NEW DIGS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINTON, Texas – Last Friday afternoon, the Rangers announced that they and the city of Arlington would embark on building a new home for the Texas Rangers. The current lease on Globe Life Ballpark, originally named The Ballpark in Arlington, expires after the 2023 season. It takes approximately three years to build a ballpark, so all the planning, land acquisition and financing needs to be in place no later than 2021 if a new ball park was in the offing. In short, it was time to contemplate the future.

Clearly, the city of Dallas was already in motion trying to woo the Rangers away from Arlington. Arlington though had one clear advantage. They could tear up the existing lease and get the Rangers moved much sooner. The new park is expected to open no later than the 2021 season.

For Ranger fans that regularly attended games in the old Arlington Stadium, it seems like Globe Life Ballpark should have withstood the test of time to be functional for more than 30 years, the original lease term of Globe Life. It is noteworthy however that the current park that opened in 1994 is younger than just 10 of the other 29 Major League ballparks. Those 10 include the parks in Toronto, Chicago (White Sox) and Baltimore that opened only a few years prior to the Ballpark in Arlington. Boston is the oldest American League park. Oakland, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles (Anaheim), and Kansas City are the other American League parks that are older. Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles are the only two older parks in the National League.

With so much construction since the Ballpark in Arlington opened, which includes two new parks in Atlanta, the norms and standards have become much more demanding. The amenity that is especially missing from Globe Life Ballpark is the retractable roof accompanied by air conditioning. The Rangers looked hard at the option of adding this amenity to the current location, but that was estimated to cost more than half a billion (with a “B”) dollars, such that building a new park from scratch is more feasible. There were also the problematic logistics of the construction to add air conditioning and a retractable roof while the team is playing baseball.

The bottom line is that a new park is the way to go. The initial cost estimate is $1 billion, a figure that is sure to rise. The new park will be located just south of the current location, an area that is currently utilized as parking lots A and B.

Ray Davis, the managing general partner for the Rangers made the announcement Friday. He was very complimentary of the job that Tom Schieffer in particular did with the design of the Ballpark in Arlington. However, he made no promises that the new park would have similar architecture, an aspect of the current stadium that has drawn rave reviews. The new park will be designed with fewer seats. The capacity is anticipated to be in the 42,000 – 44,000 range. That seems to be the trend of newer parks. Teams can sell more season tickets with a capacity closer to 40,000 than 50,000.

There were conceptual architecture drawings, but details are sketchy. The ballpark that is getting much admiration is St. Louis, with the surrounding commercial area dubbed “Ballpark Village”. The Rangers and Arlington intend to build a similar development near the ballpark, which will include a hotel.

For sure, the Rangers should be getting an All-Star game allocated once the new stadium becomes a reality. For sure the retractable roof and air conditioning will assure fans there will be a game when there is the threat of rain; and when the temperatures in the area get into triple digit territory, fans can watch in comfort. There undoubtedly will be other events at the new stadium. It will be a consumer bonanza.

It also will undoubtedly cost fans dearly. Much of the financing will come from some form of fan support in return for seat locations. Bonds were the form for the Ballpark in Arlington. Seat licenses were the form for Jerry Jones’s football stadium next door. More seats will be involved and the cost to participate will far exceed the previous ballpark construction. Ticket prices will escalate on top of that.

On Tuesday night, the Arlington City Council unanimously approved a master agreement that sets out the terms of the partnership between Arlington and the Rangers to build the new ballpark and the surrounding entertainment district. Rangers’ co-owner Ray Davis said in a prepared statement, “Tonight’s action by the City Council is an important step in the process in this public-private partnership to build a new ballpark for Arlington and all our fans. I want to thank and commend Mayor Jeff Williams and the Arlington city leaders for their vision in reaching out to us and helping put together and approving this historic agreement.”

“The Rangers are excited about the possibility of calling Arlington home for many years to come, and we are committed to building a world class facility which will provide the best possible experience for our fans,” Davis continued. “We look forward to working with Mayor Williams, the city leaders and the citizens of Arlington over the next several months to insure that this dream becomes a reality.”

The next step is to put the proposal to a vote on November 8. Arlington residents will be asked to approve to extend the existing venue taxes approved in 2004 to build AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys. This is a one-half percent sales tax, 5% car rental tax, and 2% hotel occupancy tax that will be used to finance the public portion of the development cost.

It seems a shame that the current Globe Life Ballpark is outdated barely 20 years into the life cycle, but as one great baseball man used to say. “That’s the way baseball go.” And that’s the way baseball will be going in Arlington.

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SUSPENSIONS AND FINES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The donnybrook at Globe Life Ballpark Sunday has been the talk of baseball for the past two days. On Tuesday, the MLB office came down with their rulings. 14 players and coaches received disciplinary penalties. For the Rangers, Rougned Odor received the harshest penalty – an eight game suspension and $5,000 fine, approximately 1% of his salary. Elvis Andrus was assessed a one game suspension. Matt Bush, Sam Dyson, Steve Buechele, A. J. Griffin and Robinson Chirinos were also fined, the latter two for going onto the field when they were on the disabled list.

For Toronto, Jose Bautista was assessed a one game suspension, as was first base coach Tim Leiper. Manager John Gibbons was handed a three game suspension. Leiper and Gibbons had been ejected from the game five innings earlier than the fracas, and were given suspensions for returning to the dugout and in Gibbons’ case, returning to the field during the eighth inning brawl. Jesse Chavez, who was the Jays’ pitcher in the bottom of the eighth inning after the brawl ended, received a three game suspension for hitting Prince Fielder. Fines were handed out to bench coach DeMarlo Hale, third baseman Josh Donaldson, and Kevin Pillar.

Andrus accepted his suspension and is sitting out Tuesday’s game in Oakland. Gibbons and Leiper do not have the right to appeal their suspensions as players do. Bautista and Odor appealed their suspensions and are eligible to play until their appeal can be heard and ruled upon. Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels said on an afternoon sports talk show that he expects Odor’s appeal to be heard in the next 10 days to two weeks.

The severity of Odor’s suspension compared with the other penalties is a clear indication of MLB’s distaste for actually landing the punch.

The general feeling around baseball is dislike for Bautista, who set the contention in motion with his arrogant bat flip after hitting a critical home run that proved to be the game winner in game five of the Rangers – Jays playoff series last fall. As distasteful as Odor’s altercation was, there are numerous players around baseball cheering him on.

Gibbons has called the Rangers gutless for waiting until the final game between the two teams in 2016 before retaliating, but it’s a rather self-serving comment. For sure, the Rangers wanted the retaliation to come in Arlington, not in front of a hostile Toronto crowd. That ruled out the first series between these two teams in early May. By waiting until the final game, Bautista was kept in suspense about when retaliation would come.

For sure, the Rangers wanted to send a message that transgressions such as Bautista’s do not go unnoticed. When Bush hit Bautista on Sunday, the Rangers had just taken a 7-6 lead in the game. The last thing a team wants to do in a tight game is put the tying run on base for free. The Rangers however, obviously felt it was more important to send the message than worry about the tying run.

The scoreboard was even when Bautista took first base. His arrogant bat flip was answered. Bautista however, chose not to let it end there. When the ground ball came, he clearly made the illegal slide that resulted in an ending inning double play and erased the tying run from being on base. Even then, Bautista could have diffused the situation by simply trotting to the dugout. He didn’t. He confronted Odor, and the rest is history.

The rhetoric about the brawl that ensued is almost laughable. Bautista had his fist clenched in preparation of trading fisticuffs, but said afterward that he was surprised by the punch that Odor landed. Huh? Why was your fist clenched Jose?

Virtually no one involved in Sunday’s altercation comes out looking good, but Odor unfortunately comes out looking especially bad. For sure, he plays hard with a bit of an edge. He’s certainly had to scrap to get the Majors, as he is undersized and not one of the more physically talented players on the field. His scrappiness has been a major contributor to his success. However, video has surfaced from a similar altercation five years ago when Odor was in the lower minors. That doesn’t help his image at all. It appears that a pattern is developing.

The Rangers will not be allowed to replace Odor on the roster when the suspension is served. One possibility is that the team makes a roster move on another player – most likely a bullpen pitcher – to make available a roster spot for Jurickson Profar to be called up to play second base in Odor’s absence. Profar was scheduled to start Tuesday at second base for AAA Round Rock after playing exclusively at shortstop so far this season.

It’s a messy affair, and there really isn’t much “right” on either side of the equation. Hopefully, the appeals will be heard soon and the suspensions served to put this behind both teams going forward.

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DESMOND TO LEFT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers reacted quickly and decisively to the news that Josh Hamilton will start the season on the disabled list and be unavailable for at least the first month. They made a deal with the very athletic free agent Ian Desmond. Desmond turned down a qualifying offer from his former team, the Washington Nationals after last season; but has been unable to obtain a suitable multi-year offer. With most teams’ rosters full and with little money left unallocated; he bit the bullet and accepted a one year contract at $8.0 million from the Rangers. He’ll try the free agent market again next winter.

Since the Nationals tendered a qualifying offer, the Rangers will forfeit their number one draft pick and the associated slot money that goes along with it, roughly $2.5 million. That pick would have been the 19th in the first round. However, the forfeiture moves the compensatory pick they obtained when Yovani Gallardo signed with Baltimore from 30 to 29.

Jon Daniels was interviewed on the Dallas ESPN radio affiliate (103.3 FM) Monday afternoon about the signing. He said that Desmond told them that he wanted to be with the Rangers and that he was willing to make the position change. Daniels said, “The negotiations went pretty fast after that.”

Certainly, the multi-positional capability for Desmond will enhance his value in the future. Players such as Ben Zobrist that offer roster flexibility have become quite popular in recent years, and they are getting paid well for it. Daniels also noted the flexibility Desmond provides to the Rangers. If say an infielder sustains an injury, Daniels is not limited to infielders in the minor league system as replacements. If an outfielder is the player he wants to put in the line-up, he can call up an outfielder and shift Desmond to the infield.

Desmond has always recorded high strike out totals. He struck out more than 180 times in each of the past two seasons. “That’s part of his game,” Daniels said. However, the Rangers overall have good contact hitters. Sin-Shoo Choo led the Rangers with 147 strikeouts last season. Only two other players reached 100. Daniels does not expect Desmond’s strikeouts to be a big problem.

Desmond is a right-handed batter, and there is no question that the Rangers’ batting order has been too left-handed. He helps balance the offense. He is also known as a player that plays hard and is a good teammate. Cole Hamels spent his entire career in the National League until last July and is thus familiar with Desmond. He told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “He (Desmond) brings a certain kind of energy. He’s got tremendous power. He’s an outstanding addition.”

It is certainly a risk on the Rangers’ part. Desmond is a shortstop and has played less than 10 Major League innings in the outfield in his 12 year career. Exactly none of those innings were in left field. He hit .233 with a .290 on-base average, 19 home runs and 62 RBIs last year in 156 games with Washington. That was the third straight year his batting averaged dropped from a career high .292 in 2012. His career batting average is .264.

$8.0 million for one year is a lot of money for normal people. However, in Desmond’s case, this contract represents a colossal failure on Desmond’s and his agent’s part. Prior to the 2014 season, he turned down a $107 extension from the Nationals. Not only is he taking a financial hit, but he is also transitioning to a new position.

On the Rangers’ part, it could be a tremendous value. For sure it sends a message to the players that management believes in this team and is supporting it. Rumors persisted throughout the off season that the Rangers were so financially strapped that they were unable to make trades or sign free agents that could have helped the team. With Hamilton ailing, and with little faith in the internal candidates, there was suddenly an $8.0 million increase in the 2016 salary budget to accommodate Desmond.

Daniels was asked where this signing leaves Josh Hamilton when he returns from injury. Daniels said he hopes that Hamilton comes back healthy and capable of being the player they envisioned. He’s confident one way or another, the situation will sort itself out if it happens.

Hamilton was also positive about the move, telling the Ranger writers, “I agreed 100% (with signing Desmond to play left field). I told them I thought it would be a great addition.”

This is bad news for the Rangers’ internal outfield candidates – Ryan Rua, Justin Ruggiano, and Patrick Kivlehan. It also virtually shuts out the Rangers’ top three minor prospects – Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson – from consideration of making the opening day roster. Ranger management has consistently indicated that they want the young trio to at least start the 2016 at AAA and perhaps play the entire season there. Desmond’s acquisition makes that more likely.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Desmond, the Rangers placed reliever Tanner Scheppers on the 60-day disabled list. He underwent knee surgery since training camp began that will keep him off the active roster until at least the All-Star break.

“This is a new chapter,” Desmond told the Ranger beat writers. “And I’m going to embrace the challenge.”

NOTABLE:

* The return of Jurickson Profar looks even more promising. In Monday’s intra-squad game, he hit a home run off Cole Hamels in his first at bat, and made two outstanding defensive plays at shortstop.

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NEWS AND NOTES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Pitchers and catchers reported to training camp last week. The position players have all arrived. By the end of next week, spring training will be fully underway, and exhibition games won’t be far behind. Amazingly for so few days in camp, how much news has spewed forth. So in no particular order:

* The team announced that third base coach Tony Beasley has sadly been diagnosed with rectal cancer. There is a strong possibility of a full recovery. He has arrived in Surprise and will begin chemo therapy next Monday. Beasley is optimistic that the chemotherapy will not wipe him out energy-wise, so expects at this point to continue his normal coaching activities.

* Yu Darvish took a giant step forward in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on Monday. He threw off a mound that is 50% of the elevation of a regular mound. The downward motion of throwing from an elevated surface puts pressure on the elbow. That’s why this is an important step. Darvish threw 17 pitches and reported no problems afterward.

* Josh Hamilton’s ailing left knee was examined by team doctor Keith Meister over the weekend. Hamilton has undergone two surgeries on the knee since the end of last season and received a cortisone shot in January. However, the pain has returned. He sought a second opinion and travelled to Birmingham, Alabama to be examined by Dr. Jeff Dugas. This turn of events has the Rangers monitoring outfield free agent and trade possibilities. If Hamilton is ruled out of action, it could open the door for standout prospects Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. There are a number of free agent outfielders still unsigned including former Rangers David Murphy, Drew Stubbs, Will Venable, Jeff Francoeur, Marlon Byrd and Alex Rios. So far though, Hamilton has been able to perform his spring training baseball activities.

* The Rangers are in negotiations to extend Adrian Beltre’s contract past this season. He will be 37 during the upcoming season, and the Rangers’ top minor league prospect, Joey Gallo, is a third baseman. Still the Rangers want to extend the contract, believing that Beltre is still a very good fielder. Last season, the Rangers were 38-22 in the final 60 games which was good enough to catch the Astros for the division championship. Beltre returned from injury and hit .328 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs in those 60 games.

* Reliever Tanner Scheppers will soon undergo knee surgery that will keep him out until around the All-Star break. He was diagnosed with a torn articular cartilage in his left knee. This may not necessarily be all bad news for Scheppers. He was once a cornerstone of the bullpen as Joe Nathan’s setup man, and thought to be a building block for the future. In 2013, he was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances. The Rangers decided to make him a starter in 2014, and he actually started on opening day. He failed miserably as a starter, and quite frankly his career has spiraled downward since. He’s been plagued by injury. Scheppers would have been one of at least six or seven pitchers vying for two bullpen roster spots, as five of the seven slots are taken. The likelihood is that those two roster spots go to a left-hander and right-hander, so Scheppers was really one of four or five pitchers vying for one roster spot. This way he makes a Major League salary while on the disabled list, and hopefully will be able to contribute once he recovers from the surgery.

* The Rangers announced they have picked up the 2018 club option on manager Jeff Banister and have added another club option for 2019. He is in the second year of the three year contract he originally signed. The team won the American League West pennant and he was named American League Manager of the Year in his first year on the job. COMMENTARY: What took the Rangers so long?

* The Baltimore Orioles have come to terms with free agent Yovani Gallardo for a 2016 contract. Since announcing the agreement, questions have arisen in regards to Gallardo’s physical. Assuming the contract is finalized, the significance to the Rangers that they will receive a draft choice in next June’s Amateur Draft between the first and second rounds as compensation. They will also receive an increase in the pool of money they are allowed to spend for players taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Baltimore also forfeits their first round draft pick for signing Gallardo, since the Rangers offered him a qualifying contract after the season, which Gallardo turned down. Texas will now have picks 19 and 30 in next June’s draft, if they receive the compensatory pick.

* Texas signed left-hander Jeremy Guthrie over the weekend to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Guthrie is an experienced starting pitcher that has not fared well of late. He is 36 and a twelve year veteran. He was 8-8 last season with a 5.95 ERA in 24 starts and six relief appearances for Kansas City. He will join Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Phil Klein, Anthony Ranaudo, Cesar Ramos and A. J. Griffin as candidates for the fifth position in the starting rotation.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Christmas is past and the New Year is upon us. Most of the top end free agent pitchers have signed. The outfielders are the remaining position still available. For many teams, so much money has already been committed that there may not be a lot left to fill out the roster.

The Rangers have had a quiet winter so far. They did the big name shopping last summer when they traded for Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson. Those trades were made with a view for the long run, as all three are contractually under control for years. Amazingly, they paid off with the West Division pennant last season.

This off season may seem quiet, but the Rangers have made the team better. By season’s end, the Rangers had four strong bullpen pitchers. Shawn Tolleson was the closer. Diekman and Dyson were the left- and right-handed setup men. Keone Kela was the seventh inning guy. This quartet could take a sixth inning lead and turn it into a win.

So far, GM Jon Daniels has added Tom Wilhelmsen and Tony Barnette, a righty and a lefty. Sam Freeman is another lefty that could complete a very strong bullpen. Daniels made the bullpen better at little cost. The key player traded for Wilhelmsen was disgruntled outfielder Leonys Martin. Barnette was a free agent that signed a two year deal with $3.5 million guaranteed.

Unlike last season, the bullpen should be good from the start. Daniels said he wanted to add a couple of starting pitchers. He finally announced one – a very familiar face. Colby Lewis is set to join the roster on a one year, $6.0 million deal. Lewis led the Rangers last season in wins (17), starts (33) and innings pitched (204.2). He faltered down the stretch and was the odd man out when the starting rotation was cut from five to four in the playoffs.

We now know that he suffered with knee problems late in the season and has undergone surgery to repair since season’s end. He has gotten better and better over the last two years, and there is every reason to believe that at the age of 36, he will be at least as good in 2016 as he was last year.

With Lewis in the fold, the Rangers’ starting rotation looks a lot like the one that finished the season. Hamels is the number one starter followed in some order by Lewis, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. That leaves a host of internal candidates for the fifth spot – Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Anthony Ranaudo for sure.

Texas also recently signed A. J. Griffin, a former All-Star caliber pitcher that underwent Tommy John surgery and was later released by Oakland when his recovery was coming along slowly. It’s a signing that doesn’t cost the Rangers much and could pay off big time. The odds aren’t good, but it’s in the realm of possibility.

The Rangers also took a page from the Dallas Cowboys philosophy when they signed Matt Bush. Bush was the number one pick in the draft in 2004, and was signed shortly after he was released from prison. He has served more than three years for intoxicated hit-and-run. He was originally a shortstop that converted to pitching in his fourth season. He’s strictly a reliever at this point in his career.

The other glaring need was to make the batting order more right-handed. There was talk of moving Mitch Moreland to clear a spot, but those talks did not come to fruition. Moreland, Fielder, Chu and Hamilton remain as a big part of the Rangers’ batting order, with only Adrian Beltre as a right-handed bat in the middle.

Texas has signed Justin Ruggiano, a former player at Texas A&M. Ruggiano has had spectacular numbers against left-handed pitching over the past four years. Ryan Rua and recently obtained Patrick Kivlehan will also contend for a seat on the Ranger bench to play against left-handers.

Daniels appeared with Norm Hitzges on his annual fund raiser marathon (the “Normathon”) to raise money for the Austin Street Homeless Shelter. Daniels said in no uncertain terms that the Rangers were not players for the remaining middle of the batting order free agent outfielders – namely Yoenus Cespedes and Justin Upton, though rumors persist that the Rangers continue to check in on this pair. Perhaps if a multi-year contract for one of these two doesn’t become a reality, the Rangers might be an attractive fall back position to sign for a year and try free agency again next winter.

This week, arbitration took the headlines. Seven Rangers filed. Texas has not had an arbitration case go to a hearing since 2000 when they lost to Lee Stevens. The odds are good it won’t happen this year, as four players have already come to terms. They are infielder Jurickson Profar, relievers Tom WIlhelmsen and Tanner Scheppers, and catcher Robinson Chirinos.

The remaining three are first baseman Mitch Moreland and relievers Jake Diekman and Shawn Tolleson. The club and players exchanged salary figures on Friday, and the difference is more than $1,000,000 for Tolleson and Moreland. The Rangers and Diekman are $575,000 apart.

It’s obvious that the Rangers are squeezed financially with six players that zap up $105 million in payroll. However, they managed to put together a team good enough to win the pennant in 2015. With Darvish coming back most likely in May, and a good bullpen from the start, the Rangers are still the team to beat in the American League West.

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OFF AND RUNNING

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The General Manager meetings were barely over when a spate of trades began. Usually, the meetings get exploratory talks going that lay the ground work for future deals. This year however, the future arrived quickly.

The Rangers jumped in this week with a five player deal. They sent center fielder Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass to the Mariners for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and a player to be named later. GM Jon Daniels says the player to be named later is a significant part of the transaction.

It looks like a good trade for both teams. Certainly, Martin never developed into the player the Rangers envisioned when they signed the Cuban defector to a $15 million contract. He was slow to develop defensively, though he has become a solid defensive center fielder. He has one of the best center field throwing arms in the American League. However offensively, he never showed much consistency. This season, he appeared in 95 games and hit .219 with five home runs, 25 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 19 attempts. He has appeared with the Rangers in five seasons and has a career average of .255 with 20 home runs and 120 RBIs in 429 games.

This season was especially disappointing. He was the starting center fielder when the season began coming off his best season in 2014 when he hit .274 in a career high 155 games. However, he played so poorly that he lost his center field job to Delino DeShields, Jr. DeShields sparked the Rangers offense with his speed and energy. Defensively, DeShields is far inferior with a terrible throwing arm and still much to learn about tracking fly balls.

However, the Rangers’ batting order is too left-handed. The DeShields – Martin swap in center field brought another right handed bat to the batting order. There is also the salary consideration. Martin is arbitration eligible and will likely be awarded a $4 – $5 million contract for next year. DeShields just completed his rookie season, so will be making the Major League minimum or a bit more. That’s at least a $3.5 million payroll saving that can be applied to another area of the team.

Lastly, Martin did not endear himself to management at season’s end. He was sent to AAA in August, but was called back up in September. However, he made just one Ranger appearance as a pinch runner. The Rangers didn’t select him for the Division Series playoff roster, but wanted him to go to continue his workouts in Arizona in case of an injury. He was also a candidate to be added to the playoff roster had the Rangers advanced past the Division Series. Martin was upset over not being included on the playoff roster and refused the assignment. That basically sealed his fate that he would not be returning to the Rangers.

From Seattle’s standpoint, they receive a very good defensive center fielder, a must in spacious Safeco Field. One of the most successful stints in the Majors for Martin was the close of the 2014 season after Tim Bogar took over the Rangers’ managerial helm when Ron Washington resigned. Bogar has resurfaced as the Mariners’ bench coach for next season. Perhaps it was just time for Martin to get a fresh start in a new organization. Seattle hopes he can fulfill the promise so many have seen in him over the years.

Daniels had indicated that he wanted to add an experienced arm to the bullpen. Actually, the back end of the Rangers’ pen was pretty stout by season’s end with Shawn Tolleson as the closer, with right-handers Keone Kela and Sam Dyson, and lefty Jake Diekman as set up men. But a team just can’t have too many good bullpen arms, and Wilhelmsen is one. He has appeared in 267 games over the past five seasons. He started twice and has saved 67 with a 2.97 ERA in his career. This past season, he appeared in 53 games with a 2-2 record, 13 saves and a 3.19 ERA. Daniels said the Rangers scouted Wilhelmsen a number of years ago looking at him as a starting pitcher, but that they are considering him just for the bullpen at this time.

Jones is a speedy outfielder that could figure in the Rangers’ plans next season. There is some thought that the Rangers may upgrade defensively in center field, perhaps moving DeShields to left. Jones could figure in that decision. However, Lewis Brinson is regarded as the long term center fielder on this team. Brinson played at High A, AA, and AAA this past season. He has since participated in the Arizona Fall League before moving on to winter ball in Latin America. Daniels said that Brinson could forge his way onto the Major League roster at some point next season, but that it will not happen by opening day.

The player to be named later is said to be a significant part of the deal. Daniels says this player will contend for an Opening Day roster spot next spring. He will likely be identified after completion of the Rule 5 draft on December 9.

HARDWARE: Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister was named the American League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA this week. The other two finalists were Minnesota’s Paul Molitor and Houston’s A. J. Hinch. All three did outstanding jobs, and any of the three could have won. The 21 game win turnaround by the worst to first Rangers was the second largest in the Majors this season. Interestingly, the Cubs had the biggest improved win total, and their manager, Joe Maddon, was the National League Manager of the Year. The two previous Ranger managers to win the award are Buck Showalter in 2004 and Johnny Oates, who shared the award with the Yankees’ Joe Torre in 1996.

Adrian Beltre finished seventh in the MVP voting. Shawn Tolleson received votes for the Cy Young award and finished 10th in the balloting.

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HOT STOVE KICK OFF

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Hot Stove League has kicked off over the past week. Most teams, including the Rangers, have filled their manager, general manager and coaching positions. The deadline for making qualifying offers passed last Friday. The deadline for those to be accepted is this Friday. There has already been a significant trade that involved six players. The General Manager meetings opened this week in Boca Raton, Florida. In other words, the off season is well under way for baseball fans.

The Rangers offered a qualifying offer to Yovani Gallardo. Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels said after the deadline that the team never really considered not extending the offer. It is likely that Gallardo will reject the offer (one year at $15.8 million). This is the fourth year of the current system, and over the first three, no player given a qualifying offer has accepted it. Gallardo is a second or third tier pitcher in this year’s free agent class, but he should be able to attract a multi-year offer for more than $20 million guaranteed at a minimum. There are even predictions of a deal in the neighborhood of four years for $56 million.

This is regarded as an exceptionally good free agent class. David Price and Zack Greinke are the leading starting pitchers available. Price is expected to land a $200 million plus contract. The Cubs are a likely landing spot, which makes sense. The Cubs have money and the desire for a high end starting pitcher. They are managed by Joe Maddon, who was Price’s manager when he played in Tampa Bay. The Dodgers are certainly strong players to re-sign Greinke, but there is speculation that the Giants will show strong interest too. From their viewpoint, signing Greinke has a two fold benefit. Not only do they reel in a top starting pitcher for their rotation, but they weaken the Dodgers.

One indication of the strength of the free agent class is the qualifying offers. In the first three years of the system, a TOTAL of 34 players were given qualifying offers. This year’s total is 20.

The Rangers still say they are looking to add at least one starting pitcher, but they are not players for the upper end of the free agent market. They have four rotation spots set at this point with Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. However, the speculation is that Darvish may not be ready until late May or even June, so the Rangers could well be looking for two starting pitchers. They have a host of internal candidates: Alex Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Nick Tepesch, Anthony Ranaudo, and Phil Klein, but expect to acquire at least one significant pitcher through trade or free agency.

Daniels has also indicated that other priorities are another quality reliever and a right-handed bat. Bringing Mike Napoli back would add a right-handed power bat, but he would join Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder as primarily first base/DH types. It leads to speculation that Fielder, Moreland or Sin-Shoo Choo could get moved this winter to make room for the needed right-handed bat.

There are not likely to be much in the way of trades this week. The GM meetings are usually where the groundwork is laid for trades that happen over the final six weeks of the year.

OTHER RANGER NOTES:

* Texas filled out the coaching staff by adding Doug Brocail (pitching coach), Brad Holman (bullpen coach), Anthony Iapoce (hitting coach), Justin Mashore (assistant hitting coach) and Bobby Jones (video coordinator). Jones had previously been assistant hitting coach and will continue to have on-field duties prior to games. The pitching coach position surprisingly opened up when the Rangers changed their mind on Mike Maddux. Maddux didn’t immediately agree to the two year offer the Rangers extended, and when he wanted to re-engage contract talks a few days later, Daniels had decided to go another direction. It was certainly surprising that the Rangers effectively canned Maddux. He’s recognized as one of the top pitching coaches in the game, and the performance of Ranger pitchers since his arrival in 2009 has proved that out. Maddux was quickly signed to be the Washington National’s pitching coach at a salary that makes him the highest paid pitching coach in the game.

* Prince Fielder won the Players’ Choice Award as the American League Comeback Player of the Year on Monday night. Fielder, who was also named as the club’s 2015 MVP by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, hit .306 with 23 home runs and 98 RBIs. It was the third A. L. Comeback Player of the Year Award for Fielder, who had earlier been given the award by MLB and The Sporting News.

* The Rangers announced Tuesday that Shawn Tolleson has been named the Rangers’ 2015 Pitcher of the Year. It’s the first time that a reliever has won the award since 2007.

* Jurickson Profar is resurrecting his career in the Arizona Fall League. He had two singles and two walks in five plate appearances in the AFL All-Star game. The middle infielder was once considered to be the top prospect in minor league baseball, but has missed the last two seasons with a torn muscle in his right (throwing) shoulder and is still not throwing yet. He was exclusively a designated hitter in the AFL. He wanted to move on to winter ball in a Latin American country, but the Rangers don’t want to put the strain on his shoulder yet. At this point, he looks blocked at the Major League level with Elvis Andrus at short and Rougned Odor at second base. Profar would logically need the better part of at least one minor league season to get back to Major League readiness. By that time, the Ranger situation may have changed, but in any event, teams are already showing interest in Profar.

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MADDUX OUT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Late this morning, the news broke that the Rangers and pitching coach Mike Maddux were parting ways. It was just two weeks ago that the Rangers held their post-season press conference and announced that hitting coach Dave Magadan and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins were leaving the organization, but that all the other coaches were invited back and expected to return.

Perhaps we’ll never know what really happened over the last fortnight, but Maddux was said to be soliciting offers from other teams after receiving a contract offer to continue with the Rangers. Apparently the Rangers re-thought the situation with Maddux seeking offers rather than working to negotiate with the Rangers. Thus, the decision announced this morning was the Rangers’, not Maddux’s.

GM Jon Daniels said as much telling local media, “We made an offer to to our coaches and at that point, Mike was looking around. We took the opportunity to do so , too. We did an internal review and decided that we felt like it was an opportunity for us to get better.”

Maddux’s brother Greg has been a special assistant to the team, and he announced that with his brother out as pitching coach, he would not be returning.

Maddux for sure is the most successful pitching coach in Ranger history. The team had the worst ERA in the American League from 2000-2008, but Maddux took over in 2009, and the Rangers’ have had the sixth best staff ERA since. During Maddux’ tenure as pitching coach, six Ranger pitchers made an American League All-Star team.

With the announcement of Hawkins’ departure as bullpen coach, the Rangers started the interview process with internal candidates Brad Holman (pitching coach at AAA Round Rock), Danny Clark (minor league pitching coordinator) and Jeff Andrews (pitching coach at AA Frisco). They are now candidates for the pitching coach job too. Also at the time that Hawkins’ departure was announced, the situation was couched as Hawkins wanting to be free to pursue a pitching coach job. However, he is said not to be a candidate for the Texas job, which makes his departure look more like a firing than a mutual agreement.

Magadan, Hawkins and now Maddux were all holdover coaches from Washington’s 2014 coaching staff. Ranger fans may be seeing the growth of manager Jeff Banister’s influence in the organization. At a minimum, he will be actively involved in choosing replacements, and he may be behind the departures of all three.

As for Maddux, he should have little problem landing another job in baseball. He did well at Milwaukee before he joined the Rangers and he did well here. There are still a number of unsettled pitching coach situations around the Majors.

He told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “My time in Texas was great. I’ll miss it. I made a lot of good friends and helped develop a winning culture.”

Ranger starter Derek Holland told Sullivan, “Maddux taught me a lot about pitching. I loved working with him. To lose him will have a huge impact.. I guess (the Rangers made the decision) for a reason and have something else in mind, but it caught me by surprise.”

Banister added three coaches to this year’s staff that were hired within the organization. He is likely to make hires for the hitting, bullpen and now pitching coaches from within the organization too.

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TORONTO ENDS RANGERS’ HOPES

RANGERS DOOMED BY 7TH INNING MELTDOWN

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Toronto eliminated Texas Wednesday afternoon with a 6-3 win in game five of the American League Division Series. Texas jumped out to a series 2-0 lead, but the Jays came back to win the final three games. This game was decided by an unusual and controversial seventh inning that took 54 minutes to play.

The Rangers took the lead early with a first inning run. Delino Deshields, Jr. doubled to open the game. Two ground outs scored him, the second one coming from Prince Fielder. Two innings later, Sin-Shoo Choo extended the lead to 2-0 with a home run. Toronto came back with single runs in the third and sixth innings to tie the game. The tying run came on a Juan Encarnacion home run.

That set the stage for the fateful seventh inning. Rougned Odor started the inning with a single and moved to third base on Chris Gimenez’s sacrifice bunt and DeShields’ ground out. Choo was the next batter. During his at bat, Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin carelessly returned a throw to the mound. The toss hit Choo’s bat and dribbled away. The ever alert Odor broke for home and easily crossed the plate.

At that point confusion broke out. The question was whether the ball was in play. The umpires huddled and consulted with the review umpires in New York. The rules check took almost 15 minutes, but in the end the run counted, and the Rangers were nine outs away from advancing.

In the bottom of the inning, the Rangers’ unraveled defensively. The first three Jays’ batters reached base on errors. Elvis Andrus committed two and Mitch Moreland the third. The Fourth batter of the inning forced the runner at home to set up an inning ending double play, but Josh Donaldson hit a bloop just over the head of Odor at second base. That scored the runner from third to tie the game, though Odor got the second out of the inning with a force out at second base.

Jose Bautista was the next batter, and he crushed the Rangers’ hopes with a home run. That gave the Jays their first lead of the game at 6-3, which turned out to be the final score. All four runs in the inning were unearned.

Cole Hamels pitched great for Texas and deserved a better fate than a loss. Jays reliever, Aaron Sanchez was the winning pitcher. Toronto’s closer Roberto Osuna recorded the final five outs of the game to earn the save. He was dominant. Four of the five were strikeouts.

From the Rangers’ standpoint, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise terrific season. Texas had committed just two errors total in the first four games, so committing three on consecutive plays was totally out of character.

The Rangers weren’t given much chance to make the playoffs, much less win the division when the season began. The pre-season favorites, Angels and Mariners, fizzled to open the door for Texas to win.

In the end, Texas took the division with just 88 wins, the fewest in the six years the Rangers have won the West. This is not to cast stones at the so called experts that didn’t pick Texas. This Ranger team was almost totally revamped over the course of the season. Newcomers such as Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Sam Dyson, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli had a major impact on the team. None were Rangers when the season began, and neither were Chris Gimenez, Bobby Wilson, Drew Stubbs, and Will Venable. Others, such as Chi Chi Gonzalez, started the season in the minor leagues, while Martin Perez began the year on the 60-day disabled list.

Hats off to GM Jon Daniels for making key acquisitions, and hats off to Ranger ownership for opening the pocket book to take on salaries such as Hamels.

Manager Jeff Banister has proved to be an exceptional choice. This team could easily have gone south after the terrible April showing, and again around the All-Star break when they appeared to be sinking to oblivion. Banister kept the team focused, such that when the reinforcements arrived, the Rangers were able to capitalize in August and September.

This season may have come to a disappointing end, but the outlook for the future is much brighter now than it was a year ago. In season acquisition Cole Hamels is signed through 2018. Yu Darvish will be back from Tommy John surgery to give Texas a top one-two punch in the rotation. Martin Perez and Derek Holland are expected to fill out the rotation.

On the offensive side, DeShields and Odor have established themselves as solid contributors. Beltre, Choo, Fielder and Andrus are signed to long term contracts. Josh Hamilton still has two years remaining on his highly subsidized contract. It’s a team that should be even better in 2016.

NOTABLE:

* Monday was a record breaking day in playoff baseball. There were 21 home runs hit and 61 runs scored in the four playoff games, clearly the most ever. Derek Holland allowed three of the round trippers, but the Rangers’ batters failed to contribute to the home run total.

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TORONTO EVENS SERIES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays are set to play a winner take all game five on Wednesday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Jays came back from a 2-0 deficit in the series to take both games in Arlington and even the series at two games each. Marco Estrada held the Rangers to one run on five hits Sunday night as the Jays won 5-1. On Monday, the powerful Toronto offense jumped on Derek Holland early with three home runs in the first two innings and took a 8-4 win.

The results of this series mirror the trend in the playoffs this year. The home team has lost every game in this series, a trend the Rangers hope will hold for one more game. For the first 14 playoff games this fall, the home team is just 4-10.

On Sunday night, Martin Perez limped through five innings getting assistance from four double plays. One of those DPs came with runners on first and third and no outs in the third inning, driving home Toronto’s first score of the night. An inning later, Perez struggled with his command. He gave up three straight walks after a leadoff double and fly ball put Josh Donaldson at third. Troy Tulowitzki was the batter that walked with the bases loaded to push the Jays’ lead to 2-0.

Perez was in trouble again in the fifth inning, but a ground ball double play got him out of a jam. It was obvious that Perez was running out of gas at that point, but Ranger manager Jeff Banister sent Perez out to start the sixth. Donaldson led off the inning with a single and went to third on Jose Bautista’s single. That ended Perez’s night.

Alex Gonzalez relieved and looked like he could get out of the jam. He intentionally walked the first batter to load the bases, then coaxed a ground ball to first that turned into a 3-2-3 double play that cut down the runner trying to score from third. However, Tulowitzki was the next batter that Gonzalez needed to retire to end the inning. He didn’t. Tulowitzki homered instead to push the lead to 5-0.

Rougned Odor grounded out to short to drive home Elvis Andrus in the seventh inning with the Rangers’ lone run of the night. 5-1 was the final. Estrada was the winning pitcher, giving up the Ranger run on five hits in 6-1/3 innings. Four relievers shut out the Rangers the rest of the way. Perez took the loss.

On Monday afternoon, Derek Holland was hit hard. He gave up the three home runs, three of the five hits he allowed in two innings. He faced 12 batters retiring six, and watching the other six score. Colby Lewis was the first of five relievers that finished the game. Lewis and Jake Diekman each surrendered a run. The Rangers scored a third inning run on a wild pitch, and Robinson Chirinos drove home another in the seventh inning. In the eighth inning, the Rangers plated two more with Mitch Moreland and Andrus driving home the runs.

That was it for Ranger scoring. 8-4 was the final score. Holland took the loss. R. A. Dickey made his first post-season start ever, but couldn’t finish the fifth inning even with a 7-1 lead. Game one starter David Price replaced him and was credited with the win after going three innings.

Cole Hamels will start game five for Texas. Toronto has not announced their game five starting pitcher, but with Price surprisingly appearing in relief in game four with a big lead, the Jays obvious choice is Marcus Stroman. The game time is shortly after 3:00 PM (central), and the game will be televised on FS1. The winner will play either Houston or Kansas City in the next round of the playoffs. The Astros and Royals series is also tied at 2-2.

NOTABLE:

* The 14 inning game the Rangers played in game two of the series was the longest in Ranger post game history. The previous high was 12 innings in game two of the 1996 ALDS in New York.

* The four double plays that the Rangers turned in game three set a new team post-season record.

* When Derek Holland started and Colby Lewis relieved in game four, all 25 players on the Rangers’ post season roster had appeared in the series.

* Adrian Beltre (back stiffness) did not play in game three and was not in the original starting lineup in game four. After batting practice, he talked his way into the lineup and went 2-4 in the game.

* The Blue Jays’ three home runs in game four set a new team record for post-season play.

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