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Showalter ready to turn things around in Texas

Special to

Oct. 16

Buck Showalter says Tom Hicks is "impressive," and for those who wonder about working for the tempestuous, ambitious Texas Rangers owner ...

Well, Showalter has worked for another tempestuous, ambitious owner. "The way I look at it," says Showalter, "is that I've been fortunate to have worked for three owners (George Steinbrenner, Jerry Colangelo, Hicks) who sincerely care about winning. Is there pressure in that? Sure, but every day in baseball has pressure."

Showalter is taking over a team that was one of baseball's greatest disappointments last season. The pitching didn't work, Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett, Rusty Greer and Frank Catalanotto all were injured. But while Alex Rodriguez played hard and was the league's best player, reality is that Texas and general manager John Hart suffered every imaginable stretch of misfortune, from the loss of Jeff Zimmerman that exposed the middle relievers to the Rodriguez/Everett/Gonzalez injuries to the disappointment that was Chan Ho Park.

"There's a lot here," says Showalter. "There is a lot of young talent, and I find that exciting."

This week, Showalter is in the Metroplex meeting with Hart, assistant GM Grady Fuson and the rest of the baseball staff. He will then go to the Arizona Fall League (where Mark Teixeira is tearing it up), then begin traveling to meet his new players, starting with Everett and Gonzalez.

It seems likely that Hicks' promise to roll back payroll will itself be rolled back for the second straight winter, and Showalter is believed to have received some promises. The first likely concerns center field, and anyone who knows Buck knows he'd love to get free agent Steve Finley, who no matter what the calendar says remains an outstanding player. The second promise is believed to involve the catching, which points to the Rangers going after free agent Dan Wilson or Damian Miller, who may be available if the Diamondbacks decide to use Chad Moeller and Rod Barajas.

Showalter is excited about the blend of veteran and young players. Teixeira, who has already had two AFL games in which he's homered from both sides of the plate, is a potential superstar. Hank Blalock is coming off a disappointing season, but remains a big-time potential bat. Kevin Mench proved himself. One AL coach told Showalter that Michael Young should have won the Gold Glove at second base. Look down a little further, and center fielder Laynce Nix was the Florida State League MVP and knocked in 110 runs.

"What's really impressive is all the young arms they have here," says Showalter. "Joaquin Benoit. Colby Lewis. Danny Kolb really came. (Jovanny) Cedeno, (Francisco) Cordero, Aaron Myette. I still like Doug Davis. There's a lot of young talent here, and I'm looking forward to it. I think this is going to be exciting, starting with a state-of-the-art spring training complex."

Showalter, like Hart, knows that he faces extraordinary expectations in what may be the strongest top-to-bottom division in the game. "That's better than no expectations," he says. Hey, when your first job was for Steinbrenner ...

Around the majors

  • What's puzzling about the whole Lou Piniella situation is how the Mariners' ownership dealt with it. Everyone around baseball believed, and the players knew, that Lou wanted to be closer to home. When it was mentioned in early September, the club complained and got local papers to trash the notion. Saturday, 24 hours after Piniella was told that he would be allowed to shop himself (with the Mariners receiving compensation) and that the club would make an announcement early in the week, it got reported, and the club denied it and got local media to disparage what had happened.

    Move on. This has nothing to do with one of the best franchises in the game, it has to do with Piniella moving closer to family issues, and everyone's known it was going to work out this way for more than a month. But both the Mets' and Devil Rays' first impressions were that the M's are driving a hard bargain on the compensation, and if it goes too long, don't be surprised if the Mets talk more earnestly with Art Howe, although that window closes quickly.

  • Ken Macha's interview with the Mets was reportedly very impressive, but the school of thought seems to be that the Oakland bench coach is the Cubs' first choice, and the Cubs are the best job out there -- unless Dusty Baker decides to move on Seattle. Of course, if Howe went to the Mets, Macha would be Billy Beane's first choice, although Oakland Triple-A manager Bob Geren is a future big-league skipper

  • Don't underestimate Cecil Cooper as potential manager in Milwaukee. He presents a scenario similar to that of Alan Trammell in Detroit, and Cooper brings the front-office perspective to the dugout, not to mention his remarkable intelligence. ... General managers never fail to be amazed at the calls they get for managing vacancies, because so many ex-players think they can manage. The Mets heard from Jerry Grote and Gary Carter about their job.

  • When people wonder about Arizona falling, with all their injuries, it's remarkable that they won the tough NL West and went as far as they did. They lost their last seven series against playoff teams, because they were thin. ... Some of the notions the Diamondbacks are throwing around include trading Miller and Erubiel Durazo, as well as trying Byung-Hyun Kim as a starter. ... Oakland owner Steve Schott has given the Red Sox the runaround in their attempt to talk to Billy Beane. Schott would like to sell the club, but he has treated Beane as a commodity, not a human. And everyone knows Schott has no intention of ever getting Miguel Tejada signed, so the A's have gone about as far as they can go. ... Reports persist in Arizona that former White Sox GM Ron Schueler, one of the best evaluators in the business, will join the D-Backs in some high capacity.

    News and notes

  • Oakland still hopes to sign Ray Durham, figuring that the Yankees will go for defense and Boston won't give up the draft choice. One possibility is Colorado. ... One thing scouts can never figure is why pitchers go away from their strengths in the postseason. Rick Reed tried to overpower the Angels and the A's, and got hammered, while Tom Glavine in one start threw 47 pitches before he went to a changeup, according to the Cardinals' scouts.

  • Lesson: Bob Tewksbury went to the Red Sox' instructional league to work with young pitchers, got pressed into action when they ran out of pitchers, threw two perfect innings and gathered the young pitchers around to remind them that one doesn't have to throw 96 miles an hour to get outs. ... It does not appear that the Red Sox are going to re-sign Clifford Floyd. ... Brian Cashman is calling around trying to move three players: Raul Mondesi, Rondell White, Sterling Hitchcock. "It can be done," says another GM, "but he's going to have to take back someone else's problems."

  • One of the most impressive things about the Twins is that in Bobby Kielty (what at-bats this guy had), Dustan Mohr, Mike Cuddyer and Mike Restovich, they have four outstanding outfielders, all the more reason to trade Jacque Jones for salary constraints. ... No one in the Cleveland organization had any idea how bad Matt Lawton's shoulder was this season. Which tells them he should come back big, although early in the season it may take him some time.

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