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Friday a.m. things

A whole lotta stuff today...

Evan Grant talks about the catching situation, and the battle between Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird for the starting catching job. Included in there are some quotes and talk about the strained relationship between Laird and Ron Washington last season:

If Laird is to win the starting job for a third time, he must rebound from an awful 2007 season. It began with Washington urging Laird to help the pitching staff, even if it meant sacrificing some offense.

"I think I put too much pressure on him and kept the pressure on him," Washington said. "I think I just hit him with it too hard. I'm going to sit back and relax and let him play baseball. He clearly knows what's expected of him. The guy is a big league catcher."

The pressure built to a breaking point last May when Washington and Laird got in a dugout shouting match over the handling of pitchers. They were eventually separated by pitcher Kevin Millwood. Tension lingered for several weeks. Laird seemed to never recover.

"We just got off on the wrong foot," Laird said. "But by the second half of the season, he understood me and I understood him."

Laird finished hitting .227, a drop of nearly 70 points from 2006. By the end of the season, he was splitting the catching job with Saltalamacchia. Laird's .627 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) ranked 92nd among 94 AL players with at least 400 at-bats.

Washington met with Laird in Arlington last month to make sure the air was clear. He's also said he will give new catching instructor Matt Walbeck more autonomy to communicate with Laird and Saltalamacchia. Laird, Saltalamacchia and prospect Taylor Teagarden all attended Walbeck's informal minicamp in Arizona last month.

I'm trying to figure out what is going on with the catching mystery, because the way it is currently being handled seems strange to me. Jon Daniels has said before that the A's have traditionally had their catcher take more responsibility for handling the pitching staff than most teams, which is something Ron Washington has brought over. And that would seem to explain some of the conflict between Washington and Laird this season, and the reluctance to just hand Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- who is considered to be not as good as Laird defensively, and still raw in terms of handling a staff -- the starting job.

Still...sending Saltalamacchia back to AAA seems like it would be a pretty extreme remedy, particularly when you consider he was the headliner in the Teixeira trade last summer, and sending him down would result in sniping about how that trade obviously wasn't too good, if the best player couldn't beat out Gerald Laird and Adam Melhuse.

I think there's more to this than meets the eye...

T.R. Sullivan has his Friday blog up, with a lot of interesting items. Want to know what the Pirate has gotten the Rangers attention?

Pitcher A.J. Murray has a five-pitch repertoire: fastball, curve, slider, changeup and cut fastball. Said Murray: "I can throw all for strikes. A couple have more effect than others but I pitch off my fastball and change and mix the others."

Another guy Sullivan says to watch out for is Tommy Hunter, a sandwich pick from last season whose selection resulted in some grousing from some Rangers fans:

Inside word on the Rangers draft last year is the guy to watch is pitcher Tommy Hunter. He could come quickly. He's the kid who the Rangers took in the supplemental first round out of Alabama who was 2-3 with a 2.55 ERA at Class A Spokane. All his appearances were as a reliever but the Rangers are looking at him as a starter. And really liking what they see.

Evan Grant likes the decision to move Chris Davis to first base permanently, although he's more bullish on Travis Metcalf than I am, and he also think Kam Loe and Josh Rupe will be best served by putting them in the bullpen and leaving them alone.

Grant also says the Rangers have been talking contract with Ian Kinsler, though there is still nothing imminent, and Washington had praise for how Jason Botts looked at first base.

Anthony Andro says that Jason Jennings is healthy, and a healthy (and productive) Jennings -- along with a healthy and productive Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla -- would make this rotation pretty respectable, I think.

Now, if you are feeling too good about spring training starting, too happy about the idea of watching the Rangers this year, Randy Galloway wants to make sure you know the team sucks.

In case there was any question where he's coming from, we have this early in the column:

OK, that's the negative. I'm also attempting to ponder the positives.

Nolan Ryan? Well, it's been more than a week since he was hired as the man in charge of everything at The Ballpark, and Nolan still hasn't fired anybody in Arlington. So I'm growing impatient with The Express.

Heads need to roll, Nolan.

Yeah, that's a good plan. A week into Nolan's term as president, just as spring training is starting, he needs to fire a bunch of people. That would be smart.

Galloway is predicting doom and misery:

It's going to be yet another awful season, one in which a .500 record would qualify as miraculous.

This is reminiscent of 2004, when the local pundits were predicting a 100 loss season (at best), and I couldn't figure out why they thought the team would be THAT miserable.

The Rangers had a 79-83 Pythagorean won/loss record last year...the same as the M's and the A's. I think that 75-78 wins is a reasonable expectation for this team, but solid seasons from the front four in the rotation -- guys who all pitched well as recently as 2006 -- would probably make this a better than .500 team. It won't take a miracle for the 2008 Rangers to crack .500 on the season.

Jennings is interesting, despite being a total failure of late. But he can pitch, and that was once the case when healthy. At age 30, can Jason stay healthy? If so, he's a good find.

Then again, divisional rivals like the Angels add a Jon Garland to their rotation, and the Mariners add an Erik Bedard. But those are real big league organizations, dedicated to winning.

The Rangers aren't that. So the best our locals can do is take a flyer on Jason Jennings.

Yeah, clearly the M's are a real big league organization, and the proof is that they gave up Adam Jones and some other young talent for a pitcher who can walk in two years, when they are already well behind Anaheim.

And the Angels gave up a solid major league shortstop for a good, but not great, $12 million innings eater who will be a free agent after the season.

I'm at a loss as to why Galloway thinks a rebuilding team should be giving up significant talent for either of those guys...particularly someone like Garland.

This week, the Rangers brought back outfielder Kevin Mench on a minor league contract with an invitation to try and make the team in big league camp.

Compared to the rest of the club's "major league" outfielders, Mench looks like Babe Ruth. I'm serious.

Check his big league home run numbers over the last four seasons with this team's other fly-ball-to-the-warning-track outfielders.

You mean, say, Milton Bradley? Or Josh Hamilton? Is Galloway really suggesting that Mench looks like Babe Ruth, power-wise, compared to those two guys?

Hamilton had 19 homers in 298 ABs last season. Mench had 8 in 288 ABs, and 13 in 446 ABs the season before. Milton Bradley, over the course of his career, has averaged 19 homers per 162 games played, which isn't that far off from Mench's 22.

Is Galloway even paying attention to the current roster?

Not long ago, the Rangers could bash with the best, but then that became a "bad" thing. Small-ball, we were told, was the way to go, according to Jon Daniels, the GM. And a small-ball believer, Ron Washington, was hired as manager.

So what we now have in Arlington is a wonderful combo of bad ball and boring ball.

Home run totals have tumbled dramatically the last two seasons, which is very strange for a club playing in a home run yard.

Now that players have to whiz in a cup (aka, steroids testing), could that be a factor?

Maybe, but frankly, the Rangers simply don't have legitimate home run hitters, and the shortage on Jon Boy's watch is worse than ever for this season.

No question, the Rangers need a legit power hitter.

But can someone tell me when anyone from the organization has said that it was "a 'bad' thing" to hit homers? Has Jon Daniels ever said the Rangers need to switch from hitting homers to playing small ball?