FARM SYSTEM UPDATE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

MLB.com announced their top 100 minor league prospects this week, and five were Rangers. Boston led all teams with nine players in the top 100, while Houston and the Cubs each had seven. Pittsburgh had six and Minnesota joined the Rangers with five. Included in the Twins’ fivesome was outfielder Byron Buxton who was a unanimous choice as the number one prospect.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro at number 39 is the highest ranking Ranger. Second baseman Rougned Odor is next at number 59, followed by outfielder Michael Choice, who was acquired from Oakland in the trade for Craig Gentry, at 72, shortstop Luis Sardinas at 76, and third baseman Joey Gallo at number 92. Choice is the only one of the five that has appeared in a Major League game and the only one that has played at AAA.

One method of ranking the farm systems us to assign points to each player in inverse order of their ranking. I. E., the number one player gets 100 points, the number two player gets 99, and so on down the line to one point for player number 100. In that system, the Rangers ranked 14th with 167 points. The top 10 farm systems in that ranking are Houston, Boston, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Kansas City, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Baltimore, and Colorado. The Los Angeles Angels ranked dead last as they were the only team that did not place a prospect on the Top 100 list.

77 of the prospects were acquired in the first year player draft. 42 of those were first round picks and 17 more were supplemental first round picks taken between the first and second rounds. No wonder teams are valuing their draft picks so highly in consideration of signing qualifying free agents, such as Nelson Cruz, whose signing will cause a team to forfeit their first round pick in most cases.

The other 23 prospects are non-drafted free agents from eight foreign countries. The Dominican Republic leads with 12 of the 23.

As the game shifts in the post steroid era from extremely offensive to pitching rich, it is not surprising that 58 of the 100 are pitchers. Arizona’s Archie Bradley, a Tulsa native, is the highest ranked pitcher as the number five prospect. Seattle’s Taijuan Walker follows close behind at six. They are however, the only two hurlers in the top 10.

Ranger fans should not fret that the farm system is no longer among the game’s top 10. This is really a natural progression, as prospects rise and fall. A year ago, the Rangers also had five prospects on the Top 100 list. Included were the top prospect in baseball, middle infielder Jurickson Profar. Mike Olt was the Rangers’ top power hitting prospect ranked number 22 overall. Martin Perez was the Rangers’ top pitching prospect. Now a year later, Profar is set to be the Rangers’ starting second baseman, and Perez is slated to be a member of the Rangers’ rotation, perhaps even their number two starter in the pecking order after Yu Darvish. Olt however has moved in the opposite direction. He suffered through a miserable minor league season and was traded to the Cubs as part of the deal that brought Matt Garza to the Rangers. His star has fallen so drastically that he is no longer one of the Top 100 prospects.

In actuality, the Rangers’ top prospects may really be further down in the system – first baseman Ronald Guzman and outfielder Jairo Beras. Both are tremendous physical specimens that are very young. Guzman turned 19 three months ago and injuries limited him to just 173 at bats last year at low A Hickory. Beras turned 18 on Christmas Day and played just 17 professional games last summer largely because of a suspension that stemmed from problems surrounding his original signing. Both have huge potential to be All-Star caliber power hitters in the Major Leagues. The current crop of Ranger prospects may largely be young such that they will likely not be playing in Arlington soon, but make no mistake about it, there are a number of players in the system with tremendous upside potential.

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CHOO IT IS!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Friday afternoon, the Texas Rangers officially announced the signing of free agent outfielder Sin-Soo Choo, who becomes the first Korean born player in Ranger history. The seven-year, $130 million deal was agreed upon last weekend subject to a physical, which Choo passed earlier this week. With the Christmas holiday, the official press conference to announce Choo’s signing was delayed until Friday. Choo is slated to be the Rangers’ left-fielder and will likely bat lead-off. He bats left and is a patient hitter. Last season, he walked 112 times in addition to batting .285 to rack up an on base percentage of .423. In today’s world of advanced metrics, .423 is the hot number that made Choo valuable. His contract is the second in Rangers’ history to exceed $100 million; the other being the $252 million 10-year contract that Alex Rodriguez signed in 2000. Choo’s contract is also the third largest contract signed by free agents this off season trailing Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240 million deal with Seattle and Jacoby Ellsbury’s seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.

Richard Justice of MLB.com immediately announced the Rangers as the winner of the winter off season with the addition of Choo to go along with the trade for Prince Fielder. The top of the Rangers batting order is now projected to be Choo leading off, followed by Elvis Andrus, Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios. ESPN’s Buster Olneys thinks it’s the top lineup in baseball. If this five holds true when the season begins, three of the top five spots will have been acquired since last July.

Choo is considered an average fielder, though his performance last year with Cincinnati did not grade well with the more sophisticated defensive measures. He has played all three outfield positions. As a base runner, he is considered fast, but does not take a lot of chances. With all the outs on bases the Rangers made last year, a cautious base runner at the top of the batting order should be a welcome relief. As a left-handed hitter, he should benefit from the Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington jet stream to right center field. Choo has hit at least 20 home runs in every season in which he has played at least 100 games, and there are some that believe Choo would be more productive batting third in the Rangers’ batting order. He does struggle against left-handed pitchers. Last season, he hit .317 against right-handers, but just .215 against left-handers. There’s an odd breakdown of his performance against lefties. Oddly though for his career, he has hit .174 against left-handed starters, but .300 against left-handed relievers.

However, there are other commentators that are surprised that Choo received such a lucrative contract. The MLB network’s Ken Rosenthal is one that thinks the Rangers’ drastically overpaid for Choo. He pointed out that there have been 43 contracts in the history of baseball for at least $100 million in total value, and that Choo is the only recipient of the 43 that has not made an All-Star team. Harold Reynolds is also an MLB network commentator who thinks the 112 walks last season were just a blip on the radar screen. Choo has never walked 100 times in a season until 2013, and he has touched a .400 on base percentage in only one other year. Choo by the way has spent his entire career except for 2013 in the American League with Seattle and Cleveland.

It is indeed surprising that the Rangers pushed the envelop to seven years on Choo’s contract. He has appeared on a Major League roster over the last nine seasons, but has played as many as 100 games just four times. His career batting average is .288 with 109 home runs and 427 RBIs. His career on base percentage is .389, and the 112 bases on balls he received last year are almost exactly one-fourth of his career walk total of 449.

However, if Choo gets on base more than 40% of the time, and Fielder returns to the days of hitting more than 30 home runs; the Rangers’ offense will be significantly upgraded from last year. It’s a bold signing on Jon Daniels part. The Angels have made the big splash in free agent signings the past two winters as they inked Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C. J. Wilson to monstrous contracts. Scott Lucas tweeted this week that the Rangers’ future monetary obligations with the acquisitions of Choo and Fielder now exceed the Angels. There is certainly a lot of downside risk in these two acquisitions over the final years of their contracts, but if they perform as expected early, there is the possibility of a very high return to Ranger fans.

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BLOCKBUSTER!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

There is no question that the trade of Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler agreed upon by the Tigers and Rangers last Wednesday is a blockbuster deal. The teams involved represented the American League in two of the last three World Series. The players involved are All-Stars in the heart of their careers at ages 29 and 31, who are signed to long term contracts with future salary obligations that total in the neighborhood of a quarter of a BILLION dollars.

At first glance, the trade looks to be a “win-win” for both teams. The Tigers unloaded an onerous contract in Fielder for just $30 million, received a lead-off type hitter, and greatly improved defensively by making the trade. Texas gets the middle of the order bat they sorely missed last summer after losing Josh Hamilton and clears the logjam of middle infielders at the Major League level.

The trade reportedly took little more than 24 hours to consummate after Detroit’s Dave Dombrowsky initially contacted Texas GM Jon Daniels with the idea Tuesday afternoon; warp speed in this day and time. Detroit was the surprise bidder for Fielder two seasons ago, inking the free agent first baseman to a nine year $214 million contract. ($168 million remains to be paid over the final seven seasons). In those two years, he played 324 games, batting .295, hitting 55 home runs and driving in 214. The Tigers won the Central Division in both years, lost to the Giants in the World Series in 2012 and lost to Boston in the League Championship Series this year.

The bottom line is that Fielder produced at the anticipated level, and the team enjoyed tremendous on the field success with Fielder’s bat being an integral ingredient. On the other hand, there was disappointment in Detroit that he had just two extra base hits in more than 100 post-season at-bats over the five playoff series. There is also concern over his playing weight. (He is listed at 275, but that could easily be a gross understatement.) He is a sub-par defensive first baseman and a horrible base runner. This past season, Fielder hit 25 home runs, the fewest of any of the eight full seasons of his career, and just two more than the Rangers’ first baseman he replaces – Mitch Moreland. Fielder has hit at least 40 twice, including 50 in 2007. A mere 25 in 2013 is perceived by some as the beginning of a precipitous performance drop.

There is far less risk in this transaction for Detroit. Kinsler’s offensive skills are waning, particularly his home run and stolen base totals. However, he walks more producing better on-base percentages than he did earlier in his career. He is still a superior defensive second baseman with great range and a strong arm. He turns a double play as well as any second baseman in baseball. Kinsler is for sure a defensive upgrade over last season’s Tiger second sacker – Omar Infante, now a free agent.

The trade further provides the opportunity for Miguel Cabrera to move across the diamond to first base. He’s a better defender at first than at third and clearly a better first baseman than Fielder, though the Tigers have not officially committed to move Cabrera. With late season acquisition Jose Iglesias at shortstop, Detroit has the makings of a top flight defensive infield.

Also, the financial savings from this trade may enable the Tigers to retain Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

For Texas, the risk revolves around Fielder’s ability to rebound from his poor 2012 numbers (poor by his standards). If he returns to the level of hitting 35-40 home runs or more, the Rangers will have gotten what they think they got in making this deal. For sure the friendly jet stream and inviting right field seats in Arlington are a reason to believe Fielder can return to those levels. Josh Hamilton and Rafael Palmeiro are two of many left-handed hitting Rangers that have enjoyed tremendous success at Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington.

The Rangers’ risk really revolves around the money. They are taking on a salary obligation of more than $7 million this season and $76 million over the term of Fielder’s contract. If Fielder’s offense continues to slide, the Rangers could be saddled with an extremely onerous contract, even with the $30 million subsidy they receive from the Tigers over the final five years.

The Kinsler trade paves the way for Jurickson Profar to take over at second base. The youngster was rated as the top minor league prospect in baseball prior to last season, but he hit just .234 in 286 at bats this season. Despite the disappointing offensive start, he still showed why he is such a highly regarded prospect. He has great instincts for the game, and was played at five positions last year to get the playing time for almost 300 at bats. Settling in at one position and having the experience of 2013 are reasons to believe Ranger fans will see a much better player in Profar next year. The Rangers however, have not committed second base to Profar, saying at this point that he is the leading candidate for the job.

Fielder had requested a meeting with the Rangers when he was a free agent two seasons ago. At some point in time in his childhood, his parents lived in Las Colinas, so he has familiarity with the area. (His father Cecil is a former Major League player, most notably with the Tigers.) He has a limited no-trade clause in his contract that includes the Rangers, but waived it without requesting compensation. He has to be pleased with the prospects of hitting in the Rangers’ ballpark, and he effectively receives a raise, in that he’ll be playing 81 games instead of three or four in Texas, which has no state income tax. Interestingly, Fielder has been a teammate of a league MVP for the last three years – Miguel Cabrera the last two seasons in Detroit and Ryan Braun in 2011 with Milwaukee. Texas will be very happy if he can make it four years in a row in 2014.

At this point, the Rangers are fairly pleased with the pitching they will bring to spring training. They have at least eight candidates for the rotation and felt so comfortable with the bullpen that they let closer Joe Nathan go in free agency. The Fielder acquisition bolsters the offense, but both GM Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington vowed that there will be at least one more significant bat added to next year’s lineup.

RANGER NOTES:

* David Murphy became a former Ranger this week when he signed a two year, $10 million contract with the Indians. Ranger management showed virtually no interest in Murphy after he hit .220 with 13 home runs and 45 RBIs in 436 at bats this year. Murphy, a former Baylor Bear, was always popular with the fans and will be missed by many.

* Texas signed Colby Lewis to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. If he makes the team, he’ll receive a $2,000,000 salary base with incentives that could add $4,000,000 more to his 2014 earnings. Lewis did not make a Ranger appearance last season as he attempted to return from 2012 arm surgery. He was 32-29 in 80 starts in 2010-2012, and won four playoff games in eight starts in the two seasons the Rangers went to the World Series.

* This week, Yu Darvish was cleared to begin an off season throwing program. After the 2013 season ended, it was disclosed that Darvish had inflammation in his lower back that hindered his performance in late season starts. Results from an MRI this week indicated the inflammation has subsided.

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READY, SET, GO!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers are off and running in the race to put together their 2014 team, which hopefully will be better than 2013′s. When the Boston Red Sox, the team with four former Rangers on their roster (Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Ryan Dempster), put away the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with no former Rangers, last week in game six to win the World Series; the start of the off season officially began.

The end of the World Series begins the period for eligible players to file for free agency. By the weekend, more than 150 players had done so, and the list will get longer before it gets shorter. Beginning Tuesday, teams can sign free agents. Also by Tuesday, teams will have to have tendered qualifying offers to eligible free agents in order to be in line for draft choice compensation in next year’s amateur draft. The salary to qualify for compensation this year is $14.1 million, up from $13.3 million a year ago, a 6% increase.

There were just nine qualifying offers tendered last year, including one by the Rangers to Josh Hamilton. This year, the Rangers are expected to again tender one qualifying offer, this time to Nelson Cruz.

It has already been a busy week for Texas. The day after the Series ended, they declined their 2014 option on Lance Berkman, who is expected to retire. Texas paid a $1,000,000 buyout of Berkman’s contract rather than exercise the option which would have paid him $12 million next season.

A day later, the Rangers claimed relief pitcher Chaz Roe on waivers from Arizona. Roe, who is the nephew of Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski, pitched in 21 games with the Diamondbacks this year with a 1-0 record and 4.03 ERA. Roe is 27 and has also played in the Colorado and Seattle organizations after being drafted in 2005.

Texas also exercised their option on closer Joe Nathan for 2014, who promptly declined the offer and elected to become a free agent, a contractual right that Nathan earned by virtue of completing more than 55 games last season. The economic effect for the Rangers is that they avoided paying the $750,000 buyout of Nathan’s contract that would have been payable if they declined to exercise the option. From Nathan’s standpoint, cancelling the Rangers’ option and taking free agency gives him the opportunity to land a multi-year contract totaling far more than $9.25 million he would have earned pursuant to the option.

Had Nathan not exercised his right to become a free agent and accepted the Rangers’ exercise of the option, Texas likely would have traded him. There is no question that Nathan has turned in fantastic results in his two years as the Rangers’ closer, converting 80 saves in 86 opportunities. However, he will be 39 next season and Texas has at least three internal closer candidates in Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, both of whom have made All-Star teams in the past as a closer, and Tanner Scheppers. Alexi Ogando is currently targeted for the Rangers’ rotation; but if that changes, he too could be a closer candidate. With so many quality closer candidates, it made little sense for Texas to commit more than $9 million to Nathan, rather than utilize the salary to shore up other areas of the team.

On the coaching front, bullpen coach Andy Hawkins did not land Baltimore’s pitching coach position. The Birds opted for Dave Wallace instead, so for now, Hawkins is still in the fold. Texas did name Bobby Jones to the coaching staff. His area of responsibility is not yet defined, but he likely will be the first base coach. Jones, who has the distinction of being the last Viet Nam veteran to play in the Major Leagues, has been a long time manager in the Rangers’ minor league system. Steve Buechele, who was also a candidate for the Rangers’ coaching staff, is expected to move from managing at AA Frisco to managing the Rangers’ AAA team at Round Rock.

As for this winter’s free agent market, Texas is expected to make a strong bid to retain Nelson Cruz. Cruz is extremely well liked by his teammates and within the organization. He reportedly made a proposal to the Rangers earlier this year to sign a contract extension for four years at $56 million, which the Rangers did not choose to counter. He may well attract an even more lucrative offer this off season as in the post steroid era of baseball, scoring is down dramatically making power hitters like Cruz even more valuable. Already Hunter Pence has signed a $90 million contract extension with the Giants and Cuban defector Jose Abreu has signed a $68 million deal with the White Sox despite never having played in the Major Leagues.

Starting pitcher Matt Garza may ultimately command $14.1 million in annual salary in free agency, but the Rangers aren’t eligible to receive draft choice compensation for Garza if he signs elsewhere, as he did not play for Texas for the entire 2013 season. Consequently, there is no need for Texas to make a qualifying offer for Garza. Both catchers, A. J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto are also eligible for free agency, as are David Murphy and Colby Lewis. Jason Frasor would have been eligible for free agency, but he has already re-signed with Texas for 2014.

The biggest name on the free agent market is Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano, who is seeking a 10 year, $305 million contract. He is a premier hitter, a left-handed bat capable of competing for batting championships and hitting home runs. The rumor mill persistently has Texas as one of the teams “in” on Cano. Certainly, his bat would look really good batting third for the Rangers and hitting home runs into the Ballpark in Arlington’s inviting right field outfield seats. However, it is doubtful the Rangers have the salary capacity to play in Cano’s league, and Texas already has a middle infield log jam with Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Jurickson Profar.

Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carlos Ruiz are the leading catchers among the free agents in addition to Pierzynski and Soto. The Rangers’ top catching prospect is Jorge Alfaro, who has not played above the A minor league level; so there are virtually no internal catching candidates.

Speculation in the trade market has two possible big names available for a block buster trade – Tampa Bay’s left-hander David Price and Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Needless to say, both would look really nice in a Rangers’ uniform. It is actually quite likely that Price gets traded by the financially strapped Rays. He is two years away from free agency and is already commanding more than $10 million in arbitration. Those were the circumstances last year when Tampa Bay traded James Shields to Kansas City.

However, Jim Bowden of ESPN radio tweeted that Marlins GM Dan Jennings said “Mr. Stanton is NOT available. He will be in RF at Marlins Park on Opening Day. We are building around him.”

The General Managers’ meetings begin November 11 in Orlando. The trade market could get moving then. More likely, there will be discussions that lead to trades in December at the winter meetings. The goal for the Rangers is to utilize this winter’s opportunities to make current rather than former Rangers the winner of next year’s World Series.

RANGER NOTES: Rangers’ first base prospect Brett Nicholas went 3-4, including two home runs, in the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game to win the MVP Award for the game. The Arizona Fall League is for Major League teams’ elite prospects, and Nicholas was one of the few participants this year that was not considered one of his team’s top 20 minor league prospects. He was a sixth round draft pick in 2010, but had a break out year at AA Frisco this past summer, hitting .289 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs. He was originally drafted as a catcher, has been converted to a first baseman, but is expected to see time behind the plate again in 2014 to increase his versatility. He is scheduled to continue playing in the Dominican League when the AFL season ends to hone his catching skills.

Mike Maddux expressed interest in the Detroit managerial opening when Jim Leyland retired. However, the Tigers named Brad Ausmus to manage the team this weekend, so for now, Maddux will apparently stay put as the Rangers’ pitching coach.

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RANGERS’ COACHING CAROUSEL

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Yesterday, the Rangers announced that Tim Bogar had been hired to replace Jackie Moore as bench coach. Less than 48 hours after the 2013 season came to an end, the Rangers announced that Moore and first base/infield coach Dave Anderson would not be retained. Moore’s firing was done over the strong objection of CEO Nolan Ryan and was a significant factor in Ryan’s resignation from the Rangers and the sale of his equity position in the team.

Bogar was a journeyman utility infielder in his playing career that spanned nine years (1993 – 2001) and three teams. He arrives with five years of Major League coaching experience, having coached for the Boston Red Sox from 2009 through 2012. He was initially their first base coach, then moved across the diamond to coach third base for two years, and was Bobby Valentine’s bench coach in 2012. This past season, he managed the Los Angeles Angels’ double A affiliate in Arkansas. Prior to joining the Red Sox, he was the Rays’ quality assurance coach. He has also managed minor league teams in the Cleveland and Houston organizations. Bogar will turn 47 later this month. His Ranger duties will also involve working with infielders.

Steve Buechele, former Ranger third baseman and most recently the manager of Texas’ AA affiliate in Frisco, was the only internal candidate interviewed for the job. Former Royals’ manager Jamie Quirk was also considered before Bogar was selected.

At this point, Bogar’s hiring leaves one opening on the coaching staff. GM Jon Daniels said after announcing that Bogar would join the team that he had not yet begun the interview process to replace Dave Anderson as first base coach.

However, the Rangers’ coaching situation may change even further. Bullpen coach Andy Hawkins will interview for the vacant pitching coach job in Baltimore. Also, pitching coach Mike Maddux has expressed interest in the vacant Chicago Cubs managerial job. Maddux was perhaps the leading candidate when the Cubs’ position was open two years ago, but pulled his name out of consideration because of family considerations. His two daughters were in high school at the time. Now they have graduated. One attends SMU and the other TCU, and Maddux feels free to pursue opportunities in other areas. Maddux, whose brother Greg is also a candidate for the Cubs’ job, is not considered a serious candidate to land the position at this time.

The off-season really gets kicked off with the end of the World Series which begins tomorrow, as eligible players can file for free agency at that time. The two major gatherings are the General Manager meetings, which this year will be in Orlando on November 11-13, and the Winter Meetings in early December.

The Rangers of course will be seeking offensive help this winter after scoring the fewest runs in a full season since moving into the Ballpark in Arlington in 1994. One player they will not be adding is Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu. He is considered a significant middle of the order bat, and he signed with the White Sox last weekend for a deal reported to total $68 million over six years. His value was undoubtedly boosted by the early success of two other Cuban defectors – Yeonis Cespedes with Oakland and Yasiel Puig with the Dodgers. The Rangers are expected to give outfielder Nelson Cruz a qualifying offer of about $14.1 million for next season. The offer will enable Texas to recoup a compensatory draft pick in next June’s amateur draft if Cruz signs elsewhere.

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GOOD BYE NOLAN

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Yesterday’s stunning announcement of Nolan Ryan’s departure from the Rangers brings to an end the Ranger career of the most storied figure in Ranger history. Ryan surprisingly signed as a free agent with the Rangers after the 1988 season. He said later that he expected at the time to play a year and then retire at the age of 42. He stayed five, winning 51 games for Texas. Included in his Ranger career was his 300th win, 5,000th strike out, and two no-hitters.

That concluded a 27 career in which he won 324 games and a ticket to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1998. He remains the only player in the Hall that was inducted as a Ranger.

He returned in 2008 as President. The team was floundering on and off the field under the ownership of Tom Hicks. On the field, the team was good for a win total in the 70′s. Off the field, home attendance dropped below 2,000,000 for the first time in 20 years and the team eventually went into bankruptcy under the burden of the heavy debt load Hicks had placed on the franchise.

Hicks had a general manager still in his 20′s (Jon Daniels) getting fleeced in trades by Major League pros, who was ardently sticking to his buffoon of a manager (Ron Washington) that guided the team to two last place finishes before Ryan arrived. Hicks needed Ryan’s credibility, and Ryan was up for the challenge.

Ryan immediately put the emphasis on pitching and youth. Mike Maddux was hired as the pitching coach, and the team’s ERA has been in the American League’s top half in every year since. Young players in the Rangers’ system were brought to the big leagues instead of getting traded for aging veterans. Trades like Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez, both of whom became All-Stars, for an injury riddled Adam Eton who pitched half a season before leaving in free agency became a thing of the past. Some players like Derrick Holland were undoubtedly rushed to the Majors too soon when they really needed more minor league seasoning; but they were allowed to develop as Rangers.

The results soon became evident, both on and off the field. The Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 after never previously winning a playoff series in club history. Off the field, the Ryan persona attracted new rock solid ownership to rescue the team from bankruptcy. Texas’ home attendance not only returned to levels above 2,000,000, but has actually exceeded 3,000,000 twice.

Ryan showed patience with his manager and general manager, giving them a chance to grow into their jobs. Daniels is now recognized as one of the top GM’s in the game. He has unquestionably built a productive farm system that promises to keep the Rangers competitive for years. Manager Ron Washington isn’t mentioned with the top managers in the game like Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon, but there is tons of respect for the job he has done with Texas.

Unfortunately, the old school philosophies of Ryan and the new school ideas of Daniels can’t seem to work together any longer or even coexist. Daniels has the ear of majority owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, and Daniels has pressed them to back him in the political battle.

No matter what was said to the contrary at yesterday’s press conference, Daniels has literally run Nolan Ryan out of town. The spat first became public last March in spring training when the Rangers issued a Friday afternoon press release announcing that Ryan’s title would be Chief Executive Officer going forward, and that Jon Daniels had become President of Baseball operations.

At the time, Ryan contemplated resigning. At yesterday’s press conference, Ryan recalled his thoughts at that point saying that he felt particularly obligated to previous commitments and hence stayed. Personally, I felt that it was all but certain that he would leave after the 2013 season.

The first clue that yesterday’s outcome was on its way came literally just hours after the season ended, when bench coach Jackie Moore was fired. Moore was for sure a Ryan hire, and his departure made known to all that Jon Daniels had the authority to make the move and that Ryan no longer held the stroke in the organization to prevent the move. The handling of the firing was indicative that the gloves were off in the Daniels/Ryan power struggle.

Moore is a veteran of more than 50 baseball seasons with long service to the Rangers, having previously served as a coach under Ranger managers Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin and Kevin Kennedy. Despite the history with the team, he was unceremoniously axed. No offer of another position in the organization. No press conference to honor his service to the team. Just a cold good bye in a press release.

Moore unloaded earlier today on ESPN radio. His vindictiveness is as unbecoming as the manner in which he was axed. It is evident from his comments though that the rift between the Daniels and Ryan camps was far deeper and more long standing than fans have realized. The revelation of front office dictating playing time decisions has been suspected, but Moore’s comments clearly confirmed the suspicion. Moore comes off sounding like an embittered old man, but he does point up areas of serious concern for the Rangers going forward.

Yesterday’s announcement then was not a surprise. Much was made over the use of the terms “resigned” and “retired”. One appeared in the Rangers’ press release and the other by Ryan at the press conference. When questioned on the point, Ryan, who appeared on the podium with majority owners Davis and Simpson, said the distinction didn’t make any difference. Make no mistake about it, Ryan could easily show up with another team in some advisory capacity. He resigned.

It was also disclosed yesterday that Ryan has sold his ownership interest in the team to Simpson and Davis. Terms were not disclosed, but rest assured that Ryan is walking away with more than loose change in his pocket.

The ownership sale puts a touch of finality on Ryan as a Ranger. That’s a sad day for Ranger fans. Ryan is the most beloved player in Ranger history. He has been an integral part of the Rangers’ on the field success over the past four seasons. This is not a good development for the team.

Daniels is certainly capable as GM, but there is no assurance he will make the Rangers competitive again after clearing out Nolan Ryan and his baseball men from the organization. There is a solid pitching base, but the team is offensively challenged. The farm system is bereft of offensive talent at the upper levels, so there is much work to be done to get the team back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Rangers won’t have Nolan Ryan around to help get the job done.

COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: Former Rangers with the final four teams in the playoffs are: Michael Young, Adrian Gonzalez and Edinson Volquez with the Dodgers; Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara with the Red Sox, and Joaquin Benoit with the Tigers.

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ALL ABOUT 14

BY: John H. Martin and Richard W. Humphrey

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the more than two years since I commenced Ranger Rap, I have written every post. That ends today. John Martin is a good friend and a GREAT Ranger fan. He often provides ideas that have appeared in these posts. Today, he has contributed so many ideas, that his name belongs on the top line. Thanks John.

The Rangers are having meetings this week in Arizona to design next year’s team. General Manager Jon Daniels, his lead assistants, scouts and manager Ron Washington are participating hoping to come with answers for the questionable areas that are obvious after the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

Last week in Arlington, Daniels and Washington met with media members to discuss the season and the team’s plans for 2014. First, it was spin control at its finest as the media firestorm was still raging over the firing of bench coach Jackie Moore. Washington was there as a show of solidarity. He had said after the last game that he hoped all of his coaches would return. Less than two days later, two including first base and infield coach Dave Anderson, were given their walking papers. Washington was obviously there to show support for Daniels’ decision to axe two of his coaches.

The firing of Moore caused the firestorm, as he was a Nolan Ryan hire. The bottom line is that it was instantly known that Ryan as CEO of the team no longer has the authority to stop the axing of his friend from the Rangers’ payroll. The power shift that Daniels engineered last winter was in full evidence with the firing of Moore. Actually, the first hint of what was in store came during the Rangers’ final home stand when Tim Purpura, a well regarded front office man in baseball and another Nolan Ryan hire, was moved out of the baseball operation and into the business operation. Grabbing the reigns of power last winter apparently was not enough for Daniels. He seems intent on erasing any traces of Ryan’s additions to the team, and it makes you wonder if Nolan himself is in Daniels’ sights.

As for next year, the Rangers have as many as nine players that can choose to become free agents after Jeff Baker was designated for assignment this week. Among the most significant names, the Rangers will try to re-sign Nelson Cruz, and it is doubtful whether they will exercise their team option for Joe Nathan at $9.25 million. It is reported that earlier this year, Cruz offered the Rangers a deal to sign for four years at $56 million ($14 million per year), and that the Rangers did not respond. Already Hunter Pence, an outfielder very comparable to Cruz, has re-signed with the Giants for five years at $90 million, so Cruz’s offer looks even more attractive now. Cruz says he wants to stay, and the Rangers certainly need his power bat in their lineup, the lineup that scored the fewest runs in a full season, since moving into the Ballpark in Arlington in 1994. Cruz will obviously take less money from the Rangers to stay if it’s close, but if the differential is $20 million or more, he will likely go. The Rangers though are likely to make a qualifying offer to Cruz, which would be in the neighborhood of $14 million for 2014. The offer will qualify the Rangers to receive draft pick compensation if he signs with another team and may serve as a disincentive for other teams to sign him as they will forfeit their first round draft pick if they do.

Nathan is a different story. His results were astounding – 6-2, with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 46 opportunities. However, his fastball now clocks in at around 93, down from 97 in his heyday. He’ll be 39 next month, and quite frankly, he simply didn’t look as good on the mound this year as his numbers suggest. Nathan earned the right to nullify the team option and become a free agent by virtue of finishing 55 games this year. He is campaigning for a two year contract. There is probably a team that will give him one, but the Rangers seem reluctant to even exercise the option for a one year deal. Texas has solid closer candidates in Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, both of whom have made an All-Star team as a closer, and Tanner Scheppers. With a number of holes to fill, committing $9.5 million to Nathan may not be the most prudent use of their money. Ranger announcer Steve Busby appeared on Norm Hitzges’s radio show this week and said if he were in charge, he would not exercise Nathan’s option and would give Scheppers the first shot at the closer’s job.

Interesting note about the four teams remaining in the playoffs. All four have a different closer now than they did when the season began. Perhaps being set with a proven closer is not all that essential to putting together a winning team.

Other key personnel decisions revolve around catcher, where A. J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto are eligible for free agency, and what to do about the middle infield situation, where Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are locked up with long term prospects and Jurickson Profar is one of the top prospects in baseball.

The team is always on the lookout for pitching, but has the basis for a decent starting rotation with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Alexi Ogando had an injury plagued season, but was really good in September. The Rangers seem committed at this point to keeping him in the rotation. Matt Harrison is expected back from the back surgeries that side tracked his 2013 season. Colby Lewis could be an option too.

Daniels indicated that he expected the payroll to be about the same or perhaps even a bit less in 2014, which set off another media firestorm. Norm Hitzges was irate on the TICKET that with attendance exceeding three million, second most in the American League, that the Rangers should reduce their payroll. Well first of all, it is doubtful the drop in home attendance from almost 3.5 million to slightly under 3.2 million caused a drop in revenues. Once a team reaches the three million range in attendance, the best and most expensive tickets have been sold. The least desirable and thus cheapest tickets are involved in this year’s drop, and the price increase for the better seats between 2012 and 2013 more than made up for the attendance drop.

Second, the Daniels regime has been masters of disinformation. Announcing a payroll increase really serves no positive purpose for the team. Indeed such an announcement is essentially an invitation to agents to come fleece the team. There has been no instances since Ray Davis and Bob Simpson took over as majority owners where finances have precluded the Rangers from making a roster move for the good of the team. The likelihood is that if a good opportunity presents itself this winter, the team will take on additional payroll to make it happen.

It was mentioned numerous times that the Rangers were pleased to have won 91 games this season. Certainly, that’s a good accomplishment under any circumstances. However, this season the Astros shifted into the American League, joining the A. L. West. Texas beat the Astros 17 times in 19 games. They were just 74-70 against the rest of the league. Oakland received an equal benefit from having the Astros in the AL and won the division by 5.5 games. The “Astros benefit” however, kept the Rangers competitive in the Wild Card race, against teams that faced the Astros just six or seven times this summer. In actuality, Texas was probably a pedestrian 85-86 win team if Houston had stayed in the National League.

The bottom line is that the Rangers have a lot of holes to address and are not all that close to being a team that can return to the World Series soon. The farm system that was ranked as the best in baseball just a few years ago is still very good, but offers virtually no short term help for the big club. First, there are a number of players that have graduated to the Majors with Texas and a number of other prospects traded for help at the Major League level. There has been an emphasis on drafting and developing pitching, such that there is little offensive talent at the top two levels. There are some very good offensive players in the system, such as Ronald Guzman, Jairo Beras, Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson, but they won’t see the light of day in Arlington until 2016 at the earliest.

The long and the short of the story is that the Rangers have a lot of work to do to become a World Series contender again. The emphasis this winter will be on offense. The pitching base is very good, with three solid starters and a host of strong bullpen arms with Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts joining Scheppers, Feliz and Soria. It should be an interesting winter.

COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: The Los Angeles Dodgers have two Park Cities residents on their post season roster. Highland Park graduate Clayton Kershaw, the likely National League Cy Young Award winner for the second year in a row, blew away the Braves in games one and four of their division series to lead L. A. to the LCS against St. Louis. Former Ranger Michael Young is also on the Dodgers’ playoff roster and still makes his home in University Park.

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THE PRICE WAS RIGHT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

David Price shut down the Rangers 5-2 in Arlington Monday night to qualify the Rays for the second American League Wild Card spot in this year’s playoffs. Tampa Bay will meet Cleveland Wednesday night in the Wild Card play-in game with the winner joining Division champions Boston, Detroit and Oakland in a four team tournament to determine the American League representative in the World Series.

Price, the reigning A. L. Cy Young Award winner, has struggled with Texas in the past. He came in with a 1-7, record and 6.62 ERA against the Rangers. That included 0-3 in post season play. Monday night though, he threw a complete game at the Rangers to save the weary Rays’ bullpen. He was shaky early, but was helped immensely by a pair of pick-offs in the first three innings. Elvis Andrus was picked off first in the first inning, and Ian Kinsler was picked off first and tagged out trying to advance to second in the third inning, as the Rangers gave up two of the first nine outs in the game on the bases. Making outs on bases has been a season long problem for Texas, and it certainly haunted them in game number 163.

Price was the real story though. He finished off the game with 118 pitches, 81 (69%) of which were strikes. The Rangers scored in the third inning as Craig Gentry singled leading off, advanced to second on a ground out and scored on Kinsler’s single. That rally ended abruptly though after Andrus popped out and Kinsler was caught stealing. Texas got their second run in the sixth inning when Alex Rios doubled home Andrus. However, Price retired 11 of the last 12 Ranger batters, as Texas mustered just one more hit in the game after Andrus scored.

Tampa Bay never trailed in the game after taking the early lead with a Desmond Jennings sacrifice fly in the first inning. Rays’ batters had three singles and a walk in the inning, and the Rangers were fortunate to hold Tampa to one run. Evan Longoria hit his 32nd home run in the third inning with a runner aboard to extend the lead to 3-0. Longoria also scored the Rays’ fourth run in the sixth inning as he doubled and came across the plate on David Dejesus’s double. Longoria was the offensive player of the game, finishing the night 3-4 with the home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Tampa’s final run scored in the ninth inning as Sam Fuld left second early in an attempt to steal third base. Tanner Scheppers was on the mound, saw Fuld make the break, but threw wildly to third base to allow Fuld not only to be safe at third, but to score on the throwing error.

Rookie Martin Perez started for Texas and gave up the first three runs as he pitched into the sixth inning. He struck out five, walked two and allowed four hits. He was charged with the loss bringing his season record to 10-6. It was a fine rookie campaign that establishes Perez as part of the starting rotation as the Rangers plan for 2014. Five Ranger relievers finished the game

Nelson Cruz returned from a 50 game drug suspension to bat sixth Monday night as the Rangers’ designated hitter. He was 0-4 with a strikeout, two ground outs and a line out, in what could be his last game as a Ranger. He is eligible to be a free agent this winter.

The Ranger season is over with 91 wins. It’s the fifth highest win total in Ranger history, and they join Tampa Bay as the only two teams in baseball with at least 90 wins in each of the past four seasons. There already has been and there will continue to be finger pointing as the media tries to place blame for the Rangers’ failure to reach post season play for the fourth consecutive year. Quite frankly, there is no blame to be placed. The Rangers are in a transition period as the window of opportunity has closed on the team that went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, and everybody that caught in those seasons are gone from those two teams; a major portion of the offense. Texas tried to fill the gaps this year with one year contracts to A. J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman. The Rangers also have Cruz, David Murphy, Matt Garza and essentially Joe Nathan as possible free agents this winter. (The Rangers hold a team option on Nathan, but it became a mutual option once he completed 55 games this year, effectively giving Nathan the right to become a free agent.)

This Ranger team was much different from last year’s, and next year’s will differ greatly from this year’s, as the Rangers seek to re-form a team that can win a World Series. Winning 91 games in a transition year is a significant accomplishment, and Ranger fans that feel otherwise are simply spoiled from the success of the past three seasons. There is a fine pitching talent base going forward, so the Rangers are in good shape to successfully re-form the team in coming years. Texas fans have much to look forward to.

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163!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

SEVEN GAME WINNING STREAK FORCES WILD CARD PLAYOFF

ARLINGTON, Texas – For the first time in Ranger history, the team will play game number 163 in a season, as they beat Los Angeles Sunday afternoon to tie Tampa Bay for the second Wild Card playoff berth. The Rays also won Sunday to finish with a 91-71 record that matches the Rangers. It was the first time for the Rangers to play the last game of the season with making the playoffs in the balance. A year ago, the Rangers played game number 162 to determine the division champion, but the losing team was assured a playoff berth as a Wild Card team. This year though, it quickly became win or go home for Texas.

Yu Darvish started for the Rangers, and he gave up a first inning home run to Angels phenom Mike Trout, putting Texas behind 1-0. That score held until the bottom of the fifth when A. J. Pierzynski led off with a double. Geovany Soto walked, and they both advanced on a throwing error. Craig Gentry then singled them home to put Texas on the scoreboard with a 2-1 lead.

It didn’t last long. Three of the first four Angel batters in the sixth reached base on a single, double play ground ball, double and walk. That was enough for manager Ron Washington, who replaced Darvish with Neal Cotts to face former Ranger Josh Hamilton. Hamilton stroked a single to left field that scored Erick Aybar to tie the game at two.

However, Texas proceeded to score in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to run the score to 6-2. Included in the Texas 10 hit attack was home runs from Adrian Beltre and Soto. Cotts (8-3) earned the win, while Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan shut out the Angels over the final three innings to secure the win, which was the team’s seventh of the week. The Rangers also finished 15-4 against the Angels in the season series.

When the day began, it was possible for the Rangers to lose and still be involved in post season play. For that to happen, the Rays also had to lose. That idea was dispelled quickly as the Tampa Bay and Toronto started two hours earlier than the Rangers. Tampa pushed across six runs in the first inning to seemingly put away the game. They added another later and shut out the Blue Jays for five innings. In the sixth inning though, the Jays struck for three runs. They added another in the seventh and two more in the eighth to close to within one. Rays’ manager Joe Maddon even got ejected from the game before Tampa finally threw another scoreless inning at the Jays, as they hung on to win 7-6.

At that point, it was imperative that the Rangers win Sunday or their season would come to an end. There was also a possibility of a three way tie for the two Wild Card spots if the Cleveland Indians lost. They however jumped on Minnesota for two first inning runs, ran the lead to 5-0 with two more runs in the sixth and another in the seventh, and won easily 5-1.

Consequently, Cleveland is in as the number one Wild Card team with a 92-70 record. They actually finished just a game behind Detroit for the Central Division championship. They will host the Wild Card “play-in” game Wednesday. Their opponent will be Texas or Tampa, which face each other Monday night in Arlington. Texas won four of seven against Tampa during the regular season to earn home field for the playoff game, which counts as a game 163 for the regular season. The expanded rosters of September will be utilized, and the statistics from the game will count as regular season statistics.

Texas announced after Sunday’s game that Nelson Cruz would be activated for Monday’s game. Sunday’s game with the Angels was the 50th and final game of his suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. He likely will start at designated hitter. The pitching matchup is David Price (9-8, 3.39) for Tampa Bay against Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55) for Texas. The game will be nationally televised on TBS.

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ALIVE!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Texas Rangers stayed alive in the American League Wild Card race Saturday by beating Los Angeles 7-4 in a game with the earliest start time in Arlington Ranger history. It was a sloppy game as the Angels committed five errors and handed the Rangers three unearned runs. The win ran Texas’ current winning streak to six games. Saturday’s win coupled with Tampa’s loss to Toronto vaulted Texas into a tie for the second Wild Card spot. (Cleveland beat Minnesota 5-1 to take over the top spot in the Wild Card race.)

The import is that the Rangers now hold their playoff fate in their own hands. They can make the playoffs by winning games, without needing help from another team to beat an opponent Texas is chasing.

Los Angeles scored in the top of the first; but the Rangers came back to tie in the bottom half of the inning, then take a 5-1 lead with four more runs in the second. Derek Holland was the Rangers’ starter, and even with the four run lead, he was unable to complete five innings to qualify for the win for the third time in six September starts. Holland surrendered a run in the third and two more in the fifth before being replaced by Joaquin Soria, who became the winning pitcher. Holland gave up all four Angels’ runs on eight hits in 4-2/3rds innings. The usually reliable Ranger bullpen turned in their usually reliable performance, shutting out L. A. over the final 4-1/3rd innings.

Joe Nathan earned his 43rd save of the season after striking out Howie Kendrick in the ninth. Kendrick represented the tying run, as Josh Hamilton had doubled with two outs followed by a walk to Mike Trout to set the stage for Kendrick.

The game was moved to an 11:05 start time for fear of rainy weather. Actually, rain fell intermittently throughout the game until the ninth inning, when a deluge came. Players said afterward that they were glad Kendrick struck out, because no one wanted to field a ball in the heavy downpour.

Sunday, the Rangers and Angels meet again with Yu Darvish facing Jason Vargas. Darvish is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA against the Angels this season, while Vargas has a 2.89 ERA against Texas in three starts. It will be the first time in Ranger history that game number 162 has bearing on the Rangers making the playoffs.

If the Rangers win Sunday, they can do no worse than a two way tie for the second Wild Card spot. They can also tie for the second Wild Card spot if they lose and Tampa Bay also loses. A three way tie is possible if both Texas and Tampa win and Cleveland loses. However, if Texas wins and Tampa loses, the Rangers are in as a Wild Card team irrespective of the results of Cleveland’s game.

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