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Rangers will get pitching

Special to

December 12

DALLAS -- And they're not coming back. So the Mariners, Indians, Mets and the teams left behind just have to move forward.

"What we all have to remember is that the rosters we have today are not the rosters we'll set in October," says Rangers general manager Doug Melvin. "There is a long, long way to go, a lot of moves to be made, a lot of things to happen. We're really in the early stages of building teams."

Projected lineup
The Rangers' projected 2001 lineup, with OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) total from 2000:
Player OPS
Randy Velarde, 2B .754
Rusty Greer, LF .836
Ivan Rodriguez, C 1.042
Alex Rodriguez, SS 1.026
Rafael Palmeiro, 1B .955
Andres Galarraga, DH .895
Ken Caminiti, 3B 1.001
Gabe Kapler, RF .833
Ruben Mateo, CF .786

Melvin knows that he has two proven quality starters in Rick Helling and Kenny Rogers, a couple of unproven kids in Ryan Glynn and Doug Davis and a crossroads guy in Darren Oliver -- a rotation that last season was 40-47. Not good enough. He doesn't know if Justin Thompson will be ready by June. "But Justin is one of those what-ifs," says Melvin. "Helling, Rogers, Thompson would be a pretty good start."

Melvin also has a bullpen that lost John Wetteland, blew 27 save opportunities and had a 5.44 ERA. Tim Crabtree, Mark Petkovsek, Francisco Cordero, Mike Venafro, Jeff Zimmerman and friends aren't enough. "I know that," says Melvin. "We all know that." He knows that if the Dodgers take Royce Clayton, it will not be for quality pitching. He knows he can sign Rick Aguilera as a stopgap.

Oakland has three fine young starters and a deep bullpen. Seattle was second in the league in pitching last season, has Ryan Anderson coming, Gil Meche healing and Jeff Nelson replacing Jose Mesa. The needs for the Rangers are obvious, but their needs to beat the ghosts of the Yankees don't have to be filled until summer has gone and school is back in session.

The first sell for 2001 is the defense, and knowing whatever Texas pitchers did right last season was undermined by a brutal team defense that led the American League in errors (136) and unearned runs allowed (98). "I really believe that our defense hurt us more than anything," says manager John Oates. Now Oates has the best catcher in the game back to eliminate opponents' running games. He has a shortstop who made 10 errors last season, a second baseman in Randy Velarde who while lacking in range is a sure defender, and an experienced third baseman in Ken Caminiti.

Then it is up to Melvin to see what he can find. "With so much concern about the labor issues, some teams that find out they're having off years may move to dump salaries earlier than normal," the GM says. "Normally, they wait until the All-Star break. This time, they may move earlier."

Melvin doesn't want to trade any of the prized prospects he hope will develop alongside A-Rod -- with first baseman Carlos Pena, second baseman Jason Romano, left fielder Kevin Mench and infielder Mike Young leading the way. But he has Gabe Kapler, Ricky Ledee and some other prospects to move.

Trouble on the hill
Rangers pitching totals compiled during the 2000 season:
  Number Rank*
ERA 5.52 30th
Opp. BA .294 30th
CG 3 29th
K/BB 1.39 27th
* Out of 30 major-league teams

With Rusty Greer, I-Rod, A-Rod and Rafael Palmeiro at the front of the lineup and Andres Galarraga and Caminiti the bridge to Ruben Mateo, the Rangers are going to sell a lot of Lone Star and nachos in 14-7 games. In the past, Melvin has been one of the most creative trading deadline general managers, acquiring the likes of Todd Stottlemyre, Oliver and John Burkett when he was in it, dealing Ken Hill, Esteban Loiaza and Mike Stanton when he wasn't.

By the summer, David Wells could be available. Francisco Cordova and Jason Schmidt are potential free agents in Pittsburgh. If Chan Ho Park hasn't signed a new contract, he is, too, although it's hard to believe that the Dodgers won't get him signed. Baltimore might move Scott Erickson, Tampa Bay will move Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman if they are healthy. As for relievers, Roberto Hernandez, Matt Mantei and Todd Jones are potential free agents and potentially available.

The Courtship of Alex Rodriguez was orchestrated by Tom Hicks, a J.R. Ewing kind of mover and shaker competing in a battle for Big D with Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban. At his Tuesday press conference Rodriguez praised Hicks' brilliance and creativity.

In time, A-Rod will learn that Melvin is one of the most creative general managers in the business, a man always ready to move.

"We're a long way from finished," says Melvin. So anyone who rails about the Texas pitching halfway through Advent is a little premature. With Melvin's creativity and Hicks' cash and thrill for the championship ring, these 'boys across the Metroplex are a long way from October.

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