It sort of comes down to this: Texas believes that, going forward, Dustin Nippert will be the better major league fit than Robinson Tejeda. Wes Littleton's loss in the race for the final bullpen spot does not amount to the loss of Littleton, as he has an option left, but Tejeda, like Nippert, has no options, and since neither of those two power pitchers would likely clear waivers, last night's acquisition of Nippert almost certainly means Tejeda's days as a Ranger are done.
Nippert has a better breaking ball than Tejeda. Historically, better command of an equally dirty fastball. Maybe as important as anything else, more experience in the bullpen, though I doubt anyone would write off his potential to start again in the big leagues one day. Those are the reasons he's a Ranger today and Tejeda won't break camp with Texas.
Two years ago, when Texas acquired Tejeda (with Jake Blalock) from Philadelphia for David Dellucci, Nippert was probably untouchable. After June 2004 Tommy John surgery cut his first AA season short, Nippert stunningly came back to win the Southern League ERA title (and Diamondbacks minor league pitcher of the year honors) in 2005, going 8-3, 2.38 in 18 starts (including three complete games), prompting a three-start look in Arizona in September. He went 13-8, 4.94 in AAA in 2006, making two spot starts for the Diamondbacks during the summer, and last year he was converted to relief, appearing 36 times for Arizona (5.56 ERA).
Interestingly, though his power arsenal has drawn more praise than his change (and might have prompted the transfer to the bullpen), Nippert was more effective last year against left-handed hitters (.238/.337/.325) than righties (.290/.317/.490). His control facing righthanders, though, was phenomenal -- in 100 at-bats, they worked only four walks.
No longer untouchable, Nippert was nonetheless the frontrunner to land the final spot in Arizona's bullpen this spring (particularly since he had no options left), but he had a terrible camp, giving up 16 runs (14.40 ERA) on 24 hits and 14 walks in just 10 innings, fanning eight. The Diamondbacks were prepared to let Nippert go and clearly traded him for whatever they could get.
Marte has been eligible for the Rule 5 Draft the last four winters but was never protected (or drafted), and at age 24 he's never gotten out of Class A. He has some potential as a reliever, but less than Jesse Chavez, the righthander Texas traded for Kip Wells two trade deadlines ago. Not a significant loss.
For what it's worth, I had Marte as the number 43 prospect in the Rangers system a year ago. This winter I didn't include him in my ranking of the club's top 72 prospects at all.
Texas probably would have gotten Nippert to Oklahoma City last night or Frisco this afternoon to pitch once before Opening Day, but his wife gave birth yesterday to the couple's second child.
Mark Connor was gone from Arizona by time Nippert was drafted, incidentally. There's not a John Patterson backstory here.
While Nippert's hold job security is greater than Patterson's since he brings his optionless status with him, he still needs to get outs. If he's ineffective, the club will certainly turn to another option down the road, whether it's Littleton or Josh Rupe (who stands to return to AAA when Luis Mendoza is activated) or Frankie Francisco or Kameron Loe or A.J. Murray (who is going to work as a starter for now), or someone else who gets in a groove on the farm. And if that happens, the Rangers will have to cut ties with Nippert, too, unless they can get him through waivers.
As for Tejeda, he finds himself in the same position as Nippert was with Arizona, bound for the waiver wire unless Texas finds a team interested enough to part with a minor league piece like Marte to put Tejeda on its own active roster. Jon Daniels has the same situation with Nelson Cruz, who might stand a slightly better chance than Tejeda to clear waivers.
The White Sox will make a decision today or tomorrow on Nick Masset, who struggled in a Thursday start and could lose the final Chicago roster spot to sidearmer Ehren Wassermann. Masset is out of options as well and, having been outrighted before (in 2005, by the Rangers), he'll have the right to decline an outright assignment should Chicago get him through waivers.
Detroit slid outfielder Freddy Guzman through waivers (as Texas had done with Chris Shelton, the player Guzman was traded for), and outrighted him -- not to AAA but to AA Erie.
T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com points out that the Rangers led the major leagues this spring with a .306 batting average and a .484 slugging percentage, and were second behind the Diamondbacks in runs scored. Texas was 14th in ERA (4.66) but had the third-lowest mark in Arizona, a much more hitter-friendly environment than Florida. Josh Hamilton finished second to Ivan Rodriguez in total bases by an American League hitter.
Two remarks from Nolan Ryan, courtesy of Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
"I tell you one thing that's going to change next year. We're going to put names on the backs of [our minor league spring training] uniforms. We've got about four pitchers wearing No. 19 and they all look alike."
And this: "[Hamilton] hits some balls you just can't believe. I've told people that I think he'll hit some shots on the roof of the Home Run Porch [at The Ballpark]. And he made a catch the other day; you'd have sworn nobody could have gotten to that ball."
That's the catch I wrote about on March 22, the catch that had Ryan almost giddy in a conversation with a family of four in a parking lot after a spring training game.
More minor league releases yesterday, plus two retirements. The Rangers released outfielder Kevin Mahar, lefthander Broc Coffman, righthanders Kevin Altman, Scott Shoemaker, and Bear Bay, first baseman Mike Hernandez, infielder Chad Ogden, and catchers Brian Valichka and Pat Arlis, while outfielder Steve Marquardt and infielder Kenny Smith retired.
Mahar, Coffman, and Hernandez (the player Texas acquired from Detroit for Armando Galarraga last month) are probably the biggest surprises, but in Mahar's case, he'll probably have a better shot to get back to the big leagues in another system. He's a great success story, reaching the majors three years after signing as a free agent prior to the draft, but a significant overhaul in the Rangers' outfield picture (particularly in players capable of manning center field) dramatically altered his place on the depth chart here.
The Evansville Otters of the independent Frontier League signed righthander Rick Bauer.
Scary news about Arizona lefthander Doug Davis, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and will have surgery in two weeks.
That news certainly puts the Diamondbacks' loss of Dustin Nippert on the back pages, and while he doesn't come in here with the expectation of making a major impact on the Rangers staff, he'll have an opportunity that Robinson Tejeda, over the last year, was unable to capitalize on himself.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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