Welcome to the first Daniels' Minions roundtable of the 2011 season! The Rangers are the defending American League Champions with eyes on getting back to the World Series and of course winning it this time. 

The writers for this week's roundtable are Let's Talk Rangers contributors Bo Reed and Matthew Irby with Rangers bloggers Nick Simmons (http://rangersexpress.blogspot.com/) and Stephen Rhodes. The Rangers have a few questions going into Spring Training and the writers discuss the big questions including the Michael Young mess, the projected rotation and Josh Hamilton's contract. 

 

What is your take on the Michael Young Situation? Should the club deal him as he as requested and if so what are you looking for in return?

Bo Reed

My take on this mess is relatively simple, but before I get into it I want to point out I’ve been a big defender of Young, especially the past couple of seasons when some writers were ready to push him off the roster. However, things are different in Arlington now and the Rangers proved last season they’re ready to win championships. No player is more important than that and what’s most disappointing about this is Young should understand that. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes and I really don’t care. I only care about what happens on the field and the Rangers are better with Adrian Beltre at third and Young as the DH/roving infielder, period. That’s the end of the discussion with me and it should have been the end of the discussion with Young as well.

Matthew Irby

My stance regarding this issue has not changed since Young asked / demanded to be traded.  True, there were some moments when my frustrations got the best of me and I wanted him out of Texas.  But the facts remain, Texas is a better team with Adrian Beltre at third, Texas is a better team with Mike Napoli coming off the bench late to hammer left-handed pitching, and Texas is a better team with Michael Young playing DH and super-utility.  There is an athlete-side of me that does understand Young’s position, it is incredibly hard for top-notch athletes to accept their own demise, I truly do get that. But there is also the logical-side and MY needs to understand that we are a better team with him in the role he is being asked to play. I do believe that Michael comes around, continues the role of consummate pro and leads this team as the DH and S-UTIL. As for the trade, even after Young asked for it, I never really bought into it.  If Texas was going to trade him it would have happened back in Nov.-Dec.; late January and February didn’t make sense for this and once Young said he wanted out, Texas lost all leverage.  This put Texas in a situation in which a trade was not going to happen and help out the 2011 Rangers’ team, unless some other team pulled an Anaheim (trading for Vernon Wells’ contract). The trade is not going to happen before the season, I said it in November and re-emphasized it again in January, “On Opening Day, Michael Young will be wearing Ranger Red.”  

Nick Simmons

I’ll be brief here, or at least try. There is absolutely no reason the Rangers should deal Michael Young right now. If they had any desire to, then it should have been done in November (and if they wanted to then, then shame on JD for handling it this way). Trading MY now will severely hurt the 2011 ball club. Michael Young is a professional and he let the media get the best of them. He gave his OK to signing Beltre; Nolan and JD both publicly stated that they would not trade MY. Now I’ve never met Nolan or JD, but if they told me something straight up, I’d believe them; especially if I had the relationship with them that MY has. For some reason, Michael didn’t trust them. He should not be dealt now. He should grab his 1st baseman’s glove and give Washington every reason to have him in the field everyday if that’s what he wants.

Stephen Rhodes

We should wait until the end of the season and see how he feels. If he still wants to go, then at this point it might be a lot easier to trade him. Less money left on his contract, more time to shop around, etc. But, if an opportunity presents itself during the season to add a great starting pitcher, which I don’t think it will, then we should jump on it. I really liked the deal that the Phillies supposedly had in mind.


All indications thus far are Neftali Feliz not only has to prove he can start but prove to be a top of the rotation starter for the club to move him from his closer role into the rotation. This of course means he must do more than establish an effective change-up in camp. Can the Rangers actually make that determination in a handful of starts in Arizona? If he is moved into the rotation who does the club replace him with in the 9th inning?

 

Bo Reed

Doesn’t the lead up to Spring Training sound a lot like last year when Feliz is brought up? A valuable member of the bullpen being given a chance to start in March. There are however, a couple of roadblocks for Feliz joining the rotation that could make all the difference. First, the Rangers had Feliz and Ogando to replace CJ Wilson in the bullpen last year along with O’Day and Oliver. With the Francisco trade the Rangers have no one with closing experience at the major league level to replace Feliz. Second, CJ already had plus off-speed pitches going into Spring Training last season. Feliz has all the potential in the world to be a starter and if he comes into Surprise tossing plus sliders and change-ups to go along with his heater then the Rangers will have to find a new closer, but Feliz will have to show top of the rotation stuff to make his absence in the bullpen worth it. The club can make that determination quickly as Feliz simply has to show consistent off-speed pitches in Arizona, the roster repercussions could take more time to deal with. 

Matthew Irby

I think Neftali is being given the chance to stretch out and attempt to be a starter for two reasons.  One, because of the success of Christopher John.  Last year Texas found a diamond in the rough when C.J. not only moved from a setup bullpen role to starting pitcher, but also to near ace status for the Rangers down the road.  Therefore try the same thing with Feliz and maybe lighting will strike twice.  Two, Feliz still is projected to be a starting pitcher down the road and could be an incredibly tough one to face.  Now with all that said, I don’t think he will be a starter this season, unless he WOWs us beyond belief in Spring Training.  Come Opening Day, Neftali will be the closer and remain there for the entire 2011 season.  If he were to start this year, right now Texas doesn’t have any solid options to close out games, since Frankie was traded to Toronto.  Alexi Ogando could handle the role, but I’m not sold that he is ready for it yet, maybe in 2012.  Mark Lowe and Arthur Rhodes could both make runs at handling the closer role if Neftali is made into a starter, but again I’m not really comfortable with those moves right now. 

Nick Simmons

The Rangers know exactly what Feliz brings to the mound, so I have no doubt that they can determine if he is ready to face a lineup 3 times through. It may just be circumstantial, but that change up he threw to A-Rod in game six was the sexiest pitch I’ve ever seen. With the amount of depth in the rotation and the lack of a clear replacement in the 9th, I think that the club will view him as much more valuable slamming the door than starting. I don’t think Ogando fits the closer profile (in fact he’s more rotation ready than Feliz) and Lowe is still an unknown for 2011. I love our bullpen with Feliz, Ogando, O’Day, Rhodes, Oliver, Lowe, and Tateyama. Equally important to Feliz’s spring to get him into the rotation, is the spring of Lowe, Tateyama, Ogando, and Scheppers (who is not on the 40 man roster).

Stephen Rhodes

I don’t like this at all. I want him to stay where he is. If they want to experiment with Ogando, then let them do that! Sure, CJ made the move fine, but he had a lot more time in the bullpen under his belt than Feliz does. I really don’t want to them to move him, even if his change-up is good, even if it looks like he’ll probably do well as a starter. It’s too soon. So far it’s just an experiment, but I have a bad feeling that Feliz will make the move, Ogando will take his spot as closer, and it won’t be the right move for either spot. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

 

Three of the rotation spots are virtually locked with CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Brandon Webb, unless of course he's not healthy or effective. That leaves Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman the leaders for the final two spots in the rotation. Who makes the rotation and who's the long man in the bullpen on April 1st? Does someone besides those three take a rotation spot with a brilliant March?

Bo Reed

I remember reading a Keith Law chat a couple of years ago and he projected Tommy Hunter as a better long reliever than a starter. At the time I disagreed because Hunter has four major league pitches and a durable arm capable of pitching 200+ innings, but my opinion is beginning to change. It seems like Hunter always hits a wall in the 5th or 6th innings which over the course of a season will hurt the Rangers bullpen. With the other options the Rangers have for the rotation I think Hunter’s value can be maximized pitching in long relief with the occasional spot start when necessary. I like Michael Kirkman a lot and with a good March he could be the fourth starter followed by Derek Holland. I’m expecting big things from Holland in 2011 and so are the Rangers. However, Holland isn’t guaranteed anything so he’ll have to go out and earn a spot in the rotation just like everyone else. This is the year for Holland to either breakout with a strong season and establish himself as a starter in this league, or fade out of the picture entirely. A rotation of Wilson, Lewis, Webb, Kirkman and Holland could be lethal if the young guys establish themselves and Webb is somewhat close to his pre-surgery form.

Matthew Irby

To start the year off I agree that these three are all but locks, if Webb can stay healthy and all indications right now are that he will be able to.  Unless he has any major setbacks, I believe that Tommy Hunter will be the #4 pitcher in the rotation.  Despite a rough end to 2010 and so-so postseason, Big Game has earned the opportunity to start games right now.  Can that change throughout the season?   Absolutely, but right now give him the spot until he gets hurt or someone takes it from him.  After that I believe that Texas needs to make Derek Holland the #5 starter, with the message that this is a make or break year.  Derek has been the talk of countless trade talks, so my thought is give him a shot now and if we aren’t overly thrilled with him then use him in a trade package in July to up-grade the pitching.  I’m a believer in Dutch Oven, always have been since seeing him pitch in AA Frisco; seriously it’s to the point that one could consider it a man-crush.  So I have always given him the benefit of the doubt.  But now it’s time to once and for all give him a legit shot at earning a lock in the rotation, Derek has the stuff to be a #2 starter in the future, it’s now time to put it all together.  As for the long relief role, I would like to see a decent Spring out of Matt Harrison and have him fill the role, in order to allow both Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers to start the season in AAA Round Rock as starters and pitch every fifth day.  But as always with the Rangers pitching staff, how it starts will not even come close to how it ends. 

Nick Simmons

I’d really consider Tommy Hunter more of a lock for the opening day rotation than Brandon Webb. Although Brandon Webb claims he is healthy and his arm feels good, he hasn’t pitched in the majors for nearly two full seasons. I actually have him penciled in to start the season on the major league DL and pitching in AAA (it was hard not to write Oklahoma City there) for awhile just to face a few more live batters and for the club to get a better idea of his form beyond spring training. Tommy Hunter should be a “lock” for the number three spot. He probably would have made the opening day rotation last season if not for the strained oblique. He wasn’t stellar in his 6 AAA starts in 2010, but his 1.27 K/BB rate was pretty uncharacteristic (only once having dropped below 2 in his major league career which was in 2009 with the big club). He certainly benefited from a low BABIP in 2010 (.255) but with even better defense behind him in 2011, it’s not crazy to think that it won’t stay relatively low. Tommy threw his curve ball only 20.2% of the time in 2010. If he can keep from leaving it up in the zone like in 2010, he could be able to throw it more often and get his K/9 back up to above 5. He pitched ~180 innings in 2009 and ~150 last season, and after seeing him ease through that summer heat, there is no doubt about his stamina. For my 2011 rotation, Tommy Hunter is definitely a lock. Beyond those three, I have no doubt that the last spots will be filled with whom ever has the best spring. I’d really like to see Kirkman making the rotation coming out of ST. He had great success coming out of the pen after his call up; not to mention Nolan Ryan loves the kid and he happens to know a thing or two about pitching.  I’ve never hidden my distaste for Holland, the kid has potential and, in my mind, it’s only his attitude that’s keeping him from growing. His recent contributions to the Twitter world prove his immaturity beyond its evidence on the mound. As the offseason has shown, other teams are taking notice as well. It wasn’t long ago that clubs would ask for him in any trade talks; now it seems like he couldn’t help land Greinke or Garza. I see this as his last chance. He’ll get put in the rotation from the start, and it’s up to him if it will last.  For those keeping score at home, that makes my opening day rotation: Colby, CJ, Tommy, Derek. Until Webb gets called up, I see the 5th spot going to the better spring of Kirkman and Eric Hurley. Yes Eric Hurley. He’s been great in the Arizona league (3-0 1.82 ERA in 6 starts) as he tries to come back from injury. The Rangers certainly have depth at starting pitcher (don’t forget Feldman coming back from knee surgery and if his cutter is back to form, he’s in) and this season, I think they’re really going to need that depth.

Stephen Rhodes

Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland should get the spots, unless they take the gamble with Feliz. Feliz would get the Hunter spot. Long man should be Matt Harrison. I haven’t heard the latest from him, but I still like what he has as a reliever.

 

After the World Series was over one of the questions to the roundtable was what contract would you offer Cliff Lee to stay in Arlington. Now let's take a look at Josh Hamilton. What contract would you offer Hamilton? Would you front load the deal to guard against injuries later in his career? Would you defer some cash to make it easier to sign Nelson Cruz or Elvis Andrus long term as well?

Bo Reed

Before signing his current two year extension, I was willing to go five years, $70 million on Josh. That still holds true, but not in addition to his current deal. If he comes out and has another fantastic season and stays off the DL playing left field every day then revisit the situation next off-season with a three year extension, a couple of option years after that and a buyout to protect the club in case something happens to keep Josh off the field. Either way I think the Rangers will take care of Josh going forward, but they have to be more cautious than usual.

Matthew Irby

Now that Josh has signed the two-year extension, I would do absolutely nothing until January 2012.  If Josh has another low to no-injury season, then I feel comfortable locking him up to a 4-5 year extension.  At that time you can still get away with paying him around $13-15MM a season, meaning signing him through 2016.  So I sign him to a 4-year, $60MM extension.  Another path, if Josh has a 2011 season like 2009, then I think the team is forced to stay in the holding pattern and wait to see how he performs in 2012. This risk is that he could become a free agent, but I don’t mind that risk because I think at that time he will stay in Texas.  I think he would stay because for Josh it isn’t all about the money, he has a strong comfort level here in Texas, and at that time the franchise would have put up with two down years, again shows loyalty.  If Josh doesn’t have to play CF. if he can stay off the DL, then I think a 4-year, $60MM extension could prove to be a steal based upon what other players of his caliber are beginning to make around baseball. 

Nick Simmons

I’ve been publicly slandered for my views on Hamilton and his unique case. There is no doubt that his talent is beyond the level of most any other player in history. However, precaution must be taken. I would disapprove of any extension that goes beyond three years. He’s one play away from season ending injury. He’s one relapse away from banishment from baseball. There is no telling what kind of damage he has done to his body. His 2009 and his mishap in spring training last year should make anyone wary of a long term deal. We all love Rusty, but would you really have been thrilled if he were making $20M a year for those few years he spent on the DL while the club was trying to contend? The Rangers paid Rusty $21M for playing 105 games over the 2002-2004 seasons. I think the 2-year deal they just agreed on is perfect for right now, and maybe next year they do it again. It’s very risky on either side. 

Stephen Rhodes

Ask me again after this season.