Better. Believe it.
The headline to this report, and the quote that leads it off, have nothing to do with Nolan Ryan’s departure.
This report started coming together in my head two weeks ago. I wrote the bulk of it the last few days. Most of it was done before the announcement came down shortly after 2:00 yesterday afternoon that Ryan was either retiring or resigning from his position as Rangers CEO.
I decided not to rewrite this entry in light of the Ryan development. For one, I didn’t want to delete nearly seven thousand words and start over. For another thing, I’m not sure how much analysis I can provide on the Ryan story. This is obviously major news, but there are layers to this story that aren’t yet clear.
And on top of that, the theme of this report is about the end of a baseball season and what lies ahead for this club, one of baseball’s best. Nolan Ryan helped make it that, and his departure doesn’t change the fact that Texas is poised to remain among the elite franchises in the game for years to come. Ryan brought an incalculable amount of credibility and identity to this organization when he re-arrived in 2008, lots of good people are with the Rangers because of him — including the formidable ownership group, and the baseball operations and business groups working alongside Ryan have ramped that credibility up even further, to the point at which the Rangers have one of the strongest, healthiest organizations, in all aspects, in the game today. That doesn’t change.
If the following seems to bury the lead, I apologize. There will be time to dive into the Ryan story later, especially as the dust starts to settle a little bit.
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”
— Hank Haney, and a million others
Today marks the anniversary of one of the greatest games in Texas Rangers history, and of the eve of the 2011 World Series, and of 39 football seasons.
Make it 40.
There’s some work to do in Arlington.
That makes this winter no different, on a basic level, from the off-season after the 2010 World Series (Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero out, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli in) or the off-season after the 2011 World Series (C.J. Wilson out, Yu Darvish and Joe Nathan in) or the off-season after the 2012 Wild Card loss (Josh Hamilton and Napoli and Michael Young and Mike Adams and Koji Uehara out, A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman and Joakim Soria and Dave Magadan in).
Give in to nostalgia, and resist change, and in professional sports you find yourself over-extending Terence Newman and Jay Ratliff, or re-committing wistfully to Roy Tarpley, and ending up where you end up.
When Texas walked away from closer Mike Henneman after its first-ever playoff season in 1996 and signed John Wetteland, it was an obvious upgrade, but the move the following winter that sent Jim Leyritz and more to Boston for Aaron Sele and more, with Sele coming off two post-injury seasons of ERA’s over 5.00, was less of a no-brainer at the time. Doug Melvin thought it would make Texas better. He was right.
After a second playoff appearance (and second instant exit) in three years, Will Clark was out and Rafael Palmeiro was back in. Not an indictment on Clark.
A winter later, after a third playoff exit at the Yankees hands in four years, Melvin decided that moving Juan Gonzalez (who’d scoffed at the concept of an extension in the six-year, $75 million Larry Walker neighborhood) in a package to get Justin Thompson (coming off a Sele-like regression) plus kids Gabe Kapler and Francisco Cordero and versatile bat Frank Catalanotto was a change worth making. It didn’t pan out the way Texas had hoped, primarily because of Thompson’s health.
The massive changes the following off-season — buying Alex Rodriguez and tacking on Andres Galarraga, Ken Caminiti, Randy Velarde, Mark Petkovsek, and Jeff Brantley, each a decade older than the superstar shortstop, while moving on from Wetteland and Royce Clayton — were designed to make the Rangers better, as was the next winter’s forfeiture of premium draft picks to sign Chan Ho Park and 30-somethings Todd Van Poppel, Jay Powell, and Gonzalez, plus the acquisitions of John Rocker and Hideki Irabu and Dave Burba and now I’m tired of going through this exercise.
Here’s the point: Moving on from Lee and Hamilton and Napoli and Uehara, and Clark and Wetteland and Leyritz and Clayton, wasn’t necessarily a knock on any of those players. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, and when you let C.J. Wilson walk so you can go all in on Yu Darvish, and when you decide not to meet your 32-year-old warrior ace’s six-year ask and instead invest in five years of Adrian Beltre, the one thing needs to be viewed in the context of the other.
You can, and should, always look to get better, whether you’re coming off three straight seasons with win totals in the low 70’s or two straight World Series appearances, and organizations that don’t do that tend to get into trouble, and not only in the short term.
“We were good. But not good enough,” said Jon Daniels about his 2013 club, in a press conference three days after it was done playing. “We’ve got to get better. . . . We’re in the middle of what we feel is a tremendous run — but we’re not satisfied. We want more. . . . One and done isn’t good enough. It’s not acceptable.”
Good. But not good enough.
Daniels added: “There’s no area of the organization where we can’t get better. And that includes me and Ron.”
It also, in Daniels’s estimation, includes the manager’s coaching staff, and part of the turnover from 2013 to 2014 — and there will be lots of turnover — has already been set in motion, as the contracts of bench coach Jackie Moore and first base coach Dave Anderson were not renewed.
The dismissal of Moore generated the bigger media reaction, in large part because of raw comments nearly instantly attributed by some to the 74-year-old (though refuted elsewhere) in which he reportedly said he believed he was fired because he was “a Nolan guy.”
I love Yu Darvish, but I would trade him for Clayton Kershaw.
I can’t wait to see what’s next for Leonys Martin, but if I could get Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen I’d be happy to see Martin take that next step in an Angels or Pirates uniform.
Adrian Beltre is my favorite Ranger ever, but offer me Manny Machado for him, and I’ll tee up an extremely lengthy Beltre retrospective and move on.
Chuck Morgan . . . well, no, Chuck Morgan is untouchable.
But Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler or Jurickson Profar or Derek Holland or Martin Perez or Tanner Scheppers or Rougned Odor or Luke Jackson or Joey Gallo or Lewis Brinson: If the front office believes moving them helps the Rangers get better, I’d prefer that they follow their evaluations and the output of their internal discussions than lean on nostalgia and what might be more popular in the clubhouse or with the fan base.
Is it fair to assume that the Rangers deciding they needed to get better at the bench coach spot doesn’t necessarily mean they believed Moore couldn’t do the job any more?
When Texas let Wetteland go after the 2000 season, opting instead to turn the ninth inning over to 28-year-old Jeff Zimmerman, with the 25-year-old Cordero being groomed for the role, it wasn’t necessarily because the club felt the 34-year-old Wetteland was no longer capable of getting hitters out with the game on the line.
It was because the Rangers thought they could get better.
Moore is 74. He wasn’t in a Rangers uniform when Texas was awarded a Major League franchise, but he was here the season after that, coaching first and third base for managers Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin and Frank Lucchesi from 1973 through 1976.
That’s 40 years ago.
Jackie Moore was a Texas Ranger coach the year before Jim Sundberg and Mike Hargrove debuted as big league baseball players.
It’s a grind. Moore wasn’t going to coach forever, just as Wetteland wasn’t going to close games forever and just as the Rangers believed Hamilton was unlikely to continue producing the way another team was prepared to pay him to produce.
Nolan guy or JD guy — or Rangers guy (David Murphy?) — sometimes the call upstairs is simply that you can get better by making a change. That’s the front office’s job. It’s not a PR decision; it’s the exact thing the baseball operations group is responsible for. “We’re a successful business,” Daniels noted at the season-ending presser. “We have to make tough decisions to get to that level and to stay there. Ultimately we’re accountable for the success and failure of the organization.”
At the same gathering, Ron Washington tipped his cap to Moore and Anderson, acknowledging that things like this happen in the game and you move forward. He echoed the importance of trying to get better, and in doing so said he expects their replacements to be “strong coaches, will-wise and preparation-wise.” Daniels, who said the idea any time the franchise is looking to add coaches or officials is to find “smart, strong people who share our vision,” defined the profile for the ideal bench coach as someone who is prepared, who brings energy, who is positive with the players. Someone who helps the manager think a batter ahead. An inning ahead. A game ahead.
Maybe Moore is really good at all of those things.
But maybe there’s someone out there who could be better for what this particular Rangers team needs, in this stage of its evolution, a baseball franchise that has reached a certain level of success and faces the natural and formidable challenge of trying to stay there, and to exceed it.
Darvish/Kershaw. Martin/McCutchen. Loui Eriksson and prospects for Tyler Seguin.
You never stop looking for ways to get better.
According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, there was an effort of some sort to replace Moore as bench coach a year ago, which became a “source of tension in management” that ended up resulting in no change. Grant adds that Washington has “improved in all areas [since being hired to manage the Rangers], but [in-game] strategy remains a weakness.”
In two straight seasons in which one or two more wins would have been huge, it’s impossible for anyone outside the dugout to say whether the greatest bench coach in baseball would have made that sort of difference, but you look for every edge you can get, and the role takes on an added strategic responsibility in 2014 with the advent of on-the-spot instant replay decisions from the dugout.
There were many years when the Rangers’ offensive firepower was such that any deficiencies in game tactics on that side of the ball might have been camouflaged. Not so much any more. Texas scored 730 runs in 2013. The last time they’d scored fewer than 784 runs was in 1995. It’s been a long time since manufacturing runs, since exploiting every possible opportunity and creating some that might not have otherwise been there, has taken on this much importance in Texas.
Wash can be better, just like Darvish and Andrus and Perez can be better. A good bench coach can make his manager better at what he does.
I’m not sure Jackie Moore didn’t do everything a good bench coach can do and I’d bet he did help to make Wash a better manager over the years — it’s a difficult thing to judge as a fan — but clearly the General Manager felt a change there could make the baseball team more likely to succeed. Moore’s been a force in this game — after the 1973-76 run with the club, Pat Corrales wanted him back in Texas in 1980, he had a three-season run (1984-86) managing the A’s, Kevin Kennedy brought him in as his Rangers bench coach in 1993-94, and he was brought in to serve as Wash’s right-hand man in place of Art Howe from 2009 through this year.
But to say that this is a “what have you done for me lately?” business is probably not quite accurate. It’s more about “what are you likely to do for me tomorrow?”
Unless you think Moore is the best bench coach in the game (is Darvish the best pitcher? is Beltre the best player?), don’t you have to evaluate possible opportunities to get better, assuming the objective is to win?
Get better, or get worse.
* * * *
Changes were already afoot in Arlington well before Thursday’s announcement that Ryan would be leaving. Senior Director of Player Development Tim Purpura is reportedly being reassigned to a different position, perhaps on the business side, while Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller, whose primary responsibility had been the supervision of the club’s pro, international, and amateur scouting efforts, is expected to assume some aspects of Purpura’s player development role, with longtime Director of International Scouting Mike Daly shifting into a new stateside role in which he’ll be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Rangers’ farm system, reporting directly to Preller. The baseball operations group has already signed free-agent-to-be Jason Frasor to a 2014 contract, claimed 25-year-old lefthander Edwar Cabrera (a changeup artist who led all of minor league baseball in strikeouts in 2011 but missed this season with a shoulder injury) off waivers from the Rockies, and reportedly inked 27-year-old lefthander Aaron Poreda (a former top prospect who also missed 2013 with shoulder issues) to a non-roster deal.
Daniels has said he’d like to have the coaching staff built back up before the November 11-13 GM/Owners Meetings in Orlando. Presumably there are only two openings to fill, but the annual rumors of Mike Maddux as someone else’s managerial candidate have resurfaced, particularly in light of the Cubs’ vacancy, which comes two years after Maddux last interviewed with that club and the Red Sox before withdrawing from consideration in each case, citing family priorities. ESPN Chicago suggested Maddux is “more interested” in the Chicago job now than he was in 2011 (adding that Rangers Special Assistant to the GM Greg Maddux could be a candidate as well), while the Chicago Sun-Times suggests the Texas pitching coach may not be on the Cubs’ short list this time around.
As for the coaching staff here, the one internal name that’s been mentioned in the press has been Frisco manager Steve Buechele, though it appears that his candidacy might be more for the first base coach/infield instructor role that Anderson filled. The club’s primary bench coach candidates, according to local reports, are Angels minor league manager Tim Bogar and Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk, who have reportedly each interviewed for the position already, and former big league managers Jim Tracy and Sam Perlozzo.
Coaching in the big leagues is an itinerant life. The good ones, while they don’t stay in one place forever, don’t stay out of work very long. If Moore wants to stay in the game, he’ll be able to. (The Astros let first base coach Dave Clark go last week — could they consider moving bench coach Eduardo Perez into that role and bringing Moore in as manager Bo Porter’s right-hand man?) Some in the media have suggested Anderson could land on the staff of one of two of his former Dodgers teammates: Angels manager Mike Scioscia or Diamondbacks skipper Kirk Gibson. (Anderson also worked as a manager and coordinator in the Rangers farm system during Angels Assistant GM Scott Servais’s time as a player development official with Texas.)
When Texas hired Washington seven years ago, he won the job over Manny Acta, Don Wakamatsu, Trey Hillman, and John Russell. None of the five had managed in the big leagues.
Since then, Acta has managed the Nationals and Indians and is reportedly interviewing for the open Cubs job.
Wakamatsu (the former Rangers bench coach and the third base coach on Washington’s first Rangers staff) has since managed the Mariners, and served as bench coach for the A’s and Blue Jays, and is currently a special assignment scout for the Yankees (based, according to his LinkedIn account, in the Metroplex).
Hillman has managed the Royals and now serves as Don Mattingly’s bench coach with the Dodgers.
Russell has managed the Pirates and served in several different capacities on Buck Showalter’s coaching staff in Baltimore, currently as bench coach.
Moore may or may not have another big league job in his future, Anderson very likely will, and the odds are that at least one of Ron Washington’s new coaches in 2014 will have worked somewhere else in the big leagues before.
One other name speculated as a potential addition to Scioscia’s staff in Los Angeles is Angels roving infield instructor Omar Vizquel, and when you think about the things the Rangers have talked about looking for — smart, strong personalities who bring positive energy — plus Vizquel’s history with Washington and the organization and the fact that Anderson had been the club’s infield instructor, there might not be an obvious fit for Vizquel given the current makeup of the staff but his is a name possibly worth tucking away.
I’d love to have him around Jurickson Profar for the next few years. And not for infield technique.
* * * *
While some of the changes Texas needs to make are obvious, the one that seems headed for some sort of unpredictable resolution involves Profar, whose 2013 season was uneven in every sense.
I had this idea a couple weeks ago to compare Profar’s first full season in the big leagues to that of his manager’s, as a follow-up of sorts to a report I wrote in August 2012 shortly before Profar’s call-up to Texas. Both broke in as utility players who saw time at shortstop, second base, and third right away . . . but that’s where the comparison hits the wall.
Washington was 30 in his first full season in the Major Leagues. Profar was 20.
Washington had been a journeyman minor leaguer, Profar the consensus number one prospect in the game.
Washington would play another seven years in the bigs, never starting 80 games and never sticking at just one defensive position.
Profar will have had a lengthier big league career by time he’s the age Washington was in his first full Twins season, and there will be many seasons in which he plays just one position, and do it more than 150 times.
The effort to figure out what that position will be, and how the team will open it up for the young switch-hitter, has to be among the organization’s top priorities this winter.
Maybe it’s second base, with Kinsler moving to first base or left field or another team.
Maybe it’s shortstop, with Andrus being traded for an impact return.
Maybe it’s shortstop in a different uniform himself.
Because Kinsler is 31 and coming off a disappointing season and because his offense has less value on a corner than it does at second base, and because Andrus is probably more valuable to the extended window here than he would be as a trade piece, the signs seem to point to a trade of Profar (perhaps in a deal for David Price or Giancarlo Stanton or another young player like St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras). But the tricky part about that is you can’t functionally pay Yankee or Dodger salaries at every position, and players like Profar and Perez and Scheppers help you afford to spend elsewhere, whether in December or July.
The conversation on how to best resolve the crowded middle infield situation — how to use that surplus (especially with Odor and Luis Sardinas getting closer) to address at least one weakness — is a complicated one, and I’m glad the Rangers have the folks they do in charge as they get to work on creating a more defined situation up the middle in 2014 than they had this season.
Profar’s signature moment in 2013 came in his penultimate at-bat, a bad-ass bookend paired with his first big league at bat in 2012 that together highlight what’s otherwise been a bit of a letdown debut. Profar’s a .644-OPS hitter in his first two years in Texas — getting a healthy number of at-bats but doing so while being bounced all over the field with a team expecting to win every night — but there’s not going to be a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper every year, or every decade, and when Ron Washington was Profar’s age he was putting in his first of three years at the Class A level, and his second of what would be 15 seasons as a minor league baseball player.
There’s not really any valid comparison between the two, and if the Rangers’ key decision-makers sort the middle infield situation out this winter, in one way or another, Washington and Profar could help put each other in a better position to succeed in 2014.
* * * *
After his walkoff blast to end Game 160, running the Rangers’ win streak in must-have games to five, Profar pinch-hit for Jeff Baker in Game 161 and sat for all of Game 162 and Game 163.
That last one, that painfully slow three-hour finale that ended with Tampa Bay 5, Texas 2 burned into the scoreboard, felt much worse than that for most of the game. Still, after a day or two of decompression, I didn’t feel as awful about the end as I did during the hour or so that I sat in my seat after the final out, until the usher came by and broke the news gently that it was probably time to take that last walk out of the stadium for the year. Two reasons: The way Texas battled over the final week to force a Game 163 was a reminder of why we invest ourselves in this thing the way we do. And frankly, all things considered, to have squeezed out 91 wins despite all the reasons that club shouldn’t have been able to do so was a pretty remarkable thing, and to fall one game short of October, with a rookie pitcher who retired 15 of the last 17 Rays he faced going up against one of the game’s true aces, on a night when that ace pitched like an ace, I was OK with it after the immediate gut punch had passed.
It all resonated even further when I saw Rays manager Joe Maddon tweet, shortly after Tampa Bay was eliminated by the Red Sox a week later in the ALDS, three games to one: “Very proud of our guys and our fans. I think we played to our potential. We took it about as far as we could go. Boston just beat us.”
Those two middle sentences made me think of the 2013 Rangers.
Consider the following:
* The club’s Opening Day starter, Matt Harrison, made two starts — one fewer than Ross Wolf, who started the season as a 30-year-old middle reliever in the Frisco bullpen.
* The only pitch Colby Lewis threw off a big league mound all year was ceremonial.
* Starter Alexi Ogando landed on the disabled list in May. And again in June. And again in August.
* One result of the above was that rookie pitchers started 54 games, basically one-third of the Rangers’ schedule.
* And it would have been more, had Perez not missed the first two months with a broken arm.
* Neftali Feliz would pitch 4.2 innings all year, none before September.
* The Rangers’ 2012 minor league player of the year and pitcher of the year, Mike Olt and Cody Buckel, came into 2013 as legitimate candidates to contribute, and didn’t.
* Texas hit .249/.324/.367 with runners in scoring position.
* In spite of an exceptionally good bullpen, the Rangers went an MLB-worst 3-9 in extra innings.
* On a club that needed to rely more on speed and moving runners and baserunning in general, there were stretches in which the offense clearly tried to force things and ended up creating a vulgar number of reckless outs on the bases. (Ryan would say, “I don’t think we analyzed risk well” on the bases; Washington praised the aggressive mindset but would suggest, “We have to get smarter. Players have to make the right decisions.”)
* Needing big years out of Mitch Moreland and Murphy on the heels of the loss of Hamilton’s left-handed production, the Rangers got a regression from Moreland and a career-worst season out of Murphy, coming off his breakout 2012 and in a contract year.
* Kinsler, coming off his worst season offensively, basically duplicated it.
* Lance Berkman.
* Andrus was one of the least productive everyday hitters in baseball in the first half.
* Nelson Cruz, one of the only hitters on the team who was stepping up big from the previous year, was suspended for the final third of the season.
* After a monster July and a monster August, Beltre’s flat tires caught up to him and he had nothing left in September.
* Texas started that critical final month with a two-game lead in the West, and promptly lost 15 of 20.
Spell all that out for me in March and I’d have been hesitant to bet on a winning record.
And Texas won 91 times. That number is almost always good for 162+.
Which, of course, it was, in a way. Not quite the way we’d hoped, but ignore the crazy-hot streaks and the brutally bad one in September, look not at the season’s chutes and ladders but instead at the final result, and you could take Maddon’s quote and say Texas too took 2013 about as far as it could go and played to its potential.
Really, though, the Rangers probably outplayed their hand. I’m a believer in the Bill Parcells mantra that you are what your record says you are, but given the adversity pile-on that this team was confronted with in 2013, it’s hard to deny that the Rangers did more with what they had than they probably should have. In the end, maybe Wash got more out of the team this year than ever. Maybe they were actually overachievers.
And that’s a big part of why, after getting away from the day-to-day urgency of the season’s final push, I’m not that broken up about how it all turned out, and in fact feel pretty good about 2013. This isn’t the NBA or NHL, where more teams make the playoffs than don’t. It’s extremely rare for baseball franchises to avoid an occasional bad year — half the teams that reached the post-season in 2012 didn’t this year — and the Rangers have been extraordinarily consistent. They’re the only club with 87 wins in each of the last five seasons, the only one along with the Rays with 90 in each of the last four. San Francisco, defending its World Series title, went 76-86 in 2013.
If it weren’t for the brutal start to the final month, Ron Washington (370 victories) would be the winningest manager in baseball since 2010. As it stands, he trails only Joe Girardi (372) — whose Yankees missed the playoffs this year — and is tied with Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez, who hasn’t won a playoff series in that time.
The Rangers won more regular season games this year than they did in 2010, the first World Series season, or in 1996 or 1998, the franchise’s first two playoff seasons. And they did it in spite of a stack of challenges that realistically should have made 2013 one of those seasons you write off early in September while starting to evaluate ways to right the ship the next year.
* * * *
When Texas overachieved in 2004, winning 89 games and staying in the race until the final week of the season, John Hart and Buck Showalter spent the ensuing winter preaching “managed expectations” to the media and fan base. That’s not going to be this winter’s mission statement.
Cruz and Murphy are free agents, as are catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto. Nathan is likely to void his club option and take advantage of free agency, the Rangers will buy Berkman out, and they’ve already dropped free-agent-to-be Jeff Baker from the roster. Matt Garza will hit the market, and Michael Young also comes off the books for Texas.
While some could come back (Frasor returns, I’d bet Colby Lewis will as well, and at least Cruz [a near-certainty to get a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Rangers just after the World Series] and Nathan and maybe a catcher are good bets to be considered), most probably won’t. But the roster rebuild won’t look like 2005’s, when Texas went out and signed Richard Hidalgo, Mark DeRosa, Sandy Alomar, and Greg Colbrunn (en route to a 79-win season). The Rangers will look to impact the core of the roster this winter. Cabrera and Poreda will go into camp in agate type.
Get ready for lots of stories about free agents like catcher Brian McCann (Danny Knobler of CBS Sports reports Texas had “attempted to acquire him via trade multiple times and have had scouts following him closely,” while Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says the Rangers “have asked about him at least twice since the end of last season”), second baseman Robinson Cano (while the likelihood is he stays with the Yankees, Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests “the team to watch is the Rangers,” who could then move Kinsler to a new position and trade Profar to the Rays in a deal to get Price), outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Rosenthal: the Rangers “have inquired on Ellsbury ‘a fair amount,’” including in July 2012 trade discussions that also involved righthander Josh Beckett), outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, outfielder Curtis Granderson, first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, and two Boston free agents with a history in Texas: first baseman Mike Napoli and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Then there are international free agents like 26-year-old Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu (overnight stories suggest the White Sox have agreed to terms with Abreu, after reports that the Rangers had made a late push), 26-year-old Cuban second baseman Alex Guerrero (whose five-year, $32 million deal with the Dodgers fell apart in September), and 24-year-old Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka (who is expected to be posted this winter by the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on the heels of what is now a 25-0, 1.23 season, including the playoffs – Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Rangers had a representative at every one of his first 23 starts, at least).
And, as has been the case for a few years now, the Rangers will be rumored to be in on every impact trade piece presumed to be available, from Price (Dan Szymborski of ESPN suggests a Texas package including the second baseman Odor, third baseman Gallo, and righthander Connor Sadzeck, which seems too light to me, especially since the Dodgers, Cubs, Indians, and other clubs deep in prospects will be in the mix as well — you’d think Profar would have to be involved, plus Jackson if not Perez) to Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to Detroit righthander Max Scherzer (Knobler imagines a scenario in which the Tigers shop him this winter, with the Rangers, Nationals, and Cardinals as possible matches) to Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp (Peter Gammons of MLB Network reports that the Rangers, Red Sox, and Yankees scouted him in September) to Philadelphia lefthander Cliff Lee (Jim Bowden of ESPN/XM writes: “I blame Phillies GM Ruben Amaro [for not trading Lee to the Rangers or Angels in July] . . . . [Texas was] willing to hand over a strong package of prospects that would have helped create a fast way for the Phillies to rebuild. . . . A few upgrades from [the package Texas traded to the Cubs for Garza] and the Phillies would have been on their way to rebuilding.”).
The Rangers are strong, and set up to stay that way. In an ESPN “Future Power Rankings” piece, Bowden and Olney and Keith Law recently ranked Texas as baseball’s number three club (behind St. Louis and Boston) in terms of how well it’s positioned for sustained success over the next five years, using big league players, minor league prospects, financial muscle, management strength, and contract mobility as measuring sticks. Oakland was number 12, Seattle 21, Houston 22, and the Angels 26.
Texas remains deep in prospects (there’s only one I’d make virtually untouchable, and that’s catcher Jorge Alfaro, who may not even be ranked in the club’s top five this winter), has an ownership group hungry to win, is getting closer to big TV money, and has consistently demonstrated an aggressive approach in the talent acquisition department. These are the days when we can expect every big name free agent chase and every provocative trade rumor to involve the Rangers, and that’s a good place to be.
In fact, Olney managed to highlight the organization’s potential presence on the trade market and in the international and conventional free agent markets (despite suggestions that the club doesn’t plan to increase its payroll) in fewer than a couple dozen words yesterday, tweeting: “A lot of rival evaluators believe [the] Rangers are going to be really, really aggressive this winter, pursuing Price, Tanaka, McCann, etc.”
Even if you don’t recall the Dave Rozema/Burt Hooton winter of 1984, you probably remember Hidalgo-DeRosa-Alomar-Colbrunn 20 years after that. Yet both seem like generations ago.
* * * *
We talked above about the GM/Owners Meetings that will take place November 11-13 in Orlando. Lots of groundwork that we won’t hear about will be laid those three days, but there will also be a very public and very important development on the Wednesday that closes that gathering.
That’s the day on which the BBWAA announces the Cy Young Award results in each league.
If you’ve read this newsletter for any length of time, you know I have zero interest in individual player awards and the All-Star vote and Hall of Fame debates. But the AL Cy Young results should be squarely on any Rangers fan’s radar.
Darvish isn’t going to win the award, but where he finishes in the vote matters. When he signed his six-year, $56 million deal with Texas before the 2012 season, the sixth year (2017) was contracted to convert to a player option in the event that Darvish, by 2016, either (1) wins the Cy Young at least once and finishes second, third, or fourth in another season or (2) finishes second once in that timeframe and second, third, or fourth two other times. In other words, if Darvish satisfies one of the two conditions, his six-year deal will turn into five years, and Texas will have to compete with the league to keep him for his age 30 season and longer.
Darvish finished ninth in the AL vote in 2012. He’s not going to finish first this year, but could end up in the top four. His competition is probably Scherzer, Chris Sale, Hisashi Iwakuma, Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, and Bartolo Colon.
Pitcher wins are fairly meaningless, but it does still sway certain segments of the voter pool, and if the upshot of Darvish’s 13-win season (the fewest victories of the 19 pitchers in the last 75 years to put up an ERA under 3.00, an opponents’ batting average under .200, and more than 250 strikeouts, all of which he accomplished despite battling lower back issues for more than a month at year’s end) is that at least four American League pitchers finish higher in the Cy Young vote, then I’m good with that.
The dude’s a monster. A number one starter. An assassin who will become an even better shot with time. He can improve, and I’m pretty sure he will.
But I’m hoping he finishes fifth in the only individual award I can remember ever paying much attention to.
* * * *
The following message is for the 10 percent of you who tend to buy the Bound Edition of the Newberg Report, the season-ending book I’ve published every year since 1999.
I’m not going to write a book this winter.
It wasn’t an easy decision, and I apologize to those of you who were counting on a new edition this winter. There were family and work issues this year that kept me from devoting the type of time that I know I need to put in during the season in order to be ready to hit overdrive in October and November and get the book done by early December. I told myself that if the Rangers reached the ALCS, I would have done what it took to get the book done. When that didn’t happen, my decision was made: there will be no 2014 Bound Edition.
(Last year’s book deal put a sour taste in my mouth as well, as for the first time in 14 years of writing the book, I took a loss on the project in spite of healthy sales. Given the hundreds of hours involved, hours that could instead be spent on family or exercise or sleep, I’m not interested in going through that effort again if it ends up unprofitable, or worse.)
I expect that there will be more Bound Editions to come (I can always go back to self-publishing), maybe as soon as a year from now. But I’m going to spend these next couple months getting back on a decent workout schedule, watching more “Breaking Bad” with Ginger, and finishing that Adrian Beltre painting I started a year ago for our son.
To Devin and Marty and those of you who have provided photography, and to those of you who have bought the books in the past, or planned to this year, thank you.
* * * *
Which reminds me: I have yet to thank Scott Lucas for another extraordinary year of minor league coverage. There’s just nobody like Scott out there providing the type of insightful, tireless, daily information on any one farm system like we’re all treated to as Rangers fans.
Thank you, brother.
* * * *
What you can expect from me now, as the baseball season nears its finale without the Rangers and heads into Hot Stove season, is a lot of talk about the changes in store for this club. Daniels has talked about getting back to the franchise’s roots, reemphasizing scouting and player development and focusing (to the exclusion of other distractions) on making sound baseball decisions to keep this baseball team in perennial contention for 162+. Baseball operations meetings got underway last week in Arizona, the downside to which, Daniels noted, is it means you’re not playing anymore. The upside is that it gives the Rangers a head start on what’s going to be a very important off-season filled with impact baseball changes.
But don’t expect it to play out predictably.
Cliff Lee was going to be a Yankee.
Yu Darvish was going to be a Blue Jay.
Adrian Beltre was going to be an Angel.
Alex Rios, and breadbaskets.
There will be change. That much, and only that much, is certain.
Ryan, days before announcing his retirement, said: “I think this is going to be the most challenging off-season since I’ve been here. There are a lot of tough decisions to make and a lot of challenges to filling the positions we need to fill.”
He was, and is, right about that. Expectations remain high.
I’m not in favor of any other kind.
* * * *
The last four seasons have ended very differently. Four straight disappointments, but none that were alike.
There was the World Series loss in 2010, a disappointment from the standpoint that the Giants seemed beatable and Cliff Lee, after three brilliant starts in the ALDS and ALCS, lost twice to San Francisco while the bats fell asleep (.190/.259/.288 for the series). A magical run ran out of gas right at the end.
There was the devastating World Series loss in 2011, one that I can’t even consider detailing here, even a little bit.
There was the brutal collapse over the final week in 2012 that resulted in Texas limping lifelessly into the Wild Card Game, and falling to Baltimore without much fight.
There was 2013, a season in which the Rangers should have been cold-cocked by an epidemic of starting pitcher injuries, a regular inability to take advantage of scoring opportunities, awful seasons by the left-handed hitters being counted on to help mitigate the loss of Josh Hamilton, a staggering suspension, and 15 losses out of 20 to start the season’s final month. A spirited run at the end to claw out of a corner led to a Game 163 in which Texas was beaten by an equally hot club and its legitimate ace.
Four disappointments in a row.
But none like the annual disappointments we were used to as fans before this age of Rangers baseball.
Rangers baseball is not getting worse. It’s gotten better.
* * * *
The morning after the Rangers season ended, after Tampa Bay 5, Texas 2 resulted in 91-72 and an early off-season, I got sick. For me, real sick. I was sidelined by a two-week run of bronchitis that came out of nowhere and started receding only a few days ago.
Maybe it was a big pile-on. One of those bad-things-come-in-threes deals. (I’m counting the bronchitis bout as two.)
Maybe, like Ginger said, it was a predictable health crash after all that baseball adrenaline was gone.
Or maybe I just got sick. It happens. Sometimes you get worse.
And then, when it seems as bad as you can imagine, maybe you get even worse still.
Then you deal with it. You diagnose it, you handle it, you regroup and you rebound and you recover.
I got better. I didn’t feel like I would for a while, all those bleak and lousy days, but I did.
With a little patience, and a little resolve, that happens too.