Maddux arrives armed with a plan
Rangers counting on new pitching coach to revitalize staff
ARLINGTON -- Depending on which rumor you believe, new Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux is supposed to be bringing with him former Brewers pitchers CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Eric Gagne, as well his brother, Greg."Wow," Maddux said. "That's a pretty good bubblegum card collection right there." That would also be a pretty good start for a new pitching coach. Only one problem. "Is he paying for them, too?" general manager Jon Daniels asked. That's one of the challenges of being the Rangers pitching coach. Not only is Maddux dealing with a staff that had the highest ERA in the Majors this past season and was clobbered by injuries, but there is also the reality that the Rangers are not going to be big spenders in this winter's free-agent market. Club president Nolan Ryan made that clear again on Friday while Maddux was making his first appearance at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Ryan said the Rangers payroll in 2009 likely will be about the same as it was this year, which is right around $68 million. That almost certainly means that unless the Rangers can trade either Kevin Millwood ($12 million) or Vicente Padilla ($11 million) -- they're top starters right now -- they are not going to be adding a high-priced starter such as Sabathia or Sheets. They are taking the same approach to the bullpen, even though rumor has it that they are interested in Kerry Wood, who is a free agent after saving 34 games for the Cubs last year. He's from nearby Grand Prairie but club officials made it clear they aren't going there. "We're just not going to commit to the high-priced free agent -- starter or closer -- that requires a long-term commitment and large sums of money," Ryan said. "I'm certainly not saying we won't at least look into the free-agent market. We'll look at any opportunity that helps the ballclub, but it has to stay with our overall plan of committing to our young players. "Do I think we'll deviate from that? I don't think so." Instead, most of the Rangers pitching improvements will have to come from within, and that's why they have turned to Maddux, 47, a 15-year Major League veteran who has spent the last six seasons as the Brewers pitching coach.
Maddux didn't have anywhere near the Major League career that his Hall of Fame-bound younger brother has enjoyed. Instead, he spent 15 years mainly as a reliever bouncing around nine organizations while dealing with a variety of injuries that Greg Maddux was able to avoid. But that's part of his appeal as a pitching coach."He fills a lot of the things that I like in a pitching coach," Ryan said. "I like a pitching coach who has been there and experienced things that you need to prepare for and compete at the Major League level. He's had to come back from injuries. Things like that are things a pitcher can relate to. He also understands that each pitcher is different." Maddux arrived in Arlington on Thursday for the tail end of the Rangers' week-long conditioning camp to get a first-hand look at some of his pitchers. The Rangers had more than a dozen pitchers working out on Friday, including Millwood, who has dropped 12 pounds since the end of the season. "Seeing guys working out like this in November, that's what it's all about," Maddux said. "I love to see guys who are hungry and willing to work." Having spent the past six years with Milwaukee in the other league, Maddux admits he doesn't know that much about the Rangers pitchers. He said he doesn't want to have any preconceived notions. He is listening to others, watching what is going on and said everybody will be "even on the starting blocks." He knows what he wants from a pitching staff. "We want to stay on the attack, pitch to contact and stay away from walks," Maddux said. "We need to be prepared and we need to go out there believing in ourselves and believing in our stuff. Stay on the attack. Stay aggressive. Pitch with heart and pitch with fortitude. If you do that with God-given talent and execute your pitches, good things will happen. "We need to be healthy, but if we condition ourselves and maintain reasonably sound mechanics, that will take care of itself." He did something right with the Brewers last year because they had a 3.85 ERA as a staff, the second lowest in the National League. Over the past six seasons, the Brewers had a 2.12-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio that was the fifth best in the NL. The Rangers, in the same stretch, had a 1.68-to-1 ratio that was the third lowest in the Major Leagues. "It's a challenge, but no matter where you are it's a challenge," Maddux said. "It's a different challenge than, say, in San Diego, but it's still a challenge and you have to be prepared to meet that challenge." He knows the challenge will have to be met with young pitchers. He knows that great bubblegum card collection is not going to show up at his new address. The Rangers are still talking trades with other clubs and still have catching to offer. They would like to trade one to Boston for Clay Buchholz, but the Red Sox don't want to deal him and are still waiting to see if they can re-sign catcher Jason Varitek. The Marlins need catching but are adamantly opposed to trading any of their young starters. The Rangers may have some interest if the Rockies want to trade newly acquired reliever Huston Street but, for the most part, their shopping list is pretty thin right now. Maddux said that doesn't bother him. "Our shopping list is our own guys," Maddux said. "It starts from within from the guys we have in our own organization. We can't rely on outside help. We have to do it from within, but it's more rewarding if you build from within."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.