"My expectation is that we will be extremely competitive, and if we don't win our division, I will be disappointed, because I think we've positioned ourselves to be right there with everybody else."
So says Nolan Ryan. Quite a bit different from the message of "managed expectations" delivered to us after an 89-win season five years ago.
"JD made some very smart moves at the winter meetings. . . . [Then] we were able to get Vlad. . . . The signings we had before that were exciting, but to be able to get Vlad, it just got us all excited. We realize that this is our year. It's all up to us now."
That's from Ian Kinsler, one of this team's leaders.
JD agrees that the expectations are now ratcheted up - not managed:
"As a group, we expect to win, and now that we've put a plan in place to do so, we hold ourselves to that standard."
Chuck Greenberg has arrived on the battlefront late - and of course has yet to officially join the ranks - but his eyes are already getting big:
"If we succeed on the business side and continue on path on the baseball side and combine it with a dynamic market like this is, we can be and should be one of the powerhouse franchises in baseball. . . . [I]n a community as wonderful and dynamic as Metroplex with a franchise and fans who waited patiently to have their moment, to have a chance to try to deliver on that promise is awfully exciting."
Josh Hamilton thinks that delivery could be imminent: "We've got so much talent it's crazy. The key is staying healthy. . . . If we can stay healthy as a team, we've got such a great lineup from 1-to-9, and then the pitching obviously stepped up big time last year with Nolan Ryan coming in and Mike Maddux. It was such a dramatic difference from ‘08 to ‘09, and even if we can improve just a little bit on that going into ‘10, it will be a great year."
And Michael Young, whose character and mental toughness and tenacity have always set a tone, has been unusually ebullient with reporters as far as his immediate outlook is concerned:
"You look at every great baseball town, whether it's New York or Boston or Chicago or St. Louis, and there's always this great relationship between the team and the fans. The fans are supportive and they come to see winning baseball and that's where we're heading to right now. . . . I've served time for about nine years now. I'm ready to kind of bust out a little bit and be a part of something that's going to be memorable and fun. This [organization] is going to be one of those jewels of baseball."
Finally, consider another Daniels remark:
"I feel a tremendous obligation to the owner to deliver. He's given me and our group an opportunity to mold the franchise, spend resources against our vision. It's more pride than pressure, if that makes sense."
It's an interesting comment, since his words and Ryan's and Young's unquestionably create - invite - a certain degree of pressure with regard to the job to be done between the lines. Pressure is something everyone on this club has played through at every level, from Darren Oliver on down to Michael Kirkman. But the pride part, which Ryan and Young always exhibited as much of as any of their playing peers, if an extra concentration of that starts to rub off and take hold up and down the roster, then, yes, it will be important to stay healthy and catch a break or two, but there's no reason 2010 can't be the kind of season the players and the front office and the prospective owner expect it to be.
Greenberg said on a radio talk show yesterday, specifically asked about cash infusion into the roster, that the business models that the Rangers look to as the paradigm belong to the Angels and Phillies. The answer is more textured than looking strictly at player payroll (Greenberg told Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer: Los Angeles and Philadelphia "are smart, clever, have resources and use them wisely - those are types we can emulate"), but just for grins, USA Today had those two clubs' 2009 Opening Day payrolls ($113,709,000 and $113,004,046) as sixth and seventh highest in baseball, while Texas ($68,178,798) sat at 22nd.
Something else to tuck away about zeroing in on Los Angeles and Philadelphia as models: both clubs were aggressive in July and August, adding Cliff Lee and Scott Kazmir to their rotations, respectively, to provide a pennant race boost.
It brings to mind a point that Tom Verducci made on MLB Network last night: The Rangers' ownership situation could very well position Texas to make an impact splash at the trade deadline, armed not only with a tremendously deep farm system (that is, trade ammunition) but also an ability (and motivation, if the club is in the race) to increase payroll that hasn't existed this winter.
That depth of prospects led ESPN's Keith Law to judge the Rangers' system, for the second straight year, as baseball's best. Law summarized yesterday: "The AL West has suddenly become very competitive, with four well-run organizations all trying to balance immediate contention with long-term building goals, but Texas remains the best-positioned team there for long-term success."
MLB Network ran a Top 50 Prospects special last night, featuring Jonathan Mayo and John Hart as the lead analysts, and the Rangers were among the most dominant clubs featured, placing Neftali Feliz (number 7), Justin Smoak (9), Martin Perez (18), and Tanner Scheppers (39) on the list.
Baseball America's top 10 Rangers prospects:
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP
2. Justin Smoak, 1B
3. Martin Perez, LHP
4. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
5. Jurickson Profar, SS
6. Kasey Kiker, LHP
7. Robbie Ross, LHP
8. Mitch Moreland, OF/1B
9. Danny Gutierrez, RHP
10. Wilmer Font, RHP
The Rangers agreed to terms on a one-year deal with closer Frankie Francisco, avoiding arbitration. Francisco will be eligible for free agency next winter. Righthander Scott Feldman is the lone remaining arbitration case on the club, but count on him settling as well.
Texas will attend lefthander Noah Lowry's throwing session on Tuesday. The 29-year-old, who hasn't pitched since 2007 due to shoulder problems (stemming from thoracic outlet syndrome), was the Rangers' 19th-round pick in 1999 but didn't sign.
Baltimore designated righthander Dennis Sarfate for assignment. Texas took Sarfate in the 15th round of that same 1999 draft, a stellar crop even without Lowry and Sarfate coming to terms. Among the Rangers' picks were eventual big leaguers Colby Lewis, Aaron Harang, Hank Blalock, Kevin Mench, Jason Botts, Nick Regilio, Andy Cavazos, and Jason Jones, plus Justin Echols, who would go to Montreal in the 2004 trade for Chris Young.
Officials from two other big league clubs told ESPN's Jayson Stark that the Rangers' signing of Lewis to a two-year, $5 million deal was among the best under-the-radar moves of the winter.
Veteran corner infielder Chad Tracy's non-roster deal with the Cubs is not good news for Blalock.
Ben Sheets at a surprising $10 million (and as much as $12 million if he reaches several workload incentives, all short of 200 innings) - given what a number of healthy, reasonably effective starting pitchers have pulled in on the open market this winter - is a pretty clear indication that the league gave Oakland the same dictate that it gave Florida: Spend your revenue-sharing money on the roster. If he pitches well, the A's can trade off a third of that commitment in July for prospects (or at least recoup a pair of first-round picks when he signs elsewhere next winter).
Seventeen-year-old Dominican righthander Rafael DePaula, coming off a one-year suspension by MLB for lying about his age, is drawing interest from the Yankees and Red Sox, and ESPN's Jorge Arangure suggests Texas is in the mix, too.
University of Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper reportedly no-showed his Rangers physical a week and a half ago, an appearance that would have netted him half of his $250,000 signing bonus. Cooper has apparently decided to pursue an NFL career instead of playing minor league baseball. He'll presumably land on the Rangers' restricted list, which currently houses Alexi Ogando and Omar Beltre and for years included Ricky Williams.
A "friend and business associate of Ryan" told the Austin American-Statesman that he expects the Round Rock Express to replace the Oklahoma City RedHawks as the Rangers' AAA affiliate after the 2010 season.
The Florence Freedom of the independent Frontier League signed righthander Ryan Schlecht. The New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League signed infielder Myron Leslie.
Chuck Morgan has offered to emcee Tuesday's Newberg Report Book Release Party at Sherlock's in Dallas, which will include Q&A sessions with Chuck Greenberg, Jake Krug, and Michael Young as well as a live auction of various Rangers players' equipment plus Young-autographed copies of Carson Leslie's book, "Carry Me," and of the 2010 Bound Edition. (Copies of Carson's and my book will be on sale as well.) Winning bid proceeds will benefit Wipe Out Kids Cancer.
Hope to see you there, and maybe at the awards dinner tomorrow night and Fan Fest on Saturday. Once the Rangers release the autograph schedule for Saturday, I'll let you know.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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