Two quick things: first, spring training is very welcome and exciting and so on and so forth, but don't become too distracted lest you miss out on the very special things that the Dallas Mavericks are doing on the basketball court right now, and second, do yourself a favor and infuse your morning with some old-school Mos Def and Talib Kweli:
● With regard to Julio Borbon's preemptive disappointment in the event that he doesn't swipe 50 bases in 2010 -- okay, first of all, let's be perfectly clear in establishing that there is nothing inherently wrong with the stolen base. Where they become overrated -- at least outside of the context of fantasy baseball -- and sometimes even deletrious to a team's run-scoring production is when those bases are not stolen at a lofty enough success rate to outweigh the risk. Baseball Prospectus has long identified the break-even success rate as being right around 75 percent; in other words, if you steal 30 bases but require 45 attempts to do so, you're hurting your team in the long run.
If Borbon can swipe 50 bases next season and maintain the 80 percent stealing success rate that he posted last season between Texas (19-for-23) and Triple-A Oklahoma City (25-for-32), then by all means he should shoot for the stars. If, on the other hand, aiming for 50 steals entails taking lower-quality chances on the basepaths (and, consequently, produces a lower success rate), then Borbon's ambition becomes counterproductive. Granted, batting in front of Michael Young -- who amasses lots of singles and grounds into plenty of double plays -- makes the decision to give Borbon the perpetual 'green light' more defensible, but the point is a high stolen base total isn't valuable in and of itself.
● One way to put a positive spin on this monotonous what-will-the-Rangers-do-at-utility-infielder-oh-man-this-sucks storyline is to step back for a moment and consider that (a) given the current composition of the Rangers' roster, the utility infielder -- whose duties will probably entail little beyond backing up Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler -- is the single least important position player, meaning that (b) if so much newspaper column space is being devoted to such a trivial player, it's a pretty good indication that spring training is progressing in a smooth and orderly fashion thus far. Sometimes boring is a good thing.
In any event, Texas is apparently now somewhat less convinced that Khalil Greene's successor will be drawn from the underwhelming Joaquin Arias/Esteban German/Ray Olmedo troika, with the organization reportedly kicking around the name of 34-year-old Julio Lugo as a trade possibility. Not an outright terrible idea, provided that his true offensive talent level remains in the vicinity of .280/.350/.400, but he has little power-hitting utility to speak of -- not that such a trait is paramount in your utility infielder -- and poor hands/throwing accuracy that make him a dicey proposition from a defensive standpoint. If that doesn't sound much better than German, that's because it isn't.
● In Mike Shropshire's anecdote-laden retrospective of the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers (aptly entitled "Seasons In Hell," in which he chronicles his many exploits during his three-year run as the team's beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), he tells of an encounter with then-owner Brad Corbett where Shropshire, being under the impression that Corbett was going to inform him of his plans to fire Billy Martin, is surprised to hear that Corbett was actually referring to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn. After being queried by Corbett as to why he would want to fire Martin, Shropshire retorted, "I dunno. Maybe you should talk to some of your players about that."
You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. I don't blame you in the slightest, because I'm not completely sure myself. In the context of the still-smoldering Ron Washington debate, though, I think this story has some instructive value, in the sense that Washington, despite being a polarizing figure who persists in grappling with some basic/important tenets of in-game strategy, still has his players' ears. Know how we always talk about value-creating measures? Well, there's a certain value inherent in the ability to command some basic level of respect from your players and push the right buttons in order to extract maximum effort. It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore that.
He hasn't lost the clubhouse the way that, say, Martin did, or the way that power-hungry Buck Showalter -- always one to overstep his implicit level of authority -- did before Texas discharged him following the 2006 regular season. I suppose it can be construed as a warning sign that a seeming undercurrent of skepticism still exists over Washington's long-term managerial viabiblity in Texas (yes, even after three full seasons), and I'm still not completely convinced that he's the right choice as the Rangers enter their pennant-contending window, but you can be a great "players' manager" and a subpar game tactician and make it work. I'm not sure that the opposite similiarly holds true.
[Epilogue: After being informed of the growing clubhouse dissent, Corbett invited a small contingent of players -- notably Mike Hargrove, Toby Harrah and Jim Sundberg -- to dinner to discuss the Martin situation, and after "[getting] 'em good and drunk," the players unloaded on their skipper. Corbett ultimately fired Martin, with the final straw reportedly being one last racuous dispute over the merits of signing newly released catcher Tom Egan as Sundberg's backup; Martin wanted Corbett to sign him, while Corbett felt that role could be more productively filled by one of the team's "strong young players." Less than two weeks after being fired, Martin was hired by the Yankees.]
Anyway, to bring this meandering passage on the state of the Rangers' managerial situation around full circle, I did want to briefly address one of Washington's perceived tactical shortcomings -- his (mis)handling of the bullpen. He engaged in mismanagement of this asset to some degree last season, but perhaps not in the way that you're thinking; the numbers indicate that Washington was actually very good in terms of ensuring that his best relievers pitched in the most important game situations, but he also made some highly questionable moves -- e.g. Frank Francisco pitching in three consecutive games -- that unnecessarily jeopardized the health/effectiveness of his relievers.