Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Deadline deals make up for slow start

Finally we got some trading action over the last 36 hours.

And no one was more involved than the Texas Rangers, who may have shifted the balance of power in the NL East race while keeping Boston in the driver's seat in the AL East.

Oh and don't forget the Rangers sending Kenny Lofton back home to Cleveland.

In return, Texas now has a stable full of youngsters to work with. If you're a Rangers fan, you have to hope your front office has formulated a plan to build quickly and not deviate from that blueprint.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Big trade for big Tex

Finally, Jon Daniels makes the right move.

Daniels, the 20-something Texas Rangers general manager, pulled the trigger on the biggest trade involving the Rangers since Texas sent Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees prior to the 2004 season.

Pending the results of physicals, Daniels sent slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, his one truly valuable trading chip, to Atlanta for shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus, catcher/first baseman Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a player to be named. Texas also threw in left-hander Ron Mahay in the deal.

I have been, on this blog in particular, tough on Daniels in the past, but this time it looks like he has a big hit on his hands. But after the debacle that was the Adrian Gonzalez-Chris Young-Terrmel Sledge for Adam Eaton-Akinori Otsuka trade, Daniels needed to hit this one out of the park.

If the prospects he has acquired live up to their hype, Daniels will have delivered the home run trade he needed to make.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why I hate Minute Maid Park

All you needed to know what I hate Houston's "major league'' park was on display today.

San Diego scores 11-- ELEVEN -- in the first inning. The Padres go on to win 18-11.

Look, I know Minute Maid Park has some nice features -- well, I'll keep thinking about that.

The Astros left one of the greatest pitching parks in the history of the game -- the Astrodome -- for a launching pad that should be in the same breath with Citzens Bank and Great American Ballpark.

I like offense as much as the next guy and the Astrodome was a killer for hitters. But something in-between would have been OK.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What kind of trade is this?

Houston traded pitcher Dan Wheeler to Tampa Bay for utility player Ty Wigginton on Saturday.

The move begs one question -- why? Sure Wheeler has struggled this season after putting together three solid years in the Astros bullpen.

Trading Wheeler made sense but to get Wigginton back is the confusing part. Manager Phil Garner already has enough trouble finding at-bats for Mark Loretta, Morgan Ensberg, Craig Biggio and Mike Lamb. Now Garner has another solid hitter who doesn't have a solidified position.

It should be interesting to see if Houston general manager Tim Purpura will flip Wigginton for someone else or make more moves period.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Greetings from the Mile High City

I'm currently vacationing in Denver and, yes, part of the trip included a Colorado Rockies' game.

My friend and I saw the Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Rockies 5-4 last night (Thursday) at beautiful Coors Field.

Having been to two of the new-style western ballparks (San Francisco, San Diego) prior to this trip, I was pretty sure what to expect. And Coors delivered.

The outside facades are traditional brick, much like Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The inside is pristine as a 12-year-old park can be. The view we had from our left-field line seats was the only thing lacking, but you can see the real Rockies -- the mountains -- from any seat in the right-field corner to home plate.

To top things off, we saw a tight, mostly well-played, game that started as a pitchers' duel then ended with some All-Star drama as Dodgers All-Star closer Takashi Saito fanned Colorado All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday on a hard fastball in the dirt with the tying run on base.

All in all, it was a great way to start this trip.

Trade talk

The Rangers have made their first big trade today -- and it's not what you would think.

Nope, Mark Teixeira is still a member of the Rangers -- at least for the moment.

The Rangers dealt outfielder Kenny Lofton to Cleveland for catching prospect Max Ramirez.

This is a pretty good deal for the Rangers. Holding on to Lofton wouldn't accomplish anything this season. Catching is a dire need for just about everyone and if Ramirez pans out, this could be a memorable deal.

Teixeira, meanwhile, seems more and more like a future Atlanta Braves player. The Braves have a valuable trade chip in Jarrod Saltalamacchia who came up through the farm system as a catcher but has played some at first in Atlanta.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Say it ain't so

The Texas Rangers just swept the Seattle Mariners in four games. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games.

And, say it ain't so, they look like they actually have an idea or two.

Of course, it's too late to make any difference this season. But lost in Cowboys training camp may be one of the first steps in building a winner in Arlington.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Time has come for Daniels to deal

The Texas Rangers are playing some of their best ball of the season in the past 45 or so days -- a string that began, strangely enough, when first baseman/trade target Mark Teixeira hit the disabled list for the first time in his career.a pNow that Teixeira's back, the Rangers are still winning and the former All-Star continues to produce. So what should Rangers GM Jon Daniels do?

The answer is simple. Deal Tex.

It may not be the most popular move in the Metroplex, but if there has been or will be a time to deal Teixeira, it's now.

He has another year on his contract, meaning the team who lands him would get a year and two months of service instead of just two months. And given Teixeira's relatively reasonable 2008 salary (in the $12 million range), he could bring a king's ransom for this depressed market.

The Rangers have to figure out what direction they're heading. Teixerira's comments lately intomate a player who will say so long to north Texas as soon as his contact expires. So why not deal him to Atlanta for some pitching depth (Kyle Davies, Jo Jo Reyes) and maybe a fringe prospect (Elvis Andrus)?

If Daniels is going to make a move, he better do it now or risking receiving only draft picks in 2009 for Teixeira.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bye-bye Biggio

Baseball fans have two more months to enjoy the career of Craig Biggio.

On Tuesday, Biggio announced his intention to retire at the end of the season. Given the state of athletes and their pseudo-retirements, it's easy for people to say Biggio's pronouncement holds no water.

But Biggio is different from many of today's self-absorbed superstars. It seems he knows when it's time to step down. He knows he can no longer help the Houston Astros on an everyday basis like he has for the past 19 seasons.

Biggio's respect for the game and those who came before him have made him a fan favorite and his 3,000-plus hits have made him a Hall of Fame candidate. But it's his endearing support of the Sunshine Kids that sticks out to me.

From the hat pin he wore until this season to his annual golf tournament to the times he hosts the kids at Minute Maid Park, Biggio has always kept the group of children with cancer in the forefront of people's attention.

So while his numbers may or may not be worthy of Hall of Fame acclaim, his charitable work has made him a Hall of Fame member of the Houston community.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Emotional spectrum covered

Monday was an emotional day in the baseball world.

It started with news of the death of Mike Coolbaugh, a 35-year-old first base coach in Double-A Tulsa. Coolbaugh was hit in the head by a line drive during Sunday night's game in Arkansas and died en route to the hospital.

Coolbaugh was a husband and father of two sons, ages 5 and 3. Part of the reason he took the job was because his kids liked seeing their dad in uniform.

Coolbaugh played at Fair Grounds Field with Tulsa in the mid-1990s. His brother, Scott, a former major league third baseman, played here with El Paso in the late 1990s. The Coolbaughs are a baseball family through and through and it's a shame that a baseball took Mike Coolbaugh from his family.

On the other end of the emotional gamut was the return of Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester to the big leagues. Lester won seven games as a rookie for Boston in 2006 before finding out last summer he had a treatable form of lymphoma.

Less than a year later, Lester was back on a big league mound, holding a powerful Cleveland offense to two runs in six innings to earn the victory in his 2007 debut.

For the Coolbaughs and Lesters -- and for some fans -- it was a day of tears. Some were of pain and loss, some were of joy and hope.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

When bad is bad

The Shreveport Sports officially have the worst record in the American Association in the second half.

The Sports have lost seven straight.

But wait, it gets worse.

The Sports were swept in a four-game series by a St. Joe team that came in on a 12-game losing streak and left on a four-game winning streak.

But wait, it gets worse.

The Sports took a four-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. They blew the lead and then lost in extra innings.

There are a lot of excuses the Sports can use. They never got the core of their team on the field because of visa problems. They've had their share of roster turnover.

But the reality is this isn't a very good baseball team at this moment.

Can they turn it around and make the playoffs? I guess. Anything can happen. But more likely we won't have baseball during the last week of August in Shreveport.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Walker update

Caught up with Todd Walker yesterday as part of our first-person Barry Bonds story.

It seems like the former major leaguer is at peace and enjoying life away from the daily grind. He's picked up some work on "The Baseball Show" on ESPN Radio and will head to Cooperstown next week for the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.

Walker has taken the chance he's been given to live a normal life and run with it. He is, by his own admission, playing a lot of golf and tennis and just enjoying life as a husband and father.

So while Tood Walker may not miss baseball, I think baseball misses guys like Todd Walker.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bonds gets closer

So here we are in late July and Barry Bonds is two homers away from tying Hank Aaron's home run record and three from setting it.

I've come to the acceptance that Bonds is going to break the record. Of course the record will last as long as it takes Alex Rodriguez to get there.

Do I have questions about Bonds and steroids? sure, but I have questions about steroids and a lot of players.

You can still have your questions, even your dislikes, but you have to acknowledge the accomplishment.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Things look good for Baker

Scott Baker has probably earned himself some breathing room in the Minnesota Twins' rotation. And that may help the former Captain Shreve Gator continue his string of strong starts.

Baker took a no-decision Thursday in the Twins' 4-3 loss to Detroit, but he turned in another quality start, allowing three runs in 6 1-3 innings. Counting the complete-game, 1-0 loss he tossed against Detroit on July 1, Baker has allowed four runs in 14 1-3 innings against the top offense in the majors.

That can only help Baker, who seems more comfortable with each passing start. Maybe it's because he no longer has to look over his shoulder and worry about taking the shuttle back to Triple-A Rochester.

After all, four quality starts out of five will do that for a guy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Must-hear TV

As many bad broadcasters are out there (cough, cough Tim McCarver) there are some national announcers who have been as equally pleasant to hear on the air.

Take Orel Hershiser. In his second season on the air, he has become more comfortable as an analyst. His takes on Detroit's Andrew Miller during Wednesday night's game were right on target.

Hershiser and his fellow analyst, Steve Phillips, were slotted perfectly alongside each other. Hershiser playing the straight-forward analyst to Phillips' goofy story-telling sidekick.

Looks like ESPN has a good thing going with these two.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where my brain's at

I'm somewhat shamed to admit this, but I drove by a local Taco Bell today and on their marquee was a sign that said, "Hiring closers. $7"

I completely understood the sign, meaning the restaurant was looking for employees to work the closing shift. But, of course, being the middle of summer and with a fantasy baseball team in dire need of some pitching my mind shifted to relievers.

Hey, what can I say. I'm a baseball fan.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Welcome to Baylor, Derek

Calvary's Derek Blankenship signed a college scholarship with Baylor on Monday morning.

After speaking with Baylor head coach Steve Smith, it seems Blankenship will have a chance to prove himself either on the mound or at the plate.

Smith likes Blankenship's bat, but he loves his arm, which means if Blankenship hits well, great. If he doesn't, that powerful right arm that has touched 92 mph with a fastball could be used on the mound at Baylor.

Two-way players are slowly slipping out of consciousness at the highest college levels, which means Blankenship could end up as a pitcher or a hitter and not both. Still, he presents Smith with an interesting player, especially for someone who signed so close to the beginning of the fall semester.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

10,000 losses

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies on becoming the first North American franchise to reach 10,000 losses.

Now we can all move on with our lives.

Seriously, could it have been any more perfect for a Philadelphia team to hit this mark first? After all, this is a city whose fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus and cheered Michael Irvin's career-ending neck injury at Veterans Stadium.

For all Chicago's and Boston's talk about waiting a long time for a baseball championship, those cities had championships -- even dynasties -- of recent vintage in other sports (Bulls, Patriots).

Philly has teams in all four major sports and is working on a 24-year championship drought. The 1983 76ers were the last team from the City of Brotherly Love to feel the title love, leaving the city with summers of lost cause after lost cause.

So here's to you, Philly. May you have 10,000 more losses in you.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ebb and flow

Here's beautiful part No. 3,482 about baseball, specifically Major League Baseball -- the ebb and flow of a season.

Right now, there's a certain Cubs fan in this office who is puffing his chest out and decrying his favorite team the hottest team in the majors. And, right now, he's right.

But that doesn't guarantee them anything. Being the hottest team on July 14 is like being the best athlete as a 12-year-old -- it's nice at the time, but it doesn't always portend future success.

Yes, the Cubs are hot right now. Yes, they've turned Houston into a pinata. Yes, they'd be a team to be reckoned with in the playffs. Right now.

For every run like the Cubs are on now, however, there usually is an opposite run. It happens for all 30 teams at least once or twice a season.

No team can be a metronome for 162 games. It defies physical and mental abilities. And, yet, it shows exactly why this is such a beautiful game.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Big Z owes Houston some big $

Whenever Carlos Zambrano signs that big contract -- be with the Chicago Cubs or someone else -- he should donate a large portion of his contract to the Houston Astros.

That's how generous the Astros have been to the volatile right-hander. Friday it happened again.

Zambrano tossed 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball and went 2-for-3 with an RBI.

If the Astros, as my good friend Larry Wade said, are to get back in the playoff hunt, they better hope they don't see the big Venezuelan on the mound.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Davis would be good fit at NSU

Northwestern State athletic director Greg Burke has been dead on when it comes to hiring coaches to lead the Demons into battle, regardless of the sport.

His next choice -- filling the shoes of baseball coach Mitch Gaspard, who returned to Alabama earlier this week -- is sitting on campus.

He is someone who hasn't attracted a lot of attention. He is someone who has been proficient in what he's done.

He is someone with strong ties to the program and a long tenure in Natchitoches. He is someone who knows exactly how to keep the Demons' program at its lofty stature in the Southland Conference.

He is J.P. Davis, currently the NSU pitching coach. The seasons in which the Demons' enjoyed their biggest amount of success were ones in which the pitching staff sparkled and shined.

With a program in a state of flux, it makes little sense to take away another stable piece of the puzzle, making Davis that much better a fit at Brown-Stroud Field.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rike's a Rockie

Louisiana Tech's Brian Rike just helped us out in what, traditionally, is one of the slowest sports days on the calendar.

Rike signed a professional baseball contract with the Colorado Rockies about an hour ago. His signing gave us a story and gave Rike six figures worth of cash.

Rike, as a second-round pick, is deserving of the money. He's a player who turnedthe pressure of being a draft-eligible player for the first time into his best collegiate season.

We don't know right now how Rike will turn out as a pro prospect, but it's a good bet the mavens at Baseball America will show him some love in their Prospect Handbook before next season.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All-Star observations

Random thoughts from watching Tuesday night's 78th All-Star Game:

I think Tim McCarver's inanity has rubbed off on Joe Buck.

Ichiro Suzuki certainly is one of the most uniquely talented hitter in baseball history. Take his three hits Tuesday night. He had a scorched ground-ball single, a cue-shot flare and a ringing inside-the-park home run. Three different pitchers, three different swings. One result -- another hit for the Japanese maestro.

AT&T Park may be the most picturesque ballpark in the country. I went to two games there in 2005 and each shot of the park made me either want to go back or remember back to those games.

Eventually the AL's dominance will end and that end shall come sooner rather than later. The National League blew some chances this time, but the young stars permeating the NL roster should give those fans hope for a breakthrough in the next couple of seasons.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Stars born?

Tomorrow night is when most baseball fans will tune in to see the sport's "stars."

Monday, however, may be when most people first remember seeing Alex Rios and Matt Holliday. All of us here at Talkin' Baseball ask that you don't forget them.

Holliday and Rios play on teams (Colorado, Toronto) that get slim to no national media attention. Given those situations, players have to take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself.

Both did so Monday night, perhaps none moreso than Rios. His 12-homer binge in the second round was one of the night's highlights and showed he has more than overcome a nasty injury that cost him a large portion of last season.

Same goes for Holliday, who is fast becoming more than just the son of a successful college coach (former Oklahoma State coach Tom Holliday).

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Extra baseball in Houston no surprise

Should anyone really be surprised that on a day of extra-inning games the Houston Astros and New York Mets should be involved in the longest?

After all, these are the teams who matched up for one of the more memorable extra-inning playoff games in the 1986 NL Championship Series. And each has another long playoff extra-inning game burned into its memory.

For the Astros, the memories are grand. The 18-inning NL Division Series clincher against Atlanta in 2005 sparked the 'Stros to their first World Series appearance.

For the Mets, the memories are far from grand. Anyone remember Kenny Rogers walking home the series-clinching run against Atlanta in the 1999 NL Championship Series?

Memories aside, the Mets and former Astro Billy Wagner finally got the better of Houston in 17 exhausting innings Saturday night.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Magic Wandy key to Astros recent run

Say you're a Houston Astros fan. There may finally be light at the end of the tunnel.

That is if Wandy Rodriguez keeps pitching the way he did Friday night and the bats stay hot. Rodriguez shut out the New York Mets, allowing four hits. The complete game marked another in a line of strong outings for the Houston left-hander.

Meanwhile, the Astros continue to hit. After two-plus months of complete offensive ineptitude Houston has hit its stride.

The chances of the Astros staging a second-half run anywhere near their 2004 and 2005 episodes are slim and none, but I've said that before and been proven wrong.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Plenty of talent in town this weekend

Shreveport-Bossier City will see plenty of good baseball players come through town in the course of a summer.

Some of the best are in town this weekend for the Steadman's Sports Center Classic, which is being played at Airline High and LSUS through Sunday.

The tournament, run by Gametime Academy's Ronnie Coker, features the Louisiana Legends, a Lafayette-based select team that has on its roster LSU center fielder Jared Mitchell and Barbe High grad Carmen Angelini, the Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year.

Combine the Legends' talent with one of Coker's Gametime teams that features three LSU signees and you can start to see the scope of talent on the field this weekend.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Interesting times for Texas

The Texas Rangers are on their best roll of the season and, strangely, they are doing it without Mark Teixeira, who has been on the disabled list since June 9.

Teixeira was hitting over .300 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs when he injured his left quad. Since then the Rangers are 12-9 and are in position to sweep AL West-leading Los Angeles on Thursday.

Teixeira was mentioned as trade bait as the Rangers limped through the first two months of the season. Now, even if Texas keeps Teixeira, manager Ron Washington faces an interesting decision of how to work Tex back in and find a spot for Brad Wilkerson, who has been absolutely blistering the ball during the last week.

It will be interesting to see who has to make the decisions regarding Teixeira -- Washington or general manager Jon Daniels.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Weird news from Pittsburgh

With a day off from the office, I spent some time perusing one of my favorite baseball-related sites www.mlbtraderumors.com. While there I saw some interesting news regarding former Shreveport Captain Salomon Torres.

Torres apparently is at odds with Pittsburgh Pirates management over a number of topics and has requested a trade.

One of the more interesting developments is over an unwritten agreement where the Pirates wold pay rent for one of Torres' baseball academies in the Dominican Republic. Supposedly the Pirates have not lived up to their end of the bargain and Torres has filed a grievance over it.

This is the second time a player with Shreveport-Bossier City ties has filed a grievance this season. Unfortunately for Torres, I don't see his turning out as well as I can see Todd Walker's grievance against the San Diego Padres going.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Houston loves the Phillies

If only because the Astros have owned the Phils the last few seasons.

Baseball is a funny sport, especially when it comes to one team's dominance over another. Take the Astros and Phillies.

In 2004-05, the Astros won 12 straight games against Philadelphia. TWELVE STRAIGHT. In 2005, had Philly won one of its six games against Houston there would have been a one-game playoff for the wild-card spot. Remember, that's the season Philadelphia concluded on some ridiculously hot winning streak. Instead, Houston took the wild card and rode it to the first World Series appearance in franchise history.

Why do I bring this up? Simply because horrid Houston defeated Philly, a legit playoff contender 7-5 on Monday. Is it another sign of Astros dominance or just a flash in the pan to start the season series? We'll soon see.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

All-Star surprises

I've both blogged and talked about how losing the Shreveport Captains/Swamp Dragons lessened this area's connection with the major leagues and that in itself goes without saying.

Sunday, this area saw another link to the majors cut off -- at least for the time being.

After having at least two representatives with area ties in the last two All-Star Games, Shreveport-Bossier City has none this year. No Joe Nathan. No B.J. Ryan. No other former Captain/Dragon.

That being said, there were the usual tough decisions managers Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa had to make regarding their rosters. And given the game's antiquated "every team will be represented" rule, they did just fine.

The only real surprise in my eyes was Michael Young representing the Texas Rangers. Nothing against Young, the 2006 All-Star Game MVP, but Sammy Sosa is having a more productive year for the Rangers and Young's first half has been substandard by his lofty standards.

Now I'm off to cast my vote on MLB.com for the final player vote.