It’s not a real, official Texas Rangers cap, as evidenced by the ’47 stitched on its side and stickered on the bill, but it’s a Rangers cap and a good-looking one, much as Texas 6, Kansas City 2 yesterday wasn’t a real, official game, but it was a game, and really good-looking, too, especially the part that the box score indexed as:
On its face, it has no more meaning than the three consecutive home runs and six runs overall that, a year ago, Colby Lewis gave up before recording an out in the club’s exhibition opener (en route to a career high in wins that lead to 162+), but Wednesday fifth-inning replacement Nomar Mazara’s line drive single to center (and run scored to get Texas on the board) in the sixth inning yesterday, his run-scoring single to right in the seventh, and his three-run bomb to the back of the bullpen in right in the ninth gave us all kinds of overreaction fodder, a fan’s entitlement early in March as long as it’s then dragged into the proper folder, lined with biodegradable plastic.
I share with you the fact that Mazara, born toward the end of Lewis’s high school sophomore year, also went 3 for 3 with a double in Monday’s intrasquad game only because fun baseball is fun, even when it doesn’t count.
Six at-bats and six hits this week against six different pitchers, each a big league veteran: Fun. Especially for a 20-year-old.
Even one not competing for a big league job.
But when he gets here — and that timeline will be Nomar Mazara-dependent, not Josh Hamilton-dependent (something that Ian Desmond’s arrival solidifies) — he will be a gift.
A gift that lasts a long time, like a favorite ballcap that you wear for years and years, and it just keeps fitting better.
Please remember that Michael Choice hit .369/.406/.708 in spring training 2014 while leading the Rangers in plate appearances, and that Ronald Guzman (signed the same day as Mazara but still not out of Class A, and left exposed to December’s Rule 5 Draft without consequence) homered twice in spot duty for Prince Fielder in that same camp, while Rougned Odor was busy hitting .238/.304/.286 that spring.
Take care to exercise appropriate restraint when thinking about Mazara’s super-meaningless 3-3 that followed his other super-meaningless 3-3 this week, and when watching this over and over and over again.
My Mom’s probably the only one who caught on to the references above to 47 and to 3-3, and she’s almost certainly the only one willing to overlook the flagrant shoehorning, but that’s the date and today that’s my age, and ever since I was a kid I’ve always thought that “seven” was the first of the “big” single digits, so this morning I’m feeling like I’m as close to 50 as Nomar Mazara is to the big leagues.
But both can wait.
Some years I’ve included a picture of Kelly Dransfeldt or Juan Moreno or a can of WD-40 or a record adapter to mark my new age, and I suppose I could have gone with Sam Dyson this morning (maybe I would have if he’d punched out six straight yesterday), and, failing that, I can assure you I’d have rolled Ross Detwiler out well before Joe Saunders.
But instead, to celebrate number 47, I just went with a good old Texas Rangers lid, throwback style, but unlike 46 and those numbers before it, 47’s a number that just feels a lot older (though maybe that’s just my low back and throwing shoulder talking) and I’m probably happier just celebrating the 3-3 part, and not the number of times I’ve circled that base.
Nomar’s meaninglessly tantalizing 3-3 yesterday, and his even more meaningless 3-3 tease about 47 hours earlier (BOOM!), make that choice fit even better, snug as a well-worn ball cap in just the right colors.
It’s sort of a bizarre deal for the team and for the player, one that surfaced out of pretty much nowhere. I’m nervous about it, but at the same time the coursing adrenaline triggered by the news of Ian Desmond at one year and $8 million reminds me that, on the one hand, this is only sports, and on the other, man, this is one of the reasons caring about sports is so great.
This is a gamble.
Desmond, who has passed his Rangers physical and is expected to sign his contract today, is agreeing to play a brand new position (he played three minor league innings in center field in 2009, with zero chances, and 7.1 big league innings in right field in 2009-10, with three chances; he has no innings in left field as a 12-year pro) on a deal that will thrust him right back onto the free agent market less than a year from now.
Texas is forfeiting a first-round draft pick (and the associated signing bonus allotment) and committing to a player whose production with the bat has declined three straight years and whose glove model is being traded out.
It’s a strange move, but you can have an Astros team that keeps Carlos Correa in the minor leagues for two months to save money. I’ll take the team whose owners decide to step out on a player that the front office believes is poised for a bounceback — at a new position — and who makes aggressive decisions based on winning baseball games, whether that means this summer or otherwise, not on conserving cash.
That said, if Texas isn’t right about Ian Desmond, left fielder and right-handed-hitting run producer, this is a bad move.
But I have 100 percent trust in the front office that, yes, once wired $10 million into Lance Berkman’s bank account.
100 percent trust.
While I’ve established in 18 years of doing this that I’m obsessed with player development, I’m still first and foremost a “go for it” guy, as long as the taken risks are calculated well. The Rangers have built a farm system that allows us to watch them take those risks without covering our eyes.
The Angels could have never made the deal Texas made for Cole Hamels because their minor league system is threadbare — and even after the Rangers sent all those impact prospects to Philadelphia, their system is still a thousand times more healthy and dangerous as what Los Angeles has on the farm.
The Rangers will now go into June without the 19th overall draft slot that they’d occupied, and that’s one less opportunity for the addition of a premium prospect. But the club can replace that player internationally, if it chooses (by repurposing the $2.5 million or so that the pick would have slotted for). Or it can reallocate that money toward big league moves in July. Or it can consider it part of the cost of signing Desmond — who could bring the Rangers an extra supplemental first-round pick a year from now, though that could depend on whether the CBA is modified in the meantime.
On its face, losing that number 19 pick isn’t a plus. Kip Fagg probably isn’t thrilled to be off the clock now until pick number 30 (compensation for the loss of Yovani Gallardo). But if this move produces a few more 2016 games won, and if that effectively makes Texas a playoff club, or a more well-positioned one, which is clearly the idea given the Beltre-Darvish window, then one less Chi Chi Gonzalez or Luis Ortiz or Lewis Brinson — or Jake Skole or Kevin Matthews — in the system will just be considered an acceptable part of the cost.
Regardless of which category you put Travis Demeritte in, for example, how would you feel if Washington had re-signed Desmond two months ago for one year and $8 million, and today traded Desmond to Texas for Demeritte?
The trophy is 162+, not the Baseball America ranking.
And again, the Rangers system is really strong right now. It’s without Williams and Thompson and Alfaro and Eickhoff and Asher, and it’s still really strong. The Angels and Mariners punting a first-round pick to potentially add two or three wins? More nerve-racking, for sure, as those prospect-light franchises sweat their own (Pujols/King Felix) windows.
Texas, as long as its scouting and player development operations aren’t significantly compromised, will always find more Chi Chi’s and Brinson’s and Alfaro’s and Eickhoff’s.
You can’t always add a player like Desmond for one year and $8 million.
Get the winning piece.
But let’s be fair. Aside from the given — the loss of the draft pick — there are certainly issues with the unknowns. (Of course, the pick is an unknown itself, as the odds of spending that $2.5 million on a player who never contributes are exponentially greater than getting nothing out of a player like Desmond.)
Will the Desmond left field experiment work?
Baseball people strongly believe so.
(And this is a club that, in a playoff season in which its rotation was battered, ran Mike Napoli and Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua [43 outfield appearances in 382 minor league games coming into 2015, when he started in left field for Texas on Opening Day], a hobbled Kyle Blanks, and a physically compromised Josh Hamilton out to left field at the start of 82 games last year. I feel at least as good defensively about Desmond, sight unseen, as any of them.)
Will the OPS, which has fallen from a career-best .845 in 2012 to .784 in 2013, .743 in 2014, and .674 in 2015, bounce back?
It better, and the Rangers think it will.
Desmond’s makeup is considered elite, and if that means a player who has gambled twice and lost big — turning down a seven-year, $107 million deal two winters ago (shortly before fellow shortstop Elvis Andrus got eight years and $120 million from Texas) and then declining Washington’s one-year, $15.8 qualifying offer this off-season — is a good bet respond to this latest challenge and opportunity with determination, not bitterness, then maybe both the player and the club are in for a big payoff.
What if Desmond is Berkman, or Brad Wilkerson?
If so, OK. Maybe it means Rua or Hamilton or Justin Ruggiano or Patrick Kivlehan are relied on to a greater degree after all, and maybe even Nomar Mazara or Lewis Brinson (in center, shifting Delino DeShields to left) or Gallo midway through the season.
But it’s an $8 million investment (really, just a $5.5 million hit when you factor in what signing the forfeited draft pick would have been slotted to cost), which is less than the club gave Berkman to stave off retirement or the Nationals (namely, Alfonso Soriano) to get Wilkerson.
And given what everyone says Desmond offers in the room, well, Ian Desmond is not going to be one of those two guys.
What if the cash outlay put toward this move handcuffs the front office in July?
First, we’ve seen nothing from this ownership group to suggest it won’t step out and bust the budget when there’s a win-now opportunity to capitalize.
Second, I have 100 percent faith in this front office to Sam-Dyson the roster in July. It doesn’t always take millions of dollars to improve the club in a pennant race.
But this move took millions. It’s not a sure thing, and it’s not a perfect fit, at least on the surface. Why did Texas do it?
Because Hamilton is a major health risk, even once he’s off crutches and finished rehabbing his knee.
Because Rua is unproven, because Ruggiano is best suited to be deployed part-time, because Kivlehan is an unknown quantity.
Because there’s too much riding on Mazara’s and Brinson’s development to rush either one of them, which is no different from Gallo, who unlike the other two has big league service time but also clearly has major adjustments to make.
Because, with one move, Texas is now better protected against injury to Andrus or Adrian Beltre or Rougned Odor. The roster flexibility is significant. Ian Desmond isn’t Ben Zobrist (who is?), but an everyday player with a productive bat and the defensive ability to move around, both of which the Rangers are counting on, has huge value.
Because Texas is positioned to win now. The American League can be won, and the Rangers have as much right to believe they’re pennant contenders as anyone. Darvish is guaranteed to be here two more years, Beltre (for now) just one.
The Rangers are better positioned today than they were a day and a half ago.
Desmond, if he’s what Texas believes he will once again be, lengthens the lineup. As a right-handed bat, he helps to balance the order. His athleticism and arm and instincts and speed would have made him an outstanding outfield prospect if he didn’t show so much promise at shortstop. While he won’t be expected to assume a leadership role in this solid clubhouse, he’s universally considered an extremely high-character teammate who plays hard, and you can never have too many of those. (Bryce Harper on Sunday: “Whether it’s on the field or off the field, the Rangers are getting a great baseball player and a great person.”)
Desmond not only allows the Rangers to resist the temptation to rush Mazara or Brinson or Gallo — he doesn’t block any of them, either, as the club commitment is for only the one season. Adding Desmond boosts the one-year window without handicapping the five-year window, as the focus on the development of those three prospects without rushing them outweighs the opportunity to add a player to the system with the 19th pick. Desmond helps there.
And at the end of that year, assuming the CBA doesn’t do away with the qualifying offer system (or modifies it in a way that still promises draft pick compensation without handicapping second-level free agents so much), Texas could end up getting an extra pick at the end of the first round in June 2017. That pick — theoretically — wouldn’t be as valuable as the number 19 Texas forfeits this year, but the Rangers would be getting a year of Ian Desmond in the exchange.
Yu is here and Adrian is here. Cole is here longer, and Rougned longer than that, but while Yu and Adrian are here you’ve got to go for it.
I want to win.
The dropoff in the bat scares me, but that’s where the pro scouts come in. I trust the Rangers’ pro scouts.
Nationally, baseball writers are enthused.
Bob Nightengale (USA Today): “Nobody got a better bargain this winter than the Rangers’ one-year, $8 million deal with Ian Desmond.”
Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports): “How good is [the] one-year, $8 million deal with Desmond for [the] Rangers? Consider: Mike Pelfrey got two years, $16 million from [the] Tigers. . . . Obviously the qualifying offer was a huge factor. The difference in money, though, is still stunning.”
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) loves the move, but certainly not from Desmond’s perspective: “What a great job by Jon Daniels to hang around long enough to get Desmond for one year at eight [million]. . . . I’m shocked and stunned at the number. . . . I have never seen a worse contract, ever — ever — for a player. He couldn’t get [Howie] Kendrick’s [two-year, $20 million] deal? Wow. That’s a stunner.”
Desmond, for his part, isn’t feeling quite so bad about his pillow deal.
It’s a measured gamble on his part, and obviously in a place he wants to be.
Nelson Cruz, dealing with a deflated market after he’d declined the Rangers’ qualifying offer two years ago, signed his own pillow deal with Baltimore late in February after camps had opened, for the same $8 million Texas is guaranteeing Desmond. He promptly produced a league-leading 40 homers, a career-high 108 RBI, and a seventh-place MVP finish, setting himself up for the four-year, $57 million deal he’s presently playing under in Seattle.
Four years before Cruz took his one-year contract with the Orioles, Beltre — coming off a career-low .683 OPS with Seattle in 2009 — took a pillow deal with Boston (one year at a guaranteed $10 million) and gave the Red Sox a .321/.365/.553 season and ninth-place MVP finish, leading to the five-year, $80 million contract with Texas that included a $16 million club option for 2016 that the Rangers happily exercised.
Ivan Rodriguez took one year and $10 from the Marlins in 2003, was named NLCS MVP and helped Florida win a World Series, and turned that, at age 32, into four years and $40 million from Detroit.
Desmond doesn’t need to earn MVP votes for this move to work, for him and for Texas.
The Rangers get a 30-year-old everyday player with an All-Star game selection and three Silver Slugger Awards to his name for just $8 million — half of what he turned down three months ago. His production has been sliding, but as Jim Duquette (MLB Network Radio) points out, his second-half OPS in 2015 (.777) would have trailed only Brandon Crawford (.782) among NL shortstops if he’d sustained it all year.
Bottom line, aside from the money and the draft pick and the shift to the outfield: Ian Desmond has to hit, or this deal doesn’t pay off. The bat simply has to bounce back.
You have to bet on the player to believe this will work.
And you have to bet on the Rangers’ baseball operations crew.
I will bet you plenty that the Astros aren’t happy about this news.
Ian Desmond, Texas Rangers, left field. Not really a perfect fit. Instead, it’s a gamble that requires a little bit of a leap of faith from the team, and from the player.
And from you and — as uneasy as I was at first — from me.
It was about this time yesterday that I saw this tweet, sitting at a red light on a nasty cold and windy and rainy morning, with traffic and the blustery weather equally snarled.
2/23/16, 8:03 AM
Sounds like Cliff Lee’s career is over. His agent, Darek Braunecker, told me, “We don’t anticipate him playing at this point.”
At different points of the day I thought about what I wanted to write about this.
Or if I should write about it at all.
I mean, this guy was a Texas Ranger for less than four months.
The ratio of how long Cliff Lee was here to how much I’ve written about him — then and since — is so out of whack, but I’ll never apologize for that.
He represented what many in the front office consider their finest moment, and provided Hall of Fame dominance in a flash-quick portion of what won’t be considered a Hall of Fame career.
Cliff Lee was a turning point.
He contributed only 15 regular season starts (only four of which were Lee wins) and five in the post-season (one bad, one very good, three stupid-great), but he’ll always be a top 10 Texas Ranger for me. Until seeing Rosenthal’s tweet on Tuesday, I still held out flagging hope that Lee’s free agency and his market would lead to a Rangers reunion in the next few weeks.
One front office member used to tell me he hated the name “TROT COFFEY” for those rumor dumps I send out in July and December.
I told him a few years ago that if he’d see to it that his group got Cliff Lee back here, I would change it to “PHIFER” (Player Hype Inferno: Filtered Emporium of Rumors), which is Cliff’s middle name.
Deal, he said.
Alas, it won’t change.
The decision not to keep Lee here after his transcendent October 2010 run, whether that should be pinned primarily on the Rangers or on Lee (or on Lee’s wife), led to Texas signing Adrian Beltre instead.
Zero regrets, obviously. No hindsight-ache.
I’m going to miss watching Cliff Lee pitch. It was artistry. It was an exhibit of crazy-cool. It was Don Draper, every fifth day.
It was appointment baseball.
I wrote a lot about number 33 when he was here, and a lot since, and I don’t really have the energy right now to write a requiem on a fascinating career that, fortunate for us, stopped down in Texas for four incredible, unforgettable months.
In a momentary effort to inspire some of that energy, I looked back at a bunch of the reports I wrote about Lee when he was here (and one that I put together a couple years ago).
It was kinda fun getting back in those moments. If you have some time and want to check a couple of them out, here you go:
* October 14, 2010 (on Texas-Tampa Bay, ALDS Game 5, sealing the Rangers’ first-ever playoff series win): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2064
* October 19, 2010 (on Lee vs. Andy Pettitte, ALCS Game 3, in Yankee Stadium): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2070
* December 14, 2010 (after Lee signed that winter with the Phillies): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=2109
* August 8, 2013 (a nostalgic look back at the Rangers’ playing style in 2010, which includes several video angles of the final pitch of that Rangers-Rays series that’s still one of my top 5 memories in franchise history): http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=3085
I smiled as I saw Rosenthal’s tweet yesterday morning, remembering on my work-dictated drive from Dallas to Fort Worth, in a diagonal rain that was jamming up the commute, that Kristen Lee had cited DFW traffic as one thing she wouldn’t miss when she and Cliff decided to go back to Philadelphia after their short but awesome time here.
Fair enough. It probably all worked out the way it was supposed to.
Cliff, you’ll be missed, and thank goodness for all the reasons and moments why.
Thanks for everything.
Eight-year-old me was mesmerized by this 1977 Topps baseball card.
The most ordinary name possible.
The least interesting baseball card pose ever.
Sixteen at-bats as a Texas Ranger that I had zero recollection of.
And that note on the back of the card, a third of the way down.
“In Military Service.”
As a naïve second-grade kid, I didn’t know what to make of that. I think I might have known by that age that Williams and DiMaggio and Feller had missed time serving their country back when my Dad was a kid.
But a player serving during my lifetime?
Later on I’d realize another really cool distinction about that baseball card.
I think it’s the only one Bobby Jones was ever on when he wasn’t a member of the Texas Rangers organization.
Which is not to say he was a household name among Rangers fans.
Not the golfer.
Not the Philadelphia 76er.
Not, eventually, the Mets righty or the Rockies lefty or the Cowboys middle linebacker (who stuck with “Robert”).
This was the outfielder-first baseman-pinch hitter, Bobby Jones.
From 1967 through 1974, Jones — a 36th-round draft pick out of a Maryland high school — toiled in the minor leagues for the Washington Senators and Rangers. In fact, he’d never gotten out of Class A in four Senators seasons, saving his best for last, as he hit .321/.392/.552 in 1971, with more playing time (478 plate appearances) than he’d ever had . . . and that came immediately after he’d spent December 1969 through February 1971 in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Medal for meritorious achievement while engaged in conflict with an opposing foreign force.
Corporal Jones is deaf in one ear, residual damage from his work as section chief of a 105-millimeter howitzer group, in charge of a gun pit providing fire support for American infantrymen during a 14-month tour of duty that apparently included no more than eight days in which he didn’t see combat activity.
After that breakout 1971 season in Class A with the Senators, Jones was assigned to AAA in the Rangers’ inaugural 1972 season, and his numbers regressed. He returned to AAA in 1973. And in 1974. A very good run that year with Spokane (.300/.389/.464) led Texas to reward Jones, in his eighth pro season, with a trip to the big leagues. In the final series of the Rangers season, Jones got one start and one other appearance, going 0 for 5 with a strikeout. He turned 25 a week later.
In the Rangers’ 1975 media guide, Jones was quoted to say: “I don’t get mad any more. Over there (Vietnam) you never knew if you would see tomorrow. Now I can shake off a bad day and look forward to a better day without worrying.”
And this note followed for the eight-year pro with five big league plate appearances: Jones “would like to get into the business end of baseball when he retires.”
Retirement was a good ways off.
In 1975 he played in AAA again, with two brief stints in Texas (including an infield single on July 29, the lone hit he’d pick up in 14 trips).
The Rangers gave Jones a fifth run at AAA in 1976 (this time in Sacramento), but even though he jumped out to a .355/.419/.774 start through a month and a half, the organization placed him on waivers in mid-May, after which he was claimed by the Angels. He spent the rest of the year with California, hitting a quiet .211/.273/.355 and posing for that extraordinarily ordinary baseball card.
Jones split 1977 between AAA and the big leagues and was in AAA for all of 1978, after which he left the Angels for an opportunity to take his game to Japan. He played his age 29 and age 30 seasons for the Chunichi Dragons, but then Texas gave him an offer to return stateside for another chance to compete for a big league role.
Jones put together a strong 1981 season in AAA (.315/.407/.545), earning a September call-up. In his first game, in his first at-bat, he blasted a two-run homer and singled in a run off Jim Clancy in his two trips, accounting for all the Rangers’ offense in a 9-3 loss. Jones would hit safely in seven of his 10 games before pulling a ribcage muscle, driving three balls out of the park, and he survived winter roster trimming and went to camp in 1982 on the 40-man roster.
But he never got out of AAA in 1982, and turning 33 that October you might have expected Jones to hang it up at that point, after a lengthy pro career that included 263 plate appearances spread over five big league seasons.
Instead, he would go on to pile up another 408 Major League trips to the plate.
After splitting 1983 between AAA and Texas, in 1984 Jones not only made a Rangers Opening Day roster for the first time but also spent an entire season in the big leagues — at age 34 — for the first time in his 17-year pro career. He did the same thing in 1985, but spent most of 1986 in AAA and 1987 strictly in AA (a level he’d never played at) before retiring with a Drillers line that summer of .303/.410/.500.
The next spring (1988), he was managing the Rangers’ High Class A club in Port Charlotte.
His club finished first in the Florida State League’s first half standings that season, he won a league championship with the same team the following year, and he reached the playoffs again in 1990.
Jones then managed AA Tulsa for two seasons and AAA Oklahoma City for the two after that. He returned to Tulsa for the next six seasons until he was summoned to Johnny Oates’s big league coaching staff in May 2000 (when first base coach Ed Napoleon retired). He remained on the big league staff in 2001 under both Oates and Jerry Narron, and then returned to Oklahoma City to manage the AAA club from 2002 until 2005.
In 2006, Jones served as Buck Showalter’s first base coach and outfield instructor in Texas.
From 2007 through 2013, throughout the organization’s resurgence that began on the farm, Jones managed the Rangers’ AAA clubs in Oklahoma City and Round Rock, and then served as big league assistant hitting coach for Ron Washington and Jeff Banister in 2014 and 2015 (and bench coach for Tim Bogar in his stint as interim manager in September 2014).
He’ll be the Rangers’ video replay coordinator in 2016.
And then, after 50 years in pro baseball, Bobby Jones is going to retire.
In the Rangers organization’s 45 years of existence, they’ve had four without him in some sort of uniform.
He’s managed and won more games than anyone in the history of the Texas farm system. Twelve of his 24 minor league teams reached the post-season. He’s won several awards as a manager, including the inaugural presentation in 2008 of the Mike Coolbaugh Award, presented annually nationwide to an individual in Minor League Baseball for “outstanding work ethic, knowledge of the game, and skill in mentoring young players on the field.” He was also the inaugural recipient, four years ago, of an award that the Rangers have named after him, the Bobby Jones Player Development Man of the Year.
On September 11, 2014, Jones was recognized on a much different level.
In a pregame Patriot Day ceremony before a late-season game between the Rangers and Angels (the two clubs Jones had played for), the Rangers arranged to have the U.S. Army formally present Jones with his Bronze Star Medal and citation, something that had never been done since he earned them 43 years earlier. It happened on the baseball field, on a night when more than 27,000 were on hand and cheering far more loudly than Corporal Jones could sense.
The following year would be the first Bobby Jones ever got the chance to suit up for a big league playoff game.
I don’t know whether replay coordinators put on a uniform. If they don’t, Jones will have finished his career in uniform in a Major League playoff series, after 48 years without one.
Of course, I’m optimistic that there’s one more run of October baseball in Jones’s career, uniform or not.
And one more on-field ceremony.
He played with Gaylord Perry and Ruben Sierra.
He managed Pudge Rodriguez and Derek Holland, and fellow coaching staff members Doug Brocail and Hector Ortiz.
And Rusty Greer, who says of his third professional manager, skipper of five different teams Greer would suit up for: “Bobby was a great player’s manager. He kept the game loose but professional, and expected nothing but the best from his players — though he understood his guys weren’t going to be perfect all the time. His focus was on making players better and getting them to the big leagues.
“Bobby Jones sent me to the big leagues and he will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Mike Bacsik says of Jones, who managed him in Oklahoma City and had also been teammates with his father: “He treated us like Major Leaguers. Kept us loose but made sure we played hard and respected the game.”
Kameron Loe, who by my rough count has had 25 managers at the pro level: “Bobby was definitely the easiest manager I ever played for, and the most fun. He created a relaxed atmosphere while still having a very apparent desire to win. He treated guys with respect and he definitely got that respect back.”
(Loe also tells a story that you’ll understand, if you’ve been around Bobby Jones enough, wouldn’t make it through your email filter if I recounted it uncensored. [Although Jones served in the Army, he has one of the great sailor’s mouths in baseball.] The story involves a hanging slider that Loe served up in AAA, resulting in a three-run bomb and a lead change, after which Jones asked Loe to show him the grip he used on the slider . . . issued a memorable, wordy, NSFW commentary on the grip and then a suggestion on whether Loe should ever hold the ball that way again . . . laughed . . . and walked away . . . still laughing.)
Jones is the kind of guy who says he has the ability, given his life experience, to shake off a bad day, but fails to admit he probably has very few of those to begin with.
His was a playing career marked on one hand by its lack of distinction, on another by its remarkable chronology.
In nine big league seasons, spanning 13 years, Jones would rack up a total of 671 plate appearances.
There were 23 players in the big leagues who had more in 2015 alone.
But in so many phases in this game, a new one of which will be added to the ledger this year, Jones has made his mark.
He’s done one helluva lot, in the game and outside of it, building an extraordinary 50-year story wholly unimaginable through the prism of a seemingly unexceptional baseball card, bearing the most common of names and unremarkable of poses and one seriously outstanding pair of aviator shades.
The wheels probably weren’t even yet up, and I was just 12 pages into the book. The author, breaking down Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey, noted that Melody Maker’s initial review of the 1993 release described it as “promisingly imperfect.”
Ten years ago I’d actually thrown in a comment in a Newberg Report about one Radiohead song’s “imperfect brilliance” (you’ll have to trust me on this, because the report is so badly written that I refuse to link it here). It’s a concept I’ve always been drawn to.
We didn’t know it as we took off Saturday morning, but we were about to be treated to a display of promisingly imperfect, and I swear there’s at least a tangential baseball tie-in coming.
Ginger and I had never seen a professional tennis tournament but it seemed like a good weekend to change that, and the tour had a stop in Memphis. Not a blue-chip field — among the 28 players at the tournament was just one ranked top 10 in the world, and only five in the top 50.
Also in the mix was an unseeded Wild Card entrant in just his third-ever ATP event, a high school senior from San Diego who was born four years after Pablo Honey was released.
We saw Taylor Fritz fire his way through his draw and land in the Memphis Open championship match on Sunday, the youngest American to reach a final since Michael Chang in 1989. It was pretty cool seeing it all play out, at a time when I imagine most of the couple thousand there to see him play (certainly us) knew very little about him. That’s about to change.
Forgive the sacrilege: Watching Taylor play, I thought more than once about that week in mid-March 1990 when I was nearly alone in Port Charlotte — the lockout meant that year’s spring training featured no big league ballplayers and just about the same number of fans — and saw 18-year-old Pudge Rodriguez (virtually the same age then as Taylor is now to the day) put his shin-guarded and chest-protected gifts on display in what would normally be fairly ordinary catcher drills.
Pudge was not in particularly great shape coming out of Low Class A, and there wasn’t thought to be much in the bat. Imperfect, to be sure. But man, the promise.
I’ve seen Pudge dance and throw at 18. I’ve seen Taylor Fritz show the same kind of power in a different sport at 18. I’ve seen Parker Millsap (who Elton John raved about two weeks ago in a Town Hall interview) sing in front of crowd of less than 100 at about the same age. I didn’t see Josh Hamilton take BP at age 18, but I did see Joey Gallo do it.
Taylor fired out of the gate in Sunday’s final against Kei Nishikori (number 7 in the world, and gunning for his fourth straight Memphis Open title), winning the first seven points of the Valentine’s Day match and 12 of 14, charging out to a 3-0 lead in the first set on the strength of a big serve and overpowering ground game.
It was the equivalent of Gallo’s two-run single/two-run homer/line drive double off Jeff Samardzija in the first three at-bats of his Major League debut. Pudge gunning down would-be base-stealers Joey Cora and Warren Newson in his first game in the bigs. Parker belting out “The Train Song” at The Kessler, making us forget instantly that we were there to see a different band.
Gallo ended up hitting .204 in 2015, striking out half the time. Pudge committed 10 errors in just 88 games behind the plate in 1991, and didn’t hit. Pablo Honey wasn’t very good.
Taylor Fritz ended up losing to Nishikori, 6-4, 6-4. After those first three explosive games, he dropped 12 of 17.
(Gallo’s first 11 big league games: .300/.391/.625. The 25 last year that remained: .147/.247/.294.)
Nothing to be ashamed, of course, or dispirited by.
Joey Gallo could be Kevin Maas or Gregg Jefferies, and Taylor Fritz could be the male Jennifer Capriati.
Or they could be Pudge Rodriguez, or Radiohead.
There’s a long story ahead, and we get to see it unfold.
At 18, Taylor reached an ATP final at an earlier age than Pudge and Adrian Beltre were when they arrived in the big leagues. He’ll need some work on his net game and his body language, but in spite of the few flaws in his game, like the holes in Joey’s swing, there’s enough overwhelming upside there that a casual tennis fan could see it, even if he’d been ousted in the first round in Memphis (like he already has this week at Delray Beach).
Just one more sleep before Rangers pitchers and catchers report, and there’s all kinds of awesome associated with that. If for some of you that includes the promise of less focus in this space on tennis and Radiohead and a retraining of all lenses on baseball, hey, I’m right there with you. It’s been a long winter since that seventh inning, but adversity and the opportunity to overcome it is part of what makes sports the best.
Baseball, regardless of how you look at it or who your team happens to be, is almost always imperfect, but that’s part of its greatness, and its promise. It’s time for the chatter, the carioca, the sweet music of slightly asynchronous long toss.
It’s time for baseball, and another first step on a year’s journey of sports peaks shaped by inescapable valleys that we hope leads to another one of those championship bouts, this time, just maybe, ending in that way which to this point has been narrowly elusive. It will happen at some point. The Texas Rangers will convert match point.
One more sleep until another year’s march begins. Perfectly promising.
It’s been a fairly atypical off-season for the Rangers from the standpoint of roster reconstruction, as the heaviest of the organization’s lifting for 2016 took place way back in July. The winter has been relatively slow on a recent Rangers scale, but that’s largely because the blueprint the front office had drawn up for building this season’s club was executed on a few months early, and thankfully so.
Some take the short-sighted view that categorizes Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson as ancient acquisition history — perhaps understandably, as those three gave the pennant race some added fuel without which 162+ almost certainly doesn’t happen in 2015 — but the fact is that Hamels and Diekman and Dyson were targeted because they offered Texas years of club control that other players on that month’s trade market (free agents-to-be David Price and Johnny Cueto and Tyler Clippard and Joakim Soria, for example) did not. Those three are key pieces to the 2016 puzzle, and well beyond that (Texas controls Diekman through 2018, Hamels through 2019, Dyson through 2020).
We are fans, however, of the greatest transaction sport, the one with the hottest stove, and this winter was no different from most in terms of the emails and tweets I’d get demanding that Texas sign this starting pitcher or that corner bat or anyone else with an impact profile or a dash of upside.
Setting aside the Hamels/Diekman/Dyson point for a minute, and even the budgetary line that Jon Daniels says the club has already butted up against, there’s a factor that I think tends to get minimized — if not overlooked — when it comes to the free agent market.
To illustrate the point I’m going to try to make, let’s look back at Mike Napoli for a minute.
There’s not a Rangers fan who didn’t want that guy back here. His bat came back alive after he returned to Texas in August, doing damage at a .295/.396/.513 level that (granted, in a small sample size) he hadn’t posted since his 2011 breakout with the Rangers. He gave the Rangers clubhouse a huge energy boost, in the words of the manager and the general manager and any number of players. He offers a right-handed bat and this is a team that leans heavily to the left, and will only get leftier as it graduates its top hitting prospects to the big leagues. And at his age and career path, it seemed appropriate to assume Napoli wouldn’t command more than a one-year deal.
A perfect fit, it seemed.
Until he signed with Cleveland in mid-December, for one year and $7 million (with an added $3 million in plate appearance incentives).
I’m still getting emails from fans who are upset that “Texas let that happen.”
Those folks aren’t considering one really important factor.
Imagine you’re Napoli. You love it here. You play well here. Your welcome mat here is like no other welcome mat with your name on it.
But it’s not as if you believe your career is a year from expiration.
Yes, your name was in the lineup just about every day in August, September, and October, and that Texas lineup is basically the same going into 2016.
But this team has a fulltime DH.
And a fulltime first baseman.
And that left field experiment in September . . . was probably just that.
There was no solid promise of everyday 2016 at-bats here for Napoli.
The only other legitimate big league first baseman on the Indians’ roster is Carlos Santana. And he’s going to be Cleveland’s everyday DH.
Which is where Napoli can hit on days Terry Francona wants to give Santana a day with the glove on.
Maybe Texas did make real overtures to Napoli this winter. But stand in his shoes: Doesn’t it stand to reason that this wasn’t the best fit for him — unless he’d exhausted his search for an everyday role elsewhere and couldn’t find one?
Hey, I would have loved bringing on-base machine John Jaso (Pittsburgh, two years and $8 million) in here.
But as his time behind the plate diminishes, why would he have chosen Texas? As a left-handed hitter, he wouldn’t take at-bats away from Fielder or Moreland.
Doug Fister at one year and $7 million, which is what he got from Houston?
I would have really liked Fister here, but if his best offers were for one year, wouldn’t he want a situation going into next winter’s relatively thin starting pitcher market where he could be relatively assured of 30 starts this season if healthy?
Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, and — in May — Yu Darvish.
Who would Fister have figured he was a safe bet to unseat here? You don’t sign somewhere basing your opportunity on a teammate getting hurt.
Unless that’s what you have to do.
A.J. Griffin didn’t have the luxury of weighing offers of a rotation spot to lose, like Fister had. Griffin’s last big league appearance was in 2013. He’s logged 14.1 minor league innings since. With his medical chart, he wasn’t going to get a big league contract from anyone this winter.
But for Griffin, could you ask for more than a non-roster opportunity that includes a real chance to win a rotation spot in camp (while Darvish is rehabbing)?
Right-handed hitter Justin Ruggiano can play all three outfield spots, but he wasn’t going to get the $5.25 million (up to $6.475 million after incentives) that Rajai Davis got from Cleveland. You can bet there were other opportunities for a legitimate center fielder who hits lefties well to take the $1.65 million base contract (only $500,000 guaranteed) that he accepted from Texas.
But, even setting aside the geographical allure, the Rangers offer Ruggiano an opportunity to play the most significant role he’s played in three years, as long as he produces. Left field is either wide open or in need of the right-handed half of a platoon, depending on how you feel about Angels consignment piece Josh Hamilton’s status, and it’s hard to imagine there’s a team out there — certainly no other contending team (a role with whom would diminish the odds of having your family traded mid-season) — offering better possibilities.
Why did catchers Bobby Wilson and Michael McKenry choose minor league deals with Texas?
For one, Robinson Chirinos isn’t a 130-game catcher, and Chris Gimenez, despite coming off a really solid season (his best), has spent a career on a journeyman’s path. There’s a chance to win a backup job here.
Plus, after his solid work last summer, Wilson has a familiarity factor with and — presumably — the trust of Jeff Banister.
As does McKenry, who spent 2011, 2012, and 2013 with the Pirates.
Tony Barnette doesn’t really fit the analysis as cleanly as the others, as the Rangers’ bullpen is already deep and this is nonetheless the organization he chose for his second run at the big leagues after spending six years in Japan — unless Colby Lewis blazing that trail before him was enough inspiration to tip the scales. (Kidding, sort of.)
Lewis, on the other hand, fits the profile perfectly. Unlike Napoli, there’s a fairly clear role here for Lewis to claim, aside from the hundred other reasons Lewis and Texas have a rock-solid baseball marriage that has only gotten stronger since his second run with this franchise was arranged six years ago.
Which brings me to the one player I’m still thinking about as camp is now less than a week away.
I will never not want Cliff Lee to wear the Ranger uniform again.
Is he healthy?
Nobody knows yet, as he hasn’t thrown for teams this winter (unlike Tim Lincecum, for instance).
Does he still want to pitch?
Apparently he does, at least according to his agent.
Would he want to be here?
Don’t know, but you would think the chance to win, in a place he’s won before, with his former teammate Hamels now part of the picture, would check a few boxes. He’s not at a point in his career where Hamels is, but as long as he’s healthy, he’ll have options.
I’m not sure the chance to compete for and hold down a rotation spot while Darvish mends fits Lee’s idea of where he fits on a big league club right now. He’s not going to be money-whipped — certainly not here — but he’s made so much cash in his career that an offer from one team guaranteeing $2 million more than another shouldn’t tip the scales, one would think.
It’s probably going to come down to where Lee feels he has the best shot at making starts for a team he wants to be part of. For Lee, it’s likely all about opportunity — just like it was for Napoli, and Fister, and Griffin, and Ruggiano, and McKenry.
The reality is that if Lee shows teams he’s healthy and the ball’s coming out of his hand well, he’ll probably have better options — like Napoli weighing Cleveland against Texas — and if he’s not healthy enough to start camp on track with the rest of the pitchers, Texas doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, as the primary opportunity here is more likely to be right out of the gate, when at least Darvish is still sidelined.
As much as I hold out hope, it’s a longshot.
Here’s the thing: Griffin and Ruggiano weren’t the only free agents out there who fit what the Rangers needed and what they could afford — but a free agent deal has to make sense for both sides, not just the team’s, and in Griffin and Ruggiano’s cases it absolutely did. Others, not so much.
I doubt we’ll see a second Rangers stint for Lee, but I wouldn’t rule it out — nor would I rule out a third run here for Napoli, as I stick with my spitball prediction two months ago that Texas, this coming July 20, will send 20-year-old righthander Jonathan Hernandez to the Indians for Napoli.
But trades are different. With few exceptions (Hamels being among them), players don’t have a say. It takes two sides to get a trade done, obviously, but unless the player wields a no-trade clause or owns 10/5 rights (10 years of big league service and at least the last five with the same team, giving him full trade veto power), he doesn’t get to decide where to play, or where not to.
There are two sides involved in a free agent deal as well, and one of those seems like it frequently gets overlooked — not the team assessing whether it can afford the player or how the makeup of its roster would benefit from his addition, but instead the player, and whether he sees that team as his best available opportunity, at that stage of his career, to be productive and make himself just a little more indispensable going forward.
39 Texas Rangers playoff games.
20 of which were wins.
4 in the World Series.
2,593 regular season games.
1,301 of which were wins.
2 AL MVP’s.
2 ALCS MVP’s.
Very nearly 1 World Series MVP.
2 batting champions.
1 Rookie of the Year.
2 Managers of the Year (should have been 3).
13 Gold Gloves.
13 Silver Sluggers.
2 Pudge Rodriguez stints, 2 Kenny Rogers stints, 2 Colby Lewis stints, 2 Ruben Sierra stints, 2 Darren Oliver stints.
2 Josh Hamilton trades, 2 Mike Napoli trades, 2 Matt Harrison trades, 2 Jake Thompson trades.
2 Adrian Gonzalez trades.
1 Cliff Lee trade.
Michael Young’s Rangers career.
A second Sandy Alomar and a second Mike Bacsik.
More than 0 Rangers farmhands who learned to walk.
2 Newberg kids born.
But, alas, no Esteban Beltre’s.
4 Presidential elections.
And there will be a 5th. At least.
It’s been 5,835 sleeps, and all of the above, since Texas last went to an arbitration hearing with one of its players. On February 19, 2000, the Rangers prevailed over Lee Stevens, as a three-member arbitration panel in Tampa elected to award the 32-year-old first baseman the $3.5 million salary that the club had proposed for the 2000 season. Stevens had submitted a $4.7 million demand.
Early this morning, hours before a panel was set to hear Texas ($4.675 million) and Mitch Moreland ($6 million) make their cases, the two sides settled at $5.7 million, which Moreland will now be paid in 2016, his final season before free agency.
Several weeks after the Rangers defeated Stevens, they traded the 32-year-old to Montreal in a three-team deal that brought first baseman David Segui from Toronto to Texas. Don’t expect history to repeat.
Stevens (coming off a 24-homer, 81-RBI, .282/.344/.485 playoff season at first base and a little DH) and the 30-year-old Moreland (coming off a 23-homer, 85-RBI, .278/.330/.482 playoff season at first base and a little DH) bear some similarity offensively, but Moreland is much more important to this team than Stevens was to the 2000 club, and if Moreland gets moved before the season starts, it’s going to be for an impact starting pitcher or impact corner bat — even though, given how baseball’s economy and its CBA work, this could very well be his final season in Texas.
At least this stint.
Lee, you can go ahead and call Mercury. Your bullet point lives.
Football’s final stand of the season was half over, two quarters of clock time away from two shoehorned beer endorsements by the winning quarterback, when the broadcast went to commercial and a man holding center stage — in a moment that was as authentic as Peyton Manning’s double-dipped Budweiser tribute wasn’t — said to a room full of men he shared a uniform with: “You showed up every day. We ain’t done yet. . . . I love every one of you. Keep it going. I told you: You let us hang around, they’d be pissed off. Well, ya know what? THEY’RE PISSED OFF.”
(In case you missed it last night — or even if you didn’t — here you go.)
In that room, in the current estimation of MLB Network, were none of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball and none of the top 10 relief pitchers in baseball and none of the top 10 catchers in baseball and none of the top 10 first basemen in baseball and none of the top 10 second basemen in baseball and none of the top 10 shortstops in baseball and none of the top 10 left fielders in baseball and none of the top 10 center fielders in baseball and none of the top 10 right fielders in baseball. (The game’s number three third baseman was there.)
CBS Sports didn’t stop at recognizing 10 players at each position, stretching instead recently to 15, and in its rankings the third baseman that heard the speech shown last night at halftime had ranked company at second base and designated hitter (plus the number 17 and number 25 starting pitchers, as CBS went even deeper there). Still, not just a whole lot of baseball’s best on an individual level, at least according to some who hold forth on a national level.
And yet that team, the team that showed up every day and hung around and ticked off a lot of people on the other side of the field, was one of the final eight standing in 2015, and really should have been among the final four.
Aristotle (likely dissed in MLB Network’s ranking of B.C. philosopher-scientists) apparently threw down the idea that, in certain instances, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts — the word “synergy” came around a couple thousand years later, a good bit earlier than the sabermetric set that tends to dismiss it — though nowadays it’s in sports where we hear it invoked most often.
That unmathematical concept is one of the things that stuck in my mind as that Texas Rangers ad aired locally at halftime last night.
And the four times I saw Pearce Theatre crush it the last two weeks as it performed “Singin’ In the Rain” in a high school auditorium that needed every one of its seats to to hold crowds of as many as 1,400.
There are lots of players wearing the Texas uniform who it can be argued are under-appreciated when it comes to (meaningless) individual league rankings.
But at the same time, there aren’t are a whole lot of people who say the Rangers overachieved in 2015, unless it’s in the context of all the injuries the club overcame. This team is widely considered a favorite to repeat atop the division in 2016.
Because of the whole.
There’s an awesome culture (a synergy, maybe) that leaders cultivate — not only coaches but also the leaders who count among those parts. That third baseman, for example.
You can bet when a theater group or a high school baseball team or a World Series club gets back together 20 years down the road, it’s more than just memories that get shared. There’s that bond, too, the bond that may get tucked away but never expires. There’s no formula for that. No math.
It’s been awesome to see that develop for Erica with Pearce Theatre, and for Max with the Pelicans, and I saw it resonate in that 30-second spot between football halves last night, on clear display between a manager and his baseball players, and it raised the hair on my arms and got me to doing some countdown math in my head.
Heather Biddle. Mike Tovar. Jeff Banister.
Jake Griffin and Kenadi Paredes. Ty Holt and A.J. Haley. Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor.
The parts are impressive.
The whole, even better.
I’m a Theater Dad, something I was no closer to saying a year and a half ago than Josh Morgan was to saying, “I’m a catcher.”
I’m a Theater Dad, and a really proud one.
A year and a half ago, Erica wasn’t yet in theater, Banny wasn’t yet in Texas, and the Rangers were 25 games out of first, about to lose another 23 out of 32.
All those things seem like an eternity ago.
Pitchers & Catchers in 10 sleeps, as the parts begin to reassemble to form the whole of the defending AL West champs, and in a way that seems like an eternity away, like it can’t get here soon enough.
Especially since halftime last night.
My annual National Signing Day clarification, take 18:
I’m not gonna write about Rashan Gary, ever.
He’s not gonna write about Michael Matuella, at any time.
Though Shane Buechele’s probably fair game for both.
Have a great Wednesday, whether or not this day, for you, is all about fax machines, hot tubs, and letters of intent . . . or Pitchers & Catchers in just 15 sleeps.