Almost traded in offseason, Young back in familiar role for Rangers
NEW YORK -- Things seem to work just fine these days for the Texas Rangers, where the game's youngest and one of its finest front offices has assembled a team with a talented supply of young arms to go with a seemingly limitless procession of heavy bats. Even when things have the potential to blow up for them, as was the case with longtime star Michael Young, they still seem to turn out well.
Sources say the Rangers had a deal in place to trade Young to the Rockies several weeks before the start of the season but decided to pull back, which Colorado apparently allowed with the caveat that the Rockies would have first crack if the Rangers had a change of heart. Back in Texas for a 12th season, Young is leading the Rangers with a .367 average and the man who replaced him at third base, Adrian Beltre, tops the club with 13 RBIs for the defending AL champions, who are tied for first place in the AL West.
Rangers 34-year-old whiz GM Jon Daniels declined comment on those three-month-old trade talks, but some around the game suspect he never really wanted to trade Young to begin with. Both men agreed Sunday that it's time for them to turn the page (or at least stop answering too many questions about the whole situation) a few weeks after what teams sources say was a rather raw late-spring closed-door meeting between the two in which Young is said to have let loose with a few choice words.
I can't blame them for wanting to move on. The controversy surrounding one of their all-time best players has all but subsided, three months after he nearly became the Rockies' new second baseman. "It worked out fine,'' Young said of the long, winding winter which ended with him right where he started, in the middle of Texas' excellent lineup. "We have a great group of guys. We have a tremendous clubhouse, and I'm happy to be part of it.''
Young, who suggested he wasn't entirely aware exactly how close he was to being dealt by the only team he's ever played for (word is, the Rangers were to get two young players and pay close to half of Young's $16-million salary), had this to say about the whole offseason, "I was happy the season got here. Everything took on a life of its own, and a lot of it didn't have to do with playing the game. What I want to do is play baseball.''
Young and Daniels are said to have met late in their uncomfortable spring to discuss what went on this winter, which culminated with Young, the team leader, publicly suggesting that Daniels was not honest with him at a couple junctures during a tough offseason, and a club source said Young was brutally forthright about his feelings on the matter when he spoke privately to Daniels. Young has made clear in the past he believes the team was trying to trade him at a time Daniels said they weren't and also believes they were trying to land a DH after he was told he'd be the DH. Asked if his talk with Daniels was as rough as a team source suggested, Young said, "We were honest. Let's just leave it at that. That's between us.''
People around the team say the relationship between the young hotshot GM with the new four-year extension and the team's longtime cornerstone star is "cordial'' and "professional'' after a few more talks, a positive development in that Young is needed now and becomes a 10-and-5 player with full trade veto rights as of May 15. For his part, Young suggested he focuses instead on other things. "I've had a great relationship with Wash,'' Young said of Rangers manager Ron Washington. "I know where I stand with Wash.''
Most importantly, Daniels seems to appreciate how Young is able to put any disagreement behind them when it comes to his play and the clubhouse, where he still seems to have a strong, positive effect. Competing execs do wonder about a possible problem for Daniels in Texas' clubhouse since Young is the most accomplished and probably the most respected player in there, with presumably heavy sway. But Daniels said, "It's never been an issue in the clubhouse. People who think that don't know him. Michael wants to win first and foremost. ''
Young has asked to be traded twice, the first time after he was displaced at shortstop a couple years ago by Elvis Andrus, but both he and the Rangers seem thrilled he's still there, whether or not he and Daniels ever become dining buddies. Young is now the No. 3 hitter in arguably the league's best lineup, which is without injured reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, perhaps the sport's most talented player who was lost for six-to-eight weeks in a freak injury when he slid home head first last week in Detroit. Hamilton's broken arm stirred a little more Rangers controversy when the 2010 AL MVP called third base coach Dave Anderson's suggestion to send him home a "stupid'' play. Daniels said Hamilton was saying that out of the emotion that came with the disappointment of injuring himself, and Hamilton has since apologized, acknowledging it was ultimately his call to go and an unlucky happenstance to injure himself.
Texas has remained formidable even without Hamilton. Daniels, with his lieutenants Thad Levine, A.J. Preller, Scott Servais and others ("they're all very smart,'' one competing GM said), have transformed this team. The 2007 trade of Mark Teixeira to the Braves yielded the star shortstop Andrus, star closer Neftali Feliz and lefty starter Matt Harrison. Righthander Alexi Ogando, Sunday's starter, was rescued after having his visa revoked. He's a $12,000 Rule V pickup from the rival A's, a Preller brainchild. Ogando entered the game with a 0.00 ERA in two starts, although his previous starting experience consisted of a few games in which he'd last three innings. The powerful Murphy, Hamilton's leftfield replacement, came in a package for washed-up pitcher Eric Gagne.
"We don't want to lose Josh. But we didn't blink,'' Young said. "We just picked up the pieces and moved on.'' Kind of the way Young handled things in his case, too.
• Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is trying to come up with what sources say is $200-million-plus to pay off ex-wife Jamie in his divorce case while still holding onto the team, and it appears to be an uphill battle at this point. The
• Two of the prospective buyers of the Mets, Stevie Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci, are known to be close to ex-Mets manager Bobby Valentine. The Wilpons are trying to sell a large minority stake in the team with the understanding they'd retain control of the operation of the team. But it would be interesting if a new partner wanted to bring Valentine in to manage. Fred Wilpon has resisted hiring Valentine since firing him following his very successful run in Queens from 1996 to 2002, which included the first back-to-back postseason appearances in franchise history in 1999 and 2000. But a vocal limited partner could bring Valentine's name back into play. Valentine, at the Yankees-Rangers game Sunday night for ESPN, was asked about the possibility of this happening, and he replied, "Why would I want to do that? I have a great job.'' Friends of Valentine's believe his managing career isn't over.
• Terry Collins predicted his Mets would go 9-2 over an 11-game stretch but that isn't going to happen, since they lost the first three. But Collins helped the Mets to a win over the Braves on Sunday by employing starters Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey in relief to break a seven-game losing streak. The Mets have made several mental mistakes this year, and outfielder Angel Pagan inexplicably seems to have regressed. Meanwhile, Brad Emaus, the Rule V pickup at second base, hasn't impressed many. "He looks like a Quadruple A player,'' one competing GM said.
• By waiting to finalize their $154 million deal with Adrian Gonzalez after agreeing to that number at the time of the trade in December, the Red Sox avoid the contract counting against their luxury tax -- this year, anyway. It's a loophole they've used before (Josh Beckett's $68 million deal last spring, and Clay Buchholz's just-finalized $30.5-million deal). Can't blame them for taking advantage, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if A-Gon suffered an injury before the deal was announced.
• Barry Zito's amazing streak of making 356 straight starts ended with his foot injury. Bronson Arroyo has to be one of the toughest pitchers going, with 172 straight starts since he relieved the last day of 2005. He pitched through mono this year already.
• The Yankees and Rangers both have worries about their No. 9 hitters, Pedro Borbon and Brett Gardner (who just was moved to No. 9 Sunday), respectively. Borbon was hitting .182, Gardner .146 entering the evening.
• The Rays may look into offense with Manny Ramirez gone. Johnny Damon isn't going to keep up his pace of current heroics (five straight walkoff hits). The Rangers' Chris Davis would be a great pickup for them.
• In the meantime, The Legend of San Fuld continues to grow. The little outfielder from tiny New Hampshire has been brilliant in starring for the Rays.
• Former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks may not look so bad to Ozzie Guillen now that the ChiSox manager has admitted, "We need a closer.'' Matt Thornton was the choice of GM Ken Williams, while pitching coach Don Cooper wanted Chris Sale.
• No numbers have leaked out on Texas' offer to C.J. Wilson, who's free-agent eligible after the year. But it stands to reason Wilson's side would invoke the contracts of A.J. Burnett and John Lackey, who each got $82.5 million for five years. Texas may like Wilson better than those two, but the question has to be asked: How do those deals look now?
• Funny, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman did some of the best bargain shopping this winter, signing Russell Martin ($4 million), Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez and Bartolo Colon (all a lot less than that in guaranteed money). He also inked Kevin Millwood, who threw seven innings of one-hit ball in his minor league debut recently.
• It was interesting to see Cashman mention how he tried to prevent Joe Torre from overusing former Yankees reliever Scott Proctor several years ago, a subject that came up after Cashman mentioned that injured reliever Pedro Feliciano was "abused'' by the Mets. Cashman is right that Torre should have gone easier on Proctor, especially before Proctor ever became arbitration eligible, but Cashman probably also didn't mind getting in his licks after how Torre treated him in his book,
• MLB loves how Torre is doing in his first days in his new job as a top-ranking officer at the league offices. He provides credibility and is the best spokesman possible for the league.
• Alex Rodriguez begged the Yankees to re-sign Melky Cabrera this winter. Cabrera moved to Miami in part to train with A-Rod this winter, and it seems to be paying off in Kansas City, where he signed for $1.2 million. Cabrera is batting .279 after hitting just .255 for the Braves last season. Royals GM Dayton Moore made several good cheap signings this winter (Bruce Chen, Jeff Francis).
• The Rockies are off to a terrific start, but Ian Stewart isn't living up to his vast potential. His confidence tends to waver in rough times, and he could be a candidate for demotion if he doesn't pick it up.
• The return of starting pitcher Brian Matusz can't come soon enough for the Orioles, who are suddenly sliding, with a seven-game losing streak. Matusz is expected back possibly within a week from his intercostal strain.
• Orioles people are very high on young starter Jake Arrieta. Chris Tillman is in the rotation at only 22, but some folks thought he got a bit "fortunate'' in his six-innings of no-hit ball against the Rays before the Yankees shellacked him,
• New Mariners manager Eric Wedge seems to be fed up less than three weeks into his job managing a team with severe offensive issues.
• For those worried about the slow-starting Red Sox, @DKnobler of CBSsports.com points out that the 2001 A's started 2-10 and wound up cracking 100 wins. "They have an unbelievable team,'' Beltre, the former Red Sox third baseman, said, "Talent-wise, if they're not No. 1, they are the No. 2 team in the big leagues.''