Although I have been known to wax poetic on football before, I'll spare you the lengthy post-Super Bowl XLIII monologue and instead issue these two brief thoughts: (a) as far as I'm concerned, the single greatest injustice imposed on any participant in Sunday evening's proceedings was the obvious heartbreak of Larry Fitzgerald, whose fourth-quarter glance upward at the 92-foot JumboTron to watch himself scoring the go-ahead 64-yard touchdown in real time -- well, perhaps with a minuscule half-second delay -- was the stuff of absolute legend, and (b) Roethlisberger to Holmes with 36 ticks left in the game? Shades of McCown to Poole.
What a game. What a finish. And yet, the event itself is symbolic of the relentlessly approaching baseball season, preceded by such vital dates as February 14th (the deadline for Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers to report to Surprise, Arizona for spring training), February 19th (the date of the first full-squad workout) and February 25th (the date of the annual Surprise Sundancers Charity Game between the Rangers and Royals, after which the Cactus League officially begins).
The next 12 days, traditionally designated as the "Dead Zone" of the sports calendar, figure to keep us amply preoccupied, however -- particularly if more eyebrow-raising quotes like this one continue to emanate from the mouth of club president Nolan Ryan:
"[Josh] Hamilton has got to go to right [field]," Ryan said last week. "He's too big to be a center fielder. It’s too demanding on him.
"We put him in right to help save him. Then we put [Nelson] Cruz or [Marlon] Byrd in center."
If this proposed move -- which Ryan will reportedly discuss with manager Ron Washington sometime this spring -- indeed materializes, the only real surprise will be akin to the only real surprise of the Michael Young transition -- that is, that it's happening now and not next spring, since it had been viewed as an unspoken inevitability for quite some time. The preservation of Hamilton's health is of the utmost importance to both the short-term and long-term well-being of this franchise, and if the organization vehemently believes that sliding their most feared all-around offensive weapon into a corner outfield spot is a preventive measure that must be taken now as opposed to later, then that is what needs to happen.
Aside from the obvious reduction in everyday wear and tear that such a move would entail, the very real possibility also exists that Hamilton's overall value would actually be amplified. While one suspects Hamilton isn't actually as poor in center field range-wise as his 2008 plus/minus defensive rating (-13 plays below average) and UZR score (-9.2 runs below average) both suggest, he's probably still something of a minor defensive liability, and if you dare to extrapolate the results of last year's promising 289-inning run in right field to 150 games, you're suddenly looking at an overall defensive improvement in excess of 10 runs -- more than that of the loss in overall value borne from such a move, according to Tom Tango's acclaimed set of position adjustments. It probably wouldn't be that substantial in reality, but any undesirable disparity would likely be negligible.
Now, what happens to Cruz and his formerly secure starting job in right field if this all goes down? Ryan evidently regards Cruz as a potential answer in center field, but his defensive skill set would undoubtedly play better in a corner outfield spot, and employing the nimble Byrd in left field almost seems like a waste of his ability after he proved so competent at patrolling the vast center field expanse in Arlington last season -- or at least that's what his 2008 UZR score (7.2 runs above average) indicates.
There should be approximately 1,400 plate appearances collectively available between left field and center field, and it's not a stretch to think that Washington will equitably allot 400 or so to each of Byrd, Cruz and David Murphy -- the last of whom memorably tagged a game-breaking grand slam off Royals southpaw Jimmy Gobble last June 11th, but who also really doesn't need to be logging significant playing time against left-handed pitchers regardless.
Another equally blatant implication of this potential move is that it would clear room for the eventual installation of minor league outfielder Julio Borbon in center field; equipped with blazing speed and excellent baseball instincts that handily compensate for his less awe-inducing arm (which will likely never be an asset, but doesn't necessarily have to be a liability), the soon-to-be 23-year-old Mississippian profiles as a plus defensive outfielder with the potential to fulfill his commonly cited Juan Pierre comparison -- albeit with a bit more to offer power-wise and a bit less to offer in the walk department. Byrd, who will attain free-agent eligibility after the 2009 season, could adequately bridge the gap until Borbon is deemed ready.
● I'm not sure I agree with the notion that Boston's retention of captain Jason Varitek entirely precludes the possibility of the Red Sox still trading for a young catcher (though it certainly diminishes the sense of urgency on Boston's part to acquire a long-term backstop solution right now), but Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Rangers had been contemplating bringing back Ivan Rodriguez "as a backup and mentor" in the event of a trade, with arguably the greatest Ranger in franchise history informing the club that he would settle for a one-year deal between $2 million and $3 million.
Given that the Rangers presumably don't want Max Ramirez riding the major league pine as a backup catcher and occasional designated hitter at this point in his development, 200 plate appearances -- or 50 games -- of Rodriguez over the thoroughly unappealing Adam Melhuse behind the plate is probably worth it at that price from a pure win value standpoint; of course, it also strikes me as odd that a catcher who has long been chastised for not doing enough of the little things on the defensive side -- namely, calling a good game -- is now being thought of as a "mentor." Strange.