Minus any sort of context or background, this photo sequence would probably rank right up there among the most terrifying imaginable for any Texas Rangers fan -- though now that I think about it, the sight of Ian Kinsler or Chris Davis pulling a Vince Coleman would be far worse:
● Unsettling revelations with regard to Brandon Boggs's inflamed right shoulder -- a problem that dates back to last August -- and Marlon Byrd's surgically repaired left knee render the context in which the Andruw Jones signing was made a lot more clear. Both lingering medical issues have bred new speculation that perhaps the 31-year-old slugger is not the "long shot" to crack the Opening Day roster that he has been made out to be, and according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, Jones is doing nothing to dispel the spring hype:
Rangers hitters spent about 20-30 minutes each hitting off the curveball machine on the Nolan Ryan Field. Andruw Jones got a hold of one pitch and blasted it over the Batter's Eye Fence in dead center field. It's 400 feet to dead center on the Ryan Field and the Batter's Eye is about 50 feet high or more.
It's still incredibly early, and I continue to question what will happen to Nelson Cruz and the spot in right field that ostensibly remains "his to lose" if Jones is still Rangers property in six weeks, but with two outfielders already nursing assorted ailments and a full slate of spring exhibition games on the immediate horizon, it's at least conceivable that Andruw's role could significantly expand in a very short period of time depending on what transpires over the next month.
[Update: Cruz wasn't initially listed on the Dominican Republic's provisional roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but has agreed to join the squad on the condition that he receives regular playing time in right field alongside left fielder Jose Guillen and center fielder Willy Taveras. He'll depart for Florida on March 1st.]
● We took a fairly detailed look at the Rangers' recent team-wide success on the basepaths a little less than a month ago using information from Baseball Info Solutions (via Bill James Online), and Beyond the Box Score's Sky Kalkman did a fine job of breaking down Dan Fox's baserunning data at Baseball Prospectus on Wednesday -- which, to nobody's great surprise, affirmed Ian Kinsler's standing as one of the game's best baserunners alongside celebrated speed demons such as Jose Reyes, Ichiro Suzuki, Chone Figgins and Shane Victorino.
What strikes me as particularly curious is that the Rangers notched the third-best total in baseball in terms of overall bases gained above average (89, according to Baseball Info Solutions) and the second-best total in overall runs gained above average on the basepaths (22.6, according to Baseball Prospectus), but the Phillies and Rockies, the only two teams ahead of Texas in the Bill James Online team baserunning rankings, respectively placed 5th and 12th in Baseball Prospectus's team baserunning rankings.
From what that rather large disparity stems, I'm not entirely sure; however, Fox's system utilizes a run expectancy matrix that assigns a run value to each basestealing situation (for example, an attempted steal of second base with runners on first and third base and nobody out is worth 0.1857 runs if successful), and that presumably accounts for a good share of the difference in those team numbers.
As far as pure baserunning prowess is concerned (factoring in all individual baserunning contributions except steals and caught stealings), Kinsler and his healthy figure of 6.54 runs above average in 2008 was followed by Michael Young (2.50 runs), Gerald Laird (2.13 runs), Chris Davis (1.26 runs) and Frank Catalanotto (1.04 runs).
● In what can only be classified as a textbook example of dodging the proverbial bullet, SI.com's Melissa Segura -- yes, the same reporter that broke the increasingly bizarre "Alex Rodriguez was on PEDs" story -- reported on Tuesday that 19-year-old Dominican shortstop "Esmailyn Gonzalez" is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, instantaneously decimating what had been his status as a consensus top-10 prospect in an admittedly bad Nationals farm system.
Why should we care, you ask? Because if Washington -- whose general manager, Jim Bowden, and his special assistant, Jose Rijo, have already been questioned in connection with the ongoing federal investigation regarding the alleged embezzlement and kickbacks of signing bonuses doled out to amateur Latin American players -- doesn't opt to toss $1.4 million in "Gonzalez's" general direction, then the second-highest bid of $700,000 would have won ... which, as you can probably guess by now, was submitted by Texas.
Comprising the Rangers' 2006 international free agent haul were the likes of Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Kennil Gomez, Carlos Pimentel and Miguel De Los Santos, the first two of whom represent top-20 talent in this astoundingly deep farm system according to respected industry publication Baseball America. The popular "what if" game is almost always an exercise in futility, but the idea that the Rangers might not have had the available capital to acquire all of the international talent that they ultimately did acquire in 2006 if they had successfully lured "Gonzalez" with a high six-digit signing bonus is not a far-fetched one.
● And finally, some random thoughts to take us out: If free-agent right-hander Ben Sheets signs with the Rangers in 2009, I realistically cannot envision it happening before November ... ESPN.com's Peter Gammons wrote last week that the current economic climate in baseball could depress signing bonuses in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and prompt some teams to steer clear of Scott Boras clients; given that the Rangers have conducted extensive business with Boras in the past, might this represent an opportunity to snatch another talented player in the vein of Justin Smoak who has absolutely no business sliding to Texas at pick No. 14? ... Alex Rodriguez, Bud Selig and the litany of self-righteous sports columnists who have deemed us worthy of absorbing their holier-than-thou opinions on the intersection of baseball and steroids currently lead the balloting for MLB's February Disingenuousness Award.
Quick Hits: Texas has reportedly received a "positive response" with regard to working out a possible long-term contract extension with Josh Hamilton from his agent, Michael Moye ... Michael Young worked out at third base on Tuesday for the first time ... Joaquin Arias worked out at shortstop on Tuesday, but only made throws as far as second base ... The Rangers were scheduled to have a representative present at free-agent right-hander Chad Cordero's workout, which either took place on Wednesday or will take place today ... Dustin Nippert and Luis Mendoza are apparently the Rangers' sixth and seventh starters for the time being, respectively ... Free-agent right-hander Eric Gagne has signed a minor league deal with the Brewers ... Texas is ranked 27th in baseball in the latest iteration of FOXSports.com's MLB Power Rankings.