The Ranger Rundown by Scott Lucas

2004 ESPN Fantasy Baseball Columns

January 11, 2004

A Long Winter Continues
Texas brought in the new year by signing Eric Young to a one-year contract. Young will back up second baseman Michael Young (who rarely misses a game), pinch-hit, pinch-run, and spot in the outfield. Or will he? The local papers speculate that Young might push Kevin Mench for time in left field. Since similar speculation had already been made regarding David Dellucci, I get the feeling that Hart, Showalter and crew are not members of the Kevin Mench Fan Club. In the lesser role described above, Young is a fine player, but his lifetime line of .285/.360/.393 does not translate into a quality left fielder.

If Texas allows the 26-year-old Mench to rot on the bench or in AAA, and if ostensible centerfielder Laynce Nix struggles to start the season, the “rebuilding” Rangers could sport a starting outfield of 37-year-old Eric Young, 30-year-old David Dellucci, and 37-year-old Brian Jordan. Depressing.

Starting Pitcher: TBD
Joaquin Benoit. Mickey Callaway. R.A. Dickey. Juan Dominguez. Ryan Drese. Colby Lewis. Chan Ho Park. Ricardo Rodriguez. Ryan Snare. Having signed no starting pitcher of relevance during the offseason (sorry, John Wasdin), the Rangers will attempt to cobble a starting rotation from the nine names listed above. Park and Lewis almost certainly will hold spots. A healthy Rodriguez should nab a spot, and Dickey and Benoit (who is out of minor-league options) have the inside track on the last two. As you might suspect, I don’t expect to have to write much about Ranger pitchers this season except the closer. Texas may yet sign an inning-eater like Kenny Rogers.

Under Contract in 2004
Thirteen players under contract for 2004 as of post date: Alex Rodriguez ($20.5 million plus $2 million of signing bonus 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), David Dellucci ($750k), and Eric Young ($1 million), plus Todd Van Poppel ($3.0 million to pitch elsewhere).

Those players will cost the Rangers about $65 million in 2004. Only Francisco Cordero is eligible for arbitration. The rest are essentially the Rangers’ property, and most will receive salaries at or near the league minimum of $300,000. Assuming an average salary of $400,000 for the remainder of the active roster and minimal amounts for the minor leaguers, the Rangers salary will hover around $72 million, about $25 million less than in 2003.

Meanwhile, in Seattle…
Randy Winn, who turns 30 this June, is the youngest regular position player on the Mariners. The average age of their putative starting nine is 33.4 even despite failing to acquire 37-year-old Omar Vizquel. And, just for fun, they acquired Dale Hansen (35) and Quinton McCracken (33) as backups. As a Ranger fan, I can’t help but enjoy the reign of Bill Bavasi, who should have the Mariners gunning for last place in the division by 2005.

January 26, 2004

Sound and Fury
The Biggest Trade In The History Of Mankind failed to consummate, leaving baseball’s best and most expensive player in the employ of the Texas Rangers. Manager Buck Showalter named Alex Rodriguez the Rangers’ Captain and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe. Rodriguez’s tepid and qualifier-larded statement: “I definitely think I'm going to be here for a long time. I'm probably pretty sure it will work out for the best." Perhaps no one is more pleased with A-Rod’s retention than Dallas Morning News columnist Gerry Fraley, who gets to keep the most frequent target of his carefully crafted blend of dyspepsia and churlishness.

Today’s Lineup
Were the season to start today, Buck Showalter might offer a lineup that looks something like this: 2B Michael Young, 3B Hank Blalock, SS Alex Rodriguez, DH Brad Fullmer, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Brain Jordan, LF Kevin Mench, CF Laynce Nix, and C Einar Diaz. Fullmer doesn’t hit lefties, so folks like Eric Young and Herbert Perry could fill in against the likes of Barry Zito. Lucky them.

The Ranger brass have never viewed Kevin Mench with much fondness, so expect Eric Young and David Dellucci to start in his place with dismaying frequency, especially if Mench starts the season slowly. In a perfect world, catcher Gerald Laird will have matured into a big-league-ready backstop over the winter and will supplant Diaz before too long.

Starting Pitchers
As you might surmise, the Rangers fantasy correspondent doesn’t waste to much of his time writing about pitching. Kenny Rogers’ 2002 campaign was the only fantasy-worthy performance by a starter I’ve witnessed in two years on this assignment. Regretfully, 2004 looks all too familiar. The re-signed Rogers is the putative ace of the this staff, and Texas again hopes that Chan Ho Park provides some pennies in return for the dollars they’ve invested in him. Ricardo Rodriguez, acquired for Ryan Ludwick last summer, has yet to transform his estimable talent into worthwhile Major League results. Likewise Colby Lewis, who won’t be permitted again to throw 100+ innings with a 7+ ERA. Other candidates include R.A. Dickey, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Drese, and several non-roster invitees.

Francisco Cordero will close games and is the odds-on favorite to be the Rangers’ most valuable fantasy pitcher. Jeff Nelson and Jeff Zimmerman, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in Organized Baseball since September 2001, provide righthanded support. Ron Mahay and Brain Shouse are the best lefty relievers. Jay Powell, Rosman Garcia, Erasmo Ramirez, and a variety of non-roster invitees will fight for jobs in the back of the bullpen.

The signings of Jordan, Eric Young and Dellucci keep Teixeira in the infield, meaning that 1B Adrian Gonzalez probably won’t earn a roster spot even with a tremendous spring. Speedy and toolsy OF Ramon Nivar will begin the season attempting to learn a modicum of plate disciplince in AAA. SP Juan Dominguez will work on a compliment to his so-so fastball and devastating chageup. All could finish the season in Texas.

Roster, Depth Chart and Transactions
Visit for the current 40-man roster, transactions (with analysis) since late September, an organizational depth chart and my previous columns. For the absolute best coverage of the Rangers’ minor-league system as well as the active roster, visit Jamey Newberg at Also visit the Batters Box at for baseball news from a Toronto perspective and interesting content from a variety of authors (including yours truly).

February 18, 2004

End Of An “Era”
After three months of near-misses and attendant media speculation, Texas succeeded in trading shortstop ALEX RODRIGUEZ. Boston fans must be sick to their stomachs, and I’m not feeling too good myself. I try not to invest my emotions in individual players, but seeing Rodriguez in pinstripes made me distinctly uncomfortable. The feeling wasn’t entirely different from your significant other telling you that you weren’t wanted anymore. Rodriguez should have been a Rangers through 2010; instead, he leaves after three dismal seasons. Tom Hicks has succeeded fabulously in his other endeavours, but as a baseball club owner, he is a failure. His handpicked GM John Hart (who didn’t sign Rodriguez) failed miserably in giving Rodriguez a surrounding cast of support.

This trade solves nothing. Had Texas traded Rodriguez for Soriano straight-up, at least the Ranger brass could have excused the deal as a pure salary dump. But for Texas to pick up $43 million of his remaining salary and all of his deferred salary is a stark an admission of failure as can be imagined. Soriano makes $5.4 million now and might hit $10 million in 2006, his last year of arbitration. Thus, Soriano himself consumes much of the heralded “payroll flexibility” gained by jettisoning Rodriguez, plus this flexibility is meaningless without competent free-agent signings. Can Texas make them? As noted in Baseball Prospectus, Texas has traded Rodriguez to subsidize the Chan Ho Park contract.

Soriano at The Ballpark
I’ve read quite a bit about how ALPHONSO SORIANO will explode statistically playing 81 games in The Ballpark. To which I say, temper your expectations. Yes, Soriano moves from a tough park for hitters to one of the easiest, but he also moves into a much weaker lineup. Furthermore, if Buck Showalter has any sense, Soriano will bat in the middle of the order where his mediocre on-base skills and high slugging percentage are best suited. Such a move would add to his RBI total but cost him runs, steals, and plate appearances. For now, I wouldn’t give Soriano any more value in Texas than he’d have as a Yankee. Along the same line of reasoning, I wouldn’t change A-Rod’s value either. Tougher home park, better surrounding cast.

What Of The Other Rangers?
Most likely, Soriano will play second base with MICHAEL YOUNG shifting to shortstop. Young has played there capably in the past and was already eligible at that position in ESPN leagues. If this occurs, the effect on other Rangers is minimal, though essentially every Ranger hitter takes a slight hit with the change from Rodriguez to Soriano in the lineup. Another possibility has the rather weak defender Soriano shifting to center field. This alignment affects many players. Putative centerfielder LAYNCE NIX would shift to left field and battle KEVIN MENCH for playing time. I don’t think any of the youngsters will replace BRIAN JORDAN in the lineup. Michael Young probably stays at short and ERIC YOUNG would become the everyday second baseman.

I doubt Soriano ends up in center field. Showalter isn’t an out-of-the-box kind of manager, and moving Soriano to center creates a cascade of positional changes. If you’re wondering about potential shortstops coming up from the minors, well, the 2003 shortstop in AAA Oklahoma was none other than Manny Alexander. May God show mercy on Texas if he plays even an inning in the big leagues this season. God might, but I won’t.

February 26, 2004

Soriano Stays Put
MICHAEL YOUNG volunteered to take the shortstop position on Tuesday, essentially putting to rest the rumours of ALFONSO SORIANO moving to shortstop or center field. Showalter and company probably were going to put Young at shortstop in any case, but Young’s endorsement of the move lets them breathe a little easier. Young already was eligible at short in ESPN leagues, so he doesn’t gain anything in fantasy ball by moving there. The player damaged most by this scenario is ERIC YOUNG, who stood a chance of becoming the everyday second baseman had Soriano moved to center. KEVIN MENCH and LAYNCE NIX maintain their marginal value, which is to say at the very back end of AL-only leagues, if even there.

From what I’ve read, Soriano will replace Rodriguez in the #3 spot in the order. It’s the choice spot, of course, giving him the best opportunity to belt homers with men on and drive in a ton of runs. However, batting third also should cut into his steals, perhaps quite a bit. Buck Showalter is a no-nonsense kind of manager and probably doesn’t look kindly on the number-three hitter running wild on the basepaths. I’m guessing at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Soriano’s steal total drop into the twenties compared to the 35-43 he’s tallied over the last three years. I think owners counting on a 40-40 season will be disappointed.

Rumours abound of Soriano heading to the Mets for Jose Reyes with other players involved. Both the Mets and Rangers dismissed the speculation, but as you now know well, the Rangers have zero credibility regarding public statements. Since Soriano makes $5.4 million in 2004 and could earn $7-10 million per year in his next two years of arbitration, Texas might not want him hanging around too long. I think Soriano stays with Texas for a few months, but Texas probably will entertain offers from playoff contenders come June and July. A trade to the Mets would dampen his fantasy value (NL plus tough park for hitters).

More on Young
Thus far, Young ranks 7th among second basemen chosen in mixed-league drafts. That sounds about right, but I’m not as high on Young as some of you might be. Young’s offensive output is very heavily reliant on batting average; his walk rate fell last year to one per 20 plate appearances, about half as often as you’d like (especially from a leadoff hitter). Young batted .306 last year but hadn’t surpassed .262 in his previous two seasons. A 20-point drop in average, combined with the generally weaker Ranger offense, could cut into his run total considerably. Don’t be afraid to draft him, but I wouldn’t expect any improvement on last year’s statistics. His 2003 season should be about as good as he gets.

Consider Brad Fullmer
One player barely appearing on anyone’s radar is BRAD FULLMER, eligible as a first baseman in ESPN league. Through Wednesday, Fullmer has been drafted in only 23% of mixed leagues. Fullmer missed most of last season after rupturing his patella tendon, so his weak “counting” stats have left him off most people’s checklists. If you want a true sleeper, Brad Fullmer is your man. Fullmer can’t hit lefties and won’t start against them, but he has a career line of .294/.396/.515 against righties and is moving into a lefthanded hitter’s paradise. This is a player you could pick up in the very last round of your draft and reap huge benefits. Especially in 12-team leagues, you should give him serious thought.

KENNY ROGERS tweaked a hamstring and missed a few workouts. The condition is not considered serious. Reliever JEFF ZIMMERMAN is working out with no limitations. He won’t close games but might down the road if he proves his worth and current closer FRANCISCO CORDERO is traded. I am duty-bound to report that CHAN HO PARK claims to be fully cured of his various physical and mental ailments. I don’t intend to offer a prediction for him this year, as he has made me look quite foolish the last two years. I’ll report, you decide.

March 03, 2004

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: 2B. Spot in Batting Order: #3. Plate Appearances: 675. Batting Average: .320. Runs: 115. Homers: 41. RBI: 115. Steals: 25. On-base Percentage: .360. Slugging Percentage: .580. Upside: Low – Hard to improve on these numbers. More homers and RBI are possible. Downside: Low – A trade would almost certainly place him in a more pitcher-friendly park but also with a better surrounding cast. Overall risk: Low.

By moving from leadoff to the #3 spot, and from Yankee Stadium to the hitter-friendly Ballpark, Soriano ought to set personal records in every statistical category except steals and runs. On the downside, Soriano shouldn’t run as much as in years past given his new spot in the order. I really don’t know how many steals he’ll achieve, but a fabled 40-40 season is doubtful. I don’t think he’ll last the season in Texas, especially if the team has another extended slump that puts mere respectability out of reach. Nevertheless, he’s one of the top four players in fantasy ball along with A-Rod, Pujols and Vlad.

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: SS, 2B. Spot in Batting Order: #1. Plate Appearances: 675. Batting Average: .290. Runs: 95. Homers: 13. RBI: 65. Steals: 15. On-base Percentage: .330. Slugging Percentage: .420. Upside: Low-to-moderate – Young could hit over .300 and surpass 100 runs again, with a few more steals as a bonus. Downside: Low – I’m already predicting a slight regression from last year. Young is very durable. Overall risk: Low.

Michael Young had his career season in 2003, batting .306 with 14 homers and 106 runs scored. He did so despite a heightened aversion to walking, just once per twenty plate appearances, and a continued inability to hit on the road (.658 OPS). Will Young take another step up, or does his impatience denote a player who has topped out? Frankly, I’m inclined to take the second view. Young is a fine player, a solid fantasy performer, and I’d gladly draft him, but I think that 2003 is about as good as he gets. Also, the loss of A-Rod/Palmeiro/Gonzalez could cut into his run total. The owner drafting him high in anticipation of a breakout season is facing disappointment.

Buck Showalter is talking up JASON TYNER, which, as you can imagine, makes me want to cry. Presumably, the talk is just a way to put pressure on KEVIN MENCH, who is facing his make-or-break season in Texas. Like many managers, Showalter holds too strong an affection toward “scrappy” players with a modicum of talent (c.f., Donnie Sadler). Tyner himself has little chance of making the club, much less getting significant playing time, but fellow partner in scrappiness DAVID DELLUCCI could end up getting far more at-bats than he deserves. Like last year, expect some pointless platooning, too many at-bats bestowed on retreads, and other moves that denote little more than Showalter’s need to insert himself into the game.

I’ve heard little news, good or bad, on the condition of the surgically repaired knees belonging to BRIAN JORDAN and BRAD FULLMER. Apparently, both are okay. I expect Fullmer to have the better season even though he’ll sit against most lefthanders... Remember that MARK TEIXEIRA is eligible at 3B and OF. Next year, he’ll probably be eligible only at first base… Are fantasy owners really picking Joe Nathan and Jorge Julio before Joel Pineiro? Boy, are saves overrated.

March 08, 2004

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: 1B, 3B, OF. Spot in Batting Order: #5. Plate Appearances: 650. Batting Average: .280. Runs: 80. Homers: 32. RBI: 100. Steals: 1. On-base Percentage: .360. Slugging Percentage: .520. Upside: Moderate – Teixeira inexplicably struggled against righties; there’s no reason for that to continue. Has 40-homer potential. Downside: Moderate – Has 40-homer potential but is very green, not yet 24. Fewer than 1,000 professional plate appearances. Growing pains possible. Overall risk: Moderate.

With all of 86 professional games under his belt, Mark Teixeira surprisingly made the team out of Spring Training in 2003 and ended up with a very respectable season after a slow start. Teixeira batted only .242 against righties and had a gruesome line of .217/.303/.343 on the road. As a fantasy first baseman, Teixeira is middle-of-the-road, but for one more year he gains substantial value with eligibility at third base. He will play exclusively at first this season unless prospect Adrian Gonzalez pushes him back to the outfield later in the year. He’s still learning, but when he puts it all together he’ll be phenomenal.

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: 3B. Spot in Batting Order: #2. Plate Appearances: 675. Batting Average: .295. Runs: 95. Homers: 30. RBI: 95. Steals: 2. On-base Percentage: .350. Slugging Percentage: .515. Upside: Moderate – Could hit well over .300 if he figures out lefties. Downside: Low – Continued problems against lefties could result in another semi-platoon as in 2003. Had never hit more than 18 homers in a season prior to last year. Overall risk: Low.

Blalock rebounded from a lost 2002 with a vengeance, batting .300 and showing startling power. Early last season, I warned his owners not to expect too much after his blazing start (.388 and six homers in April) and that his homer total would end up in the 20-25 range. Instead, he barely slowed down, hitting 29. Unlike Teixeira, Blalock isn’t much of a candidate for 40 homers, but he should reach 25-30 again. Blalock hasn’t hit lefties well at all and sat out against most of them in 2003. More at-bats against them this year could slightly dampen his “rate” stats. Like many Rangers, he struggles on the road. With Mike Lowell’s elbow still causing trouble, Blalock might be the third-best third sacker in fantasy ball behind Rolen and Chavez.

KEVIN MENCH has played well in the first few Cactus League games. Strong play will solidify his spot in left field and prevent me from having to write about Chad Allen or Jason Tyner. I shudder to contemplate it. RAMON NIVAR also has performed well, perhaps putting a little pressure on putative center fielder LAYNCE NIX. Nivar needs time in AAA to figure out how to take a pitch, but an outrageous spring could force Showalter’s hand. BRAD FULLMER tripled in Monday’s game and appears to be recovering well from his knee surgery. Fellow patient BRIAN JORDAN hasn’t appeared in the stats yet. The Rangers are being especially careful with his knee, and potential owners need to watch his recovery closely.

Jordan could be a fine mid-to-late round pick in AL-only leagues and has sleeper potential in mixed leagues, but not if he can’t play regularly. With Fullmer around, Jordan can’t expect to DH very often. As for the pitchers, FRANCISCO CORDERO is the closer. Some owners (and writers) still have JEFF ZIMMERMAN on the brain, but Cordero will close unless he collapses utterly in Spring Training. Zimmerman allowed seven runs without retiring a batter in his first game appearance. His elbow is fine, he just didn’t pitch well. The Rangers have about 300 other pitchers in camp, . I’ll let you know if one of them merits your attention.

March 13, 2004

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: 1B. Spot in Batting Order: #4. Plate Appearances: 475. Batting Average: .300. Runs: 80. Homers: 21. RBI: 80. Steals: 5. On-base Percentage: .365. Slugging Percentage: .530. Upside: High – Fullmer will bat cleanup, kills righties and is moving into a park designed for left-handed mashers. Another 30-homer, 100-RBI season is possible. Downside: Moderate – Fullmer doesn’t hit lefties well and will sit against most of them. Coming off patella tendon surgery. Hasn’t driven in 100 runs since 2000. Overall risk: Moderate. Owners are ignoring Fullmer in mixed leagues. Grab him with a late-round pick and reap the rewards. An upper-middle round pick in AL-only leagues.

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF. Spot in Batting Order: #6. Plate Appearances: 450. Batting Average: .300. Runs: 65. Homers: 15. RBI: 75. Steals: 2. On-base Percentage: .365. Slugging Percentage: .450. Upside: Moderate – Hit .290 with 43 homers and 177 RBI as a Dodger in 2002-2003. Showed unusual patience last year. Moving to a hitter’s park. Has one last chance to prove himself. Downside: High – 37 and injury prone. Could be on his last legs. No room to DH. If he hits well, he could be traded to an NL team. Overall risk: High. Avoid in mixed leagues. A risky mid-round pick in mixed leagues. If he starts out hot, trade him immediately.

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF. Spot in Batting Order: #7. Plate Appearances: 450. Batting Average: .270. Runs: 55. Homers: 13. RBI: 55. Steals: 2. On-base Percentage: .345. Slugging Percentage: .445. Upside: High – Hit 15 homers in 110 games in 2002. A full, healthy season could result in 25 homers and 80+ RBI. Downside: High – Injury prone. Not in the good graces of management. Minor-league stats were all over the map, making him hard to project. Overall risk: Moderate-to-high. Not worth the hassle in mixed leagues. A potentially decent mid-round or late-round pick in AL-only leagues, but have Plan B ready.

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: OF. Spot in Batting Order: #8. Plate Appearances: 450. Batting Average: .265. Runs: 60. Homers: 20. RBI: 70. Steals: 7. On-base Percentage: .315. Slugging Percentage: .470. Upside: Moderate – Nix slugged .440 as a very green 22-year-old. Swung at everything last year but showed good patience in minors. Downside: High – How much will he play? Nix may sit against lefties. He skipped AAA last year but could find himself there in 2004 if he starts slow. Overall risk: Moderate-to-high. Worth a shot as a 16-20th round pick in a typical AL-only league. Avoid in all but very large mixed leagues.

Injury Bug
MARK TEIXEIRA will miss a few days with a sprained neck ligament. He said it has bothered him for other a week but he didn’t tell anybody until yesterday. Why players do this, I don’t know. Last year, Tampa Bay pitcher Seth McClung tried to pitch his way silently through elbow soreness and ended up needing Tommy John surgery. Teixeira should be okay, but keep an eye on him. Since Hank Blalock was scheduled to rest Friday (he’s fine), Texas ended up using Eric Young at third base, where he had never played before. BRAD FULLMER is feeling no ill effects from last season’s knee surgery. BRIAN JORDAN is reasonably healthy but is being handled with more care. CHAN HO PARK shrugged off minor back pain before making his scheduled start.

The Man Behind The Curtain
Spring Training stats are like the Wizard of Oz: lots of noise and bluster but little substance. Sure, players can win or lose jobs based on how they play in just a handful of games, but fantasy owners should ignore those stats in terms of predicting future performance. Half the guys in camp right are low-level prospects or scrubs, pitchers are tinkering with their deliveries, pull hitters are trying to go the other way, and a couple of good or bad outings can skew the stats to the point of absurdity. Focus on injuries and position battles. Don’t even look at the stats.

Ramblin’ Man
The bad news is that I will be traveling on business most of next week, so I won’t have another column up until the 19th. The good news is that I get to see a Ranger Spring Training game in Arizona on Monday. I’ll have intermittent internet access and can answer questions at On Sunday, check out my preview of the 2004 Rangers at the Batter’s Box,

March 20, 2004

Big Tex Returns
Out for nearly a week with a strained neck, MARK TEIXEIRA returned to action Friday. He hasn’t hit well at all this spring, but you needn’t worry about his stats, just his health. Teixeira foolishly tried to play through neck pain for two weeks without informing management or team doctors. Presumably, they explained the importance of disclosing his owwies immediately. On Saturday, he homered and doubled against the White Sox. As long as Teixeira’s name appears in the box scores, draft him as you normally would.

I Don’t Believe in Zimmerman
JEFF ZIMMERMAN’s elbow locked up during a game last Monday. While the incident apparently didn’t create any new damage to his arm, he’s still waiting for the swelling to subside and is out indefinitely. As happened last July, Zimmerman can’t throw at full velocity for more than a few pitches without trouble. He probably will open the season on the DL. My advice? Drop him and forget about him. He may not throw a single pitch during his three-year, $10.0 million contract.

Outfield Taking Shape
LAYNCE NIX was expected to win the starting spot in center field, and Friday’s reassignment of RAMON NIVAR to minor-league camp confirmed it. I wouldn’t recommend Nix in all but very large mixed leagues (i.e., larger than the 12-team maximum ESPN offers). Nix is worth drafting in any AL-only league but does carry risk. He may sit against most lefties and has just one year experience above high-A. Buck Showalter’s noncommittal statements notwithstanding, KEVIN MENCH is slowly wrapping his paws around the starting left field spot. Like Nix, Mench doesn’t merit a mixed-league spot and has a high upside and downside in AL-only leagues. Actually, the same forecast applies to BRIAN JORDAN, who the Rangers are handling with extreme caution after his return from knee surgery.

Young and the Restless
So far this spring, more readers have asked about ERIC YOUNG than any other player. If nothing else, that indicates what a boring team the Rangers are from a fantasy perspective. Anyway, Young is tough to predict, not having a position of his own. He should spot-start at every outfield position, occasionally DH against lefties, and start at second when ALFONSO SORIANO takes a rare day off. If Texas trades Soriano, grab Young with all due speed as he’ll probably take over at second base and play nearly every day. Minus such a trade or an injury to Jordan, Young will struggle to surpass 300 at-bats.

Young turns 37 in May. Would he steal 25-30 bases even as a full-time player? Young also hit 15 homers last year after never hitting more than eight in any season. He won’t approach 15 again, even in Arlington. I’m not suggesting he CAN’T have another solid fantasy season. I’m just saying he probably won’t. So, don’t bother in mixed leagues, and save a late-round pick for him in AL-only leagues. Odds are that someone else will pick him (or auto-draft him) too high because he’s a “name.” Let that person deal with what should be a very mediocre fantasy season. As with any player, if you draft Young on his upside rather than his probable performance, you’re going to lose.

I wish I could recommend someone. I think BRAD FULLMER will greatly please his owners, but I don’t know if he’s a sleeper, per se. No other hitter has positioned himself to steal at-bats from the presumed starters. You might keep half an eye on catcher GERALD LAIRD, who is having a fine spring and ought to supplant EINAR DIAZ by midseason. Laird might be starting now if not for Diaz’s $2.5 million contract (thank you, John Hart). R.A. DICKEY has pitched well, but I can’t recommend any Ranger starter except KENNY ROGERS (late in AL-only leagues and nowhere else). Just in terms of statistical probability, one unheralded Ranger starter ought to have a passable fantasy season, but I couldn’t imagine who he’d be right now.

March 26, 2004

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: Closer. Innings: 75. Wins: 4. Saves: 30. ERA: 3.35. WHIP: 1.33. Strikeouts: 80. Upside: Moderate – Cordero has the goods. Don’t worry about his poor surrounding cast; if he hangs around, he could approach 35-40 saves. Downside: Moderate – Cordero earns $2,000,000 now and is arbitration-eligible next year. A fast-sinking Texas might trade him to a contender, where he could be reduced to a set-up role. Overall risk: Moderate.

Cordero is a classic closer, augmenting a 98-MPH fastball with a slider and changeup. Cordero has never saved more than 15 games in a season, but that’s not his fault. He performed well after taking over the role in mid-2002 from John Rocker(!) and Hideki Irabu(!!!), but in 2002 he found himself setting up Proven Closer Ugueth Urbina. Now, especially with JEFF ZIMMERMAN likely done for an extended period and perhaps forever, Cordero enters the season with no competition for saves. The possibility of a trade is the only dampening factor on his potential. Still, such a trade is only possible, not probable, and you should draft him without fear.

2004 PROJECTIONS: Position: #1 starter. Innings: 190. Wins: 10. ERA: 4.80. WHIP: 1.48. Strikeouts: 110. Upside: Low-to-moderate – Rogers posted a 3.85 ERA and won 13 games as a Ranger in 2002. The Ballpark doesn’t faze him. Downside: Moderate-to-high – Rogers is 39. No one pitches forever. Overall risk: Moderate.

I have to devote a paragraph to a starting pitcher, if only for my own amusement. Rogers will take the mound on Opening Day starter and is the ace of the Ranger staff, both good reasons to avoid any Ranger starter this season. Rogers has a 4.04 career ERA in Arlington, has aged well and actually set his personal best strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter last year. Nevertheless, he’s no more than a bottom-end selection in AL-only leagues. He MIGHT offer a decent fantasy season, but plenty of other pitchers have more upside. When the season starts, keep an eye on the Ranger rotation just in case someone breaks out and one of your starters gets hurt. On draft day, don’t bother.

Owwie Report
MARK TEIXEIRA played a game at DH instead of first because of recurring pain in his neck. He probably would have played during the regular season. Injuries are harder to predict than just about anything else in fantasy ball, but my hunch is that this won’t be a serious problem. Both local papers mentioned his condition well down the page in their Ranger columns. I think a more serious condition would deserve a headline. Even downgraded a notch, he still ranks among the better 3B-eligible players in fantasy ball. Meanwhile, BRIAN JORDAN had an MRI on his ailing knee. Mark him down a little more on your depth chart. Don’t touch him in ESPN mixed leagues.

Third, Not First
I didn’t notice this until Friday, but ESPN’s otherwise useful list of lineups and rotations has ALFONSO SORIANO as the Rangers’ leadoff hitter. In truth, Soriano is expected to bat third for Texas, usually behind MICHAEL YOUNG and HANK BLALOCK. Batting third should cut into his steal total, and the odds of a fabled 40/40 season are exceedingly slim. However, Alex Rodriguez stole 17 bases in the same slot last year, so Soriano ought to achieve at least 20-25. He remains an elite player; don’t downgrade him.

April 03, 2004

Jordan Out, Who’s In?
Outfielder BRIAN JORDAN will begin the season on the disabled list and will miss the first 2-4 weeks of the season. Texas has several options. The internal option is to shift KEVIN MENCH to right field and platoon ERIC YOUNG and DAVID DELLUCCI in left. Young is a righthanded hitter and would receive fewer at-bats than Dellucci under this scenario. They may call up RAMON NIVAR and move LAYNCE NIX from center to right. They may call up CHAD ALLEN and throw him into a rotation with Young and Dellucci. Fantasy advice: Sit tight. Delucci and Nivar aren’t worth owning, and I doubt Young will play enough to matter, either. Mench seems to have a lock on starting almost every game, for now. Also, keep an eye on the MILTON BRADLEY rumors.

Soriano Rumors
There are none. Not for the moment, anyway. A local writer recently opined that Texas should keep MICHAEL YOUNG at second, move Soriano to the outfield, and… no, don’t make me type it… aaaggh!… MANNY ALEXANDER at shortstop. Yes, Manny “career line of .232/.285/.328 and hasn’t played ML ball since 2000” Alexander. Now, Texas does have a potential problem in that they have no backup shortstop to Young on the putative roster (Eric Young has never played there, though Nivar could in an emergency). Alexander solves that problem only in the most technical, nominal sense. Showalter wanted Soriano to play shortstop occasionally in Spring Training, but he reacted as though he’d been told to eat brussel sprouts every meal. He probably wouldn’t take kindly to the outfield, either.

Surprisingly, most advanced defensive metrics think reasonably well of Soriano’s play at second base. But the conventional wisdom is that he’s awful and getting worse by the day, necessitating a move to outfield or even DH. Assuming he hits as expected, he’ll earn $7-8 million next season via arbitration. As Texas enters July with a record of 34-46, that impending salary bump will loom large, not to mention the $5.4 million he makes this season. So, to finally get to the point, I do think Texas will trade Soriano. Whether to an AL team or an NL team, I have no earthly idea. If you own him in an AL-only league, pray for a hot start, then consider trading him at what should be peak value. Once the rumors start again, he’ll lose value fast.

Fullmer Revisited
I persist in believing that BRAD FULLMER will have a fine year. Unlike Jordan, he has shown no signs of trouble from last year’s season-ending surgery. Fullmer should DH against all righties and some lefties. He may start at first once in a while to rest MARK TEIXEIRA. Since Fullmer won’t play every day and does have an injury history, he may not be suited to owners who tend to stick with a set lineup. But for more active owners who pay attention to matchups, he could provide fantastic value when platooned with someone else on your squad.

Spring Wrap-up
MARK TEIXEIRA’s neck strain hasn’t troubled him lately. It remains a minor concern, but in general his outlook remains unchanged. For the jillionth time, spring stats are meaningless… but HANK BLALOCK has hit the cover off the ball. He might be looking at repeating last year’s fast start. LAYNCE NIX showed good patience at the plate until he debuted in Arlington last year. Those problems have carried over into the spring; he has two walks and 21 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances.

R.A. DICKEY pitched best among the 472 rotation candidates. He might be worth a flyer in deep AL-only leagues. KENNY ROGERS, CHAN HO PARK, COLBY LEWIS, and Dickey will front the rotation. Starter #5 has yet to be determined. FRANCISCO CORDERO has pitched well and has a lock on the closer role. He has a small but real possibility of being traded during the season. If you want a very dark horse of a replacement candidate, look at CARLOS ALMANZAR, who has one walk and 15 strikeouts in nine spring innings. Don’t get him now, silly, but keep him in the very back of your head for future reference.

Ask Away plus Predictions
Archives (including predictions for Blalock, Teixeira, Soriano, Young, Fullmer, Mench, Nix and Jordan), 40-man roster, transactional analysis and organizational depth chart at Check out my preview of the 2004 Rangers at the Batter’s Box, PREDICTIONS: WS Champ: Yankees. NL Champ: Philadelphia. AL West Champ: Oakland. Rangers Record: 72-90.

April 10, 2004

Ranger Hurlers Dominates A’s, World Next
So your fantasy pitching staff is stocked with Rangers, isn’t it? After four games, the Rangers have the third-best ERA in baseball and the starting rotation of has an ERA of 2.33. The fearsome foursome of KENNY ROGERS, CHAN HO PARK, COLBY LEWIS and R.A. DICKEY has two wins, a WHIP of 1.15 and 22 strikeouts. Before you run off and drop Mike Mussina for Colby Lewis, please take a deep breath and ponder the five-plus ERAs that all but Rogers offered last year. Bland though he is, Rogers is the most likely of the four to provide something akin to adequacy in AL-only leagues. Pitching in Arlington has never fazed him.

As you may have read, Park’s velocity has rediscovered the low-90s gas he threw in LA. If nothing else, he should strike out plenty of batters. Whether he’s really got his act together is anybody’s guess. Yes, he could pay off, but the homer-prone Park also could disgorge a couple of three-inning, six-run disasters that tarnishes your team forever. The risk-averse need not apply. Nevertheless, I’d still rather own him than Lewis, who allowed nine baserunners in five innings but squeaked through five innings with only one run surrendered.

Laird = Mr. Popularity

Last week, Texas traded the woeful EINAR DIAZ to Montreal (while retaining 80% of his salary), handing the job to GERALD LAIRD. As of Friday night, Laird is the most added player in AL-only leagues. Laird has started three of the first four games but may not play quite as often as his owners would hope. When Hart traded Diaz, he and Buck Showalter went out of their way to praise fellow catcher ROD BARAJAS, amusingly referring to the 28-year-old journeyman a promising young catcher who would contend with Laird for at-bats. (So promising that Arizona dropped him in favor of Brent Mayne.) Probably they were just being nice, but if Laird starts off too slow, Barajas could catch more often. The concept of Barajas catching eighty or more games might depress me more than Laird himself.

That said, Laird should get at least 100 starts unless he completely flops. As for his fantasy prospects, he’s worthwhile in AL-only leagues, but I doubt he’ll bat well enough to merit a roster spot in mixed leagues. Laird has never batted above .276 above A-ball or hit more than 11 homers in a season. Still, catching is awfully thin in the AL, and Laird won’t perform any worse than Damian Miller or the Flying Molina Brothers.

Other Popular Guys
Also high on the most-added list in AL-only leagues are outfielders RAMON NIVAR and DAVID DELLUCCI. Neither is an everyday player. Dellucci starts against righthanded hitters while Nivar replaces LAYNCE NIX against lefties. In this arrangement, Dellucci could start about two of every three games while Brian Jordan rests his knee. Nivar (along with ERIC YOUNG) will start only about one-third of the time. If you own one of these players and don’t adjust your rosters according to the opposing pitcher, you’ve got a hole in your lineup. If you expect much help from Dellucci or Nivar, you’ve got a hole in your head. Dellucci is a career .266/.337/.411 hitter, and Nivar is a speedster who has trouble reaching first. KEVIN MENCH is the only everyday outfielder.

Less Popular But Their Moms Still Love Them

BRAD FULLMER has started both games against a righthanded starters and one of two against a lefty, about what you can expect. He hasn’t batted well yet but be patient with him. HANK BLALOCK is starting against lefties and is zero-for-nine. Being an everyday player is a double-edged sword. If you own Blalock, you probably want him to start every game, but Blalock has never hit lefties well, and do you really want him starting against Zito and Mulder on consecutive days? Ah, dilemmas. Meanwhile, ALFONSO SORIANO is on pace to steal 81 bases and commit 121 errors. The former is less likely to occur. I predicted fewer than 30 steals from Soriano from the #3 spot, a forecast that he is making debatable very quickly.

April 14, 2004

Time to Panic!
Nothing distorts the value of a player like the first two weeks of the season. Streaks and slumps that wouldn’t be noticed in July take on enormous significance in April. Exhibit A: ALFONSO SORIANO. Soriano is batting a dandy .333 but has a lonely, solitary run batted in and has yet to homer. Meanwhile, Jack Wilson is batting .414 with a homer and four RBI. He must be better than Alfonso Soriano, right? Maybe if you threw in Chipper Jones with Soriano, you could get Wilson.

Patience. Last year, Soriano had a ten-game stretch in late July without driving in a single run. He had three homerless stretches of at least ten games including one of twenty games in July and August. This from a guy who hit 38 homers and drove in 91 last year. Did you know about these slumps? Probably not. If Soriano is stuck on 26 homers for two weeks, no one cares. If he’s stuck on zero, well… “Is he hurt? Inept? Cranky? I wasted the first pick of the draft on him! What should I do!”

Patience. If Soriano were hurt or 39-years-old, you should be worried. He is neither of those things, so you should sit tight and wait for the fun to start. Don’t trade him for Richard Hidalgo or Jermaine Dye or some other guy having a blazing April. Patience.

Pitchers Resume Regularly Scheduled Wretchedness

After posting a 2.33 ERA in their first four games, Ranger starters have regressed to form. In the last few days, KENNY ROGERS, CHAN HO PARK and COLBY LEWIS each offered grim outings that look even worse to owners who just picked them up and didn’t enjoy the benefits of their inaugural starts. Well, you play with fire and sometimes you get burned, Scarecrow. The real value of each of these pitchers is somewhere between their first wonderful starts and their second atrocious performances, but from start to start it’s a dice roll. Rogers’ steady mediocrity is a safest choice if you want a Ranger starter. Park has shown much-improved command and hasn’t pitched as bad as his 5.93 ERA would suggest, but obviously he’s a huge risk. If Lewis finds the strike zone, I’ll let you know.

The Lineup
So far, MICHAEL YOUNG, HANK BLALOCK, KEVIN MENCH and Soriano have started every game. Blalock probably would have sat out Tuesday if not for Teixeira’s injury, but in any case it appears he’ll start against most lefties. BRAD FULLMER has started seven of nine including three of five against lefties. In the outfield, Mench always starts, LAYNCE NIX and DAVID DELLUCCI start against righties, Nivar and ERIC YOUNG against lefties. Catcher GERALD LAIRD has started seven of the first nine games. Because of so many early games against Oakland, Texas has faced more lefties than righties. That should revert to normal patterns after Wednesday, so owners of Nix, Dellucci, and Fullmer should be happy, while owners of Young and Nivar won’t see their players in the lineup as often.

April 16, 2004

Teixeira backs way onto DL
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong with my assessment of Mark Teixeira’s injury. I presumed his removal from the lineup was a precautionary measure, and two days later Texas placed him on the DL. His injury really isn’t serious, but oblique injuries tend to linger. The Rangers want to avoid putting recently-operated-on BRAD FULLMER at first, so they recalled prospect ADRIAN GONZALEZ in Teixeira’s place. He and HERBERT PERRY should split time at first. Perry is in Friday’s lineup and is worth a short-term pickup in AL-only leagues. Gonzalez has no Major League at-bats and has yet to hit well in AAA. Wait for results. Teixeira can return as early as April 27th and shouldn’t miss much more time than the minimum. The rest of this report is from Wednesday.

April 23, 2004

Teixeira Rests, Owners Fret
MARK TEIXEIRA can come off the disabled list on April 28th. He won’t. Teixeira has yet to resume baseball (or any) activities because of his strained oblique muscle. Early May seems like a reasonable guess, but I really don’t know when he’ll return. His owners will just have to keep him on their benches and suffer. Unfortunately, no worthwhile replacement exists.

Texas once had a team full of 1B/DH types, but now the cupboard is surprisingly bare (the Hafner-for-Diaz trade sure worked out, didn’t it?). To the surprise of no one, HERBERT PERRY has broken down and may have to join the DL himself. His replacement, 21-year-old ADRIAN GONZALEZ, simply isn’t ready. Texas recalled outfielder (and former Twin) CHAD ALLEN to replace RAMON NIVAR in the hope that Allen can share 1B with Gonzalez. Allen bats righty, Gonzalez lefty, so in a straight platoon Gonzalez is the preferred choice, though neither is worth a dime except in larger AL-only leagues. Nivar’s negligible value falls to zero.

Flight to Jordan Delayed
Outfielder BRIAN JORDAN lasted all of two rehab games in AA before being held out of a third on Thursday when his knee felt renewed soreness. Jordan probably won’t rejoin Texas until the end of the month or early May. Nivar’s departure opens a another outfield spot against lefties. The aforementioned Allen might fill it, or DAVID DELLUCCI or LAYNCE NIX could garner a few more at-bats. KEVIN MENCH, the one everyday outfielder, is hitting just .246/.266/.377 but doesn’t appear in any danger of losing at-bats yet.

COLBY LEWIS tweaked his shoulder and also joined the ever-popular disabled list. Unless you have a deep bench or an open DL spot, drop him in all haste. RYAN DRESE pitched well in his 2004 debut but has a terrible track record; add him at your extreme peril. The same applies to JOAQUIN BENOIT, who will make his first start tomorrow. CHAN HO PARK owners got a bitter taste of his jacktastic ways in Wednesday’s start. That’s life in Hotown. The bland but reasonably effective KENNY ROGERS remains the best choice if you must own a Ranger starter. R.A. DICKEY will mimic Park, ranging between brilliant and awful from start to start.

Some Other Guys
I’m pretty sure GERALD LAIRD won’t bat .395 for the season. That said, he’s quickly becoming a must-own in AL-only leagues and might even help a few owners in larger mixed leagues. Laird will start about seven of every ten games. For those who like to trade high, consider trading MICHAEL YOUNG, currently hitting .386 and on pace to pop 20 homers and steal 30 bases. BRAD FULLMER will hit, and when Texas plays 18 of 21 against Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Detroit beginning next Tuesday, you’ll wish you owned him.

April 26, 2004

Teixeira Heals
MARK TEIXEIRA, out since April 12th with a strained oblique muscle, should return to the team on Thursday or Friday. Tex will make the always enjoyable flight to El Paso for a game or two with AA Frisco, then join the big-league club perhaps as early as Wednesday, barring an aggravation of his injury. His ETA isn’t known as of Monday night, so his owners need to keep their eyes open for updates. In all probability, fellow 1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ will find himself on the puddle-jumper from Kansas City to AAA Oklahoma despite his .320-6-1-4 line. Gonzalez began his Major League career swimmingly, but in truth he’s done little above AA for any length of time and had started dreadfully in AAA, so he needs the at-bats and lower-level seasoning. He’ll be back.

Jordan, Too
Meanwhile, outfielder BRIAN JORDAN rejoined the team and started Tuesday night. Texas will play him intermittently and perhaps slot him at DH every so often to insure that his knee perseveres. With Ramon Nivar gone, Texas needs a center fielder against lefthanded pitchers. Options include KEVIN MENCH (no, really), LAYNCE NIX (see below) and ERIC YOUNG. I hazard to guess that Mench gets the starts in center against lefties with Young in left and Nix sitting. Young hasn’t impressed even in left field, and Texas doesn’t want to further expose his inadequacy as an outfielder. Also, DH BRAD FULLMER may sit one or two games against Kansas City and its lefty-heavy rotation.

Against righties, the outfield situation is no clearer. Nix definitely will start in center, and Jordan probably will earn more than half the starts in right by virtue of his Proven Veteran-ness. That leaves Mench and DAVID DELLUCCI fighting for left field. Mench is 26 and ostensibly has a future with the team; Dellucci is 30 and sports a career OPS of .756, making him a respectable fourth outfielder. Alas, manager Buck Showalter takes very kindly to Dellucci, so owners of Mench may find themselves looking glumly at a slight decline in his at-bats. I’m not saying this WILL happen; frankly, I don’t know how the outfield rotation will resolve itself. Probably, Jordan will fall to another injury.

And What Of Nix
Buoyed by a two-homer game on Sunday, LAYNCE NIX is on pace to hit .364 with 43 homers, and 111 RBI. In the words of Martin Prince: “Highly dubious.” That said, Nix is proving to be worth a look in mixed leagues. On the downside: Nix carries a .193 lifetime average against righties and will sit against most of them, has never batted higher than .285 at any level, has never hit more than 23 homers in any season, and has just 12 walks in over 250 plate appearances. He also is batting .417 on balls hit into the field of play, a level that can’t last for long. On the upside: well, he’s living his upside right now. Keeping in mind his platoon situation, active owners can find a home for Nix in mixed leagues.

Don’t Worry About Cordero
JEFF NELSON saved Saturday night’s game, and lo, the Earth did erupt in turmoil as owners of FRANCISCO CORDERO wailed in despair. To which I say: “Chill.” Cordero saved Friday night’s game in bizarre fashion: he recorded the last out of the 8th, then endured a one-hour rain delay before completing the last inning. Having thrown 38 pitches and who knows how many warm-ups of the course of two hours, his tank was empty Saturday night. Thus, Nelson got the ball and a cheap save Saturday by holding a 3-0 lead for one inning. Cordero’s and Nelson’s values for fantasy purposes have not changed. Most worthwhile setup men sneak a few saves during the season.

Anyone Else?
Texas swept Seattle with a rotation of RYAN DRESE, JOAQUIN BENOIT and JOHN WASDIN. Aside from the obvious hilarity of this situation, does it portend a sea change in the worthiness of Texas starters? Nah. Ryan Drese had a 6+ career ERA coming into the season and even his minor-league numbers are nothing special. Benoit is, well, a big tease. He will amaze with his string-pulling changeup, then toss the baseball carelessly into a wheelhouse, often within the same inning. Uninspiring but competent KENNY ROGERS is the only starter I’d feel comfortable owning, with R.A. Dickey a distant second. The rest, a motley collection of unrealized potentials and modest talents surviving on guts, are feast or famine.

May 03, 2004

The Ghost of 1986
Raise you hand if you believed the Texas Rangers would have the best record in baseball in early May. Okay, all five of you are liars. Amazingly, Texas spirited through an opening 19 games against AL West opponents with an 11-8 record and has won six of seven since then. Eight regulars or semi-regulars are batting .323 or better. Their leadoff hitter is 5th in the AL in runs batted in. The team ERA rests gently below 4.00, better than every AL team but Boston. Are the Rangers really this good? No, of course not, but they do appear to be more competitive than I’d predicted, and Ranger baseball is more entertaining than it’s been in five years. Enjoy the ride.

The End Justifies The Means
So you don’t want to visit a slaughterhouse, but you love hamburgers. Well, that’s life with FRANCISCO CORDERO as your closer. The process is messy and disgusting, the results divine. Cordero leads the planet with ten saves despite a 1.50 WHIP that includes a grisly ten walks in 11.1 innings. Except for 2002, Cordero has struggled with his control, averaging just over a walk every two innings. Fortunately, he also excels at preventing batters from making contact. Cordero will certainly get his shares of saves (thought not the 65 he’s on pace to achieve), but someday soon he could have one of those awful five-runs-in-one-inning outings that detonates his ERA. Just roll with it and enjoy the saves.

Ambulance Blues
Just as he vaulted into must-own status in mixed leagues, outfielder LAYNCE NIX came down with a wicked case of the dreaded “turf toe” and has missed four games. Allegedly, the symptoms aren’t too terrible; Texas kept him out of a few games now to prevent him from missing two weeks later on. Nix returned to the lineup Tuesday, so get him back in yours and hope that he feasts on some Tampa Bay pitching. With DAVID DELLUCCI sitting against lefties and no other legitimate alternative in center field (aside from perhaps Kevin Mench), Nix may start more often against lefties. His power is real, his average… not so real. I’d be surprised if he finishes above .300.

Laird Tapers, Owners Want More
Catcher GERALD LAIRD is still batting .333 going into Tuesday but is batting just .222/.292/.222 over his last eight games. According to my mailbox, the more pressing issue is his apparent lack of playing time. Laird has started in 19 of 27 games, or about 70%. Sad to say, I don’t see this situation changing. Laird appeared in 123 games in AA in 2002 but Texas seems content with the “two on, one off” rotation with ROD BARAJAS. As long as Barajas bats at replacement level, count on him catching the last game of most series. That includes Wednesday night and this Sunday.

Confusion Roams the Outfield
Ramon Nivar’s departure, Nix’s injury and BRIAN JORDAN’s return have made a mess of what was a previously ascertainable outfield rotation. KEVIN MENCH remains the only certainty; he has missed only one game and is batting well against lefties and righties. As mentioned, Nix may face more lefties in center. ERIC YOUNG will continue to start almost exclusively against lefties, Dellucci against righties. The wildcard is Jordan, who has started only four of eight since his return and with no apparent pattern. I figured Texas would rest him frequently, but he and Nix have shared the field only once, and it’s possible that Jordan is the odd man out despite being the wealthiest outfielder of the bunch. A slump by someone else could give him more at-bats.

Ranger Rotation: A Fantasy Force!
Goodness gracious, the Texas rotation sports a 4.14 ERA and I can no longer blithely dismiss the nonstop parade of quality outings. I will stick to my assessment that KENNY ROGERS is your best bet. While not flashy or providing many strikeouts, he has the best track record and is least likely to implode and do serious damage to your fantasy team. R.A. DICKEY has pitched very well; he won’t maintain a 3.48 ERA but probably won’t fall apart. RYAN DRESE has a 1.79 WHIP to go along with his 3.63 ERA; he’s headed for trouble. JOAQUIN BENOIT is preferable to Drese but is horribly erratic. Cross your fingers with him. CHAN HO PARK has been more effective than last year but serves far too many taters. His high strikeout total comes at the expense of your WHIP and ERA.

May 11, 2004

Finding That Special Outfielder Just For You
Only KEVIN MENCH, owned in 34% of mixed leagues, roams the outfield every game for Texas. His projected stats are good but not “wow” good: .312 with 89 runs, 16 homers and 68 RBI. I think a .280-.290 average with 15-18 homers and 70-80 runs and RBI is a reasonable expectation. He’ll provide decent help in leagues with 12 or more teams; in 10-team leagues, he’s a temp. LAYNCE NIX (68% owned in mixed leagues) currently sports better numbers despite sitting against most lefties. Nix has a 1.033 OPS going into Tuesday night; I have trouble envisioning an OPS above .850 by season end. If you’re the kind of owner who sits on one lineup, Mench probably offers better support than Nix. If you manage your roster actively, Nix can be very useful if you remember to bench him against lefties.

DAVID DELLUCCI has pleasantly surprised, but I remain the skeptic. He has a career line of .270/.340/.421, fine numbers for a fourth outfielder, mediocre numbers for a starting outfielder, and poor numbers for all but the largest of mixed leagues. He’s had stretches of brilliance over the years (q.v., Arizona, 1999), and he’s living in one right now. Don’t bank on long-term success. If you own him and can get respectable value in a trade, do so. Since all three are playing well, the fourth wheel on the tricycle is the Rangers’ “expensive” outfielder, BRIAN JORDAN. He starts against most lefties and a few righties. Jordan should hit better soon but offers very little in mixed leagues and remains an injury risk. Even in AL-only leagues, scour the wire for an improvement.

Fullmer Frustrates Me, You, Planet
I touted BRAD FULLMER throughout Spring Training and as recently as April 23rd. Seemingly just to spite me, Fullmer has posted a dreadful line of .237/.320/.419. In six years, Fullmer has never batted lower than .273, had an OBP below .321, or slugged worse than .444. Why the funk? I offer the boring response of “bad luck,” and I can bore you further with statistical backup. Fullmer’s lifetime batting average on ball in play (that is, minus strikeouts and home runs) going into the season was .295. This year, it’s .226. In simpler terms, he’s hitting the ball right at people. He should improve soon. I think owners in mixed leagues with twelve or more teams should hold on a little longer.

Michael Young, Elitist
Speaking of dubious predictions, my line of .290/.330/.420 for MICHAEL YOUNG seems just a tad low at the moment. Is Young playing much better than I expected? Obviously yes. Does he appear to have taken a genuine step forward into the pantheon of elite players? Well, 31 games don’t mean much in the long run, but… perhaps. Will he end up at his current projection (.368, 157 runs, 31 homers, 136 RBI, 16 steals)? Not a chance. Young’s current OPS of 1.015 is 230 points above his career-best. Young isn’t Alex Rodriguez. He stands to improve on last year (.306/106/14/72/13) across the board, but he will cool off. If you want to trade a hot property at the absolute peak of his value, trade Michael Young.

All Pitching, All The Time
Which is more likely to occur: RYAN DRESE leading the team in ERA, or Big Boi and I playing tennis on the moon. Unbelievably, the former is true, and in fact Texas moved Drese up in the rotation to Monday’s game. Drese has a 2.62 ERA as a starter but also sports a 1.58 WHIP. Whether Drese has really improved or is just lucky for the moment, his ERA is more likely to climb than his WHIP to drop. In AL-only leagues, you have to take the plunge and get him, but mixed-league owners should remain wary. JOAQUIN BENOIT, R.A. DICKEY and KENNY ROGERS, feeling nostalgic for Ranger Pitching Version 2003, all got hammered over the weekend. Again, owning any Ranger starter is risky. Rogers is the least risky.

Ambulance Blues
The twelve of you who own pitcher COLBY LEWIS should go ahead and drop him; an MRI revealed “wear and tear” in his pitching shoulder, and a much longer DL excursion looms. Laynce Nix appears has been getting injections for his turf toe but seems less likely to miss any more action because of it. Likewise, MARK TEIXEIRA’s neck and oblique haven’t made the news lately. Teixeira isn’t hitting for average but the rest is fine. Expect improvement.

May 20, 2004

Charlie Sheen was a respected actor, once
Platoon. The Rangers do it frequently, so if you own any number of Ranger hitters, you need to know when they play and when they sit. A quick glance at the box scores would indicate that guys like ERIC YOUNG and BRIAN JORDAN have become everyday players while LAYNCE NIX and BRAD FULLMER have become spectators. In fact, on Thursday Texas completes a stretch of facing seven lefthanded starters in eleven games. With more righties on the way, the lineup should take on its usual appearance.

The Texas infield (Blalock, Young, Soriano, Teixeira) and outfielder KEVIN MENCH play every day unless needing rest. Catcher GERALD LAIRD usually starts the first two games of a series and sits in favor of ROD BARAJAS on getaway day. Fullmer DH’s against righties, HERBERT PERRY against lefties. Nix and DAVID DELLUCCI (whose back is feeling better) man the outfield against righties, Eric Young and Brian Jordan against lefties. Platoons understandably annoy the heck out of fantasy owners, but active owners should be able to take advantage of this situation.

HANK BLALOCK is batting a paltry .232 in May after hitting .337 in April. Maybe he’s just a little tired, having started (along with MICHAEL YOUNG) every game this season. Also, he doesn’t hit lefties well, and as mentioned, Texas has faced a plethora of lefties lately. He does have seven homers in the month, so his owners should relax. MARK TEIXEIRA, on the other hand, is batting .173 this month with minimal power. I haven’t read a word about his neck or oblique still bothering him, but that doesn’t mean he’s 100%. His walk rate remains very strong, which I know helps very few among you, but it does indicate he’s seeing pitches well. He should pull it together before long. He may miss Thursday and Friday with a bruised hand.

Laynce Nix also has done little in May, batting .200 with just one homer. Some minor injuries and all the lefties have limited him to 27 plate appearances this month. Again: platoon. If you picked him up in a mixed league after his hot start and blithely left him in your everyday lineup, you’ve gotten little in return. You have to pay attention to who will be starting against the Rangers on any given day. Nix also should improve, but that .365/.397/.714 line he posted in April is a one-shot deal. Catcher GERALD LAIRD is batting a passable .250 in May. All singles, unfortunately. Laird looks to be a decent catcher in AL-only leagues and near-worthless in mixed leagues.

Fantasy owners have it right: RYAN DRESE is owned almost universally in AL-only leagues and almost never in mixed leagues. Drese continues to pitch well, belying my almost universal warnings that he’ll collapse any day now. Maybe he really has turned the corner, and he’s obviously a must-own in AL-only leagues where you have to seize the day. I still look skeptically at a guy whose career minor-league ERA is 4.06. I’m glad he’s proving me wrong, though. R.A. DICKEY has allowed 30 hits in 15 innings in the three starts after Showalter “generously” allowed him to throw 131 pitches in one game. He’s not that bad, but that 5.06 ERA he owns now is pretty close to where he’ll end up. Broken record statement: KENNY ROGERS is the only Ranger starter unlikely to blow up.

FRANCISCO CORDERO hasn’t saved a game in eight long days. He’s fine; Texas hasn’t played well lately and he’s not getting any opportunities. CARLOS ALMANZAR had already supplanted JEFF NELSON in the setup role and is worth owning in AL-only leagues. Nelson is out until August and is a must-drop.

May 25, 2004

Mench, Jordan injured
Outfielders KEVIN MENCH and BRIAN JORDAN simultaneously joined the Disabled List on Tuesday. Mench suffered a dreaded oblique muscle pull throwing out Alex Rodriguez at home plate in Sunday’s game. Oblique pulls, with their annoying tendency to linger, almost automatically merit a trip to the DL these days. Mench can return as early as June 8th; expect a two-to-four week absence. Meanwhile, Brian Jordan’s return to the Disabled List implies that he was once “abled,” but his ugly and weird line of .102/.228/.163 indicates he couldn’t do much but hold the bat on his shoulder and hope for a free pass. Jordan has yet to overcome last year’s knee troubles, and surgery may be necessary. At 37, Jordan may be at the end of a fine career.

Called up to replace them are the white-hot GARY MATTHEWS JR. and CHAD ALLEN. No, really, white hot. Matthews was batting .324/.409/.628 in AAA Oklahoma, Allen .392/.438/.569. Their mediocre big-league numbers tell the truer tale, but they do have a little value in AL-only leagues. As a switch-hitter, Matthews has a better chance to play most of the time. He would be a decent short-term pickup who might get you a small handful of steals.. Allen, a righty batter with better power, will probably play only against lefties will contribute only in the largest of AL-only leagues. The typical Ranger outfield should consist of Allen, ERIC YOUNG and Matthews against lefties and DAVID DELLUCCI, LAYNCE NIX, and Matthews against righties.

Is Ryan Drese for real?

I looked at RYAN DRESE and saw a 28-year-old with a career big-league ERA of 6.10 and a Triple-A ERA of 4.13 from 2001-2003, and I saw nothing but trouble. Earlier this month, I casually suggested his 2.62 ERA would climb to match the mediocrity suggested by his 1.58 WHIP. Instead, his ERA is fourth-best in the American League and his WHIP has fallen to 1.37 as a starter. His ground/fly ratio of 2.69 is fourth in the Majors. Today, I was chastised (politely) by a Drese fan who’d written me back in March and predicted big things for him. Mr. Duncan, if you have any stock tips, I’m listening.

Is Drese for real? Well, he really is pitching differently; instead of trying to strike everyone out, he has employed a sinker that hitters squib meekly to waiting infielders. Is he fantasy-worthy in mixed leagues? Well… if you’re reasonably satisfied with your pitching staff, you still shouldn’t bother. Drese, improved though he is, probably isn’t going to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA. Based on his components (hits allowed, walks, homers, etc.), his ERA ought to be just a shade under 4.00, and I still think he’s more likely to end up above 4.00 than below. On the other hand, if you’ve got a starter you wouldn’t mind jettisoning and want to take a chance, Drese is a good risk. If he continues his new-found success, you enjoy the ride. A couple of poor outings, you move on.

More on Laird
Texas has transferred catcher GERALD LAIRD to the 60-day Disabled List, meaning Laird won’t play before late July regardless of the health of his thumb ligament. The current timetable is ninety days, so Laird probably won’t play more than 20-30 at best for the remainder of the season. In other words, he’s worthless outside of 15-team AL-only leagues with huge benches. Backup ROD BARAJAS will catch the majority of games with KEN HUCKABY as his caddy. Barajas’ fine batting stands in sharp contrast to the entirety of his previous career. If you picked him up, always be seeking a source of improvements and be ready to dump him when (and it’s not if, it’s when) he reverts to form.

The Rest
Not that FRANCISCO CORDERO is hurt or in any danger of losing his job, but if the unthinkable happens, setup man CARLOS ALMANZAR probably would take his place. Just something to keep in the back of your head. Almanzar makes a dandy addition to AL-only rosters. With MARK TEIXEIRA healthy but suffering recent neck and oblique injuries, Texas probably will not move him back to the outfield and call up ADRIAN GONZALEZ. ALFONSO SORIANO is batting just .256 in May but has five homers, in contrast to his .341 average with one homer in April. It’s a long season. Aside from BRAD FULLMER and his parents, I am the only person on the planet who believes he can still hit. Keep him in AL-only leagues and keep an eye on him in mixed leagues. Please, Brad. I went out on a limb for you.

May 30, 2004

Ten Players Disabled
CHAN HO PARK has joined the Disabled List for the 73rd time as a Ranger, suffering from the same back muscle soreness and weakness that halted his 2003 season. He can return June 8th, though a later return is more likely. The local papers first mentioned that KEVIN MENCH might return in the 15-day minimum, but oblique injuries rarely dissipate so easily. Keep an eye on him and expect a mid-June return. BRIAN JORDAN has said he won’t play before the All-Star break. Even money says he doesn’t play again this season. Easy money says he won’t help a fantasy team. GERALD LAIRD, by virtue of his placement on the 60-day DL, can’t play before late July and probably won’t until late August.

Eric Young Ascending
ERIC YOUNG has started two consecutive games against righties after recent call-up GARY MATTHEWS batted .154/.313/.154 in four games. I can’t say whether this is permanent (permanent until Mench returns, that is), but Young might now have a wee bit of value in larger mixed leagues. Young is also batting leadoff against lefties instead of 6th or 7th. He has five steals (and five caught) in 28 games. AL-only owners who nabbed Matthews shouldn’t cut bait quite yet, but keep a very close eye on him. Another couple of games against righties without Matthews in the box score will tell the story. Matthews and CHAD ALLEN should continue to start against lefties.

Cool In The Bad Sense
Texas is batting .255/.330/.449 in May after their ridiculous .316/.362/.501 April. A bigger problem is that their dreadfulness on the road has carried over from last year (.248/.308/.404, 3.7 runs per game). HANK BLALOCK, DAVID DELLUCCI, MARK TEIXEIRA, the injured KEVIN MENCH, BRAD FULLMER and ROD BARAJAS are batting under .235 on the road. Blalock, at least, is still hitting for power away from Arlington. Texas plays two in Cleveland and three in New York before returning home for interleague play. Unless your league has deep benches that allow you to create favorable matchups, you’ll just have to live with it.

Fonzie’s Bogus Journey
ALFONSO SORIANO’s projected stats: .284 average, 57 runs, 20 homers, 98 RBI, 20 steals. Not exactly what you paid for, is it? I didn’t expect Soriano to run as much as usual since he moved down in the order (I predicted 25 SBs), but the other numbers definitely disappoint. The low run total isn’t his fault; Texas cleanup hitters are batting .212/.291/.365 (thank you, Fullmer) and the #5 guys aren’t much better. Regarding the power outage, I offer the lame homily that it’s a long season. Be patient. In fact, if you don’t own him, now would be a fine time to pry him out of a frustrated owner’s hands.

Drese and Dominguez
The White Sox blasted RYAN DRESE’s ERA out of the 2.00s last week. Drese now sports an ERA of 4.17 as a starter, and I calculate his “Component ERA” (based on his peripheral stats) at 4.52. As I’d mentioned last week, Drese really is pitching better than in previous seasons, but that doesn’t necessarily make him worthwhile in mixed leagues. He’s still an obvious must-own in AL-only leagues and a pretty risky choice in mixed leagues. KENNY ROGERS-like competence is his upside. Meanwhile, JUAN DOMINGUEZ has replaced Park in the rotation and pitched similarly to last year, albeit with an improved ERA. Improved or not, he still looked a hair’s-width from blowing up Saturday, and he’s a risky pick even in AL-only leagues. Only the desperate need apply.

June 06, 2004

One-Third Down
Texas completes the first third of the season with a record of 30-24. Texas is on pace to allow 759 runs, an astounding 210 fewer than last year. They also are on pace to outscore last year’s team by 29 runs. I expected the 2004 model to score a few fewer runs than year, allow about 900 or so, and finish with about 72 wins. So far, Texas is outplaying my expectations by a considerable margin. Good.

Interleague: Don’t Worry For Now
In 2003, a gimpy but obstinate Rafael Palmeiro left fantasy players and yours truly perplexed about who would play on any given night. This year, the situation seems clear. BRAD FULLMER and HERBERT PERRY have DH’ed 50 of the Rangers’ 54 games, and they will miss the bulk of the team’s games in NL parks. Texas hosts Pittsburgh and St Louis this week, so owners of Texas batters needn’t concern themselves with losing the DH until June 15. MARK TEIXEIRA did play right field Sunday in place of a hobbled DAVID DELLUCCI, so it’s possible Perry or Fullmer could start a game or two at first instead of sitting, but I’m doubtful. Expect the usual position players to garner the vast majority of at-bats and Fullmer and Perry to pinch-hit.

Michael Young: Worry?
MICHAEL YOUNG’s OPS has fallen from 1.007 to a miserly .880 during the last three weeks, and he is the most popular inquiry in my reader mail. He has a .267 average, two doubles and no homers since May 17. Is his decline permanent, or will he recapture his glorious April ways? Neither, probably. Young has built on last year’s breakout season (contrary to my expectations), but he still isn’t an elite player. Young’s indifference to the base on balls and good-but-not-great power leave him highly dependent on batting average. Thus, he seems to have very pronounced streaks and slumps depending on how he’s slapping the ball at any given time.

On the ESPN trade tracker, I see two straight-up trades for Curt Schilling. You’re hemorrhaging talent if you accept Young for Schilling. Conversely, congrats to whoever got Young for Danny Bautista, who is playing several meters above his head. Young is projected to hit 24 homers and drive in 107 runs. I don’t think he’ll reach either. 18-20 homers and 80-90 RBI seem more likely. He should score 100+ runs and steal about 15 bases. If you keep him, you’ll have to settle for a shortstop who hits .300 with pretty good power and a little speed. You can settle for that, can’t you?

JUAN DOMINGUEZ, recalled for CHAN HO PARK, dominated the Yankees on their home field on Saturday. His lack of an effective breaking pitch creates many skeptics, but you can’t argue with the results. Previously, Dominguez had pitched very tentatively in the Majors, walking far too many batters and leaving too many pitches in the wheelhouse. Saturday, he kept the Yanks guessing “fastball” and throwing “change” all day. He should get at least one more start (against Pittsburgh), though another solid start could force the Rangers’ hand. Has he overcome his tentativeness, and can a two-pitch pitcher (for all practical purposes) fool another lineup three time through? Heh, who knows? He’s a risk in AL-only leagues, probably a worthwhile risk if you’re carrying dead weight.

Injuries And The Rest
DAVID DELLUCCI has missed several games with a sore wrist. He did pinch-hit Sunday and may resume starting against righties soon. KEVIN MENCH is taking batting practice and may join the team by the end of the week or early next week. The days of CHAD ALLEN and GARY MATTHEWS are winding down. CHAN HO PARK will make at least one rehab start before returning. Texas is in no hurry. Rod Barajas’ career slugging average going into 2004 was .334. This year, it is .640. He has one walk in 87 plate appearances. Simply put, this cannot stand. Decline is inevitable.

June 13, 2004

Mench Up, Nix Down
KEVIN MENCH returned from the Disabled List on Saturday and started in the outfield for the last two games. Mench had missed 15 games with a strained oblique muscle. AL-only owners should get him off the bench or DL immediately. He’s owned in only 3% of mixed leagues. Owners in 12-team leagues who need an everyday outfielder for a spell perhaps should give him some thought. Mench is nothing special but won’t hurt you. Texas might have tried easing him back into everyday day, but now they don’t have that luxury, as LAYNCE NIX sprained his shoulder the day after Mench returned. On Monday, Nix joined the Rangers’ already crowded Disabled List.

The Rangers had already placed CHAD ALLEN on waivers, so he can’t rejoin the team so soon. As for the possible replacements, RAMON NIVAR is batting a paltry .257/.287/.299 in AAA, and in any case Texas would be reluctant to recall him in a backup role. So, for better or for worse, JASON CONTI joins the big-league club. To these eyes, what this portends for the next two weeks is more at-bats for ERIC YOUNG and GARY MATTHEWS. Against righties, DAVID DELLUCCI and Mench ought to start most games with Conti, Matthews and Young splitting time in center. Against lefties, Mench, Matthews and Young should start. Unless…

Texas Grudgingly Tours The National League
With Texas traveling to Cincinnati and Florida this week, DHs BRAD FULLMER and HERBERT PERRY probably will settle for pinch-hitting duties. But, Texas might get creative and put one of them at first and play MARK TEIXEIRA in the outfield. Manager Buck Showalter has said he won’t play Texiera there until at least the last game of the Cincinnati series. If Teixeira does change positions during interleague road games, Matthews stands to lose the most at-bats unless Showalter opts for defense and benches Mench instead. Yes, it’s a muddle. For you AL-only owners, I suggest benching Fullmer and Perry while keeping Dellucci, Mench, Matthews and Young in the lineup. Texas won’t play the last three interleague road games in early July.

Rotation = Injuries * Ineffectiveness^2
JUAN DOMINGUEZ, hugely popular after stuffing the Yankees for eight innings, reverted to his usual and frustrating form last Friday. Worse still, his neck became sore while throwing in the bullpen Sunday, and he will miss his next start. I’m very skeptical of his ability to help a fantasy team regardless of his current health. Prepare to disengage. R.A. DICKEY collapsed on Sunday. This season, he has two fine starts in which he threw 131 and 118 pitches. In the 2-3 starts after those lengthy outings, he has been putrid. Unfortunately, Texas practically has no choice but to give him time to improve. John Wasdin? Rick Helling? Ricardo Rodriguez, who just returned from an appendectomy? They are the potential replacements. Hold your applause.

JOAQUIN BENOIT will replace Dominguez in the rotation for the short term. He might offer some help in a 30-team AL-only league. On the happier side, RYAN DRESE continues to pitch effectively. He remains unowned in 8% of AL-only leagues and over 99% of mixed leagues. He actually might offer a little help to owners in twelve-team mixed leagues. I still think he’ll end up with an ERA above 4.00, so those in leagues of ten or fewer teams needn’t bother. Amazingly, Drese has provided the biggest difference between last year’s atrocious starting pitching and this year’s adequacy (for real-life baseball, not fantasy). Though he has only three wins, he might be the team’s MVP. No, I’m serious.

Rumour Mill Grinds Steadily
ALFONSO SORIANO for Carlos Beltran? Soriano for a package of Mets’ prospects? All these rumours and more can be yours. Texas is in a tricky position regarding trades. Originally expected to mimic last year’s players-for-prospects dealing of last summer, Texas now finds themselves competing for the playoffs. The cold realists understand that 2004 is more for development than for dethroning the Athletics, but trading away Soriano for minor leaguers now would alienate fans enjoying a winning team for the first time in five years. Realism also insists that Texas doesn’t trade any of its own prospects for a one-time, future-crippling shot at the postseason. Strangely, just a couple of weeks of awful or spectacular play could have a dramatic impact on the organization’s direction.

June 21, 2004

Outfield: A Fantasy Quagmire
Except for a three-game set in Houston in early July, the Rangers play no more in National League cities. Perhaps the return home will give Texas a chance to sort out its increasingly chaotic outfield rotation. In general terms, deciding on a Ranger outfielder in mixed leagues is easy: only LAYNCE NIX (when healthy) is worth owning (barely). As for the rest, no one plays often enough or well enough to deserve your interest. I had hoped KEVIN MENCH would settle back into everyday play once he returned from the DL – he started 42 of the first 43 games – but an 0-for-13 run in his first three games has him trapped in the Mystery Platoon Zone. Buck Showalter has declared Mench not quite ready for prime time and has benched him in four of the last five games.

Why a tiny slump results in Mench’s benching while DAVID DELLUCCI gets to play through his 1-for-33-and-counting Summer of Putrescence is beyond my limited reasoning. Dellucci and (I kid you not) JASON CONTI have started four of the last five, while Mench and GARY MATTHEWS, who has actually hit pretty well, have held sunflower seed-spitting contests in the dugout. Furthermore, ERIC YOUNG has not picked up much extra playing time since Nix hit the DL. I do expect Mench to resume playing most of the time in the near future, and a few more 0-for-4s from Conti should result in Matthews getting more at-bats. In the short run, I have no idea what will happen. In the long run, a lineup of Dellucci/Nix/Mench against righties and Young/Matthews/Mench should prevail.

Infield: A Fantasy Treasure (Mostly)
Thanks to improved production from the middle of the order, ALFONSO SORIANO has a chance to score as many runs in June as April and May combined. Soriano’s.289 average and nine homers after 65 games is what I expected of MICHAEL YOUNG. He should hit better the rest of the way. His home park and established level of performance demand it. Speaking of Young, the Ranger shortstop has pulled himself out of his batting-average slump but still isn’t hitting for much power. What I said two weeks ago still applies (and ought to apply all season, if I’m right): Young is a very good fantasy player but won’t attain elite status. MARK TEIXEIRA is slowly righting his ship, hitting .265 with five homers in June. He won’t hit for a high average but the power and RBIs should make you smile.

HANK BLALOCK sat in two of the Rangers’ six NL-park games last week, both against lefties. He is in no danger of returning to last year’s platoon. Blalock hadn’t missed even an inning this season and Showalter wanted to give him some rest. Showalter also wanted to provide some amusement for Jung Bong and Dontrelle Willis and deliberately aggravate me by sticking HERBERT PERRY in the cleanup spot. BRAD FULLMER is batting .302/.340/.674 in June, two months too late to make up for his awful April and May and the praise I lavished on him in March. He still could help very active owners in 12-team mixed leagues. ROD BARAJAS has lost his average (.240 in June) but retained his power (homers Saturday and Sunday). Enjoy the ride in AL-only leagues, keep avoiding him in mixed leagues.

Pitching: Competent in Real-Life, Sketchy in Fantasy
Repeat after me in you most boring drone: “KENNY ROGERS is the only worthwhile starter in mixed leagues.” Sad, but true. Rogers continues to impress, quietly, with a 3.54 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. He would have 11 wins if not for two consecutive blown saves. Amazingly, the 39-year-old Rogers is on pace to set a career best in strikeouts. I expect him to tail off some, but not enough to hurt your team. RYAN DRESE also continues to pitch well. He really has made a legitimate and perhaps permanent step forward, but his previous, lengthy struggles and his offense-happy home park still make me a bit uneasy. He might help you some in 12-team leagues. With ten or fewer teams, there’s too many other quality pitchers on the wire with less downside.

R.A. DICKEY was bounced to middle relief after too many poor outings, all of which came soon after two starts in which he was left in long after he’d run out of gas and admirably pitched on guts and adrenalin. JUAN DOMINGUEZ joined the ridiculously crowded DL. So, say hello to JOHN WASDIN and NICK BIERBRODT. Bierbrodt pitched adequately and Wasdin quite well in their first starts, but neither has a history of quality outings. Avoid. JOAQUIN BENOIT has a 1.27 WHIP as a starter. Unfortunately, 10 of his 54 baserunners have reached via the long ball. A homer every four innings makes for a lofty ERA. Until he learns to keep the ball in the yard, or keeps all other hitters off base (a la Curt Schilling), he’s too risky.

June 28, 2004

Fourteen On The Road
Monday night, Texas began a dreadfully long road trip that will take them to Seattle, Houston, Cleveland, and Boston. Texas won’t play another home game until July 16th against Toronto. Owners of Rangers hitters should prepare themselves for two weeks of decreased production: Texas has scored 6.7 runs per game in Arlington compared to just 4.1 on the road. ALFONSO SORIANO, while batting better of late, has suffered more than most outside Texas with a meek line of .243/.292/.358. Generally, Ranger players hit for power reasonably well on road games but lose their averages (.310 home, .246 road). Conversely, Texas pitches better on the road, but the pitchers worth owning don’t suffers from extreme splits.

Disabled List > Healthy List

I can’t remember the Rangers ever having twelve players disabled as they do now. The hobbled player with the most fantasy promise is LAYNCE NIX. Sidelined since June 13 with a sprained shoulder, Nix will begin a rehab assignment soon and hopes to rejoin the team during the road trip. Texas may save him the long flight to Seattle and have him meet his teammates in Houston Friday. Remember that Nix does not start against lefthanders. BRIAN JORDAN’s knee has healed more quickly than anticipated and he could return after the All-Star break. Don’t expect much playing time or production. Out of a duty for completeness, I must report that CHAN HO PARK was transferred to the 60-day DL and is presently throwing meat in low-level Rookie ball.

Catcher GERALD LAIRD has resumed “baseball activities,” but his placement on the 60-day DL prohibits his return before late July. No one in Ranger management, much less your humble scribe, knows right now whether he’ll resume his role as primary starter over white-hot ROD BARAJAS. Barajas is batting .288/.305/.610, and if you followed my advice and ignored him, well, I apologize. Please understand my reasoning. Barajas had a career MLB line of .212/.257/.334 going into the season and had hit a modest .262/.294/.446 in parts of four seasons in AAA. Until one month ago, Barajas was a poor man’s Todd Greene. Now, he’s owned in 35% of mixed leagues.

Is he really worth owning? I could throw out my usual blather about past performance and “regression to the mean,” but his twelve homers in 144 at-bats trumps my tired debate-club talking points. Nevertheless, I will say this: Barajas has batted only .231 on the road, where Texas plays until mid-July. He also has exactly three walks in over 150 plate appearances, leading me to believe that opposing pitchers finally will wise up and quit throwing him strikes. I just don’t see him as ownable in leagues with ten or fewer teams. In 12-team leagues, he’s worth a flyer. Maybe he’ll stay hot for a while longer.

All Quiet On The Rumor Front
As long as Texas resides in first or remains within its reach, Soriano will stay in Arlington. Texas can’t be looking forward to Soriano’s arbitration hearing next January, but they also can’t help but notice that 2.5 game lead they hold over Oakland. The Rangers find themselves in the giddy but uneasy position of being one year early in their rebuilding program. They obviously don’t want to trade away any of the players who have gotten them to this point. On the other hand, they also went into the season intending to keep all their prospects rather than trading some of them for pitching or outfield help. Fortunately, Texas can add salary, so they possibly could take on a fat contract in exchange for lesser prospects.

Outfield Disarray Down Slightly
Don’t look now, but JASON CONTI is starting only every other game instead of every four of five. Why the manager’s fascination with this year’s version of Ryan Christenson? Hustle? Gumption? The mind boggles. Anyway, KEVIN MENCH has started four of five after missing three straight (although he batted ninth, behind Conti, in one instance) and should provide some relief for his frustrated AL-league owners. ERIC YOUNG has recovered from the spider bite that nearly landed him on the DL (really). Nix is a decent bet to produce respectably in larger mixed leagues, the rest are AL-only fodder.

July 05, 2004

What Home/Road Split?
Going into a season-long fourteen-game road trip, the Rangers averaged a rather paltry 4.07 runs per game (compared to 6.73 per game at home). Eight games into the trip and Texas has scored 63 runs including 18 on Sunday in Houston. Suddenly, Texas is averaging a respectable 4.79 runs per game on the road, and I suppose warnings about their road woes no longer apply. Well, maybe. In any case, after the All-Star break the Rangers play 44 of their last 76 games at home, where their offensive prowess is never in doubt.

Teixeira Heats Up

Over the past three weeks, MARK TEIXEIRA is batting .375/.430/.667 with six homers, 20 runs and 19 RBI. In his rookie season, he struggled on the road and against righties. In 2004, the switch-hitter has belted ten of his fifteen homers on the road and has a higher OPS against righties than lefties. What does this mean? Nothing, maybe, or perhaps Teixeira is evolving into a complete hitter with no serious deficiencies. He is on pace to score and drive in about 100 runs and hit 30-35 homers. For you keeper-league owners, remember that he’ll lose his eligibility at 3B next year and might lose his outfield status depending on your league rules. Teixeira has four starts and two other appearances in the outfield this season.

Barajas Cools Down
On June 24, ROD BARAJAS caught all eighteen innings of a game against Seattle during a stretch in which he started twelve consecutive games. Since that marathon outing, Barajas is batting just .206 with one run, no homers and five RBI over ten games. Obviously, anything can happen in ten games, but keep in mind that his recent slump more closely resembles his career performance than the .280-with-power player who inherited his body for five weeks. I’m not suggesting he is collapsing, but I do suggest that you keep an eye on him, as his season-long statistics could end up masking a serious decline. Also, with GERALD LAIRD due back in about one month, Barajas probably has a limited shelf-life as a worthwhile fantasy player.

The Infirmary
LAYNCE NIX aggravated his shoulder strain diving for a ball in a rehab game. For now, it’s more disappointing than serious, but in any case he won’t return before the All-Star break. HERBERT PERRY couldn’t DH Monday because of a strained calf and might hit the DL. MANNY ALEXANDER (remember him?) could take his place. I don’t see an obvious replacement for the lefty DH; KEVIN MENCH might play there with the extra outfield at-bats going to offensive cipher and Showalter favorite JASON CONTI. Yee-haa. BRAD FULLMER hasn’t played the last few games because of the Houston series and a lefty starter Monday night, but he is nursing a sore back and might miss a few days. He’ll start next on Wednesday if healthy. For that matter, a healthy Fullmer might see some lefthanded DH at-bats.

Trade Rumors
DANNY BAUTISTA in Arlington? A pointless acquisition, in my opinion, but there’s probably plenty of sound reasons why I’m not running a baseball franchise. Bautista is an expensive and oft-injured outfielder currently enjoying one of his occasional hot streaks. In Arlington, he’d hit .300+ but without many walks or much power. Bautista is a serviceable player but not really much of an upgrade over Kevin Mench. Mench is the one obvious ready-for-prime-time trade bait on the roster and could head the other direction in any deal Texas makes. None of the team’s fantasy-worthy players is going anywhere, in my opinion. I’m highly skeptical of any rumors involving Teixeira, and I don’t think Texas will trade ALFONSO SORIANO as long as they’re in contention.

The Incredible Ranger Pitchers
All-Star KENNY ROGERS pitched Monday with a sore hamstring. Don’t worry about his poor performance in that game, but do pay attention to his health in his final start at Boston. If he’s still hurting and will start anyway, consider leaving him on your bench. RYAN DRESE has pitched just as well as Rogers but has only four wins. Drese has received only 4.3 runs per game of support and already has three complete-game losses. Ignore his low win total if you’re thinking of grabbing him; there’s no reason that he shouldn’t get as much support as any other Ranger pitcher. In twelve-team mixed leagues, he’s worth a shot. Back in March, I thought FRANCISCO CORDERO would be trade bait, but his and the team’s success have both sides talking new contract.

July 10, 2004

Pre-All-Star Mini-Update
KENNY ROGERS pitches Saturday, sore hamstring and all. Rogers and company must not consider his strain serious or they probably would have held recently recalled NICK REGILIO out of last night’s game and started him today. As of noon Saturday, Texas has not announced Sunday’s starter. RYAN DRESE probably will start on three days rest after throwing just 88 pitches in a sub-par Wednesday performance. Otherwise, prepare for another dose of JOHN WASDIN. The post-break rotation remains a mystery; with four days off, Texas can pretty much set the rotation however they want.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ tossed a three-hit, two-walk shutout in his second start. For now, Rodriguez projects as a slightly richer man’s JOAQUIN BENOIT: capable but maddeningly inconsistent. Rodriguez allows five hits and walked six in just 4.2 innings in his previous start. Those needing help in AL-only leagues can give him a shot and hope for the best. Wait for consistency in mixed leagues. In his next three starts, Rodriguez could face Toronto, Oakland, and Oakland again. Both teams rank below-average in runs scored.

LAYNCE NIX rejoins the squad Saturday after a shoulder sprain forced him onto the DL nearly a month ago. Nix should start against most righties and sit against lefties. BRIAN JORDAN may join the team after the All-Star break. Both his playing time and ability to perform are questionable. The Ranger outfield should continue to be platoon-heavy and daunting to most fantasy owners. MARK TEIXIERA is 10th in the AL in OPS despite a .276 batting average. Walks and power. Tex will have more RBI opportunities if BRAD FULLMER would kindly boost his on-base percentage above .315. HERBERT PERRY’s pulled calf leaves Texas without an obvious choice for DH against lefties, but the team won’t face one before the break.

July 15, 2004

Meaningful Baseball
I remained skeptical until recently, but no more. Texas really does have the talent to compete for the division title. They field a team somewhat reminiscent of 1999, when their strong offense and solid bullpen won the West in 1999. This is no fluke. Texas has a Pythagorean won-loss record identical to their real one, and they haven’t won an undue number of one-run games. Texas has won (roughly) two of every three at home while splitting on the road. Better still, the team plays 44 of its last 76 games at home, where they have scored 6.7 runs per game. 25 of those 76 games are against Oakland and Anaheim.

THE INFIELD: Steady As She Goes
After catching all eighteen innings of a June 24 game against Seattle, ROD BARAJAS had a batting line of .284/.293/.627. Since then, he is batting is batting .235/.286/.275. Unfortunately, his more closely resembles the second line than the first. Barajas will still hit for some power with so many games at home, but don’t count on him slugging .600 for any extended stretch. With GERALD LAIRD healing nicely and due back as soon as the end of July, Barajas won’t play as often even if he retains the job of primary catcher. The Barajas-As-Viable-Fantasy-Player Era is drawing to a close.

As for the infield of HANK BLALOCK, MICHAEL YOUNG, ALFONSO SORIANO, and MARK TEIXEIRA… umm, they’re all good. All but Teixeira are hitting much better at home than on the road, and Teixeira himself has shaken off the lingering effects of his oblique pull, so none should experience a decline over the remainder of the season. After a slow start, Soriano has hit sixteen homers in his last 62 games; at that pace he’ll hit twenty more the rest of the way. The drop in steals is permanent, I’m afraid. BRAD FULLMER and his .244 average should continue to get most of the DH at bats against righties. Texas has no alternative unless they want to play an extra outfielder like KEVIN MENCH there. I don’t see that happening. Texas has no viable DH versus lefties with HERBERT PERRY disabled.

If you’re in a mixed league and passive about roster moves, no Ranger outfielder is worth your time right now. Texas will continue to platoon, shuttle, and generally move willy-nilly its outfield staff, currently at six members. ERIC YOUNG, GARY MATTHEWS, and KEVIN MENCH, for as long as they’ve been on the roster, have never missed a start against a lefthanded pitcher. They should continue to start practically every game against a lefty.

Against righties, the forecast is very cloudy. Recently healed LAYNCE NIX probably will start (nearly) every game, against righties. DAVID DELLUCCI and Mench should accrue most of the corner outfield at-bats, but GARY MATTHEWS is the superior defender and is hitting righties at a .302/.347/.512 clip. He started ten straight before Nix’s return and will sneak into the lineup against righties on occasion. The wild card is BRIAN JORDAN, set to return by the end of the month. He won’t play often, just often enough to steal at-bats from his more fantasy-worthy brethren. In sum, Mench will play most often, but no one will play every day. Ownership of any of these guys requires daily roster management. In any case, prepare to be frustrated.

THE PITCHING: Cordero the Only Star
Back in March, I predicted a strong year for FRANCISCO CORDERO and an upside of 35-40 saves. A pox on my tepid optimism: he is on pace to save 50. He does walk a few more batters than preferable, but that’s a minor problem for someone who has allowed four doubles, no triples, and no homers in 39 innings. KENNY ROGERS’ ERA jumped from 3.42 to 4.21 in two starts while he pitched on a sore hamstring. Texas will hold him out until Sunday; Toronto offers a weak offense but consider keeping Rogers on your bench until he proves healthy. Based on his one stellar start, more mixed-league owners own RICARDO RODRIGUEZ than RYAN DRESE. Be careful. Rodriguez is a fine prospect but prone to completely lose his curveball. Drese, like Rogers, is bland but more likely not to hurt your team.

July 24, 2004

Rodriguez Out For Season
The good news is that RICARDO RODRIGUEZ will finish the season with an ERA of 2.03. The bad news is that he won’t pitch again this season after a Rob Quinlan liner smashed into his right elbow. His owners needn’t bother with stashing him on their DLs; he’ll throw his next pitch in winter ball or perhaps next February. Texas has no obvious replacement for Rodriguez. Texas probably has little choice but to leave JOAQUIN BENOIT in the rotation, R.A. DICKEY gets another shot, and NICK REGILIO could also get some starts. All are names to avoid in any league. I suppose Texas is more likely to trade for pitching, though the rumours of rent-a-player Kris Benson for LAYNCE NIX and JUAN DOMINGUEZ gave me a hearty chuckle.

Rogers Continues to Struggle
KENNY ROGERS labored through another start Friday night, getting the win but allowing nine baserunners and throwing 111 pitches over 5.2 innings. In his last five starts, he has allowed 24 runs in 24.1 innings. His once-sore hamstring doesn’t seem to be bothering him now, so what is the problem? The problem is that he’s Kenny Rogers. I mean, he’s helping the Rangers immensely, but fantasy owners just can’t expect too much. Relish the 13 wins and take heart that his overall ERA of 4.36 and WHIP of 1.35 haven’t caused serious damage to your team. As a matter of course, mixed-league owners should always be on the lookout for improvement, but in general there’s no reason to cut him. He’s as likely as anybody to continue his low-4.00 ERA ways.

Fullmer Out The Door?
BRAD FULLMER has done little to endear himself to fantasy owners. Most players touted as sleepers end up duds for the very basic reason that they’re not very good. In Fullmer’s case, I saw a guy who had slugged .500 over his career and was moving to a lefty hitter’s dream park. After his slow start, I said “you’ll regret not owning him” or something or equal stupidity. Well, Fullmer hit to expectations in June (.284/.359/.531) but has batted a pitiful .205/.279/.410 in July, and Texas is allegedly considering cutting him outright or trading him for scrap. Don’t drop him in AL-only leagues yet, but keep an eye on him. Barring an improbable trade for more offense, Texas could spread the DH at-bats among several players, mostly outfielders.

Outfield Developments
KEVIN MENCH fans, I feel your pain. I confessed confusion over how the messy outfield rotation would shake out, but I did expect Mench to start more often than not. Alas, Mench has started only against lefties, ceding right field to GARY MATTHEWS against righties over the past week. AL-only owners should be angry but patient; Mench might pick up some DH at-bats if Fullmer disappears. BRIAN JORDAN started in right field last night while ERIC YOUNG DH’ed. Once HERBERT PERRY returns to his regular lefty DH role, Young and Jordan will have to share. Jordan will have a hard time displacing Young, who is batting .344/.410/.456 against lefties, and I doubt Showalter will bench Matthews and offer a defensively challenged, Boston-like outfield of Young, Mench and Jordan against lefties.

DAVID DELLUCCI and LAYNCE NIX remain fixtures against righties. Nix easily has the most value in trade, but Texas wants to keep him. Mench is the team’s most tradable outfielder: reasonably young, some upside, won’t embarrass himself in center, apparently doesn’t fit Showalter’s coat-and-tie style of play. That said, Mench alone certainly won’t get a serviceable starting pitcher. There is the possibility that he could go to an NL team, but again, his single-league owners should hold on. Mench has significant fantasy value… when he’s in the lineup.

Catching Gets Complicated
GERALD LAIRD, out since May with a torn thumb ligament, returned from the DL a good two weeks earlier than expected. Laird starts on Saturday after sitting out Friday night in place of ROD BARAJAS. Who’s Number One? I think Barajas, but not by a large margin. In the short run I expect Barajas to catch 60-70 percent of the time, much less than he’s played with DANNY ARDOIN and KEN HUCKABY behind him, and eventually he may split time equally with Laird. Barajas has caught 29 of the last 31 games, and Texas will want to keep him fresh for the stretch run. Laird, who batted .307 with no power before his injury, has minimal fantasy value for now and not all that much in the long term.

Why A “Scooby Doo” Sequel?
Because the first one left so many unanswered questions. Archives, 40-man roster, transactional analysis and organizational depth chart at By the way, Texas really, REALLY hung Grady Fuson out to dry. Imagine being two years and eight months into a three-year internship for the GM role and then being told, “sorry, but no.” I guess it’s to be expected, as owner Tom Hicks completely reverses his organizational strategy about every two years. A “young,cheap, long term” mandate in 2000, “expensive, old (err, experienced), win now” in 2002, “young, cheap, long term” in 2004. Fuson will make a fine GM for some other team, and in 2006 I’ll be writing about the Rangers next change in management policy.

July 30, 2004

No Meaningful Trades Yet
Other than a trade of BRAD FULLMER that fell through Friday night (see below), Texas has pulled no triggers. Texas badly needs another starting pitcher but is loathe to part with top-notch prospects. On the 25-man roster, KEVIN MENCH remains the most available talent, though Texas has does nothing to market him since the All-Star Break. Texas’s big hitters aren’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, little quality pitching is available, and Randy Johnson won’t come to Texas regardless of what is offered. Meanwhile, outfielder Larry Walker rejected a trade to Texas on Friday night (for whom, I don’t know). Ranger maneuvers aside, AL-only owners should strive for the highest waiver priority possible to take advantage of interleague trades.

Chaos Lords Over Outfield
Remarkably, the one outfielder to start every post-ASB game is GARY MATTHEWS, who continues to improve on his previously mediocre career stats with a line of .289/.373/.644 since the break. He isn’t that good, but he has hit a consistent .280 with a little power in about 200 plate appearances. He will help any AL-only team (92% owned in ESPN). I can’t recommend him in mixed leagues, but if you desperately need a fill-in outfielder for a week or two, he probably won’t hurt your team. LAYNCE NIX continues to start every day against righties. Since a four-hit effort on July 16, Nix is batting .090/.118/.121 and his average has fallen to a lukewarm .271 on the season. You might want to bench him for a day or two while he sorts himself out, but there’s no reason to drop him.

DAVID DELLUCCI also starts against righties and also has struggled of late, batting .209 (albeit with decent power) in July after batting .161 in June. Most AL-only owners in larger leagues should hold on but look for improvement; he’s nothing special but just about any regular or semi-regular has value. Much to my displeasure, KEVIN MENCH has started only five of fifteen since the ASB and only two of thirteen against righties. AL-only owners should keep him benched against righties until he garners more time. BRIAN JORDAN has started only three of eight since returning from the DL and has shown no evidence of improvement on his earlier dreadfulness. ERIC YOUNG always starts against lefties and has been the favored choice for a slight majority of the DH at-bats against righties.

Fullmer Injured, Traded, Returned
Following rumours of his impending trade or release, disappointing DH BRAD FULLMER hit the DL earlier this week with a sore knee. Friday afternoon, Texas traded him to San Diego for a PTBNL, but on Friday evening he failed his physical. Nevertheless, his tenure as a Ranger appears over. In AL-only leagues, you could stash him on your DL on the chance he ends up with another AL team, but certainly you should drop him if someone in the free agent pool has a chance to help you. San Diego intended to employ Fullmer as a lefty pinch-hitter; he wouldn’t play often in the National League and won’t help an NL-only fantasy squad. I touted him as a sleeper and he’s having his worst-ever year in average, OBP and slugging. Lovely. HERBERT PERRY will DH against lefties (four in the next five games).

Barajas Shares With Laird
In eight games since returning from the DL, catcher GERALD LAIRD has started every other game, sharing time equally with ROD BARAJAS. Laird is nil-for-ten with six strikeouts since his return, but Barajas himself is batting a feeble .176/.222/.353 since the All-Star Break. Either could garner more time with a hot streak as Texas tries to stave off another post-ASB surge from Oakland. For now, neither offers any support in mixed leagues and not much even in AL-only leagues. Barajas owners in leagues with 10 or more teams may have to grit their teeth and hope for the best. In eight-team leagues, a more regular catcher ought to be available.

Rogers, Drese… That’s It
KENNY ROGERS pitched well enough to win on Wednesday and appears to be over his sore hamstring. Start him if you normally would. RYAN DRESE continues to excel, having allowed two of fewer runs in each of his last four starts and finally getting the wins to match his efforts. I haven’t offered more than a tepid endorsement of him in mixed leagues, but I’m surprised only 3.1% of ESPN’s mixed-league owners have claimed him. I’d own Drese over the more famous and disturbingly heavy Sidney Ponson any day. Drese doesn’t strike out many batters but has pitched better than his seven wins would indicate. He’s allowing a .272 average on balls in play, lower than the team as a whole but not so low that his ERA appears fraudulent. As for the other Ranger starters, well, their mothers love them.

August 06, 2004

Not so fast, Gizzi
Were I a betting man (and I am), I’d bet that Oakland wins the division. As I type, Buck Showalter is replacing the starting pitcher with none out in the second inning. In the past month, the likes of Nick Regilio, Sam Narron, Mike Backsik, Nick Bierbrodt and John Wasdin have started 10 of the team’s 27 games. None inspires confidence. Buck faces the same situation as a nervous teenager having “relations” for the first time: both are hoping something slightly better than absolute failure. That said, Oakland has it holes, including an average offense and a mediocre bullpen (outside of Justin Duscherer). They might win the title, but Texas and Anaheim won’t let them run away with it.

Michael Young Is Okay, You’re Okay
Young missed games on Tuesday and Wednesday with back spasms. He returned to the lineyp Thursday with no ill effects. Young has tapered off lately, batting .293/.329/.413 since the All-Star break. Don’t worry too much about that; Young should still produce good numbers and Texas plays 33 of the last 53 in hitter-friendly Arlington. Meanwhile, HANK BLALOCK is batting a paltry .151 with one homer since the break and is down to .277 average on the season, leading some local scribes to suggest he’s tired. Perhaps. Nevertheless, he’s a premier player and belongs in your lineup. Again, Texas plays a home-heavy two months to close the season.

Designated Irritant
Since BRAD FULLMER hit the DL, the Rangers’ DH situation has become an impenetrable fog, even against the lefties against whom Fullmer didn’t hit. ERIC YOUNG and BRIAN JORDAN have split DH duties against righties. Young, in fact, has supplanted HERBERT PERRY as the DH against lefties during the last two days. Young already was an everyday player against lefties; Young’s DH’ing frees Jordan to play more in the outfield and eradicates Perry’s negligible value. As for Fullmer, he killed the trade to San Diego when he couldn’t guarantee he’d come off the DL at the earliest date possible (August 9).

Outfield Update
If you haven’t seen LAYNCE NIX or DAVID DELLUCCI in the lineup lately, you might be wondering if they’re hurt. They are not. Texas has faced lefties in five of the last six games, and Nix and Dellucci watch lefties from the safety of the dugout. Similarly, don’t put any stock in KEVIN MENCH’s and Jordan’s sudden upswing in play, as they start consistently against lefties. As before, only GARY MATTHEWS starts every time. Matthews is still available in a tiny number of AL-only leagues. He could help teams in larger mixed leagues whenever Texas faces a weak team at home. So that’s not much of an endorsement. Nix could be a decent part of a fantasy platoon in larger mixed leagues.

Roster Expansion Worries? None
Barring a total collapse, Texas will be playing meaningful baseball well into September. Healthy Rangers on the 40-man roster but not on the 25 currently include ADRIAN GONZALEZ, ROSMAN GARCIA, JASON BOURGEOIS, EDWIN MORENO, and BEN KOZLOWSKI. Texas might recall Gonzalez or Garcia, but none of these players is any threat to steal at-bats or innings from the current starters. Potentially, still-healing JUAN DOMINGUEZ and non-roster AA hurler JOHN HUDGINS could start a few games, but they would be taking the place of fantasy non-entities like NICK REGILIO. Essentially, almost every worthwhile prospect who could help this season is already on the 25.

No Filler All Meat

ROD BARAJAS and GERALD LAIRD continue to alternate games behind the plate irrespective of the opposing pitcher. For that matter, Barajas continues his descent into pre-Texas decrepitude, batting .182/.217/.386 since the break and grand total of four RBI since the end of June. ALFONSO SORIANO, part of a team-wide theme, has batted a weak .224/.268/.434 since the break. Once again, notice all the remaining home games. Soriano has hit .340/.371/.557 at home, .225/.278/.379 on the road. The starting pitchers not named Rogers or Drese are too risky to own even in large AL-only leagues. 15% of you just endured 1.2 innings seven baserunners, and a could’ve-been-worse two runs allowed by Nick Regilio. Be very afraid. SCOTT ERICKSON starts for Texas tomorrow, but not for you, I hope.

August 13, 2004

Help Down The Stretch
Especially in public leagues, most owners manage their teams pretty passively. They pick their best lineups and don’t make many bench or free-agent moves. You, the intrepid fantasy owner, can take advantage of their indifference by seeking favorable matchups and shuffling your roster accordingly. Are any free-agent hitters playing a road series in Colorado? Which free-agent pitchers are facing offense-impaired failures like Seattle, KC, Montreal and Arizona? Grab these guys for a start or a series, then drop them back into the pond. Two years ago I won a league with the help of some late-season heroics from Mark Hendrickson. This strategy doesn’t always work, of course, but it offers the most potential for owners with a first-place-or-bust mentality.

Do any Rangers offer help in this regard? In mixed leagues, RYAN DRESE is your man. Despite having the 16th-best ERA in all of baseball, Drese is owned in just 3.6% of mixed leagues. Drese doesn’t strike out anybody but has a 3.37 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 152 innings. He also has an astonishing 2.15 ERA at The Ballpark (4.71 on the road) and has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 18 of his 23 starts. You may not want to own him outright, but if you’re looking for some temporary help, particularly in 12-team leagues, Drese offers it. In AL-only leagues, no available Ranger starters can help you. The back end of the rotation is a disaster, with Texas shuttling starters between Arlington and Oklahoma City on almost a daily basis. Avoid them all like the plague.

Alas, Ranger hitters won’t offer much help, either. (The strategy can work, just not by using the team I happen to cover.) Of course, the Texas infield is unavailable, and the outfield remains a patchwork of platoons and what-mood-am-I-in-today lineup shuffles from Mssr. Showalter. If you plan to grab a Ranger outfielder, knowing the handedness of the opposing pitcher is vital. DAVID DELLUCCI is currently batting second against righties, but he’s simply a mediocre fantasy player. LAYNCE NIX, another righty-only outfielder, has the most promising future but has struggled mightily of late (.220/.246/.373 since the break). BRIAN JORDAN plays more often, but not every day, and not well.

ERIC YOUNG is batting .326 and has 10 steals but also plays intermittently, against all lefties but only a few righties. KEVIN MENCH starts against lefties and has absolutely disappeared against righties. Even GARY MATTHEWS sat for two days after being the only everyday outfielder for three weeks, and my gut tells me he will fall back into the frustrating semi-regular play that drives fantasy owners to drink. If I could read a pattern in all this, I’d be trading stocks instead.

On The Offensive
Texas has scored 70 runs in the last 20 games, and even the Big Four – Teixeira, Soriano, Young and Blalock – have struggled. None is hurt, though I’ve read that Blalock appears tired and is swinging a “heavy” bat. I wouldn’t put too much stock in it. All players, even the very best, endure slumps. More to the point, all of the Ranger infielders bat much better at home, where Texas will play 31 of the last 50 games. GERALD LAIRD and ROD BARAJAS have maintained their catching rotation, and they continue to bat well south of the Mendoza line.

Rogers Stumbles
Over his last eight starts, KENNY ROGERS has a 7.90 ERA and 1.90 WHIP. He pitched through a hamstring pull in mid-July but is now healthy, yet ineffective. His season-long ERA stands at 4.60, making my preseason prediction of 4.80 look nice but frustrating the owners accustomed to his earlier success. Rogers has allowed more homers than normal and an unsightly sixteen doubles in his last eights starts, but he’s also allowed a .385 average on balls in play. A little better luck over this stretch would have given him an ERA of 5.50-6.00 rather than 7.90, poor but not intolerable. Don’t expect a return to the sub-4.00 salad days of his first half, but there’s no reason to believe he’s toast. That said, always be looking for improvement in mixed leagues.

“Alien Versus Predator?” Nope.
Is it a Disney movie? No? Good, I can bash it. Watch the director’s cut of “Alien” instead.

August 21, 2004

Bizarro Rangers
Did you know that Texas has the worst batting average in baseball since the All-Star Break (.231)? Did you also know that Texas features the best ERA in the American League so far in August (3.50)? As for the pitching, thank Ryan Drese and the bullpen. Drese is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA this month, the bullpen is 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA, and the other starters… 4-7 with a 5.54 ERA, which is really not all that terrible by 2003 standards. As for the hitting, Texas seems to be pulling out of an extended team-wide slump. The Rangers averaged only 3.4 runs in the twenty games leading up to their current winning streak. Six games against Tampa Bay and a bullpen-deficient Tribe will cure many ills.

Drese Gets Attention
38% of mixed-league owners now have staked their fortunes on RYAN DRESE., who was almost entirely ignored two weeks ago. Drese has taken the tepid endorsement I gave to Kenny Rogers earlier this year – “blandly efficient” – to a new level. In 23 starts, Drese has allowed five or more earned runs on only three occasions, and two of those were exactly five runs. He largely has avoided the occasional meltdowns that have sapped some of Kenny Rogers’s value. Drese strikes out fewer than four per nine innings, so he’s no cure-all. Good as he’s been, owners in smaller leagues still may not need him. Those pining over hurt and/or ineffective pitchers like Kevin Millwood and Andy Pettitte ought to look Drese’s way.

New Batting Order Changes Little
A little over a week ago, Buck Showalter revamped his batting order in an effort to pull the team out of its lengthy slump. ALFONSO SORIANO batted leadoff for the first time in Ranger blue, DAVID DELLUCCI moved to second against righties, MICHAEL YOUNG dropped to third, HANK BLALOCK fourth, and MARK TEIXEIRA fifth. Soriano owners hoping for a boost in steals hope in vain; Fonzie has one steal in twelve games as a leadoff hitter. He also has only four RBI thanks to no help from the bottom of the order. The high-slug, low-walk Soriano ought to be batting fifth, not first, but that’s not my call. Young might run less if he continues to bat third, but Young had only ten steals on the season, so the loss would be minor.

Blalock’s troubles left him with a startlingly low .267 average and .493 slugging percentage as of August 16. A 3-for-4, two-homer night (against a lefty starter, no less) provided a much needed boost. Blalock is batting only .175 since the break with counting stats that are bad but not disastrous (14 runs, 3 homers and 15 RBI in 31 games). Don’t bench him. Teixeira, on the other hand, has eleven homers and 32 RBI since the break. He is batting .270 and may never evolve into a high-average hitter, but unlike most of the swing-first-ask-questions-later Rangers, he draws a good number of walks. The daily rotation and nearly sublime wretchedness of catchers ROD BARAJAS and GERALD LAIRD continues apace. Barajas is batting .188-6-1-4 since the break, Laird .079-3-0-3.

At last, Buck Showalter admitted he’s assigning outfield and DH duties based on feel. With HERBERT PERRY sidelined, ERIC YOUNG, KEVIN MENCH, BRIAN JORDAN and GARY MATTHEWS always start against lefties. DAVID DELLUCCI and LAYNCE NIX always start against righties, Matthews starts most games, and the last slot has rotated among Mench, Young and Jordan. One of these three would gain considerable fantasy value with everyday play, but I expect the platoon/rotation/whatever to continue. BRIAN JORDAN has finally heated up, batting .333 with two homers and eight RBI in his last eight games. AL owners should keep in mind that his last eight games came during the last twelve for the team. They also should remember that Jordan is 37 and gimpy. Temper your expectations.

No! Bad Owner!
The “Ranger Cavalcade of Back-End Starters” {tm} marches on with the arrival of MICKEY CALLAWAY, who pitched adequately in his return from elbow surgery. He might pitch well again, and AL-only owners might take a chance on him. I, being the fearful sort, recommend against it. Callaway has a career ERA of 6.36 and a 1.73 WHIP. SCOTT ERICKSON has a 4.50 ERA and a shiny new win as a Ranger, but he also has ten walks and only six strikeouts in sixteen innings. What you fear is the meltdown start: one of those two-inning, six-run debacles that spike your ERA and WHIP. Rogers has them, also (almost everyone does), but Rogers has otherwise pitched well enough to convey value even in some mixed leagues. With Callaway and Erickson, the meltdown might be all you get.

Thank you, NBC
For telling me what emotions I should feel at any given moment while watching your Olympic coverage.

August 26, 2004

Blalock Resumes Hitting, Young Doesn’t
After a six-week nosedive during which his OPS plummeted from .971 to .838, new dad HANK BLALOCK is hitting again. Beginning August 17, the night before his wife gave birth to Trey Ryan, Blalock has hit 12-for-27 with five homers, nine runs and twelve RBI. Blalock missed two games with a sore wrist last week but is fine now, and the time off probably did him some good. Blalock should start almost every game down the stretch. Meanwhile, MICHAEL YOUNG’s tough August continues; he has a line of .250/.292/.345 this month and on Wednesday hit his first homer since July 25. Dare I say it, maybe a spot-start by MANNY ALEXANDER is what Young needs. In any case, Young is healthy and belongs in your lineup. You, like him, will have to tough it out.

Outfield Update
After two months of inscrutability, the Ranger outfield is beginning to make sense. DAVID DELLUCCI and LAYNCE NIX start against righties, while ERIC YOUNG and BRIAN JORDAN play against lefties. GARY MATTHEWS continues to play every day, and he’s been joined by KEVIN MENCH, who has recently usurped the role of DH versus righties that he had shared with Jordan and Young. With BRAD “I got hurt just to make Scott’s preseason prediction even more dubious” FULLMER out for the season, Mench has a decent chance to play nearly every day. Mench is batting .302/.348/.587 in August but probably won’t maintain such a pace; .270 with pretty good power is what to expect. Mench is marginally useful is 12-team mixed leagues.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Tums.
CHAN HO PARK pitched for Texas Thursday night for the first time since mid-May, and darned if he didn’t actually pitch quite well. Park allowed two runs, four hits and three walks in six innings in a winning effort, and his velocity reached the low and mid-nineties where it struggled to hit 90 in April. Relative to some of the bait Texas has thrown out there, Park’s ERA of 5.50 isn’t so bad, bit that doesn’t make him fantasy-worthy. In mixed leagues, you’re better off with Andy Pettitte; i.e., someone who won’t pitch the rest of the season. In AL-only leagues, the physically and emotionally fragile Park offers some strikeouts but the rest is a risky grab-bag. He might pay off, but you risk gutting your stats. Only the truly desperate need apply.

Other Starters
More widely owned than ever, RYAN DRESE disgorged his worst start of the season Wednesday night, allowing seven runs and 14 baserunners in just 3.2 innings. Drese allowed five extra-base hits but several singles were dinky bloops or slow rollers. I wouldn’t worry too much about him for now. To reiterate from the last column, Drese doesn’t strike out many batters but offers a respectable ERA and WHIP and should win a few games down the stretch. Those in larger mixed leagues should consider giving him a home if your staff is hurting. Dallas native CHRIS YOUNG debuted Tuesday night respectably with three runs allowed in 5.2 innings. He either gained three MPH on his fastball between Oklahoma City and Arlington or the guns are out of sync.

Young will continue to start as long as he’s competent. Fantasy-wise, he’s risky. Young pitched well in five AAA starts after posting a 4.48 ERA in 18 AA starts, but he’s not much of a prospect and could explode at any time. If interested, just watch and wait. KENNY ROGERS offered yet another frustrating outing and now sports an ERA of 4.72. I keep expecting him to revert to a level in-between his earlier mastery and his recent awfulness, but he keeps being awful. Well, I still expect mediocre-to-average quality, but those in mixed leagues might not want to wait around just to see if Rogers can be average. Scan those waiver wires. MICKEY CALLAWAY injured his shoulder and is out until further notice, and SCOTT ERICKSON might find himself out of work before long.

Barajas Takes Over
ROD BARAJAS once again is the primary catcher. Barajas shared evenly with GERALD LAIRD for a month when Laird returned from the DL, but Laird’s still-sore thumb and concurrent inability to hit (.093/.163/.140 since returning) forced Buck Showalter’s hand. Barajas had a six-week stretch he’ll tell his grandkids about but otherwise has been his usual weak-hitting self. He’s hit .152/.190/.278 since the All-Star Break and can be expected to bat a little over .200 with an occasional homer, so the increased playing time isn’t necessarily a boon to catcher-desperate fantasy owners. He has hit .265 at home, so perhaps he could contribute in short stretches to the highly active AL-only owner.

Sunshine and Lollipops

That’s what you get with every Ranger column. Metaphorically speaking.

September 03, 2004

Middle Infield Slows Down
MICHAEL YOUNG has a disappointing line of .260/.299/.362 since the All-Star break and just completed a gloomy August of .226/.268/.311. Young also slowed down in the second half of last year, though not as much. Young always has been a streaky hitter. He doesn’t walk much, so when he endures a stretch of difficulty making good contact, his whole game suffers. ALFONSO SORIANO actually has a slightly higher second-half OPS; his is more of a season-long slowdown. I didn’t expect him to run as much, but I also certainly didn’t expect an OPS of .794 and only 69 runs scored. Sori has a dreadful line of .238/.287/.420 on the road but does have 13 homers. My gut tells me he won’t be a Ranger in 2005. Young and Soriano still are quality fantasy players and belong in your lineup every day.

Ho My Goodness

Two consecutive quality starts from CHAN HO PARK, surely a sign of impending doom. Park pitched seven-plus innings of two-run ball and had the lead when he left the game. In his two starts since returning from a back injury, Park has 13.1 innings, a 2.02 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and nine strikeouts. Last week, I said only the desperate need to get him. Do I recommend him now? Well… not as such. He remains a very high risk pitcher, but on the other hand his next two starts are at home against a White Sox squad minus Big Hurt and Maggs (but with Joe Borchard and Timo Perez!) and a bedraggled Toronto squad. If you’re trying to gain ground in an AL-only league and aren’t afraid to take a big risk, Park might pay off. If you’re trying to maintain a lead, just say no to the Ho.

Drese Gets the Shakes, Rogers Maintains
After I finally give a mild recommendation for RYAN DRESE, who had allowed four of more runs in only three of 23 starts this season, he allows twelve runs over his next two starts while striking out two. Drese faces off against Curt Schilling in Boston for his next start, so those in mixed leagues ought to consider dropping him for now, then perhaps grabbing him in time for his next start against Toronto. Erstwhile ace KENNY ROGERS has returned to form somewhat, allowing four runs in 12.2 innings over two starts. He did walk a ghastly seven batters in Thursday’s start but suffered minimal damage. Don’t bother with other starters CHRIS YOUNG or JOHN WASDIN, both of whom have the ability to destroy your team’s ERA in a single night.

Mench, Looch, Etc.
KEVIN MENCH has started 19 of 20 and batted a sterling .301/.344/.542 in August, though he ended up with a rather uninspiring 12 runs and 11 RBI. His power is solid, but despite his fine August I wouldn’t be too surprised if his average drops a touch, as he’s never hit especially well against righties. I don’t see him having value in mixed leagues except 12-team leagues that seem to have a dearth of decent outfielders on the waiver wire. You certainly don’t want him this weekend with Pedro and Schilling on the menu. What? DAVID DELLUCCI is slugging .500? The Looch just finished one of his occasional mammoth stretches in which he does his best Albert Pujols impersonation: how about .333 with seven homers while playing only against righties?

Alas, the fine print. Dellucci hit .161 in June and .196 in July with three homers total. Dellucci is like a Christmas present from your uncle in Des Moines: you might get Grand Theft Auto Vice City, you might get dress socks. GARY MATTHEWS didn’t hit well for average in August (.222) but his counting stats weren’t terrible. He’s still a good hold in AL-only leagues. ROD BARAJAS missed Thursday’s start with a stiff back. As far as I know now, it’s not serious. Barajas once again is the everyday catcher but used up all his karma in June. Don’t count on much more than an occasional bomb. His .240 average isn’t going anywhere.

HERBERT PERRY returned to action Wednesday as Texas activated him from the DL concurrent with roster expansions. Perry won’t play much at all but should get the very occasional start against lefties. He’ll leach into someone’s at-bats in the process, probably ERIC YOUNG’s or a bit of BRIAN JORDAN’s. Texas also added pitcher JEFF NELSON, catcher KEN HUCKABY (Jeter’s pal) and utility guy ANDY FOX. None is worth your trouble. Texas also will recall 1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ when the AAA season ends. He won’t play often but might get a handful of starts if Texas falls out of the playoff race.

September 09, 2004

Despite playing 31 of 53 games at home after the All-Star break, Texas has sputtered with a record of 26-27 and stands six games behind Oakland with only 23 to play. The tattered and taterific rotation gets the ink, but the real culprit is the offense, which has batted a flatfooted .243/.312/.426 since the break. I would expect Texas to play its regulars persistently until the team is eliminated (or, just maybe, isn’t eliminated), and even then the marquee players should start most of the time. Adrian Gonzalez is the only position player already on the 40-man roster who might yet join the team (after Oklahoma’s season ends). Texas has no September call-ups that would help a fantasy team.

Drastic Measures
Cut HANK BLALOCK? One reader has questioned me about that very subject. The superficial answer is “Are you insane? Of course not.” You don’t bench a guy with 29 homers and 93 RBI. Upon closer inspection, probably still not, but much of the evidence is troubling. Blalock has batted a stupefying .197 since the All-Star break with only six homers. In July, he batted only .190, but with three homers and 17 RBI the month wasn’t a total loss. September is shaping up to be a complete washout reminiscent of his rookie-season struggles in 2002: .069, two runs, zero homers, two RBI. Is he a lost cause for non-keeper owners? Again, probably not, but in smaller mixed leagues a look at the free-agent pool merits a perusal.

I certainly wouldn’t drop him this weekend at home against Toronto. The upcoming series on the road against Oakland’s lefty-heavy rotation is another story. By next Monday, if Blalock continued to post a string of zeroes AND if you’re saying “I can’t believe (Player X) is available,” you should take the plunge. Keep in mind that it’s a risky maneuver with considerable downside. Teammate MICHAEL YOUNG completed a miserable August in which he batted .226 with one homer. Just nine days into September, he’s batting .330 with four homers. To quote Joaquin Andujar and Mick Doherty, “youneverknow.”

GARY MATTHEWS has missed a few games with a sore calf but should return during the weekend. His I certainly wouldn’t drop him this weekend at home against Toronto. The upcoming series on the road against Oakland’s lefty-heavy rotation is another story. By next Monday, if Blalock continued to post a string of zeroes AND if you’re saying “I can’t believe (Player X) is available,” you should take the plunge. Keep in mind that it’s a risky maneuver with considerable downside. Teammate MICHAEL YOUNG completed a miserable August in which he batted .226 with one homer. Just nine days into September, he’s batting .330 with four homers. To quote Joaquin Andujar and Mick Doherty, “youneverknow.” owners in AL-only leagues should hold him unless someone magical appears on the waiver wire.

BRIAN JORDAN has batted reasonably well in his stead (5-for-12 but with just one run and no RBI) but you still shouldn’t bother with him in all but the largest AL-only leagues. Jordan should continue to start primarily against lefties. Everyday outfielder KEVIN MENCH has six homers in the last six weeks and a .300 average. He’s a decent stopgap in larger mixed leagues and can beat up lefties. Mench is definitely a better choice than the more widely owned LAYNCE NIX who hasn’t slugged over .444 in a month since May despite starting only against righties.

FRANCISCO CORDERO has only one save in the last eleven games. Not coincidentally, Texas has only two wins in the last eleven games. Just enjoy the 42 you already have from him and leave him be. He’s healthy. Rotation member CHRIS YOUNG pitched a gem at Boston last Saturday, dropping his ERA to 4.02 and his WHIP to 1.28. I hope you maintained your skepticism, because he gave it all back against the pale socks Thursday night. Young has more talent than the typical Ranger back-ender and might evolve into a passable hurler, but for now he’s walk-prone and doesn’t pitch deep into games. CHAN HO PARK likewise flustered owners hoping for another quality performance. He does get to face Toronto this weekend and Seattle down the road, but he’s a very high risk, too high for most of you.

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being A Ranger Fan

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September 15, 2004

Texas needed to win at least three of four against Oakland to have a reasonable chance to jump back into the division race. By splitting, Texas remains five back with only sixteen to play. Now, if Oakland merely plays .500 ball, Texas must win thirteen of sixteen just to tie. Having Anaheim also in front of Texas further hinders their chances. Nevertheless, the Rangers already have surpassed their victory total for the previous four years. Barring an edict from Mount Selig forcing them to forfeit their remaining games, they will also finish above .500.

Soriano Injured
ALFONSO SORIANO slid awkwardly into third base in Thursday’s game and had to leave with an apparent leg injury (on a headfirst slide, oddly enough). He did walk to the dugout unassisted. As of early Thursday evening, I’ve heard no word on whether the injury is serious, but I’m inclined to think not. Those in ESPN leagues, who must make a decision tonight on tomorrow’s lineup, should keep him active unless a top-notch replacement is available on the bench.

Hank Reheats
HANK BLALOCK has dropped so far and for so long that a few readers asked whether he needed replacing. I suggested at least waiting out the Toronto series and Hank graciously pulled through, batting .417 with five runs and four batted in. In the Oakland series, he batted .388 with five runs and seven runs batted in plus a homer. Will he continue to hit well or fall back into the mire? Who can say, but the evidence suggests he’s no longer a lost cause. Unless you’re in a four-team league, you’re better off worrying about someone else in your lineup.

Frankie Say Relax
For those of you fresh off the spaceship, relievers FRANKIE FRANCISCO, CARLOS ALMANZAR and DOUG BROCAIL took part in a melee with a group of fans in Oakland Monday night. Brocail and Almanzar merely rushed the stands; Francisco upped the ante considerably by hurling a chair, which connected with a woman’s nose. The precedent punishment for such random acts of violence (see Belle, Dibble, Krueter) is 8-10 games. I expect Francisco’s sentence to be no fewer than ten games and possibly longer, given the gruesomeness of the injury from a visual standpoint. For any of these guys, a suspension of ten games or more would leave them with, at best, about five games in which to appear. Their owners in AL-only leagues should be ready to drop them. Closer FRANCISCO CORDERO is not involved.

Hey, Risk Taker
Unlike fellow rotation members CHRIS YOUNG and JOHN WASDIN, JUAN DOMINGUEZ has the ability to pitch well right now. He’s very erratic and might blow up, but so far he’s pitched reasonably well: 3.91 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 5.5 Ks per nine innings. More impressive, he’s allowed only five walks and two homers in 23 innings. Again, he’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re in a AL-only league and need a spot-start, Dominguez is widely available. He should start Saturday, though the Dallas Morning News hints that he might start Sunday instead.

Injuries and Additions
GARY MATTHEWS, slowed by a calf strain, was expected to rejoin the lineup early this week but has now missed eleven consecutive games. Former bench jockey BRIAN JORDAN has started ten of the last eleven in Matthews’ place and has batted .333 with five runs, one homer, and five RBI. Texas is considering calling up CHAD ALLEN despite having a full 40-man roster, perhaps indicating that Matthews still can’t play. Jordan is a warm body for AL-only owners needing outfield help. His leash will be short, especially if Texas is eliminated from playoff contention, so keep an eye on his appearances.

September 20, 2004

ESPN Column

Not Done?
Texas swept Oakland in dramatic fashion and sits a mere two games out of first with ten to play. For fantasy owners, even those who dislike the Rangers, this is wonderful news. With postseason play still a possibility, Texas will play the regulars, so owners of Ranger hitters needn’t worry about seeing Manny Alexander and his ilk in the lineup.

Soriano Still Out, Probably For Good

News on ALFONSO SORIANO is mixed. Some sources state matter-of-factly that he’s toast, others hold out a faint hope. I suggest you go ahead and drop him. Perhaps, just perhaps, he’ll get a handful of at-bats, but his hamstring pull clearly will diminish his abilities. You’re better off finding a player who might actually help you.

Last Minute Help or Hurt
ERIC YOUNG will start for Soriano the rest of the way. He doesn’t run much anymore or hit for power; his three-run shot on Wednesday was his first of the season. Young does offer a .300 average and will score some runs if that’s what you’re lacking. KEVIN MENCH has tapered off slightly of late, perhaps because of a sore hand, but he does play every day and might go yard a couple of times before the season is done. BRIAN JORDAN is playing every game and batting .300 in September, but Mench is a better choice. Jordan doesn’t hit for power anymore and won’t score or drive in enough runs to help a mixed-league team. Likewise, catcher ROD BARAJAS is enjoying a solid September but has a poor track record. Avoid him in mixed leagues.

Among pitchers, CHRIS YOUNG rejuvenated his tired arm and has pitched reasonably well (4.50 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 19 Ks in 26 innings). He’s awfully green and a huge risk that should be taken by only the neediest in AL-only leagues. The same applies to CHAN HO PARK, who pitched well on a short leash on Thursday. JOAQUIN BENOIT made an emergency start last week and may start again Friday; he’s nothing but trouble. RYAN DRESE may start on three days rest at some point; that may cut into his pitch count but otherwise shouldn’t cause much alarm. Texas believes that his sinker has a bit more sink when he’s tired. He’s not exciting but is preferable to more widely owned KENNY ROGERS.

All Rangers, All The Time
In case you were wondering about the Ranger 40-man roster, depth charts from the Majors down to A ball, and transactions, I have them. Visit for all that and a compendium of all my ESPN columns, just in case you were dying to know what I thought about Herbert Perry in 2002. I will be transferring those files to a new subdomain (say, or something similar) in October. I also write occasionally for, a site run by devoted to (but not fixated on) the Toronto Blue Jays. Current A’s correspondent John Gizzi, former ESPN correspondents Kent Williams and Mick Doherty, and a host of other fine writers will keep you entertained over the cold winter.

Barring last-minute updates, this column should be my last of the season. I also will update this column on occasion during the winter, if only for my own amusement. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading my columns and have gotten some use from them. Thanks to ESPN fantasy chief Eric Karabell for giving me the gig back in February 2002. Thanks most of all to Courtney Bissonnet, who has endured her third year of being the girlfriend of a Ranger fan, and who will up the ante considerably by becoming the wife of a Ranger fan next month.