elbow after his most recent rehab appearance and will have an MRI on Monday. Most probably, he will not throw a pitch for the Rangers this season. His owners may want to wait for the MRI results, but even if they are negative and the pain disappears, he’d still be three weeks away. Thus, FRANCISCO CORDERO may yet have some fantasy value. Currently on the DL and set to begin a rehab assignment in a few days, he could return in about 10 days and would be the obvious choice as closer. HIDEKI IRABU also may be done for the season, and JOHN ROCKER has a strained neck nerve and won’t throw for several days.
Dare you walk through the minefield littered with the current closing candidates? As reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Narron's basic plan for his depleted bullpen is to use veterans JAY POWELL and TODD VAN POPPEL as much as possible, save REYNALDO GARCIA and DAVE BURBA for middle relief and use RICH RODRIGUEZ and JUAN ALVAREZ in situations that call for a left-hander. DANNY KOLB is probably the closest thing the Rangers have to a closer. Powell has closed for other teams, but the Rangers don't think he's at full strength yet after missing the first two months because of a finger injury.”
Will The Gambler Know When To Run?
KENNY ROGERS continues to shine, winning four games allowing a meager 2.13 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his last five starts. The Cards’ acquisition of Chuck Finley possibly eliminates one suitor, but Arizona and Cincinnati remain interested. Owners in AL-only leagues should prepare for the worst. For owners in mixed leagues, either team would offer a more pitcher-friendly environment in addition to the lower-scoring league, but I doubt he can improve on his current performance. His record with other teams is mixed; he pitched well for Oakland, adequately for the Mets (in the regular season, anyway), and poorly for the Yankees.
Myette Joins Ranger Rotation but Not Yours, I Hope
Despite a 3.77 ERA in his last five starts, DAVE BURBA has lost his rotation spot to AARON MYETTE. Given that Burba’s biggest problem is getting out of the first inning unscathed, he seems ill-suited to relief. Opponents are batting .266/.331/.454 against him on the season but an eye-popping .366/.422/.626 during his first thirty pitches of each appearance. Myette has pitched well in AAA but in the Majors is statistically similar to ROB BELL, someone who offers plenty of strikeouts, a 1.50 WHIP, and a five-plus ERA. Myette, Bell and JOAQUIN BENOIT could start several games each the rest of the way. You shouldn’t own any of them.
Players You Want Your Rivals To Own
RUBEN RIVERA (owned in 41% of AL-only leagues, 0% in mixed leagues) is batting a less-than-stellar .182-1-0-0-0 with a .471 OPS in ten games as a starter. His leash might be pretty short. CARL EVERETT (91% AL, 18% mixed) has started just three of the last nine games. GABE KAPLER (80% AL, 9% mixed) has started only one of four games since returning from the DL. MIKE LAMB (84% AL, 0% mixed) has started just four of the last eleven games and nine of the last 21. As previously reported,
RUSTY GREER (46% AL, 7% mixed) is probably done for the year. One glimmer of hope: if Rivera loses his job, Kapler and Everett might share CF duty.
Since the All-Star break, FRANK CATALANOTTO has started every game against a righty and rested against lefties. The Rangers face a lefty in four of six games beginning Saturday. Plan accordingly. On Friday, COLBY LEWIS and ANTHONY TELFORD were optioned to AAA, replaced by reliever REYNALDO GARCIA and the aforementioned Myette.
Detritus of a Lost Season
The disparity between where Ranger players were drafted in fantasy leagues and how they've performed is stunning. In ESPN's mixed leagues, ten Rangers were selected among the first 200 picks on average. 101 games into the season, only Alex Rodriguez (#4) and Palmeiro (#74) are among the top 200 performers according to ESPN's Player Rater. The other eight - Pudge, Gonzalez, Park, Zimmerman, Everett, Catalanotto, Rocker and Blalock - have been major disappointments. Kenny Rogers, almost universally ignored on draft day, is the only other Ranger in the top 200 at #111.
Zimmerman out for '02, questionable for '03
The prognosis on JEFF ZIMMERMAN's elbow: a torn and detached tendon, a strained ligament, and bone spurs. Not only is he out for this season, he won't pitch before July 2003. Zimmerman is wasted space on your roster. You're better off picking up an injured player who might help you later this season, such as Brad Radke, Kevin Brown, Matt Anderson, Matt Lawton or Sean Casey. Even Greg Vaughn is more likely to help you than Zimmerman. Make a move.
We're The Replacements
DANNY KOLB saved Thursday's game, and, as required by law, was acquired in 35% of AL-only leagues that very night. Kolb is 27, throws in the mid-90s, and is an extreme groundball pitcher, but he has logged only 51 ML innings thanks to injuries and wildness. Reportedly, he will share the closer's role with FRANCISCO CORDERO, who is expected to return by Monday. Cordero should receive most of the save chances, but considering the difficulty of the Rangers' remaining schedule, neither should tally an impressive number of saves. Kolb merits a desperation pick in AL-only leagues, but in mixed leagues he merits nothing but indifference.
After three days of fretting, KENNY ROGERS employed the always popular "close to family" gambit in vetoing a trade to Cincinnati. Would he veto a trade to Arizona or San Francisco? Are his owners in AL-only leagues safe? Well, press statements aren't made under oath, folks (c.f., CEOs, attorneys, Ari Fleischer, Roger Clemens). He probably would accept a trade to a more promising contender. Seattle has also shown interest. Though Rogers would be a worthwhile addition to any team, surely his suitors are aware of his postseason record: 19 postseason innings, 20 earned runs, 46 baserunners allowed. ISMAEL VALDES could also move but hasn't drawn as much interest.
Metalstorm II: The Deflation of UberMench
Thanks to his .206-6-3-9-0 July, KEVIN MENCH's ownership in mixed leagues has plummeted. The formerly patient Mench is now overly anxious; after drawing 14 in his first 112 plate appearances, he has only two in his last 80. Mench isn't Alphonso Soriano and won't succeed by hacking at everything. Still, he's not in serious danger of losing his job and should find a middle-ground between his poor July and his torrid June. In a less-than-shocking development, RUBEN RIVERA has proved incapable of handling Major League pitching, and the Rangers are considering replacing him in centerfield. GABE KAPLER stands to get the most at-bats if Mench or Rivera are deposed.
I Got Them Sore Thumb Blues Again, Mama
In his late 50 games, Gonzalez is hitting .300-26-7-30, dandy numbers if your name is Mark Kotsay. +++Could Gonzalez revert to his old, dominant self during the final two months of the season? Anything is possible, but I'm doubtful. He thumb has never healed completely and he simply isn't putting as much pop on the ball as in years past. Also, even by his own meager standards he's been comically impatient at the plate, drawing only three walks in the last 31 games. With 59 games remaining, Gonzalez could hit pretty close to .300-26-7-30 the rest of the way. His final statistics could be eerily similar to his miserable 2000 in Detroit.
CHAN HO PARK has a 3.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in his last three starts. CARL EVERETT hasn't started since July 15. FRANK CATALANOTTO starts against righties and sits against lefties. If you own him, you need a platoon-mate. HANK BLALOCK is hitting .319/.362/.464 in AAA. His recent slump and impatience (17 walks in 254 PA) are unsettling, but barring a total collapse, he should replace HERBERT PERRY by the end of August.
Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
This year, the "trade deadline" period was rather dull, with most activity consisting of GMs attempting to atone for previous largesse (Wilson Alvarez, anyone?). With the potential of a strike looming, sellers greatly exceed buyers, and many teams are reluctant to increase payroll or to give up prospects, seemingly defeating the whole purpose of deadline trading. The only trade involving the Rangers was minor: GABE KAPLER and JASON ROMANO to Colorado for outfielder TODD HOLLANDSWORTH and reliever DENNYS REYES. Now, what can I get for the eight-million-dollar paperweight known as Carl Everett?
My Kingdom For A Center Fielder
Hollandsworth has started only 73 of the Rockies' 106 games but is owned in 76% of mixed leagues thanks to his previous address. During 2001-2002, Hollandsworth batted a stupendous.385/.440/.668 at Coors and a stupefying .248/.298/.405 on the road. In 627 plate appearances as a Rockie, he stole 19 bases and hit 27 homers, all but eight of which were at Planet Coors. Hollandsworth should start most games in centerfield beginning immediately, as RUBEN RIVERA has batted a pitiful-but-unsurprising .200-6-3-5-0 in 21 starts. If Hollandsworth starts about 45 games and receives 200 plate appearances as a Ranger, he should hit in the range of .275-25-6-25-6.
Let Every Eye Negotiate For Itself, Trust No Agent
KENNY ROGERS didn't help the Rangers' efforts to trade him with his poor outing against the Yankees Tuesday night, but he may yet leave. August 31 is the actual trade deadline, though players must clear revocable waivers first. Furthermore, teams can dangle players on the waiver line in the hopes that some other team will pick them up along with their bloated salaries. The Rangers will waive several of their well-paid underachievers, but I doubt any will be claimed. In Rogers case, he can unilaterally nix any trade, as he did with Cincinnati.
Oft Expectation Fails [UPDATED AUGUST 2]
The day after I expressed skepticism of CARL EVERETT's six-game, four-homer "hot streak," in which he went hitless in his other 18 at-bats, he hit two more dingers and drove in seven. In his last seven games, he has only six hits in 28 at-bats, but all six are homers. If you need power and can survive the low average, Everett could help you. Just remember that his "homer-or-bust" style can product long stretches of nothing. Everett is batting .206-48-21-68-2 since June 2001. He is definitely back in the LF/DH mix since JUAN GONZALEZ's sore thumb is worse than previously thought. Gonzalez may require another trip to the DL. Bench him until you see his name in the lineup.
How Poor Are They That Have Not Patience!
The Rangers haven't had a ninth-inning save situation since July 24, thus leaving open the question of whether FRANCISCO CORDERO or DANNY KOLB will receive more save chances. Both have pitched two scoreless appearances since then, with Kolb getting a vulture win in one game. I still expect Cordero to receive about two-thirds of the opportunities, such as they are. JOHN ROCKER is throwing off a mound and could return to Arlington in mid-August in a middle-relief role. HIDEKI IRABU probably won't pitch again this season and won't help you if he does. JEFF ZIMMERMAN successfully underwent surgery Tuesday. Don't count of him returning to full health and effectiveness until 2004.
Away, You Scullion!
Me, July 15: "Given that [DAVE] BURBA's biggest problem is getting out of the first inning unscathed, he seems ill-suited to relief." Burba as a reliever: 5.1 IP, 15.19 ERA, 3.33 WHIP. He was released Tuesday. I hope you had already dropped him. The Rangers recalled JOAQUIN BENOIT as his replacement. Benoit is in Arlington to stay and will pitch long relief. He'll move into the rotation if KENNY ROGERS or ISMAEL VALDES is dealt or if ROB BELL or AARON MYETTE is dropped into the bullpen. He may have a bright future, but he does not belong in your fantasy lineup this year.
What Wound Did Ever Heal But By Degrees?
IVAN RODRIGUEZ has a sore back, doubtlessly related to the injury that sidelined him for 46 games this season. To this point, it hasn't affected his number of starts or his statistics, though he could rest more often during the final two months.
Meet Travis Hafner
(No introductory paragraph this time. The Rangers' wretchedness defies words, thought and expression.) TRAVIS HAFNER, a 25-year-old lefty 1B/DH, was recalled from AAA Oklahoma, where he hit .338/.458/.545 with 19 homers and 74 walks. In the Pacific Coast League, he is third in batting average, first in on-base percentage, and ninth in slugging. He does not run. Because of his age and lack of defensive prowess, he's not mentioned in the same sentence as Blalock or Teixiera, but he was born with a bat in his hands. He will debut Wednesday as the DH against tough lefty Mark Redman in Detroit. Hafner has the goods. He could be huge. However...
(1) Rookie performance is extremely difficult to project. Most rookies, even "sure things", are poor fantasy performers (c.f., Hank Blalock). (2) Jerry Narron's starting lineups have been, shall we say, creative. The Rangers have too many lefthanded 1B/DH-types already, so his playing time is also difficult to project. Nevertheless, if you're carrying dead weight on your roster in an AL-only league, he's worth an immediate pickup. In any case, watch him very closely. Hafner will become available on Friday in ESPN leagues.
JUAN GONZALEZ was placed on the DL last Friday, and his strained thumb ligament threatens to end his woeful season. Gonzalez MIGHT return and MIGHT play well, but with barely seven weeks remaining in the season, do you have time to find out? Unless you have a free IR spot or a deep bench, waive goodbye. Alas, I completely failed to consider TODD HOLLANDSWORTH's pathological inability to stay healthy when projecting his statistics. He joins Gonzalez on the DL with a strained hamstring. Thus, punchless RUBEN RIVERA will see more at-bats. Pick him up if you're winning-averse.
CARL EVERETT is batting a titanic .256 in 39 at-bats since rejoining the starting lineup July 26. As I'd mentioned last week, he's pretty worthless when not going yard. Removing the six home runs in his last ten games (admittedly a cheap correspondent trick), he's 4-for-33 with two runs and zero RBI. With the temporary or permanent departures of Gonzalez, Hollandsworth and Kapler, he'll see plenty of action. The Rangers may even put him back in center, much to the chagrin of the pitching staff and fans everywhere. Farmhands Calvin Murray and Ryan Ludwick are injured and present no threat.
Need Starting Pitching? Too Bad.
For the second consecutive start, CHAN HO PARK pitched ineffectively (even for him) and departed early due to blisters. He was placed on the DL Wednesday afternoon. ISMAEL VALDES has a solid 3.41 ERA and 0.96 WHIP since the All-Star break but no wins. He's owned in only 2.7% of mixed leagues and is worth considering as a replacement/emergency starter. KENNY ROGERS has a 4.41 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in five starts since the break. Meanwhile, JOAQUIN BENOIT has entered the rotation, ROB BELL was removed from the rotation then reinstalled, and AARON MYETTE was removed but might re-enter if Park is unavailable. All three are hideous white-hot death to your fantasy rosters.
Need Saves? Tough Luck.
Since the All-Star Break, the Rangers have only one save. Indeed, they have had only two conventional, 9th-inning save opportunities during this period. For what little it's worth, FRANCISCO CORDERO pitched the 7th inning of a close game Saturday night, while DANNY KOLB pitched the 8th and 9th and vultured the win. JOHN ROCKER, who will not face discipline for whatever the heck happened in that restaurant, begins a rehab assignment this week and could pitch in Arlington by the end of next week. He won't help you, nor will JEFF ZIMMERMAN, still owned in one-third of mixed and AL-only leagues for reasons I can't fathom. Let go.
Oft-maligned MICHAEL YOUNG has a higher OPS than Darin Erstad, who just received a four year, $32 million contract extension. So do Chris Gomez, Craig Counsell, Michael Tucker, David Eckstein, and even Travis Lee. If Erstad's intangibles and leadership qualities are so great as to justify the contract, he should be in the United Nations, not Edison Field.
This Page No Longer "Sticky"
The emails have tapered off and the hit counter spins ever more slowly. Are my updates on Ruben Rivera and Aaron Myette no longer holding your interest? I know why: pre-season football. Per Texas Penal Code, Title 10, Section 49.04, disinterest in pre-season football is a Class B misdemeanor. Regardless of the legal consequences, baseball can't compete with the non-stop thrill-tastic adrenaline rush of seven-on-seven drills, walk-on linemen committing false starts, and John Madden saying "Boom!"
By hitting .357-4-1-4-0 in his first seven games, 1B TRAVIS HAFNER has become the most added player in AL-only leagues. Jerry Narron alleviated my concerns about Hafner's playing time by sticking CARL EVERETT back in centerfield, allowing FRANK CATALANOTTO to play left and Hafner to DH regularly. I'll reiterate what I said last week: rookie performance is extremely difficult to project. He might mimic Albert Pujols, or he might imitate Hank Blalock. That said, Hafner is a must-own in AL-only leagues and should be on your radar in mixed leagues. Unfortunately, he will never be eligible for anything but 1B and may be only a DH in some non-ESPN leagues.
Back At The Farm
Pity the Oklahoma Redhawks, fighting New Orleans (HOU) for a division title with most of their quality players already in Arlington. Still on the farm, HANK BLALOCK's lukewarm Oklahoma numbers (.295/.347/.426) evoke Mike Lamb, but he should return to Arlington in early September at the latest, when the AAA season ends. HERBERT PERRY is the obvious loser when Blalock is promoted. COLBY LEWIS sports a 3.75 ERA in AAA with only four homers allowed and a 24/81 BB/SO ratio in 84 innings. Still, to this point he has pitched poorly in Arlington (12.2 IP, 9.82 ERA, 2.13 WHIP) and shouldn't pitch for your fantasy team. Perhaps next year.
A Frustrated Juan Ponders His Fate
JUAN GONZALEZ is eligible to return from the DL Wednesday but won't remove his hand splint before the 26th. Gonzalez said he doesn't know if his hand is improving. The Rangers have 43 games remaining as of Thursday. He is guaranteed to miss eight, a best-case scenario is about 15, and a realistic scenario is 20 or more. This season, his home run pace is slightly better than once per nine games and his slugging percentage is 112 points below his career average. Available hitters like Hafner, Darryl Ward, Josh Phelps, and the suddenly hot Aramis Ramirez might offer help in his stead.
Joaquin On The Wild Side
Ownership of JOAQUIN BENOIT in AL-only leagues jumped upward after his 7.1-inning, 2-run gem last Wednesday. Benoit rewarded his new owners with a 3.2-inning, 6-run plutonium rod Tuesday. He and ROB BELL are surefire heartbreakers. They will pitch brilliantly on occasion. More often than not, they won't. Don't be one of those suckers who bases his opinion of a pitcher on one or two recent starts.
Hollandsworth And Ho
TODD HOLLANDSWORTH may return from the DL early next week. His return could frustrate owners of Everett and Catalanotto, both of whom have been started regularly in the outfield lately. Unlike during his last injury stint, CHAN HO PARK will condescend to making a minor-league rehab start before rejoining the Rangers on or about August 23.
I'm taking a group of twelve to see Saturday's contest against Toronto. Evoking the grand spirit of Gibson vs. Lolich and Morris vs. Smoltz, Rob Bell will duel Steve Parris. Whee! If you're at the game Saturday and overhear some nerd in Section 16 explaining Defense-Independent ERA to people who couldn't care less, that would be me.
Forty Games To Go, Or Perhaps Ten
I'm one of those flakes who tend to favor the players over the owners, though it's akin to favoring a broken toe over a broken finger. If nothing else, Don Fehr players are honest in their greed. They want to make as much as possible, consequences be damned. Fine. For better or worse, that's the American Way. The owners tend to use more subterfuge, playing up their ostensible status as caretakers of the game while dissembling about how much money they really make off of it. Fans should treat baseball like a human relationship. If you really feel betrayed, just walk away. Anger won't help anything. Sometimes indifference is the more powerful weapon.
Valdes Shipped To Seattle
Valdes moves from one of the worst pitcher's parks to one of the best, so his value should increase. He had a 3.51 ERA on the road compared to 4.31 at home, and his rate of homers allowed on the road was only half of his home rate. His strikeout rate is poor (4.6 per 9 IP) but he stands to win more games as a Mariner, assuming the schedule is played to completion. I have no idea about his alleged "softness." Any Ranger who can maintain a sub-4.00 ERA deserves knighthood.
Cat Put Down, Young On The Run
An errant pitch from Mark Hendrickson effectively ended what has been a frustrating season for FRANK CATALANOTTO and his fantasy owners. Cat had already lost 43 games to a groin injury and admitted his performance was affected by constant trade rumors. He was also hampered by bewildering usage patterns. Jerry Narron constantly extolled his virtues but permitted him only 29 plate appearances against lefties despite a career .387 OBP against them. MICHAEL YOUNG has only six steals this season and none since June 20, but he claims he will run more henceforth. I hope he understands that getting on base facilitates the running process (.302 OBP).
Hollandsworth and Ho Redux
TODD HOLLANDSWORTH was activated Tuesday and becomes the latest in a long line of ineffective Ranger leadoff hitters. Hollandsworth has a career .335 OBP. He's a must-play in AL-only leagues if only because he'll play almost every game when healthy. In mixed leagues he's marginal, someone who neither helps nor hurts your fantasy team. Speaking of hurting your team, CHAN HO PARK was torched in his rehab assignment, allowing nine runs in three innings to Tucson. Only the truly desperate need apply.
Everett Awakens From Four-Month-Long Nap
CARL EVERETT looks pretty good. No, really. I don't just mean his August stats, gaudy thought they are (.404-10-3-15-2 in 14 games). For the first time as a Ranger, he looks comfortable and reasonably healthy. He's caught a few balls in the outfield that would have eluded him back in May, and he isn't swinging for the fences every at-bat. Everett is available in 44% of mixed leagues. One caveat: at no point during the year have I correctly predicted anything concerning Everett.
Rotation Now Uglier Than Ever
DENNYS REYES, acquired from Colorado in July, has usurped ROB BELL's spot in the rotation. Like the unlamented Dan Miceli, Reyes has pitched far better in Colorado than Texas. Reyes sports a 6.75 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 10.2 innings. He will start Thursday's game in Boston, probably not the ideal location for a struggling lefty to make his inaugural start as an American Leaguer. Avoid Reyes, Bell, AARON MYETTE and JOAQUIN BENOIT unless you're in a "worst is first" league.
The Rangers only remaining off-day is September 23. 27 of the final 40 games are against Boston, New York, Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. The Rangers are 16-29 against those teams this season though they have averaged a respectable 5.2 runs per game. The remaining schedule includes Baltimore, Tampa and a make-up game against Houston. Regardless of whether the season is ruined by a strike, I greatly enjoyed watching ALEX RODRIGUEZ's three-homer night in person.
Greetings From The AL West Cellar
The Rangers returned from the All-Star break with a soul-numbing, spirit-crushing sequence of one win and ten losses. Since then, they are 16-14. The offense has averaged 5.9 runs per games during this stretch compared to 4.9 runs in previous games. Conversely, the starting pitching had been adequate (relative to expectations) earlier in the year but has since regressed. No starting pitcher (except the departed Ismael Valdes) has an ERA below 5.79 or a WHIP below 1.47 during his last five starts.
Juan, John and Ivan
News regarding JUAN GONZALEZ is nonexistent. Watch for an update early this week (but not from me, I'll be out of town) and use your best judgment. Keep in mind that the odds of him returning in full heath this season are very slim. JOHN ROCKER, still sidelined with a nerve problem in his neck and shoulder, is doubtful to return. IVAN RODRIGUEZ hasn't had a day off since August 4. With only one off-day remaining on the schedule , he'll rest with greater frequency. It's nothing for his owners to worry about. Pudge still starts more often than most catchers and is playing for his next contract.
Cordero and Kolb
In July, Jerry Narron indicated that FRANCISCO CORDERO and DANNY KOLB would split closing duties. In fact, Kolb has not pitched once in a conventional save situation in August, while Cordero has two saves. Kolb does have some value, though. Narron is using him frequently in tie games, and Kolb has vultured three wins during the past month. Kolb hasn't allowed a homer in 15.2 innings but has walked 11. Cordero should see whatever save opportunities exist. He is sparsely available in mixed leagues.
In the Outfield
CARL EVERETT, KEVIN MENCH and TODD HOLLANDSWORTH should start most games in the outfield barring Gonzalez's return. Hollandsworth has started four of five since returning from the DL. He's nothing special outside Coors, so don't go out of your way to acquire him in mixed leagues. Prospect RYAN LUDWICK, who started several games earlier in the summer, has a stress fracture that hasn't healed properly and won't play again this season.
On The Way Up
3B HANK BLALOCK, 1B JASON HART and pitcher COLBY LEWIS are the most likely players to be called up from AAA when the season ends September 2. Current big-leaguers most affected by these callups would be HERBERT PERRY, who should lose playing time to Blalock, and AARON MYETTE or DENNYS REYES, who could lose a rotation spot to Lewis. I don't expect Hart to play much. He might spot RAFAEL PALMEIRO or TRAVIS HAFNER on occasion. Fresh off the DL, CHAN HO PARK pitched six innings and allowed just one run in Yankee Stadium. Personally, I'd wait until next year to assess his worth.
On The Way Down
ROB BELL was optioned to AAA to make room for Park and was not promised a return call in September. Bell is out of options in 2003, so this demotion bodes ill for his future as a Ranger and as a big-league pitcher. TRAVIS HAFNER is 2-for-24 since an au&$*#ious first week and hasn't played three of the last four games. I still expect Jerry Narron to start Hafner most games at DH. If a strike appears imminent, the Rangers may option youngsters such as Hafner, Mench, Myette and Benoit back to AAA. Players on the 40-man roster traditionally have been allowed to play minor-league ball during a strike.
Notes From Your Faithful Correspondent
I'll be in Denver all week and in Galveston over the weekend, so I doubt that I'll have another update until after Labor Day. Hopefully, baseball will still exist when I return home. If not, let me say in advance that I hope you've found my columns informative. I've enjoyed writing them and hope to continue in 2003. Even if the season does end Friday, I'll still post a column occasionally, if only to entertain myself. I won't be able to answer topical questions this week, but if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement, please email me.
Few Changes For Rangers In September
Unlike many teams, September roster expansion won't alter the Rangers' starting lineup very much. Thanks to myriad injuries and poor performances, the pavement on I-35 between Arlington and Oklahoma City is worn out. Many prospects who would have been called up in September have been here for months already. Tom Hicks blamed a weak farm system as one factor in the dismissal of previous GM Doug Melvin, an opinion that knowledgeable fans considered ill-informed. The Rangers' "weak" affiliates in AAA, AA and high-A won their divisions and are currently battling for their respective league titles.
Prospects Apparently Prefer Oklahoma City
Those of you who nabbed HANK BLALOCK in AL-only leagues won't see him in Texas for a few more days. Triple-A Oklahoma, forced to use a whopping 58 players this season, won five of its final six games to win its division and will begin a best-of-five semifinal against Salt Lake Wednesday. For this, manager Bobby Jones deserves beatification, if not outright sainthood. Blalock could join the Rangers as early as this Saturday or as late as the 16th depending on the Redhawks' success. Likewise, pitcher COLBY LEWIS and 1B TRAVIS HAFNER won't return to the big leagues quite yet. 3B MARK TEIXIERA hit .316/.451/.591 in 48 games for Tulsa and might also be called up.
Coming To A Bench Near You
HERBERT PERRY is the most probable player to lose playing time once the prospects are recalled. (I assume that Jerry Narron will look to the future and start Blalock, at least against righties. Perry has been a godsend but isn't in the team's long-term plan.) MIKE LAMB, who has started eight of the last twelve, should also relinquish some at-bats to Hafner and possible callups Teixiera and Hart. None of the other everyday players should lose significant playing time, though they could be rested with greater frequency. Lewis could replace AARON MYETTE or DENNYS REYES in the rotation. None is worth owning.
Hooks Who Can't Hit Southpaws
TODD HOLLANDSWORTH is batting a solid .299-9-3-11-1 in 17 games as a Ranger. Unfortunately for him, the Rangers last twenty games are against the lefty-heavy AL West (Zito, Mulder, Washburn, Moyer, Halama, Lilly), and Hollandsworth has batted .228/.289/.301 against lefties since 2000. The rejuvenated CARL EVERETT also hits lefties poorly, and even RAFAEL PALMEIRO has trouble with them (batting .212 but with good power). If you have the roster flexibility, you might consider benching Hollandsworth and Everett against tough lefties. To change the subject: DROP JUAN GONZALEZ!
Oh, Chan Ho!
In three starts since returning from the disabled list, CHAN HO PARK has three wins, a 2.29 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP and 21 strikeouts. Prior to this recent success, Park posted a single-game ERA of 5.40 or worse in 12 of 17 starts. Let's say he's been somewhat inconsistent this year. Still, if you're desperate for pitching and willing to accept a high-risk/high-reward scenario, Park might be your man. Unfortunately, Park has an unfavorable remaining schedule. Park faces Tampa Bay this Saturday but then must start twice against Seattle and twice against Oakland to finish the season.
Pronounced Ben-Waah, Not Ben-Oyt
Since August 7, when he joined the rotation on a permanent basis, JOAQUIN BENOIT has pitched well in four games and terribly in two. When good, he allowed just six runs and 28 baserunners in 27 innings. When bad, he surrendered a ghastly 12 runs and 22 baserunners in just 5.2 innings. Thus, despite pitching well in two-thirds of his appearances, his ERA during this stretch is 4.96 and his WHIP is 1.53. Like Park, he offers high rewards at a high risk. Also like Park, his remaining schedule is tough. He will face Tampa, Anaheim (twice), Seattle and Oakland, assuming he pitches every fifth game.
Notes From Denver
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Coors Field last Wednesday. For the same price as a second-deck seat in the Ballpark, I purchased a ticket putting me in the 18th row just to the right of home plate. Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent homered, and Russ Ortiz pitched eight shutout innings against the hapless Rockies. But the most impressive performance was Brent Butler's spectacular diving catch at third in the ninth inning of a 9-1 rout, proof that you should never leave the park early. Would that I could take Denver's weather back to Austin with me.
Making Life Unpleasant For Others
What's that old saying: "If at first you don't succeed, drag others down with you?" Having nearly clinched a third consecutive losing season (barring a 13-4 finish), the Rangers are trying to make life miserable for their AL-West brethren over the final 17 games. Thus far, they have succeeded famously, taking the first three games of a four-game series from an increasingly desperate Seattle club. Alas, if the Rangers also play well against the Athletics and Angels, the unintended result could be to giftwrap home-field advantage for the hated Yankees. The euphoria always has side effects.
Blalock Returns, Brings Three Friends
AAA Oklahoma was swept in the playoffs, so 3B HANK BLALOCK, 1B/DH TRAVIS HAFNER and 1B/DH JASON HART, and pitcher COLBY LEWIS joined the Rangers Monday. Blalock will start most of the remaining games, though he may sit against tough lefties. Hafner, who I hyped back in August and who justified the hype for about five days, won't play often enough to warrant a fantasy roster spot. Doubly so for Hart, one of (too) many lefthanded 1B/DH-types on the Rangers. In four games since being called up, Blalock has started three, but neither Hafner nor Hart have a start. HERBERT PERRY is no longer viable in mixed leagues and should occupy the bench most of the time in AL-only leagues.
Lewis sparkled in his debut as a starter, allowing two runs and eight baserunners in seven innings. In AAA, he had a 3.63 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and struck out 99 in 106 innings. Lewis has a promising future, but I can't recommend him right now because he has only one ML start to his credit. Also, he had pitched horribly in previous duties as a reliever, earning a 7.82 ERA and 2.13 WHIP in 12.2 innings. Lewis may pitch just as well in his next start as he did Wednesday, or he may allow six runs in three innings. Nevertheless, if you're willing to accept the risk and are absolutely desperate for starts, he's there for you.
Bring Back Brian Downing!
MICHAEL YOUNG is once again the primary leadoff hitter, if for no other reason than the Rangers haven't a viable alternative. While Young has proved capable of everyday play, he has not proved capable of hitting higher than 8th or 9th in the order. Young is batting a tepid .266/.314/.396 for the season but a dreadful .185/.239/.266 in 134 plate appearances in the #1 spot. I don't know whether that is a statistical anomaly or he somehow adjusts his strategy (for the worse) as a leadoff hitter. Batting in front of Rodriguez/Palmeiro/Rodriguez should aid his fantasy stats, but only if he can reach base. Young recently claimed he would be more aggressive on the basepaths, but he hasn't attempted a steal since August 21.
Assuming the current rotation isn't altered, here are the starters' probable opponents for the last 16 games. CHAN HO PARK: at Seattle, at Oakland, Oakland. KENNY ROGERS: at Anaheim, at Oakland, Anaheim. JOAQUIN BENOIT: at Anaheim, at Seattle, Anaheim, Oakland. COLBY LEWIS: at Seattle, at Oakland, Oakland. DENNYS REYES: at Anaheim, at Seattle, Anaheim. KENNY ROGERS has been very successful inside the division, compiling a 2.25 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in eight starts. Park and Benoit have pitched far better on the road than at home. As I'd mentioned about Benoit last week, he has pitched well more often than not, but statistically his bad starts have obliterated his good starts. Check back in 2003.
Everett, Rivera, Holly. Mench?
KEVIN MENCH has started only five of the last ten games. Manager Jerry Narron has decided that TODD HOLLANDSWORTH cannot play center, leaving RUBEN RIVERA as the only viable center fielder and an everyday player by default. Thus, the promising 24-year-old is losing at-bats to the 29-year-old impending free agent (albeit one hitting .302/.364/.521 as a Ranger) and the 28-year-old defensive whiz with a career line of .218/.308/.397 in 1,700 plate appearances. The Rangers have to decide whether Hollandsworth is worth re-signing, so don't expect Mench to regain everyday starter status. I hope the Rangers don't offer Hollandsworth a ridiculous contract based on his short stint in Texas and his inflated Colorado numbers. That's Milwaukee's job.
How 'Bout Those Youngsters!
The Rangers high-A team in Charlotte, Florida, won the Florida State League title over Lakeland (Tigers) by taking the last two games, both of which were must-win. Currently, the AA team in Tulsa has a 2-1 series lead over San Antonio (Mariners) in the Texas League finals. Notable prospects include 3B Mark Teixiera, 2B Drew Meyer (who was awful in low-A Savannah but has flourished in Tulsa), C Gerald Laird (acquired in the Carlos Pena trade), and pitchers C.J. Wilson, Travis Hughes, and Ben Kozlowski. Hopefully, many of these players will soon appear in a Ballpark near you.
RANGERS COMING TO A GOLF COURSE NEAR YOU
The Rangers followed their highly gratifying four-game sweep of Seattle with a resounding thud, losing nine of ten on their final road trip and falling to 18-34 against AL-West foes. After Monday's off-day, they finish the season against Anaheim and Oakland in the Ballpark, where they must win three of six to avoid a ninety-loss season. The lineups and starting pitchers for these games (especially for the opponents) could change dramatically depending on when Anaheim and Oakland settle who wins the division title and who gets the wild card. Anaheim is three games behind Oakland through Sunday. Manager Jerry Narron allegedly will put most of his "A" players on the field for games that have meaning.
Outfielders: Everett Out, Mench Reprieved
CARL EVERETT pulled up lame running out a double last Thursday and may not play again this season. Even in AL-only leagues, he is no longer worth owning. Adequate replacements such as Kevin Millar, Jeromy Burnitz and Craig Wilson may be available in mixed leagues. Everett's injury provides a reprieve for KEVIN MENCH, who has started four in a row after sitting nine of the previous sixteen. Mench has slumped badly of late but should start most of the remaining games, as should TODD HOLLANDSWORTH. A punchless two-headed monster comprised of RUBEN RIVERA and DONNIE SADLER will man centerfield.
Infielders: The Usual Suspects
Within two days of announcing that MICHAEL YOUNG would lead off for the rest of the season, manager Jerry Narron changed his mind. My semi-informed speculation that Young was mentally altering his strategy for the worse as a leadoff hitter turned out to be correct. Young returns to the #2 or #8 spots, where he has been much more successful. He is batting .205/.264/.280 in the leadoff spot and .282/.329/.428 elsewhere. Young shouldn't miss more than one game the rest of the season. Fellow infielders ALEX RODRIGUEZ, RAFAEL PALMEIRO and IVAN RODRIGUEZ also will start most or all of the remaining games.
The New Guys:
Blalock has started nine of fourteen games and is batting .226-6-1-6-0 since returning to the big-league club. Deposed 3B HERBERT PERRY has no value in mixed leagues but remains an adequate gap-filler in AL-only leagues. He has filled in several times at first or DH and has managed to start eight or fourteen games since Blalock's return. 1B/DH TRAVIS HAFNER and 1B/OF JASON HART have only three starts between them in two weeks. Rookie starter COLBY LEWIS hasn't pitched well enough to merit a fantasy roster spot even in AL-only leagues.
Recent call-up BEN KOZLOWSKI pitched reasonably well in his ML debut, though his numbers were grim from a fantasy standpoint (5 IP, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts, 14 baserunners). Kozlowski was acquired this spring from Atlanta for pitcher Andy Pratt, who had been designated for assignment because the Rangers' GM had to create roster space for those invaluable relief aces Dan Miceli, Steve Woodard and Rich Rodriguez. Koz sparkled in eight starts for AA-Tulsa (1.90 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 41/22 K-to-BB ratio) and was even better in the finals, allowing just three hits (but 12 walks) in 21 innings. Nevertheless, no matter how desperate you are for innings, avoid his last start. Kozlowski is greener than a key lime.
Starting Pitchers: Be Very Afraid
CHAN HO PARK struggled Sunday after tossing five consecutive quality starts. During this span, he has a 3.40 ERA despite a 1.66 WHIP (41 hits and 25 walks in 39.2 IP). He had allowed only two homers in his last 35 innings until surrendering three on Sunday. Park will start his final game on Friday against Oakland. Be advised that despite his recent success, Park has a 7.27 ERA and 1.66 WHIP at home and a 7.66 ERA and 1.70 WHIP versus Oakland. If you're protecting a lead, don't bother with Park. KENNY ROGERS is the only other starter worth owning. Among relievers, FRANCISCO CORDERO is the only name that matters.
Dear BBWAA: Alex Rodriguez's OPS is 180 points higher than Miguel Tejada's. A-Rod has 17 more runs, 25 more homers, 15 more RBIs, and 46 more walks than Tejada. A-Rod has a higher fielding percentage, range factor and zone rating than Tejada. Soriano would be a better choice than Tejada. --- Ranger pitchers have walked 124 batters in 22 September games. The starters have walked 90 in just 116.2 innings. No other team has more than 93 walks allowed in September. --- Barring major developments, this column should be my last during the regular season. I'll offer self-assessments of my preseason predictions and end-of-season thoughts next Sunday.
A Heartbreaking Season of Staggering Underachievement
Did any team feature more fantasy disappointments than the Texas Rangers? ESPN’s “Average Picks” feature indicates that ten Rangers were selected among the first 200 players in an average draft. Only three finished the season among the top 200 in performance according to ESPN’s “Player Rater.” Alex Rodriguez, a consensus #1 pick, had the sixth best season in 5x5 leagues. Rafael Palmeiro was drafted 54th on average and rated as the 40th best player. Ivan Rodriguez, injured much of the season, was drafted 22nd and finished 175th.
Meanwhile, Juan Gonzalez (drafted 27th), Chan Ho Park (102nd), Jeff Zimmerman (110th), Carl Everett (131st), Frank Catalanotto (140th), John Rocker (171st), and Hank Blalock (188th) did not finish among the top 200 fantasy players. Worse still, the late-season runs of success by Park and Everett were not enjoyed by the original owners, most of whom understandably had cut bait by mid-season. Largely undrafted in mixed leagues, Herbert Perry finished the season rated 176th and Kenny Rogers 181st. I have nothing against Herbert Perry, but when he is the fourth-best fantasy player on a team, that team can’t be very good.
I predicted several statistical and victory totals back in March. How badly did I embarrass myself? Ranger victories: predicted 86, actual 72, pythagorean 77. Runs Scored: predicted 930, actual 843. Runs Allowed: predicted 870, actual 882. Team batting: predicted .288/.348/.489, actual .269/.338/.455. I correctly projected the Rangers pitching to be slightly better than the 2001 edition, but I never expected the offense to score fewer runs than in 2001. Other teams --- Oakland: predicted 96, actual 102, pythagorean 97; Seattle: predicted 92, actual 93, pythagorean 93; Anaheim: predicted 78, actual 99, pythagorean 103.
Hart is currently reviewing every position in the organization. Hopefully, his review will include a rigorous self-assessment, because he bears much of the responsibility for the current mess. For example, Hart signed eleven relief pitchers from outside the organization during last winter. Only two finished the season with an ERA below 5.40, and the eleven combined for a 5.63 ERA in 300 innings pitched. Their cost: approximately $13 million. Meanwhile, nine relievers culled from the allegedly “barren” farm system combined for a 4.27 ERA in 171 innings. None of that group has a salary above $308,000. Physician, heal thyself.
Is Narron a capable manager? After almost two years, it’s still difficult to say. Not even Earl Weaver could have won with this team this year. Nevertheless, Narron created some of his misfortune. He inexplicably refused to bat Frank Catalanotto against lefties, despite Cat’s .387 career OBP against them, and frequently placed Michael Young in the leadoff spot despite Young’s.272 career OBP in that role. (Young deserves to start at second but shouldn’t bat higher than 8th.) He occasionally made some very questionable in-game decisions, particularly in the use of pinch hitters. He did handle a weak and increasingly young pitching staff as well as could reasonably be expected, and he wasn’t fazed by the clubhouse parade of egos. I won’t be too upset if he is dismissed, but I’d be left wondering how he would manage a healthy roster. He never had the chance.
Can I Get a Bridesmaid’s Dress in 42-Long?
Unfortunately, I did not win any of my three ESPN leagues this season. Two teams finished in second place: 8.5 points back in an eight-team AL-only league and 7.5 points back in a twelve-team mixed league (as of Sunday afternoon). In the rough-and-tumble Correspondents League, I led through June but collapsed to a fourth-place finish among twelve teams. In a thirteen-team, non-ESPN league, I overcame a fifteen-point mid-summer deficit and overtook the leader on the very last day of the season to win the league championship. Never quit.
I’d Like To Thank…
…ESPN for giving me this opportunity. Thanks to fellow correspondent Mick Doherty, whose transference from the Rangers to Yankees (?!) created the opening. Thanks to the nearly 100,000 of you who visited since Opening Day and the hundreds who emailed me (except the guy began his message ‘You Mischevious Twit’). I hope you found my reports informative. I greatly enjoyed my first season as the Rangers’ correspondent and will return next season as long as The Mouse approves. Where else can I write about Juan Gonzalez’s thumb? Finally, love and kisses to Courtney Bissonnet for feigning interest in my endless baseball-related monologues.
Rangers Hire… Captain Bligh?
Reading about Buck Showalter’s zeal for discipline, you might believe Showalter previously helmed the HMS Bounty (as the sadistic Trevor Howard rather than the more nuanced Anthony Hopkins) or perhaps was the Gunnery Sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket.” Presumably, Showalter possesses skills beyond dictating the dress code on flights to Seattle. He has a 563-504 career record, helped to resurrect a faltering Yankee franchise in the early 1990s and led Arizona to the playoffs in its second year of existence. As before, he may wear out his welcome after three or four years. Despite his potentially short shelf-life, he is widely praised for his management and evaluation skills.
The “managerial tendencies” section from STAT’S annual Major League Handbooks (which to my extreme dismay will no longer be published) indicate that Showalter didn’t appear to overmanage his Arizona squads during 2000-2001. They tended to steal more often than the average NL team (especially with none out). He ordered a few more bunts than the typical manager but far fewer hit-and-runs. He eschewed the intentional walk and the pitchout. He did tend to order more mid-inning pitching changes one-batter relief appearances than most managers.
Two writers for the Dallas Morning News recently bemoaned the Rangers’ over-reliance on the long ball, propensity to strike out, and inability to “consistently manufacture runs” like the Anaheim Angels. My research indicated the Angels were no more consistent in scoring runs than Texas despite tallying 93 more hits and 250 fewer strikeouts. The Angels actually had a slightly higher standard deviation than the Rangers in runs scored per game. Logically, the more consistent team should have a lower standard deviation. Also, Anaheim scored two or fewer runs on eight more occasions than the Rangers (39 to 31), and both teams were 23 games under .500 when scoring two or fewer. But, when scoring three or more, the Rangers were 68-63 while Anaheim was 91-32.
Offensive “consistency” was not the reason for Anaheim’s success. Anaheim won because they combined a good offense with a very good pitching staff, a luxury the Rangers did not possess. The Rangers do NOT need to overhaul their offensive philosophy. They led the AL in scoring after the All-Star break. What they need is a leadoff hitter. Inexcusably, the Rangers had a lower OPS from the leadoff position than any other spot in their batting order. Their leadoff OBP of .306 would have been the worst in the AL if not for the cosmically inept Tigers (.302) and Royals (.276!).
Fall League Action
Six Rangers are playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. Their stats after 26 games: 3B MARK TEIXIERA (.366/.459/.695, 19 runs, 7 homers, 22 rbi), OF JERMAINE CLARK (.333/.457/.456, 7 steals), C GERALD LAIRD (.244/.311/.293), OF LAYNCE NIX (.300/.349/.425), P MARIO RAMOS (1-1, 4.05 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20 IP, 5 BB, 15 Ks), P DERRICK VAN DUSEN (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 13 IP, 7 BB, 11 Ks). Van Dusen and Clark were received in the trade of Ismael Valdes to Seattle. Three other Rangers are playing for Azucareros del Este (which dictionary.com translates as “Sugar Bowls of the East”) in the Dominican Winter League. 1B/OF JASON HART (.381/.458/.810) has three homers in 21 at-bats, while pitchers DOUG DAVIS (9.00 ERA) and COLBY LEWIS (5.63 ERA) have struggled in limited action.
The Rangers released pitcher C.J. NITKOWSKI, utility man DONNIE SADLER and outfielder RUBEN RIVERA upon conclusion of the season. They also waived pitcher JOHN ROCKER and declined their option on catcher BILL HASELMAN. As expected, pitcher KENNY ROGERS, catcher IVAN RODRIGUEZ, pitcher RUDY SEANEZ and outfielder TODD HOLLANDSWORTH filed for free agency. Rogers wants to stay in Texas and is the most likely player to stay, though if he demands more than two years, he’ll have a hard time signing with anyone. Texas’ ability to retain Pudge depends greatly on whether another team risks offering him a lucrative, long-term deal. He has missed substantial playing time in each of the last three seasons.
As of November 1, the Rangers’ 40-man roster has only 35 occupants, 5 of which are on the 60-day disabled list. PITCHERS (19): Juan Alvarez, Rob Bell, Joaquin Benoit, Jovanny Cedeno (DL), Francisco Cordero, Doug Davis, Ryan Dittfurth, Reynaldo Garcia, Travis Hughes, Hideki Irabu (DL), Danny Kolb, Ben Kozlowski, Colby Lewis, Aaron Myette, Chan Ho Park, Jay Powell, Dennys Reyes, Todd Van Poppel, Jeff Zimmerman (DL). CATCHERS (1): Todd Greene. INFIELDERS (9): Hank Blalock, Travis Hafner, Jason Hart, Mike Lamb, Rafael Palmeiro, Herbert Perry, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, Michael Young. OUTFIELDERS (6): Frank Catalanotto (DL), Carl Everett, Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer (DL), Ryan Ludwick, Kevin Mench.
Pudge, Rogers, Hafner Depart
As Cleveland’s GM, John Hart was notorious for trading promising young hitters in exchange for players of modest value. Apparently Hart still favors this strategy, as the Rangers recently traded 1B/DH TRAVIS HAFNER and P AARON MYETTE to Cleveland for C EINAR DIAZ and P RYAN DRESE. Though Hafner’s recurring wrist injuries are cause for concern, he easily has the highest upside of the four players involved in this trade. Trading Hafner wasn’t a bad idea in and of itself, but I’m dismayed that the Rangers could not get more in return. Meanwhile, the Rangers made the heart-wrenching but correct decision to decline arbitration to IVAN RODRIGUEZ, thus ending his fourteen-year tenure with the club.
Diaz had better be a terrific defensive catcher, because he’s not much of a hitter. He is impatient (71 career walks in 1,500+ plate appearances) and tries to pull every ball despite lacking power (15 career home runs). He makes contact reasonably well. From a fantasy perspective, he offers an acceptable batting average, modest runs and RBI, and negligible power and speed. For the Rangers, a healthy Diaz could hit .275 with 45-55 runs scored, 45-55 runs batted in, 2-5 homers and a couple of stolen bases. Those statistics would make him an acceptable late-round pick in AL-only leagues and waiver-wire fodder in mixed leagues.
Like the departed Myette, Drese has excelled in AAA but struggled against Major League pitching. In 2002, Drese won 10 games despite a 6.55 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP. Lack of control has harmed him; Drese has walked almost four batters per nine innings in the Majors compared to 2.3 per nine in AAA. Drese is 17 months older than Myette but has minor-league options remaining, perhaps making him more appealing to the Rangers. He moves from baseball’s weakest division to its strongest, and the Ballpark is no friendlier to pitchers than Jacobs Field. Drese could someday evolve into a passable #4 starter, but in terms of fantasy baseball, he’s toxic waste.
Pudge missed at least 50 games in each of the last three years, and he almost certainly will play next year in a less hitter-friendly environment, but don’t fear drafting him. Even if he misses significant time once again, four months of Pudge plus two months of a waiver pickup should surpass six healthy months from most catchers. In an AL-only league last year, I nabbed Ben Molina from the free-agent pool when Pudge injured his back. My Pudge/Molina tandem finished the season batting .308 with 19 homers, 80 runs, 80 RBI and five steals. Only Posada and Piazza measure up to those numbers.
KENNY ROGERS wanted to stay in Texas. Nevertheless, he declined a two-year, $10 million deal with a third-year option. Since his previous contract stipulated that the Rangers could not offer arbitration, Rogers was cut loose. Rogers was a good pitcher in 2003 but not quite as good as his 3.84 ERA would lead you to believe. Though he will probably end up in a more pitcher-friendly park, his ERA should creep into the 4.00-4.50 range next year. TODD HOLLANDSWORTH also was not offered arbitration. He could start for a bad team or be a capable fourth outfielder on a good team.
Diaz will start at catcher, Palmeiro will man first, Alex Rodriguez will play short, and Juan Gonzalez will cover right field. Beyond that, questions abound. Is Mark Teixiera ready for prime time, and if so, will he play third or split time at 1B and DH? Will the Rangers try Blalock at second base as they did briefly in AAA last year? Can Carl Everett play centerfield, and if not, who can? Will the Rangers retain Frank Catalanotto and give him a permanent position, possibly supplanting LF Kevin Mench or offensively-challenged 2B Michael Young? Could the Rangers trade one or more of these players?
The starting rotation is just as muddled as the positional situation. The only certainty is Chan Ho Park. Joaquin Benoit is a near certainty, and Colby Lewis should win a spot in the rotation barring a miserable spring. Doug Davis, the aforementioned Drese, and perhaps even Dennys Reyes and Rob Bell will try to win a rotation slot. Despite their desire to reduce payroll, the Rangers must sign one or two free-agent starters simply to fill out the roster. Possibilities at this time include former Rangers Ismael Valdes and Rick Helling, Ramiro Mendoza, Shawn Estes, Dustin Hermanson, Omar Daal and several others.