The oddballs of the free agent market

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Let’s take the lull in the hot stove season to think about available free agents. Not the best available ones. That would (a) lead to more Matt Holliday and Jason Bay talk, and who needs more of that right now; and (b) it would take some thinking, and today’s the Monday after a holiday and you’re lucky I didn’t call in sick today, so expecting me to really analyze anything is a laugh.

No, I’m talking about the the ones who have had little or no buzz about them to date. Filler. Guys who used to be big names (or guys who think they’re still big names but believe that the game got small). Weirdos and “that guy filed for free agency?” dudes. Guys like:

Paul Byrd: I figured his little show-up-in-the-middle-of-the-season career path would last longer than a year. I don’t see him getting more than a non-roster invite, but he might have something left, and in a world where pitching is supposedly so scarce, you figure he’d get a try;

Vladimir Guerrero: The lack of any noise about him tells you just how bad the market is for DHs these days. This more than anything has me thinking that the players may one day push for the NL to adopt it. The DH is like the desk job for the guy at your office with seniority but who can’t work a file anymore.

Brad Ausmus: He’s been so bad a hitter for so long but he lands someplace every year. My first impulse used to be to mock him, but I don’t do that anymore. I talked to a writer at the Winter Meetings who went on and on about just how much teams love the guy. Not for rah-rah locker room stuff, but because of his preparation and coaching and the way he’s able to focus younger players on the task at hand. He has giant binders on hitters’ tendencies and studies them all the time. He’s almost definitely going to be a manager some day.  Too bad he can’t hit a lick.

Nomar Garciaparra and Carlos Delgado: I think someone should sign them as a package deal and make a run at the 2000 title.

Tony Clark: Clark is still really active in the Player’s Association, serving on the union’s executive board. I wonder how long you can do that without, you know, having a job?

Joe Crede: A third base free agent with Scott Boras for an agent. Just as Matt Holliday’s situation is complicating Johnny Damon’s, I wonder if Adrian Beltre’s is complicating Crede’s.  He, Damon and a lawyer should probably have coffee one day and talk about it.

Miguel Tejada and Gary Sheffield: whoever loses on the Nomar-Delgado derby can go with this duo to try and keep up.

Willy Mo Pena and Dmitri Young:  Young is only eligible for free agency and has basically retired. But who’s to say that Jim Bowden won’t land a GM job somewhere and get the band back together? Sign these two, trade for Austin Kearns . . .

Ryan Freel: Doug Glanville wrote a column in the New York Times over the weekend about how simply being a pro athlete leads to temptations of the flesh, regardless of whether you’re a real player or not (in every sense of the word).  Case in point: Ryan Freel.  Here he was back when he played for the Reds. I can’t access a current picture of him because I don’t want to spring for an eHarmony membership in order to get it.  Suffice it to say, it seems like a long time since he signed that $7 million extension and moved Ken Griffey, Jr. off centerfield.

Matt Stairs, Mike Sweeney, Jim Thome: if you signed one and they shipped you one of the others, how long would it take you to notice?

John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Jason Schmidt: In April 1996, the Braves were the defending World Champions, and this was 60% of their rotation. Greg Maddux officially retired over a year ago, and I’m fairly certain he could still outpitch all three of them.

Oh well, we now return you to rumors about how someone batted their eye in Jason Bay’s direction and how his agent cant tell if they like-like him or just, you know, like him.

2018 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers had been, more or less, the class of the AL West for several years, but that came to an end last year. Injuries, a bad bullpen and underachievement doomed them early and before all the leaves were on the trees the Astros had all but locked up the division. There were some bright spots — Adrian Beltre notched his 3,000th hit and Joey Gallo emerged as the 40-homer threat many have long thought he might be — but otherwise it was a bad year for the Rangers.

Will it be another bad year? Hard to say no, though there is a lot more upside with this club than with a lot of other sub-80 win teams from 2017. For that upside to pay off, however, the Rangers are going to have to win a lot of bets.

The outfield is a good place to begin looking for that upside. Nomar Mazara has not yet put it together over the course of a whole season, but he has shown some promise and could be poised for a breakout. Delino DeShields may not be what many thought he might be a few years back, but he’s got wheels and can get on base. Left field is being kept warm for top prospect Willie Calhoun who came over in the Yu Darvish trade and is having his service time manipulated, but he’ll be up soon. He’s expected to rake. Whether he can hold the position or, rather, will have to take at-bats away from Shin-Soo Choo at DH is an open question.

The infield needs a couple of fairly attainable things to happen for the lineup to really be a plus. First, it needs Adrian Beltre to be healthy and to show that he has at least some gas left in the tank. I have learned over the past 20 years to not bet against Adrian Beltre, ever, so Father Time will have to prove me wrong. It also needs Rougned Odor to snap back into shape after a lost-in-the-woods 2017. I hate the phrase “he’s better than that,” but he really is better than that. Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and that’s fine. If Gallo can cut down on the K’s even a little bit and mix in a couple of more base hits to go with all of that power he could be an MVP candidate. In order of likelihood, I put it (1) Beltre being Beltre; (b) Odor bouncing back; and (c) Gallo cutting down on strikeouts, but if just two of those things happen the Rangers lineup will be in good shape.

There are a lot of question marks with the starting pitching and a couple of lottery tickets. Yu Darvish is long gone, but Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation. The problem is that Hamels had his worst full season in several years last year and it may be that all of the miles on his odometer are catching up with him. The biggest offseason pickup for Texas was Mike Minor, who had a monster comeback season with the Royals after multiple years lost due to arm injuries. That monster year came out of the bullpen, though, so it remains to be seen if he can move back to the rotation and remain both impressive and durable. He’s one of the lottery tickets, although one with much better odds than, say, the Powerball. He’s like a scratch-off with some risk but a decent shot at some winnings.

A longer shot is Matt “Mega Millions” Moore. The one time top prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays is still somehow just 28, but he’s coming off a lousy year in San Francisco, in which he led the NL in both losses and earned runs while plying his trade in a pitcher’s park. I guess you can be a silver-lining guy and say he’s durable again or you could do that thing where people look at a one-time phenom and imagine that he has at least one full-promise year in him, but it’s not super likely either. Martin Perez and Doug Fister round things out. You basically know what you’re getting out of those two at this point: competence, but not necessarily any shot at greatness. Bartolo Colon is knocking around and he’ll likely get some starts at some point. He always gets starts.

The bullpen was a mess last year. It’s not clear that it’ll be better this year, but it’ll certainly be more interesting, as Jon Daniels went out and signed Tim Lincecum and gave him a big league deal from which to launch his comeback. He may challenge for the closer role, though Alex Claudio has it for now. Matt Bush will look to recapture 2016 form as a setup guy. Jake Diekman should be back to full strength after a mostly lost 2017 due to colon surgery. Not a great group, truth be told, even if they will be fun to watch at times.

Overall, I think the Rangers are better than bad but the pitching is a big problem and they need too many things to go their way to count on being good. If everyone stays healthy and more than half of the guys who struggled last year return to form or fulfill potential, hey, it’s a pretty interesting group of players. A group which, while not good enough to challenge Houston, could be in the mix with the Angels and the Mariners to be a Wild Card representative.

If most of those bets don’t pay off, though, it’s gonna be a long year. I’m a risk averse gambler, so I’m going to hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I predict that the upside will remain out of reach.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL West