Diamond ramblings from the early-morning fringe:
● In a follow-up to yesterday's protracted discussion of Brandon McCarthy's surprising transition from the curveball to the slider, Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News has answered the widespread calls for more information by touching base with the 25-year-old right-hander:
My curveball was becoming somewhat unreliable. I couldn't get it over early in the count and if I threw it late in the count, hitters didn't swing at it because they knew it wasn't a strike. Then that made me a two-pitch pitcher and if my change-up wasn't on, I was in trouble. I'm getting used to going black-to-black (each side of the plate) and moving it.
[...] I need a breaking pitch I can throw for strikes early in the count and I can make it look like a fastball. I can throw it for strikes, miss some barrels and get some ground balls. It's getting that every pitch consistency with it that's the key. I have to learn what it's supposed to feel like and what I can do.
● MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan predicts that the Texas Rangers will cut bait with presumptive 25th man Frank Catalanotto at the end of spring training if they come up short in their quest to trade him for something -- heck, anything! -- of value, which merits a callback to November 20th:
With his disconcerting transformation from a quality walks-n'-doubles machine into a well-paid professional benchwarmer almost complete, Catalanotto's unfriendly contract -- which pays him a guaranteed $4 million in 2009, and also includes a $5 million option for 2010 with a $2 million buyout -- is a curse twice over; not only have the Rangers predictably proven incapable of finding a suitor willing to assume the considerable remaining balance on their rapidly declining player's contract (and willing to give up something of tangible value, as well as a roster spot, for that privilege), but there also appears to be some reluctance on the part of the Rangers to admit that he's a sunk cost and simply cut him loose.
I think it's become abundantly clear by this point that there are no suitors for Catalanotto and that there is no market for a player like Catalanotto, whose only real asset is a walk rate that has fallen from 10.6 percent to 7.8 percent to 7.5 percent over the last three seasons -- and then you look up and realize that the league-average unintentional walk rate for the American League in 2008 was 8.6 percent, so not even that is really an asset. He possesses zero defensive value, little power and no base-swiping ability, and as likeable and classy as Catalanotto is (and as much as I wish him well in his post-Texas baseball endeavors), he's not any more tradeable today than he was four months ago.
If there was even a marginal C-grade prospect available in return for a reduced-price Catalanotto, the Rangers probably would have already jumped on it.
● Baseball Prospectus's latest full-length Team Health Report is centered on a Rangers roster littered with yellow- and red-lighted players (indeed, only three garnered green-light ratings: Elvis Andrus, David Murphy, and Scott Feldman), and includes this rather interesting assessment of yellow-lighted second baseman Ian Kinsler:
Kinsler failed to pass the 130-game mark for the third straight year as he was forced to undergo season-ending hernia surgery in September. A stress fracture in his left foot ('07) and a dislocated thumb ('06) have also plagued him in recent seasons. Because of his size and defensive ability, Kinsler looks like a max-effort type of player who struggles with injuries as a result.
So why isn't he red? Well, Kinsler's injuries have mostly been instances of his being unlucky, and his ability to drive the ball suggest a player bigger than his size who just needs to make a few adjustments to stay healthy. The odd comp here is Jeff Bagwell, a player who had his own injury problems early on before he rose above them. The bet here is that Kinsler's career takes a similar path, that his injuries go away, and he entrenches himself as one of the game's best second basemen for the next several years.
One aspect of Kinsler's monster 2008 campaign that continues to utterly astound me is the fact that he somehow notched a top-five Win Value at second base even after missing one-quarter of the season. Chase Utley (8.0 wins above replacement level in 159 games), Dustin Pedroia (6.6 wins above replacement level in 157 games), Dan Uggla (5.0 wins above replacement level in 146 games) and Brian Roberts (4.5 wins above replacement level in 155 games) each logged at least 25 more games in the field than Kinsler did in 2008, yet Ian -- yes, mediocre defense and all -- was worth just three-tenths of one run less value-wise than Roberts.
Some degree of offensive regression is probably inevitable in 2009, but that can be mitigated or negated completely if Kinsler can simply refine his fielding to a point where it is league average, and Ian is equipped with the raw talent and baseball aptitude to make exactly that happen.
● Finally, Oakland's signing of free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera to a one-year, $4 million deal isn't what I would term a slam-dunk steal in the context of baseball's downtrodden economic climate, but it's a very good signing that makes an above-.500 team better and steepens the uphill slope that Texas will have scale in order to remain in post-season contention beyond the All-Star Break. Bobby Crosby miraculously appeared in 145 games for Oakland in 2008, but the popular assumption is that the oft-injured infielder won't accomplish that feat again in 2009, and his bat is poor enough that Cabrera -- a lifetime .274/.332/.399 hitter -- represents a fairly significant offensive upgrade.
The Athletics are at least one win better today from a pure talent standpoint than they were yesterday, and in a division where no team looks like a strong bet to win 90 games, every fraction of a win becomes exponentially more important.
Quick Hits: Right-hander Kris Benson and left-hander Eddie Guardado were both scratched from the Rangers' Monday afternoon skirmish against the Indians due to back soreness; both injuries are presumably minor ... Right-hander Brendan Donnelly (lower back spasms) hopes to throw a simulated game on Wednesday ... Left-hander Kason Gabbard is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Wednesday.