BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

First of all, best wishes to Ranger Rap readers for a Happy (and prosperous) New Year.  Thanks again to all of you for your readership and support of this site.

The baseball world has largely been off celebrating holidays recently.  The action should resume next Tuesday when the work place starts working in 2012.  However, Friday afternoon local media outlets began reporting that left-handed reliever Darren Oliver had agreed to a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Oliver appeared in 61 games in 2011 with the Rangers with a 5-5 record and 2.29 ERA.  The Rangers reportedly never made a formal offer to Oliver, and were not willing to pay as much as Toronto.  Texas will receive a supplemental draft pick between the first and second rounds in the 2012 amateur draft as compensation.

As presently configured, the Ranger bullpen has no left-handed relief specialist.  Mike Gonzalez is perhaps one option.  He completed the season with Texas after being traded from Baltimore.  He has also undergone knee surgery since season’s end.  Farm hand Michael Kirkman is also a potential candidate.

Most of the recent news however surrounds the Rangers’ American League West opponents rather than the Rangers.

The Athletics finally completed the oft rumored trade of closer Andrew Bailey.  The Red Sox received Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney in return for 24 year-old outfielder Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers.  Reddick split time last season between AAA Pawtucket and Boston, accumulating 278 major league plate appearances in which he hit .280.  Third baseman Miles Head and pitcher Raul Alcantera are the prospects.  Alcantera was rated as the sixth best prospect in the Gulf Coast League last year.  He appears to be the crown jewel of the booty received by the A’s.

Texas had supposedly been “in” on Bailey, but the rumored asking price for the Rangers to include Martin Perez was much steeper than what Oakland ultimately received.  Obviously, A’s GM Billy Beane was looking for a better return to ship Bailey to a divisional opponent.

The departures of Sweeney and Bailey probably complete the dismantling of the current Athletics.  Starting pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez were earlier shipped out for prospects.  It has been five years since the A’s last reached the playoffs, and this off season’s trades are a clear admission that the current five-year rebuilding plan is an abject failure, and that the team is embarking on a new one.

It is difficult to understand what sort of future this franchise has.  The Oakland Alameda Coliseum is one of the two worst stadiums in baseball.  This franchise is dying in this park, and it has become obvious that no municipality in the bay area will build a new stadium to save the franchise.  The obvious move for the team is south to San Jose, but the Giants claim territorial rights to the San Jose area and have successfully blocked the move to date.  San Jose is ready to build a stadium, but MLB is giving mixed signals as to clearing the logjam.  Some rumors have Commissioner Bud Selig soon having a solution worked out to pave the way for the the San Jose A’s, while other rumors have the topic as not even being on the agenda for the next owners’ meetings.

In any event, the A’s appear unlikely to be able to mount much of a challenge to the Rangers in 2012 with the outflow of talent this winter.

As for the Angels, details of the contracts given to Albert Pujols and C. J. Wilson have now emerged.  Both are surprisingly ”back-loaded”.  The most surprising part is in the case of Pujols.  He is making a base salary of $12 million in 2012 and $16 million in 2013, far below the average annual value of more than $25 million.  He also has some bonus payments for reaching 3,000 hits and for surpassing Barry Bonds’ career home run total.  If these bonuses are attained, the total contract value would come to around $265 million.  After those first two years, Pujols would then earn $237 million over the final eight years, a huge amount for anyone, but especially for a player at the age of 33, the age Pujols will be in two years.

Ostensibly the saving on Pujols’ contract allowed the Angels to sign Wilson.  Wilson received a $2.5 million signing bonus and gets $8.0 million in 2012, just $1,000,000 more than he made with the Rangers in 2011.  Even if the bonus is included, the Angels will be paying $22.5 million for the pair in 2012.  As their salaries escalate, the Angels will be paying almost $50 million for the duo in the middle of this decade.

It is unclear as to whether the back-loading of these salaries is a “go for broke” gamble to try to reclaim the division from the Rangers this season, or a matching of the salary costs to the new television contract the Angels have recently signed, or perhjaps a combination of both.  In any event, Los Angeles has two very good players for 2012 added to their nucleus at a much lesser cost than imagined as they try to make up 10 games on the improving Rangers.

COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: It is now reported that the final four digits of the amount Texas submitted to bid for the rights to Yu Darvish were 3411.  It is not unusual in sealed bid auctions to submit a bid with an odd number.  If the bids are close, the odd number may be enough to win the bidding.  It is undoubtedly not a coincidence that #34 was Nolan Ryan’s uniform number when he played for the Astros and Rangers, the number that both teams have retired in his honor, and that #11 is the uniform number worn by Darvish for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Ranger manager Ron Washington appeared earlier this week on radio station KTCK (AM 1310 commonly known as “The Ticket”).  He indicated then that a six man rotation would NOT be considered as a solution to the starting rotation game of musical chairs created by having four returning starters from 2011′s rotation, a recovered Scott Feldman, the opening day starter in 2010, and the additions of Neftali Feliz and hopefully Darvish.  (Texas has until January 18 to finalize a contract with Darvish, by the way).  Washington did not however offer any hints as to how the starting rotation would be reduced to five.

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