Despite several fairly close calls, Randy Johnson never did make it around to pitching in a Texas Rangers uniform, but that's okay -- it was an honor and a privilege to watch him carve up opposing hitters for as long as he did, and it's not at all hyperbolic to suggest that he's probably the greatest left-handed pitcher that most of us ever got the chance to see. Enjoy your retirement in peace, Randy:
● From the "Are We Ever Going To Make It To April?" newsfeed comes a bit of that always welcome "chatting through the media" between general manager Jon Daniels and 25th-round pick Riley Cooper, who recently intimated that he might leverage his successful senior season as the University of Florida's leading wide receiver into a bid for NFL stardom, and also suggested that the Rangers' lack of contact reflected a lack of interest in keeping him around.
Daniels clarified that he had remained in regular contact with Riley's representatives and fully expected Cooper to report to spring training next month, but if Riley's primary motivation is money, that may no longer be the safe bet. Why? Well, Riley procured a $250,000 signing bonus from Texas (which he must forfeit if he ultimately opts for football), but if you assume that his NFL draft stock has been elevated to a point where he will be selected within the first three rounds ... well, guess what? He could be in line for a signing bonus worth two to four times as much in the NFL, as well as greater expected future earnings, neither of which would be available via baseball.
● There has been some limited amount of under-the-breath grumbling about the Rangers' seeming inability to fully capitalize upon what has been a somewhat depressed winter market for amateur Latin American talent (e.g. Noel Arguelles and Aroldis Chapman, among others), but Texas did recently manage to cash in on Victor Payano, a sturdy 6' 3", 165-pound Dominican left-hander whose previous $900,000 deal with the Red Sox was nixed after his required pre-signing physical revealed shoulder problems; embedded below is a 12-second clip of Payano plying his craft during pre-July workouts:
[Direct link available here. Regarding Payano's stuff, Kiley McDaniel of Baseball Prospectus -- from whom the above video was obviously borrowed -- remarked back on June 8th, 2009 that Payano flashed a "heavy" 85-88 mph fastball during this showcase, as well as an "average slider and change-up. Points were awarded for his "very projectable" frame, "solid" command and "simple, repeatable mechanics."]
Payano's market value somewhat resembled the EKG tracing of a single heartbeat, in the sense that he was originally "thought of as a low-to-mid six-figure guy" (also via Kiley McDaniel), followed by a marked value spike that launched him to the doorstep of seven digits, and now a major health-related plunge in value that has rendered him accessible to Texas. Back in mid-November, ESPN.com's Jorge Arangure Jr. speculated that Payano would yet again secure Red Sox-esque money, but it doesn't seem terribly likely that he managed to squeeze that much out of the Rangers, let alone even $500,000.
● When word of Franklin Gutierrez's impending four-year, $20.5 million contract extension with the Mariners broke on Tuesday afternoon, the first thought to race through my head went something like this: "Damn, what a steal." Yeah, he's entering his arbitration-eligible seasons (with his first free agency year also being bought out, and an attached fifth-year team option), but they're also his prime production seasons, and not even a nondescript offensive year could mitigate the Hall of Fame-caliber defensive range that pushed him to the 5.9-win mark in 2009. He'll regress from that mark, but not enough to render this extension anything less than superb for Seattle.
This all immediately segued into a second, more pointed thought: "Why couldn't Gutierrez get more than what he got?" It's true that he sacrificed some future compensation in exchange for the security afforded by a long-term deal, but that still doesn't fully account for the rather wide disparity between his projected value and future earnings ... and then it hit me. Defense. It's great for winning games, and great for your paycheck/reputation if you can collect a Gold Glove or three, but what if your overall value is mostly predicated on your defensive contributions and you have no hardware to show for it?
We know that major league teams are now, by and large, properly valuing defense, but arbitration panels -- which still largely rely upon Elias-friendly counting stats such as hits, runs batted in and home runs in ruling for the team or the player -- have not yet progressed to the point where advanced defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and plus/minus are properly weighted. Oh, sure, they'll presumably get there at some point, but they're certainly not there yet, and until they do get there, defense-first, offense-second guys like Gutierrez are going to remain at an inherent disadvantage in the arbitration process relative to their more offense-inclined counterparts.
I suppose this hypothesis -- which hasn't yet been tested, but certainly passes the logic test -- is best illustrated by a quick example: Player X and Player Y exist in alternate dimensions, but are exactly the same age, play the same position 162 games per year, are both arbitration-eligible for the first time, are equivalent in "leadership qualities," have identical peers and so on. The only difference? Player X is 20 runs above average offensively and 10 runs below average defensively, whereas Player Y is five runs below average offensively and 15 runs above average defensively. They might both be 10 runs above average overall, but Player X is assuredly going to pull down the bigger paycheck.