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A Move Tom Hicks Can Be Proud Of? Believe It

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Your Texas Rangers are no longer the worst team in baseball, as Colorado and San Diego have struggled mightily with 12-21 records after fighting it out for the National League wild card last season. But despite winning five of its last seven games, Texas is still tied with Detroit and Seattle for the worst record in the American League at 14-20. And make no mistake, the Rockies, Padres, Tigers and Mariners are much better teams.

The Rangers have managed to get production from Sidney Ponson, who posted a disastrous 6.93 ERA in seven starts last year for Minnesota. The last time his ERA was under 5.00? Try 2003. No one wanted to touch this guy, yet somehow he's posted a 1.33 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while winning two of three starts with Texas, including last night's 10-1 thumping of the Mariners. His decline will come soon enough.

As bad as this season has been so far, at least the Rangers were able to avoid the nightmare going on right now in San Francisco.

After Barry Zito was demoted to the bullpen, he's suddenly back in the rotation without making an appearance as a reliever. After balking at a generous six-year, $84 million offer from Texas in the 2006 offseason, Zito signed a shocking seven-year, $126 million contract with San Francisco.

This was the second time Texas missed out on the 2002 AL Cy Young winner. The Rangers drafted him in the third round of the 1998 draft, but the team was only willing to pay him $300,000 instead of $350,000. So Zito went to USC and was drafted the following year as a first-rounder by the A's.

While passing on Zito for $50,000 was a bone-headed move, seeing him take an offer from the Giants that was $42 million more than Texas offered has turned out to be one of the best non-signings in Rangers' history.

Zito, who turns just 30 next week, finished out his career in Oakland with a strong season in 2006 (16-10, 3.83 ERA, 1.40 WHIP) before cashing in via free agency. His first year across the bay was his worst (11-13, 4.53 ERA, 1.35 WHIP), and this year has been nothing short of a disaster, with losses in all six of his starts while posting a 7.53 ERA and 1.95 WHIP.

Zito once relied on a high-80s fastball and devastating curveball, but his fastball has slipped into the mid-80s, and his curveball doesn't have the bite it once had. All this while playing in the National League in a pitcher-friendly park -- imagine what his numbers would look like playing in Arlington.

A lot of fans are frustrated that owner Tom Hicks doesn't spend more money on free agents, but this illustrates the long-term damage you can do with one signing. You thought Chan Ho Park's contract was bad? Zito's is more than twice that amount.

So thanks, Tom. For once, doing nothing actually accomplished something. I didn't think this year could get much worse, but knowing Texas didn't have to put an $18-million-per-year pitcher in the bullpen makes things just a teensy bit better.

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