I’ll write about the trade of Mike Nickeas for Victor Diaz next time. There’s something else on my mind right now.
I’ve stayed away from the Buck Showalter subject for a few weeks now, for several reasons:
1. There’s not really a story to discuss — just a reaction to what the columnists and talk show hosts are stirring up. For the last year I’ve tried to steer clear of commenting on commentators, preferring to keep the focus on what’s actually happening. I’m trying to stick to offering my opinions on the facts, rather than my opinions on opinions.
2. I don’t spend any time in the clubhouse. I don’t think it would be fair of me to speak out on an issue that, I think, is basically a clubhouse issue. My guess is that the columnists (unlike the beat writers) and talk show hosts don’t spend any time in the clubhouse, or at least not enough to get a true vibe on (if not a true picture of) the situation — but the point is they have that access, and so I can only hope they are using it before proclaiming what the state of the Rangers is, off the field.
3. I have no beef with Showalter’s effectiveness as an in-game tactician. Never have. I think he’s among the most passionate, prepared, effective baseball men in the game.
To me, the issue of whether Showalter is right for this team is one that’s unfair for me to really weigh in on, because I think the most important factor is what goes on between the manager and his players when we aren’t looking.
But as a fan, I’m going to toss in my two cents. Because even if I don’t feel qualified to evaluate the situation, this is my team. I buy tickets to games based on how I feel about the team. It feels like the time is right to discuss this, as last night’s tough loss seemed, with 28 games left, to shut a heavy door.
Sports Illustrated published the results of a poll a week or two ago asking who the best and worst managers in baseball are. A third of the 470 major league players polled said that Frank Robinson (17 percent) or Showalter (15 percent) was the worst.
SI points out that Robinson and Showalter also headed last year’s poll results, and that none of the next four on the 2005 list — Lloyd McClendon (Pirates), Larry Bowa (Phillies), Lou Piniella (Devil Rays), and Tony Peña (Royals) — are still managing in the major leagues.
But look at the managers who topped the “best” list: Bobby Cox, Jim Leyland, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa.
Cox has been fired once and resigned another time.
Leyland resigned three times.
Torre has been fired three times.
LaRussa has been fired once and resigned once.
Even the best managers have a shelf life. Circumstances inevitably lead to a breakup, sometimes by the manager’s choice and other times anything but. But that’s only the second most interesting thing about the SI poll.
What’s most interesting to me is who was polled. We don’t know which players SI questioned, and what criteria the publication used to determine which players to ask. Did they have to have played for more than one club? Did they have to vote within their own league? Could they vote for their own skipper?
Which players were polled is really not very important. But the fact that the survey exclusively involved big league players is significant, I think. Doesn’t the fact that nearly two-thirds of the players in the major leagues were asked to weigh in mean something, when free agency is a bigger factor in baseball than in any sport? Likeability certainly isn’t on the list of prerequisites for a big league manager or coach, but isn’t any reason that a marquis player may not want to play in Texas a reason that needs to be considered?
It was a players’ poll. Four hundred seventy baseball players who are, by definition, current or potential Texas Rangers.
Here’s what I think, and let me reiterate that I’m just a fan, entitled to an opinion because it’s my team but not entitled, in this case, to assume my opinion has any basis in fact.
I think Showalter has proven that he is among the best in baseball at taking a bad baseball team and making it better. At taking a collection of young baseball players and teaching them how to prepare and how to manage the grind. At getting a team on the right track. But then what?
Showalter managed for four seasons in New York. For three seasons in Arizona (five years counting the two prior to the club’s first season). And now four seasons in Texas.
His best year with the Yankees — in terms of games won — was his second year.
His best year with the Diamondbacks was his second year.
His best year here was his second year, when he was named American League Manager of the Year.
Is it a coincidence? Is it a matter of peaking? Or is it a matter of taking a team and getting more out of it, in short order, than he really should have been expected to, only to have things settle back a little after that? Or am I twisting the facts just to prove a flimsy point, since the Yankees actually had better seasons in Showalter’s third and fourth years there, both of which were shortened due to the 1994 strike?
I don’t know what it means. And I don’t know what it means that the year after Showalter left the Yankees, they went out and won their first World Series in 18 years, or what it means that the year after Showalter left the Diamondbacks, they went out and won a World Series in their fourth season of existence. I don’t see it as a cause-and-effect thing. But it happened.
Is there a reason Arizona retreated after Showalter’s second season, a reason that can be attributed to the fact that he was the manager? How about in Texas, same question?
There have been widespread stories in the last couple weeks that Showalter teams tend to fade late in the season, and that that’s necessarily indicative of something. Not sure what it means, though, when a little research indicates that the Rangers have won more games in August (60) than in any other month with Showalter at the helm, and it’s the club’s second-best month (.526) in terms of winning percentage during his tenure.
What’s more pertinent to the second-half subject is that Texas is in a division with the most incredible finisher in sports. Five weeks ago, Oakland stood at 51-49, tied with the Angels atop the AL West and a half-game up on Texas. Since that time, the A’s have gone 26-7, with 15 of those 33 games coming against division opponents. A team that headed into the final days of July peeking over a .500 mark is now on pace to win 94 games. With their closer, their number two starter, and their shortstop out of action. It’s ridiculous. And the A’s do this every year.
It’s certainly not Showalter’s fault that Adam Eaton wasn’t around until that day when Oakland was 51-49. Or that Francisco Cordero blew five saves in the season’s first three weeks, four against division opponents. Or that Brad Wilkerson and Phil Nevin, two key components to the offense, would give this club exactly one good month each.
But forget the Rangers’ month-by-month trends, and forget the individual disappointments. The easy facts are that the Rangers are 307-313 under Showalter, with a fourth-place finish and two thirds, and a team that right now sits in third again, nine-and-a-half games out with 28 to go. That win-loss record through four seasons, and those results in the standings, would prompt columns and talk show segments questioning the future of Cox or Leyland or Torre or LaRussa, too. It’s how baseball works.
Is that fair? Should the players be held accountable as a whole? Sure, but what does that mean? Every one of them can look back at some stretch of the season and say he could have done more, but that’s true of every player on every team in the league. Should Jon Daniels be held accountable? Of course, and he’d admit that, too. Eaton’s and Wilkerson’s lack of production has made the club’s two biggest off-season trades disappointing, overshadowing good deals for Vicente Padilla and John Koronka and John Rheinecker, the huge signing of Kevin Millwood, and a very good late-July flurry of trades.
I don’t include the Robinson Tejeda deal in the list of good deals, even though his chances to help long-term might be as legitimate as those of any pitcher Daniels traded for. I don’t include it because I wonder if the absence of David Dellucci has been more critical than even I anticipated (April 2 Newberg Report: “I’m comfortable with this one, with my only reservation being that I hope it doesn’t cause a problem in the clubhouse”).
Dellucci served four roles on this team: leadoff hitter, designated hitter, part-time left-handed-hitting outfielder, and clubhouse force. Wilkerson’s arrival was supposed to make the first one moot. The organization’s desire to have Nevin protecting Mark Teixeira in the lineup was supposed to take care of the second one. The idea that Wilkerson and Laynce Nix were going to play virtually every day along with Gary Matthews Jr. and Kevin Mench meant there wouldn’t be much need for the third.
But as for the fourth, Dellucci’s voice in the room was not replaced. Mark DeRosa is clearly a glue guy, and Millwood has plenty of leadership qualities, but those playoff teams that had Nuschler and Rusty and Tettleton and Valle and McLemore and Hamilton succeeded, in part, because they governed themselves, and because Johnny Oates allowed them to.
This is not an indictment of Michael Young or Teixeira, any more than it would have been an indictment of Pudge or Juan in the Red Years. The sheriffs aren’t always the stars.
And this is where my blindness comes in. I don’t know what goes on before the game, after the game, or on the plane. All I can do is go by a gut feel as a fan. When we get shots into the dugout, the body language of the players doesn’t look good — but shouldn’t that be expected when it’s been a disappointing season? Is it cliché to say the team looks tight, like it’s pressing, like it’s not as loose as it should be?
All of this is why I was so fired up about the fight with Anaheim two weeks ago. Did the bench clearing help Texas go win three of four in Detroit? No telling. I wanted to accept the correlation, but then how do you explain the club then dropping three of four in Tampa, the absolute low point of the season?
Maybe what this team needs is another Dellucci, and another, and another. Then the question becomes whether Showalter would loosen the reins the way Oates apparently did, and let the players “manage” themselves until the first pitch and after the last. If not, maybe his message, and his methods, start to wear thin.
There are coaches in every sport who consistently build contenders but don’t have a ring.
I think the Rangers have the core players in place to win, and the right general manager in place to build around them. The club’s best players are in, or entering, their prime. We have to capitalize on that, and not let their best years go by.
I subscribe to the premise that players win and lose more games than managers do — the pitchers and hitters and defenders (and not the bench coach) get the credit for taking three of four from the Tigers, and they get the blame for dropping three of four to the Devil Rays.
But sometimes there needs to be a change for change’s sake, even if the manager doesn’t really deserve to be the fall guy. In pro sports, when there’s a disconnect between coach and players, there’s usually only one way to repair it. Is there a disconnect here? If you believe the columnists, there might be. But do they really know what the psyche is among the men wearing the uniforms, or are they basically going on vibe just like you and me have to? I don’t know.
Man, I want this team to win so badly. And I think it can. It just seems like there’s something missing right now.
You can’t expect Buck Showalter to change his style and approach. He has proven that his style and approach works, that it’s well suited to building a team. But what about carrying his club over the threshold?
Ultimately, as any sports fan knows, it may not really matter if he is too intense, or too controlling, or too organized or too smart or too blonde. The best managers in the game inevitably end up wearing different uniforms, a lot of times because their personalities are such that they aren’t wired to wear different hats.
The Rangers have acquired outfielder Victor Diaz from the New York Mets for Frisco catcher Mike Nickeas. Texas is assigning Diaz to Oklahoma (surely not for long), and has outrighted outfielder Adam Hyzdu to the RedHawks roster.
More in tomorrow’s Newberg Report.
With the way things have gone lately, I would have never guessed, without checking, that Texas has won as many games in August — 15 — as in any month all season. And there are still three games to go in the month, starting tomorrow in Baltimore.
After that, Texas will be able to expand its active roster, and the club will evaluate potential additions based on two factors: whether they can help the club now, and whether being in the big leagues will serve to help their development. The club will reportedly add between three and seven players.
Righthanders Nick Masset and Scott Feldman will almost surely be back to fortify the bullpen (with Feldman serving his six-game suspension upon his return), lefthanders John Koronka and John Rheinecker are possibilities, and Frankie Francisco has a good shot. Media reports suggest Kameron Loe might be shut down for the year rather than brought back, while John Danks and Thomas Diamond almost certainly won’t come up.
Texas will likely add a third catcher, either Miguel Ojeda or Jamie Burke, which will mean that someone will have to be removed from the 40-man roster. (Easy enough: Brad Wilkerson can be moved to the 60-day disabled list.)
There are two infielders on the 40-man roster who aren’t in the big leagues, though neither shortstop Joaquin Arias nor utility man Drew Meyer is a lock to come up. Outfielder Jason Botts, back in action in Surprise as he rehabilitates from surgery for a broken hamate bone in his right hand, could return once he’s deemed fully healthy, and outfielder Freddy Guzman could come back as well.
Infielder/outfielder Eric Young is already up, having been purchased on Friday after hitting .222/.364/.519 in 27 at-bats over nine Oklahoma games (five of his six hits went for extra bases). Masset was optioned to make room for Young, though as noted above, he should return to the bullpen in September.
The latest edition of my "Going Deep" column, which will be posted on TexasRangers.com sometime today, focuses on Young and why it wasn’t necessary, despite what you’ve read in the papers over the last week, for Young to be up by August 31 in order to be playoff-eligible.
Outfielder Carlos Lee, days after announcing that he’d left agent Adam Katz to hook up with Scott Boras, retreated and said he’s staying with Katz.
Doctors will examine righthander Kip Wells’s sprained left foot today, which should clarify whether he’s got a chance to return to the rotation sometime in September or if surgery is instead a possibility.
Turns out Wilkerson had a tear in his rotator cuff (right shoulder) with no damage to his biceps tendon. Following last Tuesday’s surgery, he’s already begun a rehab program that he believes will have him ready to go by spring training. He’s remaining with the team until it departs for its final road trip of the season.
One of the biggest disappointments of the season for me has been the Rangers’ decision to trade Fabio Castro. My disappointment grows. Castro has now pitched 10 times for Philadelphia, and the numbers are sick. In 17.1 innings, the small lefty has yet to allow a run. Even the two runners he’s inherited have failed to score. He’s allowed just five hits (.093/.140/.148) and fanned eight. He’s coaxed as many double plays (two) as he’s issued walks.
And he’s a 21-year-old lefthander who throws in the low 90s.
Who has the bigger swing arc, Matt Stairs or Justin Morneau? Does anyone else in the league even come close?
And what does the fact that Stairs and Morneau are both Canadian have to do with it?
The Rangers are sending righthanders Jesse Ingram and Danny Touchet, catcher Kevin Richardson, third baseman Travis Metcalf, and outfielder Anthony Webster to play for the Grand Canyon Rafters in the Arizona Fall League, with two more pitching slots to fill. Clinton manager Andy Fox will be the bench coach for the Rafters, whose roster also includes Pirates reliever Jesse Chavez, the righthander that the Rangers shipped to the Pirates for Wells last month.
Don’t count on Frisco righthander Eric Hurley filling one of the remaining AFL spots. He hasn’t pitched in a week and a half due to a strained oblique muscle, and having thrown nearly 140 innings, I’d be surprised if the Rangers extended his second full pro season beyond the RoughRiders’ schedule. Hurley, who turned 21 earlier this month, is also within a month or two of becoming a father.
Make sure to read Mike Hindman’s outstanding analysis of Hurley and Danks, the Rangers’ top two prospects.
Frisco first baseman Nate Gold had most of the day off in Frisco’s tilt with San Antonio last night, but he entered the game defensively in the eighth and, in the bottom of the frame, saw one pitch. He deposited it in the left field seats, his Texas League-leading 32nd bomb of the year. Gold has driven in 97 runs and is hitting .285/.371/.570, giving him an OPS of .941 that trails only Royals uberprospect Alex Gordon. The five hitters chasing Gold in the league’s home run race have between 104 and 149 strikeouts apiece. Gold has 83.
Bakersfield outfielder Brandon Boggs (.261/.352/.444) landed on the disabled list with a separated shoulder.
Rangers vice president of marketing and in-park entertainment Chuck Morgan worked his 1,900th consecutive Major League game on Saturday, dating back to 1983.
The Rangers struck four-year extensions with Oklahoma and Bakersfield to keep them in place as the club’s AAA and High A affiliates.
Boston purchased the contract of righthander Bryan Corey, two weeks after designating him for assignment and re-signing him to a minor league deal. Detroit recalled righthander Colby Lewis for a second stint, this one lasting six days. Washington designated righthander Travis Hughes for assignment and purchased the contract of righthander Kevin Gryboski.
In Baseball America’s ranking of the top 30 prospects in the Cape Cod League this summer, number nine was righthander Shooter Hunt, who was the Rangers’ 34th-round pick in 2005 out of a New Jersey high school. Hunt, who was projected to go as high as the fifth or sixth round but fell because of what was perceived to be a solid commitment to the University of Virginia, posted a 4.72 ERA in 34.1 innings as a Cavalier freshman before deciding to transfer to Tulane for the 2007 season.
But in the meantime, he led the Cape in strikeouts with 54 in 40 frames this summer, holding opponents in the prospect league to a .147 batting average. BA suggested that if Hunt can improve his changeup and his control, his power assortment (which includes a devastating curve) could make him a first-round pick in 2008.
Lloyd Christmas: "What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me . . . ending up together?"
Mary Swanson: "Well, that’s pretty difficult to say."
Lloyd: "Hit me with it! I’ve come a long way to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?"
Mary: "Not good."
Lloyd: "You mean, not good, like one out of a hundred?"
Mary: "I’d say more like one out of a million."
Lloyd: "So you’re telling me there’s a chance! Yeah!"
Bring on Baltimore.
Wondering if the Rangers, now further out of first place than they’ve been at any time this season, have yet requested revocable waivers on Carlos Lee.
If not, surely at least one of LAAA and Boston and the White Sox and Minnesota and the Yankees don’t let him get past the American League.
Assuming at least one of them puts in a claim – or even if no team does – will Texas draw a trade offer that’s preferable to a pair of draft picks between 16 and about 60 next June, which is what the club will get if Lee finishes the season here and signs with someone else?
Or is there enough of a concern that the owners might agree to kick compensatory draft picks out of the CBA in order to get something they want from the players this winter, in which case the evaluation of a trade offer becomes quite a bit different?
Or, on the other hand, are the Rangers planning on a full court press this winter to get Lee to sign long-term, in which case trading him to a playoff contender would be a bad idea?
Or did they already invoke the August waivers process on Lee earlier in the month, meaning they can’t do so again, at least not revocably, in which case this whole exercise was a complete waste of time?
Another thought and then I’ll get out of your way. As much a work of art as the baseball box score is, its fallibility is exemplified by the fact that it shows Mark Teixeira as having what appears to be an ordinary 1 for 4 night. He hit three of the squarest balls all night, getting a sharp bad-hop infield single before rifling an out into Nick Swisher’s glove (though probably foul) and another into Milton Bradley’s, each time with a man in scoring position. His fourth at-bat, again with a runner on second, was driven 375 to straightaway center.
Like the ball that Swisher snared off Teixeira’s bat in the fourth, the game’s not always fair.
punctuation mark (pŭngk’chū-ā’shen märk), n. — One of a set of marks or signs, such as the comma or the period, used to separate words into sentences, clauses, and phrases in order to clarify meaning; also, a cataclysmic moment (or crowning moment) that epitomizes, underscores, highlights, italicizes, underlines, and puts in bold an overall set of circumstances, in front of a home crowd of 31,178.
puncture (pŭngk’cher), v. — To pierce with a pointed object; to make (a hole) by piercing; to cause to collapse by piercing; to depreciate or deflate; also, to cripple the hopes of the team trying to catch you in the standings and basically needing to win three straight by utterly dominating them in every phase in the series opener.
punk’d (pŭngkt), adj. — Oakland 9, Texas 3.
Because of what happened in front of 35,003 fans in Tampa Bay (the four-game total, that is), to say this is a big three-game set starting tonight with Oakland is not exactly making the point. When the A’s series ends on Sunday, Texas will either be four games out of first, six games, eight, or ten. This home series can’t quite cement playoff hopes, but it sure as heck can destroy them.
I need a distraction to keep me from thinking about Edinson Volquez vs. Barry Zito. How about this:
Down in the Dominican Summer League, 17-year-old righthander Fabio Castillo did this in his last start that shows up online:
Seventeen years old. Seventeen outs. Fourteen on strikes.
And his 22-year-old teammate, converted outfielder Alexi Ogando, is pumping his high-90s stuff in with the following results:
27.2 innings, 21 hits (.214 opponents’ average), two runs (one earned: 0.33 ERA), no home runs, three walks, 41 punchouts. Record of 4-0 with two saves.
Yeah, it’s a pitcher’s league, with a very big strike zone, but not many of those kids are sporting 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratios.
Not even the ones who aren’t just now learning how to pitch, on the job.
There. Momentary distraction over. I’m ready for Alexi Ogando’s current club to take on his former club.
As the comically self-important Len Pasquarelli would say: Time to move on, or move out.
Robinson Tejeda, Master and Command-er.
Impossibly, the 24-year-old is, right now, the most efficient, economical, effective pitcher in the Rangers rotation. Everything I ever knew is a lie.
Next they’ll tell me there are only eight planets.
Brutal eighth and ninth last night. Brutal. First two get on in the eighth, nobody scores. First two get on in the ninth, facing a brand new closer, a third gets on with one out, nobody scores. A chance to shave a game off Oakland’s lead, squandered.
I was listening to Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” on the way to work yesterday morning. There’s a couple lines in that song (“You can laugh / A spineless laugh / We hope your rules and wisdom choke you”) that always make my hair stand on end. I turned the volume up too loud, just for those 30 seconds. It got my adrenaline chugging.
I wanted to go running; and I hate running. It was the feeling of seeing a baserunner take that arc between second and third that tells me he’s going to try to score on that line single to me in the outfield. The feeling when the lights go down and the concert is about to start. It was the intro music from “The Shield,” the last 10 minutes of the “Six Feet Under” finale, the turning to page one of a Thomas Harris novel. The opening, as a kid, of the season’s first pack of baseball cards.
Those words from “Exit Music,” every time I hear them, make me momentarily forget about everything good or bad going on in my life. I’m in the song. (Hmm: Maybe I should stop listening to it while driving.) The way Yorke pronounces the second syllable of “wisdom” conveys so much anger and bitterness. It doesn’t make me angry or bitter. But it makes me feel alive. So strange.
I’m not sure if I’m angry or bitter about last night’s Ranger loss, or Monday’s. I think I am. Coming off three of four on the road against baseball’s best team, the Rangers have dropped two straight to its third worst. Sure, both were good baseball games, and the Rangers gave themselves opportunities late. And yeah, it’s hard to be bitter at a Gold Glove center fielder for one bad misplay (or for flailing flat-footed on 0-2 with the bases loaded), or at the team’s leading basereacher watching a huge 3-2 pitch for strike three, or at the team’s leading hitter for swinging at a critical 3-0, or at the world’s best close-and-late, bases-loaded hitter not getting another hit in that situation.
But I know this: despite my efforts to convince you and evidently myself during this baseball season that it would be constructive not to get too high or too low after a single game, I can’t continue to preach it. I’ve never felt more fired up about Ranger wins or more distraught about Ranger losses than in 2006.
Maybe it’s because this team is no longer all about this year’s rookies or last year’s draft picks, and not about a handful of 36-year-old free agents, but instead about a core of players entering their baseball primes. Maybe it’s because the West seems to be unusually winnable this year. Maybe it’s because my kids, in the last six months, have really become baseball fans.
Maybe it’s because it’s been a very emotional year for me and my family.
I don’t know why exactly this year has been different, but emotionally, I’ve never felt more alive as a baseball fan. It’s been a real good alive 65 times, a frayed one 62 others. Last night’s hurts a lot because the club chased Scott Kazmir relatively early but couldn’t close the deal against a bullpen that is dead last in Major League Baseball in ERA, opponents’ average, and strikeouts.
(The scout who graded my outfield arm a 57 at the Reds tryout in 1990 — Ray Corbett — is the one who, unbelievably, camped out at Houston’s Cypress Falls High School in the spring of 2002 and recommended to the Expos that righthander Clint Everts, and not his teammate Kazmir, was the kid to pop at number five overall in that June’s draft. Unreal. I’m now questioning the 57.)
Surely we weren’t already looking ahead to the weekend confrontation with Oakland. We’ve got to position ourselves to make that series meaningful. Three of four in Detroit is energizing. Three of six in Detroit and Tampa Bay is ordinary.
Brad Wilkerson had his non-throwing shoulder successfully operated on yesterday, Carlos Lee fired Andy Katz and hired Scott Boras (which could actually help Texas keep Lee), Nick Masset is back in the big leagues, and 70 percent of the Rangers’ delegation to the Arizona Fall League has been identified. John Danks and Thomas Diamond were pretty good yesterday, Danny Ray Herrera dealt again, and Marcus Lemon keeps doing good things. And there’s a rules issue involving the Rangers that all the papers are getting wrong.
But those are things I’ll get to another time, if at all. Right now, the only baseball I can manage to think about is Kevin Millwood, Casey Fossum, tonight. When I’ll want to turn the volume up too loud.
MinorLeagueBaseball.com has unveiled nearly complete rosters for this fall’s Arizona Fall League, identifying Ranger five farmhands as delegates to the Grand Canyon Rafters. The website indicates that righthanders Jesse Ingram and Danny Touchet, catcher Kevin Richardson, third baseman Travis Metcalf, and outfielder Anthony Webster will play for the Rafters, and that Texas has two more pitching slots it can fill (teams have been able to send six players in the past rather than seven).
Clinton manager Andy Fox will serve as bench coach for the Rafters, whose roster also includes Pirates reliever Jesse Chavez, the righthander that the Rangers shipped to the Pirates for Kip Wells last month.