Rangers could become baseball's version of NFL's Rams

Thursday, January 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ Juan Gonzalez is what the pitching-poor Texas Rangers really didn't need: another slugger.

But maybe adding him to a lineup that includes Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Carl Everett could make the Rangers the baseball version of the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

As in, they'll try to outscore everyone.

``The name of the game is runs scored and Juan Gonzalez is certainly going to add to an already potent offensive club,'' general manager John Hart said Wednesday.

``I think this certainly bodes well for us winning additional games and being ever closer to being a contending, championship-type club.''

Since becoming the Rangers GM on Nov. 1, Hart talked about improving the Rangers' pitching _ and he did sign free agent Chan Ho Park and add relievers John Rocker, Jay Powell and Todd Van Poppel.

But his biggest moves have been the additions of Gonzalez and Everett to a team that led the majors with 246 homers last year and had the No. 2 slugging percentage behind Colorado. The Rangers scored 890 runs (5.5 per game), but had the worst ERA in the majors at 5.71 and finished last in the AL West for the second straight year.

Gonzalez agreed late Tuesday to a $24 million, two-year contract to return to the team for which he spent his first 11 seasons before being traded by former GM Doug Melvin to Detroit after the 1999 season.

Even after two years away, Gonzalez is still the Rangers' career leader in home runs, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits. He was the AL MVP in 1996 and '98 while in Texas.

``With Juan, you know he's going to be productive,'' said Palmeiro, who hit .273 with 47 homers and 123 RBIs last season. ``We have a much better lineup, and I think we will prove it on the field.''

Gonzalez had an off-year with the Tigers in 2000, then signed a $10 million, one-year contract with Cleveland last season with Hart. He hit .325 with 35 homers and a team-high 140 RBIs.

Hart said Wednesday that he was still waiting to complete the deal with Gonzalez, who was home in Puerto Rico with an inner ear infection. Hart said there were just a few minor details and logistics to overcome but that he anticipated no problems.

The Rangers got Everett from the Red Sox in a Dec. 13 trade for left-hander Darren Oliver, who was 13-22 with a 6.60 ERA the past two seasons.

Everett was an All-Star his first season in Boston, hitting .300 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs in 2000. But he clashed with two managers this year and struggled on the field, batting .257 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs before his season ended Sept. 8 because of a knee injury.

Everett could bat as low as seventh in a lineup behind designated hitter Frank Catalanotto (.330 average, fifth in the AL), left fielder Rusty Greer (.305 career hitter), shortstop Alex Rodriguez (.318 and an AL-leading 52 homers), right fielder Gonzalez, first baseman Palmeiro and catcher Ivan Rodriguez (.304 career hitter).

The starting rotation led by Park, Kenny Rogers and Doug Davis _ with at least four others battling for the last two spots _ certainly isn't as imposing. But they should have plenty of runs to work with.

``Having a big offense certainly helps. And our bullpen is competitive and it's better,'' Hart said. ``Put those components together and you can get starters to say we can go six innings, give up three runs and suck up a lot of wins.

``Believe me, I would love to win a lot of 1-0, 2-1 games. Everyone would like to have that depth in starting pitching, but it's hard to find,'' he said.

But Hart will continue to search for pitching, and one option could be to trade Gabe Kapler, the starting center fielder last year who was expected to move to right before Gonzalez signed.

``We're catching our breath a little bit. We'll examine and take a good look at the club,'' Hart said. ``There are a number of possibilities.''

As Hart has already proved.