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Plenty of good seats are available at The Ballpark In Arlington. Every so often, I attend a game by myself and pick the best seat available on game day. Four years ago, I sat in the 3rd row behind the first base dugout. Last year, I sat in the 10th row behind home plate. This year, I expect to sit in the dugout and play a couple of innings in left field.



2003 BY THE NUMBERS

71 wins, 91 Losses Runs Scored: 826 (5th in AL)
4th and Last Place in the AL West Runs Allowed: 969 (worst in baseball, 4th worst since 1939)
25 games out of 1st, 24 games behind the Wild Card Pythagorean Won-Loss Record: 68-94

WHAT WENT RIGHT IN 2003

Alex Rodriguez got the MVP he deserved. Hank Blalock fulfilled his potential and then some. Mark Teixeira proved ready for Major League pitching. Francisco Cordero had another fine season. Texas acquired several good prospects in trading away Ugueth Urbina and Carl Everett.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Everything. After toying with the .500 mark for six weeks, Texas lost 20 of 22 games. Chan Ho Park pitched even worse than in 2002. Ismael Valdes imploded. Sixteen starting pitchers combined for a 6.24 ERA, and only John Thomson ended the season with a sub-5.00 ERA. Someone named Tony Mounce started eleven games. By and large, the young pitchers flopped. Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez refused to accept trades, depriving Texas of legitimate prospects. Gonzalez missed half the season with injury and departed to Puerto Rico in early September. Texas centerfielders had an on-base percentage of .277 and the team OBP on the road was only .312. And then…

THE TRADE

"We always said he would not be traded unless it made our team better, faster" -- Tom Hicks

"It's all about flexibility. If this happens, we're trading the best player in the game and we're getting flexibility… It would provide us with a window to do some things with our younger players" -- John Hart

Texas signed the best player in baseball to a ten-year contract, then failed so miserably at constructing a team around him that they felt compelled to cut bait after only three years. The Rangers traded Rodriguez the player, but in a sense they retained his contract. Texas will still pay the rest of Rodriguez's prorated signing bonus ($2 million this year and next), part of his annual salary, and all of his deferred salary (pushed out another five years).

I'm hardly the first person to say this, but the issue of savings and "payroll flexibility" is a sham. The departures of Palmeiro, Gonzalez, Everett and Urbina (in June) erased $34 million from the books, and the conclusion of six other contracts this year will free another $22 million. Is that not sufficient savings and flexibility?

In any case, the Rodriguez-produced savings for 2004 will go straight into Tom Hicks's pocket. The Trade occurred too late to make a meaningful free-agent acquisition. Texas trumpeted the subsequent extension of Hank Blalock as an example of how the savings would be spent, but what was Texas going to do otherwise, non-tender him? Trade him for some A-ball prospects? Of course not. Texas isn't Montreal. If Kansas City can afford to keep Carlos Beltran through his arbitration years, Texas certainly can afford to keep Hank Blalock, regardless of A-Rod's contract.

What about 2005? Texas currently has only four players under contract for 2005 at a cost of $20 million. They also will pay Rodriguez $8 million ($6 million in salary plus the last $2 million of his signing bonus), and Soriano should receive an arbitration-eligible salary in the range of $7.5 million if he stays. The total for these players is $35.5 million. Had Rodriguez stayed, he would have earned $21 million in salary plus the last $2 million of his signing bonus. (Before and after the trade, Texas also owes $4 million in deferred money.) With the other four players already signed, the Rangers would have $43.8 million committed. So assuming Texas retains Soriano, The Trade will save about $7.5 million in 2005.

2005 With Rodriguez
$ mill
2005 Without Rodriguez
$ mill
Park
14.0
  Park
14.0
Rogers
3.5
  Rogers
3.5
Teixeira
2.5
  Teixeira
2.5
Blalock
0.8
  Blalock
0.8
Rodriguez
23.0
  Rodriguez
8.0
 
  Soriano
7.5
TOTAL
43.8
  TOTAL
36.3

Is Soriano plus $7.5 million of free agents better than Rodriguez alone? Maybe, depending on who Texas signs. The Rangers might spend the money foolishly, or not at all.

Rodriguez's contract was never the problem. The problem is the other Hart-era free agents -- Chan Ho Park, Jay Powell, and the departed and unlamented Todd Van Poppel - who collectively will earn $19 million this season.

OWNERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT

Quixotic owner Tom Hicks looms large over the organization. After yet another three-and-out playoff exit in 1999, Hicks cut payroll by about $10 million the following season, then signed Alex Rodriguez to his infamously huge contract after the team plummeted from 95 wins to 71. After another last-place finish, Hicks replaced Melvin with John Hart and resumed the free-spending ways with a vengeance, acquiring Juan Gonzalez, Chan Ho Park, Jay Powell, Todd Van Poppel, John Rocker, Dave Burba, and Carl Everett in one fell offseason. Since then, Hicks has thrown in the towel, monetarily speaking, letting the expensive contracts lapse while conspicuously avoiding the top end of the free agent market. Payroll will drop from over $100 million in 2003 to the mid-$60s this year. For better or worse, Hicks will soon retire from his investment firm to concentrate more on the Rangers.

General Manager John Hart will step down after this season, possibly sooner. You can discern my opinion of him from the preceding paragraphs. While he deserves no blame for the weak farm system he inherited, he squandered his owner's millions on expensive baubles. He threw $65 million at Chan Ho Park apparently without bothering to look at his road stats (see below), rewarded Todd Van Poppel with three years and $7.5 million for his career season in Chicago, gave Jay Powell three years and $9 million for his lucky half-season in Colorado, and gave Herbert Perry two years despite the organization being neck-deep in third base prospects. Oh, and Juan Gonzalez. And a litany of less expensive flops like Esteban Yan, Doug Glanville, John Rocker and Hideki Irabu.

On the other hand, Hart has helped to rebuild a farm system that held a small handful of top prospects but almost no depth. He engineered several fine trades last season that netted prospects Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Rupe and Ryan Snare. His record in this regard would be even better had Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro not invoked their no-trade clauses.

The future lies with assistant GM Grady Fuson, former scouting director for Oakland. Despite the harsh light cast upon him in Moneyball, he is well grounded in both traditional scouting skills and more statistical-driven theories. Fuson earned favorable reviews for his handling of the 2003 draft. How he will handle Major League free agents acquisitions and player contract negotiations remains to be seen.

Dissatisfied with the low key Jerry Narron, Hart and Hicks hired Captain Bligh away from the HMS Bounty to instill discipline in the troops. Okay, Buck Showalter doesn't keelhaul players for missing signs, but he does manage his club with a strictness and meticulousness far beyond most skippers. While his methods have produced solid results, his personality also wears thin after a few short years, especially with veterans accustomed to a measure of deference. Arizona dismissed him in 2000 after his injury-ravaged club won 85 games and just one year after a 100-win season. Reportedly, he and Alex Rodriguez did not see eye to eye by season's end, and Rafael Palmeiro spoke ill of him after signing with Baltimore.

Personality aside, Showalter properly adjusted his on-field management to fit the team's personnel in 2003. Possessing a squad rife with slow-footed mashers, Showalter let the game evolve on its own and didn't bother with many steals or sac bunts. Regarding the pitching staff… Well, God would have forced Job to manage the Rangers had they existed at the time. Showalter didn't shy away from using unheralded names in high-leverage situations, getting effective innings from the likes of Ron Mahay, Brian Shouse and Erasmo Ramirez when Aaron Fultz and Jay Powell faltered. This year, with a less homer-prone lineup, Showalter claims he will play more small ball.

Perhaps like Tony LaRussa, he takes too kindly to scrappy and determined players of modest talent and writes their names on the lineup card with dismaying frequency. Serious fans quickly wearied of seeing Donnie Sadler at third base. This Year's Model should be former D-back David Dellucci.

Showalter's Pythagorean record exactly matches his real lifetime record of 634-595.

ADIOS HOLA
Alan Benes (P), Ryan Christenson (OF), Jermaine Clark (UT), Doug Davis (P), Robert Ellis (P), Carl Everett (OF), Aaron Fultz (P), Reynaldo Garcia (P), Juan Gonzalez (OF), Todd Greene (C), Doug Glanville (OF), Chad Krueter (C), Mike Lamb (3B), Ryan Ludwick (OF), Tony Mounce (P), C.J. Nitkowski (P), Rafael Palmeiro (1B), Mario Ramos (P), Alex Rodriguez (SS), Donnie Sadler (UT), Victor Santos (P), Ruben Sierra (OF), Shane Spencer (OF), Marcus Thames (OF), John Thomson (P), Ugueth Urbina (P), Ismael Valdes (P), Todd Van Poppel (P), Esteban Yan (P) Chad Allen (OF), Carlos Almanzar (RP-R), Mike Bacsik (SP-L), Rod Barajas (C), Doug Brocail (RP-R), Brad Clontz (RP-R), Jason Conti (OF), David Dellucci (OF), Brad Fullmer (1B) Ken Huckaby (C), Brian Jordan (OF), Chris Mabeus (RP-R), Jeff Nelson (RP-R), David Newhan (2B/1B), Kenny Rogers (SP-L), Glendon Rusch (SP-L), Alphonso Soriano (2B), Jason Tyner (OF), Eric Young (2B, OF), John Wasdin (SP-R), Todd Williams (RP-R), Jordan Zimmerman (RP-R)

STARTING LINEUP

Player
Pos
Bat
Age
Line
OPS+
EQA
Michael Young
SS
R
27
.306/.339/.446
98
.270
Hank Blalock
3B
L
23
.300/.350/.522
118
.288
Alfonso Soriano
2B
R
28
.290/.338/.525
128
.296
Brad Fullmer
DH
L
29
.306/.387/.500
140
.304
Mark Teixeira
1B
S
24
.259/.331/.480
103
.270
Brian Jordan
RF
R
37
.299/.372/.420
113
.286
Kevin Mench *
LF
R
26
.275/.341/.452
99
.288
Laynce Nix
CF
L
23
.255/.289/.440
82
.246
Einar Diaz
C
R
31
.257/.294/.341
61
.219

* 2002-2003

C - EINAR DIAZ
That Texas traded Travis Hafner didn't bother me at all. He was a talented, but not the most talented, 1B/DH in an organization littered with them. Trading Hafner for the expensive and profoundly mediocre Einar Diaz bothered me a great deal. Diaz has negligible power but pulls every pitch and would rather take a bullet than a walk. He does offer solid defense. The local papers have mentioned Diaz as a trade possibility, but I have yet to see a burgeoning market for weak-hitting, $2.5 million-earning catchers.

1B - MARK TEIXEIRA
Despite playing only 86 professional games prior to 2003, Teixeira earned a roster spot in Spring Training and enjoyed a fine rookie season after a slow start. He deservedly pushed Rafael Palmeiro to DH and can play a relatively pain-free corner outfield. On the down side, the switch-hitter labored against righties and slugged only .343 on the road compared to .607 at home. Expected improvement in both areas will make Teixeira a genuine middle-of-the-order threat against all comers.

2B - ALFONSO SORIANO
Soriano is erratic, occasionally undisciplined, and a spectacular talent. His lack of plate discipline may lead to a swift and ugly decline, but for the next few years he's a .290 hitting, .500+ slugging second baseman. Does his defense merit a move to the outfield? Win Shares, Baseball Prospectus's Fielding Runs, and TangoTiger's Ultimate Zone Rating all considered Soriano a better second baseman in 2003 than Gold Glove runner-up Michael Young. I don't know whether that's an indictment of Young or the rating systems, but I don't think Soriano is the terrible defender some make him out to be. Texas may not want to pay his full $5.4 million salary this season or his arbitration-induced raise in 2005 and will entertain trade offers. Beyond Weird: Soriano's closest comparison via Similarity Score is Adam Kennedy.

3B - HANK BLALOCK
Let the George Brett comparison begin again! Blalock capped a glorious first full season in the Majors with a dramatic late-inning home run in the All-Star game. His hitting for average and power seems fully matured at the tender age of 23; a few more walks will make him the complete package. Blalock still struggles against lefties (.209/.245/.295 last year) but upped his road OPS from .482 to .736. Though Win Shares doesn't think much of Blalock defensively, he isn't seen as a liability and won't be crossing the diamond any time soon.

SS - MICHAEL YOUNG
Toronto's fifth-round pick in the 1997 draft won't have any problem moving to short; he played there in college and again in the minors after Texas acquired him (and Darwin Cubillan) for Esteban Loaiza in July 2000. Young's power spiked in 2003 but he walks infrequently and wouldn't lead off if anyone better were around. Last season's .306/.339/.446 probably represents his offensive peak, and slight decline is likely. As noted, several statistical rating systems frown on his defense, though I've watched Young countless times and don't see any serious flaws, for what that's worth. Seemingly every newspaper writer in the D/FW area has a doe-eyed crush on him, and if his offense regresses as I expect, they'll blame it on his move to shortstop.

LF - KEVIN MENCH
The man with the size-eight head gets one last chance to prove he can be an everyday outfielder in Texas. Wrist and back injuries have stunted his progress, and his happy-go-lucky nature didn't endear himself to Jerry Narron, much less Buck Showalter. Mench hit .260 with good power in 2002, then became a .320-hitting doubles machine in 2003. A healthy Mench should tend toward the 2002 variety if given enough playing time.

CF - LAYNCE NIX
Nix finished 2002 in high-A Charlotte and 2003 in Arlington. Nix was having a good but not fantastic season in AA, batting .284/.344/.487 when Texas placed the call after the Everett trade. He forgot how to take a pitch as a Ranger but has shown strong plate discipline in lower levels and ought to improve in time. Texas will find out if Nix has the range for center. The Ballpark favors hitters, to be sure, but it also features a deep center field with tricky angles and an upper-level jet stream that warps the trajectory of fly balls. Like third base for the Cubs, centerfield in Texas has been a black hole for most of the past thirty years. At least Chicago had Ron Santo.

RF - BRIAN JORDAN
As a 36-year-old, Jordan produced a career-best OBP of .372 in 66 games before succumbing to season-ending knee surgery. Walking has never been a major part of his repertoire, and he won't match that .372 even in hitter-friendly Arlington. Texas just hopes to get 100 reasonably productive games out of him, and if they can trade him for a C-level prospect in July, so much the better. With Brad Fullmer around, he doesn't have the luxury of DH'ing.

DH -BRAD FULLMER
Texas should get an excellent return on its $1 million investment in the 29-year-old with a 137+ OPS over the last two years. Fullmer doesn't hit lefties well and probably will sit against most of them, but he sports a career line of .296/.354/.515 against righties.

BENCH

Player
POs
Bat
Age
Line
OPS+
EQA
Gerald Laird
C
R
24
.273/.360/.432
100
.272
David Dellucci
OF
L
30
.227/.313/.352
69
.242
Eric Young
2B/OF
R
37
.251/.336/.392
88
.259
Herbert Perry *
3B/1B
R
34
.276/.333/.480
104
.279

* 2002 Stats

Only Gerald Laird remains on the 40-man roster from the trade that sent Carlos Pena to Oakland. Less heralded than fellow acquisitions Mario Ramos and Jason Hart, Laird appears to have the best chance of establishing a Major League career. His offensive performance last year was an unexpected delight. In truth, Laird's upside is as a Jim Sundberg, a fine defender who can pop the ball on occasion. In a just world, he will supplant Diaz no later than midseason.

There's nothing overtly offensive about having David Dellucci on the roster. He excels at nothing but isn't outright terrible at anything either. Certainly, there are worse backup outfielders. The cause for concern is his former association with Buck Showalter in Arizona, where Dellucci hit like Tony Gwynn for two magical months in 1999. I fear that Showalter will play him far more than he deserves. If Dellucci subs for an injured Brian Jordan, no great harm. But if this 30-year-old spare part takes plate appearances from Kevin Mench -a youngster who ostensibly has a future in the organization - I want Showalter's head on a platter.

Eric Young is nothing special, but he's a definite upgrade over offensive ciphers Donnie Sadler and Ryan Christenson. Young will sub all over the outfield and DH against lefties occasionally. He also could become the everyday second baseman if Texas trades Soriaino. Herbert Perry returns from knee and shoulder surgeries that ruined in 2003. He isn't 100% and probably never will be. He could DH against lefties and spot Blalock or Teixeira on occasion. Jason Tyner, Chad Allen, and (gulp) Manny Alexander have outside shots at making the roster. Rod Barajas or Kent Huckaby could back up Diaz instead of Laird. The less written about them, the better.

ROTATION

Much like Bob Saget, Ranger pitching in 2003 was nauseating and painfully unfunny. Texas didn't really have the worst staff in baseball last year (Texas had a team ERA+ of 87 compared to 80 for San Diego, 81 for Detroit, and 84 for Cincinnati), but the results were dreadfully disappointing in light of the already woeful 882 runs allowed in 2002. Unfortunately, Texas's one effective starter, John Thomson, bolted for Atlanta over the winter. In eschewing first-tier free agents, Texas essentially pins its hopes on internal improvement. More accurately, Texas assumes things can't get any worse.

Player
Age
Throws
Innings
ERA
ERA+
BB/9
SO/9
Kenny Rogers
39
L
195
4.57
101
2.3
5.4
Chan Ho Park *
31
R
175
6.06
82
5.3
7.0
Colby Lewis
24
R
127
7.30
68
5.0
6.2
Ricardo Rodriguez
26
R
82
5.73
74
3.1
4.5
Joaquin Benoit
26
R
105
5.49
90
4.4
7.5
R.A. Dickey
29
R
117
5.09
97
2.9
7.2
Ryan Drese
28
R
46
6.85
72
4.7
5.1
Glendon Rusch
29
L
123
6.42
68
3.3
6.8

* 2002-2003 Stats

KENNY ROGERS
Rogers (via agent Scott Boras) spurned a two-year, $10 million contract offer from Texas after the 2002 season. After a long and agonizing winter, he signed for one year and $2 million with Minnesota. Texas magnanimously offered two and $6 this time around, and Rogers wisely signed on the line that is dotted. The 39-year-old is aging quite gracefully; in fact, he posted a career-best K/BB ratio of 2.32 as a starter in 2003. 190-200 innings and an ERA of about 5.00 are what he offers, and Texas will take it. Amusingly and rather pathetically, those stats make him the staff ace.

CHAN HO PARK
Chan Ho Park pitches well in only one park, and he doesn't play for the team occupying that park. Quite a problem, yes?

Location
ERA
H/9
HR/9
BB/9
K/9
Dodger Stadium
2.98
7.0
0.94
4.0
8.1
Elsewhere
4.87
8.4
0.99
4.9
8.4
Ballpark in Arlington
6.26
10.0
1.25
4.2
7.5

Park's problem is Texas's problem, as the Rangers are committed to paying him $42 million over the next three years. In 2003, he ventured dangerously into softball territory, allowing an eye-popping 65 baserunners in just under 30 innings before back troubles ended his season. Nevertheless, he has the #2 spot in the rotation and will have to pitch himself out of it. Park's hit rate on balls in play has jumped from .283 as a Dodger to .310 in Texas. Those numbers correspond closely to Dodger and Ranger pitchers as a group, so he can't blame bad luck.

R.A. DICKEY
Texas's 1st-round pick in 1996 signed for a pittance when he was discovered to be missing a ligament in his pitching arm. The work of South American body-parts thieves? No, he was just born without it. To his immense credit, Dickey doggedly worked his way up the organizational ladder and pitched at a league-average level as a 29-year-old rookie. Dickey offers a mean K/BB ratio but otherwise is very hittable. He spends much of his time getting into and out of jams. Dickey should win a rotation spot but will stick as a long reliever otherwise.

JOAQUIN BENOIT
Arguably the most frustrating of Ranger pitching prospects, Benoit ought to dominate with his hard sinker and fantastic changeup but veers wildly between brilliance and putrescence, often within the same outing. In 2002, Benoit kept the ball in the park but walked 58 in just 84 innings. In 2003, he improved his K/BB ratio but allowed 23 homers in 105 innings. Benoit has no options remaining, and someone (hello, Milwaukee) will nab him if he's placed on waivers.

COLBY LEWIS
Lewis unquestionably has the stuff to pitch at the highest level. Lewis features a 95 MPH fastball, a drop-off-the-table curve, and, far too often, an inability to get either pitch over the plate. Lewis posted a 7.30 ERA, allowed opposing hitters a .950 OPS, and averaged fewer than five innings per start. Doing so over two or three starts wouldn't have been too terrible, but doing so over 26 starts is catastrophic. Lewis excelled during a mid-season demotion to AAA and offered a 4.55 ERA in five September starts. A rotation spot awaits with a decent spring showing.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ
Texas acquired Rodriguez for Ryan Ludwick last summer. Once a prized prospect in the Dodger system, Rodriguez has more innings in the Majors than in AA and AAA combined. His ERA and peripheral stats have been uniformly terrible on the big stage. A hip injury derailed his 2003 campaign, and Texas hopes an older and healthier Rodriguez will finally fulfill his huge potential. That squeal you heard was the goat John Hart sacrificed in his backyard to increase the chances of said fulfillment.

RYAN DRESE
Is a 28-year-old with 38 career big-league starts still a prospect? Acquired as part of the dire trade involving Hafner and Diaz, Drese flopped in Arlington and managed a dubious 4.65 ERA in AAA Oklahoma. Anything short of brilliance this spring will land the optionless Drese on the waiver wire.

GLENDON RUSCH
Rusch has the best resume of the several NRIs in camp. Rusch certainly didn't pitch well last year but was hampered by a lofty .381 average-against on balls in play. His career mark is .330, so perhaps "bad luck" is part of his repertoire. Texas must offer him a big-league job or cut him loose by the end of March.

BULLPEN

Texas starters averaged less than 5.1 innings per start. Consequently, the Rangers set the Major League record for bullpen innings last year with 601. Texas relievers posted a 4.88 ERA but were "only" 17th in Adjusted Runs Prevented according to Baseball Prospectus. The next time Jay Powell gets bombed he can say, "I'm a good pitcher, Buck. It's these damn park factors…"

Player
Age
Throws
Innings
ERA
ERA+
BB/9
SO/9
Francisco Cordero
29
R
83
2.94
168
4.1
9.8
Jeff Zimmerman *
31
R
71
2.87
187
2.0
9.1
Brain Shouse
35
L
61
3.10
159
2.1
5.9
Ron Mahay
33
L
45
3.18
155
4.0
7.6
Erasmo Ramirez
28
L
49
3.86
128
1.7
5.1
Jeff Nelson
37
R
55
3.74
118
3.9
11.1
Jay Powell
32
R
59
7.82
63
5.2
6.1
Carlos Almanzar **
30
R
46
3.50
n/a
0.6
10.6

* 2001 Stats, ** AAA Stats

FRANCISCO CORDERO
A classic closer with a 98 MPH fastball and hard slider, Cordero lost his role when Texas signed Ugueth Urbina then regained it and saved 13 of 17 chances. Cordero will earn $2 million in 2004, his second year of arbitration, and a full year of closing could push him over the $4 million mark in 2005. In other words, he's available.

JEFF ZIMMERMAN
After a fine 2001 campaign, Zimmerman signed a three-year, $10 million contract. He has yet to throw a pitch in anger during that contract. Two elbow surgeries (including a ligament transplant) and setbacks in rehab left him little more than a well-paid cheerleader during 2002-2003. Zimmerman's money pitch is a murderous slider. He hasn't used it much in camp so far; if it's lost some of its cut, Zimmerman will be much more hittable. Texas will handle him carefully, letting him ease into higher leverage innings as merited. If Cordero is traded, he could find himself closing again.

BRIAN SHOUSE
The 35-year-old lefty meandered through seven organizations before striking gold in Texas. Shouse developed a sidearm delivery that resulted in improved control and an astounding 2.92 ground/fly ratio, a sorely needed ability in The Ballpark. His season was a textbook example of finding bullpen talent for minimal cost as opposed to paying $1.5 million for the mortal horror that is Esteban Yan. On the other hand, asking Shouse to match last year's 3.10 ERA is asking for too much.

RON MAHAY
Like Shouse, Mahay enjoyed a career year in Texas after pitching for four other clubs in six seasons. Mahay kept the ball in the park despite a high flyball ratio and held batters to a .195 average. Neither is likely to reoccur, but Mahay has the ability to pitch multiple innings and could be a useful long reliever even if his effectiveness diminishes somewhat.

ERASMO RAMIREZ
"Erasmo The Eraser" features a well below-average fastball and a changeup that dips into the upper 60s. His key to success is a funky and unreadable sidearm delivery. Also, unlike the typical Texas reliever from 2003, he throws strikes. What a concept.

JEFF NELSON
"The Bane of Groundskeepers" still strikes out batters at a ridiculous rate despite his advanced age. Nelson walks a few more batters than you'd like and has particular trouble throwing strikes against lefties. He has an ERA of 4.76 in 28 career innings in Arlington.

JAY POWELL
Powell missed the first two weeks of last season with vertigo, then pitched as if he still had it. He allowed 10 earned runs and 19 baserunners in just six April innings and found himself relegated to Team Mop. A similar showing this spring could result in his dismissal as Texas swallows the last year of his distasteful three-year, $9 million contract.

CARLOS ALMANZAR
The walk and strikeout figures are not misprints. Almanzar walked three and struck out 54 in 46 innings for AAA Louisville. Almanzar hasn't done much at the Major League level but has a real chance to stick with Texas.

ON THE FARM

Could help this year:

Ramon Nivar (CF) - A work in progress. The 24-year-old Nivar is toolsy and electric but has yet to parlay his skills into Major League success, batting a meager .211/.253/.267 for Texas in a late-season call-up. Raised as a second baseman, Nivar showed terrific range in center field but fielded just .961 and took some creative routes to reach fly balls. Nivar has just 98 walks in over 2,000 professional plate appearances, and a trip to the AFL last fall offered no improvement: two walks in 65 plate appearances. Unless he suddenly develops a batting eye, Nivar will have to bat .300 to be useful offensively.

Adrian Gonzalez (1B) - The #1 overall pick in the 2000 draft moved to Texas in exchange for Ugueth Urbina. Wrist surgery in December 2002 led to a disappointing 2003 (.269/.327/.365 in AA and AAA), but an improved showing in the Arizona Fall League has Texas believing he's on the right track. Gonzalez doesn't project to be a traditional masher but he could end up with a good combination of OBP and 20 homers. At worst, Gonzalez should get a late-season call-up. Solid play in AAA Oklahoma will have him in Arlington by the summer.

Juan Dominguez (SP-R) - The previously unheralded Dominguez roared through three levels in 2003, compiling a 10-0 record, 2.84 ERA and a 140/40 K/BB ratio in 136 innings of work. The 24-year-old Dominguez features a low-90s fastball and devastating changeup. Unfortunately, that's all he features right now, and Major League hitters chewed him up last August. Dominguez will work on his slider in AAA, and given the level of competition ahead of him, he should return to the Texas rotation at some point this season.

Could help in the future:

Drew Meyer (SS) - The 22-year-old South Carolina grad and 10th-overall pick of 2002 moves back to his natural position of shortstop with the trade of Alex Rodriguez. Meyer struggled badly in his inaugural season in low-A, then suddenly offered more power and patience in high-A and AA. Still, he's never posted an OPS above .735 at any level and should need at least one full year before reaching the bigs.

Vince Sinisi (OF/1B) -Rice sophomore Sinisi had Scott Boras representing his interests and could have returned to school for two more years. Thus, the sure-fire first rounder dropped all the way to 46th. Sinisi batted .338/.429/.502 for the College World Series champion Owls and will attempt to convert from first basemen to corner outfielder. John Sickels is lower on him than most scouts. Think 2006.

Jason Bourgeois (2B) - In 2003, the 22-year-old 2B struggled in AA after demolishing the California League for three months. Bourgeois displays a pretty good batting eye and some speed but hasn't shown more than doubles power. Bourgeois should start in AA with a jump to AAA and a late-season call-up possible.

Jeremy Cleveland (OF) - As noted in Craig Burley's recent fine study of college hitters, Cleveland posted the highest Offensive Winning Percentage in college baseball in 2003. Texas selected him in the 8th round with the 226th-overall pick. Cleveland hit a lofty .322/.432/.514 in low-A with 40 walks and 30 extra-base hits in 303 plate appearances. Cleveland is a DH in waiting and will go only as far as his bat takes him.

Wes Littleton (SP-R) - The Cal State Fullerton product fell to the 4th round because of a less-than-stellar senior season that included a one-month suspension for breaking team rules. Nevertheless, he devoured low-A hitters, tallying a 1.56 ERA and 47/8 K/BB ratio in 52 innings. Littleton may start in high-A but has a legitimate chance to sprint up the organizational ladder and is already being discussed for a late-season tryout in Arlington.

John Danks (SP-L) - Former Oakland scouting director Grady Fuson ignored the new orthodoxy of Moneyball and selected this high-school pitcher with the 9th-overall pick in 2003. (Texas selected college players with their next fourteen picks.) A lefty with a plus fastball and hard curve, the carefully handled Danks tossed only 25 professional innings following his senior season in Round Rock and will be held to 120 this year. Baseball America considers him Texas's #2 prospect.

Erik Thompson (SP-R) - A 12th-round JuCo pick in the 2002 draft, the 22-year-old Thompson has handled rookie ball and both A levels with aplomb. Thompson doesn't possess a killer fastball but has fantastic control; he has struck out 164 and walked only 22 in 193 innings of work. In 2004, he makes the big jump to AA. Thompson is only 5'11", diminishing his potential in the eyes of many scouts.

OUTLOOK

Oy. Texas could have a terrific club in 2006 if the pitching prospects develop as hoped. As for this year, the Rangers should allow fewer runs but also score fewer. Memories of the late 1990s will seem like decades ago to Ranger fans as the club lurches to its fifth consecutive season of 71-73 wins.

2004 TEXAS RANGERS PREVIEW | 6 comments | Create New Account
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Coach - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 03:53 PM EST (#76275) #
Tremendous, Scott. Like a lot of other clubs, the Rangers would benefit from a move to the AL Central. Where they are, it's a tough climb out of the basement.

There's an injury update at ESPN: bad news for Zimmerman and a pain in the neck for Teixeira.
Gitz - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 06:53 PM EST (#76276) #
This is your basic four-star movie: drama, comedy, melodram, special effects. You name it, it's here. And that's just in the first paragraph.

It's hard to feel sorry for the state of the Rangers. On the other hand, it's easy to feel sorry for Lucas; he's got years to sort through this mess of a franchise.
_Mick - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 07:26 PM EST (#76277) #
Let's not forget, Gitz, that Lucas has already spent a lifetime sorting through the days of Lenny Randle, Bump Wills, Jim Kern and Pete O'Brien ... and those are some of the better players of the pre-Pudge/Igor/Rusty Rangers.

Now, according to a Dallas Morning News column by the reliably good Tim Cowlishar that will probably infuriate sabermetricians to the point of frothing at the mouth ... Rangers Won't Walk This Way. A cutting:
Take what could be Showalter's regular lineup: Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Soriano, Brad Fullmer, Mark Teixeira, Brian Jordan, Nix, Kevin Mench and Einar Diaz.

That group collected 239 walks to go with 3,517 at-bats in 2003, one walk per 14.7 at-bats. The most free-swinging team in the American League (and not a good one, by the way) was Tampa Bay at one per 13.5.

The most free-swinging team in Rangers history the 1984 club that lost 92 games and set the stage for Doug Rader's firing had one walk per 13.3 at-bats.
_BirdWatcher - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 07:33 PM EST (#76278) #
You guys may think me totally nuts, but for a team that is almost unanimously viewed as a complete and dismal failure, the Rangers 2003 season may still offer at least a dim ray of hope for the future.

No doubt, the Rangers had a dismal season, but if you exclude their horrific journey to hell beginning May 30 and ending June 23 (when they went an astounding 2-20), their record for the rest of the season was 69-71, not so bad for a team that is universally written off as worthless. Even more interesting, this June period coincided with interleague play where Texas had a 2-15 record, losing series to Atlanta, Florida, Houston, Montreal, the Mets as well as Oakland - a pretty tough schedule to say the least (note: at this point in the season, the Expos were still playing pretty good baseball). Also noteworthy, if you exclude Oakland, against whom the Rangers could do nothing right all season (4 wins, 15 losses), the team's record against the rest of the AL stands at a not too shabby 65-56, with their RS/RA for those games amounting to 687-691.

Yeah, yeah, I know, ALL the games count and one can always do statistical cherry picking to make things look better. And maybe the massive brainfart in June would have occurred no matter who the Rangers had played, but I wonder if this was a better team than most people give it credit for and, more important, what are the implications for 2004 ???
Lucas - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 11:09 PM EST (#76279) #
You make a good point about who Texas played during their collapse, Birdwatcher. Their interleague schedule was pretty salty except for the Mets.

But I played that game last year and lost. In 2002, Texas went 20-38 against division foes and 52-52 outside their division. "If they could just tread water against the division, they'd be a .500 club!"

Texas has been very inconsistent. They tease with good play occasionally. Heck, they won their season series with the Yankees last year. Ultimately, their up-and-down play is just another sign of a weak ballclub. Good teams play better more often. Bad teams play well for 20 games and then poorly for 30.

As for feeling sorry for me... Team loyalty is a funny thing. I became a Ranger fan for no other reason than I was born in Arlington. I'm well into adulthood now. I don't eat Little Debbie snack cakes or play kickball anymore. Why should I have to be a Ranger fan? There's no reason why I can't find a new team to support. But here I am, a Ranger fan, and I'm not going to change. I'd guess that most people feel the same way about their own teams of choice. I root for them because I root for them. A nice little circular argument that needs no further explanation.

BTW, there's no news on this, but I'd bet Zimmerman is done, again.
Lucas - Sunday, March 14 2004 @ 11:11 PM EST (#76280) #
Also, I'm flying to Phoenix tomorrow on business and catching the Ranger-Brewer game in Surprise. Yay!
2004 TEXAS RANGERS PREVIEW | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.