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No letters this week from Alaska. Hope they all haven't gone into hibernation already.
Due to Hank Blalock's decline in numbers over the past couple of seasons, are the Rangers planning on trying to move him, maybe for a couple of young pitchers?
-- Jeremy H., Dallas
Let's talk Blalock, since many have asked about him. The first thing we need to do is determine how attractive he would be to other teams.
He turns 26 next month, but in Major League Baseball, contract and service time are just as important. Blalock is signed for two more years at $4.75 million in 2007 and $5.95 million in 2008. The Rangers also have an option on him at $6.25 million in 2009. So Blalock is due roughly $17 million over the next three seasons.
That's a pretty good contract for a third baseman who hit .276 with 32 home runs and 110 RBIs in 2004. Melvin Mora gets $25 million over the next three years from the Orioles. Aramis Ramirez gets $34 million from the Cubs, Adrian Beltre gets $35.5 million from the Mariners and Scott Rolen gets $36 million from the Cardinals.
But this is not 2004.
Blalock hit .266 with 16 home runs and 89 RBIs last season. There were 22 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and Blalock's .726 OPS was the third lowest among them. Defensively, he had the 10th-best fielding percentage and the 15th-best range factor (calculated by dividing putouts and assists by number of innings played at a given defense position) among third basemen.
Blalock had a right shoulder injury that required surgery at the end of the season. That could have been a factor in his second-half decline and definitely had an impact on his defense. His throwing was affected so he had to play in at third base to make up for a lack of arm strength. That cut down his range.
He did hit .337 with runners in scoring position and .413 in those situations with two outs.
Because of his age, contract and potential, Blalock could be a great pickup for a team looking for a third baseman. Some of it depends on how he recovers from the surgery, and that may easily end up being a good thing for Blalock. But his decline in production makes him a risk and probably diminishes what the Rangers could get in return for him.
Remember, though, Major League scouts and executives don't always have the same opinion on players. There will undoubtedly be some teams that have a higher opinion of Blalock than others.
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There are teams that need third basemen. How about the Phillies? Would you trade Blalock for outfielder Pat Burrell if you could re-sign Mark DeRosa to play third base? The Dodgers need a third baseman, but could you get Brad Penny in return?
The Brewers need a third baseman and owe Ben Sheets $21 million over the next two seasons. He has won just 16 games over the past two seasons. That's certainly intriguing.
Maybe the Tigers think Blalock is better than Brandon Inge and are willing to give up pitching in return. What happens if the Yankees trade Alex Rodriguez and need a third baseman?
Me? If I'm going to trade Blalock, I'm calling Brewers general manager Doug Melvin first to see if there's anything that can be done with Sheets -- perhaps Blalock and one or two young pitchers. It would have to be one of the gems of the system, but Sheets could be worth it.
If the Rangers sign DeRosa in the offseason, do you think there is a possibility of Ian Kinsler being traded for a young starting pitcher? Do you think DeRosa would be more likely to play infield or outfield?
-- Dean K., Sherman, Texas
I don't think the Rangers will trade Kinsler. But I didn't think they would trade Chris Young either. The beauty of DeRosa is that he can play second, third, left and right with equal ability. The Rangers need to re-sign him because it would increase their offseason flexibility.
With Barry Bonds filing for free agency, will the Rangers think of acquiring him? I'm sure Tom Hicks would love to bring in some fans with a guy like that.
-- Dan K., Plano, Texas
Based on some informal surveys, I think the Rangers would experience a negative fan reaction if they signed Bonds. There would also be some concerns about how he would fit in the clubhouse, as well as his overall health and his ongoing legal problems. Personally, I think he would be a perfect fit in the middle of this order if not for all the other stuff.
If the Rangers do not sign a significant free agent and lose their pick, where are they scheduled in the first round? Who may be available?
-- Greg H., Pampa, Texas
The Rangers have the 16th overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Who will be available? Not sure. But teams have been known to get good pitchers at that point or later in the first round. Roy Halladay was a 17th overall pick, and C.C. Sabathia and Mike Mussina were both selected 20th overall. You know what Jason Schmidt, Derek Lowe and Brad Radke all have in common? They were eighth-round draft picks. Kevin Millwood was taken in the 11th round. The San Diego Padres took Jake Peavy in the 15th round.
Sometimes I think everybody focuses too much on how well a team drafts and overlooks the importance of developing what you do draft.
I think Mike Hargrove would be a perfect fit as Rangers manager. Do you think general manager Jon Daniels will try for him after Don Wakamatsu takes us to third place in '07?
-- Randy M., Ada, Okla.
Hargrove has finished in fourth place for six straight years.
The Rangers made a move right before the deadline that sent a Minor League catcher for outfielder Victor Diaz. Once a fairly highly regarded player in the Mets system, how does he fit in Texas?
-- Adam C., Nashville, Tenn.
Often it's the small deals that turn out to be huge. Just look at the Detroit Tigers with Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames. Diaz will come to Spring Training with a chance to make an impression on some people, as a fourth outfielder, role player or designated hitter. Maybe he can be more than that. The idea is to accumulate as many players with some potential as possible and hope you hit on a few.
What is the love affair with the Rangers and Nelson Cruz? Being a season ticket holder, I am concerned with the "Future of the Rangers" struggling to hit .200.
-- Roger W., Longview, Texas
Cruz, who was 25 on Opening Day and 26 at the end of the season, played in 41 games, batted 130 times and hit .223 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. In 2000, at a comparable age and with similar playing experience, Gary Matthews Jr. hit .190 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 80 games and 158 at-bats for the Chicago Cubs.
Brian Lawrence is from Texas. After being let go by the Nationals, do you think the Rangers would go after him as a No. 3-5 starter?
-- Chad G., Tyler, Texas
Lawrence was a 15-game winner for the Padres in 2004 but missed all of last season because of rotator cuff surgery. He's a guy that a team will sign as a Minor League free agent and bring to camp. He might be somebody who interests the Rangers.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.