The Ranger Rundown by Scott Lucas
Rangers Sign Four, Serve Youth, Seek Health in 2003
During the last three weeks of 2002, the Rangers signed three relievers and an outfielder to one-year deals. Clearly, the Rangers are biding their time until 2004 when several large contracts will disappear , thereby releasing money for more serious and long-term free-agent acquisitions. 2003 is a year for developing several promising youngsters and trying to avoid the injuries that capsized the Rangers boat right out of the dock. Other than Ugueth Urbina, the newcomers have minimal fantasy implications.
Ugueth Urtain Urbina
The Rangers signed UGUETH URBINA to a one-year deal on December 22. As a result, FRANCISCO CORDERO moves into a setup role despite posting a 1.79 ERA and saving 10 games in 12 opportunities. Ugie undoubtedly improves a weak Ranger bullpen, but from a fantasy perspective he loses some value moving from Boston to Texas. The Rangers simply aren’t as good as the Red Sox, so Urbina shouldn’t get as many save opportunities, though a good closer will notch 30-35 saves even for an inferior team.
Although his rate of home runs allowed isn’t outrageously high, Urbina is an extreme flyball pitcher. He also struggles against left-handed hitters, who batted.267/.344/.478 against him from 2000-2002 compared to .173/.226/.288 for righties. Urbina’s previous home parks were Fenway and Stade Olympique, both of which rank among the toughest parks for left-handed power hitters. Conversely, every day is Christmas for lefties hitting in the Ballpark in Arlington, so some of his warning-track outs in Fenway could become souvenirs in Arlington. Also, if the Rangers are dead ducks by summer (for the fourth consecutive year, a distinct possibility), Urbina will be trade bait.
Douglas Metunwa Glanville
Like Urbina, DOUG GLANVILLE signed a one-year contract with the Rangers in mid-December. Ostensibly, Glanville is the Rangers’ fourth outfielder, but the injury-prone Carl Everett and Juan Gonzalez could thrust him into a much more prominent role. The Rangers will suffer if he leads off at all or tallies more than 300 plate appearances. With a career batting average of .281, Glanville emanates the illusion of competence, yet his career on-base percentage is only eleven points higher than that of oft-maligned Ruben Rivera. Though he has slumped in recent years, residency in the Ballpark will permit Glanville to hit .270-.290. In his favor, he is arguably the smartest player in baseball and usually is good for an interesting quote.
Esteban Luis Yan and Richard Aaron Fultz
The one-year deals continue with the signing of Tampa Bay’s “closer” from 2002, ESTEBAN YAN, and San Francisco’s AARON FULTZ. Yan is a respectable performer, but like Urbina, he is prone to the home run and has trouble against lefthanded hitters. He also is wildly inconsistent from month to month. Yan won’t close any games for Texas; he will pitch in middle relief and perhaps to set up Urbina.. Fultz has a career ERA of 4.66 despite spending half of his time in an extreme pitcher’s park. He averaged less than one inning per appearance for SF and probably will do the same for Texas as a lefty specialist. Yan and Fultz are non-entities except in insanely deep AL-only fantasy leagues.
Missing: Little Cat
Free agent FRANK CATALANOTTO signed a one-year deal with Toronto. The Rangers non-tendered the arbitration-eligible Little Cat rather than risk having to pay $3 million to a player without a permanent position. Cat’s departure eliminates any competition MICHAEL YOUNG may have had for the starting second baseman’s job. His departure also eliminates the only obvious candidate for leadoff hitter. How familiar are you with MIKE LAMB? Other than A-Rod and Palmeiro, his 2002 on-base percentage of .354 leads all returning Ranger. Lamb, HERBERT PERRY, KEVIN MENCH, and the OBP-impaired Young and Glanville will vie for the leadoff spot barring additional signings or trades.
Needed: Starting Pitchers
The starting rotation presently consists of CHAN HO PARK and four big question marks. JOAQUIN BENOIT and COLBY LEWIS should make the rotation unless they collapse in Spring Training, and DOUG DAVIS, MARIO RAMOS and RYAN DRESE will have an opportunity to wow the Ranger brass. Rather than mimic the days of old with a three-man rotation, Texas will sign one or two free agent starters in the upcoming weeks.
Rangers Add Two To Rotation
Texas has bolstered its rotation with free-agents signings ISMAEL VALDES and JOHN THOMSON. They probably represent the last significant free agents the Rangers will sign this offseason, though additional trades are always a possibility (but not on the level of Hafner-for-Diaz, I hope). A roster that was in disarray as of late November now appears set except for the back of the rotation and bench.
Valdes returns to Texas
Texas wisely re-signed Valdes for the 2003 season. Except for some recurring blisters problems, he was relatively injury-free for the first time in three years and responded with his lowest-ever ERA outside of Dodger Stadium. His makeup seems ill-suited to The Ballpark – low strikeout rate, low groundball rate, medium-high homer rate – but he is stingy with the walks finds a way to get batters out. His ERA as a Ranger was 3.93, a figure he likely will not repeat. He allows too many balls to be put into the field of play to hold batters to a .242 average in the Hitter’s Paradise known as The Ballpark. An ERA of 4.25-4.50 is more likely than another sub-4.00 performance. Nevertheless, as a fantasy player he has some value in the back end of a rotation in mixed leagues.
John Thomson (not Thompson)
Like Valdes, John Thomson doesn’t fan many batters (5.6 per 9 IP). His WHIP is merely adequate, and he has only 29 career wins and a 4.95 ERA. He is a better pitcher than those statistics suggest, as he has spent most of his tenure in Colorado and thrown roughly 45% of his pitches at Planet Coors. Thomson has a more modest 4.41 ERA on the road. That said, he still isn’t worth much in fantasy baseball. I’d expect an ERA in the 4.50-4.90 range, a 1.35 WHIP and about 120 strikeouts. He’ll have some value in AL-only leagues but is very marginal in mixed leagues. Last year Thomson was healthy for the first time since 1998. He had shoulder surgery in 1999, missed all of 2000, and pitched sporadically in 2001.
Chad Kreuter Returns
The Rangers also signed catcher CHAD KREUTER to a one-year minor-league deal. He will challenge TODD GREENE for the role of EINAR DIAZ’s caddy, though it’s not inconceivable that all three could make the team. Kreuter has no value as a fantasy player but reportedly was of great value in Los Angeles as CHAN HO PARK’s personal catcher, allegedly keeping him focused and aggressive on the mound. At 38, he can still hit .250, draw a walk and hit the occasional dinger. I can’t say definitively that he will help Park, but he certainly won’t hurt. It’s a development worth watching. A low-key but quality signing by the Rangers.
The Rangers clearly lacked the talent of their division rivals in 2002, but they could have offered stiffer competition if not for several debilitating injuries. Catalanotto, Everett, Kapler, Greer and Gonzalez – expected to share the outfield and DH spot – averaged only 62 starts each. Kevin Mench, who was not on the roster when the season began, led the team in outfield starts last year. Jeff Zimmerman never threw a meaningful pitch. Park fought a hamstring injury most of the season. Ivan Rodriguez missed yet another 50-game stretch.
What of the returning players’ health in 2003? Reportedly, Gonzalez’s thumb is “no longer an issue” according to GM John Hart. Park and Everett are healthy. Zimmerman, as you may know, is not expected to pitch before the All-Star break. Ignore him in upcoming drafts unless you have a ridiculously deep bench. Greer is out for the season and probably played the last game of his career the previous June.
Will Gonzalez perform as he did in 2001 when he was playing for his next contract? Was Everett’s line of .327/.405/.524 after the All-Star break a return to greatness or a three-month fluke? Can Park maintain his post-June 4.28 ERA despite a 1.57 WHIP? I will attempt to answer these questions in the upcoming weeks.
Pudge Sleeps With The Fishes
The Rangers were kind enough not to sign or trade anyone during my ski trip last week. The week was not without a surprise, however, as lifetime Ranger IVAN RODRIGUEZ signed a one-year deal with the Florida Marlins, a destination that perhaps no one foresaw (certainly not Pudge or his agent). Pudge will earn $10 million this season, though deferrals push the present value down to approximately $9 million depending on your preferred discount rate. Also, the Marlins generously bestowed a no-trade clause and cannot offer him arbitration, meaning they won’t even receive a compensatory draft pick upon his imminent departure.
Pudge migrates from the second-most favorable American League park for hitters to one of the five toughest National League parks. Furthermore, Pudge often DH’ed on his “days off,” an option unavailable in Florida. My early computer model indicated a .312 average with 69 runs, 22 homers, 65 RBI and seven steals in 450 plate appearances as a Ranger. In Florida, those numbers decline to .294-60-18-57-7 (though he might steal a few more bases for Jeff “That 70s Show” Torborg). While my computer model considers aging and park factors it does not (yet) consider quality of teammates. What of the players batting around him?
In effect, the Marlins traded Preston Wilson and Kevin Millar for Juan Pierre and Todd Hollandsworth, two players who barely tread water away from Coors Field. At elevations closer to sea level, Hollandworth has a career line of .265/.321/.408 and Juan Pierre a line of 283/.330/.351. Meanwhile, the departed Preston Wilson hit .262/.333/.473 as a Fish and Kevin Millar batted an impressive .296/.367/.504. In 2002 the Marlins had a respectable OBP of .337 but were 12th in scoring because of their lack of power, making their cavalier dismissal of Millar all the more stupefying. That is, it would be stupefying if you hadn’t already ascertained the incompetence of Loria and Company.
The Rangers had enough offensive talent to place Pudge most frequently in the #5-spot. In Florida, he will bat third behind Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre. Castillo is a better leadoff hitter than anyone the Rangers will have in 2003, but I expect Pierre to flounder as a Marlin (sorry). Pierre reminds me of a younger Doug Glanville with slightly more patience and less power. Behind Pudge should be Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee, who are capable hitters but not spectacular. Filling out the lineup are the overrated Juan Encarnacion (a .268/.311/.440 batter excepting his half-season of quality in Cincinnati), the aforementioned Hollandsworth, offense-impaired Alex Gonzalez, and the pitcher’s slot. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. On the whole, Pudge will receive far less assistance from his Marlin brethren.
As pointed out in ESPN’s Wake-Up Call, Rodriguez is no longer a first or second-round pick. Even in NL-only leagues, his expected performance doesn’t merit a premium pick. However, don’t ignore him. If Rodriguez does hit in the range of .294-60-18-57 he will still be a top-five fantasy catcher. As I’ve noted previously, an intermittently healthy Pudge plus two-to-three months of a waiver-wire pickup are more valuable than a full season from most healthy, full-time catchers. His projected value depends greatly on your level of risk-aversion. Those who are loathe to draft the injury-prone should wait for second-tier catchers like Lieberthal, Lo Duca and Kendall. Those who don’t mind gambling could be paid off handsomely, but don’t expect him to resume his late-1990’s brilliance.Footnotes
"Spring Training." For baseball fans feigning interest in hoops and pucks during this cold, grim February, the words "Spring Training" are a gift from heaven. SportsCenter will show videotape of Ichiro jogging and Roger Clemens playing catch. Fans will eat it up. So will I. As for the Texas Rangers, their pitchers and catchers will hold initial workouts in Surprise, Arizona, on Thursday the 13th, and full-team workouts begin on Tuesday the 18th. The Cactus League commences on the 27th with split-squad games against Kansas City and the University of Texas, the alma mater I share with team owner Tom Hicks (and doubtlessly the only thing we have in common).
"The First Wealth Is Health"
With no games scheduled early on, fantasy owners should focus mostly on players' health issues. In particular, the health of CARL EVERETT and JUAN GONZALEZ will substantially impact other starting jobs and the bench. Everett has averaged only 120 games per season during the past seven years and has never played more than 142 in any season. More important than his general fragility is whether he'll satisfy the Rangers' need for a quality defensive centerfielder. If not, hacktastic DOUG GLANVILLE will inherit the job and Everett would move into an already crowded DH/corner outfielder situation. Currently, KEVIN MENCH is lightly pencilled in as the starting leftfielder, but a slow start combined with a too-weak-for-CF Everett could condemn him to AAA.
Everett at least finished the season strong, whereas Gonzalez missed the final two months. Last year, Gonzalez's hand injury didn’t affect his ability to play in the field or obliterate his batting average (he hit .282, .014 below his career average). But, unable to drive the ball, he belted all of eight homers and slugged .451, 117 points below his career percentage. Over the winter, Gonzalez eschewed surgery for lengthy rest, and the Rangers claim he is healed. A healthy Gonzalez is a four-category stud, an ailing one isn't worth drafting. If he reaggravates the injury, Mench’s standing would improve and more DH at-bats would be available to HERBERT PERRY, MIKE LAMB and even MARK TEIXEIRA if he has a breakout spring and/or fast start in AAA.
"Lies, Darned Lies and Statistics"
Spring Training statistics means everything to players trying to win roster spots and starting assignments, but fantasy owners must resist the temptation to extrapolate spring stats into regular season performance. Owners who base draft-day decisions on the statistics of 25-30 prospect and scrub-filled exhibition games won’t win their leagues. Last spring, Carl Everett showed up to camp overweight and still limping from offseason knee surgery but batted .387 and slugged .839 in ten exhibition games leading into the regular season. His brief display of excellence was fraudulent, as by the All-Star break he’d spent several weeks on the disabled list and was batting .193 with six homers and twenty RBI.
With rookies, the temptation to rely on Spring Training stats is even greater because of the lack of other data. Witness HANK BLALOCK, who hit .333 and slugged .552 last spring and deservedly won the third baseman job despite having no experience above AA. As Spring Training progressed, Blalock's perceived value skyrocketed among fantasy owners. In my league which drafted in late March he was selected 57th overall. An abysmal start banished him to AAA by mid-May and he washed out as a fantasy player. I'm not suggesting owners should have known he would fail. Whether or not he had ended up playing well in 2002, the point is that his success in Spring Training was useless as a predictor of regular season performance.
Aside from Albert Pujols and mature Japanese imports like Ichiro, rookies very rarely make good fantasy players. Too many owners perceive rookies in terms of career potential rather than immediate payoff, when in fact there is no "career" or "potential" in non-keeper leagues. There is only this year, only now. Should Mark Teixeira imitate Blalock and force his way onto the 25-man roster this spring, don't find yourself mopping up your drool while ogling his preseason stats. He could perform capably this season, but the odds of him being a premier fantasy player are extremely small. Remember that many scouts have compared Blalock to George Brett, but even Brett accrued only 49 runs, eight homers and 47 RBI in his first full season.Endnotes
Six Days, Zero Injuries
The excitement of watching premier athletes players stretch and jog wears off fast, doesn't it? The initial thrill of Spring Training always dissolves into the unfortunate reality that for the first two weeks or so, almost nothing interesting happens. In a sense, no news is good news, as newsworthy events this early in camp usually involve injuries. Ranger hitters reported to camp Monday and the team will hold its first full-squad workout Tuesday. Later this week, I'll begin lengthy assessments of the Rangers' lineup. For now, another general interest column.
A Man To Watch
ESPN rates CARL EVERETT as just the 80th-best outfielder in mixed leagues, and who can blame them. Everett has averaged only 120 games and 493 plate appearances per season during the last seven years, and he was as useful as lint for three months last year. However, hit very well after last year's All-Star break (.929 OPS), and he's heather than he's been in almost two years. Right now, I'm predicting a .270 average, 65-70 runs, 75-80 RBI, and 25 homers; nothing drool-worthy, but worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues and a middle-round pick in AL-only leagues. I would choose Everett in a heartbeat over higher-ranked OFs like Terrence Long, Chris Singleton, Rob Mackowiak, Eric Owens, and Timo Perez. If you're not too risk-averse, move him up your cheat sheet.
As recently reported by Peter Gammons, MARK TEIXEIRA will be practicing at first base. His comments could be interpreted to mean that Teixeira is replacing RAFAEL PALMEIRO, but I don’t believe Palmeiro is going anywhere this season, though he may DH more often. If both Teixeira and HANK BLALOCK earn spots on the 25-man roster, one will have to move, so the Rangers are simply trying to gain flexibility. Likewise, Blalock will practice at second base, both to provide depth up the middle and possibly to supplant MICHAEL YOUNG should Young fail to progress as a hitter. For the moment, Teixeira rates no better than a risky late-round pick in mixed leagues because he may not see Arlington before mid-summer. Remember than long-term potential means nothing in single-year leagues.
Scouting the Pitchers
For mixed leagues, UGUETH URBINA is the only must-have pitcher on the Ranger roster. CHAN HO PARK and ISMAEL VALDES have value, but given their checkered pasts and current home field, I wouldn't blame you for ignoring them on draft day. While Park had six wins and a passable 4.28 ERA in the second half of last season, his WHIP was a lofty 1.57, barely lower than his WHIP of 1.62 in the first-half when he posted an 8.10 ERA. His peripheral stats indicate he was unlucky in the season's first half but lucky in the second half. Park will approach 200 strikeouts and has a huge upside. On the other hand, 2002 proved he also has a huge downside, and predicting his 2003 performance with reasonable accuracy is very difficult. In the near future, I will try to do so.
Valdes should pitch effectively for Texas again in 2003, but "effective pitcher" and "effective fantasy pitcher" are two different terms. His peripheral stats are uninspiring, and I don’t believe he'll replicate the 3.93 ERA he posted as a Ranger last year. In 2002, his strikeout rate fell to a career-worst 4.7 per nine innings. He also was slightly lucky in terms of balls put in play (meaning the exclusion of homers and strikeouts), allowing opponents a .269 average on balls put in play compared to his career average of .288. Should he revert to his more typical performance in 2003, an ERA of 4.25-4.50 is most likely. Also, he is prone to blisters and other minor maladies that may decrease his effectiveness or his number of starts.
In a recent New York Times piece on new skipper Buck Showalter, author Jack Curry stated that JUSTIN THOMPSON was one of the Rangers' starting pitchers. Thompson does pitch for the Rangers, but their #3 starter is JOHN THOMSON, who pitched for the Rox and Mets last year. Justin Thompson is the former phenom acquired from Detroit in 1999. Thanks to perpetual shoulder problems, Thompson hasn't pitched in a Major League game in four years. He appears healthier now than ever and might yet return to the Majors, but obviously he's not worth owning on a fantasy squad. Except in AL-only leagues, neither is John Thomson. Still, be careful not to confuse them.
Analyzing RAFAEL PALMEIRO
2003 PROJECTIONS: Positions: 1B, DH. Spot in Batting Order: #4 or #5. Plate Appearances: 650. Batting Average: .265. Runs: 92. Homers: 40. RBI: 103. Steals: 1. On-base Percentage: .380. Slugging Percentage: .550. Upside: Low – counting stats will improve if he reaches 700 PAs and his fellow sluggers are healthier. Downside: Low-to-moderate – Not prone to injury and has shown very little evidence of decline, but he IS 38 years old. Overall risk: Low.
Rafael Palmeiro is consistent to the point of absurdity. For the last eight years, Palmeiro has belted 38-47 homers, driven in 104-142 runs, and scored 89-110 runs. Among first basemen, Palmeiro offers excellent production in three categories and is slightly below the norm in batting average. Once a player who could steal bases when necessary, Palmeiro is now very slow. He has also evolved into one of the most extreme flyball hitters in baseball. Thus, he doesn’t hit onto many double plays and renders moot the “Ted Williams” shift that many defenses employ against him. He compensates for his modest batting average with tremendous patience, walking a best-ever one of every 6.4 plate appearances in 2002.
The 38-year-old Palmeiro has never visited the disabled list, though he should have last May when a hamstring pull rendered him barely able to run. He missed six games while enduring a 29-game stretch in which he did not play in the field. By a slight margin, his 663 plate appearances were his lowest total (in a non-strike year) since 1990. Pride and stubbornness may have swayed the decision to keep him on the active roster, and the Rangers desperation for offense also was a factor (already disabled were Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett and Frank Catalanotto). For several months last year, his baserunning was a grim spectacle. Though deeming him injury-prone would be a gross exaggeration, he is at an age when nagging injuries are more likely to affect his performance.
Another factor possibly indicating age-related decline is Palmeiro’s sudden inability to hit lefthanders. He naturally hits lefties slightly worse than righties, but in 2002 that tendency became more severe. A career .289/.352/.499 hitter against lefties going into the season, Palmeiro batted only .220/.315/.465 against them last year. This decline isn’t severe enough to merit downgrading him on draft day or benching him against lefties if you have the flexibility. But if nothing else, it is worth watching.
That said, if you assume he’ll repeat last year’s performance, odds are high that you’ll be correct.
I’m the cautious sort, so I project a slight decrease in plate appearances and production. Whether or not I am correct, Palmeiro still belongs in the second tier of fantasy 1Bs along with Paul Konerko, Richie Sexson and Ryan Klesko. His owners just need to pay a bit more attention to him this year.
Juan Makes An Appearance
JUAN GONZALEZ arrived in camp Thursday. He backed off earlier comments about expecting to be traded and expressed his happiness at wearing Ranger blue. He claimed to have a new, fresh outlook on life. Gonzalez desperately needs to adopt the Steve Carlton Silent Treatment, but more importantly, he insists he is fully recovered from last year’s thumb injury that crippled his ability to drive the ball. Hand injuries tend to linger (the assessment from Baseball Prospectus was alarmingly negative), so prospective owners should monitor news regarding his progress. At this early stage, I wouldn’t predict a “Cleveland 2001” season or a repeat of last year’s disaster. Somewhere in between is more likely, say .300-80-25-90. The upside and downside are extreme.
Analyzing CHAN HO PARK
2003 PROJECTIONS: Wins: 13. ERA: 4.50. WHIP: 1.42. SO: 185. Upside: Moderate – Averaged 15 wins, 3.82 ERA and 193 Ks from 1997-2001 (albeit in Dodger Stadium). Pitching coach Oscar Acosta is gone. Acclimated to team and surroundings. Downside: Moderate – Park cooks with gas but is walk-prone, homer-prone and pitches in the Ballpark. Will make 10-12 starts against Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim. Overall risk: Moderate.
Chan Ho Park was wretchedness incarnate in 2002. In March, the Rangers’ putative staff ace pulled a hamstring in his final exhibition start. He flopped in his first start as a Ranger, then missed the next six weeks and pitched no better upon his return. At the All-Star break, he had an ERA of 8.10, almost double the 4.15 ERA your embarrassed correspondent predicted. After the break, a healthier Park won six games, had nine quality starts in fourteen attempts, and posted a relatively respectable 4.28 ERA. In truth, Park didn’t pitch much better during the second half of the season despite cutting his ERA nearly in half. His WHIP scarcely improved, falling from 1.62 in the first half to just 1.57 in the second, and his K/BB ratio was 1.55 in both halves. In other words, he was lucky.
That said, Park should be better this year. Last year, now-deposed pitching coach Oscar Acosta forced Park to alter the Spring Training workout regimen he’d used for several years. Park tried to pitch through his hamstring injury, failed, and then returned too quickly. He also admitted feeling lost in the Ranger clubhouse (fluency in Korean only goes so far in Texas). Park is not injury-prone, and in 2003 he should exhibit some improvement simply on the basis of better health and renewal of his preferred conditioning program. Park could rank among the league’s best in strikeouts and should win a fair share of games. In terms of ERA and WHIP, Park ought not to destroy fantasy teams as he did last year, but neither will he offer much help.
I wouldn’t recommend drafting Park in mixed leagues unless you’re desperate for starters in the late rounds. He does have the potential to become a solid waiver-wire pickup, so keep an eye on him. In AL-only leagues, he’s an acceptable middle-round pick. One last item to keep in mind is that every Ranger pitcher is playing against a stacked deck known as The Ballpark In Arlington. Ken Hill and Kenny Rogers (twice) are the only starters to post a sub-4.00 ERA at the Ballpark. Yes, the quality of Ranger starters is an issue, but the Ballpark really does favor hitters quite strongly. Last year, Rangers and their opponents combined to score 11.8 runs per game in the Ballpark compared to 9.5 in other stadia.
Blalock Versus Teixeira
If the Rangers had to make a decision today, I believe they would start HANK BLALOCK at third but bench him against most lefties, use HERBERT PERRY as part-time DH and occasional starter at third and first, and send MARK TEIXEIRA to AAA. Obviously, a strong showing by Teixeira this spring will alter that scenario. Several readers have asked whether Blalock practicing at second means he will move there permanently and supplant Young. It’s a possibility, but one reason for having Blalock practice at second is that the Rangers have very little Major League-quality depth in the middle infield. Should ALEX RODRIGUEZ suffer an injury, Young will move to shortstop, and someone would have to take his place. Thus far, Blalock has started at 3B in both exhibition games against ML teams.
Who Sets The Table?
Frank Catalanotto’s departure left the Rangers without an obvious choice for leadoff hitter. Last year, no one could replace Cat during his injury-marred 2002 and the Rangers finished next-to-last in the AL in on-base percentage from the leadoff slot. Though MICHAEL YOUNG failed spectacularly as the #1 hitter (.263 OBP in 189 at-bats), the Rangers would love for him to reclaim the role. Other candidates include MIKE LAMB, DOUG GLANVILLE (who has a .295 OBP during the last three years), and JERMAINE CLARK (who had a .371 OBP in Triple-A last year). Showalter may decide to use a platoon system for the leadoff spot. Should a clear winner emerge, that player should score a few more runs.
Gonzalez Hurt. Film At Eleven.
You’ll never guess who arrived late to camp, practiced twice, experienced back spasms, and has since missed the last five days including the first two exhibition games of the Cactus League. The spasms reportedly are minor and the decision to keep him out of practice is “precautionary.” The answer: JUAN GONZALEZ. Get used to it. Manager Buck Showalter loathes using one player as a full-time designated hitter. He would prefer to spread the at-bats around to give starters occasional days of half-rest and to keep the bench fresh. A minor but lingering injury to Gonzalez could modify Showalter’s plans.
Analyzing ALEX RODRIGUEZ
2003 PROJECTIONS: Plate Appearances: 700. Batting Average: .310. Runs: 130. Homers: 54. RBI: 135. Steals: 10. On-base Percentage: .400. Slugging Percentage: .630. Upside: Moderate-to-high – he is only 27. Improved health among teammates could help. Downside: Low - hasn’t missed a single game in two years and has average 150 per season as a regular. Overall risk: Very low.
Writing from a fantasy perspective about the best player in baseball is not much of a challenge. Alex Rodriguez plays every game and hits the cover off the ball. What else is there to say? Well, with his already astonishing statistics, it’s astonishing to realize that Rodriguez has more upside than downside. Rodriguez is only 27 and in the prime of his career. As good as he’s been, it’s possible that his previous performances were merely an introduction. He has played in all 324 games and averaged 727 plate appearances per season as a Ranger, though I project 700 PAs on the conservative assumption that he’ll miss a small handful of games.
With A-Rod, only one question matters: Do you draft him with the first pick or instead choose Randy Johnson or Vlad Guerrero? Both graded out higher than A-Rod last year, Guerrero because of his 40 steals and higher average, Johnson because he’s inhuman. Choosing Vlad, you’ll gain 25-30 steals and 15-25 points in batting average but lose 25 runs, 25 RBI and 15 homers. You’ll also have an outfielder instead of a shortstop. Johnson is a four-category monster and he most probably will continue to dominate opposing hitters in 2003. But at 39, he is more likely to suffer an injury than Rodriguez and also more likely to decline. I believe that Rodriguez offers the most value for the least risk. Choose him and sleep peacefully.
Perry hurt. Will Youth Be Served?
HERBERT PERRY, penciled in as part-time 3B and DH, will not play for at least two-to-three weeks because of a sore shoulder and deep bone bruise on his knee. Though MRIs revealed no serious damage, Perry offered a gloomy assessment of his situation, saying “it’s going to be agony” and “I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% (this season).” He was never worth drafting in mixed leagues; for the moment he’s a dubious choice even in most AL-only leagues. Should Perry begin the season on the disabled list, MIKE LAMB and DOUG GLANVILLE could accrue more at-bats as DH. Long-shots RUBEN SIERRA and JERMAINE CLARK also would have a better chance of making the team.
More importantly, Perry’s injury invigorates the previously unlikely scenario of HANK BLALOCK and MARK TEIXEIRA both starting the season in Arlington. The Rangers want both to play every day, whether in Arlington or Oklahoma City. With Perry out, perhaps both could start in Arlington. Potentially, Blalock could play third against righties while Teixeira starts against lefties and spots at 1B and DH against righties. In the short term, both players will see more action in Spring Training games than they otherwise would have. In seven “A” games thus far, Blalock has started five games at 3B and is batting and slugging .286. Blalock also played an errorless one-half of a “B” game at second base. Teixeira is batting .312 and slugging .437 with two starts at third and one at first.
Glanville Makes His Case
4th outfielder DOUG GLANVILLE (impressive in exhibition games so far) may have a substantial supporting role, if not a leading one, in the Rangers’ outfield rotation. With JUAN GONZALEZ’s back spasms reminding us of his frailty, CARL EVERETT’s tenuous hold on centerfield, and a DH-by-committee, Glanville might eke out 450-500 plate appearances. From a team perspective, this is bad news. From a fantasy perspective, Glanville offers some value. If he does play semi-regularly, he should obtain 20 steals and bat respectably (say .270-.280). Nevertheless, in mixed leagues I’d suggest you find your steals elsewhere on draft day. He doesn’t reach base often enough to score a high number of runs and won’t tally many homers or RBI. He’s an adequate space-filler in AL-only leagues.
UGUETH URBINA, the only must-own Ranger pitcher in mixed leagues, trains on his own schedule and has yet to pitch. He’s not hurt. Among the many candidates for back of the rotation, COLBY LEWIS has distinguished himself by tossing five perfect innings over two appearances. Like JOAQUIN BENOIT (and RYAN DRESE if you’re feeling generous), Lewis has shown promise, but I don’t see him and his brethren evolving into quality fantasy pitchers this season.
Analyzing EINAR DIAZ
2003 PROJECTIONS -- Position: Catcher. Spot in Batting Order: #8 or #9. Plate Appearances: 450. Batting Average: .273. Runs: 53. Homers: 4. RBI: 49. Steals: 1. On-base Percentage: .325. Slugging Percentage: .380. Upside: Low – My projections are near his seasonal bests. Downside: Low-to-moderate – He is the #1 catcher but could be lifted frequently for pinch hitters. Overall risk: Low
The average fantasy owner will grimace disdainfully at Einar Diaz’s statistics from last season (.206-34-2-16) and erase Diaz from his draft list and his memory. I say, not so fast. I’m not suggesting Diaz is a good player, but he is better than last season would indicate. Though Diaz played in 102 games in 2002, his season effectively ended April 21st, when 215-pound Bobby Kielty tried to separate him from the ball at home plate. Diaz suffered a broken rib and could not swing the bat without pain. Afterwards, he batted .197 and drove in only 12 runs in his final 86 games. Another collision in August ended his season.
Prior to 2002, Diaz batted .274/.324/.378 and averaged 50 runs, 5 homers, 45 RBI and six steals per 450 plate appearances. As the frontline catcher in a hitter-friendly park, he should achieve similar numbers this season. Upside is minimal. Diaz is 30 years old, a dead-pull hitter despite having minimal power, and is also extremely impatient (one walk per 22.7 PAs). Diaz doesn’t face serious competition for his job; TODD GREENE (who can hit the long ball but offers little else) and 38-year-old CHAD KREUTER are fighting for the backup spot, and prospect GERALD LAIRD is at least one year away. On the other hand, the Rangers probably will pinch-hit for Diaz more than any other starter.
Diaz isn’t worth drafting in mixed leagues with fewer than sixteen teams unless the rosters are unusually large. If you’re catcher gets hurt during the season, Diaz is a tolerable replacement who could provide just enough average, runs and RBI to keep your team afloat. In AL-only leagues, where the catcher position is pitifully weak, Diaz is a bearable late-round pick. I’d much rather own Diaz than “slugger” Geronimo Gil, who batted .220-26-7-32 outside of a 17-game hot streak last season. In sum, you certainly don’t want to go out of your way to acquire Diaz, but you can live with him if you have to.
The Healthy Outfielder
KEVIN MENCH has started six of nine “A” games this spring and is hitting with authority. He shows no lingering effects from the hand injury that marred his rookie campaign. Though he might lose some at-bats if the Rangers decide Everett can’t handle center field, and a terrible start (by him and the Rangers) might condemn him to AAA, the most probable scenario has Mench as the everyday left fielder. Several writers expect Mench to break out this year. He certainly is capable of doing so, but I think modest improvement is more likely. That said, he still should bat .270, smack 20-25 homers and attain 90 RBI if he plays regularly. Meanwhile, JUAN GONZALEZ played and homered in his first “A” game on Thursday. His back spasms have abated, meaning he’ll mash the ball until his next injury.
More News From Third Base
MARK TEIXEIRA continues to impress, batting .333 and slugging .583 while splitting time between 1B and 3B. Thus far, skepticism of his defensive ability has proven to be unfounded. HANK BLALOCK has started more frequently at 3B and also has started two games at second, but he is batting only .211. With only a few games played, every at-bat is worth 40-50 points in average, so the 122 point difference between the two players isn’t what it appears. The Rangers have intimated absolutely nothing about who will make the squad and who will start other than expressing pleasure in Teixeira’s performance. I still consider Blalock to have the lead, but he needs to start hitting soon. HERBERT PERRY remains sidelined indefinitely with a sore shoulder and knee.
Analyzing JUAN GONZALEZ
2003 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF, DH. Slot in Batting Order: #4 or #5. Plate Appearances: 500. Batting Average: .305. Runs: 75. Homers: 25. RBI: 90. Steals: 1. On-base Percentage: .350. Slugging Percentage: .535. Upside: Extreme – If healthy and motivated, he could emulate his 2001 campaign. A season of .315, 95-100 runs, 35 homers, and 125-130 RBI is conceivable. Downside: Extreme – A near-repeat of last year’s disaster is also possible. Even if his thumb is healed, other injuries could slow him to a season of .290, 50 runs, 15 homers, 55 RBI. Overall risk: Extreme.
Juan Gonzalez is a four-category stud when healthy. Oh, but that modifying phrase “when healthy” is a killer. The oft-injured slugger endured his worst season yet in 2002; a tear in the webbing of his thumb prevented him from driving the ball and held him to a dismally low eight homers and .451 slugging percentage. He eschewed off-season surgery for lengthy rest, and he and the Rangers claimed he is fully healed. Perhaps so, but Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus offered a very gloomy forecast on whether Gonzalez’s hand would hold up. It has so far, but Gonzalez already has missed several Spring Training games with back spasms. What’s worse is that his injuries usually are of the “day-to-day” variety and don’t require any DL time, thus frustrating your roster management.
How much time will Gonzalez miss in 2003? As a full-time player, Gonzalez has missed a median of 22 games per season. In three seasons, he has missed eight or fewer games; in six seasons, he missed between 18 and 29 games; and in three other seasons (including 2000 and 2002) he has missed at least 47 games. Excluding strike-shortened years, Gonzalez has accumulated 600 or more plate appearances only three times. His average is 567, but again, his two worst years were in 2000 and 2002. This season, I’m predicting 500 (equivalent to 120-125 games), below his average but far higher than last year’s 296. I also predict better power than last year but less than his career average of .563. Feel free to disagree.
Concerning where to draft him, ESPN, you and I appear to be of the same mind. ESPN ranks him as the 34th best outfielder, and on average he has been the 31st outfielder chosen. My self-developed projections also rank him 31st. If you draft him, you must stash an outfielder on your bench to cover the games Gonzalez will miss. If he starts the season hot, trade him if you can get full value in return. Gonzalez might not slow down, but you’ll get a solid player in return and will have transferred a lot of risk to a league opponent.
The Ongoing Third Base Saga
HANK BLALOCK is hitting better of late, pushing his line up to .267/.371/.400, while MARK TEIXEIRA has an impressive line of .257/.381/.514. Teixeira’s only negative thus far is his 11 strikeouts in 35 at-bats. Sabermetricians don’t sweat the Ks, but the Rangers brass may be slightly more inclined to give him some AAA seasoning because of them. At this point, I stand somewhat shakily by my original prediction that Teixeira will open the season in AAA. I do expect him to join the team by summer and attain 300-400 plate appearances. Meanwhile, HERBERT PERRY remains hobbled by a sore knee and shoulder and won’t play until the last week of Spring Training at the earliest.
Sleepers Among Pitchers? Heavens, No.
Of the Rangers five candidates for the final two rotation spots – JOAQUIN BENOIT, DOUG DAVIS, RYAN DRESE, COLBY LEWIS, and C.J. NITKOWSKI -- none has an ERA below 5.40. Benoit should win one spot, and he and Lewis may become worthwhile fantasy pitchers someday. Nevertheless, avoid them all. Yes, starting pitching in the AL is very thin, what with the mystery meat being offered by Detroit, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, but you still need to look elsewhere. You’re better off waiting until the season starts to see which undrafted pitchers might pay off, then nab them. There’s always a few every year. Maybe you’ll catch this year’s Rodrigo Lopez.
A-Rod Injured, Ranger Fans Faint In Unison.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ has complained of stiffness and fatigue in his left (non-throwing) shoulder and flew to Dallas for tests. At this point, it does not appear serious and doesn’t merit knocking him down in your draft rankings. I’ll update this space as soon as I hear of a prognosis. --- Farewell to Yankees Correspondent Mick Doherty, whose switch from Texas allowed me the opportunity to write these little columns. Interested readers can peruse his work at www.battersbox.ca, where Toronto scribe Kent Williams and friends discuss Blue Jay baseball and beyond. --- Email questions and comments to email@example.com. Archive of previous columns, including detailed analyses of A-Rod, Palmeiro, Park and Diaz, are located at http://srl.home.texas.net. --- Happy 40th Anniversary, Mom and Dad.
Analyzing UGUETH URBINA
2003 PROJECTIONS: Position: Closer. Wins: 2. Saves: 35. ERA: 3.60. WHIP: 1.23. SO: 73. Upside: Low – 40 saves are possible. Stats for relievers fluctuate the most from year to year, and slightly better peripherals are possible. Downside: Low – Is in no danger of losing closer role and has never posted an ERA worse than 4.05 since his rookie season. The downside comes from his pitching style, which is not suited to the Ballpark. Overall risk: Low.
First, the bad news: In 2002, Urbina blew five of twelve saves opportunities when entering the game with a one-run lead. He struggles against lefthanded batters (.267/.343/.478 from 2000-2002, vs. .173/.224/.288 against righties), and unlike Fenway Park and Olympic Stadium, the Ballpark is Valhalla for lefthanded hitters. Likewise, he has evolved into an extreme flyball pitcher, another red flag in a small park with a shaky defensive outfield. Expect a few more home runs allowed. One or two nightmarish outings could thrust his ERA above 4.00 for the year.
Now, the good news: Who cares? Urbina saved 40 games last year. He is a classic, ninth-inning-only “professional closer” whose job is quite secure. The Rangers are not paying him $4 million to mop up for Doug Davis. He pitched more than one inning only three times last year, and 14 of his 40 saves involved pitching one inning to preserve a three-run lead. Nice work if you can get it. Barring a disaster, Urbina will keep his job and save at least 30 games. The 70 strikeouts are a nice bonus, and while his ERA and WHIP are nothing special for a closer, his performance in those areas won’t hurt you. Draft him with confidence.
Analyzing ISMAEL VALDES
2003 PROJECTIONS: Position: #2 Starter. Wins: 11. ERA: 4.50. WHIP: 1.36. SO: 108. Upside: Low-to-moderate – Valdes was betrayed by poor run support and a worse bullpen in 2002. He should win more than nine games. Downside: Low-to-moderate – Valdes’ strikeout rate fell to a shaky 4.7 per nine IP and home run rate increased, yet he lowered his ERA from 4.45 to 4.17. Was he good or lucky? Overall risk: Moderate.
The Rangers wisely scooped up Valdes for a pittance of $2.5 million. Valdes had a 3.93 ERA as a Ranger, but another sub-4.00 performance is unlikely. To an extent, Valdes walked on the lucky side last year, allowing a .253 batting average on balls hit into the field of play (i.e., excluding homers and strikeouts) compared to a career average of .288. Expect him to allow a few more hits in 2003. Valdes pitches well in real-life but doesn’t offer much to fantasy owners, and his home field perpetually threatens to humiliate any pitcher. Save him for a waiver-wire pickup in mixed leagues. He is a solid if unexciting pick in AL-only leagues in the late-middle rounds.
An Inanimate Carbon A-Rod?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ has nothing more (and nothing less) than a herniated disc in his neck. He received a shot to relieve the inflammation and is a expected to resume workouts soon. Whether or when he will appear in another Spring Training game is unknown as of Saturday. Apparently, the injury is minor and in a “good” location compared to the lower back. Is this the kind of injury that could linger? Anything is possible, but no one involved seems to think the situation too serious. If A-Rod does miss significant action, the most likely scenario involves MICHAEL YOUNG moving to shortstop (where he already qualifies in ESPN leagues) and HANK BLALOCK manning second base. Depending on various personnel decisions yet to be made, JERMAINE CLARK could also play 2B.
Latest Installment of “Who’s On Third”
MARK TEIXEIRA leads or co-leads the team in homers, RBI and walks and has a line of .286/.400/.667. Yet, as GM John Hart said Friday, “Do we play Teixeira at third and sit Blalock? Do we play Teixeira at first and sit Rafael Palmeiro? Do we play Blalock and sit Michael Young?" Furthermore, if CARL EVERETT doesn’t play center field regularly and HERBERT PERRY heals quickly, the DH rotation becomes even more crowded. As I’ve said, Teixeira may force himself onto the 25-man roster, but he could also start the season in AAA regardless of how he plays in the spring.
Analyzing CARL EVERETT
2003 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF, DH. Spot in Batting Order: #2 or #6. Plate Appearances: 500. Batting Average: .270. Runs: 67. Homers: 25. RBI: 79. Steals: 4. On-base Percentage: .340. Slugging Percentage: .500. Upside: Moderate-to-high – Everett a stud when healthy; batted .300 with 34 homers and 108 RBI in 2000, in 2003 had .929 OPS after All-Star break. Downside: High – Doesn’t hit lefties, inconsistent, injury-prone, and will lose some plate appearances if not the everyday CF. Overall risk: High.
Let’s not be coy: Carl Everett is a wretched centerfielder. Even if the Rangers sacrifice a goat or translate the runes on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV, Everett isn’t going to get any better. The Rangers will trade him if they find a taker for his gigantic contract, but assuming he stays, they need his bat in the lineup and will have him DH and spot at all three outfield positions. Glanville will gain at-bats as a result, Mench will lose a few, and others in the DH mix will also lose some playing time. Some, but not too much; Everett is terribly injury-prone and has averaged 123 games per season as a regular. Likewise, he has averaged 493 plate over the last six years and qualified for the batting title only three times. Expect some down time.
Everett can still pummel the ball when healthy. In 2002, after a criminally awful three-plus months in which he batted .195 with six homers, he batted .340 and slugged .606 with 10 homers and 41 RBI over his last 50 games. He won’t bat .340 for a full season, but (dare I say it) Everett should play just often enough and just well enough to warrant a late-round selection in mixed leagues. Many owners will glance at his dismal 2002 numbers and ignore him altogether, so you might swipe him in the final round of the draft if you’re not afraid to take a chance. Alas, one final negative note: Everett doesn’t hit lefties well. If you own him and have the flexibility, bench him against Zito, Washburn and their ilk.
Analyzing KEVIN MENCH
2003 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF, DH. Spot in Batting Order: #2, #6 or #7. Plate Appearances: 550. Batting Average: .270. Runs: 75. Homers: 20. RBI: 75. Steals: 1. On-base Percentage: .340. Slugging Percentage: .460. Upside: Moderate – Has shown flashes of brilliance, had 1.024 OPS after first 34 games of career. Downside: Moderate – Streaky and erratic in Majors and during minor-league career. Could be demoted if he starts the year poorly. Overall risk: Moderate.
Several publications have listed Kevin Mench as a breakout candidate. I can’t quite bring myself to do the same; his career stats (minor and major) are too inconsistent for me to recommend him wholeheartedly in mixed leagues. That said, he should put up adequate numbers and show improvement over his 2002 campaign. Though the aforementioned issues with Everett may cut into his playing time, he still should accrue 500 or more plate appearances. In terms of fantasy play, Mench reminds me of Jay Gibbons with a better batting average. Nothing exciting, but he’s a late-round pick you won’t regret later.
Third Base Update
HANK BLALOCK (.302/.388/.488 in spring) will be the third baseman on Opening Day. HERBERT PERRY, honest to a fault, admitted being nowhere near ready to play third base. Though he might be capable of playing first or DH’ing, he’s more likely to begin the season on the DL. The Everett situation may not leave enough at-bats for MARK TEIXEIRA (.269/.387/.635), whom the Rangers want to be an everyday player. If Teixeira starts the season in AAA, Blalock’s backup is MIKE LAMB, an adequate hitter but hamfisted defender.
A-Rod, Glanville, Etc.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ said his rehabilitation to carry into the regular season, though he expects to play. He’s still a first rounder, but probably not the first overall pick. For now, I’d pick Vlad in a 5x5 league. ---- Nothing official has been announced, but DOUG GLANVILLE appears to be the primary center fielder. Glanville is batting .340 but has yet to walk in 51 plate appearances. He’ll offer limited value in 5x5 leagues, less in sabermetric leagues.
Teixeira In, Blalock Over, Young Out
Not only is the second base job undecided, but putative third baseman HANK BLALOCK has the edge over incumbent MICHAEL YOUNG. I have to say I’m very surprised. Not that I think it is a bad idea, but the Rangers’ countenance of such a decision this soon amazes me. Blalock struggled mightily at the plate last year, and the Rangers ostensibly did not want to complicate his life by moving him to a more difficult position. Yet for now, they appear satisfied that Blalock can provide, at the least, defense equivalent to the departed Frank Catalanotto. If Blalock does move to second on a permanent basis, he could start against righties while Young gets the worse end of the platoon, and MARK TEIXEIRA would definitely starts most games at third. Plan accordingly.
Glanville In, Everett Around, Mench Impaired
Two days after I offered his analysis, KEVIN MENCH strained a back muscle and may begin the season on the disabled list. The Rangers do not expect him to miss more than a handful of regular season games. If you play in an AL-only league, be ready to grab him if a careless owner drops him to the waiver wire. Also, DOUG GLANVILLE earned the starting CF spot based on his strong defense (and Everett’s lack thereof). I still expect CARL EVERETT and KEVIN MENCH to attain 500 plate appearances. Between three outfield spots, the DH, and the certainty that JUAN GONZALEZ will miss his share of games, they will receive ample playing time.
Analyzing Doug Glanville
2003 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF. Spot in Batting Order: #1 or #9. Plate Appearances:: 550. Batting Average: .275. Runs: 70. Homers: 9. RBI: 45. Steals: 23. On-base Percentage: .310. Slugging Percentage: .380. Upside: Moderate – If he retains his starting role throughout the season, he could score 85 runs, drive in 55, and steal 30 bases. Downside: Moderate – Batted .249/.292/.344 last year, unacceptable numbers no matter how much better than Everett his defense is. Overall risk: Moderate.
Me, January 2nd: “The Rangers will suffer if [Glanville] leads off at all or tallies more than 300 plate appearances.” Ranger fans, prepare to suffer. Even with a healthy knee, CARL EVERETT proved incapable of playing centerfield, so the Rangers appointed Glanville the starter. This, by itself, is defensible, but not if they plan to bat him in the leadoff position. In 1999, he walked at a career-best rate of once per 14.3 plate appearances, and, not coincidentally, batted a career-best .325. Since then, he’s walked once per 21.2 plate appearances and batted .263 with a miserable OBP of .295. Guess which path he’s likely to follow in 2003? This spring, he has yet to walk in 55 plate appearances.
My projections are based on about 120-130 games played. Obviously, playing in 150 games would improve his counting stats, as would batting leadoff. It’s also possible that Glanville could achieve a Ballpark-induced batting average above .280. On the downside, if the Rangers are effectively eliminated by late summer, they may look into the future by putting MICHAEL YOUNG or JERMAINE CLARK in center field. In mixed leagues, Glanville provides steals and runs but little else. His batting average is more palatable in AL-only leagues.
Rotation In Spin Cycle
ISMAEL VALDES, not CHAN HO PARK, will start Opening Day. Valdes by far has pitched better than any other starting pitcher in camp (faint praise indeed), and the Rangers want to relieve some of the pressure Park has put on himself. JOHN THOMSON, with no “p,” is the third starter. The team is no closer to determining the fourth and fifth starters than when Spring Training began. Would-be starters JOAQUIN BENOIT, DOUG DAVIS, COLBY LEWIS, RYAN DRESE and C.J. NITKOWSKI continue to make Buck Showalter gulp doughnut-sized tablets of Rolaids every time they pitch. The Rangers will use only four starters over the first twelve games, so their fifth starter definitely will have a 0.00 ERA going into mid-April.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ is improving and may play in a minor-league game on Sunday. HERBERT PERRY might avoid the disabled list but will be limited to pinch hitting duties early in the season. The extra bench spot created by the four-man rotation may create a roster spot for RUBEN SIERRA, who has batted well this spring. Sierra could DH if Mench misses any games but won’t play much when Mench, Everett, Glanville and Gonzalez are all healthy. Hmmm. Sierra might play more than I think.
Let the Games Begin
First of all, I’ve received several emails bemoaning my lack of an update since the 22nd. Criticism accepted. Unfortunately, I had an intense, week-long business trip that demanded all of my time. (If you need any information about large, vacant retail buildings in Abilene, Texas, I’m your man.) Would that I could reverse the situation, but the job that pays the bills must take precedence. In the future, I will try to provide at least a modest update during the week regardless of my schedule. But enough about me. The TEXAS RANGERS open the season tonight against the defending World Series champs from Anaheim. The game is on ESPN. The Mouse demands your attention.
Your 25-man Roster
PITCHERS: #1 starter Ismael Valdes, #2 starter Chan Ho Park, #3 starter John Thomson (who may miss a start with an ankle sprain), #4 starter Colby Lewis, closer Ugueth Urbina, and relievers Francisco Cordero, Esteban Yan, Jay Powell, Aaron Fultz, Reynaldo Garcia and C.J. Nitkowski. Ryan Drese will become the fifth starter when needed. CATCHERS: Einar Diaz, Todd Greene, Chad Kreuter. INFIEDLERS: 1B Rafael Palmeiro, 2B Michael Young, 3B/2B Hank Blalock, SS Alex Rodriguez, 3B/DH Mark Teixeira, 2B/CF Jermaine Clark, and 3B/1B/DH Mike Lamb. OUTFIELDERS: LF/CF Carl Everett, CF Doug Glanville, RF/DH Juan Gonzalez, OF/DH Ruben Sierra. On the DL: OF Kevin Mench, RP Todd Van Poppel and 3B/DH Herbert Perry. RP Jeff Zimmerman and OF Rusty Greer are also disabled.
Who Will Start?
In the short run, the lineup should approximate the following: Glanville in CF, Everett in LF, Rodriguez at SS, Gonzalez in RF, Palmeiro at 1B, Teixeira at DH, Blalock at 3B, Young at 2B, and Diaz at C. Kreuter will catch for Chan Ho Park, resuming the role he held in Los Angeles. Occasionally, Blalock may play at second against righties while Young sits. Against lefties, Blalock may sit while Teixeira plays third and Sierra holds the DH spot. Greene will pinch-hit for Diaz and sub at catcher, Clark will pinch-run, and Lamb will practice his sunflower-seed-spitting techniques from the bench.
In the long run, well, complications arise. When Mench comes off the DL, Everett will spend most of his time at DH, forcing Teixeira, Blalock and Young into an awkward rotation between second and third. Whoever hits worst among the three may find himself on the bench more often than he’d prefer. If Teixeira flops, an improbable but not inconceivable occurrence (see Blalock, 2002), he could spend a while in AAA. Instability is the bane of fantasy owners, but in real life the Rangers already look towards 2004 and will offer a variety of lineups this season. And, in all likelihood, Showalter’s plans will be subsumed by the inevitable injuries to the Rangers’ more fragile players.
Words About Teixeira
Mark Teixeira may become the next fantasy Albert Pujols, or the next Hank Blalock. Odds are that he will be neither. Almost all true rookies (those with zero Major League experience) are NOT quality fantasy players. Albert Pujols was a near-singular occurrence in the annals of fantasy baseball. Teixeira has all the potential in the world, but unless you’re in a keeper league, you don’t own his potential, you only own his next 162 games. So, expect some slumps, expect a stint in AAA. If Teixeira finishes with Corey Koskie-type numbers, that will be a fantastic season for someone with 86 games of pro experience, none above AA.
On The Waiver Wire
Among Ranger outfielders, only JUAN GONZALEZ is owned universally in mixed leagues. Among the others, CARL EVERETT provides the most short-term help. He should post respectable numbers (gigantic caveat coming up), “when healthy.” DOUG GLANVILLE isn’t worth much unless you’re desperate for steals, while KEVIN MENCH is on the DL until mid-April. If someone in an AL-only league drops him, pick him up fast. MICHAEL YOUNG and HANK BLALOCK are widely available but not worth picking up, though Blalock is worth watching to see if he picks up starts at 2B. No starting pitchers are widely owned in mixed leagues and none deserves to be. RUBEN SIERRA lucked into making the roster and probably will not play enough to please the 89% of you who own him in AL-only leagues.
The Rangers’ first 25 games are against Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle, New York and Boston. How wonderful. ---- Jamey Newberg’s Ranger Minor League Report (www.newbergreport.com) is an absolute must-read for serious Ranger fans or those needing more information about upcoming Rangers prospects.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Spring in Texas means three things: 1) Bluebonnets. 2) Women wearing fewer clothes. 3) The Rangers’ white-knuckle death-grip on last place in the ERA standings. The Rangers began 2003 with a sparkling, hope-inducing victory against the World Champion, chemistry-rich, good-times-all-around Anaheim Angels. They promptly forfeited their goodwill with two grim defeats punctuated by yet another spectacular display of ineptitude by CHAN HO PARK (even with personal catcher CHAD KREUTER behind the plate). As for JOHN THOMSON, he pitched better than his line suggests, though that’s little comfort to his owners in AL-only leagues.
Despite my comments above (and especially despite the doom-laden assessments in the D/FW media), hopelessness is ill-advised. The Rangers’ first 25 games are a living nightmare, nothing but the AL West plus New York and Boston. In my opinion, a 10-15 record over this stretch would be satisfactory. In real life and from a fantasy standpoint, the Rangers should be expected to struggle for a while.
Perry arriving, so who’s departing?
HERBERT PERRY should return during this weekend from the disabled list. The Rangers have not decided who will be demoted to create room for Perry. I see four possibilities: 1) MIKE LAMB, who had a miserable spring and whose one true skill (lefthanded bat off the bench) seems superfluous with the talent around him; 2) one of the two backup catchers, TODD GREENE or CHAD KREUTER; 3) one of the backup outfielders, RUBEN SIERRA or JERMAINE CLARK; or 4) MARK TEIXEIRA. Teixeira has started the season oh-for-seven with a walk. That’s not a crime in most states, but as Teixeira had never played above AA before this week, some Triple-A seasoning might be in order. Such a move would leave the fielding-impaired Lamb to back up HANK BLALOCK, since Perry will be unable to play third for a while.
I think Teixeira survives this round. But with TODD VAN POPPEL, KEVIN MENCH (out another 7-14 days), and RYAN DRESE on the horizon, Teixeira may find himself spending the nights in Oklahoma City for a while. Don’t be too surprised if it happens, and be patient. He’ll be back. As for Perry, he doesn’t have much to do if Teixeira stays with the big boys. He’ll DH occasionally, pinch-hit and might sub for Palmeiro once in a blue moon, but that’s about it. If Teixeira does depart, Perry will see more time at DH, but even that could change when Mench returns and shoves CARL EVERETT into the crowded DH mix. Unless someone else is injured (always a possibility with this club), Perry is likely to disappoint fantasy owners even in AL-only leagues. Only the desperate need apply.
Blalock Visits Second Base
In ESPN leagues, three starts or five appearances at a position conveys eligibility. Hank Blalock started at second base for the first time on Wednesday, partly to give Teixeira a chance to play third, and partly to give MICHAEL YOUNG a respite from a tough righthanded starter. Likewise, when the Rangers face Oakland’s murderous lefthanders next week, Blalock may ride the pine. Expect Showalter to continue this semi-platoon as he tries to give Teixeira, Blalock and Young ample playing time while eliminating difficult matchups. Meanwhile, Young is fantasy-eligible at shortstop, is widely available, and would make an adequate replacement for Derek Jeter.
Eliminate Mediocrity From Your Life
ESTEBAN YAN is owned in 62% of AL-only leagues. I can only assume his high ownership is due to the draft ranking earned from his closer status in 2002. Since ESPN will not entrust me with such complicated html coding as bolds and italics, I can only yell: DROP HIM! DROP HIM IMMEDIATELY! Yan is not the closer in Texas. He isn’t even the setup man. The only way he’ll receive any save opportunities is if UGUETH URBINA and FRANCISCO CORDERO both move to Norway. Yan has a career ERA of 5.27 and a WHIP of 1.47 in 438 innings. Someone better – a Groom, Bradford, Donnelly, or Hasegawa – should be available.
With the move of their Spring Training home from Florida to Arizona, the Rangers changed affiliations for all but one of their minor-league teams. The AAA team remains the Oklahoma Redhawks. The AA team is now the Frisco (TX) Roughriders, located a scant forty miles from The Ballpark. The high-A club is the Stockton (CA) Ports, the low-A team the Clinton (IA) Lumberkings. The Rangers also have a short-season A-squad in Spokane and a rookie club at the base camp in Surprise, AZ.
Valdes for MVP
Sure, A-Rod, Tejada and Giambi are capable baseball players, but ISMAEL VALDES is the most valuable player in baseball. Laugh if you will, but imagine the Rangers be without him? Ranger pitchers lacking the “Valdes” surname have combined for an 8.12 ERA and 2.00 WHIP, plus six hit batters, four wild pitches, a balk, and seven stolen bases allowed with no runners caught.
Hank Blalock Explodes
Thanks to his superhuman line of .500-6-3-6-0, ownership of HANK BLALOCK has increased from 16% to 80% in one week. Pessimist that I am, I predict he won’t maintain that pace for the entire season. Most regular players have weeks like his at some point during the season; Blalock’s week stands out for occurring so early. Nevertheless, Blalock looks fully recovered from last year’s debacle and has staked claim on the #2 spot in the batting order ahead of A-Rod, Palmeiro and Gonzalez. He’ll satisfy owners looking for respectable production and is far more likely to bat .300 than hit 20 homers.. Unfortunately, Texas faces three consecutive lefties starting Tuesday, and Blalock probably will start only one of those games. You’re best off benching him until Friday.
Mark Teixeira Stars In Dubious Role
That role being the one filled by Hank Blalock in 2002. Teixeira is oh-for-the-season with one walk. Pitchers are throwing him almost nothing but breaking pitches and daring him to hit them. To some extent, he’s just experiencing bad luck. Several times, he’s hit the ball very hard but directly into a fielder’s glove. Teixeira probably will survive the first “cut” that will occur when HERBERT PERRY returns, but he may end up in AAA by month’s end. I still expect 350-400 plate appearances in the Majors this season. The good news is that he should start each of the next three games, all against lefties. The bad news is that those lefties are Zito, Mulder and Lilly.
Chan Ho Park Implodes
Two starts, 5.2 innings pitched, eleven hits, two homers, three hit batters, six walks, three strikeouts. Even with personal catcher/therapist CHAD KREUTER behind the plate, CHAN HO PARK has declined from 2002. His velocity is down and his location is nonexistent. For the first time, Ranger management is considering removing him from the rotation. His future performance is virtually impossible to predict, which, when you think about it, is a worse situation than knowing for certain that he’ll be awful. Even in AL-only leagues, his owners should look for a replacement. At the least, bench him until he shows his can still pitch. I own him in an AL-only league, benched him prior to his last start, and expect to replace him this week.
Valdes and Lewis: Blistering
ISMAEL VALDES has a problem with blistering, and I don’t mean the speed of his pitches. No, Valdes’ fingers tend to blister while he pitches. He will make his next appointed start but probably will be limited to 80-90 pitches. Valdes offers a solid WHIP, mediocre ERA, and few strikeouts. On Saturday, COLBY LEWIS fulfilled some of his potential by striking out eight and allowing three runs in 6.2 innings in an 8-4 win. Many AL-only owners will take a chance on him, but not with my recommendation. Lewis has #2-#3 starter potential (on a good staff, not just the Rangers) but has had minimal success prior to Saturday night. Considering his home park and tough upcoming schedule (Oakland twice, Anaheim and New York), he’s a huge risk.
During the first six games, ostensible #1 catcher EINAR DIAZ has only three starts, Teixeira three, Young four, Everett four, and Sierra four. Platoons and time-sharing arrangements are the ants at your fantasy picnic, but if you own any of these players, you’d better cover your potato salad. Early on, manager Buck Showalter wants to give everyone some action and give some putative starters extra rest. Also, he has to decide who will be optioned to AAA when HERBERT PERRY returns. Perry might return by the end of the week. Candidates for demotion include MIKE LAMB, JERMAINE CLARK and the aforementioned Teixeira. Everyday players thus far are Palmeiro, Rodriguez, Blalock, Glanville and Gonzalez. Except for Blalock, they should start almost every game when healthy.
On The Farm Or On The Mend
Outfielder CARL EVERETT has a mildly sore quadricep and may not play with much frequency this week. Outfielder KEVIN MENCH should return in about two weeks. Reliever TODD VAN POPPEL, out with a groin injury, may spend some time in the minors building his endurance so that he can become a starter. Eventual fifth starter RYAN DRESE was drilled in his warmup start for AA Frisco, while rotation reject DOUG DAVIS pitched brilliantly in an Opening Day win for AAA Oklahoma.
A Shaft Of Gold When All Around Is Dark
Down 4-0 in the fourth inning against Oakland on Thursday and staring a 2-7 record in the face, the Rangers staged an impressive and inspiring comeback victory, thus temporarily lifting the murky, soup-thick dread and fatalism that permeates this franchise when it plays a division opponent Okay, perhaps that’s an overstatement. In any case, after Friday night’s equally improbable victory (Chan Ho Park threw 114 pitches in five innings, walking seven, but surrendered only one run), the Rangers have a tolerable 4-6 record ten games into their 25-game fright-fest against Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim, New York, and Boston.
Starters and Would-Be Starters
MARK TEIXEIRA, who inaugurated his career with sixteen hitless at-bats, finally gave his owners reason to celebrate with three hits in his last six at-bats including his first home run. He has started six of ten games, a trend likely to continue assuming he stays when Mench and Perry return. His situation remains fluid: improved results will merit extra at-bats, continued struggle may result in demotion to AAA. Meanwhile, HANK BLALOCK started two of the three games against Oakland’s all-lefty rotation, more than I expected, but went 1-for-8. He has appeared only once at second base and probably will replace MICHAEL YOUNG only against tough righties. He’ll get 2B eligibilty in ESPN leagues in late May at this rate.
DOUG GLANVILLE’s season is unfolding according to schedule. He should hit better than .227 but the rest is classic Doug: good production in steals, an occasional home run, few RBIs and not nearly as many runs as a leadoff hitter should score. Nevertheless, he appears to be in no danger of losing his job. EINAR DIAZ, just barely worth owning in AL-only leagues, should play more often over the coming weeks. RAFAEL PALMEIRO took the day off Thursday; expect the same from JUAN GONZALEZ in the near future. Gonzalez has commanded premium value in several trades (Mussina, Oswalt, Matt Morris, Posada, et al.), and his owners with already solid outfields should consider dealing him while his value is high.
Roster Manoeuvres In The Dark
In need of a fifth starter, the Rangers recalled RYAN DRESE to start Saturday’s game in Seattle. Drese is respectful of his elders and feeds stray kittens, but fantasy owners should avoid him like toxic waste. MIKE LAMB, who had performed respectably in a sub/pinch-hit role in 2002 but flatlined this spring, was optioned to Oklahoma. Outfielder KEVIN MENCH should return sometime next week. His arrival could signal the departure of a backup catcher, RUBEN SIERRA, JERMAINE CLARK or Teixeira. Mench should start about four games per week but might be eased into regular playing time. CARL EVERETT’s status will suffer only slightly if SIERRA is optioned for Mench. HERBERT PERRY now has a strained oblique muscle to compliment his sore shoulder and knee. He may miss another two weeks.
Ranger starters have a 1.92 WHIP, just slightly below my WHIP as a pitcher in co-rec softball. CHAN HO PARK probably salvaged his rotation spot for the time being despite walking seven in five innings Friday. JOHN THOMSON pitched brilliantly in a 2-1 loss to Oakland on Tuesday. He’ll do that occasionally. In deep AL-only leagues he’s an acceptable risk. Less acceptable is COLBY LEWIS, who walked eight in 3.2 innings Thursday, dismaying owners who picked him up against my advice. Lewis is a very promising pitcher, but promises won’t win your fantasy league. Speaking of advice, ISMAEL VALDES responded to my “solid WHIP” comment by allowing nine runners in four innings on Wednesday. Thanks, Izzy. Still, he remains the best Ranger starter to own if you must.
The relievers have fared better, posting a 1.68 WHIP and 5.40 ERA. Success is relative in Rangerland. UGUETH URBINA has four saves in four chances. Among other relievers, only FRANCISCO CORDERO offers any value, and only in AL-only leagues and deep mixed leagues. AARON FULTZ (who is nobody’s LOOGY, Gizzi!) has pitched very well but is more likely to regress toward his career ERA of 4.59 than continue his recent dominance. Don’t waste your time. The other relievers are mostly overpaid mediocrities including the still hideously over-owned ESTEBAN YAN, who won’t save a thing unless he clips the Chips Ahoy coupon out of the Sunday paper.
We’ve Been Here Before, Or Have We?
The pitching defies expletive-free description The hitting is paradoxically heavy in homers but deficient in runs. Despite having a new manager, the Rangers insist on placing their worst hitter in the leadoff spot game after game. And yet… the Rangers show signs of improvement. Their efforts do not seem so futile. The distance between them and their division opponents is not as great as it once was. Small steps, perhaps, but when your favorite team has finished last three years running, you look for what you can.
Platoon Blues Part 1: Blalock
Despite starting the year at a torrid pace of .423/.464/.731, HANK BLALOCK has started only two of five games against lefthanded pitching. Annoying as that may be to his owners, it’s not without good cause. In his brief career, Blalock has batted .308/.382/.500 against righties and .075/.159/.075 against lefties (3-for-40 with no extra base hits and three walks). Not to say that Blalock can’t hit lefties, but he hasn’t so far. Hence, even if Blalock does start against a lefty, he’s not helping your fantasy team. Ideally, owners should have a backup 3B to start when Blalock faces a lefty. Blalock has only one start at second base, back on April 2. Blalock might start occasionally at second, but his owners are better off assuming he won’t gain 2B eligibility any time soon.
Platoon Blues Part 2: Teixeira
MARK TEIXEIRA has started eleven of sixteen games, including five-of-five against lefties and six-of-eleven against righties. GM John Hart has assured the populace that Teixeira is in no danger of being demoted. Press statements aren’t made under oath (ever listened to Ari Fleischer?), so take Hart’s for what you will. Regardless, Teixeira must hit better or the Rangers will have no choice but to send him to AAA for a while. Though it’s of little consolation to fantasy owners, Teixeira is walking at a rate than once-per-ten plate appearances and isn’t striking out excessively often. A good batting eye indicates (but doesn’t guarantee) future success, so he should show improvement in the not-too-distant future.
Mench Returns, Glanville Departs, Everett Belts
DOUG GLANVILLE pulled a hamstring running to first on Monday and was placed on the DL Thursday. Stash him on your DL if you must; better yet, scan the waiver wire for a replacement for the .200-hitting outfielder. Glanville shouldn’t miss beyond the minimum of fifteen days. In the meantime, the Rangers recalled RYAN CHRISTENSON to replace Glanville in the lineup. He should start most games in center during Glanville’s absence. He hit well in AAA and Spring Training but has a career line of .232/.313/.343 in the Majors. He might offer some short-term help to owners in deep AL-only leagues.
Also recalled Thursday, a day earlier than expected, was outfielder KEVIN MENCH. Mench, like Everett, Blalock and Teixeira, will start often but not every day. Presumably, Mench’s return signals the end of Buck Showalter’s queasy fascination with RUBEN SIERRA. Sierra’s owners shouldn’t cut him quite yet but should prepare to in the near future. Fellow outfielder CARL EVERETT is batting .348-13-5-8-1 and getting some attention in mixed leagues. Through Thursday, his batting average is 70 points above his career average, and his slugging percentage is over 200 points above his career line. So, don’t expect this trend to continue. Still, Everett is as healthy as can be and should offer respectable production in mixed leagues demanding five outfielders (such as ESPN).
Ranger Starting Pitching
By definition, Ranger starting pitchers are erratic. If you glanced only at the most recent starts of JOHN THOMSON, ISMAEL VALDES, and even CHAN HO PARK, you’d see some very solid performances. But only Valdes has any business belonging on a mixed-league roster, and only deep leagues at that. Thomson has talent but his peripheral worry me; his K/BB ratio of 16/2 and ground/fly ratio of 2.45 are way out of line with his career stats. Park just worries me, period. I dropped him in my AL-only league. Most of his value comes from strikeouts, but he has only ten in four starts so far. COLBY LEWIS is promising but too green for a fantasy team. RYAN DRESE pitched reasonably well on Thursday, but Showalter let him throw an unconscionable, inexcusable 137 pitches.
HERBERT PERRY, nursing a strained oblique muscle as well as a sore shoulder and knee, won’t return before the end of the month. If fact, he broached the possibility of surgery if he doesn’t improve soon. The Rangers have every Monday off until June 23. ---- I read that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are the odds-on favorites to represent their parties in the 2008 presidential election. If so, I may become the most avid Ranger fan in all of Canada.
With six games remaining in their 25-game opening stretch/nightmare against Anaheim, Oakland, Seattle, New York and Oakland, the Rangers stand at 8-11. An 8-11 record is hardly impressive, but compared to last year’s 5-13 start, it’s progress. The Rangers will face the daunting rotation of Pedro, Wakefield, Lowe, Mussina, Wells and Weaver this week before settling into considerably easier competition. After this week, 24 of the next 30 games are against the Jays, Rays, Orioles and Indians.
Gonzalez Goes On Spring Break…
JUAN GONZALEZ is batting a less-than-robust .175/.195/.175 with one run and zero RBIs in his last ten games. I wouldn’t read too much into his slump. All players experience them; his stands out for occurring so early in the season. By all accounts, the hand injury that ruined his 2002 campaign has not resurfaced. After six games against New York and Boston, the Rangers’ schedule eases considerably, with 24 of 30 games against the Tribe, Jays, Rays, and Orioles. A large handful of at-bats against Victor Zambrano and his ilk should produce more attractive statistics from Juan.
…While Teixeira Returns From His
Since his 0-for-16 start, MARK TEIXEIRA is batting a respectable .250/.365/.472. Teixeira also has started six consecutive games leading into Tuesday, but for now I don’t expect him to play more often than he has so far. He has started six of eleven against righthanded starters and all eight games against lefties. Fellow third sacker HANK BLALOCK will continue to start only sporadically against lefties.
Enjoy the Ride
CARL EVERETT, bestowed with the dual honors of AL Player of the Week and Most Added in ESPN Fantasy Leagues, is generously making me appear informed. I believed Everett would play just often enough and just well enough to merit a late-round pick in mixed leagues, and he’s done that and much more. That said, I still wouldn’t count on him repeating his monster years of 1999-2000. The soon-to-be-32 outfielder has never missed fewer than twenty games in a season. Enjoy the ride, but don’t be surprised or disappointed when he tails off or gets hurt. Everett is on pace to hit 60 homers with 85 RBI. Guess which one is more likely to occur.
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Injured
DOUG GLANVILLE’s hammy is not improving and the Rangers fear he will not return from the DL after the minimum fifteen days. His owners in AL-only leagues probably have to hold on to him but should scour the waiver wire for a permanent replacement. Temporary centerfielder RYAN CHRISTENSON is better than nothing, but not by much. Starter ISMAEL VALDES will not pitch until Saturday because of ever-present blisters and a shoulder described by Buck Showalter as “barky.” According to dictionary.com, that means Valdes’s shoulder is “covered with, or contain[s], bark.” Valdes and his barky shoulder will face the seven-runs-per-game-scoring Yankees, so consider benching him that day.
Colby Lewis’s Siren Song
COLBY LEWIS is getting some attention in AL-only leagues (and even in my 20-team mixed league) thanks to his strong performance against Oakland on Sunday. Lewis has a promising future, but in the win-now world of single-season fantasy ball, he’s a fraud. When I project a pitcher’s fantasy performance for the immediate future, I only glance at the ERA but scrutinize the peripherals: WHIP, K/BB ratio, HR/IP ratio, etc. Lewis’s peripherals are atrocious. A pitcher with a 1.84 WHIP will not maintain a 4.43 ERA for long. Lewis has walked 16 in his last 15.2 innings pitched and has a K/BB ratio of .79. In other words, more walks than strikeouts. Barring sudden improvement, his ERA will hop back into the 5.00s before long. Lewis pitches Friday against the ultra-patient Yankees.
Putative ace ISMAEL VALDES has joined the ever-growing Disabled List with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. The condition wasn’t deemed serious enough to merit anything more than rest, so Valdes should not miss much time beyond the required fifteen days. His replacement will be DOUG DAVIS, who pitched terribly in March, was outrighted but cleared waivers, and has since pitched very well in AAA including a tremendous (and completely uncharacteristic) 1/18 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Davis has pitched brilliantly on occasion in the big leagues but usually has been a low-strikeout, high-WHIP type who teeters on the edge of disaster. Owners in deep AL-only leagues can keep an eye on him, but otherwise, don’t bother.
Glanville Out Longer
DOUG GLANVILLE, already on the DL with a strained hamstring, was discovered to have a torn tendon that the hamstring pull aggravated. Glanville elected to have surgery on the tendon and will not return until late May. Unless you own him in a 12-team AL-only league or have an open DL slot, you should find a permanent replacement. RYAN CHRISTENSON, who is similar to Glanville but with more walks and a lower batting average, owns centerfield for 20-25 more games.
Mench Annoys The Faithful
Fresh off the DL, KEVIN MENCH has joined the rather large list of semi-platooned Rangers, including HANK BLALOCK, MARK TEIXEIRA, CARL EVERETT, and RUBEN SIERRA. Mench has started five of eight games since his return, doubtless frustrating owners who held him since Spring Training. I expected him to play more often, but most likely the Rangers are babying him to avoid a recurrence of his strained oblique muscle.
These players require active ownership to maximize their value. Thus far, Blalock has never missed a start against a righthander but hasn’t played much (or well) against lefties. Teixeira always starts against lefties but has started only 8 of 15 against a righty. Everett has no apparent usage pattern, but will sit less frequently as long as his hot streak continues. As for Mench, he hasn’t been around long enough to establish a trend, but for what it’s worth, he’s started every possible game against a lefty but just two of five against righties. I’d expect him to start roughly 75% of the time. Sierra has started only three of eight since Mench’s return. He has value only in deep AL-only leagues. Owners in smaller leagues should cut bait.
Familiar with “Component ERA?” It’s a formula devised by Bill James to measure a pitcher’s performance based on peripheral stats. To some extent, it measures how lucky or lucky a pitcher has been. Right now, you’ll find no two luckier pitchers than JOHN THOMSON and COLBY LEWIS, both of whom have real-life ERAs of about 4.50 and Component ERAs in excess of 6.00. Why the discrepancy? In Thomson’s case, it’s the .319 average and .578 slugging percentage he’s allowed. For Lewis, it’s the 23 walks in 28.1 innings. Despite my prior warning, Lewis tossed another Lewis-like semi-precious gem Friday, allowing three runs in six innings to the Yankees despite surrendering six hits and five walks. Owners of Thomson and Lewis should perpetually scan the waiver wire for a replacement.
Winning The Old-Fashioned Way
Way back in 1999, the Rangers won a club-record 95 games despite allowing 5.3 runs per game. A titanic offense and solid bullpen offset what may have been the worst starting rotation ever for a division-winning club. The just-completed series in Toronto evoked that magical season, as the Rangers took two of three despite allowing 20 runs, including 12 earned runs in just 13 innings by the starters. The Rangers now face a floundering Tribe and hope to reach .500 despite a rotation that currently features John Thomson as its ace.
Mench A Redhawk
KEVIN MENCH, generously allotted seven starts and 34 plate appearances by Buck Showalter to make his mark, was demoted to AAA to make room for pitcher Joaquin Benoit. Mench should return when Gonzalez or Everett suffer the inevitable injury, but he’s no longer worth holding in any league. RUBEN SIERRA and MARK TEIXEIRA should receive more at-bats as a result. Both should play often enough to merit ownership in AL-only leagues. In mixed leagues, neither will play often enough or well enough to pick up, though I can sympathize with those holding on to Teixeira. Teixeira is batting an adequate .250/.345/.458 since his 0-for-16 start. Teixeira should always start against lefties; unfortunately, the only known lefty starter over the next week is Sabathia on Sunday.
Part of this “job” is to predict what WILL happen, not what I WANT to happen. In the case of RUBEN SIERRA, I suppose I’ve let desire trump judgment, because Sierra has started fairly often despite my frequent assertions that he isn't worth owning. During the last nine games through Friday, Sierra had six starts while KEVIN MENCH and MARK TEIXEIRA each had three. To some extent, Teixeira and Mench lost at-bats because of the hot starts of HANK BLALOCK and CARL EVERETT. That is understandable. But considering that this team is playing for the future, starting a mediocre 37-year-old over a promising 24-year-old outfielder and a 23-year-old future stud is a remarkably poor decision. Of course, my opinion on this subject is worth exactly as much as I get paid to write this column.
Rotation In Flux
Another year, another stupid prediction regarding CHAN HO PARK. 13 wins? A 4.50 ERA? Sure, Scott. At least I did say (back on Feb. 28) that “I wouldn’t recommend drafting Park in mixed leagues unless you’re desperate for starters in the late rounds.” Unfortunately, I also said that “in AL-only leagues, [Park is] an acceptable middle-round pick.” Apparently Park’s back has been ailing him all spring and is responsible for his decline in velocity. Well, perhaps. Park is eligible to return on May 12, not that you should care.
The likewise-disabled ISMAEL VALDES is throwing in the bullpen and should return sometime next week. DOUG DAVIS, who pitched poorly against the Yankees in his call-up start, was summarily dismissed and then claimed by Toronto. He’ll enter their rotation but does not come recommended. His departure and the injuries to Valdes and Park have forced the Rangers to replenish their rotation in the form of JOAQUIN BENOIT and (gulp) TODD VAN POPPEL. Benoit has pitched respectably in AAA but very erratically in the Majors. Barring his capture of lightning in a bottle, he should return to AAA when Valdes returns. Van Poppel has been on the DL all season and will be making his debut. Even in AL-only leagues, they’re trouble.
A Slight Uptick
EINAR DIAZ has hit below my modest expectations, but with TODD GREENE’s injury and CHAD KREUTER’s release, Diaz will play much more often in the near term. Considering that the Rangers face only Toronto and Cleveland through May 11, AL-only owners desperate for catching should consider Diaz as a short-term solution. For that matter, any available Ranger should receive a slight boost from the relatively easy opposition coming up.
Blalock Returns to Earth
HANK BLALOCK, batting a white-hot .421/.468/.702 on April 21, has batted a more modest .275/.341/.400 in ten games since. He does have nine runs and five RBI over that stretch. Blalock also hit five homers in his first thirteen game but none in his next thirteen games. In terms of power, the real Hank Blalock lies somewhere in-between. Expect about 15-20 from him for the season.
Also expect Blalock to continue to sit against tough lefties. Showalter’s semi-platoon of Blalock may annoy his owners, but it shouldn’t. In 54 plate appearances against lefthanded pitchers, he’s batted .102 with no extra base hits. Thus, keeping his rear end on a pine plank every so often will help his batting average and other “rate” stats and won’t affect his “counting” stats very much. Ideally, your bench includes another 3B-eligible player with whom to create your own platoon.
Will Teixeira Join Mench?
As hinted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, MARK TEIXEIRA may be sent to AAA Oklahoma when HERBERT PERRY returns, perhaps by the end of this week. (Perry won’t help anyone outside of medium-to-large AL-only leagues.) Teixeira started thirteen of the first nineteen games but only four of twelve since. Showalter and Company claim they want to get him more plate appearances but have not done so. Teixeira’s overall numbers (.194/.289/.343) look bleak, but he is batting a more respectable .255/.345/.451 since an 0-for-16 start.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, unfortunately. Teixeira is the opposite of Blalock, batting .357 against lefties and just .077 against righties. The Rangers should see only three lefthanded starters over the next two weeks. Also, his usual followers in the batting order (Young, Diaz, Christenson, Glanville when healthy) have offered little support. Teixeira has scored only once in the 20 times he’s safely reached base by means other than the home run. Even if Texiera does remain in Texas, his owners in all but the deepest AL-only leagues must look elsewhere, as he won’t play often enough (barring injuries to others) to merit ownership regardless of how well he hits.
Whither Ismael and Chan Ho?
ISMAEL VALDES should return from the DL this week and is currently scheduled for a Saturday start against Cleveland. Ignore him in shallow and medium-sized mixed leagues. He’s pitched better than his 5.74 ERA suggests, but not enough to merit ownership. CHAN HO PARK is recovering nicely from his “back injury” but has not recovered any velocity on his fastball. Since he appears incapable of bringing the heat, he is working on his control. I suppose he could return to the semi-effective pitcher he was at the tail-end of 2002, but I’m not expecting it and certainly would not suggest that any fantasy owner, ANY owner, take a chance on him.
DOUG GLANVILLE’s rehab is progressing nicely, though the Rangers have offered no timetable for his return. How does two weeks sound? RYAN CHRISTENSON owners should prepare for his departure. Might UGUETH URBINA be traded? He might, once the Rangers fall too far behind Seattle or Oakland to pretend that they’re contenders. Could he be traded to the NL and/or be used as a setup man? Yes, and possibly. The same applies to productive-but-costly free-agents-to-be CARL EVERETT and JUAN GONZALEZ, though I doubt either would be used as setup men.
Rotation Morphs Into Whirlpool
ALAN BENES joins the rotation for a couple of starts and perhaps more. The Rangers acquired Benes from the Cubs for the infamous PTBNL, probably (hopefully) a mediocre prospect. Since his shoulder surgery in 1997, Benes has pitched a grand total of 110 innings with an ERA of 5.05 and a WHIP of 1.57. In his first start Saturday, he pitched well through three innings before collapsing in the fourth. He’s of no value in mixed leagues and I can’t recommend him in AL-only leagues. Don’t waste a high waiver slot on him. Benes started in place of ISMAEL VALDES, with whom the Rangers wisely decided to be extra cautious. Valdes should return by the middle of next week. He’s pitched better than his 5.74 ERA implies, but not by enough to give him value outside medium-to-large-sized AL-only leagues.
Owners in “worst-is-first” fantasy leagues were saddened by this news: the Rangers rid themselves of the grim spectacle of RYAN DRESE, sending him, his 7.65 ERA, and his 2.35 WHIP (really) to Oklahoma City. CHAN HO PARK, sidelined with a chronic inability to pitch, will make two rehab starts for AA-Frisco before rejoining the rotation. I’ll report on his progress, but for now, he is a fantasy unperson. Though it gives me no pleasure, I was dead-on in my negative assessment of COLBY LEWIS. He will remain in the rotation (but not yours, I hope) but might be skipped once next week. JOHN THOMSON has an ERA of 8.22 in his last three starts. He’s not that bad, but he isn’t likely to offer better than 4.75 or so with a 1.40 WHIP.
The Love Bug Drives To Arlington
HERBERT PERRY, sidelined with a bruised knee and shoulder and a pulled oblique, finally returned to Texas Saturday and started at first base. Perry will spot Palmeiro at first and join a crowded DH mix. He may also sub at third when his arm is strong enough to manage cross-diamond throws. Since MIKE LAMB, not MARK TEIXEIRA, was sent to AAA in his place, don’t expect him to start very often. Aggravation of one of his many injuries is a definite possibility. Perry is worthless in mixed leagues and offers marginal value in AL-only leagues. Owners hoping for a repeat of his 22-homer performance of 2002 will be sorely disappointed.
As mentioned, Teixeira survived Perry’s return after much speculation that Texas would ship him to AAA to play on a regular basis. For now, his status probably won’t change much. As long as Perry can’t throw well, Teixeira will start as third against lefties and spot at DH and 1B. He’s batting a solid .278/.362/.475 since his 0-for-16 start but just won’t play enough to offer much except in larger AL-only leagues. Keep an eye on him, though. Fellow 3B HANK BLALOCK sat against lefty C.C. Sabathia Saturday.
Everett Takes The Lead
Having endured enough of the Rangers’ sub-.300 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, Buck Showalter has placed CARL EVERETT in the #1 spot in several recent games. He may lose a few RBI as a result, but overall, owners should be happy with the extra at-bats he’ll receive. Everett usually bats second or sixth when not leading off and may revert to those spots when DOUG GLANVILLE returns. His current slugging percentage of .735 is 164 points above his career high, so don’t expect him to stay quite this hot.
From Saturday’s Fort-Worth Star Telegram: “Center fielder Doug Glanville, recovering from a hamstring surgery, said he will try to start hitting today,” presumably for the first time since 1999. RYAN CHRISTENSON’s marginal value will soon dissipate. Recently demoted KEVIN MENCH is batting .176/.222/.294 for Oklahoma. Teammate and 1B JASON HART is batting a torrid .305/.412/.525 but is about as blocked as a player can be.
One Out Of Three Ain’t Good
The Cleveland Indians are 1-13 versus Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle but 4-2 against Texas. That statistic typifies the Rangers’ May. After surviving a harsh 25-game opening schedule against division foes, New York, and Boston with a palatable record of 11-14, the Rangers have gone 5-10 while surrendering 7.4 runs per game. For fantasy purposes, the news isn’t quite as bad. 99% of the Rangers’ collective fantasy value is in hitting, and despite their increasingly dismal record, the Rangers are scoring a respectable 5.2 runs per game in May. After this weekend, Texas faces home-and-home series against both Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
Young Wins Popularity Contest
MICHAEL YOUNG is currently owned in 96% of ESPN’s mixed leagues, up from just 32% last week. Young is batting a spiffy .340 in May and .315 on the year. Is he legit? Yes, and no. He offers decent power for a middle infielder and could wind up with 10-15 homers. He also can run when the mood strikes; 10-15 steals are within reach. Young had batted a paltry .256 coming into the season, but an offseason that combined rigorous training and rumours that his job was not so secure may produce modest improvement to .275 or so.
On the downside, Young has been notoriously streaky in his short career. Consider his batting average by month during 2002: .333, .212, .283, .226, .330, .239. He walks rarely, so when the inevitable slump occurs, his production plummets. I’m not suggesting he’s due to collapse imminently, but I do recommend that his owners keep a close eye on him and always look for someone better. Young isn’t a Vidro or Boone, the kind of player you can put in your lineup and then ignore.
Teixeira Approaches Respectability
Amid rumours of a demoting to AAA, MARK TEIXEIRA started four consecutive games this week including one in left field. Teixeira has four outfield appearances on the season; one more will give him eligibility in ESPN leagues. Unfortunately, he also was plunked on the hand by a Mike Timlin pitch Wednesday and, while it’s not too serious, he hasn’t played since and is day-to-day. Once he returns, Teixeira should play slightly more often than before, perhaps two of every three games. Teixeira is batting a dandy .288/.369/.452 since his 0-for-16 start. He’s up to .236/.337/.371 on the season, and in time he’ll force me to drop the “since his 0-for-16 start” qualifier.
Will Pitch For Food
In May, Ranger starters sport an awe-inspiring 9.56 ERA and 1.66 WHIP and have yet to win a game. Fresh off the DL, ISMAEL VALDES is scheduled to pitch Saturday in New York. Valdes claims his shoulder and blister problems have disappeared, and the powerful Yanks are scoring only 4.2 runs per game at home (compared to 7.6 on the road). But, keeping in mind the line about discretion and valor, his owners should consider benching him until he shows on-the-field improvement. That said, he and JOHN THOMSON offer the best chance for semi-adequacy if you’re desperate for pitching. JOAQUIN BENOIT, COLBY LEWIS, and (goodness knows) ALAN BENES offer plenty of heartache and despair, if that’s the direction you want to travel.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
After sweeping the Yankees in the Bronx for the first time in franchise history, the Rangers continued their joyride by sweeping the Devil Rays and are within spitting distance of .500. The Rangers face Baltimore six times and Tampa Bay thrice before beginning Interleague play with difficult assignments at Atlanta and Montreal.
Big Tex Heats Up
Just three weeks ago, MARK TEIXEIRA was languishing on the bench and seemingly destined for AAA. Lately, he’s started eight of twelve, and three of the four missed games were due to a minor hand injury. Teixeira is batting .310/.388/.500 in May and should start more often thanks to the Rangers’ willingness to play him in the outfield, where he is now position-eligible in ESPN leagues. Teixeira hasn’t solved righties yet and won’t play every day, but he’s reaching the point where he can be useful in mixed leagues. If your roster is cluttered with a dubious non-hitter like Terrence Long or Joe Randa, Teixeira could make a dandy replacement.
Today’s Special: Strained Quad
Both JUAN GONZALEZ and CARL EVERETT are fighting strained quadriceps. Everett also has a jammed finger from sliding into a base on Tuesday. Everett sat out Wednesday’s game but was due for a rest anyway, having started 21 consecutive games, while Gonzalez has DH’ed two of the last four. Neither player is expected to miss significant time, but don’t be too surprised if each misses a game this weekend. Still, I wouldn’t suggest benching them unless you have a top-notch replacement.
Glanville To Resume Hitting Weakly
The Ranger hope to activate outfielder DOUG GLANVILLE by next Tuesday. Glanville is recovering from surgery on a torn hamstring He will resume duties as the everyday centerfielder but probably will bat near the bottom of the order instead of his customary first, where Carl Everett has set up shop. Glanville should hit an empty .270-.280 and steal the occasional base. Except in medium-to-large AL-only leagues, look elsewhere. RYAN CHRISTENSON is the obvious choice for demotion, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram speculates that RUBEN SIERRA may finally be shown the door. I expect the Rangers to drop Christenson, whose skill set is made redundant with Glanville’s return. Even if Sierra stays, his status in the OF/DH rotation will suffer.
Korean Translator Neeeded
In his latest rehab start, CHAN HO PARK allowed 13 hits, four of them homers, and seven earned runs in 6.1 innings. He alleges to have “felt better than in the last start,” when presumably he was pitching from the inside of a coffin. Park will make at least one more start in AAA and may have to endure a full 30-day rehab assignment, the maximum allowed by rule. Oddly enough, the Rangers miss him about as much as I’m going to miss Ari Fleischer and Christine Todd Whitman, which is to say, not at all. Texas appears content to suffer the slings and arrows of ALAN BENES for the time being. Park will return sometime in early June.
HERBERT PERRY has started only four of twelve games and pinch-hit five times since returning from the DL. Barring an injury to a teammate, that trend shouldn’t change. HANK BLALOCK still isn’t starting against lefties; plan accordingly. Outfielder KEVIN MENCH is batting a tepid .217/.324/.383 for Triple-A Oklahoma. Mench and outfielder RYAN LUDWICK are the most likely call-ups if Gonzalez or Everett is traded. Fellow Redhawk 1B/OF JASON HART has cooled off considerably lately. Regardless of how he hits, he has little chance to make an impact in Arlington with 500-homer hitter/800-pound gorilla RAFAEL PALMEIRO blocking his way.
The fantasy implications are simple: for nine road games, the Rangers will forego the designated hitter. Most likely to receive fewer at-bats is RUBEN SIERRA, who DH’es infrequently right now but doesn’t hit well enough to supplant JUAN GONZALEZ, CARL EVERETT, MARK TEIXEIRA, or any other regulars in the everyday lineup. However, I expect Buck Showalter to spread the pain around, giving RAFAEL PALMEIRO, HANK BLALOCK (against lefties), and the aforementioned players an occasional day off. Other than Sierra, who isn’t hitting well anyway, keep the quality Ranger hitters in your lineup barring late-breaking news.
Here Comes A Regular
MARK TEIXEIRA started his ninth consecutive game Thursday night. Interestingly, Tex has not started a single game at his putative position of third base during this stretch; he has four starts at first, four in the outfield and one at DH. Though batting only .250 in this nine-game series, he has three homers and 14 RBI. Teixeira is currently owned in 55% of ESPN’s mixed leagues. If you’re lamenting Eric Hinske’s bum hand or floundering with Joe Crede, Adrian Beltre, or David Bell, you may have one last chance to improve your lot in life. Inquire as to Teixeira’s availability in your league today.
Roster Moves, Past and Future
None of the recent roster moves has any fantasy implications except in 20-team, AL-only leagues. By releasing TODD VAN POPPEL, the Rangers sadly but wisely chose to eat the remaining $4.2 million of his ridiculous contract. Van Poppel had a 5.91 ERA in his second term with the Rangers. Texas also optioned recently acquired would-be starter ALAN BENES to AAA. Van Poppel and Benes will be replaced by relievers ROSMAN GARCIA and REYNALDO GARCIA, neither of whom will pitch well enough or in the right situations to offer fantasy value. The Rangers won’t need a fifth starter until June 7, when, perhaps, CHAN HO PARK finally may start another game in the Majors. If Park isn’t ready, VICTOR SANTOS could join the rotation. Santos has a 5.10 career ERA with Detroit and Colorado.
Leg soreness has delayed DOUG GLANVILLE’s return from the Disabled List. He may return by the end of this weekend and should resume duties as the primary center fielder. HERBERT PERRY, whose shoulder was too sore for him to DH Thursday night, may have to revisit the DL. Perry wasn’t playing much anyway, having started only five of 17 possible games. If Perry stays, the likely candidate for dismissal would be RYAN CHRISTENSON, who has batted poorly enough to necessitate CARL EVERETT’s awkward presence in center.Total Information Awareness
Welcome To The National League
Tuesday night, the Rangers commence Interleague play with series at Atlanta and Montreal (in San Juan), then host the Mets and Marlins. Texas hosts and visits so-called natural rival Houston during the last two weekends in June. The victor of the Texas-Houston series receives the lukewarmly-coveted Silver Boot. I don’t know who manufactures the boot, whether a new boot is produced each year or the if the winning team “rents” it like the Stanley Cup. Regardless, the excitement is palpable. Isn’t it? Sure, why not.
For fantasy purposes, the only games that affect lineups are on the road, where the Rangers must forfeit the DH and test the batting skills of Colby Lewis and his pitching brethren. Unlike many AL clubs, the Rangers rotate the DH among several players, most notably RAFAEL PALMEIRO, JUAN GONZALEZ, and RUBEN SIERRA. Hence, Texas will not will not simply mothball their everyday DH for nine games as Seattle must do with Edgar Martinez. The Rangers’ crowded outfield situation is eased somewhat by the continued absence of DOUG GLANVILLE, who is expected to miss the Atlanta series while continuing his rehab assignment.
For most games this week, Buck Showalter will proffer the defensively challenged outfield of MARK TEIXEIRA, CARL EVERETT, and Gonzalez. And for most games, the infield will consist of the usual quartet of HANK BLALOCK, ALEX RODRIGUEZ, MICHAEL YOUNG, and Palmeiro. If any one player is hurt more than the others by Interleague play, it’s Sierra, who doesn’t hit well enough to supercede the other regulars. However, with the Rangers facing lefties Wednesday and Thursday, Sierra could earn some outfield time while Teixeira takes over for Blalock in one or both games. Showalter also promised to start Sierra for at least one game in San Juan this weekend. Still, Sierra’s owners should seek an alternative for this week.
Showalter claims Palmeiro will play first every day, so Teixeira must rotate between third and outfield. My semi-educated guess is that Tex starts in four of the six games this week. Don’t be surprised to see Everett and Gonzalez get a day off during the week, as both are (as always) nursing minor leg injuries. As for which players start which games, that’s almost impossible to predict. In general, you should keep the Ranger hitters in your lineup with the exception of Sierra.
Park and Perry
CHAN HO PARK offered yet another mediocre start in his tortuous, torturous rehab assignment, allowing four runs and ten baserunners in six innings on Sunday. The Rangers need a fifth starter this Saturday, but they may make Park throw one last time in AAA before his rehab term ends. Park probably return on June 14 against Florida. Candidates for this Saturday include minor-leaguer VICTOR SANTOS, recently signed Milwaukee outcast JAMEY WRIGHT, or current longman R.A. DICKEY. Meanwhile, HERBERT PERRY returned to the DL and may require shoulder surgery. Drop him apace.
With the ninth pick in the amateur draft, the Rangers bucked the new conventional wisdom and selected high school pitcher John Danks of Round Rock High School in Texas. Danks is a 6’2”, 190 pound lefty with a good cut fastball and curve. Should he sign soon, he will join the short-season A-level squad in Spokane. Should he not sign at all, he'll pitch for my alma mater, the University of Texas. He should sign; Hicks isn’t shy with the green.
Everything Must Go!
In my younger days (circa 1978), the Rangers would wait until the All-Star break before collapsing in a morass of bad pitching and untimely hitting. This year, with several expensive free-agents-to-be, they’ve decided to plan ahead by losing seven straight and falling fifteen games behind the torrid Mariners. Keep in mind the non-waiver trading deadline is over seven weeks away, so the Rangers may do nothing at all for a while. But since my inbox runneth over with questions about trade rumors, lets look at the candidates and the fantasy implications therein.
To date, San Francisco and the Yankees have expressed the most interest in UGUETH URBINA. Presumably, Urbina would close in San Francisco and set up Rivera in pinstripes. One rumor has the Giants surrendering Jerome Williams for Urbina. That would be a spectacularly terrible decision on the Giants’ part, and I hope it is true. In mixed leagues, a trade to the Giants would boost Urbina’s value (better team, pitcher’s park). He would become an unperson in AL-only leagues. A trade to the Yankees would eliminate most of his value in any league. Since Urbina was a free agent signing, the Rangers cannot trade him without his permission before June 15. The Rangers’ closer-in-waiting is FRANCISCO CORDERO. JEFF ZIMMERMAN may pitch again this season but probably not as a closer.
CARL EVERETT and JUAN GONZALEZ would improve almost any outfield, but their high salaries and alleged personality issues may scare off some potential suitors. From my perspective, almost all of Everett’s surliness is directed at the media (a sin punishable by eternal bad press). He plays hard and appears to be liked and respected by his teammates. Gonzalez, with his coterie of advisors and hangers-on, can dominate when the mood fits. I know of no specific team asking about either player, but the Rangers certainly will entertain any reasonable offer and pick up a significant amount of either player’s salary to effect a trade. Gonzalez has a no-trade clause but might waive it under the right circumstances.
Other potential trade candidates are pitchers ISMAEL VALDES and JOHN THOMSON and even 1B RAFAEL PALMEIRO, who also has a no-trade clause and probably will stay in Texas. Whatever trades occur will allow HANK BLALOCK and MARK TEIXEIRA to play every day, and recently recalled KEVIN MENCH also will play more often, but probably not often enough or well enough to have value in most mixed leagues.
But, For Now…
Texas traded RUBEN SIERRA to the Yanks for semi-prospect OF MARCUS THAMES. Sierra claimed the Ranger organization “isn’t what it used to be,” conveniently ignoring that he isn’t what he used to be and hasn’t been since about 1992. I assume Sierra will do in the Bronx what he did in Arlington: leach at-bats from more talented teammates. Kevin Mench takes his place but is trapped behind Everett, Gonzalez, Teixeira and DOUG GLANVILLE, who should be activated in time to play Saturday. Mench should assume Sierra’s role as spot outfielder and part-time DH when the road stretch of Interleague play ends.
Teixeira has started sixteen consecutive games but may see a little more bench in the short-term future, as Glanville’s return will push Everett back to an outfield corner. But as Palmeiro is working his way through a sore back and hamstring, Tex could play more often at first, so keep him in your lineup if you ordinarily would. Expect RYAN CHRISTENSON’s tenure as a Ranger to end Saturday.“Pitchers”
George Is Getting Upset!
UGUETH URBINA should be wearing a different uniform by the end of the month, perhaps as early as this Sunday, the first day free-agent signees may be traded without their consent. His most likely new employer is the Yankees, who are 14-24 since May 2. Their bullpen isn’t terrible – its 4.24 ERA is eighth in the AL – but “not terrible” won’t suffice in the Bronx. Other candidates include San Francisco, Boston and St. Louis, though Jason Isringhausen’s return puts them down on the list.
So You Own Urbina
Well, you’re in a dilly of a pickle. A trade to New York would obliterate most of Urbina’s value in any fantasy league. In AL-only leagues, a trade to the National League would obliterate him completely. Though a good pitcher, Urbina’s non-save stats don’t measure up to premiere setup men like Dotel, Rhodes and Mota. Some owners are still paying high for him (e.g., Mark Mulder, Lance Berkman, Sammy Sosa), so try to move him now, and I mean NOW. Sure, Urbina could end up closing in San Francisco, or Rivera could get hurt again, but the potential reward in holding Urbina doesn’t justify the risk.
So You Need A Closer
FRANCISCO CORDERO will inherit the closer role from Urbina. Cordero saved ten games last year from mid-June onward despite missing three weeks on the DL. Statistically, Cordero is reminiscent of Rocker circa 1998 or Mitch Williams, walking far too many batters but striking more than one per inning and not allowing many hits. Former closer JEFF ZIMMERMAN, out since elbow surgery in 2002, is progressing quickly and may return by late July or early August. Still, I don’t expect the Rangers to place him in such a prominent position immediately upon his return. So, Urbina owners or others needing saves can help themselves by dropping a laggard for Cordero, who is owned in fewer than 40% of ESPN’s mixed leagues as of Thursday.
JUAN GONZALEZ has earned the dreaded tag “day to day,” having missed three games with a sore elbow. If he misses Friday night, consider benching him until he reappears in the lineup. ALEX RODRIGUEZ also recently missed two games with a bruised knee but is fine now and playing every game. RAFAEL PALMEIRO is fighting a sore back and hamstring but should still make his way into the lineup as DH. For a third consecutive year, Palmeiro has bristled at sharing time at first (with Pena in 2001, Hafner last year, and Teixeira now). But, for the first time, he’s hitting demonstrably worse as a DH, batting just .180 compared to .303 as a first baseman. Those splits should converge over time, so they’re nothing to worry about… yet.
Meanwhile, CHAN HO PARK is back on the DL with a new and improved injury, this one to his rib cage. Park was examined Thursday by a spine consultant (nyuk, nyuk). Drop him for good, and accept my apology for predicting he would be a halfway competent starter this year. For the moment, the fifth spot in the rotation goes to 28-year-old career minor-leaguer TONY MOUNCE, who pitched well in AA. Someday, I hope to write about a starting pitcher that could really help you. That event is as likely as me waking up next to Salma Hayek (another hope of mine). For now, I’ll have to settle for Ismael Valdes and reruns of “Desperado.”
Mench Ain’t All That
KEVIN MENCH is among the most added players in AL-only leagues, but I don’t think his owners will be too pleased with his production in the short run. While Mench has started the last three games, he’s done so only because Gonzalez was nursing his sore elbow. Consider that when Mench starts, one among Everett, Gonzalez, Glanville, Teixeira and Palmeiro must sit. Once Everett or Gonzalez is traded, or if Glanville plays himself out of a starting spot with his weak hitting, Mench will start more often. For now, he’s a part-time player.
Wish In One Hand
Do you have a mordant sense of humor? Do you like alcohol? If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, you can be Ranger fan. It’s just that easy. You cannot be turned down on the basis of age, gender, race, or loopy political beliefs. Come join me, won’t you? You see, at about 9:30pm on May 24th, the Rangers led Baltimore 3-1 and were seven outs from evening their record at 24-24. Then, Melvin Mora smashed a three-run homer off John Thomson to give the Orioles a lead they would not relinquish. The Rangers have since won four and lost seventeen, mimicking the O’s late-season collapse in 2002. The eight starting pitchers used during this stretch have an ERA of 7.39 and a WHIP of 1.77.
UGUETH URBINA is still a Ranger. New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boston, and even Seattle are still interested. One seemingly preposterous rumor has him going to the Yankees for Nick Johnson AND Brandon Claussen. That’s a lot to give up for someone who’ll toss about 40 more innings this season. Several teams have publicly balked at having to take on the rest of Urbina’s $4.5 million salary, but the Rangers would gladly eat much of it to sweeten the deal. It’s a crapshoot as to whether Urbina ends up closing post-trade, and minus the saves, his other stats don’t offer much fantasy value. He’s still getting value in trades, usually for a solid starting pitcher. That’s a deal I’d take. Saves are just one category, after all.
The rumors involving CARL EVERETT, JUAN GONZALEZ, RAFAEL PALMEIRO, and ISMAEL VALDES are less heated. Everett has a giant salary, but again, the Rangers will help the willing trade partner in that respect. Palmeiro and Gonzalez are less likely to be traded, as each has a no-trade clause and enjoys playing in Arlington. Also, Gonzalez has never seemed amenable to playing for a “big market” team.
A-Rod Gets Funky
ALEX RODRIGUEZ is on pace to hit 38 homers and 91 RBI, good numbers in and of themselves but far below prior years and certainly not what his owners expected. Worse still, Rodriguez has only two RBI in June. One reader asked if he was trying too hard or was banged up. Perhaps, but I believe the primary reason is simply bad luck. Rodriguez is batting a dismal .203/.282/.328 with runners in scoring position compared to .329/.409/.621 with the bases empty. In previous years, he’s batted just as well with runners on as without. Thus, he’s likely to hit better in those situations the rest of the way.
Blalock and Teixeira Are Everyday People
After sitting against most lefties earlier in the season, HANK BLALOCK has started six consecutive games against a lefthanded pitcher and twenty consecutive overall. Blalock doesn’t hit lefties well (241/.313/.310) but has improved greatly over last year when he hit a paltry .067 against them. Likewise, MARK TEIXEIRA has started 24 of the last 25, with not a single start at third base over that span. That could change as early as tonight; Buck Showalter may rest Blalock against lefty-extraordinaire Barry Zito. Blalock owners shouldn’t complain about that. But in general, both players look to start almost every game, though Teixeira may sit slightly more often than Blalock..
Was I Wrong About Mench?
KEVIN MENCH has started six of seven after I’d stated that he was a part-time player. Well, I’m not ready to concede defeat just yet. Four of his starts were in place of the injured Juan Gonzalez, and two were to provide rest for the perpetually sore Palmeiro and Everett. With these players and Doug Glanville nursing minor injuries, Mench could see more action than I’d originally predicted. But, I do think that Mench is the fifth outfielder in the pecking order behind Everett, Gonzalez, Glanville and Teixeira. There’s nothing wrong with owning him in an AL-only league, just don’t expect him to play every day, and you can nuke those sleeper/breakout predictions some were making in March.
Gonzo An Expo, Or Not
In what appears to be a repeat of last year’s situation with Kenny Rogers, the Rangers traded JUAN GONZALEZ to Montreal for prospects, only to have Gonzalez invoke the “no-trade” clause in his contract and kill the deal. He has until Saturday morning to change his mind (or to have it changed for him by Omar Minaya), but as of Thursday morning, he isn’t going anywhere. What Gonzalez really wants is an immediate contract extension; in effect, he wants an NBA-style “sign and trade.” Few teams, and certainly not the plutocratic collective known as the Montreal Expos, are willing or able to accommodate him. The Rangers’ primary acquisition would be pitcher Seung Song, who was recently promoted to AAA Edmonton.
Given their dismal condition, the Rangers badly want to recall AAA outfielder RYAN LUDWICK (.306/.374/.565, second in the Pacific Coast League in doubles, homers, slugging, RBI). Even if Gonzalez nixes the deal, the Rangers eventually will promote Ludwick anyway. He’s not a sure thing but probably would be worth picking up immediately in AL-only leagues; mixed-league owners should hold off to see how he develops. If Gonzalez remains a Ranger, his long-term value will take a hit. He’s certainly better than Ludwick right now but does not fit into the Rangers’ future, so he could find himself playing only intermittently down the stretch. For now, Gonzalez won’t play until he makes his decision.
Urbina A Ranger, For Now
Likewise, UGUETH URBINA isn’t doing the Rangers any favors. Urbina blew two consecutive save opportunities last week and nearly surrendered three-run leads on consecutive nights this week. For a team that has lost 20 of 24 and is showcasing Urbina to the league, his recent failures are doubly painful. Boston appears to have set its sights on Armando Benitez, but several other teams are still courting Urbina, and I doubt the Yankees’ acquisition of the Dan “Career 4.72 ERA” Miceli takes them out of the running. Urbina is in no danger of losing his closer’s job while with the Rangers. FRANCISCO CORDERO is his likely replacement. JEFF ZIMMERMAN should begin a minor-league rehab assignment next week.
Their terrible pitching gets the headlines, but the Rangers scored only 3.6 runs per game during a recent 22-game span after scoring 5.6 per game before then. CARL EVERETT is batting just .227 in June, ALEX RODRIGUEZ has only nine RBI, and HANK BLALOCK has only eight runs. Well, these things happen. Every team endures such a slump during the season. Everett and Blalock weren’t going to bat .375 all season. Among widely owned hitters, I don’t see any who deserve jettisoning because of their recent struggles. Keep cool.
GONZALEZ NIXES TRADE
JUAN GONZALEZ rejected a trade to the Montreal Expos that would have netted AAA pitcher Seung Song and one or more lesser prospects. The Rangers had been holding him out of the lineup pending his decision. Friday night, playing under NL rules in Minute Maid Park, Gonzalez is again on the bench (as is MARK TEIXEIRA). The chances of him accepting a trade to another team are remote, so his owners can reasonably assume he’ll finish the season as a Ranger. The Rangers, in response, may redouble their efforts to trade CARL EVERETT, though they have been pleased with his performance and wouldn’t mind having him beyond 2003.
81 Completed, 81 Remaining
The Rangers are on pace to allow 1042 runs, which would be the fourth highest total in AL history (Detroit allowed 1103 runs in 1996). They also are on pace to allow 1686 hits (7th worst ever as projected), 405 doubles, 212 homers (12th worst ever), and 758 walks (8th worst). Dare I say it: this team will not surrender 1,000 runs. 995 perhaps, but not 1,000. The current roster (including DL’ed Aaron Fultz) has an ERA of 5.25 compared to the team’s overall ERA of 6.12. A 5.25 ERA is woeful in its own right, but in the land of the blind, the cataract-ridden astigmatism-suffering one-eyed man is king. UGUETH URBINA and FRANCISCO CORDERO (as his probable replacement at closer) are the only pitchers worth owning. That makes my “job” much easier, if also duller.
At the plate, the Rangers are 6th in the league in scoring and barely above the league median, both disappointing considering their batting-favorable home park which inflates run production by almost 20%. The Rangers are in the top five in OPS at first, second, third, short, and right field. Production in left field and designated hitter has been about average, but catcher and especially center field have been tar pits. With no prayer of competing for postseason play, the Rangers are going young. MARK TEIXEIRA and KEVIN MENCH already have become everyday starters, and HANK BLALOCK will start more often (but not every game) against lefties. Even if JUAN GONZALEZ and CARL EVERETT stick around, Triple-A outfielder RYAN LUDWICK will join the club in the not-too-distant future.
Vets Ponder Uncertain Futures
Juan Gonzalez missed Monday’s game with a sore quad, though it’s debatable whether he would have started anyway. His start the previous day was the result of Teixeira’s sore back, not because of any desire by the Rangers to get him into the lineup. Injuries and the trade-that-wasn’t have limited to Gonzalez to seven starts during the last twenty games. As I mentioned last Friday, Gonzalez will play less often than before even when in full health, but how much less is anybody’s guess right now. An injury to another outfielder could propel him back to everyday status, and some time on the bench could warm him to accepting a trade. Don’t drop him just yet, but do bench him until his situation is resolved. Gonzalez started at DH Tuesday night.
The Rangers continue to discuss Urbina with the Yankees. Cashman and company wisely have refused to part with Nick Johnson or Brandon Claussen, so the two clubs are determining if a deal involving other players can be struck. I would be amazed if Urbina weren’t traded by the end of the month, though the players received in return probably won’t be the Grade-A prospects the club is seeking. Texas would also entertain offers for Everett and RAFAEL PALMEIRO, who, like Gonzalez, has a no-trade clause and won’t be afraid to exercise it. Salary is not an issue with trading any of these players; Texas considers them sunk costs and would pick up most or all of their salaries in exchange for quality prospects.
More on Mench
Kevin Mench is no longer starting merely because other outfielders are injured. The Gonzalez Affair, though it ended bitterly, has solidified Mench’s spot in the lineup. Mench is still available in a few AL-only leagues. He could offer modest value in mixed leagues with twelve or more teams. Mench has been very streaky in his brief career; in 2002, he had an 1.181 OPS in June and a .497 OPS in September. Right now, he’s batting .303 but with little power. He’s more likely to bat .270 with respectable power (20-25 homers pro-rated over a full season) the rest of the way.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ has picked up the pace lately, tallying eight RBI in his last seven games. He hasn’t stolen a base since June 6 and probably won’t match his first-half total of seven the rest of the way. Extrapolated over a full season, MARK TEIXEIRA’s May and June would add up to a .272 average, 72 runs, 27 homers and 96 RBI, plus a .359 OBP and 519 slugging percentage for you sabermetric folks. He’s still available in a handful of mixed leagues and is eligible at first, third and OF. AL-only owners are wisely avoiding starting pitcher TONY MOUNCE despite his 3.00 ERA. The 28-year-old rookie has a 1.67 WHIP and has allowed 14 walks in 21 innings. DOUG GLANVILLE has attempted only one steal in eighteen games off the DL. Without steals, he’s actively harming your fantasy team.
KEVIN MENCH suffered a broken wrist upon being hit by a pitch from Juan Rincon. According to early reports, Mench will miss four-to-six weeks. With less than twelve weeks remaining in the season, his owners in AL-only leagues have a tough decision on whether to keep him. My inclination is to drop him; Mench was batting well of late but is nothing spectacular. Of course, the options in the free-agent pool should influence your decision, and definitely keep him if you have an open spot on Injured Reserve or are in a league with a deep bench.
Gonzalez and Ludwick
After missing twelve of eighteen games to end June, JUAN GONZALEZ has started six of seven in July, primarily for the benefit of the scouts in the audience. Despite his refusal to play for anyone but Texas, the Rangers hold out hope that he’ll reconsider. The Dodgers, with an offense in an advanced state of putrescence, need a replacement for Brian Jordan, who has regressed from mediocre outfielder to injured outfielder. Reportedly, Arizona and Colorado also have expressed interest. Yes, AL-only owners, those are all National League teams.
So, will Juan say yes? No one knows, perhaps not even Gonzalez himself. As the Montreal talks withered and died, Gonzalez started only sporadically. Presumably, the Rangers have implied (or, if need be, will flat-out express) that he’ll play very infrequently if he refuses another trade. Meanwhile, the Rangers recalled RYAN LUDWICK to take Carl Everett’s place. Ludwick has started three of a possible five games. Ludwick had started only three of six games since his recall, but he should start more often because of Mench’s injury. He’s worth a look in AL-only. Owners in mixed leagues needn’t bother with him.
Urbina and Friends
The trade talks involving UGUETH URBINA are now on a low simmer. His recent performances haven’t stoked the fire; in his last ten appearances, he has seven saves and just one blown save but also has an 8.64 ERA and 2.04 WHIP. Saves, like the dead and unlamented “game-winning RBI” stat, are predicated more on opportunity and luck than on skill. I still fully expect the Rangers to move him; it makes no sense for them not to, even if what they receive in return is nothing special. The Rangers would also move RAFAEL PALMEIRO if at all possible. Palmeiro, like Gonzalez, has a no-trade clause and would prefer to stay in Arlington. Starting pitchers ISMAEL VALDES and JOHN THOMSON also could be had for a modest return.
I’ll say it again: I expect FRANCISCO CORDERO, not JEFF ZIMMERMAN, to get the majority of save opportunities once Urbina is traded. Zimmerman suffered forearm tightness after his last throwing session. It isn’t serious and isn’t related to his once-injured elbow, but it does illustrate that the Rangers should and will proceed very cautiously with him. To me, the cautious approach would not involve him snapping sliders in late July in Arlington with the bases juiced in the ninth inning. Maybe by September. As for Cordero, he has rebounded from a tough mid-June by allowing just two runs and eleven baserunners in his last 12.2 innings.
Other Players of Interest
The aforementioned Palmeiro is now batting a paltry .245 after enduring an 0-for-23 stretch and hitting a mere .111 over his last twelve games. He also has four homers, seven runs and eight RBI over those twelve games, so don’t sweat it. Palmeiro is in decline but should provide ample production this year. MARK TEIXEIRA has been fighting a sore back, causing him to miss Sunday’s game. He returned to the lineup Tuesday night. DOUG GLANVILLE may play more often in light of Mench’s injury, but what do you care? During the past month, he’s reached base safely only 17 times, scored three runs and attempted just one steal. Avoid, with extreme prejudice.
URBINA SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES
To the dismay many owners in AL-only leagues, the Rangers have traded closer UGUETH URBINA to Florida for three minor leaguers. The news isn’t much better for his owners in mixed leagues. According to early reports, the Fish will use Urbina at the set-up man for Braden Looper. Sounds strange, but Looper has in fact outpitched Urbina this season. Looper has allowed only one homer and a .314 slugging percentage against him, whereas opponents have six homers and a .444 slugging percentage against Urbina. Urbina’s stats should improve in the move from a hitter-friendly AL park to a pitcher-friendly NL park, but as a set-up man, Urbina offers little to fantasy owners. Aside from the saves, his stats are nothing special.
On the other hand, Urbina does carry the mantle of “Proven Closer,” so Looper could be on a short leash. A couple of poor performances will have the locals calling for a switch, though presumably Jack McKeon is old (and wise?) enough to ignore such “helpful” advice. His owners in mixed leagues should hold and hope for a few weeks rather than drop him immediately. Alas, in AL-only leagues, Urbina now has the all the value of Hoyt Wilhelm. In my league, Urbina is owned by the only owner beating me in saves. May you be so lucky.
Meet Your New Closer
FRANCISCO CORDERO will resume the closing duties he handled quite capably last fall. Cordero was owned in only 37% of ESPN’s mixed leagues going into Friday. His ownership will approach 100% within two days, so if you need saves, quit reading my silly prose and grab him immediately. Cordero had a rough patch in mid-June but has pitched very well since then. In 2002, he saved ten games and looked comfortable doing so. But… JEFF ZIMMERMAN looms on the horizon. Will Zimmerman usurp the closer role when he returns? It’s purely speculative on my part, and you may feel free to disagree, but I don’t think Zimmerman will close when he rejoins the Rangers, at least not immediately.
Zimmerman hasn’t pitched in a meaningful game in 22 months. He experienced forearm soreness in his last practice outing, rather disturbing news for someone sporting a new and improved ligament in his throwing elbow. He is expected to begin a rehab assignment in the minors next week and join the Rangers in late July, but is his return guaranteed? By no means. Will he be the effective Zimmerman of old? Possibly not. Such radical surgery requires about two years for full recovery. Will the Rangers shove him into (and Cordero out of) tense ninth-inning situations on his first day back? To me, doing so makes little sense. Given the pronounced lack of urgency in the Rangers’ remaining schedule, letting Zimmerman set up, then ease into a closer-sharing role seems more prudent.
Arlington Full Of Whippersnappers
LAYNCE NIX (yes, there’s a “y” in there) replaced the injured KEVIN MENCH on the Ranger roster and has started the last two games in center field (take a hint, DOUG GLANVILLE owners). Nix was batting a rather lukewarm.284/.344/.487 in the hitter-friendly Texas League thanks to a rough June. Still, Nix is just 22 and highly regarded. He has excellent range in center field, so he could start there often even if he doesn’t hit very well. I give him a modest recommendation in AL-only leagues. He has the talent but also has just one-half season of experience above A-ball. In single-season leagues, you’re not buying the cow, you’re just getting a few quarts of milk. So, grab him if you need him, but don’t wreck your roster to do so.
Some words about… Starting Pitching?
Sure, why not. JOHN THOMSON tinkered with his delivery and has a 2.57 ERA and two wins in his last three starts. No, he won’t do that all season, but he does look more like the guy I thought would have a 4.50-4.75 ERA, a tolerable WHIP and 10-11 wins. Now, that’s not Beluga caviar or even the Safeway store brand, but if you’re in a 10-12 team AL-only league and really need pitching, Thomson may offer more than his season-long stats would indicate. ISMAEL VALDES’s perpetually blistered fingers and sore shoulder make him a “must miss.” JOAQUIN BENOIT offers plenty of strikeouts and a healthy dollop of heartburn; he’ll pitch like Roger Clemens in one start and Roger “King of the Road” Miller the next.
Gonzalez Heats Up, Ponders Future
Oddly, the only certainty in the outfield right now is JUAN GONZALEZ. Gonzalez sat out several games in June with minor injuries and was benched outright for several more. Since July 3, he has started eleven straight, belted six homers and driven in eighteen. He probably won’t accept a trade, but for what it’s worth, he would prefer to stay in the American League. That preference plus the Dodgers’ acquisition of Jeremy Burnitz may ease the minds of his owners in AL-only leagues. But, if he stays in Texas, his playing time should diminish come August. The Rangers also are showcasing DOUG GLANVILLE (no, really), who is 10-for-15 in his last three games. Glanville might offer a decent average and some runs if you’re lucky, but few steals. He’s attempted only three all season.
Ludwick Traded For Spencer, Ric-Rod
On Friday night, Texas traded outfielder RYAN LUDWICK to Cleveland for outfielder SHANE SPENCER and pitcher RICARDO RODRIGUEZ. Spencer seems an odd trade target for Texas; I seriously doubt he’ll start regularly and he could be moved again before long. Rodriguez has a 5.73 ERA and is on the DL; don’t touch him. Meanwhile, the showcasing of Juan and Glanville has cut into the playing time of recent callup LAYNCE NIX, who has started four of seven and has yet to be added to ESPN’s database (I put in a request for his addition to “management”). He could offer modest help in deeper AL-only leagues. Texas also recalled MARCUS THAMES (acquired for Ruben Sierra) prior to Thursday’s game. For the moment, he’s fifth in line behind Gonzalez, Glanville, Nix and Spencer.
“I Don’t Believe In Zimmerman”
JEFF ZIMMERMAN continues to experience soreness in his forearm and elbow following a throwing session from two weeks ago. His rehab assignment is on indefinite hold; when he feels better, he’ll pitch. He and the Rangers don’t intend risk his career just to accumulate a few ML innings in August and September. If he’s occupying your DL slot, no real harm, but otherwise he’s wasting space on your roster. Even if he does return in fine fashion come mid-August, he won’t tally more than 5-6 saves, and that’s on the assumption he reclaims his closer role, of which I’m doubtful. FRANCISCO CORDERO owners, take heart.
Raffy Imitates McGwire
Unfortunately, RAFAEL PALMEIRO is imitating the 2001 version of McGwire rather than the 1998 version. Since May 30, Palmeiro is batting .208/.317/.396 and has more walks than hits. For the season, he ranks a very disappointing sixteenth among first basemen according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Has the soon-to-be-39 Palmeiro jumped the shark? I don’t think so, not quite yet. He’s not the batter he once was, but his recent troubles strike me as an extended slump rather than a sign of systemic failure. He does have eight homers in his last 31 games, so the power remains. And until this year, his numbers at DH versus 1B have shown little disparity, so blaming his slump on more frequent play at DH doesn’t ring true. Keep him in your lineup and expect improvement.
Blalock’s Platoon Continues
HANK BLALOCK didn’t start either game surrounding the All-Star break because the Rangers faced a left-handed pitcher. Annoying, I know. I don’t personally own Blalock on any of my fantasy teams, but his absence does mean that I have to watch DONNIE SADLER, who might be a good hitter if he were a pitcher. Sadler is an excellent defensive player, and Buck Showalter seems to have a soft spot for Sadler. Ideally, Showalter would start Blalock every day and cure his soft spot by sending some money to March of Dimes in Sadler’s name. Ah, well. Blalock’s owners should bench him against lefties if they have the roster flexibility.
Thomson Pitches Well Yet Again
JOHN THOMSON offered his fourth consecutive quality start Thursday night, albeit against Tampa Bay. Thomson sports a 3.13 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 22 strikeouts in those four starts. If you pick him up and expect more of the same, expect to be disappointed. But, if you’re hurting for pitching and need someone who could get you an occasional win, a tolerable WHIP and ERA (say 1.35 and 4.50-4.75), and a few strikeouts, Thomson could help. Such advice applies only to AL-only leagues. Other than Cordero, no Ranger pitcher is worth the bother in mixed leagues.
What The Heck Is Wrong With Gonzalez?
You know the routine. JUAN GONZALEZ strained a calf muscle running from first to third in Tampa last weekend and hasn’t played since. The Rangers should decide today whether they will place him on the Disabled List. Their reluctance to do so stems from their intense desire to trade him. Texas would almost certainly be unable to trade a DL’ed Gonzalez prior to the pre-waiver trading deadline (assuming he would accept). Fantasy owners should bench him until he appears in a game. 1B JASON JONES would most likely take Gonzalez’s place on the ML roster. Jones is a fantasy cipher.
What The Heck Is Wrong With A-Rod?
Tuesday’s 4-for-5 performance can’t gloss over the fact that ALEX RODRIGUEZ is headed for his worst fantasy season since 1997. Lengthy slumps in May and July have put him on a pace to attain barely over 100 runs scored and driven in, 36 homers, and his lowest batting average ever in full season. Why? Three reasons, I believe. One, he suffered a neck injury in March that has hampered his swing (though that wouldn’t explain why he batted better in April than in any other month). Two, he’s pressing. Rodriguez is on pace to set a personal record in strikeouts. Three, bad luck, or just having a bad year. This season, Rodriguez is hitting a dire .207/.299/.337 with runners in scoring position. From 2000-2002, he batted .323/.432/.666 in similar situations.
What can you, his owner, do about it? Not much, really. A disappointing Rodriguez is still better than almost every shortstop in baseball. Unless your league has two teams, you won’t find a suitable replacement on the waiver wire. You can trade him, but you have to be very careful. If the dropoff from Rodriguez to your replacement shortstop is greater than the gain from the player(s) you receive, you could “win” the trade but still end up with a weaker team. I'm not an optimist (or a pessimist) at heart, but I'm inclined to believe that Rodriguez should improve some over the remainder of the season. Improvement all the way to his normal self may be too much to ask, but he should hit better than he has so far this year.
What The Heck Is Wrong With Palmeiro?
Two weeks ago, I claimed that RAFAEL PALMEIRO “[was] in decline but should provide ample production this year.” Palmeiro is making my position increasingly tenuous by declining further from his already weaker performance. On May 27, Palmeiro had a .970 OPS. Since then, it’s .692, about what you’d expect from Deivi Cruz. In his last 17 games, it’s .436. Palmeiro turns 39 in two months. While it’s hard to believe that he’s lost his ability to hit so suddenly, it’s not impossible. His owners shouldn’t panic, but they should keep a close eye on him. If his deterioration persists, owners in smaller mixed leagues could find a better 1B in their free agent pools. By mid-August or so, any Palmeiro owner with a shot at winning might have to make a drastic move. For now, hold and hope.
No, really, FRANCISCO CORDERO is the team’s closer. He just hasn’t had anything to close. The Rangers are 3-7 since Urbina’s departure, and the margin in every win has exceeded three runs. Yes, the Rangers are putrid, but don’t fall for the argument that a closer on a bad team isn’t worth owning. After all, Urbina saved 26 games for a Ranger team with only 37 wins. Erstwhile closer JEFF ZIMMERMAN, whose rehab assignment was delayed by inflammation in his forearm and surgically repaired elbow, should resume throwing off a mound this week. He might return by mid-August if you’re lucky. If he gets any saves, you’ll be luckier still.
Starting Outfield Offers Little
MARK TEIXEIRA has started ten of eleven games at first. With Gonzalez shelved, the current outfield candidates include DOUG GLANVILLE, LAYNCE NIX, MARCUS THAMES, and SHANE SPENCER. Expect the suddenly white-hot Glanville to start almost every game in center, Nix in right, and Spencer sharing time with Thames in left. I suppose I should concede that Glanville might actually offer some help in AL-only leagues, but I must reiterate that he will not give you many, or perhaps any, steals. As for possible callups, RAMON NIVAR is batting an electric .379 in AAA but has only two walks (and zero strikeouts!) in 60 plate appearances. Hard to say how he’d handle ML pitching at this point.
What The Heck Is Wrong With Me?
Nothing, really. Like the United States and Organized Baseball, I persevere, all too frequently in spite of myself. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Quiet On The Southwestern Front
The non-waiver deadline is Thursday, but the Rangers do not figure to be major players. JUAN GONZALEZ’s injury and the no-trade clauses of Gonzo and RAFAEL PALMEIRO virtually eliminate the Rangers’ ability to make a major deal. After July 31, traded players must clear waivers, but that won’t hamper the possibility of either player being traded. No team (well, almost no team) would claim them with their massive salaries. In fact, the Rangers probably will place both players (and others) on revocable waivers come Friday and see if anyone takes the bait. Regardless, the no-trade clause is the ultimate trump card, and neither player has indicated any willingness to move on. The only other “name” Ranger on the market is pitcher JOHN THOMSON.
Slumpers Slump No More
After batting .218/.318/.438 from June 21 to July 21, ALEX RODRIGUEZ has initiated a new hot streak. During the last eight games, ALEX RODRIGUEZ is batting .424/.472/.576 with twelve runs, two homers, four RBI and three steals. Just keep him in your lineup and hope that he hits a little better with runners on base. Likewise, RAFAEL PALMEIRO has picked up the pace, batting .300/.343/.600 over his last eight games, including a two-homer, seven-RBI performance on Monday. Continue to watch his progress, as Palmeiro has evolved into a 2001-era Mark McGwire. Over his last 45 games, Raffy has batted .220 with eleven homers, 24 walks and not even one double.
Tex Fills Slumpers’ Void
A-Rod and Raffy have shaken off their slump but couldn’t avoid passing it on to MARK TEIXEIRA in the process. Tex is batting a grim .118/.231/.147 with one run and two RBI during his last nine games and has a thirteen-game homerless streak. Why? No reason that should cause worry; anybody can bat that poorly over nine games, particularly someone with barely 300 career ML at-bats to his credit. Teixeira is healthy. In AL-only leagues, you have to keep him in your lineup. Even in mixed leagues, I wouldn’t bench him as long as the Rangers are at home, where Tex has slugged .503. Well, I would bench him Thursday, when he faces Pedro Martinez. If you have the roster flexibility, you should bench him on the road against tougher righthanded starters.
Random Lineup Generator
Newbie outfielders SHANE SPENCER, MARCUS THAMES, LAYNCE NIX, and JASON JONES have all started sporadically since joining the squad. I’ve listed them in the order that they are most likely to help you, and that's in AL-only leagues only. Part-time play is the bane of the fantasy owner, but with a little advance planning you can get the most out of these players. So far, Spencer has started every possible game against a lefty (all two of them) but only three of ten against righties. Thames also has started mostly against lefties. Nix, who looks overmatched at the plate, hasn’t started against a lefty at all but has faced a righty in 11 of 13 possible games. The only outfield constant is DOUG GLANVILLE, who has continued to bat respectably and even stole a base last week.
Cordero Endures Bad Luck
During Ugueth Urbina’s tenure with the Rangers, he earned saves in 26 of the team’s 38 wins, a ridiculously high proportion. Since then, the Rangers have won six games but FRANCISCO CORDERO has only one save. It’s not his fault; five of the six wins have been by four or more runs. Even Urbina couldn’t have saved them. Cordero isn’t an elite closer by any means, but he should earn an adequate number of saves down the stretch. Just be patient.
Reversing the POV
You are an active owner, and one of your starters is facing the Rangers, generally known as an offensive powerhouse. Do you bench him? Probably not, but it depends. Removed from The Ballpark, the Texas offense doesn’t impress. The Rangers rank ninth in the AL in road OPS and eleventh in road scoring. So if your pitcher is at home, start him without hesitation. Games in The Ballpark are dicier. I tend to start my aces (Pedro, Zito, etc.) and bench my middle-of-the-pack guys (think Jason Johnson, Darrell May, Gil Meche). Such a strategy must be modified by your needs in particular categories. As for opposing batters, the strategy is obvious. If one of your hitters is facing a Ranger pitcher, he should be in your lineup.
Total Information Awareness
If the Rangers trade John Thomson, they will finish the season without a single pitcher qualifying for the ERA title (minimum 162 innings). I said qualify, not contend. ---- Email questions and comments to email@example.com.
Not Necessarily The News: Juan Still Hurt
There’s good and bad to owning Juan Gonzalez. This is the “bad.” Gonzalez has missed the last nineteen games with a calf injury and didn’t accompany the team on its week-long road trip. He could return by Tuesday, but next weekend is more likely. Juan’s long-term status is more worrisome, as it’s uncertain how often he’ll start once he returns. LAYNCE NIX, RAMON NIVAR, JASON JONES, MARCUS THAMES, and (eventually) KEVIN MENCH are all fighting for playing time and could figure into the team’s future. Gonzalez does not. I expect him to play fairly often when he returns and then with far less frequency as the season draws to a close. If, in fact, he doesn’t play much when he rejoins the team, you’re facing a tough decision. Prepare to drop him as the situation warrants.
Palmeiro Stays Put For Now
RAFAEL PALMEIRO invoked his no-trade clause and nixed a deal that would have returned him to his original team, the Cubs. His decision isn’t absolute, but it’s awfully close. I believe he will play more often than Gonzalez and just enough to satisfy most of his owners. When he does sit, most probably a lefty will be on the mound. Palmeiro has shaken off his lengthy slump with a vengeance, batting .333 with seven homers and 21 RBI in his last thirteen games. While he won’t bat that way for long, he has dispelled concerns that his 38-year-old body was reaching the end of its baseball shelf-life. Palmeiro has increased his OPS by 48 points during his hot stretch, but it still lower than that of Eric Karros and not much higher than Hee Seop Choi’s.
Mench Two Weeks Away
Kevin Mench suffered a broken hand on July 8 and should return in about two weeks. Mench should play often but not every day upon his return (yes, I tend to repeat myself). The Rangers will have at least six outfielders on the roster in September. Mench will play more than Thames and Jones, both 26 and not considered high-level prospects. Reportedly, Mench has lost ten pounds and worked hard on his physique during his unwilling sojourn, but I wouldn’t expect him to hit .320 as he did before the injury. For one, he’s not really a .320 hitter. Two, wrist injuries take a while to overcome. Still, he should provide acceptable production in AL-only leagues.
Nivar: Hot, Or Not?
RAMON NIVAR joined the ever-younger Ranger roster on July 30 upon the departure of Doug Glanville. Nivar had never played above A-ball prior to 2003, but the 22-year-old has batted .344 in AA and AAA this year. Nivar hates to walk (25 in 431 minor-league plate appearances) and hates striking out even more (28 Ks). He has displayed electric speed, if undisciplined, combining 15 steals with 10 caught.
Nivar hasn’t struck out in 27 ML plate appearances but is batting just .115. Nivar might help AL-only owners desperate for steals, otherwise, I don’t think he’s a worthwhile risk. Nivar has not been added to the player pool as of August 8 (I put in a request).
Nix: Hot and Not.
Newcomer Laynce Nix has a .232 average and a grim 4/21 walk-to-strikeout ratio. On the other hand, he also has four homers in just 69 at-bats (in fact, his Isolated Power is higher than his batting average). Nix shouldn’t hit well enough to earn must-own status in AL-only leagues, but if you’re in need of homers and RBI, he could offer some help. Nix starts only against righties.
Ah, how I long for 2002, when the Rangers offered a couple of starting pitchers who could offer a little help, even in mixed leagues. ISMAEL VALDES, where did your talent go? Kenny Rogers, I hardly knew ye! As for this year, only JOHN THOMSON offers much, and that’s definitely limited to AL-only leagues, and that’s definitely not to suggest that you should take pride in owning him. As for Valdes, he should return next week if he passes he rehab start Friday night. His ownership is not encouraged. FRANCISCO CORDERO finally has some luck going his way with four saves in the last week.
Drop Gonzalez? Yes… No… Maybe…
On Friday, the Rangers ordered yet another series of tests for injured slugger JUAN GONZALEZ. The Man With The Bad Calf hasn’t played since July 19th and apparently won’t be anytime soon. As mentioned in previous columns, he won’t be an everyday player when (if?) he returns. The Rangers have no intention of re-signing him and have several outfield prospects to play in his place. Concerning the miniscule possibility of a trade, the Rangers would have to run Gonzalez through waivers first, but they can’t while he resides on the Disabled List. The theory that Gonzalez is hiding until the trade deadline passes doesn’t hold water, as he could veto any trade regardless of his health.
So, if you own him, you have to ask yourself if three-to-four weeks of a part-time Gonzalez would provide better statistics than five full weeks of a batter plucked out of the free agent pool. In mixed leagues with 10 or fewer teams, clearly the answer is no; jettison Gonzalez without delay. In larger leagues, it’s a tougher call. Dropping Gonzalez for someone like Sean Burroughs or Tino Martinez is pretty unpalatable, but so is carrying a zero on your roster for two months. In AL-only leagues, where the talent spreads much thinner, success hinges largely on having a complete set of everyday players. If you’re hurting for counting stats, you have to consider replacing Gonzalez. Of course, just stash him on your Disabled List if you have room.
Mench’s Wrist Still Limp
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. KEVIN MENCH, out since July 8th with a broken wrist, was informed by team doctors that he needed another week or two of rest before swinging a bat. Let’s review the key words in that sentence: “wrist,” “broken,” “rest.” Do those words impart the feeling that Mench will bat well upon his return? They do not. So, as with Gonzalez, Mench isn’t going to help you for a while and may not help that much when he returns. With only five weeks remaining in the season, you can’t waste two of them on an average-quality player who may not play every day or hit that well down the stretch.
All Outfielders, All The Time
A Ranger outfielder you may consider is LAYNCE NIX, now batting .274 with four homers and thirteen RBI in 24 games. Nix sports a ghastly ratio of four walks to 25 strikeouts and a .303 on-base percentage, but for those needing some power, he available in about one-third of AL-only leagues. Caveats: he doesn’t start against lefties and has batted terribly on the road. Pick your moments to start him. Fellow rookie RAMON NIVAR may be the most exciting .196 batter I’ve ever seen. He swings at everything and always look sot steal or take the extra base. He could get you a few steals, but not much else. SHANE SPENCER has started eleven consecutive games and could help any AL-only team. He won’t hit enough to merit inclusion on a mixed-league roster.
Bob Dylan’s Fifteenth Starting Pitcher
23-year-old JUAN DOMINGUEZ (formerly known as 21-year-old JOSE DOMINGUEZ) made his ML debut and breezed through four innings before collapsing in the fifth. Dominguez pitched phenomenally in the minors this season, racing up the minor league hierarchy and earning a few starts for the big-league club. Dominguez has pitched about 140 innings this year, far more than any previous season. The Rangers will keep him below 100 pitches and probably will shut him down before the season ends. Someday, he could be brilliant, but for fantasy purposes his window of opportunity is too small. As usual, JOHN THOMSON (or R.A. DICKEY if you’re truly desperate) remains the only starter likely to assist your fantasy squad, and that’s strictly in AL-only leagues.
And The Rest
RAFAEL PALMEIRO rejected a trade that would have sent him to the Cubbies. Unlike Gonzalez, Palmeiro shouldn’t see a substantial drop in playing time. He may sit more often against lefties, although in 2003 he has an extreme reverse-split. The lefthanded Raffy has a 1.068 OPS against lefties compared to just .768 against righties. ---- HANK BLALOCK continues to sit against all but the gimpiest of lefties. He is batting a woeful .213/.263/.253 against them.
Fair and Balanced. I Report, You Decide.
Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rangers Win AL Central
Well, no, not really. Still, the Rangers are 16-8 against Central opponents and have won thirteen of eighteen through Tuesday to climb within one game of the third place Halos. If not for their dismal stretch of two wins and twenty losses in June, the Rangers would have a record of 57-47. Really, though, removing bad stretches is just mental… uh, exercise. Hey, Detroit would be undefeated if you ignore those 93 losses! The Rangers play seventeen straight against the Central before finishing the season with twenty against division foes.
Juan Gonzalez Still Is Sitting, STILL Is Sitting…
…on the pallid bust of Nolan Ryan just above the clubhouse door. Shall he play, nevermore? Another battery of tests revealed an accumulation of fluid in his calf. A weekend decision over whether to have the fluid drained became a Monday decision, then a Tuesday decision, then a non-decision to solicit a second opinion on Wednesday. That opinion should determine Gonzalez’s course of inaction. Gonzalez hasn’t played since July 19th and has yet to resume baseball activities. Come September, he won’t be JUAN GONZALEZ, he’ll merely be one of about seven outfielders vying for at-bats and the only one who clearly has no future with the team. Unless he’s occupying a spot on your DL or on a deep bench, he’s wasting your time.
Teixeira Cool, And Not In The Good Way
MARK TEIXEIRA had never played over 86 games in a season before 2003. On Sunday, he mentioned being tired. On Monday, his 38th consecutive start, he went 1-for-7 with five strikeouts. On Tuesday, he rested. Since surpassing the 86-game mark on July 24th, Teixeira has batted .231 with 16 runs, four homers and 15 RBI in 24 games. Other than the average, those totals are respectable. Teixeira may see more frequent rest as the season winds down, particularly if the Rangers recall 1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ from AAA in September. Still, I expect him to play often and provide adequate fantasy-team assistance.
Six Man Rotation
The Rangers may expand the rotation to six in September, allowing Ryan Snare or Tony Mounce to get some big-league action. As usual, JOHN THOMSON is the only Ranger pitcher worth owning, and that’s limited to AL-only leagues. COLBY LEWIS, who had a career 7.86 ERA and 74/73 walk-to-strikeout upon being relegated to AAA in June, has 24 Ks and just six walks since being recalled in late July. He also has a much improved 5.27 ERA and 1.48 WHIP during that span, but obviously not improved enough to help a fantasy team. Lewis struck out ten batters in his last start; he’s just as likely to allow ten runs in his next.
Outfielders: For AL-Only Leagues, Only
None of the Ranger outfielders offer enough production to help in any but the largest of mixed leagues. Several could help an AL-only team with proper oversight. Speedster RAMON NIVAR starts in center most games. He’s batting .231 and swings at everything, but he has four steals and eight runs in 16 starts. SHANE SPENCER is nothing special (.258-9-3-16 in 22 starts as a Ranger) but is the safest bet for RBIs and the occasional homer. Spencer always starts against lefties and about half the time against righties. LAYNCE NIX starts only against righties; he has a gruesome 4/30 walk-to-strikeout ratio but also has four homers and a .280 average in 23 starts.
MARCUS THAMES starts only against lefties and doesn’t bat well enough to merit ownership anywhere. JASON JONES splits time between lefties and righties and has a terrific batting eye (seven walks, eight strikeouts) but otherwise doesn’t start enough or put up much in the way of fantasy statistics. Jones is more likely than Thames to offer some value in larger leagues. Meanwhile, KEVIN MENCH is a week or two away from returning. He won’t play every day and probably won’t match earlier production as he recovers from a broken wrist. He could help your squad, but don’t expect too much.
No More Tigers Or Indians
As a member of the vaunted AL West, the Rangers always start and finish the year with an extraordinarily tough schedule. Texas will not play another sub-.500 team except the Anaheim Angels, who actually have outscored their opposition by 26 runs. Through the 27th, the Rangers have 16 homes games and 13 road games remaining. The Rangers’ road offense has fallen flat; the team has scored only 4.24 runs per game on the road since the All-Star break. That’s what happens when guys like Carl Everett and Juan Gonzalez no longer fill out the lineup.
Bury Juan Like Radioactive Waste
JUAN GONZALEZ hasn’t played since July 19th and won’t be doing so any time soon. Gonzalez visited a non-MLB-commissioned doctor who diagnosed a torn calf muscle. The Rangers’ own doctor had a less serious diagnosis, and management isn’t saying much publicly about the discrepancy except express mild confusion. You can alleviate the confusion in your life by dropping him now. Let us not speak of him again. With KEVIN MENCH also looking to miss all or most of the remaining games, guys like LAYNCE NIX and SHANE SPENCER will continue to get ample playing time and offer modest help in AL-only leagues.
Teixeira’s Slump Continues
MARK TEIXEIRA is 3-for-22 over the last six games and has batted .227/.290/.390 since the All-Star break. Teixeira had never played more than 86 games in a season until this year, and he looks to be wearing down. He will still play most of the time but should rest more frequently assuming Texas recalls ADRIAN GONZALEZ once the AAA season ends. In smaller mixed leagues, consider finding a replacement. If you have the roster flexibility, try starting him only at home. Teixeira’s home OPS is .840 compared to just .699 on the road. In AL-only leagues, you probably have little choice but to keep playing him and hope for the best.
Young Slows Down
Likewise, MICHAEL YOUNG hasn’t batted well lately, hitting only .255 in August. Last Sunday, he missed a start for the first time in 125 games. Young is still leading off, scoring plenty of runs and hitting the occasional homer, so there’s no reason to drop or bench him. Incidentally, HANK BLALOCK made his fourth appearance at second base on Sunday. One more and he’ll be eligible for 2B in ESPN leagues. Disappointing for owners who thought (like me) that he would spot Young at second occasionally and gain eligibility a few weeks into the season.
R.A. Dickey’s Siren Song
Two weeks ago, I mentioned grabbing R.A. Dickey but only if you were truly desperate. Dickey followed up his first career shutout with a five inning, six run performance on Tuesday. Showalter extols Dickey’s determination, perseverance, grit, and sundry other character aspects. No doubt those qualities make him a better pitcher, but fantasy leagues are won with raw talent. Dickey is exactly the kind of pitcher who will shine one game and get hammered the next. His stuff just isn’t good enough to dominate on a consistent basis. His environs don’t help; a 4.68 ERA is solid for a Ranger pitcher but weak in all but large-sized AL-only leagues. He could easily rebound in his next start, but he’ll always be a high-risk proposition.
The Rangers don’t intend to call up very many minor leaguers in September. Most of the guys they would recall already inhabit the roster. The aforementioned Adrian Gonzalez could see a few starts at first, and RYAN SNARE might squeeze into the rotation. Deposed and dreadful RYAN DRESE also may return. Regardless, there’s no impending Ranger call-ups that will help your fantasy squad. The Rangers worth owning in mixed leagues won’t lose more than a handful of at-bats to any newcomers.
Total Information Awareness
Email questions and comments to email@example.com. Goodbye, Cricket.
If Thine Right Fielder Offends Thee…
JUAN GONZALEZ won’t play again this season, and never again as a Ranger. Gonzalez’s agent (the third this season) and Ranger management had a brief but ugly spat last week, with GM John Hart publicly questioning Gonzalez’s desire to perform and the agent publicly questioning such impertinent questions. They’re playing nice now, but that won’t get Gonzalez and his lowly calf back on the field any sooner. By the time you read this, Gonzalez may have finally undergone the fluid-draining procedure that the team’s doctor recommended three weeks ago. Fellow outfielder KEVIN MENCH will undergo wrist surgery Saturday and won’t help your fantasy team again this year unless you’re allowed to include winter-ball teams from the Dominican Republic.
Teixeira’s Slump Discontinued
In the six games after I suggested dropping him in smaller mixed leagues, MARK TEIXEIRA batted .560 with five runs, three homers and nine ribbies. Okay. Well, I did say to keep starting him in home games. And, I still think his owners should bench him on the road if possible. Teixeira sports a tolerable .323 OBP on the road but is batting just .225. Combined with other Rangers hitting weakly on the road, Teixeira has scored only 11 runs and driven in 16 in 59 road games. If you have a bench player batting above .225 and scoring more than one run per six games, start him instead.
Blalock Plays Every Day
The platoon is over. Prior to mid-August, HANK BLALOCK had started only 14 of 39 games against a lefthanded pitcher. Since then, Blalock has started seven of the last twelve games against a lefty and will start almost every remaining game with Teixeira entrenched at first and DONNIE SADLER nursing a stress fracture in his back. Good news, right? Maybe for him, but not necessarily for his fantasy owners. Blalock has yet to figure out lefthanded pitching, sporting a line of .205/.250/.299 against them this year and .177/.234/.252 for his career. So, if you’re fighting for every last .001 of batting average or are in a sabermetric league, consider benching him against lefties if you have the roster flexibility.
Catchers Worth Less Than Ever
Whatever minimal, marginal value catcher EINAR DIAZ has in AL-only leagues has dissipated with the recall of GERALD LAIRD, who will start occasionally and reduce the future at-bats of Diaz and TODD GREENE. The position of catcher in AL-only leagues became even harder to fill with Ben Molina’s season-ending injury, but the Rangers don’t offer a solution. Laird, who has batted well in very limited action, probably won’t play enough to help a fantasy squad.
Thomson Worth Some. Other Pitchers, Not.
In contention for the tile and have a plenty of innings or starts to burn? Plucking pitchers from the free-agent pool strategy, starting them, and then dropping them for another pitcher (or hitter if no pitchers are available) can put you over the top. It’s very risky but certainly no worse than doing nothing and watching your opponent win without a fight. Last year, I won a league title thanks to a handful of solid, late-season starts from Casey Fossum and Mark Hendrickson. Unfortunately, the Rangers are a pretty bad team with which to employ this strategy. Ranger pitching is generally miserable and the rotation is in serious flux. ISMAEL VALDES could be dropped and guys like TONY MOUNCE and RYAN DRESE might gets some starts. You don’t want them.
Also, as you know, Texas plays in a very hitter-friendly park, meaning that you’d have to play a Ranger starter on the road to have the best chance at success. That is counterintuitive at best, self-destructive at worst. Even worse, the Rangers play no team outside the tough AL West after this Sunday. Regardless of your league structure, I can’t recommend anyone beyond JOHN THOMSON. You’re best bet is to find and start free-agent pitchers at home facing teams with the worst offenses on the road (Detroit, Tampa, Baltimore, Cleveland and, surprisingly, Texas). In ESPN leagues, hit that “Projected Starter” button every day and look for a good matchup.
READER’S DIGEST CONDENSED UPDATE
JUAN GONZALEZ is injured (or some such) and has asked the Rangers’ permission to leave the team to return to Puerto Rico. KEVIN MENCH’s next at-bat will be in the Dominican Republic. The Rangers removed a healthy ISMAEL VALDES from the rotation to look at younger guys. JEFF ZIMMERMAN’s elbow continues to irritate him to the point that even winter ball may not be possible.
JOHN THOMSON. That’s it. No other Ranger starter is worth owning. Don’t be fooled by the occasional solid outing from R.A. DICKEY or COLBY LEWIS. You’re playing with fire, scarecrow. On the other hand, having other pitchers start AGAINST the Rangers in their home parks is an excellent idea. The revamped, “wait till 2005” lineup hasn’t plated many runs on the road.
FRANCISCO CORDERO will get any and all save opportunities. No one else offers much help, though RON MAHAY could give you a few strikeouts and a decent ERA and WHIP in larger AL-only leagues.
Meh. No one among EINAR DIAZ, TODD GREENE and rookie GERALD LAIRD will play often well or well enough to help you. If you must, go with Laird.
Finally, some red meat. MARK TEIXEIRA, MICHAEL YOUNG, ALEX RODRIGUEZ and HANK BLALOCK will man the infield the rest of the way, with RAFAEL PALMEIRO holding the DH slot. Blalock is finally playing every day, but his owners should bench him against lefties if at all possible. Likewise, bench Teixeira in road games if possible.
In all but very large mixed leagues, the Ranger’s outfield offers little. SHANE SPENCER, LAYNCE NIX, JASON JONES, MARCUS THAMES, RYAN CHRISTENSON and JERMAINE CLARK all vie for at-bats. In AL-only leagues, Spencer is the best bet, and Nix will start every game against a righty.
One Last Week
After Sunday’s home finale, the Rangers visit the Golden State, playing three against Oakland and three against Anaheim to finish the season. If you’re an owner looking for a last-minute boost in the standings, I’m afraid the Rangers offer very little help. If anything, you should be looking for players facing the Rangers this week rather than the Rangers themselves.
Be It Ever So Wretched…
…there’s no place like the road. As mentioned, the Rangers final week consists entirely of road games, where their batting invites pity and disdain. Since Juan Gonzalez’s final game on July 19th (two months ago!), the Rangers have average 6.7 runs per game at home but only 3.9 per game on the road. Texas is batting .246/.313/.406 on the road, and its .719 road OPS ranks ahead of only Tampa Bay and Detroit among AL teams. Money players like ALEX RODRIGUEZ, RAFAEL PALMEIRO, HANK BLALOCK, and MICHAEL YOUNG have performed respectably away from Arlington; you should play them as you normally would.
As for their teammates, the outlook is much bleaker. Widely-owned MARK TEIXEIRA is batting a paltry .214/.307/.341 in road games and has only 12 runs and 17 RBI. In most mixed leagues, someone better should be available. In AL-only leagues, you may have no choice but to play him but scan the free-agent pool anyway. Meanwhile, recent acquisition SHANE SPENCER and youngster LAYNCE NIX have been flat-out atrocious. Both are batting 17-for-88 (.193) with a sub-.600 OPS outside of Texas. If you must play one of them, choose Spencer. The Rangers should face three lefties this week, so the righty-hitting Spencer has a chance do some damage. Nix normally doesn’t start against lefties and doesn’t hit them well, another reason to bench or drop him this week.
Analyzing the “Desperation” Pitchers
For several weeks, I’ve been warning against using any Ranger starting pitcher other than JOHN THOMSON. (I know. Not much of an insight.) But with one week to play, now is the time to consider roster moves that would ordinarily warrant some down-time at the local asylum. In general terms, picking a Ranger starter is not recommended. The Rangers’ aforementioned offensive woes decrease the chance of a starter getting enough run support to notch a “W,” and , well, most Ranger starters are statistical black holes.
But if you are truly, wretchedly, abjectly desperate for a starting pitcher, you might consider COLBY LEWIS or perhaps R.A. DICKEY this coming weekend against Anaheim. They are the very definition of inconsistency, but they have performed very well at times. Lewis, in particular, has shown slight but tangible improvement since his temporary return to AAA. Also, Anaheim’s ragtag offense has averaged only 3.2 runs per game in September. Again, they are pitchers for fantasy teams that have nothing to lose. Don’t dream of picking them up if you have the lead in your fantasy league.
Next week, I’ll offer some final thoughts and compare my predictions to reality, but in essence this is my final column of the season. To those who’ve stopped by, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed my columns and gleaned some useful information from them. I look forward to offering more “wisdom” in 2004. Thanks to ESPN for the opportunity, and thanks to Courtney for feigning interest in my baseball and statistical ramblings these past two years.
Whole Lotta Nothin’ Going On
Aside from the overhyped non-story of Alex Rodriguez’s imminent departure, news from Rangerland is slow, slow, slow. During the playoffs, the Rangers outrighted eight players including outfielder Shane Spencer, catcher Todd Greene and relief pitcher Aaron Fultz. Texas also has signed four minor-league free agents, all pitchers. John Wasdin and Carlos Almanzar are the names you might have heard. As of early November, the Rangers’ 40-man roster contains only 31 players, 19 of whom are pitchers. The stove won’t heat up until December, when teams must offer or decline arbitration to free agents and contracts to those on the 40-man roster.
Under Contract in 2004
The Rangers have ten players already under contract for 2004: Alex Rodriguez ($20.5 million plus $3 million deferred to 2014), Chan Ho Park ($13 million), perpetually injured Rusty Greer ($7.4 million, much of which is insured), Jeff Zimmerman ($4.3 million), Jay Powell ($3.0 million) Einar Diaz ($2.5 million), Herbert Perry ($1.5 million), Mark Teixeira ($1.5 million), Ron Mahay (unknown, probably less than $1.0 million) and Todd Van Poppel ($3.0 million). Those players will cost the Rangers about $57 million in 2004, so Texas has about $15-20 million to spend on the remainder of the roster according to limits set by owner Tom Hicks.
Juan Gonzalez, you ask? Is he even alive? Not from the point of view of Ranger management. You’re more likely to see me in the Ballpark right field in 2004 than Gonzalez, who missed 172 games during his dismal two-year return engagement in Texas. Rafael Palmeiro’s situation is more problematic. Raffy frustrated management with his refusal to wave his no-trade clause. The 39-year-old Palmeiro also requested a three-year, $20 million contract in July, to which Ranger management reacted with amused disdain. Nevertheless, Texas may offer him a contract, albeit one shorter and less generous than what Raffy is seeking. But if prospect Adrian Gonzalez continues to tear up the Arizona Fall League, the Rangers may allocate their limited funds elsewhere.
The Rangers would like to resign pitcher John Thomson, an inning-eater who offered a 4.17 ERA after the All-Star Break. GM John Hart hates arbitration and might let Thomson slip away if they don’t work out a new contract, even though Thomson made only $1.3 million in 2003 and probably wouldn’t break the bank in arbitration. Texas won’t offer anything to fellow starter Ismael Valdes.
Barring trades, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Diaz, Hank Blalock and Michael Young will be in the everyday lineup. Adrian Gonzalez has a chance to earn the 1B job in Spring Training, pushing Teixeira to the outfield. Texas would love to sign a worthwhile centerfielder, but otherwise it could fall to Layne Nix, as Ramon Nivar doesn’t look ready yet. Kevin Mench might grab the other outfield spot if he can ever stay healthy. Texas expects to sign one or two modestly priced free-agent hitters. As for pitchers… I don’t want to think about it.
No News Is Good News
So the A-Rod/Manny saga comes to a conclusion with no deal done, at least until “well-placed sources within the organizations” see fit to resume the media circus. And what a fine circus it was, a huge canvas tent bursting with entertaining rumours, exaggerations, half-truths, and unsupported assertions. All of which is more exciting than discussing Todd Walker’s deal with the Cubs, I suppose.
Most of the media wrote from the premise that a trade should happen, if for no other reason than a trade would be more interesting and exciting than the lack of a trade. Thus, the Rangers are failures for their inability to consummate the deal. What I found most interesting in all the coverage was the lack of discussion about how the trade would have helped Boston and Texas on the field. For the typical talk-show host, whether the trade would have aided Texas was far down on the list of topics.
In my opinion, Texas is and will be better off keeping Rodriguez. Ramirez is a better hitter but is also four years older and more likely to decline. Rodriguez is a fine defensive shortstop, while Ramirez can barely play a corner outfield spot. The talent pool in the outfield is much larger: Texas is far more likely to find an outfielder who can offer a reasonable fraction of Ramirez’s production.
Texas signed outfielder BRIAN JORDAN and 1b/dh BRAD FULLMER to one-year deals. Jordan will play right field (Manny Ramirez’s putative position), and Fullmer will DH against righties and spot at first base. Both should earn late-round selections in mixed-league fantasy drafts. The Rangers probably will sign outfielder DAVID DELLUCCI to a one-year deal. Dellucci will be the 2004 version of Doug Glanville: a decent signing if he receives no more than 200 at-bats, a bad signing if he starts regularly. Texas also claimed Tampa Bay outfielder JASON TYNER from waivers, then declined to offer him a contract and signed him to a minor-league deal. Texas continues to court Brett Tomko, a decidedly poor choice to replace John Thomson.
Under Contract in 2004
The Rangers have twelve players under contract for 2004 as of December 28, 2003: Alex Rodriguez ($20.5 million plus $3 million deferred to 2014), Chan Ho Park ($13 million), perpetually injured Rusty Greer ($7.4 million, much of which is insured), Jeff Zimmerman ($4.3 million), Jay Powell ($3.0 million) Einar Diaz ($2.5 million), Herbert Perry ($1.5 million), Mark Teixeira ($1.5 million), Ron Mahay (unknown, probably less than $1.0 million), Brian Jordan ($1.25 million with incentives), Brad Fullmer ($1 million), and Todd Van Poppel ($3.0 million). Those players will cost the Rangers about $60 million in 2004. Owner Tom Hicks intends to keep the aggregate salary of the team in the $70-75 million range.
Roster, Depth Chart and Transactions
Having no apparent life of my own, I’ve kept up with every transaction made by the Rangers this offseason. Visit http://www.scottlucas.com/texas/index03.htm for the current 40-man roster, transactions since late September, an organizational depth chart and my previous columns. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope your holiday season was safe and pleasant. Don’t become a statistic or the defendant in a DUI case on New Year’s Eve. See you in 2004.