1. First Base
Texas Rangers fan message boards are populated with knowledgeable fans. During the run up to the trade deadline, I would occasionally hear of trade speculation from the message boards of fans of other major other teams. Invariably, the trade scenarios on those message boards were unrealistic. Conversely, Rangers fan message boards (1, 2) were filled with quite excellent information.
However, I am tired of Rangers fans writing on and on and on about: Where are we going to get a first baseman for 2008? Here's the answer: A-N-Y-W-H-E-R-E.
First base requires less skill than any other defensive position. If the Rangers didn't have to protect Jason Botts' back condition: he could be their first baseman. He could still play first base for them about 20 games a year or so. Catalanotto could be the first baseman - and is, in fact, playing the position today in Baltimore. I wish Catalanotto was taller, yet he is still taller than Steve Garvey. Minor league hitting prospects: OF Victor Diaz, and OF Kevin Mahar, could play the position with just a bit of work. The Rangers could offer arbitration to Brad Wilkerson, as he has already shown he can play the position with excellence. Pick up another club's salary dumped yet decent hitter, give him one Spring Training of practice, and he will be your first baseman. A-N-Y-W-H-E-R-E. Trust me on this. Wringing hands over a first baseman is silly.
2. Center Field
The Center Fielder, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington(RBiA), will ideally be a burner. The grass plays very hard and very fast. The ideal Center Fielder will possess premium speed into the large and roomy gaps. The ideal Center Fielder will convert a number of potential doubles into singles, or even outs. The ideal Center Fielder is not available in this off-season's free agent market:
A) Tori Hunter - a solid and good player who is a] overrated, b] on the back side of his career at age 32, and c] will be massively overpayed at an estimated 5 yrs @ $15M/yr. Tori is having the ubiquitous career year at the plate in this, his free agent season. However, lifetime, he is a semi-impatient .260 hitter. He has medium power and doesn't walk enough. His speed is not premium. In his favor: he's a good clubhouse guy; and on the balls he gets to he makes ESPN highlight catches. This is not enough to win in the playoffs and in the World Series. In championship conditions, you want hitters who understand the strike zone(i.e. Ian Kinsler - a young player I judge to be a championship quality player for this reason). And, in RBiA, if you're going to pay the big money for CF, you want premium speed. I don't want Hunter.
B) Aaron Rowand - has better strike zone judgment than Hunter, and will cost less (an estimated 4 yrs@ $12M/yr), yet has even less speed. I don't want Rowand. I want speed.
C) Mike Cameron - 35 years old. Has a lesser bat than Hunter or Rowand. If Mike Cameron can still run, and if he would sign for 2 years @ $10Mish/yr, I am in on Mike Cameron. I don't know if he can still run well.
The good news: the Rangers don't need to sign anyone. I have a plan:
2008 Rangers CF:
David Murphy, acquired in the Gagne trade, can man the position for now. I like Murphy at the plate. To my eyes, he is a decent hitting prospect - somewhat in the Rusty Greer mode. I'm watching Rangers right now, and Murphy has three hits today. Murphy does not have premium speed, yet he has good speed which might be 32 year old Tori Hunter speed. Murphy is dang sure faster than Rowand. The Rangers could resign Marlon Byrd to provide CF insurance along with Murphy.
2009 Rangers CF:
Joaquin Arias, injured all of 2007, needs a year at AAA to refine his batting eye, and to learn CF. Arias is a blur with a big arm and great hands. Learning CF will be easy for him. He will take to it like he was born out there. Arias is a .300 hitter with good wrists and hands, and some power potential, yet he rarely draws bases on balls. His batting eye should be his major focus in 2008. I predict he will be major league ready in 2009.
2010 Rangers CF:
Brandon Boggs was a 2005 4th round pick out of Georgia Tech. A savvy, heady, barrel-chested lefty, Boggs is right at the edge of premium speed, but probably will never get there. Still, he is likely faster than Murphy, and possibly faster than Tori Hunter, and he takes the perfect angles and quick jumps to the ball of someone who has played CF his entire life. Boggs has an excellent batting eye, and is thus my favorite kind of high OBP, championship-quality prospect. Boggs hits for some power, and his arm is super-outstanding. He is 5'10", 210 lbs. Boggs plays in Frisco now, and is having a break-out summer as a prospect.
2011 Rangers CF:
Julio Bourbon is a 2007 2nd round draft pick out of Tennessee - the 35th pick overall. Bourbon is like Arias: super duper speed, good defender, good hitter, rarely walks. His arm is poor, his batting power is barely above poor. Like Arias, Bourbon's entire career will hang on whether he develops a good batting eye. Bourbon throws L and bats L.
Though every free agent signing is a necessary overpay: if a team is extremely judicious, it is okay to overpay here and there. However, the right kind of premium free agents are not available in this off-season's market, and it would therefore be injudicious to sign a premium free agent this summer. The Rangers have CF prospects coming - one after the other after the other after the other. This is a time for this franchise to be patient, and to let their own prospects ripen.
As I sign off on this post, in Baltimore, the Rangers lead the first game of a double header 20-3. Jason Botts, who has looked like the budding real deal since the day he hit Arlington this season, has two line drive hits. Saltalamacchia has looked overmatched this season, yet he also has two hits today. Murphy has three hits, and rookie 3B prospect Travis Metcalf just hit a grand slam home run. In same at bat: Kinsler just missed a home run foul to RF; then just missed a home run foul to LF. Kinsler's at bat was VERY impressive to me. Nelson Cruz' second hit of the day, a double, just set a franchise record as the 23rd base hit of this game. Before I could finish that sentence, Murphy lined to right for his 4th, and a franchise record 24th hit in this game. To the Rangers franchise: patience. Do not panic. Let the young guys ripen - in CF and elsewhere.
Television just showed a 10 year old Orioles fan. Down 21-3, he has fashioned his cap into an inside-out rally hat.
Saltalamacchia just hit a three run homer for his third hit of the game. Rangers lead 24-3, and have 25 hits in the game. There is one out in the 8th inning.
Update III: Final Score: 30-3.
It would take a magazine article to run down this entire game. Rangers are the only team in the "modern" major league era to score 30 runs. You have to go back to the Chicago Colts (later: Cubs) of 1897 to find a team which scored more runs in a game. That's not a misprint.
When the Rangers scored their 30th run, 10,000+ people in the Baltimore crowd stood and gave the Rangers a standing ovation. Some Baltimore fans were pumping both arms into the air in celebration. Television started going around the ballpark, and scads of fans were pulling out their cellphones to call their friends.
The Rangers scored 25 runs in a 4 inning stretch - a major league record. Botts was 3 for 7, including a double and four strike-outs. IF Ramon Vasquez came into the game without an extra base hit in his last 50 ABs, then hit a pair of three run home runs. Murphy struck out in his first at bat, yet ended with 5 hits - including identical infield hits which were bounced up the middle before Murphy beat the second baseman's throws. The Rangers' 8th and 9th hitters: Saltalamacchia and Vasquez, combined for 14 RBIs.
For the Orioles, 36 year old Relief Pitcher Paul Schuey came in to get the final 6 outs. Schuey threw 36 pitches, struck out 5, and gave up 9 runs.
For the Rangers, because Wes Littleton pitched the last three innings, MLB rules dictate that he earned a save while pitching with about a 20 run lead. Littleton should commission a plaque for his trophy room: Wes Littleton; August 22, 2007; Cheapest Save in MLB history. Everyone needs a claim to fame.
The way baseball goes, I expect the Orioles to win the second game of the doubleheader by about a 4-2 score.
Check back, and I will link to the final box score.
Correction: I edited out a sentence saying 29 hits is a MLB record. The Milwaukee Brewers got, I believe, 31 hits in 1982. Milwaukee's number of hits was somewhere just above 30.
Note: Rangers won the second game 9-7. They just missed tying the record for most runs in a double header: 40.