The Rangers make a countermove

The Red Sox and Yankees have waged their version of a baseball arms race for decades, with the moves and countermoves dating to the start of free agency.

The Red Sox signed Mike Torrez away from the Yankees, and a year later, the Yankees took Luis Tiant away from Boston. The two sides notoriously fought with checkbooks over Jose Contreras after the right-hander defected from Cuba before the 2003 season. Not long after the Expos told the Red Sox that they didn't have enough to trade for Javier Vazquez, Boston made a deal for Curt Schilling. The Yankees dominated the winter two years ago by signing Mark Teixeira -- Boston's primary target -- as well as CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and in turn, the Red Sox have owned this winter, taking on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

That kind of thing has been going on in other divisions this winter, as well: The Cubs' acquisition of Matt Garza to strengthen their rotation seemed to come in response to the development of the Cincinnati staff, and the Brewers' move to add Zack Greinke. The Tigers got Victor Martinez, and it wasn't long after that that the White Sox landed Adam Dunn.

The strategy of mutual deterrence has been in play in the AL West, too. The Rangers' trade of Frank Francisco for Mike Napoli doesn't address Texas' primary question, namely rotation depth. But Napoli will undoubtedly strengthen Ron Washington's lineup against the team that represents the greatest threat to Texas.

At least three-fifths of the Oakland rotation will be left-handed, with Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez, and the Athletics have left-handed balance in their bullpen with Brian Fuentes and Craig Breslow, who will probably face Josh Hamilton 15 to 25 times during the course of the 2011 season.

What the Rangers have done now is build a lineup that will be formidable against left-handed starters. Their plan is for Napoli to play always against lefties, whether at designated hitter or at first or at catcher, and this means their lineup against lefties could look something like this (with each player's OPS against lefties listed):

2B Ian Kinsler (.957)

1B Michael Young (.871)

LF Hamilton (.789)

3B Adrian Beltre (.943)

RF Nelson Cruz (.976)

DH Napoli (.966)

C Yorvit Torrealba (.698)

SS Elvis Andrus (.642)

CF Julio Borbon (.609)

The combination of Napoli and Young should give the Rangers incredible flexibility in dealing with little injuries, or with situations when a player needs a day or two of rest. Napoli could be the third catcher, he could play first base, or he could DH with Young sliding over to play first base, second, third or shortstop. A lot of teams have to carry a 4-A type of player -- a fringy major leaguer -- to plug a lineup gap. The Rangers can now do that with the versatility of Young and Napoli.

The Rangers have liked Napoli in the past, Texas GM Jon Daniels said. Trading Francisco makes the idea of shifting Neftali Feliz to the rotation a little more difficult, writes Richard Durrett.


• The Toronto Blue Jays have a nice stable of young pitching and draft picks, and with the salary dumps of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, they have very little in the way of contractual obligations. But the question of whether they are truly building toward a particular period of time -- the way the Rays came together for 2008-10, or the way the Royals seem to be building toward 2013-14 -- remains to be seen. The messages from the Toronto ownership have always fluctuated.

The Blue Jays' bullpen could have a lot of depth.

Rocco Baldelli, one of the game's best people, has decided to retire, as Marc Topkin writes.

Milton Bradley will compete for playing time in spring training, says Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik.

• A longtime talent evaluator on the Vernon Wells trade: "The Angels should've been able to get the Jays to eat some money in the trade, but what I think is being forgotten is that Anaheim is getting a pretty good player. He makes them better than what they were going to be."

Vernon Wells bid farewell to Toronto in his conference call with reporters, as Ken Fidlin writes. It's been a blast, he told Richard Griffin.

• The Astros worked out a multiyear deal with Wandy Rodriguez, writes Zachary Levine.

• A veteran executive on where we are in the current free-agent market: "All that's left are the tickets to Vanilla Ice."

The McCourts

Frank and Jamie McCourt might have to be business partners if Frank wants to keep the Dodgers, says her lawyer.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Charlie Manuel still likes Jimmy Rollins as his leadoff hitter, and he thinks it's a matter of time before he works out a contract extension.

Banquets are a labor of love for Charlie Manuel, writes Rich Hofmann.

2. Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg believes his team's handling of the Cliff Lee negotiations helped play the Phillies into the mix.

3. If you haven't read the buzz about Albert Pujols' contract from Jayson Stark, it's worth a read. Pujols remains unsigned with little more than three weeks remaining until the deadline for an agreement.

4. The Orioles are in the mix for Clay Rapada.

5. The Pirates raised prices for game-day tickets.

6. Darryl Strawberry says Wally Backman will be the Mets' next manager.

7. The Yankees just have to win this year, says Hank Steinbrenner, within this Kevin Kernan piece.

8. The Twins agreed to terms with Kevin Slowey.

9. The makeup of the Giants' lineup isn't set in stone, writes John Shea. The key question for San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy: What is Pablo Sandoval, as he comes out of his winter weight-loss program?

10. The trouble with the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez trade, writes Tim Sullivan, is that it looks like an IOU.

11. The Rockies chose a young lefty over Joe Beimel.

12. Brian Cashman indicated out loud that Derek Jeter might not be the Yankees' shortstop for eternity.

Other stuff

• The Royals' farm system has been ranked as baseball's best by Baseball America, not surprisingly.

• New challenges await Billy Butler, writes Terez Paylor.

• Jimmy Rollins is a record mogul.

Joba Chamberlain hasn't been the same pitcher since he got hurt in a game against Texas, says Brian Cashman.

• The Reds' caravan is set to take off, writes Tom Groeschen.

Travis Hafner has one of baseball's most immovable contracts, as mentioned within this piece.

Jon Lester is focused on October.

• Players like Fernando Abad are a good reason to love spring training, writes Richard Justice.

• Some Tigers minor leaguers are solid prospects.

• Consistency will be key for Andy Oliver, writes John Lowe.

• Terry Pendleton is ready for his new role as first-base coach, writes Carroll Rogers.

• The Brewers are holding a ticket lottery.

• The Padres have new uniforms.

• The White Sox lineup is a hit with their hitting coach, writes Mark Gonzalez.

• The new and improved Orioles could produce the same old results, writes Peter Schmuck.

• The Red Sox set their game times.

• Giants writer Andrew Baggarly is back from working on his book.

• The D-backs think Micah Owings can be a versatile player, writes Nick Piecoro; Arizona plans on using Owings at first base occasionally in spring training.

• A Red Sox prospect impressed in Class A.

• Coach Don Meyer did a Q&A with Championship Productions.

• Vanderbilt is at No. 19, and starting to put it together, writes Teresa Walker. A junior forward was named player of the week in the SEC.

And today will be better than yesterday