I should make one thing very clear as we begin this preview for the 2007 Texas Rangers I live in North Texas, work in Arlington about three or four miles from Ameriquest Field, and soak up all the media radio, TV, newspaper associated with living in a "major league city."
For all that, I must admit, I am not a Rangers "fan," per se, though I do root for the hometown nine (wait, this is the A.L. -- make that the hometown ten) in most cases. Having a World Series here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex would be something I'd really enjoy, but for the most part, though the Rangers are live, local and available they are not "my" team of choice.
Now, you want to meet a Rangers fan? Check that want to meet the Rangers fan? Then sit back and enjoy this '07 sneak peek as we discuss all things Ranger with the man who has probably written and published more words about that team than anyone else in the Internet age
Dallas/Fort Worth attorney Jamey Newberg, author and distributor of the Internet's best baseball newsletter, the near-daily (and free) Newberg Minor League Report (NMLR).
Newberg (pictured, left) has a number of close ties to the Batter's Box community, beyond simply his love of the Great Game.
For instance, his new #2 man, owner of the NMLR's popular "Rangers Farm Report," beginning this week is none other than recently-retired Box roster member Scott Lucas (speaking of Ranger fanatics, Lucas -- pictured at right -- is one, too).
Newberg also provided a Web publishing outlet for the greatness of Spike Lundberg when Spike was in the Texas system regular readers of Batter's Box will recall that "Ask Spike" was a popular temporary feature in your favorite interactive magazine while Lundberg was later briefly in the Toronto system.
Newberg has been mentioned on this site several times, and yes, he does have a member's account here at Batter's Box.
Until just last month, Newberg was a partner with a Dallas law firm, with whom he maintained a practice specializing in civil litigation, school law, insurance coverage and defense, sports law, and estate planning. Let's clarify Batter's Box is full of lawyers who will ask hard questions otherwise and point out that "Until just last month" means that on Feb. 12, Newberg's daily NMLR e-mail included the announcement of the doors opening for Vincent & Moyé, P.C., the new law firm with which Newberg is a partner. Can you tell a lawyer to "break a leg"?
Speaking of the NMLR, Newberg's newsletter has grown since its modest 1998 launch into something he describes as "sent directly to more than 2,500 e-mailboxes, including those belonging to dozens of players in the Ranger system and their family members, front office personnel with the organization, and scores of local and national baseball media members." The Newberg Report is also featured by the Rangers as part of their in-game Jumbotron presentation, game program, and official team Web site, and has been cited in a variety of radio, print and Web publications including Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, USA Today and more. He also writes a weekly column for the Rangers portion of the MLB.com Web site.
As if that didn't keep him busy enough, Newberg and his wife Ginger have two children, daughter Erica and son Max, whose daily antics are always fodder for the NMLR e-mail, as well as a boxer-lab named Pocus and a Westland terrier named Norma Jean, "each of whom," says that biographical sketch, "would tell you that they share Jamey with all things baseball."
So this'll be like talking baseball with a buddy over a beer or two a Molson in the one hand and a Dos Equis in the other. Let's not wait any longer.
The original questions are in bold, Newberg's responses are in plain text, and when relevant, Batter's Box additional comments are in italics.
Batter's Box: What is the difference for the team in Year 1 of the Ron Washington Era, as opposed to Camp Showalter or even the Oates and Narron regimes of recent vintage?Newberg: It's too early, of course, to say what sort of impact Washington will have on the bottom line for this team, but there's no question that the players are buying into his message.
He's instilled a positive, high-energy approach and has told the players that the clubhouse is theirs to run. He's told Michael Young and Mark Teixeira that this is their club, and that he has their backs (and everyone else's). Whether he can make Hank Blalock a more consistent defender and keep Vicente Padilla focused and make Nelson Cruz and Gerald Laird impact players in full-time roles, we won't know for a while. But to the extent that a manager can make a difference by ... March, the vibe has been good.
Batter's Box: Jon Daniels . . . how much (and what kind) of an impact is he having/will he have on the personality of the Rangers as a ballclub? Toronto is J.P. Ricciardi's club; where does Daniels fit in that Beane/Ricciardi/Moneyball approach? What does he bring to the table?
Newberg: What he injected immediately on his promotion was accessibility -- both with the players and with the fan base via the press. Both were very important. I wouldn't say he impacts the team's personality other than from the standpoint of the players and manager that he has brought in. He's not a Moneyball guy or a beer 'n' tacos scouting guy -- he's both. He adheres to the John Schuerholz approach -- he with the most information wins. Daniels listens to his scouts and pays attention to the numbers. He is open to whatever theories are out there and considers everything (and the opinions of lots of people) before making decisions.
Batter's Box: On a personal note, is it odd at all to have the GM of your favorite club be younger than you (Daniels, in his second full year on the job, won't be 30 until August)?
Newberg: Not any more. Sure was at first, though -- made me think that if the landscape 20 years ago was like it is today, I might not have chosen law school, thinking that maybe I could become someone's assistant GM one day.
Batter's Box: Michael Young, the former Blue Jay prospect, just signed a huge long-term deal with the Rangers, in large part because he seems to believe they're ready to win. Are they?
Newberg: It depends on Brandon McCarthy, Robinson Tejeda, Brad Wilkerson, and Hank Blalock, I think. If three of the four step forward this year (the two pitchers coming into their own and the two position players bouncing back from shoulder injuries), the AL West is certainly winnable. Part of Young's confidence has to do with the fact that this team has a number of relatively young players ready to establish themselves, particularly in the bullpen. He didn't extend his deal seven years out just because he thinks the team has a shot in 2007 it was more of a long-term assessment.
Batter's Box: With Young in pocket for several years, does this mean Mark Teixeira is next? Does the shadow of Scott Boras actually loom over the team, or is that more media hype than anything?
Newberg: Boras is obviously a factor, but not the biggest one. Teixeira isn't going to renegotiate now, and he shouldn't. He's coming off a season that got off to a slow start and thus resulted in lower overall numbers than he's clearly capable of producing. No sense in negotiating long-term based on a season that he's almost certain to improve on in 2007. Boras likes to take his players into free agency (even if they end up staying put, like Jason Varitek), and the likelihood of Teixeira talking long-term deal before this time next year is pretty slim. If the Rangers contend this year, Teixeira will be more likely to be receptive to extending here. And I think this much is clear: if Young did not decide to stay, I think Teixeira would be out the door in two years. He doesn't want to be part of a long-term rebuilding program.
Batter's Box: With Carlos Lee crossing league lines and moving across Texas, can Nelson Cruz do enough to eventually justify the trade of Coco Cordero, Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench last season?
Newberg: I have a lot of confidence in Cruz, but I admit that part of that is because I'm a sucker for a slugger who can also go get the ball and throw it. Jon Daniels has said that he believes that if Cruz's minor league power and production translates to the big leagues, he has a real chance to win Gold Gloves. And he's also said that Cruz is showing more pure power than anyone in camp right now - and that includes the first baseman [Teixeira] and the un-retiring DH [Sammy Sosa].
Batter's Box: Eric Gagne? Really? But Aki Otsuka was top-notch last year. Besides, will the Rangers have enough starting pitching for once for the eighth and ninth innings to matter that much?
Newberg: Gagne says he's healthy, and the good thing is that Texas isn't dependent on that being true, given Otsuka's presence. Whether the club has enough rotation ammo to make the final two frames matter isn't necessarily the question - it's whether the rotation is strong enough to get through six. The club loves its seventh-inning possibilities, led by C.J. Wilson from the left and any number of candidates (Wes Littleton, Frankie Francisco, Rick Bauer, Josh Rupe if he doesn't win the number five spot [in the rotation], a couple others) from the right.
Batter's Box: True or false? ... the Rangers have the best bullpen in the big leagues, and not just because of Gagne and Otsuka.
Newberg: Can't say yet. Bullpens are the trickiest things in baseball to project. But there's lots of depth (to protect against the effect of injuries) and lots of different looks that Texas can throw at the opposition. And having two proven closers is obviously huge.
Batter's Box: So, Kevin Millwood starts on Opening Day. And then, ummm ... wait, is Justin Thompson still around? (Jamey Wright and Bruce Chen? Are you kidding?)
Newberg: Wright and Chen have been getting good press with their early work, but I still think they are fallback options. My sense is that Rupe and Kameron Loe are the frontrunners going in.
Note: Because the question was worded poorly, Newberg did not clarify that Rupe and Loe are the "frontrunners" to fill slots in the BACK of the rotation, behind Millwood, McCarthy and Tejeda.
Batter's Box: Frank Catalanotto is already missed in Toronto. What will he do for Texas?
Newberg: Blister good fastballs, get on base, and create RBI opportunities for Young and Teixeira at the 3 and 4 spots. He'll hit second most days, behind Kenny Lofton and in front of Young. He'll be counted on as a clubhouse leader as well.
Batter's Box: Okay, at least it wasn't the first question asked .. but Sammy Sosa? That's more distraction for everyone than protection for Teixeira, isn't it? He hangs around, hits his 600th dinger, and hangs 'em up ... isn't that about it?
Newberg: I have no idea what to expect from Sosa. I'd like to see [youngster Jason] Botts win the DH job.
Note: Sosa has been crushing the baseball in early Spring Training games, and already has hit some long home runs how that translates to later in the Spring and the regular season when regular rotations are set and pitchers are throwing, you know, actual breaking balls, remains to be seen.
Batter's Box: What's the deal with Hank Blalock? He looked like he was headed for the Hall of Fame a couple of years ago. Now, he looks more like former Ranger Fernando Tatis, who is in fact, his "most similar" player historically according to BaseballReference.com ... so what's next for Blalock?
Newberg: A turnaround. It needs to happen this year, and Washington has been vocal about the personal interest he's going to take in getting Blalock back to what he was on his way to becoming when he broke in. The change in manager even if Washington hadn't made a point of mentoring Blalock may have more impact on Blalock than on any player. He and Showalter reportedly didn't click.
Batter's Box: Quick now, who has the better career [2B] Ian Kinsler or [C] Gerald Laird?
Newberg: Kinsler. But Laird will have a long career as well.
Batter's Box: Brad Wilkerson AL Comeback Player of the Year or historically "The guy Texas actually traded Alfonso Soriano for"?
Newberg: A huge question. I have no idea which Wilkerson we'll get, but the early remarks from the coaching staff suggest that he's not only healthy but ahead of almost everyone else in camp as far as timing is concerned. He's on a mission.
Batter's Box: Does Kenny Lofton have anything left? (Isn't he, like, 73 by now?) The Rangers have never historically run all that much. Could we see that change with Lofton, Catalanotto and others?
Newberg: There won't be a whole lot of take signs, but Lofton will run as long as he still has his legs. Objectively you'd say a 39-year-old (40 in May) who predicates his game on speed shouldn't have much left -- but I'd respond by saying neither should a 38-year-old, and Lofton was pretty damn good last year. I doubt Cat will run much, but you can bet he'll be scoring from first on a lot of Michael Young doubles. This team will run aggressively, even if not on straight steal attempts.
Batter's Box: Finish this sentence: "According to Jamey Newberg, the biggest surprise about the 2007 Texas Rangers will be .."
Newberg: Michael Young's RBI total. Ian Kinsler's All-Star Game appearance. C.J. Wilson.
Batter's Box: The AL West seems pretty wide-open, with three teams (sorry, Seattle) legitimately pointing at pennant hopes. What happens? How many games do the Rangers win, do they make the post-season, and if not, how much longer do North Texans have to wait for a World Series trip?
Newberg: I'll say 86 wins, with one caveat: I expect an impact trade in July, and reserve the right to uptick my number at that point. I think Texas will be in this thing with two weeks to go, after which anything can happen.
Final Notes First, thanks to Jamey for taking the time to preview the Rangers with Batter's Box. For more about the Rangers than this preview could hope to provide, stop down to http://www.newbergreport.com.
Second, living here in Texas, the positive vibe around this team reminds me of the feeling the entire state of Ohio had about the Reds in 1990 and how the state of New York took to the Yankees starting in 1996. Yes, I was living in those places at those times.
These Rangers aren't going to win the World Series in 2007 check back in '09 or '10 but frankly, the Ron Washington vibe is going to be enough to drive them to a 92-70 mark and the AL West division title. Mark Teixeira is your AL MVP. Eric Gagne beats out teammate Sammy Sosa for the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. And yes, Ron Washington is your 2007 AL Manager of the Year.
Of course, as the Cardinals showed last season, if the Rangers DO sneak into the post-season, well then, as Newberg notes above, anything can happen