I don't know you personally, but my guess is you don't plan on ending your career with a playoff hamstring injury. There are a few challenges left.
My team, the Texas Rangers, wants you. They've taken some bold steps this offseason, and I bet they've got one more in them, maybe the boldest of all.
Their new general manager, Jon Daniels, took the job in early October, inheriting a pitching staff that it's only a slight exaggeration to suggest was as uncertain as any in franchise history. Less than three months later, it might only be a slight exaggeration to suggest the Ranger starting five has never been more promising.
With you in it, it could be baseball's most promising.
Texas traded for Vicente Padilla and Adam Eaton in the past few weeks, and then signed Kevin Millwood over the holiday. Millwood's a guy who, like you, has proven that he can be just as good in the American League as in the National League, and in fact, his 2005 season was a lot like yours in some ways. Your 13-8 record would have been far better had Houston scored more than 3.58 runs per game for you. Millwood's 9-11 mark would have looked a lot different had Cleveland scored more than 3.98 runs per game for him.
Runs are not going to be a problem with the Rangers lineup behind you.
It's been a long time since a frontline starting pitcher other than Kenny Rogers has decided he wanted to pitch in Arlington. Millwood has made that choice. You could do it, too.
The reigning NL ERA leader and reigning AL ERA leader together in 2006? As Rangers? Make it happen.
Millwood is a winner. Like you, he's been a winner in both leagues. He's proven he can dominate the AL West, and like you, he's fearless. His attitude is that his job is simply to beat the other pitcher. You, of course, aren't afraid of anything. Together, you can infuse this talented young ballclub with the single-minded will to win that makes champions. You've done it before.
For crying out loud, Millwood's middle name is Austin. What else do you need to know?
Speaking of Austin, your Longhorn brother Tom Hicks has stepped up this winter, making a financial guarantee to Millwood that shows that the Rangers are no longer gun-shy from the Chan Ho Park contract. Millwood is getting a five-year deal worth $60 million, with the fifth year locking in as long as he stays healthy.
But the commitment that Hicks has shown in terms of added payroll is only the second-boldest step he's taken this winter. The first was entrusting the GM post to Daniels. Lots of us thought that if and when the time came that John Hart needed to be replaced, Hicks might go for a bigger name, like your old boss Gerry Hunsicker or Orel Hershiser, even if Daniels was the most qualified person for the job. But to Hicks' credit, he believed that Daniels was ready despite his relative lack of experience in the game. And Daniels has rewarded him, and us, with a bold algorithm of moves in December that has gone something like this:
Traded a a player to be named (out-of-options right-hander Ricardo Rodriguez) to Philadelphia for Padilla
Traded Alfonso Soriano to Washington for outfielder/leadoff hitter Brad Wilkerson, Minor League right-hander Armando Galarraga, and outfielder Terrmel Sledge
Traded Chris Young, Sledge, and Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego for Eaton, setup man Akinori Otsuka, and Minor League catcher Billy Killian
Lots of people think Wilkerson (you know him: he's hit .444 off you in nine trips) fits the Ranger lineup better than Soriano on his own. And yet Daniels got Galarraga, who adds to the club's stable of pitching prospect depth, and Sledge, without whom the trade for Eaton and Otsuka may not have gotten done (unless Texas wanted to part with a full-time player instead). It also stands to reason that without getting Padilla, Eaton, and Otsuka first -- and by improving the club's defense by adding Wilkerson and replacing Soriano -- Texas might have had a hard time getting Millwood here, in two respects: (1) Millwood probably wouldn't have been as interested in this club without the earlier strikes; and (2) had Daniels not been able to make all the pre-Millwood changes without a significant increase in payroll, Texas probably wouldn't have been able to propose a strong enough financial package to land him. This was all expertly orchestrated.
Are you next?
What Daniels has done is added an ace, a number two, and a number three, plus an eighth-inning arm, a leadoff hitter, and an improved defense, parting with only two future pieces -- Young and Gonzalez -- and not trading one pitching prospect (in fact, he added one in Galarraga). The prospects don't matter to you all that much, except from this standpoint: should this club be in the thick of it in the summer, Daniels is poised to make an impact trade in July to put the club over the top. His primary trade chips remain intact.
At least one of them, a 22-year-old right-hander named Thomas Diamond, models himself after you, in his approach, his attitude, and his velocity. He's a year away, but the impact you could have on him in Spring Training alone would be immeasurable. That's part of the legacy you want to leave, right?
This is a young man who looks like you, acts like you, idolizes you. Wouldn't it be satisfying to pass the torch (and maybe the splitty) on to him, Rajah to pupil?
Michael Young and Mark Teixeira lead this team, and they're hungry. They are Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, but more than 10 years younger. They're the two players the local press has gone to this week to take the team's temperature on the addition of Millwood, and it's obvious that they're energized. Imagine how much more fired up they and their teammates and this community will be if you sign on.
In the rotation here, there's Millwood, a warrior locked in for four or five years. Eaton and Padilla pitching in contract years. Kameron Loe as promising at the back of the rotation as Brandon Backe was for Houston this year, plus Juan Dominguez as a better Ezequiel Astacio, and C.J. Wilson, Josh Rupe, Edison Volquez, R.A. Dickey, John Danks, and Diamond not too far behind.
There's something good being built here. Quickly.
Seventeen years ago, after you'd finished your fifth big league season, Texas made a December splash that included three headline moves, the first two of which were not nearly as celebrated at the time as they'd turn out to be and the third of which was widely considered a public relations stunt but turned out to be much more:
Dec. 5, 1988: Texas traded Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson, and two Minor Leaguers to the Cubs for Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, and Drew Hall.
Dec. 6, 1988: Texas traded Pete O'Brien, Oddibe McDowell, and Jerry Browne to Cleveland for Julio Franco.
Dec. 7, 1988: Texas signed free agent Nolan Ryan.
Palmeiro's power potential hadn't yet manifested itself. He was the position player equivalent of what Eaton is, sort of, and maybe Padilla as well. Franco was a quietly productive player whose best years were ahead of him. Is Wilkerson that player?
Ryan, thought to be a one-year marketing device, added to his considerable legend, pitching five more seasons, leading the league in strikeouts per nine innings in the first three of those, and firing two no-hitters.
This is where you break into the no-hitter books. In Debbie's hometown, Arlington, Texas. A place where -- for now -- Nolan Ryan sits alone as a beloved Texas legend. There's room. And this is how you get there.
Lead both of your home state's big league franchises to their first-ever World Series. In consecutive years. In your 40s.
You've met every other challenge a pro athlete could meet, or even imagine. For the crowning touch, the final great challenge of your singular career, come here and help lead the Texas Rangers to their first championship title. The players are hungry, the GM is hungry, the owner is hungry, and so are we.
Prove it can be done.
J.D.N., UT '91/'94
On behalf of several generations of loyal fans of Texas Rangers Baseball