As the job of finalizing the 25-man roster - which is less tricky a matter than adjusting the 40-man roster - nears its deadline, word is leaking that:
1. The Phillies (who are looking for a backup outfielder that hits right-handed, as we discussed yesterday) are showing interest in Andruw Jones as well as the newly released Gary Sheffield, both of whom are going to get paid massive amounts of money this year by their 2008 clubs and therefore will play for almost nothing as long as they get a chance to contribute.
2. The Reds, who traded infielder Jeff Keppinger to Houston yesterday, are showing "strong" interest in Joaquin Arias, and, according to some accounts, are kicking the Jones tires, too. A Cincinnati scout has reportedly been showing up at the Surprise South complex for a week now, intently watching Arias and Jones.
Contrary to how the national (and maybe local) media will prioritize those two stories, I'm far more interested in the Arias situation.
Yes, Arias can hit and Arias can fly. There's never been much doubt about that, and he's spent the entire month of March driving it home, hitting .415/.419/.488 in camp and making contact, striking out only five times in 41 at-bats (with just one walk), right in line with what he's always done. He's an asset, and under different circumstances with the rest of the roster (i.e., a veteran at every infield spot), he'd be a lock to make this squad.
1. Can he throw?
2. With this infield, how much will he ever play here - not just in 2009, with Omar Vizquel here to help bring Elvis Andrus along, but for the next few years, with players at second and third base who never take a day or a late inning off?
3. Arias's value may never be higher - and he has only his 2009 option remaining.
4. Jose Vallejo is coming. A little less bat (though maybe more pop), but just as much speed, just as much glove, and, these days, considerably more arm.
Wouldn't this be the right time to move Arias, if a useful trade offer comes along, giving Texas either (1) a right-handed bullpen boost or (2) a non-roster prospect that would allow the club to clear a spot on the 40-man roster?
Texas is giving Arias a start at third base today. Bet there's a reason for that beyond evaluating his fitness to make the throws from the hot corner, and that that Reds scout will still be around, making the same trip to Tempe as the Rangers bus.
It could also mean that the Rangers still need to see for themselves whether Arias is passable at third base, in case they're considering exposing Travis Metcalf to waivers to create one of those 40-man roster spots.
This one's worth keeping tabs on.
Here's some good news: Derrick Turnbow has agreed to accept an assignment to Oklahoma City rather than exercise his Thursday opt-out and take his release to find an opportunity somewhere else. Turnbow is willing to go to AAA to work with pitching coach Terry Clark on his command and mechanics (willing, presumably, because there are no big league opportunities anywhere else right now), and this could work out well for Texas.
Recall that Dustin Nippert posted a 16.62 ERA for Texas over the first three weeks of the 2009 season (he was acquired from Arizona a few days before the season opened), then pitched for the RedHawks for two months (first on rehab and then on an outright assignment), going 6-2, 3.98 with a no-hitter as he found his rhythm, earning a return to Texas. Turnbow has been erratic this spring, but there's a track record there, and extending his audition further with a stint in AAA could help him regain what once made him an effective late reliever.
Texas has released 23-year-old outfielder K.C. Herren, the 2004 second-rounder who hit .249/.337/.366 in five pro seasons, all in Class A or lower.
Hopes were high in the summer of 2004, when Herren hit .297/.381/.389 in the Arizona League, coming off a spring in which he was a second-team High School All-American, according to both Baseball America and USA Today, an extraordinary athlete who'd been invited to play both outfield and defensive back for the University of Washington.
But they were far higher for Joaquin Arias, who had been acquired from the Yankees three months before Herren was drafted, half of the Rangers' return (along with Alfonso Soriano) for Alex Rodriguez. The 19-year-old shortstop hit .300/.344/.396 for High A Stockton and made every play, and every throw.
Arias is virtually that same player today - though his plus-plus arm strength was stripped from him due to a 2007 shoulder injury - and while the injury and a reconfiguration of the Rangers' infield has changed his place in the organization, he's once again a valuable asset.
If he follows Herren out of the organization shortly, it will be to make this organization better, even if not in the way envisioned when Texas singled him out as New York tried to disguise him on the back fields when the Rangers were zeroing in on the player to be named later in one of the most significant trades the franchise has ever made.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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