For all of my early February anxiety that the signing of outfielder Andruw Jones to a minor league deal could culminate in David Murphy or Nelson Cruz being shoved aside by the Texas Rangers, it now appears that the speedy recovery of Marlon Byrd has been instrumental in apparently rendering Andruw superfluous:
It's clear Byrd is going to be ready for Opening Day. Andruw Jones, it appears, isn't going to be needed. Any concerns about Byrd's surgically-repaired knee are disappearing, and all signs point toward Jones not making the Rangers coming out of camp.
In constructing my projected 2009 Rangers playing time allocations and starting lineups for John Burnson's Heater Magazine, I was very deliberate in my exclusion of Andruw, because my suspicion that the 31-year-old Gold Glove accumulator would crack the Opening Day roster -- however strong it might have been -- wasn't quite enough to disrupt the status quo and implement radical changes to the complexion of my projected starting outfield.
He was an all-or-nothing proposition from the outset, the sort of intriguing yet tarnished talent that was either going to log significant playing time in a Rangers uniform or none at all, and the decision to withhold Andruw from 'A' game action as his March 20th opt-out date has drawn closer evidently speaks volumes about the organization's evaluation of his merits and faults. The bat has finally materialized to some extent, but the defensive regression -- particularly where his first-step quickness is concerned, as Jason Parks alluded to yesterday -- is problematic in that the Rangers don't need an outfielder who doesn't have enough range to represent a defensive asset in center field, but really can't hit well enough to represent an offensive asset in left or right field.
Andruw could certainly abstain from invoking his opt-out clause and accept an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City, but what aspect of that arrangement would appeal to him? Venerable hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was reportedly a pivotal factor in Andruw's decision to select the Rangers over the Yankees, and the one-on-one instruction that he covets -- and that superagent Scott Boras understandably also covets -- isn't going to be so readily available once the regular season begins. Moreover, the athletic tandem of Brandon Boggs and Julio Borbon continues to lurk on the periphery behind Josh Hamilton and friends, so this wouldn't simply be a case of Andruw waiting for an injury to befall a major league outfielder: he would also have to outperform both, something which is anything but guaranteed right now.
The bottom line is that a resolution is finally within sight, and while it's not the one I originally envisioned some five weeks ago, it's one that I'm more than comfortable with.
Quick Hits: Texas beat Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon by an 11-5 margin ... Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has deemed the Rangers' farm system the second-best in baseball (behind only Oakland's) ... Because right-hander Wes Littleton was placed on waivers by the Red Sox (and claimed by the Brewers), the Rangers will receive the waiver claim price of $20,000 to fulfill the "future considerations" component of their November 28th trade ... The MLB Network's latest "30 Clubs in 30 Days" installment will focus excluslively on the Rangers, and is set to air at 4:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. CST today.