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LSB Q&A with Keith Law

ESPN's Keith Law graciously agreed to do a short Q&A session with me recently.

Keith Law, as y'all may know, was a writer for Baseball Prospectus, and then worked in the front office for the Toronto Blue Jays before re-joining the media sector in 2006 to write for ESPN.

Law offers some thoughts on the direction the Rangers need to go, the Rangers pending free agents, and what a g.m.'s job really entails.

Some really good stuff, after the jump....

1) With Michael Young, Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira all eligible for free agency after 2008, and with Young and Teixeira having been vocal about wanting to play for a winner, the hot debate among Rangers fans right now is whether Texas should be in "win now" mode for the next two seasons, or whether the team should go into rebuilding mode and deal those three players for prospects. Given how the team is current constructed, the payroll constraints the general manager is working under (a budget in the $80 million range) and the way the market looks right now, which do you think would be the wisest path for the Rangers to take - be aggressive to win now, or strip down the team and start rebuilding?

KL: In that division, I'd be in win-now mode. I don't see the division title being out of reach for this club in the next two seasons, but they will have to bring in some pitching and some more offense (particularly right-handed hitters), and hope that Hank Blalock (who doesn't really belong in a sentence with Young and Teixeira right now) can recover at least part of what he lost after 2004.

2) If you were Jon Daniels, what free agents would be your top targets this offseason?

KL: I'm concerned that Carlos Lee's contract is going to turn into a huge albatross in about two or three years (assuming he gets a five-year deal or a longer one), but in the abstract, he's a good fit for the Rangers, who lean a little bit to the left now that they've added Catalanotto. J.D. Drew would fare well in that park, but the market for him is quickly getting out of control. If he's interested in playing baseball, Andy Pettitte would be about as good of a fit as you can find: left-handed, groundball tendency, possibility of a slight discount due to geography, finished extremely strongly in 2006.

3) Gary Matthews, Jr. - Gold Glove caliber centerfielder, or decent defensive centerfielder who is being overrated because of a handful of great catches?

KL: The latter. That's largely based on what I saw of him this year, but I remember seeing him a few years back when he was with Baltimore and could barely play a corner spot.

4) Which Ranger free agent is going to be most egregiously overpaid - Carlos Lee, Gary Matthews, Jr., Adam Eaton, or Vicente Padilla?

KL: Matthews, easily. At least the other three have some track records of success prior to 2006. Matthews was a fourth outfielder at best before '06, and as I wrote above, I don't see him as the defender that he's reputed to be.

5) Ian Kinsler and Gerald Laird - nice complementary pieces on a good team, or future stars?

KL: The former. Kinsler went from completely unknown to wildly overrated, and it was largely on the basis of his performance in low-A ball. I'm firmly of the belief that college products should hit extremely well in low-A, as it's populated by a lot of high school and Latin American products who are younger and/or less advanced than the typical college-trained org player. In other words, if a college player does well in low-A, that's what he was expected to do. And if he does poorly, he's a non-prospect.

You love to have these guys if you're a GM, because they're still productive and they're cheap (zero-to-three guys). But when they hit arbitration, their salaries can eclipse their values pretty quickly.

6) What would the average baseball fan find most surprising about working in a baseball front office?

KL: I think the average fan thinks that the GM's job is primarily a matter of acquiring the players, but in reality, that's a small portion of his job. Dealing with the press, with sales & marketing, and with corporate sponsors; managing the personalities of the coaching staff and clubhouse; dealing with agents, even during the season; crafting and implementing a philosophy for scouting and one for player development; and so on. It's a more complex job than most people realize, and it's a far more time-consuming one. One's ability to manage people and manage an organization is just as important as one's baseball acumen.

7) Mark Teixeira for Jeremy Bonderman - if you are Texas, do you make that trade this offseason? If you are the Tigers?

KL: I'm not sure I'd buy into Bonderman now; he looked so thoroughly gassed down the stretch and has thrown so many innings already that I wonder if there's a minor arm issue there beyond mere fatigue. However, if we assume that he's healthy, I'd be open to a Teixeira for Bonderman-plus deal.

8) If you were running the Rangers, are there any particular types of players or pitchers that you would target to take advantage of/minimize the disadvantage of the Ballpark in Arlington? Any types you would avoid?

KL: I don't think this is anything that surprising - I'd stay away from right-handed, flyball pitchers, especially ones who've shown sizable platoon splits, and at the same time, I'd have a small bias towards left-handed hitters with pull tendencies or capabilities. It's a good place to hit and a good place to homer, so tailoring the roster slightly to those factors is probably a good strategy. At the end of the day, however, you'll win with good players, period, regardless of the park, so it's important not to lose sight of that forest when you're looking at this one tree.

9) Most overrated Ranger player?

KL: Michael Young - who is actually a great player, but I think that his makeup leads to some overrating. Plus he's an average defensive shortstop at best, but if you ask a lot of fans and even a lot of baseball people, you'll hear a lot of praise for his glove. He's a good player, but he's not one of the best players in baseball.

10) Most underrated Ranger player?

KL: There's no good candidate for this one. Akinori Otsuka is more unknown than underrated, but he was extremely effective in '06, easily his best season in the majors so far.

11) Do you think Brad Wilkerson's 2006 season was an aberration caused by injury, or is he just someone who has a short peak period and a sharp decline?

KL: I'm going to go with injury, because I was a big fan of that trade from the Rangers' perspective, and have thought highly of Wilkerson's hitting ability since I saw him in AA.

12) Which was the worse trade - Arod and all those millions for Soriano and Arias, or Hafner and Myette for Diaz and Drese?

KL: Hafner, since the return there was really zero. The A-Rod deal was misguided, but it was also partially motivated by finances. Giving Hafner away for a pile of wet socks was just a head-in-the-sand refusal to see the talent right under their own noses.