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3 Texas Rangers

March 26, 2007
March 26, 2007

Table of Contents
March 26, 2007

2007 Baseball Preview
SI Bonus Section: Golf Plus
SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
2007 NCAA Tournament
2007 NCAA Tournament
Pro Basketball
PRO FOOTBALL

3 Texas Rangers

Manager RonWashington first season with Rangers

MUCH OF the conversation at Rangers camp this spring centered on the comebackof Sammy Sosa and understandably so, given his high profile and propensity forself-promotion. Ever modest, he wore a slammin' sammy's back T-shirt on hissecond day in Surprise, Ariz. But more important to Texas's season is thecomeback of another former All-Star, new closer Eric Gagné. Over the last twoyears Gagné has pitched only 151/3 innings because of elbow and back injuries.Still, the memory of his 2003 Cy Young season, not to mention his 96.4%lifetime save rate--no other active pitcher is higher than 91.7%--was enoughfor the Rangers to gamble on a one-year, $6 million deal. "There were veryfew guys on the market who we thought could be impact players, and he was atthe top of the short list," says general manager Jon Daniels. "At sixmillion we're counting on him."

This is an article from the March 26, 2007 issue Original Layout

Gagné may notlook the part of the intimidating closer, with his squat, 6-foot, 245-poundframe, scruffy hair and rumpled pants (he requests them a size larger thannecessary), but if he regains his form, Texas will have one of the bestbullpens in baseball. Hard-throwing Frank Francisco and Wes Littleton willsplit work in the seventh inning, and Akinori Otsuka, who racked up 32 saves in36 chances last season, will pitch the eighth (that is, if Daniels doesn'ttrade him this spring for more depth in the rotation or another bat).

Otsuka isn'tthrilled about his demotion. He says the Rangers didn't talk to him beforesigning Gagné and that he was caught by surprise because, "I thought Ipitched very well last year." Otsuka isn't the type to let his displeasureaffect his performance, but it's a situation worth watching.

Daniels's otheroff-season moves included a savvy pickup of OBP-machine Frank Catalanotto and aquestionable signing of centerfielder Kenny Lofton, 39, who's a defensivedowngrade over the departed Gary Matthews Jr. Both moves, however, wereovershadowed by the decision to replace manager Buck Showalter with RonWashington, the longtime A's infield instructor and third base coach. Afterfour years in Texas, Showalter's dour personality had worn on the players. Thearrival of Washington, not surprisingly, was greeted with everything short of akegger, in part because many Rangers already knew him. While with Oakland,Washington had a habit of dispensing fielding tips to opposing players. Upongetting the job in November, he embarked on a barnstorming tour to reintroducehimself.

"I rememberhe called in the [winter] and was like, 'What are you doing tomorrow?'"says Michael Young, who lives in Palm Springs, Calif., in the off-season."He was there the next morning for breakfast. I love the guy. He's going toget everything I have from Day One."

The Ranger whoshould benefit the most from the regime change is third baseman Hank Blalock,whose power numbers have declined from 32 homers and a .500 slugging percentagein 2004 to 16 and .401 in '06, something he admits was due in part to"being a little stubborn, trying to do it Hank's way." The waveringfaith that Showalter had in him didn't help, either. When Blalock struggledagainst lefties last year, Showalter benched him, then later returned him tothe lineup but hit him lower in the order. Now Blalock says he's ready to do itRon's way. "He's always been my favorite coach on another team," saysBlalock. "I'm looking forward to this year."

So too are therest of the Rangers, whose owner Tom Hicks is not idly boasting when he says,"We could have the best infield in baseball and the best bullpen." Thenagain, by July, Gagné could be back on the DL, a reality Washingtonacknowledges. "I've never been with a team that has a bullpen with thepotential that this team has," he says, "but potential doesn't win ballgames."

CONSIDERTHIS

a modestproposal ...

The signing ofKenny Lofton doesn't address the defensive weakness in centerfield created bythe free-agent defection of Gary Matthews Jr. to the Angels. At 39 Lofton(left) no longer has the speed to recover from his misreads, and he's alwayshad a below-average arm. Also, he has become a platoon hitter because of his.652 OPS against lefties since 2004 (.793 against righthanders). Freddy Guzman,a 26-year-burner, would be a better choice for patrolling the pasture behindthe Rangers' fly ball pitching staff while G.M. Jon Daniels looks for acenterfielder with a little more pop than Guzman has. Lofton could still be ahealthy contributor, but as part of a Clinton Administration platoon with SammySosa at DH. Lofton's OPS against righthanders and Sosa's power againstsouthpaws combined makes for a high-production, high-Q-rating, low-costdesignated hitter.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

THE LINEUP
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS

KENNY LOFTON*CF    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L183.30134132
MICHAEL YOUNGSS    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R44.314141037
MARK TEIXEIRA1B    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
S-R29.282331102
SAMMY SOSA*

2005 stats

DH    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R150.22114451
HANK BLALOCK3B    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R124.26616891
BRAD WILKERSONLF    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L216.22215443
GERALD LAIRDC    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R191.2967223
IAN KINSLER2B    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R111.286145511
NELSON CRUZRF   
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R224.2236221

 

BENCH     
FRANK CATALANOTTO*OF    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R263.3007561
JERRY HAIRSTON JR.OF    
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R366.2060105

 

ROTATION       
PITCHER PVRWLKWHIPERA
RHKevin Millwood7616121571.314.52
RHVicente Padilla11715101561.384.50
RHBrandon McCarthy*8847691.304.68
RHRobinson Tejeda18755401.564.28
RHKameron Loe18036341.625.86

 

BULLPEN       
PITCHER PVRWLSVWHIPERA
RHEric Gagné*900010.500.00
RHAkinori Otsuka9524321.072.11
RHScott Feldman2370201.263.92


* New acquisition
B-T:Bat - Throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)

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THE NUMBERS

LIE

9

Home runs thatfirst baseman Mark Teixeira hit before the All-Star break last season, tyinghim for 113th in the majors. However, in 275 at bats after the break,Teixeira--who banged 43 homers in 2005 and averaged nearly 36 homers in hisfirst three seasons in the majors--went yard 24 times, which was second only toRyan Howard's 30 for the Phillies over that span.

PHOTOCHRIS BERNACCHI/SPORTPICSGOING, GOING ...Blalock, who watched his home run totals fall by 50% from 2004 to '06, should feel more confident under his new skipper.PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (LOFTON)PHOTOJIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (YOUNG)Young