Two things: First, I'm proud to report that John Burnson's "Graphical Player 2010" -- to which I contributed a heavy portion of Rangers-specific content -- has completely sold out everywhere, and second, it's going to look really strange (in a "Juan Gonzalez in a Tigers uniform" sort of way) to see Hank Blalock donning Tampa Bay's colors this coming season:
● ESPN.com's Keith Law on Matt Harrison and Tommy Hunter: "Harrison threw two innings on Saturday and averaged 93-95 mph with a hard cutter at 88-90 mph ... [Harrison] comes from a pretty high slot, possibly too high for a slider, but a reliever with two above-average pitches and a usable third pitch doesn't need a true breaking ball to be effective ... Hunter was 88-91 [mph] with a soft cutter at 83-87 mph and a very soft curveball at 74-78 [mph]. His fastball command was fair, and I still don't see what he has to get big league hitters out consistently ... Harrison could have the stuff to start if his shoulder permits and someone can calm him down, but Hunter looks like a reliever." (Keith Law, ESPN.com)
[Want to make a couple of points here: First, I think it's very important to understand that Law's snapshot critique of Hunter's stuff is what it is -- a snapshot critique. What Law observed may contradict the prevailing opinion around here on Hunter's stuff, but that does not mean that Law's assessment of Hunter's stuff during this one Cactus League outing is erroneous. It's what he saw. He's calling like he sees it. That's all. And now, with all of those qualifers out of the way, allow us to present some rebutting scouting- and saber-based evidence (here and here, respectively).
One of the things that has contributed to Harrison's enigmatic reputation has been the long-standing divergence between his raw stuff and his peripherals; when you think of a 6' 4" southpaw capable of hurling mid-90s heat plateward, you generally don't envision mediocre strikeout totals, but that's exactly what he has produced ... for years, no less. Is this the season that his low-strikeout misfortunes are reversed? I'm not remotely convinced that it is, but given that he's currently situated alongside Brandon McCarthy in the No. 5 starter competition (with Derek Holland reportedly lagging a bit behind), he may very well get that coveted chance to prove himself right out of the starting gate.]
● Scott Lucas on Michael Young: "If Young wants to achieve 3,000 hits before turning 40, he’ll need to average 191 [hits] for the next seven seasons. In the near future, he has a reasonably good chance to do so. Come mid-decade, he’s bucking ridiculous odds. Only three players have achieved the more economical sum of 160 hits during their Age 37, 38 and 39 seasons: Pete Rose, Tris Speaker, and Sam Rice (who actually didn’t reach 3,000). The combination of bat speed, stamina and good health at that age is extraordinarily rare." (Scott Lucas, The Ranger Rundown)
[Brilliant piece by Scott; do yourself a favor and check out the accompanying research. It's all just so damn interesting. Of course, the 3,000-hit benchmark is frequently cited as one of those career milestones where a player, upon reaching it, should be granted automatic enshrinement into Cooperstown with no questions asked. I don't agree with that position, per se, but plenty of BBWAA voters do. Whatever.
The thing about Young is that even if he manages to reach 3,000 hits (Scott plainly states that this is "highly unlikely"), longevity and consistency are not enough for Hall of Fame induction by themselves. You need a relatively strong peak level of performance, as well, and the fact of the matter is that Young has been average to above-average for seven consecutive seasons now, but never truly "elite." Not once has he cracked four wins on the wins above replacement scale; that's a one-way ticket to enshrinement in the Hall of Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. I know I can easily live with that. Others might not be able to. Again, whatever.]
● SI.com's Tim Marchman on general manager Jon Daniels, whom he ranked the eighth-best general manager in baseball: "That he has kept the major league team perfectly respectable on modest payrolls while overseeing this rebuilding project is really very impressive, and with a good run over the next couple of years he could well move up on this list." (Tim Marchman, SI.com)
[Allow me to use this as my platform to address something that has been nagging at me for quite a while now: Tom Hicks has been apportioned a lot of credit for having the "courage" and gumption and fortitude to commit to the rebuilding plan presented by Daniels in May 2007, and I think that's merited to some extent, but ponder this question, if you will: Did Hicks, at the time, really have any good alternatives to choose from? Allow me to elaborate on that thought with the assistance of three pieces of supporting evidence, all of which lend some credence to the idea that Hicks was, at the time, somewhat backed into a corner with no other truly viable paths of recourse.
First, Hicks Sports Group was already incurring huge mounds of debt at that time, so the early-00s "spend until you drop" strategy wasn't prudent; Texas did, of course, offer Mark Teixeira an eight-year contract extension before shipping him away, but that leads into the second point -- at this time, the Rangers were not even in the same league as the Angels from a pure talent standpoint. Using wins above replacement as a guideline, the 2007 version of the Rangers was a true-talent 74- to 75-win team, a mark which Anaheim trumped by approximately 15 wins. If the immediate goal was to win the division, Texas literally had no other choice but to pursue radical means of narrowing that enormous talent disparity, either through buying it (a mediocre to bad idea) or trading for it (see below) or developing it.
And third, the talent pipeline was running very dry, particularly at the top of the system; industry publication Baseball America bestowed a dismal 28th-place ranking upon the Rangers in its 2007 organizational talent rankings, with their lone top-100 prospect being Eric Hurley (No. 68). So, if you can't address your major league talent shortage by buying it or trading for it, what else is really left? Developing it. Bingo. Understood that committing to a rebuilding plan is a huge undertaking that usually results in short-term losses at the box office, but I hesitate to label Hicks a hero for doing so. He's a very shaky owner who thankfully listened to his people on this one.]
Quick Hits: Remember all of that scuttlebutt about a potential Rocco Baldelli-to-Texas deal? You can probably safely forget about it now, as the 28-year-old outfielder has joined the Rays as a special assistant; his right (throwing) shoulder is apparently toast ... An unnamed National League scout told the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo that "there's a feeling the Rangers may do something" in terms of trading Josh Hamilton before the end of spring training, though he readily admits that he doesn't know what to base it on and acknowledges that Texas denies entertaining any thought of doing so.