As I was going through the final edit process on this year’s book, I came across this late-January entry, titled “Things I’d like to see,” which listed a bunch of (mostly) baseball wishes for 2015.
I thought, on this, the four-year anniversary of perhaps the unlinkably worst day in local sports history, that I’d revisit the list to see how things turned out this season.
(Oh, and also, here’s a link to the audio from the nearly hour-long Rangers roundtable I was invited to join Ben Rogers, Jared Sandler, and Mike Bacsik on last week on 105.3 The Fan: http://cbsloc.al/1kAR42H)
The January list:
* A trade for Cliff Lee. If Texas really did go down the road [this winter] with Philadelphia on Cole Hamels, and if money really was the primary sticking point, then it’s probably fair to assume there was some level of consensus on Rangers prospects that (1) the Phillies like and (2) the Rangers were willing to consider putting in a deal. That’s valuable information. Scale back the Hamels package — take the best player in the deal off the table, for example — and go from there. This can wait until July.
Well, Lee never did pitch in 2015, sidelined all year with a forearm strain. But Texas-Philadelphia talks did revive in July, on Hamels after all, and that’s one reason I’m so fired up about the 2016 season and beyond.
* A key non-roster acquisition in the next three weeks. Jeff Banister appears to be committed to using his bench more than Ron Washington did. Maybe that convinces a player who wouldn’t have chosen an non-guaranteed opportunity in Texas the last several years to take one now. Not that there are lots of candidates still floating out there — but I’d like to see the bench boosted one more time.
Over those ensuing three weeks, Texas signed righthander Jamey Wright and outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Nate Schierholtz to non-roster deals. None stuck.
* On that subject, Mitch Moreland and Kyle Blanks putting together the first .800+ OPS season by Texas designated hitters since 2011.
That worked out well, no matter how you look at it. Moreland (who didn’t DH much) and Blanks combined for an .820 OPS (.283/.333/.487), while Rangers DH’s had an .824 mark (.298/.370/.454).
* Blanks doing enough to make the Josh Donaldson trade look even worse for Oakland.
Man, it looked like Blanks was on his way to a really big year before he got hurt in June. (He declined the Rangers’ outright assignment this week and is now a free agent again.)
Of course, Donaldson did enough on his own in 2015 to turn that terrible A’s trade into an unmitigated disaster.
* Juan Gonzalez. It’s been 10 years since he played and I don’t think I’ve seen him since. He was Josh Hamilton before Josh Hamilton. Some former teammate of Juando needs to convince him to show up before one home game this year. Just one.
Never saw that he made it to a game, but my son and I did get to see him in August, and that was really cool.
* More and more beasts landing in the National League. With the Dodgers and Nationals and Cubs spending like they are, and the Padres trading for everyone, it’s kinda cool to see some high-end talent moving away from the AL. Seems like it’s been forever since that’s happened.
Of the impact players who changed leagues this season, things seemed to tilt back toward the American League a bit. You had Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson coming to the AL, along with Johnny Cueto, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, Carlos Gomez, and Mike Fiers, with Yoenis Cespedes, Tyler Clippard, Jose Reyes, and Joakim Soria among those moving over to the National League.
* Delino DeShields having as strong a camp as Michael Choice did a year ago (.369/.406/.708 and standout defense), and a better season.
DeShields didn’t have as strong a camp (.256/.319/.465) as Choice did a year earlier.
As for the season? DeShields was one of the absolute bright spots of the year, obviously, a transformative force in the lineup — while Choice ended up sold in August to the Indians, who kept him in AAA (.204/.306/.3532) even when the minor league season ended and big league rosters expanded.
* Non-roster invite Engel Beltre walking up to non-roster invite Geovany Soto in White Sox camp and asking him to stop smoothing the dirt after every double-pump throw back to the pitcher, to which Soto responds: “Do I know you?”
You can’t prove this didn’t happen before Chicago released Beltre in May. (He finished the year with San Francisco’s AAA club.)
* Three of Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, Ronald Guzman, Jairo Beras, and Travis Demeritte putting up pinball numbers against Cal League pitching. That sort of thing happens in High Desert. Artificial to a point, maybe, but doesn’t hurt trade value, or confidence.
(Speaking of Brinson and trade value, I wrote this back in June 2012, on the day he was drafted: “If it sounds by the tone of this report that I’m already cooking up a 2015 trade that involves Lewis Brinson and Yovani Gallardo, I’m not.” Brinson didn’t go in the trade, obviously, but trading for Gallardo in 2015 happened, and that’s just a little freaky.)
Brinson (.337/.416/.628) and Cordell (.311/.376/.528) certainly did their part, forcing their way to Frisco (and in Brinson’s case, to Round Rock by season’s end), and Guzman did if you break his High Desert season down between May/June (.232/.266/.348) and July/August/September (.311/.358/.498). Hope Guzman (who turned 21 just this month) can build off that in 2016. He needs to.
Beras and Demeritte never made it to High A in 2016. But their arrows pointed in opposite directions this year.
* Some starting pitcher, maybe Yohander Mendez, opening eyes by keeping the ball down and not getting pinballed in High Desert.
Mendez repeated Low A Hickory in 2015 and pitched well (.230/.278/.298, just two home runs surrendered, 15 walks and 74 strikeouts in 66.1 innings, 2.44 ERA). Of the Mavericks pitchers, lefthander Frank Lopez did the best job among the starters (.226/.280/.381 opponents’ slash, 2.95 ERA) and earned a promotion to Frisco, where he struggled in his first look at AA hitters.
* Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash, Cake, Still Alice, American Sniper, The Imitation Game. Realistically, maybe three of those.
Only got Boyhood and Whiplash in. Whiplash was awesome.
* The new Star Wars movie at least meeting expectations.
We optimistic on that?
* Martin Perez joining the club in July.
* Joey Gallo joining the club in August.
In a pennant race.
June, and it wasn’t in a pennant race.
* Keone Kela wearing the pink backpack over the final six weeks, and maybe more after that.
He instead wore it the very first six weeks, and most every week thereafter. After a two-week break at the end of August, the 22-year-old came back to make 19 scoreless appearances (16.2-8-0-0-4-21, one double among the eight base hits, .145/.203/.164 slash, seven of nine inherited runners stranded) to finish the regular season, after which he allowed one hit in three playoff innings.
What a story that dude was.
* Derek Holland, who led the American League in shutouts in 2011: That guy.
We saw that guy against Baltimore on August 30. His 6-0 shutout of the Orioles (three hits, no walks, 11 punchouts, retired the final 14 hitters) completed a sweep and brought Texas to within three games of the division lead, and they hadn’t been closer than that in more than two months.
Wish we saw it more often than that. And I hope when he’s that guy again, that it’s still in Texas.
* Jurickson Profar, who led baseball in prospect hype in 2012: That guy.
The early AFL returns (.412/.500/.882 in 20 plate appearances, five of his seven hits for extra bases, just one strikeout) are promising, at least.
* Jellyfish reuniting.
(That’s the least likely thing on this list.)
* Hamilton meeting his season goals (which, as always, are focused on his own statistics), but his team missing the bigger ones.
To be fair, this was in reference to the Angels team that then owned (but disclaimed) him.
And Los Angeles did fall short, happily — at the Rangers’ hands on the regular season’s final weekend, with Hamilton driving in runs in three of the four games, including the two Texas wins.
* Robinson Chirinos and Carlos Corporan suppressing any urge to rush Jorge Alfaro.
I doubt Alfaro would have seen Texas before September and maybe not even then, considering he didn’t return from his ankle injury until late in the year, well after his trade to Philadelphia. But Chirinos and Chris Gimenez (and at times, Corporan and Bobby Wilson) held things down adequately anyway.
* Kyuji Fujikawa closing out a shutout that Yu Darvish started for the first time since the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Remember Fujikawa’s two games in relief for the Rangers in May? I don’t believe you.
Still, he pitched twice more than Darvish did in 2015.
And Texas was still a playoff team.
* Darvish and Adrian Beltre, maybe 10 months from now, replacing their current contracts with newer, shinier ones.
OK: One of them.
It’s been nine months.
Will the Rangers extend Beltre this winter beyond 2016?
* Prince Fielder, at even 15 percent less than the 100 percent that he’s said to be at now. Good Prince changes everything.
Named yesterday by The Sporting News as the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
Sure missed his bat in the Jays series, though.
* Getting past Ballghazi Week so we can get to Kyler’s Monday decision on which school he’ll disappoint four months later when he decides to go pro as a second baseman en route to developing into a lockdown center fielder.
The baseball thing didn’t happen, but there’s been plenty of drama anyway. Fascinated to see where this heads.
* Matt Harrison between the lines.
Those three July starts were among the really cool moments of 2015.
Hope he’s not done.
Bet he lands back here, somehow.
* Weeks before sending three legitimate prospects to the Phillies, Texas obliterating its international bonus pool on July 2, adding further to the pipeline that will have been boosted a few weeks earlier in the draft.
Phillies: Check (though it was five legit prospects, not three).
Texas didn’t blow through its international cap, but the organization did land a few high profile names, starting with center fielder Leody Taveras.
* The number four pick in the country, at Fall Instructs.
On the long weekend of October 1-2-3-4.
When I’ll be watching the season-ending series at home against the Angels from the Brookside Sports Bar in Surprise, with the primary objective of those four games getting Darvish, Holland, Gallardo, and Lee and the bullpen properly lined up for the following week.
I did see Dillon Tate in Surprise, but it was one weekend earlier, and it was Rangers-Astros I was watching while out there. It was tense and awesome and I can’t wait to watch pennant race baseball in Surprise at the end of the 2016 season.
And on some weekend — maybe one of the above — about four weeks short of a new reason to celebrate October 27, and make it an anniversary worth remembering, and linking to.
I’m working on a report for the morning that I think you might enjoy. I wish tomorrow’s entry were “4 Things,” but it’s not and that’s that and I’ve still got stuff to say, even if it’s not about World Series, Game One. Hope to make it up to you by making this one longer than one (556-word) sentence.
Also, and this is exceedingly off-topic and meant for just a small fraction of you: The Dallas Pelicans 11U Majors/AAA Select tournament team is conducting private tryouts to fill our one open roster spot for Spring 2016. If you are interested in details or know someone who might be, you can find more information here: https://www.facebook.com/jamey.newberg/posts/10153759606668987
Back with a lengthy Newberg Report in the morning.
So it’s the Ed Hearn World Series, with the Royals looking to get even for the Mets sending them Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo in March of 1987 for David Cone and Chris Jelic, and I really can’t call this the David Cone World Series, because he also pitched for Toronto and that would be a little confusing, plus Hearn is on a short list with Eddie Taubensee and Einar Diaz and (stay with me) Kansas City manager Ned Yost of catchers were badly traded for, which is not to be confused with Josh Donaldson being traded very badly two different times, once as a catcher, because the list is supposed to be of catchers who really, really didn’t pay off, rather than the opposite, plus Donaldson is a Blue Jay and that would be confusing, and the Hearn deal was epically bad, worse than Jim Sundberg for Yost three years earlier, a year after which Sundberg was traded to the Royals in a deal that sent Don Slaught to Texas, and now you might agree that I’m getting off track, and while Hearn managed to log 35 big league at-bats in two Kansas City seasons before moving on to Cleveland’s farm system (where he preceded Taubensee with AAA Colorado Springs by a year) and then retirement, Cone spent almost six years with the Mets, reaching the post-season once while the Royals missed it all six years, but it wasn’t quite six years with the Mets because he was shipped to Toronto in late August 1992 and made seven regular season starts, two ALCS starts, and two World Series starts that summer and fall, and then Cone went back to Kansas City as a free agent that winter, and in two seasons that time he won a Cy Young but didn’t get to the playoffs, after which the Royals traded him badly again — to Toronto for Chris Stynes and two others who never reached the bigs that I won’t identify because I don’t want today’s report to bog down — but his second Jays stint lasted just four months before he was traded to the Yankees, where he pitched in 1995 and 1996 and 1997 and 1998 and 1999 and 2000 and reached the playoffs in 1995 and 1996 and 1997 and 1998 and 1999 and 2000 before spending one year in Boston and, after a year out of the game, 18 career-finishing innings back with the Mets, 13 years after Ed Hearn retired, probably not by choice, and if you ask Cone I bet he’d tell you that 1992 season with Toronto was pretty special, given that it was the first of five World Series Champions he pitched for, and it was also the year that Jurickson Profar was about to be born, and after doubling in his first 2015 Arizona Fall League at-bat on Thursday and then tying that game with a two-out home run on a 95-mph, 3-2 sinker in the ninth, both hitting from the left side, Profar doubled in a run from the right side on Friday, which has nothing to do with the schadenfreude-ish news that the Angels are about to lose both of their Assistant General Managers in the space of two days, although you know me — surely there’s a completely appropriate tie-in somewhere in there, unless there’s not.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Bring On 2016.
Montreal Robertson has faced 1,344 hitters as a pro. He’s a right-handed pitcher in the Tigers system who doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, but he keeps the ball on the ground and in the park with a big league-grade sinker.
In five seasons, spanning 299.2 innings, Robertson — who pitched at the High A and AA levels this season and earned a Detroit assignment to the Arizona Fall League — has been taken deep 12 times. He hasn’t had a season yet in which he’s allowed more than four home runs.
Robertson was making his second AFL appearance for Scottsdale yesterday, having previously thrown 2.2 perfect frames in his AFL debut. He came in to start the ninth inning, entrusted with a 5-4 Scorpions lead over Surprise.
He struck Royals prospect Ramon Torres out on a foul tip.
He caught future Rangers center fielder Lewis Brinson (who’d singled twice in four trips) looking at strike three.
An out away from a win.
Then a strike away from a win, as he had a full count on the Saguaros’ two-hole hitter. Robertson came back with another sinking fastball, at 95 miles per hour.
And Jurickson Profar deposited it over the right field fence, tying the game.
(Eight innings after he’d doubled down the line in the first inning, in his first action since February shoulder surgery.)
Yes, Profar is six years into his career, and he still may not throw a baseball in a game setting before spring training.
Look: He’s still just 22. Four months younger than Hanser Alberto.
Robertson is 25.
None of us knows where exactly Profar fits, but this is a versatile, switch-hitting ballplayer with an 80-grade internal clock, considered by some pre-injury to be the number one prospect in baseball, and with his shoulder repaired rather than rested, there’s greater reason for Profar optimism now than there’s been in a while.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Bring On 2016.
I think I’ve been here before
Yes, I’ve been here before
The last time you locked
All the doors
— “Yes I Am,” Radiohead
So why does it still hurt?
Don’t blow your mind with why
— “Bloom,” Radiohead
* * *
I suppose the easy solution — not the answer to why, but the way to dodge the hurt — would be not to care as much.
We could pull back. Take in the results, but nothing else. Strip the emotion, accept it for what it is, for now, like a long-term investor in the market trained to roll with the short-term punches.
Loss today? Bummer.
That would suck.
Last Friday, Globe Life Park was supposed to be busting at the seams with frenzied people who care a ton, or completely empty, depending on whether Houston or Kansas City advanced out of the other ALDS matchup. That Friday was ALCS, Game One, and it was supposed to include Texas, winners of the two ALDS-opening games in Toronto, where the Jays had put up the American League’s best home record in the six preceding months.
The Rangers needed to win just one of three, with two opportunities in Arlington.
And then they’d head to Kansas City for Game One last Friday, or host the Astros.
Instead, the ballpark wasn’t over capacity on Friday, and it wasn’t vacant. There was Jon Daniels, and next to him Jeff Banister, dressed clashingly alike, in the same seats they’d been in right at a year earlier, when one introduced the other as the new manager of a baseball team that had somehow just avoided losing 100 games.
On the fifth anniversary of the Rangers’ first-ever home playoff win, and the one-year anniversary of Banister’s hiring, the two of them sat side by side, less than four hours before Jays-Royals, Game One, talking to reporters who were also supposed to be on a much different assignment that day from a season-ending presser.
Two sleeps removed from Game Five, Daniels was asked about the psyche of his franchise following the crushing devastation of the three-game losing streak that ended its season.
“2014 hurt. We lost 95 games. We sat home and watched everybody else celebrate.
“This year? The psyche is extremely positive.”
Maybe — and now I’m talking to you, and me — 2015 doesn’t hurt so much because this was never supposed to happen.
A first-time manager, inheriting that 95-loss team.
A closer who lost his job and his roster spot.
A sophomore second baseman who played his way into a AAA uniform a month in.
A quarter billion dollars wrapped up in a shortstop and right fielder who had brutal first halves.
A pair of journeymen asked to hold down catching duties when the fairly ordinary tandem entrusted with the job got hurt.
Twelve starting left fielders.
Twenty-two Wandy Rodriguez and Ross Detwiler starts.
Or maybe it doesn’t hurt so much because MLB saw to it that you didn’t get to see much of the series live, while you worked and your kids were in school.
But maybe it hurts colossally, because of 2011.
As will every season in which Texas doesn’t win the last game played, I suppose, whether it’s because of 95 losses or a Game Five seventh inning.
If there’d been a parade four years ago, or five, it would be different.
Well, we’ll always have 2011.
For now, though, we still have 2011.
The pain of one-pitch-away and a sad half-leap with five feet of warning track to go persists, and that pain can only be relieved by the Commissioner interrupting the season’s final infield scrum.
I think that’s why this one hurts.
Even if it really shouldn’t.
* * *
Elvis Andrus was a measurably better hitter in Texas wins (.697 OPS) than in Texas losses (.628) in 2015. You can look at that two ways, of course.
His .718 second-half OPS was his best since the second half of 2013.
This team is a lot better when Andrus is playing to his capability. And he looked like he was doing that, perhaps not coincidentally, at the time the Rangers made their improbable charge this summer.
Texas needs Good Elvis.
It hurts right now, too, because Elvis Andrus had a nightmare seventh inning in the game that ended the Rangers’ season, a nightmare the proportions of which would shake a high school sophomore hoping to make the squad the following spring.
Neftali didn’t really bounce back.
Nellie did. Here, but then somewhere else.
I don’t vote for that.
Texas needs Good Elvis. Not to run him off.
Banister on Friday, about what he said to his shortstop after the game and season ended: “I put my arms around him. Hugged him. Told him he’s a special player. . . . He’ll use Game Five as power to drive him to be an even more elite player.
“Our greatest challenges can be our greatest successes.”
The day before that, Banister said in an MLB Network Radio interview: “You have to use that sting, that kick in the stomach, to stoke the fire and come back next season.”
I can’t stop thinking about this. For me, what happened to Elvis Andrus, an outstanding defensive shortstop who’d had the best stretch of multi-month baseball he’d had in a long time, was the worst part of the loss in Game Five.
I want to know how Elvis will respond, and I’d really like to know now.
That part hurts.
* * *
I wrote a couple weeks ago, as the ALDS was set to get rolling, that “I [had] no hate for the Blue Jays . . . but there’s a chance I will in a few days, and on a certain sports-level you just can’t ask for anything more.”
* * *
It makes zero sense that the Rangers, two-time pennant winners, are now 1-9 at home in the ALDS. It makes very little sense that they’re 8-6 in ALDS road games (had they won Game Five, they’d have tied an MLB mark with eight straight Division Series road wins).
But 8-6 needed to be 9-5 for Texas to advance. Cole Hamels was on the mound, just as he’d been in the critical Game 162. The bullpen, better than Toronto’s to begin with, was the only one of the two at full strength. Adrian Beltre was back in action, Shin-Soo Choo’s bat had shown signs of life in Game Four, David Price was apparently unavailable.
It lined up.
But this is not football and it’s not basketball, and in baseball there’s almost never anything close to a lock in a one-game setting, which is what the series came down to.
Sometimes the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher deflects off a bat. Sometimes an elite defensive shortstop fumbles three straight baseballs, two almost impossibly. Sometimes Sam Dyson gives up fly balls. Even ones that clear the fence, fair.
This club that should have never made it to 162+, given all things it had to overcome to get there, nursed a one-run lead, nine outs away from three straight wins in the toughest American League ballpark to beat the home team in and from its third-ever American League Championship Series.
Toronto’s a really good baseball team. Losing to the Jays in five is hardly a disaster.
Their big bats woke up. The Rangers’, by and large, didn’t.
You can drill down and focus on momentary issues on the mound and in the field, but really, that’s where the difference was.
Texas (.217/.260/.299) just didn’t hit.
Choo, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Andrus, and Josh Hamilton: a collective .160.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s big four — Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki — all started slowly . . . but all four homered in the final three games of the series, each a Jays win.
Toronto did a better job shutting Texas bats down in the best-of-five than Rangers pitchers did against the Jays offense.
The Jays made more bigtime defensive plays, and fewer defensive mistakes.
Toronto earned home field advantage by virtue of its work in the first 162, and was the one team that managed to win a home game in the series.
Texas won twice in Toronto but couldn’t quite finish the deal. And the rule is only one team gets to advance.
Yes, as Banister said last Friday: “The last thing you want to do is lose your last game. That didn’t feel good.”
But nine of the 10 teams who get to play past 162 lose their last game, while the 20 who don’t wish they were that fortunate.
I guess 29 teams and their fans hurt every year.
But Texas has a lot less reason to be hurting right now than almost any team in the league — including the one whose season ended last night, and maybe another team or two still playing that won’t win their last game.
“One inning, one game, three games will not define our season,” Banister said last Friday.
* * *
It was a tremendous year. Seven months of work, much of it out of a corner, led to five extra games. Just five.
Three of those were losses, and by definition that means the fifth one was, and the other sequencing really doesn’t matter.
Except yeah, it does.
Losing three straight . . . man.
But would you give those five added baseball games back?
That’s what you play for.
That’s what we invest for.
Texas earned the opportunity, the same one Toronto earned. Toronto then did a little more with it than Texas did. Sports.
Every other time the Rangers went to the playoffs — 1996 and 1998 and 1999 and 2010 and 2011 and 2012 — they spent far more regular season days than not in first place.
In 2015, they didn’t spend one day alone atop the division until mid-September.
And yet were nine outs away from winning a weeklong playoff series over a team that nobody thought they could beat.
They’ve won at least 87 games five of the last six years, a mark matched only by St. Louis.
In all five of those seasons, the Rangers played 162+.
If someone promised you today that, next October, Texas would send Rougned Odor and a pair of second-half trade pickups to the plate in the ninth inning of Game Five of the ALDS, would you take it?
What if someone guaranteed it a year ago, coming off 95 losses?
Or in March, when it was announced Darvish would miss the whole season?
Or in April, which Texas finished with its worst first-month record in franchise history?
Or in May, which Odor and Tanner Scheppers spent most of in Round Rock?
Or in June or July, which featured a run of 18 losses in 24 games?
Or in August, which began with the Rangers 8.0 games out in the West?
Or in that awesome September, be honest: Would you have taken ALDS, Game Five, when in the season’s final 10 days, the division lead narrowed, on consecutive days, from 4.5 games to 3.5 games to 2.5 games to 1.5 games?
I’ve lived through all 7,046 Texas Rangers games that counted. I’ve watched or listened or watched and listened to thousands of those, attended hundreds, same as many of you.
None of them ended up with Texas as World Champions.
Have we wasted all that time?
Each MLB franchise has a 3.33 percent chance of winning the World Series each year, but not really. It’s greater than that for Texas, which is a perennial contender now, with strength on the roster and on the coaching staff and in the front office and on the farm, and that’s seriously awesome.
It’s gonna happen.
This team has given me some of the great sports experiences of my life — including Games One and Two in Toronto — and I’m not giving any of those back.
Game Three hurt. Game Four hurt. Game Five really hurt.
2015 doesn’t hurt.
* * *
The risk of trading for pennant race help in July is you typically have to give up young, controllable, inexpensive, high-end talent for players who may be around for just a few months.
Does Texas regret loading up for three-and-a-half months of Cliff Lee in 2010? Of course not.
What about Houston parting with prospects for Scott Kazmir? He won two of his 13 Astros starts and is now a free agent.
The massive package (much of which had been earmarked for Cole Hamels, before he said he wouldn’t go to Houston) that the Astros sent to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, controllable but probably not Role 7 players?
Kansas City sending the Reds and A’s four lefthanders and a righty for Johnny Cueto’s four wins in 13 post-trade starts and Ben Zobrist’s awesomeness (especially in the post-season)? Worth it, even if they depart this winter.
Toronto sending three key prospects plus Jose Reyes to Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki and the $98 million he’s guaranteed the next five years?
The Jays moving three young pitchers for free agent-to-be David Price? Sure, even if his role in the playoffs is unclear.
Same with the Mets moving a pair of young righthanders for Yoenis Cespedes, who is going to get paid big this winter.
The point of this is that, yes, Texas gave up a huge amount of minor league talent in July for Hamels, Dyson, and Jake Diekman.
But the Rangers control Hamels through 2019, and super-affordably given the cash subsidy Philadelphia sent over (not to mention its assumption of Matt Harrison’s deal).
And Diekman through 2018.
And Dyson through 2020.
There is work to be done this winter — there always is — but the Rangers control their key starting pitchers and their key relief pitchers, and that’s a great position to be in. Whether they decide they need to trade Fielder or Choo in order to create some payroll flexibility — and help relieve the lineup of its left-handed imbalance (an effort that could also lead teams to come after Mitch Moreland, whose one-year commitment will attract clubs) — is certainly part of the whiteboard discussion, not to mention the imminent decision on tendering Yovani Gallardo a $15.8 million contract offer for 2016, to tee up draft pick compensation should he decline it and sign elsewhere.
But — thanks in part to the improvements for 2016 that the Rangers opportunistically made three months ago, one pennant race early — the core of the team is in place, the team that played .622 baseball in the second half and took the Jays to five games. Hamels and Dyson and Diekman will be here all year, and Darvish will be back.
And we have Adrian Beltre.
Will Colby Lewis return? Will Mike Napoli? Surely there’s mutual interest in both cases.
There will be impact additions to this club.
There always are.
Banister said last Friday, again talking about Game Five: “The way things ended for us, that feeling, I’ll let that fuel me every day this winter to find a way to make us better.”
We know from experience that that’s the Daniels mindset as well.
* * *
In terms of crushing losses and the avalanche of major injuries, it’s probably fair to say that nobody’s had it tougher than Texas the last few years.
In looking at the last half-dozen seasons, almost as few have had it better.
And that includes in 2015.
Winning is hard.
If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as cool.
If it were easy, it would never hurt.
* * *
I know this. These three men have been subjected to more hurt in the game than most anyone could imagine.
One whose natural reaction to the obvious need for surgery is to push his way back into the lineup with necessarily more force.
(Don’t blow your mind with how.)
One who had the game almost taken from him, more than once, by doctors assessing whether he’d walk again.
And one in the Seventh Inning.
“The way things ended for us, that feeling, I’ll let that fuel me every day this winter to find a way to make us better.”
Said the manager, the man who sets the tone.
This team fought through and overcame so much in 2015, so much hurt, that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to wallow in it ourselves.
The doors are locked at 1000 Ballpark Way, and we’ve been there before. A lot.
But they’ll unlock and open again in a few months, and right now the only thing that Toronto-in-5 is for me is fuel for that eventual win, the one that ends everyone’s season, whenever that might be.
It won’t be this year, but it got a whole lot closer than anyone outside the clubhouse believed it could. Incredibly, the Rangers put themselves in a position to win this season, and that’s the thing you hope for every year out of your team.
The battle reengages soon.
It’s now been five days, and I still owe you a final entry on the Rangers season. I’m still not there — I tried once to sit down and start it, and I couldn’t.
Still too difficult to revisit.
Soon, though. Soon.
For most of you, this is where you delete this email, or close out of it.
For some, I want to share something about a youth baseball team’s weekend.
The 10- and 11-year-olds on the Dallas Pelicans spent their Saturday and Sunday waking up at 5:30 am, give or take, both days, to play ball in the Triple Crown Toys for Tots 11U Fall State Championship. Warmup drills started both mornings while it was still dark.
Saturday started with a 4-3 win that ended with a man on third for the opponents, and finished with an 11-10 walkoff victory in which the boys had fallen behind 7-0 in the first inning.
In Sunday’s win-or-go-home bracket play, there was a 7-3 win that had been tied going into the Pelicans’ final at-bat, a 6-5 win over the tournament’s number one seed (with the tying run once again stranded at third base), and acutting 10-9 win in the championship game over the number two seed, the formidable Dallas Patriots-Leonard — after clawing back from an 8-0 deficit.
Four one-run victories, and a fifth that was tied going into the boys’ final at-bat.
There was Ben, who rarely singles, chipping in with his standard pair of doubles and a triple over the weekend. There was Dean, earning the win out of the bullpen in three of the team’s five games. There was Drake, having his best tournament yet behind the plate, and roping the walkoff double in Saturday’s second game.
There was Garrett, raking three ringing doubles and in the title game triggering a brilliant 5-4-3 double play on perhaps the opponent’s fastest hitter. There was Logan, with five RBI singles in five games and lights-out defense at first. There was Luke, cutting down a would-be basestealer in a critical spot in one inning on Saturday and coming in to earn the win off the mound an inning later.
There was Max, entering in relief and holding the best team in town to one run over 3.1 innings of the championship game after they’d put up those eight runs in the first inning. There was Preston, diving to his backhand side like he was Ryan Goins, and starting a huge 4-6 to keep Sunday’s second game tied. There was Ty, doing his typical beast work at shortstop and closing out the final 1.2 frames of the title game, retiring five of six hitters, the last one on a called strike three. There was Will, getting a perfect bunt down in a critical spot in the semi-finals game.
And there was A.J., throwing four no-hit innings early Sunday morning, a day after making the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in a youth ballgame, and probably ever will. Diving at full sprint away from the plate in deep center field, backhand side, he Pillar-ed a cannon shot to keep the Pelicans within 10-9, minutes after which Drake delivered the two-run walkoff double.
Seriously: A.J.’s catch.
Coach Chilli had seven of the 11 kids ready to pitch this weekend, and Coach Tovar had all 11 ready, as always, to play the game the right way and to never let a huge early deficit take them out of the game mentally. They battled in every game — there was no other way — and they picked each other up time after time.
Look back at the Rangers’ two World Series teams, and the only players who were here for both and haven’t left are Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Elvis Andrus, and Mitch Moreland.
And yet, with all that turnover, the Rangers are still right there.
This is sports, and teams change. Players move on, and that’s no fun a lot of the time, but it’s part of the game and a reality that it does no good to deny.
Only Derek, Colby, Elvis, and Mitch are still around, and there’s a good chance they won’t all four be here when camp opens in four months. That’s just how it is, whether we like it or not.
Players move on in youth sports as well, and that’s not a lot of fun, either.
But it’s reality, too, and the kids can learn from that as well.
And when you have the right leadership in place, men who coach the kids up and teach respect for the game and the opponent, who set a tone and a culture of accountability and challenge the kids at every step, you have a real chance to overcome the potential vulnerabilities of that change, to reload instead of rebuild, and keep competing at the highest levels.
I’ve said it before and will repeat it here, as I gear myself up to write that 2015 Texas Rangers requiem, one of themes of which will be the awesomeness of resilience:
Give me Jeff Banister.
Give me Mike Tovar.
And I’ll take my chances.
1. Adrian Beltre, after the game: “I’m going home. I’m not ready to go home. I can’t process it yet that I’m going home.”
I wasn’t ready to write this one.
2. It was a terrible finish to the most unbelievable Texas Rangers season ever. An exceptionally great season.
That’s the takeaway that’s working right now to shove out the dark and consuming sports-feels, and ultimately that’s what 2015 has been about. Not about the bottom of the seventh.
No, it’s about everything that led to October 14th. Unforgettably great.
I’m not going to watch baseball the rest of the month, because I can’t. Not sure how soon I will sit down to write the next report, the one packing this awesome season back up and zipping the bag. Give me a few days to let this thaw, please.
3. The Blue Jays are very good. They are very good at talent acquisition and at baseball. There’s no shame in the paper outcome.
4. Jeff Banister said this to Eric Nadel on the season’s final pre-game manager’s show — in a game of this magnitude, especially on the road, you have to stay within yourself and stay in the moment, and slow the heart rate down. Get fast and you tend to make mistakes.
He said that before Game Five.
5. Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar and Russell Martin were among several Blue Jays who managed to slow the heart rate down defensively yesterday.
I can’t really finish the thought right now. Next time. Maybe.
6. The Rangers hadn’t lost an ALDS road game since the ’90s. They’d won seven straight. One more and they’d have tied a Major League record. One more.
7. It’s not helpful, at least this soon, to reflect on what was one of the most dramatic, tense, intense, wild baseball games ever. And it may never be OK to reflect on, just as with Game Six in St. Louis, until Texas is the final team standing.
That’s a shame, because, man, what a game.
But I get it, and I’m right there with you.
9. I’m close to physically ill, still. I can’t imagine how much it hurts for the players and the coaches and the trainers and the front office and the scouts and everyone else who kills it all year to get to a moment like yesterday’s, because it has to be 100 times more painful than it is for me, and mine’s as agonizing as I can imagine on a sports level.
But I’m at peace.
I’m a believer in writing while it’s raw, and for me that’s usually the play.
But occasionally it’s not, like now.
In spite of the title, this isn’t really a negative entry.
Actually, it’s not at all. Losses suck. Especially final ones. But 2015 was awesome. Awesome.
I’m really proud that the Texas Rangers are my team. That Jon Daniels is in charge of one facet, and Jeff Banister another. That they battle the way they do, that they overcome the way they do, that they embrace being underestimated. If your thought right now is that 2015 was a failure, well, I suppose every baseball season is a failure for 29 teams, by the strictest definition. But that’s a terrible way to look at this, I think.
I’m really proud that the Texas Rangers are my team.
Five years and two days ago, the Rangers were set to play the first Game Five in franchise history. That morning, this is what I wrote:
I’m generally not a superstitious person, but I’m very sports-superstitious. I was as a player, I am as a fan.
Given what’s at stake tonight, I’m not messing around.
This gets blown up into wallpaper today.
Tonight we experience something we’ve never experienced.
Tonight is what Steps One through Five were all about, starting with the trade of Mark Teixeira and the patience and untelevised grinding that followed. And why those 100 folks in untucked short sleeves and slacks lined up behind home plate before player introductions on Saturday are so important, even if the names and faces aren’t as recognizable as the last player on the roster.
Tonight is the reason it was the right decision to draft Justin Smoak instead of Ethan Martin.
Tonight is the reason it will always be OK that Justin Smoak is now a Seattle Mariner, maybe for life.
Tonight is the reason we all invest the way we do.
Trust in Cliff.
Cliff (9-6-1-1-0-11) handled Game Five, going the distance in the Rangers’ 5-1 win at Tampa Bay.
Two days before that, the Phillies wrapped up their sweep of the Reds in the NLDS with a 2-0 win.
Cole Hamels (9-5-0-0-0-9) went the distance.
That’s all I wanted to say this morning.
1. Marco Estrada did what Martin Perez didn’t.
2. Kevin Pillar did what Delino DeShields couldn’t.
3. Troy Tulowitzki did what Prince Fielder hasn’t.
4. That thing we talked about yesterday, about Perez’s inability at times to keep his composure when things start to unravel? He did a really good job inducing the double plays he desperately needed on Sunday, but his body language from time to time was awful.
For me, that’s a really bad trait for a starting pitcher. You can’t let them see that you’re mentally on the ropes. Just can’t.
Allowing nine of the final 15 hitters you face to reach base isn’t a great recipe, either. Even when you have the double play ball working.
5. Estrada is no David Price and no Marcus Stroman, and that was to the Rangers’ detriment, as the decent 32-year-old, who this year won in double digits for the first time, Vidal Nuno’d the Texas lineup with a dizzying array of 88-90, in and out, along with a change he was able to consistently locate. Estrada, with less stuff than Perez but a similar repertoire (and now exactly one run allowed in 6.0 or 6.1 innings in each of his three career starts in Arlington), executed the game plan Perez needs to execute to succeed.
6. Way too many lazy flies, a bunch with the arc and force of a rolled-up T-shirt slingshot into the crowd, and too many called strike threes. It’s just an odd thing that this offense tends to have more trouble with pitchers who locate moderate stuff than with those who feature filth.
R.A. Dickey today rather than Price? Not sure how elated I am about that, if that’s actually how the Jays go.
7. Chi Chi Gonzalez made a mistake pitch to Tulowitzki — at the time, 0 for 11 in the series — that changed the game, but he wasn’t terrible otherwise.
Still, I wondered why that wasn’t a spot for Colby Lewis instead. I suppose the club would prefer to have Lewis start an inning rather than come in inheriting someone else’s property, but with Perez having allowed Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista singles to start the fifth, putting men on the corners with nobody out in a 2-0 game and Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello, and Tulowitzki due, I might have preferred the veteran with a swing-and-miss pitch over the rookie.
I’m a big Gonzalez fan, fired up about his future. And he was one well-executed pitch away from escaping the fifth and redistributing momentum for the first time all night. The crowd was dying to explode, and that was the chance. But I wondered at the time why Lewis wasn’t the choice when Perez was lifted, and would have said so here even if Gonzalez had gotten out of the fifth cleanly rather than delivering Tulo’s kill shot.
8. The best thing all night: Fielder’s L8 to start the ninth. Best pass he’s put on a ball in a long time.
Carry that one into today, man.
9. Game 4 in a best-of-five is, by definition, an elimination game for someone.