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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 15, 2009 at 4:29 AM

I’m a believer — in the Rangers

As a commenter graciously (and fairly) pointed out yesterday — and now as I sit in the Dallas airport, I can’t find the post, so I don’t know who to credit — the Mariners are 1-9 since I wrote my infamous “Becoming a Mariners Believer” post on May 4. Looking back at it, I’m happy to note that I included some skepticism and the proviso that it could still all fall apart. And for now, it has. The fundamentla flaws that led me to pick this team for last place in our baseball preview section are making themselves evident. As I wrote in the blog, “Will it all fall apart once the inevitable slump hits? Who knows. Will this post look foolish in August? Who knows.There are still five long, brutal months for the Mariners to be exposed.”

Little did I know it would take less than two weeks for them to be exposed. All is not lost, of course. They still have the potential to turn this into an upbeat season that positions them for contention in 2010, which was my initial projection for 2009 before I was seduced into jumping onto the bandwagon.

One just needs to look at the Texas Rangers to see the potential goldmine that awaits a team that trades wisely at the deadline. The Mariners can go two ways this year — either they rebound into contention, which would be great for them; or they don’t, in which case they will have all those trade chips for Jack Zduriencik to manuever with — free-agents-to-be Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn and Adrian Beltre, primarily. Miguel Batista is also on that list, but doesn’t figure to bring back much of a return. Russ Branyan could prove attractive to a contender looking for a lefty bat.

Two years ago, the Rangers leveraged Mark Teixeira at the July 31 deadline and got a return from Atlanta that is now shaping their future — and their present, for that matter: Pitcher Matt Harrison, who has worked two consecutive complete games and looks like he will be a solid starter for them; shortstop Elvis Andrus, who at age 20 is already a spectacular defensive player who will only get better; catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has improved greatly this season; and, oh yeah, Neftali Feliz, who throws 100 mph and is one of the top pitching prospects in all the minor leagues.

Yes, Teixeira had another year left on his contract at the time, so the Braves were willing to give up more. But Jack Z. could have a golden opportunity to shape the Mariners’ future come July.

At the risk of looking like someone who flits from hot team to hot team, I am impressed with the Rangers. They’re always going to score runs, of course, but the pitching looks vastly improved. And they could get a real boost at some point this year not only from Feliz but also Derek Holland, another hot starting prospect who is already up with the Rangers in their bullpen.

And it’s not just me. Here’s what Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote earlier this week:

Meanwhile, across the state, scouts who have followed the Rangers have a completely different vision of where Texas’ other team might be headed.

“I think they’ve got a chance to steal that division,” one scout said. “What I’d love to see them do is reach down, call up that kid Neftali Feliz and say, ‘We’re going to give it a run in September.’ I know they don’t want to push him. But this kid has electric stuff. It’s about the easiest 100 [mph] you’ll ever see. It’s like he’s having a catch, except it’s 100 miles an hour.”

A second scout sang the same song, saying, “I’d like to see them do what Colorado did a couple of years ago with [Ubaldo] Jimenez and [Franklin] Morales — put Feliz and [Derek] Holland in the rotation and go for it. I think they could pull it off.

“People haven’t noticed, but their pitchers have pitched a lot better. Nolan [Ryan] has brought a different philosophy, and Mike Maddux is as good a pitching coach as it gets. They’re pitching more aggressively with their fastballs, and they’re pitching inside a lot better. Look at [Vicente] Padilla and [Kevin] Millwood. They were given up for dead a year ago. Right now, they’re pitching their butts off. I’m starting to think that team could be one of the nice little stories of the year.”

One reason the Rangers can’t think about calling up Feliz any time soon: He’s been out for the last week and a half with a sore shoulder.

Frankly, the quote by the unnamed scout about Feliz being called up shocks me. Not that he’d make the suggestion, but that a baseball employee would use the phrase “having a catch.” Unforgivable

Coming soon: My “I believe in the Angels” blog post.

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