The Rangers file for bankruptcy

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We’re still light on the details (Maury has the press release and some analysis), but the Texas Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this morning. It was a voluntary filing that is being characterized as a “prepackaged” bankruptcy proceeding, which means that all the terms of the bankruptcy are agreed
to before filing, which can result in a shorter turnaround time.  The team is characterizing it as a necessary step to allow Hicks Sports Group to sell the team to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan. The target date according to the filing: “midsummer.” You may recall that the Cubs did something like this prior to their sale to the Ricketteseseses.

This just came down so the details are still a bit sketchy, but something that sticks out to me is that the creditors of Hicks Sports Group — the ones who have been causing all the problems — aren’t part of the filing. If that’s the case, how could they have agreed to the terms of the “prepackaging?” Moreover, the verbiage in the press release says that the deal will provide “for all Rangers creditors to be paid in full.”  That can’t be technically right, because if there is enough money in the sale to fully satisfy all outstanding debts, the bankruptcy filing — which basically says that part X owes creditors more money than it has — would be tossed out, right?  This deal can’t be a “paid in full” thing. It has to be a “we’ve been paid enough to be happy” thing.

Another possibility — a pretty good one actually — is that there is separate deal in place between Hicks Sports Group and the creditors to settle the outside debt on some sort of payment plan or something else, but to do it outside the framework of the Rangers sale.*  If that were the case it would not necessarily have to be a part of this bankruptcy case. We just don’t know, however, based merely on the terms of the bankruptcy filing.  I will say that it would be pretty reckless for the team to file like this without any creditor signoff, official or otherwise, because it would invite the sort of proceeding — creditors going deep into the Rangers’ business — that they had been threatening to do back when they were at each others’ throats.

The primary upshot: there has to more going on here than meets the press release, probably in the form of some backroom dealing that will (a) keep the dirty financial laundry of the Rangers, Hicks and Major League Baseball out of bankruptcy court discovery proceedings but (b) makes the creditors happy. Otherwise, there’s no point to this filing.

Secondary upshot: if this is going down as the Rangers say it is, the team will be out of ownership limbo within a couple of months and, hopefully, able to resume normal operations, sign draft picks and add payroll in a way that a team in their competitive position should.

More on this, obviously, as the story develops.

*I’m aware that most of the debt at issue is not technically owed by the Rangers — it’s owed by Hicks Sports Group, thereby meaning that the big creditors like Monarch Alternative Captial couldn’t really go after the Rangers. But that’s kind of beside the point. All along these creditors have been making noises about dragging the team itself into bankruptcy if they weren’t paid, and it the suggestion has been strong that they would try to advance legal theories — however novel — that would allow them to encumber the team in order to get the money they are owed by Hicks.  For MLB and the Rangers to make this filing today, they have to think that such a move is not a threat.  This underscores my belief that some sort of side deal between Hicks and the creditors has to have taken place.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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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 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.