A few afternoon-after-getting-kicked-in-the-groin things to contemplate while, hopefully, you (a) check out the latest Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein podcast extravaganza at Baseball Prospectus, and (b) follow both myself and the Professor on Twitter (here and here, respectively):
● Well, it's happened again: the annual "pitchers won't sign with Texas because of the heat" article, only this time it's been framed as Cliff Lee not wanting to re-sign with Texas because the Rangers are highly unlikely to provide a $100 million outlay to install heat-suppressing sunshades around the Ballpark that would cool the stadium by a factor of 10-15 degrees. This is described as not a luxury for the fans, but rather a necessity for the Rangers if they desire to keep Lee around -- this in spite of the fact that Lee himself asserts that the heat will not factor into his decision on where to sign, and, perhaps more significantly, that "the heat doesn't bother [him]."
I've already eviscerated this viewpoint in this morning's Clubhouse post on the issue, but here's the Reader's Digest version: Lee, if he were to re-sign with Texas, would make fewer than 10 home starts -- likely more on the scale of 7-9 such starts -- during the June-August time frame where the high temperatures in Dallas/Fort Worth reach their apex. Yes, the heat is challenging to handle in that relative handful of starts, albeit to varying degrees from one start to the next. And yes, making the Ballpark more pitcher-friendly in this regard very marginally improves your chances of signing a given free-agent pitcher. But you're absolutely not going to convince me that the heat factor is any more significant than the other ancillary factors in his decision-making process such as, say, proximity to home or the quality of the team facilities and/or medical staff.
And here's the thing: Lee is not filthy rich by major league standards. He's going to be strongly motivated to maximize two -- well, three -- things: (a) the present-day value/duration of his next contract, and (b) his chances of winning a championship. And the amount of money is going to account for upwards of 90 percent of his ultimate decision. You don't "have" to make the conditions at the Ballpark more comfortable to lure pitching talent here. You simply have to put the most money on the table. That's it. Colby Lewis and Rich Harden didn't take less guaranteed money this winter so that they could pitch in Minnesota, Oakland, or wherever. The entire "the heat is going to prevent Texas from re-signing Lee" premise is just ludicrous.
And while I appreciate that the article's author -- Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, who I think is the best beat writer in this market, and who I have a lot of respect for -- hours later wrote another post poking huge holes in his own morning column and making many of the same points made in this morning's Clubhouse post, that doesn't render his original missive any less incorrect. It's just patently false, and it's perpetuating a complete myth, and it's the reason why Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan and Cliff Lee and whoever else have to waste their time -- and everybody else's, for that matter -- downplaying the effects of the heat on players' decisions to sign here over and over again.
● It feels decidedly apropos that almost one year to the day after the Matt Purke signing fiasco came to a head (a fiasco which was, in large part, attributable to Tom Hicks), the Rangers not only officially changed hands from Hicks to the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan-led ownership group, but also inked their last unsigned first-round pick -- right-hander Luke Jackson (No. 47 overall), whose commitment to the University of Miami was shattered on Thursday after the Rangers locked him up with a comparatively huge $1.557 million signing bonus. Just to put this into perspective, no other first- or supplemental-round pick had yet been signed to a bonus more than $137,000 (No. 10 pick Michael Choice) above baseball's slot bonus recommendation; Jackson is signing at nearly $800,000 above slot.
[Update: Per general manager Jon Daniels, the Rangers have not yet agreed to terms with Jackson, but rather brought him into town on Wednesday for a physical. That said, it's only a matter of days -- hours? -- before his signing is finalized.]
Ripped off from my June 8th draft recap: "Described as another "late-helium" pick in the vein of Jake Skole, Jackson brandishes a 91-94 mph fastball that has been clocked as high at 96 mph -- a pitch which has some remaining projection velocity-wise -- and a "big" 12-to-6 curveball with abundant potential. His clean, repeatable delivery earns him points, but inconsistent command/control -- both grade out as 40 at the present and 50 in the future, per ESPN.com's Keith Law -- stemming in part from his late arrival on the high school baseball scene drove down his perceived value, as did some ambiguity around his signability." Short version: Great raw stuff and big-time athleticism.
● Relievers are notoriously fickle creatures. So, too, are people. Or maybe we just have selectively short memories. I get that everyone's hacked off at Frank Francisco for his inept performance over the last 48 hours, and I'm certain that some vestiges of distrust remaining from his early-April meltdown have exacerbated the anti-Francisco sentiment, but here's the thing: Francisco is essentially still the same pitcher that he's always been at controlling the things most within his pitching purview -- that is, strikeouts, walks and homers allowed. I can't emphasize that enough. And while it's true that his performance in high-leverage situations this season has been a tad shaky (which has also fed the anti-Francisco sentiment), this has not been the case during his career at large. You certainly don't use it against him when projecting his performance going forward.
Should Francisco's command-related struggles persist over the next week or two, Ron Washington and Mike Maddux will probably relegate him to a lesser role (think along the lines of a sixth- or seventh-inning man), and nobody will fault them for doing so. They'd probably be lauded for doing so, actually. But this isn't a matter of Francisco lacking in intensity or focus or drive or some other cliched quality, and while it's appropriate to say that, yes, Francisco did not pitch well in his previous two games, people really need to try and remember that Francisco is, in the grand scheme of things, still a very good relief pitcher. Nothing that has happened in the last 48 hours changes that.