Around the Horn: Corner infielders
Blalock, newly-acquired Broussard give Rangers power
The following is the second in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Corner infielders.
ARLINGTON -- Beaumont is over 300 miles away from Arlington, but that didn't keep the Broussard family from going to see the Rangers play."I'm from Beaumont and my dad would take me to the old ballpark," Ben Broussard said. "It would be 120 degrees and I'd be standing in the parking lot, waiting to get Nolan Ryan's autograph. We'd go see the Astros too, but I was a big Rangers fan." Broussard never got to play at Arlington Stadium, but he did finally get to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Aug. 1, 2003 as the Cleveland Indians first baseman. He hit a two-run home run off right-hander John Thomson. The next night, he hit another home run off Joaquin Benoit. "It was really special," Broussard said. "I remember hitting my first home run in Texas in front of my family and friends. I always felt that if I ever got a shot at playing in Texas how great it would be." He is finally getting that chance. The Rangers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 12 for Minor League infielder Tug Hulett in order to be their starting first baseman. Acquiring a first baseman was one of three priorities the Rangers had for the offseason. Broussard is a left-handed hitter and could possibly share time in a platoon with Chris Shelton. But, for the most part, he is expected to be their guy at a position that has been remarkably stable for 36 years. Broussard follows an impressive line that includes Mark Teixeira, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Pete O'Brien, Pat Putnam, Mike Hargrove, Jim Spencer and Frank Howard. For those who need an ancient history lesson, Spencer was the first Ranger to ever appear in an All-Star Game and Hargrove remains the club's only Rookie of the Year winner. Now comes Broussard, who the Rangers expect to team up with third baseman Hank Blalock to prove the badly needed power and run production from the corner infield spots. Both had forgettable seasons in 2007. Blalock had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery on May 21 to have a rib remove from his right shoulder and missed over three months of the season. He was activated on Sept. 1 but was limited to designated hitter duty. The Rangers expect him to be ready to play the field in Spring Training. Broussard's problem wasn't physical. It was due to his being relegated to a backup role. He was the Cleveland Indians starting first baseman in 2003-06 before being traded to the Seattle Mariners on July 26, 2006. The Mariners were 31/2 games out of first place, but didn't need a first baseman. They had Richie Sexson. They needed a left-handed hitting designated hitter. Broussard had been hitting .321 for the Indians, but slumped to .238 with the Mariners as he struggled to come to grips with the DH role. When the off-season rolled around, the Mariners signed Jose Vidro to be their designated hitter. It seemed likely that Broussard would be traded, and at one point it looked like he was going to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Armando Benitez. But that was before the Mariners found out he could play the outfield as well as first base. Instead of being trade bait, Mariners manager Mike Hargrove decided he liked Broussard as a role player off the bench. Broussard publicly embraced the role, but found out it was more difficult than expected.
"I love Mike, but he'll be the first to tell you that he likes playing the same guys every night," Broussard said. "For a bench player, he's a hard guy to play for. I love him, but I know he runs his starters out there every day."When I got out there, it would be against a No. 1 starter. Or if I pinch-hit, it would be against the closer. I was getting in there in tough situations, but I had to gut it up and do my job. It was hard to do and it was totally different. I'll never look at playing every day the same again. It was really frustrating." He did not complain publicly, but spoke often about his situation with Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi. The Mariners admitted that Broussard was an everyday player but still needed him, especially with Sexson struggling through the worst season of his career. Broussard ended up playing in 99 games and hitting .275 in 240 at-bats. But, his .404 slugging percentage was his lowest since his rookie season and 54 points below his career average. He also knew going into the offseason that his time with the Mariners was probably up, either through a trade or being non-tendered in December. "It was like going through the Draft all over again," Broussard said. "You knew you were going somewhere, you just didn't know where." The Rangers wanted him. They were exploring every possible option including free agents Tony Clark and Sean Casey. But general manager Jon Daniels was privately saying that Broussard was his first choice of all that might be available. The feeling was mutual and Broussard was ecstatic when the Mariners told him that he had been traded to the Rangers. His family now lives in Georgetown, just north of Austin. "The Mariners trading me to Texas was one of the classiest things I've ever seen in baseball," Broussard said. "They could have traded me somewhere else. They could have traded me to a National League team, where I would have been a bench player, a role player or a pinch-hitter. "But they traded me to Texas, even though it was within the division, we play 19 times a year and I'll be out there trying to do everything I can to beat them. It was a classy move on their part." The Rangers need it to be a shrewd move on their part and Broussard, who turned 31 in September, needs to re-establish himself as an everyday player. He can be a free agent after the season and would obviously love to remain with the Rangers. "I don't want to be labeled as a bench player," Broussard said. "This year is a big year for me but every year is big. Baseball is so competitive and there are so many talented guys out there, there is always somebody out there trying to take your job. I just want to be healthy, play hard and do my job. I just want to come into Spring Training in the best possible shape and be ready when the season starts."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.