Thursday, July 1, 2010
Rangers Look for Pitching and Ownership
By ROSS NEWHAN
Well, here we are in Anaheim, where the Angels and Texas Rangers have split the first two games of their first mid-summer showdown for dominance in the American League West, and here are my succinct impressions.
The Angels remain a shade better pitching wise while the Rangers, with former Angel Vlad Guerrero and Josh Hamilton producing MVP caliber seasons, are a shade better position-wise.
Even those modest impressions, however, remain subject to change.
The Angels, for instance, are almost certain to acquire a power hitting first baseman and/or third baseman before the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline while the Rangers, having secured veteran catcher Bengie Molina on Thursday, seem certain to improve their pitching staff before the deadline if the complicated bankruptcy situation that envelops the franchise can be resolved before the deadline.
"I never dreamt of being in a bankruptcy court," Nolan Ryan, who became Rangers president in February of 2008 and is a partner of Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg in their attempt to buy the club from Tom Hicks, told me by phone from the club's home in Arlinton, Tex. "It's like being on a roller coaster. One day I'm confident it will work out. The next day I remember it's in the the hands of the court and anything can happen. I try to forget about it and deal with my day to day business."
Part of that business is working with general manager Jon Daniels in an attempt to provide the Rangers with a potentially big name pitcher capable of stepping into the front of the rotation.
The staff will be helped considerably if Rich Hardin and Derek Holland, both sidelined for most of the first half, can return shortly after next week's All-Star break.
Hardin has the ability to lead a staff, but his physical uncertainty have the Rangers looking elsewhere, possibly among the many clubs interested in Seattle's Cliff Lee, who is bound to be traded before the deadline.
Any deal the Rangers make must fit into their MLB approved budget, and receive the blessing of MLB under the terms of the bankruptcy.
Ryan would not address Lee specifically, but he said "we have enough talent in our system that if the right deal presents itself, we might be able to do it. We would also be willing to trade draft choices if the right deal is there.
"In other words, we feel we can put a package together, and we feel we're capable of winning the division with our hitting and defense if we can add a veteran presence to the rotation.
"Hardin fits that status, but that's not to say we wouldn't like to do more."
Since moving into an official position with the team, Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux have preached two things to the pitchers: Forget pitch counts and throw strikes.
The team earned-run average has continued to fall, but Ryan said he wasn't currently happy about the number of pitches his starters have been throwing because it has put too much stress on the bullpen.
In turn, he implied, "that's where my stress is coming from."
Ryan was nicknamed the Express on the basis of his high 90s fastball during his 70s era tenure with the Angels, when he threw four of his record seven no-hitters.
The late Buzzie Bavasi, the Angeles general manager at the time, always said that letting Ryan get away as a free agent after the 1979 season was the biggest mistake of his storied career.
As Ryan continued to throw no hitters and set strike out records, first with Houston and then with the Rangers, Bavasi sent him a telegram which said:
"I have admitted that letting you leave was my biggest mistake. You don't have to keep rubbing it in."
Ryan, elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and Greenberg have named their ownership group Rangers Baseball Express. They reached agreement with Hicks on a $575 million purchase and filed for bankruptcy in May, attempting to unblock creditors claims that they are owed $525 million and that the club is worth more than the $575 that Greenberg and Ryan would be paying.
A mediation process begins next week, and whether the ultimate decision will rest with the court or a proposed one day auction is unclear.
The one certainty is that MLB seems to favor the Greenberg-Ryan group and retains the right to approve or disapprove of any candidate.
The other certainty, said Ryan, is that they do not want the process "to drag on beyond the deadline," a clear indication they are and will be in the hunt for pitching.