Reports on imminent acquisition activity around the league have slowed to a relative crawl with the holidays - suggesting that either front offices or those who typically report on the Hot Stove have taken their foot off the gas a bit until the New Year - but while two key Rangers roles (right-handed middle-of-order bat and rotation addition) seem poised for eventual movement once the market continues to shake out, two spots at the bottom of the 40-man roster, which currently accommodates 39 players, may be worthy of a bit of attention.
With two days left in the Mexican Pacific League regular season, Obregon righthander Luis Mendoza leads the eight-team circuit in strikeouts (82; nobody else in the league has more than 54), strikeout rate (8.17 per nine innings; next best is 5.70), and opponents' batting average by a starter (.249), and is second in ERA (2.89), WHIP (1.229), and wins (seven).
Mendoza is pitching into the seventh inning on average. He's walking under three batters per nine innings. And he continues to generate ground balls at a sparkling rate (2.10 groundouts for every flyout).
We've talked regularly about how big (and relatively uncommon) it is to combine a high strikeout rate and a high groundball rate. Is Mendoza, at age 26 the prototypical 4-A, possibly turning a corner?
Here's the thing: Mendoza is out of options. With his repertoire, and certainly the winter he's having, chances are he wouldn't clear waivers in March. And even if he were to clear, he's been outrighted before (by Boston in 2005), which means he'd have the right to decline a Rangers outright and take immediate free agency.
By virtue of his options/outright status and his difficulty getting big leaguers out the last two years, if Mendoza is not the last of the 23 pitchers currently on the 40-man roster, he's close to it. Same goes for the roster security of infielder Joaquin Arias, who is also out of options and has the type of skill set that would probably lead at least one club to put in a waiver claim if he fails to make the Rangers' Opening Day roster.
Arias has had a solid Dominican Winter League season, hitting .296/.345/.327 in the regular season for Escogido with six stolen bases in eight attempts and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (five), and more notably playing shortstop for the most part (his last 24 starts have been at shortstop, after alternating between second base and shortstop during his first week of play). If the shoulder is back, Arias's candidacy for the Rangers' utility infield spot becomes more legitimate.
Three weeks ago, there was a report out of Arizona that Texas had expressed interest in veteran utility infielder Augie Ojeda but that the Diamondbacks were hesitant to impair their middle infield depth. Now comes a report from MLB.com's Steve Gilbert that Arizona has an offer on the table to free agent infielder Kelly Johnson, the addition of whom would relegate Tony Abreu to a bench role and make Ojeda expendable. Worth keeping an eye on, maybe.
A couple other things:
Mark DeRosa has agreed to terms with the Giants on a two-year, $12 million contract, and that's a lot better as far as I'm concerned than if he'd signed with the Yankees - not only because I didn't want to see DeRosa in pinstripes, but also because it makes it more likely that New York turns to Jermaine Dye. Wouldn't mind seeing that happen.
Baseball Prospectus writer Russell A. Carleton points out that Rangers hitters were last in the big leagues in 2009 at making contact, hitting the ball on only 77.1 percent of their swings. The second-worst, third-worst, fourth-worst, fifth-worst, and sixth-worst clubs were National League teams, for an obvious reason, which accentuates the embarrassing point that all 16 NL teams, whose percentage of pitcher plate appearances was 15 times greater than their AL counterparts, swung and missed at a lesser rate than the Rangers.
This sorta surprised me: Dye (82.0 percent) and Guerrero (81.0 percent) fared better in 2009 than Michael Young (80.6 percent) or Marlon Byrd (79.8 percent). (The top two Texas regulars were Ian Kinsler [87.7 percent] and Elvis Andrus [87.3 percent].)
Back to the top. Mendoza's dominant winter and the utility infield situation aren't front page developments - and won't be even when things fully shake out - but they are developments nonetheless, which made me think this morning about two points I wanted to make:
1. Last year at this time, Texas had not yet come to terms with Ben Sheets or signed Omar Vizquel or Eddie Guardado (or Jason Jennings or Andruw Jones or Kris Benson, each of whom was at least envisioned to hold down a key role) or claimed Darren O'Day off waivers. The winter work is far from over.
2. 51 sleeps.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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