The Dugout Report


Rangers “Built to Last” by llwesman
October 26, 2011, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers
Texas has already had much to celebrate about, but the best might be yet to come.

Texas has already had much to celebrate about, but the best might be yet to come.

By Wes Yee

They might run different clubs now, but both Theo Epstein of the Cubs and Ben Cherington of the Red Sox extolled much the same message in their introductions. Building an organization focused on “sustained success” sounds like a nice cliche, but it’s a key component of team construction that organizations emphasize to varying degrees. Texas and their young general manager Jon Daniels has taken this to heart, building what many in the game are starting to recognize as a model organization – one built to last.

So, what separates the Rangers from some of the other marquee franchises in the game? Yes, they’re in the World Series, but any team that makes the playoffs has some chance of playing for the title. What sets Texas apart is the structure of their club. While they have elite talent in their lineup, they haven’t committed ungodly amounts of money to individual players. Only Michael Young and Adrian Beltre make more than $10M. Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz will combine to make less than $25M in 2011. Texas is just 13th in baseball in total team salary, at $91.89M. Many of their best players are still on their rookie contracts. The six players below (with 2011 salaries), with the exception of Moreland, have all played critical roles in the clubs success:

Neftali Feliz 457,160
Elvis Andrus 452,180
Derek Holland 431,810
Alexi Ogando 430,150
Matt Harrison 428,830
Mitch Moreland 426,000

So their current major league team is cheap, cost controlled and talented. But that alone doesn’t make bode for sustainable success. Indeed, Texas will likely lose its ace for a second consecutive year, in CJ Wilson. It’s how equipped they are to replace him, and how equipped they were to replace Cliff Lee a year ago, that shows just how strong a position they are in.

Jon Daniels was promoted to GM in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2007 when he began taking the steps that have put the Rangers in such an enviable place. Beginning with the Mark Teixeira trade, which netted Texas Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus, Daniels has made building a strong farm system one of his key priorities. While they’ve drafted reasonably well, where they have excelled is in the international market. LHP Martin Perez has been on the scene for a couple of years now as a potentially top of the rotation arm. He’s battled inconsistency yet reached AA as an 18 year old. He’s 20 now and could reach the bigs in 2012.

Jurickson Profar dazzled at the 2011 Futures Game

Texas’ most exciting prospect, perhaps its top player, is shortstop Jurickson Profar. Profar, who burst onto the scene at the 2011 Futures Game, is just 18 years old and has only just now completed his first full season of pro ball. He’s shown serious promise, hitting 12 home runs with 23 steals at High-A Hickory. He’s a plus defender with projectability in all five tools. David Perez and Miguel De Los Santos are right behind Martin Perez in Texas starting pitching pipeline. De Los Santos made major strides in 2011, striking out 142 in just 94.2 innings. He could move quickly in 2012.

Just as exciting for Rangers fans is the signing of dual 16 year old Dominicans Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara. The two received record bonuses of $3.5M (Guzman) and $5M (Mazara). Both are obviously years away from the big leagues, but offer some potential first-division talent in years to come.

What Daniels has achieved in Texas, and what Cherington and Epstein will seek to match, is to create a sustainable baseball machine that can lose key players and replace them from within. Cost-controlled young players are one of the most valuable assets in baseball, and Texas has capitalized by building  a system that is both flush with high end talent and deep. Their new TV deal, which pays them $80M per year, only makes them all the more dangerous. Already pundits are floating names like Fielder and Pujols as potential free agent pickups. Texas hasn’t been considered a big dog over the past decade, but with a contending big league team, a stacked farm system and a big budget, we could be looking at the closest thing to a dynasty this game has seen since the 90’s Yankees.

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2011 Futures Game Features More Than Just Bryce Harper by llwesman
All eyes will be on the Nationals Bryce Harper

All eyes will be on Bryce Harper on July 10 at 6pm EST on ESPN2

By Wes Yee

There’s been plenty of clamor over the past week about the upcoming All Star Game, and certainly an event that brings together the game’s best and brightest is well worth the attention. All Star Weekend, though, is more than just the Major League Game. One of the true hidden gems is the Futures Game, a showcase of many of the game’s top prospects.

It’s an opportunity to get a first look at many of the minor leaguers who will populate major league rosters in the years to come. Like the major league game, every organization is represented, with a maximum of two per team. Past Futures Games MVP’s included future stars Alfonso Soriano (1999), Jose Reyes (2002) and Billy Butler (2006). Last year’s game served as a coming out party for OF Mike Trout (Angels), Eric Hosmer (Royals) and Jeremy Hellickson (Rays). Other players to reach the majors from the game include Zach Britton (Orioles), Dom Brown (Phillies), Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians), Dan Hudson (Diamondbacks), Jordan Lyles (Astros), Mike Minor (Braves), Logan Morrison (Marlins), Mike Moustakas (Royals) and Ben Revere (Twins).

This year’s game offers a similarly star studded crop, headlined by the Nationals’ Bryce Harper. Trout will also return, and will no doubt be a focus for many. Some players to keep an eye on:

USA

Shelby Miller (Cardinals) – Miller is a hard throwing right hander and along with Julio Teheran is considered to be one of the top pitchers left in the minor leagues. He’s struck out 119 in 91 innings between High A and AA ball this year while putting together a 2.47 ERA.

Matt Moore (Rays) – Moore has torn up AA, striking out 115 in 89.2 innings. He’s put up a 2.21 ERA and has also thrown a no hitter.

Tyler Thornburg (Brewers) – Thornburg has generated Tim Lincecum comparisons due to his small (5’11, 185) frame. While his stuff isn’t as good, he has struck out over a batter per inning and has just a 1.47 ERA in 14 starts this year.

Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks) – Goldschmidt has been fantastic in 2011, he’s already hit 25 HR and proven that his 2010 Cal League performance (35 HR), is no fluke.

Manny Machado (Orioles) – The third pick in the 2010 draft has just gotten his feet wet with 212 plate appearances but has Orioles fans dreaming of a poor man’s Alex Rodriguez.

Gary Brown (Giants) – Brown, also a 2010 first rounder, is one of the fastest players in baseball (34 steals in 2011) and has shown more power than expected (7 HR) for San Francisco’s High A team.

World

Carlos Martinez (Cardinals) – This skinny (6’0, 165 lb) right-hander has drawn rave reviews in 2011 by throwing his fastball in the high 90’s. He’s just 19 years old and has Cardinals fans dreaming big.

Julio Teheran (Braves) – Teheran has started twice for the big league club with mediocre results. His performance in AAA has been anything but, he’s thoroughly dominated, going 9-1 with a 1.79 ERA. His command is his calling card, as he’s allowed just 72 hits and 25 walks in 95.2 innings. He sits in the low 90’s but can reach the upper 90’s when pitching for a strikeout.

Arodys Vizcaino (Braves) – It shouldn’t shock anybody to see the Braves with another top pitching prospect. Vizcaino was stolen from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade. He throws in the high 90’s and has reached triple digits on a number of occasions. He’s battled injury but has one of the best fastballs in the game.

Jurickson Profar (Rangers) – Profar has baseball people very excited. This 18 year old shortstop already has people wondering where Texas will move Elvis Andrus when he’s ready. He’s shown flashes of power (8 HR in 2011) and plays brilliant defense. He’s a quick riser with a ceiling that seems sky high.



2011 Playoff Predictions by llwesman
Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie are just two Red Sox who missed time in 2010.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie are just two Red Sox who missed time in 2010.

By Wes Yee

Division Winners

AL East – Boston Red Sox – Certainly the chalk pick, Boston won 89 games without their two best players in Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. This year they’ve added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. If you can’t understand this pick, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

AL Central – Minnesota Twins – Justin Morneau is back. Joe Nathan is back. This team won 94 games without either of them last year and, despite improvements in Chicago and Detroit, should have enough to win the Central.

AL West – Oakland Athletics – Texas won the division by 9 games last year, and it wasn’t even that close. In 2011 however, they’ll replace Cliff Lee with the unproven Alexi Ogando. Adrian Beltre joins the club, but it’s hard to pick a team with Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson as frontline starters against an Oakland rotation that can run out Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, all of whom could be the #1 on the Rangers.

AL Wild Card – New York Yankees – The Rays had the best record in baseball last year, but will miss the playoffs due to the rise of Boston and major losses in the bullpen and with Carl Crawford. New York benefits by holding steady, adding Rafael Soriano and presumably getting an offensive boost sometime later in the year from top prospect Jesus Montero

NL East – Atlanta Braves – What about the Phillies? Well despite their much hyped four aces, this is a team in steep decline. Chase Utley’s 2011 is in serious question, Jimmy Rollins is barely replacement level and Jayson Werth is playing right for Washington. Atlanta has added a slugging 2B in Dan Uggla, and should have a healthy Jason Heyward  in the heart of the order. Tommy Hanson had an unlucky 2010 and should rebound to 15+ wins.

NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers – I love pitching, and they have the best of it in the Central. Zack Grienke should be dominant provided he returns healthy. Shawn Marcum and Yovani Gallardo match up well with anybody’s 2+3 starters and Prince Fielder should have a bounceback year.

NL  West – San Francisco Giants – The defending champs will need their vaunted bullpen to repeat their performances as their rotation was taxed severely pitching late into the calendar year during their championship run. Rookie Brandon Belt should inject some life into the offense.

NL Wild Card – Philadelphia Phillies – There’s just no way a team with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels doesn’t make the playoffs. Is there?



Six Ways Social Media (Mostly Twitter) Can Make Following Baseball More Fun by llwesman

By Wes Yee

Spring training is underway and it’s time to start prepping for the baseball season. That means pulling those jerseys, t-shirts and hats out of the closet and… updating your Twitter following? Social media is here to stay and the game of baseball has jumped in with both feet. Without further ado, six ways that social media can improve your baseball experience:

1. Following your favorite players on Twitter – This one’s obvious. If you’re on Twitter, odds are that you already do this. If not, it’s a great gateway into the value of the tool. Following your favorite (or least favorite) players gives you a glimpse into their day to day lives and personalities previously unavailable to all but those in the clubhouses. My favorite player on Twitter is Giants closer Brian Wilson. Major League Baseball has compiled a list of big leaguers with Twitter accounts here: http://twitter.com/#!/MLB/players/members

2. Getting the latest in team news – More and more news is broken every day on Twitter. Baseball news is no exception. You’ll hear about transactions, rumors and lineup updates on Twitter hours or days before you see them updated on the team websites or even on major media websites.

3. Interacting with beatwriters and team personnel – This could have fallen under the previous heading but the interaction factor makes this it’s own point. Twitter has become the best way to get the insights that you want, in some cases on demand. Many beatwriters and even some team personnel will answer questions and seek answers to the questions posed to them from the Twitterverse. There’s nothing better than getting instant analysis from a reporter like Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Keith Law or Jim Callis.

4. In game updates and intelligence – This one seemed counterintuitive to me for quite some time. I didn’t buy a ticket to a game to stare at my cellphone. That said, I flip flopped on this big time during the Red Sox – Giants series at AT&T park last summer. Then Victor Martinez took a foul tip off the thumb and left the game. Now without social media I’d have no clue what happened. Luckily though, I pulled out my trusty HTC Hero and quickly reported what I found – that Martinez had gone for X-Rays on his thumb. In any game situation with confusion you want to know what happened, if you’re at home you’ve got a reporter there to inform you. With social media, that reporter is accessible to you in the ballpark.

5. Ticket Specials – Discounts and marketing is prevalent on Twitter and Facebook. While this can at times get annoying, it can also work out well for you as a baseball fan. Teams like the Giants often alert their Twitter followers and Facebook “likers” of special ticket deals and promotional events via social media. These events often sell out quickly, and learning instantly rather than waiting for an email can save the average fan a good deal of stress and money.

6. Comedy – The baseball season is ever so long and it’s always nice to break up the monotony with a little hardball themed humor. Social media is great for this, my favorite sources are:

Old Hoss Radbourne – Self described as a “Pitching deity; dapper gent.” This deceased HOF brings the snark to sports analysis. His tough guy tweets are highly enjoyable.

Cyborg Hanson 48 – This “HIGH VELOCITY AUTOMATON PROGRAMMED TO THROW HUMAN BASE BALL” machine brings the humor in binary tones that never cease to entertain.

Deadspin – If I need to explain this, you’re probably not a big sports fan.



Real Winners in Cliff Lee Trade are the Yankees by llwesman

By Wes Yee (@WesYee)

The Mariners traded Cy Young winner Cliff Lee Friday, shipping the surgical left handed south to the first place Rangers. Texas sent top prospect Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson back to Seattle.

Texas gets a legitimate ace for the remainder of 2010. Lee, who has dominated the AL after starting the season on the DL, makes the Rangers the prohibitive favorite in a division that they were already leading. However Lee is likely a rental, Texas’ ownership situation is in flux and even in good times the team has not been the top level free agent destination that New York or Boston have been.

Seattle comes up big here with Smoak. Smoak, the Rangers top pick in 2008, is a cornerstone first baseman who should anchor the Mariners lineup for years to come. Beavan is a hard throwing righty who has shown some promise. The Mariners robbed Philadelphia in the offseason, giving up just J. C. RamírezPhillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies. None are close to the caliber of a prospect that Smoak is. Even Aumont, the centerpiece of Philadelphia’s end, is not considered to be significantly better than Beavan, the secondary piece. If you line up the prospect hauls that the Phillies got and compare it to Smoak alone the deal is laughable.

But despite all of this, New York is the winner. That’s right, the Yankees, who failed to execute what looked like a done deal earlier in the day, are the winner in this trade. The Yankees were poised to send top prospect Jesus Montero and others to Seattle, only to have the trade fall through based on injury concerns of minor leaguer David Adams, the secondary piece that would have come along with Montero. So why are they the winners?

This year: The Yankees are STILL the team to beat in the AL, having put together the best record in a division that has seen both Tampa Bay and Boston fade in and out – Boston due to injuries and Tampa Bay due to inconsistent play. Most media sources have New York atop their power rankings with their current rotation of Sabathia, Hughes, Pettitte, Burnett and Vazquez. This team remains the prohibitive favorite to win the World Series in 2010. And no, I’m not trying to put the jinx on. Okay maybe I am. Also, Lee going to Texas means that neither the Rays nor the Red Sox add the dominant left hander.

Next offseason: Lee WILL be a free agent, which gives New York a chance to pursue him without giving up Montero. The team will have slightly MORE leverage, as Lee wouldn’t have created any goodwill in pinstripes that could force their hand. Either way, money isn’t an issue and if New York wants him they’ll get him.

Further down the line: Lee would make an excellent lefty combo with former teammate Sabathia for the next 5-6 years – whatever his next contract gives him. But the real value of this trade falling apart for New York is that Montero remains in New York. Montero, who has an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) power and for some scouts hit tool, is just 20 years old and is already in AAA. Coming into 2010 he was considered the premiere bat outside of Michael Stanton and Jason Heyward. Consider those he was ranked above – Buster Posey, Brennan Boesch, Carlos Santana, Austin Jackson, Pedro Alvarez, Smoak, Starlin Castro.

Montero has been compared to Frank Thomas and Miguel Cabrera, a hitter with the ability to hit for high average and league leading type power. New York can use him at catcher, but more than likely he’ll end up as a DH for them down the line, as long as Mark Teixiera is at first. A bat of his caliber just doesn’t come around often, and the three months of Cliff Lee that they lose out on will be repaid many times over with big seasons from Montero.



Does the Bengie Molina Trade Signal a Giant Push or Fold? by llwesman
June 30, 2010, 8:15 pm
Filed under: San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers

By Wes Yee (@WesYee)

The Giants have apparently traded Bengie Molina today, moving their tubby catcher to the Texas Rangers for righthanded reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named later (PTBNL). Ray is a former closer who has struggled with his command since returning from surgery in 2008. His value is limited, and the trade will ultimately be determined by the PTBNL – Texas has a number of exciting young players in the minors and it will be interesting to see which of them is headed west.

This move offers more questions than answers for San Francisco, who was just swept by Los Angeles and is coming off of a brutal homestand that saw them embarrassed by the injured Red Sox and Astros. By moving Bengie, the team’s everyday catcher, the team is either signalling that they are:

Going for it: Trading Molina opens up the catcher spot for top prospect Buster Posey, who has been playing first. The move allows Posey to become the everyday catcher and opens up a spot in the lineup at either first base, which Posey vacates, or left field, where transplanted first baseman Aubrey Huff is putting up a  strong effort.

With Posey at catcher the team can look at first base options including Prince Fielder (who is starting to heat up and hit two home runs Tuesday or perhaps Jorge Cantu. The team could also look at outfielders, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and Scott Podsednik would bring good defense and some speed, while Jermaine Dye and Corey Hart could bring some pop. Adding a major bat would inject some life into an offense based around beleaguered third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

Packing it in: San Francisco just got swept by their biggest rival, saw their ace pounded for four runs in three innings and has fallen to fourth place. Moving Molina gets Posey everyday action and is a move to build for the future. The team could look at moving the useful Huff, Juan Uribe and perhaps the resurgent Pat Burrell. Huff is the one with most value and will be a free agent after the season. Uribe has been useful and could be a great utility guy for a contender. Either could net useful prospects for a system that has graduated its top guys in Posey and Bumgarner.

Trading for Fielder or another free agent to be would be a desperation move that would cost the team prospects that it can’t afford to lose. It would also force the team to likely extend the acquisition, or risk losing them to free agency at the end of the season. The team would be best off holding their prospects and signing a free agent in the offseason.

So what do you think? Is Brian Sabean calling it quits for 2010? It would be the earliest that a Giants team has sold, and the squad is only 5.5 games out. Or is this the beginning of the playoff push and will we see a big name hitter acquired?