Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Texas General Manager John Hart resisted the urge to deal one of his young hitters for pitching help, allowing the Rangers to enter next season with an infield comprised of four above average fielders, each capable of finishing among the top 5 in offensive production at their position. None of them even turns 30 until 2005 at the earliest, and with Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix manning the outfield corners, this sextet should power the Texas offense for the next few years. While I understand the rationale of trading someone like Mike Young, dealing Hank Blalock, Alex Rodriguez, or Mark Teixeira, players who should man the Rangers' 2-3-4 slots for several seasons to come, is sheer folly. The Rangers understandably need help elsewhere, but I see no reason to wreck the core of the team.
Buck Showalter's influence extends to most areas of the organization, and as Assistant GM Grady Fuson soon should succeed Hart, I believe the team will try to add pitching without ruining the team's offensive potential. The 2004 Texas roster will look markedly difference without veterans like Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett, Doug Glanville, Ugueth Urbina, Todd Van Poppel, and perhaps Ismael Valdes, John Thomson, and Rafael Palmeiro. Although the Rangers appear to want the latter three to return, even this depressed market shouldn't keep at least one of the starters from finding a better deal elsewhere. Of course, Palmeiro should return as long as he agrees to DH, but the funds previously allocated to Gonzalez, Everett, and the other overpaid veterans are needed elsewhere. The good news is that even with the planned payroll reduction, Texas appears able to pursue a couple new players.
Center field is the obvious need on offense. With Teixeira, Young, ARod, Blalock, Nix, Mench, and Palmeiro filling seven lineup positions, adding another quality bat is not a priority here. Einar Diaz and Gerald Laird give Texas decent options at catcher, however unless Ramon Nivar surprises everyone in the AFL, I expect the Rangers to add another center fielder. Alex Rodriguez has suggested acquiring Alex Sanchez from Detroit, although that move makes little sense given Texas' growing recognition of the value of OBP. I don't see Mike Cameron as a great fit even if he would help, the Rangers can't afford to give up the young talent necessary to acquire someone like Carlos Beltran, and Anaheim won't deal Darin Erstad within the division.
Since Texas needs a leadoff man unless Mike Young begins walking, Kenny Lofton strikes me as an excellent fit here. The Rangers can move him to a contender for a decent prospect at the trade deadline if Ramon Nivar is ready, and hitting him in front of Blalock, ARod, Palmeiro, and Teixeira should add a significant number of run-scoring opportunities. With tens of millions of dollars in funds available from the expiring contracts of Gonzalez, Everett, and others, adding Lofton while locking up Blalock for a few years looks like a relatively easy task.
The Rangers' bullpen also looks surprisingly solid. Francisco Cordero led the team in ERA and certainly deserves the chance to close. Brian Shouse, Erasmo Ramirez, and Ron Mahay give Texas one of the strongest core of lefty relievers in the game, and if they add a couple of veteran right-handers willing to accept NRIs, the bullpen could improve drastically. Jay Powell, Rosman Garcia, and Reynaldo Garcia should compete for roster spot in Spring Training, however each pitcher must prove himself after a poor 2003 season for all. If Jeff Zimmerman finally returns from the DL, he will provide a welcome boost in short relief, possibly even replacing Cordero as closer. The last move the Rangers need to make is to sign an overpriced closer with questionable skills.
Of course, solidifying the lineup and bullpen appear mundane tasks compared to the Augean Stables awaiting Hart and Fuson in the rotation. Chan Ho Park might rebound in his second year removed from the havoc that Oscar Acosta wrecked upon him in 2002. Joaquin Benoit flashed brilliance throughout this season, and then some combination of Colby Lewis, R.A. Dickey, Ricardo Rodriguez, Ryan Drese, Jose Dominguez, and Mickey Callaway could complete the rotation. However, Texas almost certainly will sign a free agent pitcher or two. Keeping Thomson is a good idea after his success in Arlington this year, although the idea of enticing Andy Pettitte certainly could appeal to management. Bringing back Kenny Rogers is a good alternative to Pettitte, however as I don't see many sleeper starters in this winter's free agent class, swapping a mid-level prospect or two for a potential non-tender like Damian Moss or even Freddy Garcia might be necessary.
The lack of pitching prospects prepared to succeed in the majors will keep Texas out of the playoffs in 2004. Still, as long as they don't make a rash move like giving ARod away to anyone willing to assume his salary, I expect them to compete for a post-season spot as soon as 2005.
Juan Dominguez, 23, RH Starter
Dominguez shot through the Rangers' minors this year, never ever recording a loss until reaching the majors. Considering he hadn't started a game above A-ball prior to the year, his progress pushes him to the front of Texas' pitching prospects, although he probably needs more seasoning. Nevertheless, his 153:52 K:BB in 153 IP suggests significant immediate upside, and he could break camp in the majors and contribute to many roto teams. Unfortunately, thanks to the Rangers' questionable defense and hitter-friendly home park, I instead expect he'll struggle to post positive value if he opens the year with Texas, making Dominguez a poor gamble unless you can leave him reserved until you see him post solid skills in the majors over a few starts.
Notwithstanding a very impressive performance for Team USA that included a .444/.545/.556 line with a 4:3 BB:K in 18 at-bats, Laird doesn't seem quite ready to excel in the majors. Of course, considering his contact rate increased from .79 to .82 despite his promotion to Oklahoma and he posted a 3.74 #P/PA and 1.00 G-F with Texas, his basic offensive skills suggests he won't suffer if promoted now. I suspect the Rangers will sign a left-handed AAAA catcher to compete with Laird in the spring, however if Laird wins a roster spot, he could exceed 400 at-bats given Einar Diaz's inconsistency. While I don't believe Laird will be a star, his skills and the Rangers' lineup essentially guarantee he'll average a salary around $10, making him a solid fantasy selection.
Considering Nivar hadn't advanced beyond the Florida State League prior to 2002, requiring just over 100 games in the upper minors to reach Texas is an impressive achievement. Switching him from the middle infield to center field in an attempt to fill an immediate need also looks like a good move. Unfortunately, Nivar possesses little power, and while he posted great contact rates this year, he demonstrated neither good patience nor much speed. Not only did he post a poor 3.29 #P/PA during his month in the majors, Nivar's stolen base total dropped somewhat precipitously. The good news is that he dominate in the AFL, compiling a .381/.400/.540 performance in 63 at-bats, so he likely remains in the Rangers' plans for 2004 as long as he impressive during spring training. Yet while he could approach $20 next season with a little luck, he needs to develop better leadoff skills to secure a starting job given his lack of power.
Jermaine Clark, 27, OF-L
Clark regularly posted on-base percentages around .400 before sporadic playing time over the last couple years led to abrupt average drops for him. He still owns great speed, solid plate discipline, and very helpful position flexibility, however until he appears comfortable coming off the bench, his weak BA likely will hurt your roto team and negate any bases he steals.
An unbelievably poor career 4.05 HR/9, a number that looks more like a California freeway than a pitcher's homer rate, indicates Garcia is leaving nearly every pitch up in the strike zone. Since his career minor league homer rate is only .7 HR/9, we at least can expect him to experience more success as he gains big league experience. His excellent minor league stats over the last two years bolster my belief that he'll emerge as a solid contributor within the next few years, however he belongs on no one's fantasy team as long as he keeps allowing an earned run per inning.
Stolen from Florida with Ryan Snare and Will Smith for Ugueth Urbina, Gonzalez looks like a better fantasy option than ever with the Rangers. Wrist surgery after the 2002 season likely hindered him all year, and since he maintained a decent walk rate and still produced respectable overall numbers at AA while playing good defense, I expect him to post very good stats at AAA Oklahoma next year. Playing in Texas could turn many of his doubles into homers, and since Gonzalez also possesses great defensive skills, he should push Mark Teixeira to the outfield in 2005. Strongly consider spending a mid-round pick here since the combination of his offensive upside and age relative to league still makes him one of the better hitting prospects in the majors.
While Graham isn't particularly dominant, his consistently impressive control could lead to a look with the Rangers as soon as next spring. Wait until he registers several effective outings before rostering him on fantasy teams, but he should begin to see time in the majors in the relatively near future.
The former top Oakland prospect didn't even reach the majors this year despite decent power production and plate discipline. Hart tallied 100 strikeouts for the fifth straight year, and unless his contact rate improves, his mediocre averages won't earn him much consideration for promotion. He still should develop into a decent right-handed platoon partner in a few years, but Hart belongs on zero fantasy teams right now.
While Jones offers enough offensive upside to hang around the majors as a switch-hitting 1B/OF backup, I see no indication he deserves a regular starting job. If he breaks camp with the Rangers, he may not hurt you as a Dollar Days' pick, however his limited upside makes him a questionable choice for any fantasy team.
Lundberg's conversion to relief is an obvious success given his impressive effectiveness in the Texas League this year. He probably needs at least a half-season at AAA to consolidate these gains, yet he also might merit fantasy consideration early next season depending on where he lands as a minor league free agent.
Although McDougall's numbers slipped in his second Texas League tour, his apparently successful conversion to shortstop likely insures his future as a utility infielder. He possesses some seven-skill upside, and while he won't be an All-Star or even a regular starter for any extended time, he should merit an endgame pick as soon as he secures a steady job in the majors.
Despite little history of dominance and a poor strikeout rate obscured by a superficially solid ERA, the Rangers somehow believed they could compete by giving Mounce nearly a dozen starts. Of course, he predictably struggled, and given his age and skills, he might not receive another shot any time soon, making him a terrible fantasy option.
Pickler belonged in the majors this year, possibly even as a starting second baseman, and returning to Oklahoma obviously didn't agree with him. Fortunately, he demonstrated excellent speed skills, impressive defense, and continued good plate discipline, so if a smart team ever gives him the chance he deserves, he likely will merit an immediate pickup in many leagues.
After Ramos' abysmal 2002 season in which he posted a 7.40 ERA at Oklahoma, Texas wisely let him dominate the Texas League for a half-season. Then, instead of letting him consolidate those gains over the second half at AAA, they rushed him back to the majors, and he unsurprisingly struggled. I still envision a bright future for Ramos, especially if he finds a team with a strong defense, but I just don't see him emerging as a quality starter for the Rangers at this point. Wait until he regains his skills in the upper minors elsewhere before considering him for your team.
Netting Snare in addition to Adrian Gonzalez and Will Smith in the Ugueth Urbina trade made the deal an absolute steal for Texas. Although his age and limited projectability indicate Snare won't develop into an ace, he might be better prepared to contribute in the majors now than any other Rangers' rookie aside from possibly Juan Dominguez. A year of AAA won't hurt him, and Snare certainly could struggle in Arlington, yet he also might merit a couple bucks of FAAB as soon as Texas promotes him.
Aside from players listed above, no other Texas prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
While Laird may be the best rookie catcher in 2004 and Nivar, Gonzalez, and Dominguez all possess impressive long-term potential, this system lacks both depth and immediate upside. I discussed relatively few players because Texas lacks an abundance of upper-level position prospects, and the pitchers with good control lacked dominance, so they likely wouldn't succeed with the Rangers given the team's troublesome ballpark. Of course, the current All-Star infield and cache of promising outfielders and starting pitchers already in the majors should lead to Texas competing for the division lead in the relatively near future, but once Laird and Gonzalez in particularly are gone in your league, don't look here often for fantasy rookies in 2004.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
7:00(CDT): Florida @ New York Yankees
We still don't see any surprises here as Florida received the expected bounce from their home trip. Now Andy Pettitte's Ghosts of Yankee Stadium at least will require the Marlins to play on Sunday unless Josh Beckett pitches one of the best games in history. I tend to think that starting Beckett in short rest is a mistake, however I am unwilling to question McKeon at this point given his success to this point in the playoffs.
1. Ramon Nivar, OF
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