Thinking back six years.
Photo courtesy of
the great Brad Newton
As I sat at work yesterday and watched powdered-donut-sized
snowflakes swirling upward out my window, my thoughts wandered to the last time
we were hit with a mid-February blast anything like it.
We had two dogs, and one child.
Though that was about to be reversed. We would lose
Sneaker a little over a week after that Valentine’s Day snowstorm. And
six months later, to the day, Max was born.
On Valentine’s Day 2004, on Erica’s bedroom wall was this:
Once Max was born, I changed it:
But the baseballing up of the nursery couldn’t make up for
the humiliating baseball blow that had been dealt six months earlier. On
the day the snow covered everything back on Valentine’s Day 2004, practically
(and laughably) immobilizing the city, the news of the day was this:
New York Yankees and Texas Rangers have agreed in principle on a trade that
will send American League MVP Alex Rodriguez to New York for Alfonso Soriano
and a minor league player to be named later.
It was a cold day in Rangers history, a day on which a
landmark decision was made not to make the club better but to make it more
financially flexible. The 89-win season that followed – a third-place
finish after A-Rod’s three seasons each produced fourth-place records – felt
like a bit of a mirage, something the front office and manager not only
accepted but also made sure the fans understood with the “managed expectations”
catchphrase we were drilled with that next winter.
It’s different now. The diffidence – the apologetic
mission statement – following 2004’s 89 wins bears no resemblance to the
confidence and accountability that the Rangers, to a man, from the President to
the General Manager to the players to the prospective owner, are preaching
after last season’s 87 victories. They believe it’s time to win, aren’t
willing to accept anything less in 2010, and invite all of us to demand the same.
So much has changed since the day A-Rod was traded five
years ago. The health of the Rangers has improved – in many ways
dramatically so – in almost every facet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean 2010
will be The Year. That’s the plan, but things don’t always work out the
way they’re supposed to.
Case in point: Look back at that final A-Rod club in
2003. One of the club’s biggest disappointments was 23-year-old
righthander Colby Lewis, having posted a 7.30 ERA in 26 starts. Today he
finds himself penciled in as the club’s number three starter, after a
two-year-run in Japan that resuscitated his flagging career. And perhaps
the 2003 club’s greatest young hope, 22-year-old third baseman Hank Blalock
(.300/.350/.522 in his first full big league season), sits here five days
before some clubs’ pitchers and catchers will report and doesn’t yet know which
state he’ll need to fly to for the start of his own spring training.
The idea that Lewis would go into 2010 with a multi-year
contract, and Blalock would be facing the real possibility of having to accept
a minor league deal, would have made no more sense five years ago than the way
Alex Rodriguez engineered his way out of Texas.
On the subject of making sense, it’s too soon to comment on
Danny Gutierrez’s 50-game suspension at the hands of Major League Baseball, but
giving the righthander every benefit of the doubt, it’s at the very least a
hugely disappointing instance of carelessness, if not bad judgment. If
the substance he tested positive for was in fact the ADHD medication Adderall,
and if he does have a prescription for it, and if none of this would have
happened had he properly applied to the league for a Therapeutic Use Exemption,
then bad on him.
Would I take back the trade that sent catcher Manny Pina and
outfielder Tim Smith to the Royals for Gutierrez (number eight on my Bound
Edition list of the system’s top 72 prospects, and number nine in the system
according to Baseball
America) in September? Absolutely not. But it’s too bad
that his regular season, which was set to start in the Frisco rotation, isn’t
going to get rolling until the end of May. He’s eligible to participate
fully in camp, but his Surprise program just changed. The organization
will ask him to help educate his teammates about the TUE process, and to set an
example by working his tail off on the field.
It will be another abbreviated season for Gutierrez, who
will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter if not added to the 40-man
roster. Texas will have to make roster decisions on a class that includes
Mitch Moreland, Kasey Kiker, Wilmer Font, Engel Beltre, Wilfredo Boscan, Carlos
Pimentel, and several others who stand as much of a chance today to break
through in 2010 as Michael Kirkman had at this time a year ago. Texas
will still have four months to figure out whether Gutierrez needs to be
protected – and at least this isn’t an injury issue – but it’s disappointing.
It couldn’t look any more like winter today, but in a week
the Rangers will have gotten camp underway in Surprise, where highs are already
in the 70s without a lick of a chance of anything falling out of the sky.
Hopes are going to be high, as they are in every team’s camp in February, but
for Texas it feels like the first year in many that even a slight improvement
would be viewed as a disappointment. It’s time to win.
Nothing’s guaranteed. We don’t know who 2010’s Scott
Feldman will be, nor who will take a huge step back like Josh Hamilton did last
year. This could be The Year, but Texas thought that in 2001 too, and in
2002, and in 2003, when they had the best player in baseball and never finished
anything other than last in the division. You never know. And
that’s one of the greatnesses of sports.
There will be surprises this season that we can’t anticipate
any more than close to a foot of Metroplex snow in one mid-February day, and
it’s all that awesome uncertainty that I pretty much can’t wait any longer
A Surprise party
great, but enough —
Could use some
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(c) Jamey Newberg