Hot Stove: Texas Winter Heating Up

December 10, 2009

While everyone expected the cash-strapped Texas Rangers to be quiet this winter, it appears as if they are being anything but.

After a deal yesterday to send starting pitcher Kevin Millwood to Baltimore for setup man Chris Ray and a player to be named, the Rangers ended up completing a deal to sign free agent starter Rich Harden to a one-year deal that is worth between $7-$8 million (which I discussed yesterday) and a trade with Boston to acquire third baseman Mike Lowell in exchange for catcher/first baseman Max Ramirez.

The moving of Millwood was a strategic one that not only gave them end-game bullpen help with Ray, but also freed up the money they needed to sign the free agent Harden who will now take Millwood’s spot in the rotation.

The Rangers have been very smart this winter in the methodical moves they have made. Now the only question is what their plans are regarding their vacant center field spot with the possible exit of free agent Marlon Byrd. While the possibility of Byrd returning is still an option, the Rangers are definitely going to visit cheaper options that are out there. Their wiggle room isn’t enormous as they have Byrd’s expiring contract (a little over $3 million from 2009) as well as the difference between Millwood’s $12.8 million and Harden’s $7 million plus to work with.

It should be interesting to see how their master plan unfolds the rest of the off season.

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Hot Stove: Kouz, Wolf, Millwood & Harden

December 9, 2009

Kouzmanoff has been a hot commodity this winter (San Diego Shooter/Flickr).

• There are reports that upwards of eight teams have inquired the Padres about the availability of third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff (.255, 18 HR, 88 RBI). It appears as if the two front runners are the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants, both of whom are in dire need of a third baseman. Jayson Stark at ESPN.com Tweeted this just a bit ago: “Hearing that Padres offered Kouzmanoff to Giants for Fred Lewis & Kevin Fransden. Asked Twins for Glen Perkins & 2nd player.”

• It appears as if the Texas Rangers are going to be more active than many originally thought. The Rangers just completed a deal in which they sent veteran righty Kevin Millwood (13-10, 3.67 ERA) to Baltimore for setup man Chris Ray (7.27 ERA, 39 K) and a player to be named. This freed up enough money for them to go out and sign one of their main targets, Rich Harden (9-9, 4.09 ERA, 171 K). Reports say the Rangers are closing in on a deal with Harden and something could be done as soon as tonight or tomorrow.

• The Milwaukee Brewers have officially signed left-hander Randy Wolf (11-7, 3.23 ERA) to a three-year, $29.75 million deal. This was a big signing for them as they are very much in need of pitching help and they got one of the stronger arms on the market. And this wasn’t all they did today as the club also came to terms with reliever LaTroy Hawkins (2.13 ERA, 45 K, 19 HD) on a two-year, $7.5 million deal. The Brewers have money and are definitely making the most of it.

Trades and signings are slowly starting to happen more frequently and now that teams have started moving and shaking, I think (and hope) this gets other teams to start pulling the trigger. It always seems to take the first few teams to get the ball rolling.


MLB Hot Stove: Willingham & Millwood Rumors

November 29, 2009

Will Willingham be on the move? (Keith Allison/Flickr)

Two new names that have started popping up in trade rumors are that of outfielder Josh Willingham of the Nationals and pitcher Kevin Millwood of the Rangers. Both for different reasons.

First you have Willingham, a talented 30-year old outfielder who never gets any national attention due to the fact that the only two teams he has ever played for are the Marlins and Nationals. But despite playing for the hapless Nationals last season, Willingham put up a .260/.367/.496 line with 24 homers and 61 RBI while constantly playing hard on every play. This is just the type of player that the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves are in the market for. The only question now is whether or not the Nationals are interested in moving him.

On the other hand, the cash-strapped Rangers look to be freeing up some money this off season by possibly moving their ace Kevin Millwood. Millwood had a strong season posting a 13-10 record, 3.67 ERA and 123 strikeouts last season. Thoughts are the Rangers would like to give themselves a little extra money to try to bring in free agent starting pitcher John Lackey to head up their rotation. One team believed to have inquired about the veteran righty was the Milwaukee Brewers who themselves are looking to bolster their rotation.

At this point these rumors are in early stages so it will be interesting to see if anything develops.

[Update 11/30/09 @ 7:32 PM: The Baltimore Orioles have apparently inquired about Kevin Millwood to help bolster their rotation. This would help give the Rangers salary space to go after Lackey as mentioned above or possibly slugger Jermaine Dye.]


Top Prospect #13: Elvis Andrus

March 3, 2009

13
NAME: Elvis Andrus
POSITION: Shortstop
AGE: 20 | BATS: R | THROWS: R
ORGANIZATION: Texas Rangers

2008 STATISTICS
LVL AVG R RBI SB OBP SLG
MiLB .295 82 65 54 .350 .367

Scouting Report: Some scouts have been down on Andrus saying he hasn’t developed offensively like they have hoped. I don’t think they are looking close enough at his numbers from last year as he got better progressively throughout the 2008 season and finished with a strong average. He possesses all plus tools except power which isn’t a big deal considering he looks to be the lead off hitter of the future for the Rangers. He is a very smooth ballplayer and you can see that in the way he conducts his business on the field from his swing all the way to the way he handles himself in the field. He’s an incredible runner and has really mastered the art of stealing bases. But what really has garnered him the most attention is his defense. He has a ton of range, soft hands and an accurate cannon for an arm. He looks to make the Rangers’ club this season and has a solid mentor in Omar Vizquel to help him adapt.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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GM for a Day: Texas Rangers

January 23, 2009
My plan will bring the post season back to Arlington (Rich Anderson/Flickr).

My plan will bring the post season back to Arlington (Rich Anderson/Flickr).

The original goal of my “GM for a Day” series was to focus on teams that are on the cusp of the playoffs and what moves could push them over the top. I started this with my first two, the Cubs and the Braves, but veered another direction when I attempted to start rebuilding the Pirates back towards respectability. This edition brings us back to a team who just needs a bit of a boost to make themselves a contender and we will revisit teams who need to rebuild later down the road.

The Texas Rangers exhibited a very strong offense in 2008 with very little pitching help. This wasn’t a real big surprise as that has been the story in Texas for pretty much their entire existence. When you scratch the surface and look at the breakdown, the Rangers scored 5.6 runs per game last season (the best in the AL West) and let up 6.0 runs per game (the worst in the AL West). But if you look closer, here’s win contributions breakdown:

+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+
|      | OFFENSE | STARTERS | BULLPEN | DEFENSE |
+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+
| WPA  |   0.6   |   -4.8   |   2.2   |  -4.0   | 
+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+

As the table above shows, the Rangers defense was almost as big of a liability as the starting pitchers were. These are two big areas the Rangers need to attack heading into 2009. With a huge crop of great young players being cultivated in the minors, the Rangers need to start making strides to have a solid club behind them. They are in a very winnable American League West division with a now weakened Angels club, an improved Athletics team and a still floundering Mariners group. Here’s what I would do if given the reigns for a day:

Luckily the Rangers wouldnt have to rely on Sheets bat (Jibby7/Flickr).

Luckily the Rangers wouldn't have to rely on Sheets' bat (Jibby7/Flickr).

1.) Sign Ben Sheets to a multi-year contract laced with incentives surrounding his durability.

Look, I know that Ben Sheets has an injury filled past with the Brewers. I get it. But if you look closely at his stat lines, he’s improved in the amount of games and innings pitched over the past three seasons including just a hair under 200 last season.

+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | IP    |  W-L  | ERA  | SO  | WHIP | GS |
+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
| 2006 |  27 | Brewers  | 106.0 |   6-7 | 3.82 | 116 | 1.09 | 17 |
| 2007 |  28 | Brewers  | 141.3 |  12-5 | 3.82 | 106 | 1.24 | 24 |
| 2008 |  29 | Brewers  | 198.3 |  13-9 | 3.09 | 158 | 1.15 | 31 |
+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+

When Sheets is healthy and in the rotation, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the game (for a scouting report I wrote on him, click here). The Rangers desperately need a true ace to head up their very questionable rotation and Sheets is just the guy to do it.

In recent years, the Rangers have tried filling their rotation by throwing their money at players that really didn’t have much chance of filling the void. Just look at the two best examples in recent memory. First there was the large contract they threw at Chan Ho Park to be their ace when he was never really any better than a number four starter with the Dodgers and ended up being horrific in Texas. Then they tried to fit Kevin Millwood into that role when he came from Atlanta where he was a number three. So Sheets is really the closest thing to a true ace as they have had in my memory. Throwing him in front of Millwood and Vicente Padilla will go a long way in helping solidify the Rangers’ staff. It won’t make them great, but it will sure help.

2.) Sign Omar Vizquel to a one-year deal and slowly introduce Elvis Andrus into the everyday role.

Yes I know the Rangers already signed Omar Vizquel to a contract, but in all honesty I suggested this a while ago (believe it or not). This makes sense on so many levels. First, Elvis Andrus is a huge piece of your future as a star at the top of your order and you want to slowly get him acclimated to the big leagues without throwing him to the wolves (after all he is currently the ripe old age of 19). Secondly, what better way than with a mentor as highly regarded as Omar Vizquel? He can teach him the ins and outs of the position which is so important for Andrus considering his defensive woes he experienced last season in AA committing a woeful 32 errors. Hopefully Vizquel can help Andrus work through these difficulties as the Rangers can’t afford to weaken their already rough defense.

If Andrus can begin to tighten up on his defense, he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star for years to come as his offensive abilities have been well established. Take a look at his stats from the past couple of seasons.

+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | LEVEL    | AB  |  AVG/OBP  | HR | RBI |  R  | SB |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+
| 2005 |  16 | Rookie   | 184 | .293/.380 |  3 |  21 |  29 |  8 |
| 2006 |  17 | Single A | 437 | .265/.324 |  3 |  50 |  67 | 23 |
| 2007 |  18 | A - Plus | 495 | .257/.338 |  5 |  49 |  78 | 40 |
| 2008 |  19 | Double A | 482 | .295/.350 |  4 |  65 |  82 | 54 |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+

As you can see Andrus has made significant strides towards becoming a more well rounded hitter. His improvement in batting average and on-base percentage is the most notable as these are such important categories for a top of the order hitter. His increase in OBP translated to more stolen bases attempts for the speedster which the Rangers will really love in front of their sluggers. Andrus is just the tip of the iceberg for the fantastic group of prospects the Rangers have coming up through their system.

Clay can prove himself in Texas (hardballwarriors.com).

Clay can prove himself in Texas (hardballwarriors.com).

3.) Trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia (and prospect) to the Boston Red Sox for Clay Buchholz.

Sure having an excess of talented young catchers that you project to be solid offensive weapons is nice, but the Rangers have a log jam of them with Taylor Teagarden, Max Ramiez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Despite being the shiny piece that came back in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves back in the 2006 season, I think Salty is the best of the group to move on. And the best fit is definitely the Boston Red Sox. This is especially the case if they don’t come to terms with Jason Varitek before the season starts. You don’t expect the Red Sox to start the season with Josh Bard as their starting catcher, do you?

I know some of you are questioning the Clay Buchholz portion of the trade as they have been so adamant about not trading him in the past. But with a slew of starting pitchers on the Sox roster heading into next year (Buchholz projects as a number 7 or 8 starter at this point) and a solid group of young pitchers who will be left out in the cold, the Sox need to make a move. Plus they were willing to ship him off to Florida last month in a package for their former prospect Hanley Ramirez (which was shot down after 10 seconds). So at least he isn’t marked “untouchable.” Buchholz would make a nice number four or five starter for the Rangers and would help bridge the gap until their super pitching prospects Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland are ready. We’d be looking at a solid, young staff heading into the next decade.

4.) Sign free agent Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $2 million contract.

If the Rangers are going to be serious about winning the AL West, they are going to need a deep bench and a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse. Cliff Floyd provided both of those things for the young Rays team that took the world by storm last season and he could be a key ingredient for the Rangers in 2009. He can also serve as a reliable back-up for DH Hank Blalock who has been limited to only 123 games combined over the past two seasons. It is these types of seemingly insignificant acquisitions that can make all the difference in a tight race over 162 games.

So with these additions to the bench and rotation, here is how the Rangers team would look heading into next season:

Floyd is the veteran this club needs (keithallisonphoto.com).

Floyd is the veteran this club needs (keithallisonphoto.com).

1.) Elvis Andrus, SS
2.) Michael Young, 3B
3.) Ian Kinsler, 2B
4.) Josh Hamilton, CF
5.) Chris Davis, 1B
6.) David Murphy, LF
7.) Hank Blalock/Cliff Floyd, DH
8.) Nelson Cruz, RF
9.) Taylor Teagarden, C

Ben Sheets, RHP
Kevin Millwood, RHP
Vicente Padilla, RHP
Matt Harrison, LHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP

Looking at that lineup and that starting rotation, it makes me feel a lot better about the Rangers chances to take the AL West. We all knew the Rangers had the offense to hang with anyone in the league so there wasn’t much reason to fix what wasn’t broken. Other than adding Floyd to deepen the bench (which is already fairly strong), the only thing that needed fixing was the rotation. Signing Sheets gives them an ace and trading for Buchholz gives them depth and a solid young arm for years to come at the expense of a position they are already extremely deep at.

While I’d like to add another pitcher from somewhere (via trade or free agency – Andy Pettitte if you really want to throw some money around) I think this is enough to start with. Hopefully they will be in position to be buyers at the trade deadline and can add an extra arm (Paul Byrd?) if needed.

The time is now to strike in the American League West as the former kings of the division have some major weaknesses that can be taken advantage of. And the Rangers are just the team to do it if they can just correct some issues that have plagued them for decades.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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Top Prospect #23: Justin Smoak

December 28, 2008

23
NAME: Justin Smoak
POSITION: First Base
AGE: 22 | BATS: B | THROWS: L
ORGANIZATION: Texas Rangers

2008 STATISTICS
LVL AVG R HR RBI OBP SLG
MiLB .304 9 3 6 .355 .518

Scouting Report: What makes this kid so special is his incredible eye at the plate, especially for a power hitter, as he consistently drew more walks than strikeouts each year in college. Smoak also posses a very sweet and fluid swing with the ability to hit productively from both sides of the plate as well as having plus-power to all fields. He has outstanding bat speed and takes healthy cuts which together helps the ball jump off his bat. While he does a great job staying inside the ball, he may need to pull the ball more (something you don’t hear too often with power hitters) rather than trying to force things to other fields. Smoak’s power will translate well to the majors and has the potential to hit 35-40 as well as hit for a high average. He’s a player for the Rangers to start building around.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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2008 Division Predictions: AL West

March 21, 2008

Guerrero at the plate (PV Bruin/flickr)

Guerrero finally has more offense to protect him in the lineup. (PV Bruin / flickr)

With the 2008 season opener upon us I figured it would be as good a time as ever to give my exciting 2008 division, playoff and award winner picks! We’ll start off by covering each division (one division per day) with the order they will finish along with some brief statements about each team and the standout players from that division. Once all of the divisions are done we will talk playoffs and then finally the 2008 award winners. As always, let me know your opinion on each one!

(click here to continue this article on Baseball Digest Daily)

Catch my “Diamond Cutter” major league coverage now featured on Baseball Digest Daily and my prospect coverage on Big League Futures!

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