By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If you're into sociological observations, then you'd love the dance with Chan Ho. Each day, a different reporter saunters over to his locker. They always approach with confidence, determined to get him to talk. Invariably, they return defeated and muttering something that sounds similar to one of Al Pacino's famous lines from The Godfather II: "He's dead to me now."
From Chan Ho's perspective, it's hard to criticize the guy for avoiding the media. Or anyone, for that matter. That he even goes outside is remarkable considering his well-documented troubles. It's impossible to under-emphasize how significant and damaging his slipups have been to the Rangers. Two years ago he signed a five-year, $65 million contract, which, considering his stats, is so outlandish that it borders on the ineffable. Since joining the Rangers he's 10-11 with a 6.06 ERA. He's been on the disabled list three times, including missing most of the second half last season because of back pain. In seven starts during the '03 campaign, he was 1-3 with a monster 7.58 ERA.
Were it any other team, or if he were a bullpen guy, or if he weren't walking around with such an overstuffed wallet, maybe the idea of Chan Ho in a Rangers uniform wouldn't be so excruciating. Problem is the Texas Rangers are forever in need of pitching. (I hear David Clyde is available...just a suggestion.) And so, somehow, if Park can drag his tired ass out onto the mound without breaking a nail, he'll be featured in the starting rotation, likely playing the No. 2 role to Kenny Rogers, "Staff Ace."
That says everything you need to know about Rangers pitching--the 107-year-old Gambler as the likely opening-day starter, followed by a too-rich Korean hypochondriac.
"If Chan Ho is healthy, and Kenny is healthy, they'll probably be in the rotation," Showalter says, leaning back in his chair in the clubhouse conference room. Before he continues, he takes off his apple-red Rangers cap and puts his hands on his matted hair. "I wouldn't assume anything. We want competition around here. And that's a dangerous word--assume. I'm not gonna sit here on March whatever and say here's our rotation and I'm confident it won't change. These guys need the competition. If someone has a problem with competition during spring training, they're gonna have it during the season."
The rest of the rotation will be filled out by any number of players. Leading the list of candidates are former Cleveland Indians pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez (who was 3-9 with a 5.73 ERA last year) and Colby Lewis, whom the organization is high on (5-1, 3.02 with Oklahoma last year). After that, it's a sour mash of the untalented and semi-capable ranging from Joaquin Benoit to R.A. Dickey to Mickey Callaway--at least one of whom, I'm pretty sure, recently lived under Interstate 30. Then, this is hardly news. That the Rangers need pitching is one of the oldest sports axioms, along the lines of "Shaq can't shoot free throws" and "the Eagles will blow it in the playoffs."
If the Rangers can somehow get six innings out of their starters--they can only get better after once again finishing with the worst staff ERA in the Majors last year--the bullpen might be able to lend an assist. Maybe. Nelson is a capable setup man, and Francisco Cordero, who saved 15 games last year, could be worse. But the Rangers will need a significant contribution from Jeff Zimmerman, who missed two years because of elbow surgery.
"Look around," Nelson says. "It's no secret what's going to have to happen for us to win. The lineup we have, some of the hitters, we have some real talent here, some good power. Soriano isn't a player to be named later--he's a potential 40-40 guy. I don't think we're going to have any problem there.
"It all depends on the pitching. If the starters can stay healthy, with probably the deepest bullpen they've ever had here, a lot of good things could happen. It boils down to pitching."
I think I have the answer. What they need are more guys like Erick Burke. In the first spring training game against the Royals, Burke struck out Garth Brooks (yeah, that Garth Brooks). Did it on three strikes, swinging, and then gave a little fist pump as though he'd just won a decisive September contest. Gotta love spring training.