Just when you thought it was safe to get excited about what the off-season might yield for the Texas Rangers in terms of exciting, headline-grabbing acquisitions in both the trade and free-agent sectors of this winter's baseball talent market, sobering doses of reality were administered from all sides:
● During a Friday team press conference staged at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington with the intent of formally introducing new pitching coach Mike Maddux to the local media, team president Nolan Ryan emphasized that the Rangers would not be expanding their 2009 payroll past the $75 million mark, which would ostensibly all but rule out the possibility of Texas pursuing the likes of Milton Bradley, Casey Blake, Brian Fuentes, Jon Garland, Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, Kerry Wood or any other free agent seeking more than roughly $7-8 million annually over the span of a multi-year contract:
"We're just not going to commit to the high-priced free agent -- starter or closer -- that requires a long-term commitment and large sums of money," Ryan said. "I'm certainly not saying we won't at least look into the free-agent market. We'll look at any opportunity that helps the ballclub, but it has to stay with our overall plan of committing to our young players.
"Do I think we'll deviate from that? I don't think so."
On the one hand, I think most of us can openly admit that this is the sort of utterly deflating affirmation of organizational frugality we should have seen coming all along. The rampant speculation from the press in recent weeks that Texas would be looking to sign [insert name of your favorite high-priced free agent] always was a bit sensational, and in some cases more or less completely implausible (at least SI.com's Jon Heyman rescinded his prediction that the Rangers would ink Francisco Rodriguez, because that was perhaps the silliest thing I'd read from a mainstream columnist this off-season), but it was fun to read, and in certain cases there appeared to be a confluence of variables working in favor of Texas making a big free-agent splash.
This sort of emphatic statement on the part of Ryan leaves me feeling a bit like a kid in a candy shop stocked with every imaginable chocolate treat armed with only enough money to afford a single stick of stale bubble gum haphazardly tossed in the bargain bin near the register. And while it's certainly a great and wonderful thing that the Rangers are committing so eagerly to their young players (though perhaps in part out of financial necessity), you can't help but feel just a little disheartened that the organization would adopt this stance less than 24 hours after the onset of the free-agent signing period.
Most of the players I listed above evoke little in the way of interest from me, but I also see a few players that could definitely help this club in 2009 and beyond at the right price, and to outright dismiss the idea of going after one of them at this stage is admittedly disheartening to me as a fan.
If anything, this proclamation almost seemed designed to temper our expectations early on in the game -- which, given my above comments, is probably a good thing in the long run.
● News from the trade market wasn't much more optimistic on Friday, as MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan indicated the Red Sox, whom are known to covet the Rangers' stockpile of catching, are reluctant to part ways with promising young right-hander Clay Buchholz (although Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe still believes a Jarrod Saltalamacchia-for-Buchholz swap remains within the realm of possibility, while MVN.com's Evan Brunell thinks a Saltalamacchia-for-Michael Bowden and Coco Crisp deal is possible), and will likely wait to see if they can re-sign Jason Varitek before embarking on another course of action.
It increasingly appears that the two sides have reached an impasse, and it's quite possible we won't see any further movement on this front until Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein converse face to face at next month's winter meetings.
● By the way, the Marlins are reportedly "adamantly opposed" to relinquishing any of their young starters in a trade, a group which comprises Josh Johnson, Andrew Miller, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad. Not exactly the most encouraging update.
On a brighter note, that Mike Maddux has really got something. Just as remarkable as the overwhelming degree of praise that has been lavished upon the 47-year-old pitching oracle from all corners has been the universal lack of criticism -- in other words, ain't nobody got a bad thing to say about him.
And with insightful nuggets of wisdom like these (thanks to Mike Hindman of the Dallas Morning News for nabbing these quotes today), it's not hard to see why:
Maddux is undeterred by the reputation of the Ballpark or the pitching history of this organization and believes that he can make the Ballpark a "home field advantage." He wants his staff to "stay on attack. Pitch to contact and believe in ourselves. Show 'em who's boss. I'm not biting on this 'Arlington is a grinder' business. The other guys, they don't want to pitch here, and that's something we can use to our advantage."
Hindman, by the way, suggests that Kevin Millwood -- who made an appearance at the Ballpark on Friday, along with Kameron Loe, Jason Jennings, Brandon McCarthy, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Taylor Teagarden and Chris Davis -- appeared "svelte." That is probably the first and last time we will ever see that adjective associated with Millwood anywhere.
According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas will kick the tires on Chad Cordero -- whose medical records they've asked to check out -- and Freddy Garcia, and could re-sign Jennings, presumably to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league spring training.
2009 single-game ticket prices have not yet been set, and likely won't be set until the team obtains a better sense of where the economy is headed. Smart plan.
The New York Mets hired Luis Alicea as their first base coach on Friday.
Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.