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02/13/06 8:00 AM ET

Mailbag: Will Rangers 'pen be reliable?

Beat reporter T.R. Sullivan answers fans' questions

Yes, we have been through the desert on a horse with no name and it's time to go back.

Spring Training starts this week in the Arizona desert and, besides baseball, that which we look forward to includes ...

1. The White Tank Mountains hovering majestically to the west of the Rangers complex.
2. Fighter jets from Luke Air Force Base soaring over the morning workouts.
3. Shuffleboard at the Sage and Sand, a little watering hole just outside the base.
5. The best Spring Training complex anywhere.

Now, how about a little mail.

Do you have any insight on the situation with Orel Hershiser and John Wetteland? Hershiser "stepped down" from being the pitching coach to take a job in marketing and quits a few months later to take a job as an analyst. Wetteland "steps down" from being the bullpen coach to take a job as the pitching coach for Double-A Frisco, but quits to take the same job he had last year with the Nationals. Both circumstances seem very strange.
-- Vince H.

If you remember, Hershiser made it clear from the beginning that he did not want to be a pitching coach forever. Hershiser has higher ambitions, most notably the desire to be either a general manager or manager. He was in line to be the Dodgers manager until they fired their general manager and started their skipper search over.

As the process dragged on, the Rangers were ready to make Mark Connor their pitching coach and Hershiser was ready to do something else. Hershiser would have been content to work in the front office but Baseball Tonight is a high-profile position that may lead to something else.

Two things with Hershiser -- first of all, he is most anxious to avoid a label or stereotype. Secondly, I'm not sure he really knows what he wants to do. Television certainly appeals to him, but having worked his tail off for 3 1/2 years as a pitching coach, it seems he's still undecided what is next.

Wetteland is easier. Wetteland was never the bullpen coach. Connor was. Wetteland was a special instructor who worked with a number of pitchers at various levels. He took the Double-A job in Frisco last year but being in a Major League uniform on a Major League team as bullpen coach is a definite step up.

The Rangers love Wetteland. He loved the organization. There was absolutely nothing to his departure other than a dedicated baseball man getting to be on a Major League staff.

If you had to pick, based solely on offensive production, who would you rather have on your team: Alfonso Soriano or Brad Wilkerson? All things considered, who is the more productive player based on position?
-- Blair G., Austin, Texas

The ballpark will even some things out. Soriano played in hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field last year, while Wilkerson played in Washington's RFK Stadium, a definite pitcher's park.

But Soriano is truly a premium offensive player, a rare blend of speed and power who has had four straight terrific offensive seasons. Remember, this was a 3-for-1 trade, that tells you something right there.

Wilkerson has a higher on-base capability, which is what the Rangers need most right now. Soriano's speed will be missed more than his power.

Much of this offseason has focused on starting pitching, especially with the possibility of Roger Clemens being added. But what do we expect the bullpen to look like in the middle/late innings?
-- Brett C.

Right now, the Rangers will have Francisco Cordero as their closer and Akinori Otsuka and Joaquin Benoit as their top right-handed setup men. They have 14 other pitchers competing for four spots in the middle. Veterans Brian Shouse and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates to be the left-handed relievers but the Rangers really like C.J. Wilson, who is also the fifth starter candidate.

Veteran John Wasdin was an effective long reliever last year and rookie Scott Feldman is their top Minor League relief prospect. Competition in Spring Training will be intense.

This is always a big discussion wherever I go. In retrospect, which team got the better of the Juan Gonzalez trade to the Tigers?
-- Brad W., Florida

Well, Cordero is the last man standing from that trade and, of course, Frank Catalanotto turned out to be a very good player -- both for the Rangers and now with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rangers really needed to get a starting pitcher for Gonzalez and the fact that Justin Thompson never made it was a big setback for that trade. But Gonzalez's limited no-trade clause really reduced general manager Doug Melvin's options.

The only other plausible trade at the time was sending Gonzalez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package that included pitcher Omar Daal and first baseman Travis Lee.

Gonzalez has never been the same player since leaving Texas (the first time) and the Detroit Tigers must be thankful that he turned down an eight-year, $150 million contract offer. But Gonzalez was tremendous during his time with the Rangers and maybe he would have stayed at that high level if he never left Texas.

Still, because of Cordero, the Rangers ended up ahead in that deal.

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I know this is thinking kind of far ahead but what positions do you think the Rangers will draft in the first couple of rounds? What is it that the organization needs other than pitching?
-- Reggie I., Mesquite, Texas

The Rangers want more speed in the organization. That's a big concern within the farm system -- the lack of speed. As far as the draft, they'll continue to emphasize pitching, but they also know they are short on serious offensive prospects. That's why they took outfielder John Mayberry Jr. in the first round last year.

Looking ahead to 2007, who are going to be free agents from the Rangers after this season and who would they like to keep? Would we seek another big name pitcher for 2007 like we did with Kevin Millwood in 2006?
-- Robert M., Wylie, Texas

The most notable free agents are catcher Rod Barajas, outfielders David Dellucci and Gary Matthews Jr., infielder Mark DeRosa, designated hitter Phil Nevin and pitchers Adam Eaton, Vicente Padilla and John Wasdin.

The Rangers also hold a $6 million option on closer Cordero with a $500,000 buyout.

All told, the Rangers could take $25 million or more off the payroll if they so desire. That would put them in a strong position to be active on next year's free agent market. Right now, Eaton appears to be the player they are most eager to re-sign but the regular season will determine much.

The Fall Instructional League always seems to be a place where a couple of prospects seem to raise their stock in the eyes of the organization. Were there any encouraging stories from this year's Instructional League?
-- Jeremy C., Murphy, Texas

Four players stood out.

Zach Phillips is a 6-foot left-hander who was a draft-and-follow out of Sacramento City College and has shown an advanced feel for pitching.

Matt Nevarez is a right-handed pitcher who was the Rangers 10th pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. An All-City football player at San Fernando (Calif.) High School outside Los Angeles, he's a big physical guy with a plus-arm who is on his way to developing a quality breaking ball.

Johnny Whittleman, a left-handed-hitting third baseman who was the Rangers second round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft continues to excite the organization as a "big, big makeup guy."

Then there is Cristian Santana, one of the Rangers' top signings from the Dominican Republic last summer. The Rangers signed him as a catcher, but other teams worked him out as a center fielder. That gives you an idea of his athletic ability.

I've noticed that the Rangers offseason this year and the White Sox offseason last year are strikingly similar. Do you think it could yield the same results? I like the Rangers role right now as a club. Some are noticing but not taking them seriously.
-- Bryan, Abilene, Texas

Wow. The same result would mean winning the World Series. That would be a huge leap for the Rangers.

To do that, much would have to fall into place. Millwood, Eaton and Padilla would all have to be 15-game winners, Cordero would need to have a big year as a closer, the rest of the bullpen needs to fall into place and they would need one more big run producer in the middle of the lineup, either Nevin or Kevin Mench.

The Rangers should be better this year. They are a legitimate contender and a division title certainly is possible. Winning the World Series? They may be two or three years away from that.

How come Marshall MacDougall never got consideration for second base? By looking at 2005 statistics, MacDougall out-hit everyone in a RedHawks uniform and played solid defense.
-- Guy H., Arlington, Texas

McDougall, like Ian Kinsler, has shown he can hit in the Minor Leagues. But last year the Rangers made the decision to move Kinsler to second base, and he played well there at Triple-A Oklahoma. Therefore, he is first in line to replace Alfonso Soriano.

McDougall, who hasn't played much second base, is still on the 40-man roster, so the Rangers still like him. A good spring could force him into the picture. The biggest problem is the Rangers need seven relievers, so that cuts out one spot for a utility player who can play multiple positions.

McDougall could be a valuable reserve on a good team, but not only is Kinsler in front of him, but DeRosa as well.

If DeRosa wins a spot at second base or right field, is Drew Meyer a potential bench player on the Major League team?
-- Chaz, Mansfield, Texas

Maybe. If DeRosa is the second baseman, and the Rangers decide Kinsler needs more time in the Minors.

Meyer hit .321 at Double-A Frisco last year, putting him back on the Rangers radar screen. There is much to like about him, especially since he has shown to be a savvy baseball player with terrific instincts.

He'll most likely play at Triple-A Oklahoma this season and a good year could put him in position to be an integral member of the 2007 team as a utility player. Remember, he was drafted as a shortstop and Michael Young occupies that spot.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.