Tonight the Rangers kick off their third and final series in Oakland for the season. In the last one, Texas took the June 16 opener, 14-8 — putting up its biggest run total of the season — before embarking on an eight-game losing streak (which would extend to 22 losses in 25 brutal games) by dropping the final two against the A’s.
In the clubs’ first series in O.co this year, Texas won the first two games by a run each, and took the finale, 3-0, behind a Martin Perez complete-game shutout on April 23, which for obvious reasons feels like about two years ago.
That early-season series happened to have been the only Rangers sweep of 2015 until they took care of the Braves in Arlington over the weekend.
There’s late night baseball the next two nights, followed by a getaway afternoon tilt on Thursday, and while Texas will go to battle with a turbo-decimated roster marked by an absurd number of rookies, it’s the other team that’s in a really bad way.
Just five weeks ago, on August 9, the A’s owned baseball’s best record (72-44) by a full four games, leading the West by the same margin because it was the Angels who boasted MLB’s second-best mark. Since then, Oakland has the worst record in the game at 11-22 (Texas is 12-21 over the same stretch), while Los Angeles’s 26-8 tear has it on the brink of clinching the division title.
Oakland is now a game ahead of Kansas City for home field in the Wild Card Game — but only three games ahead of Seattle (imagine if the Mariners hadn’t just lost three straight) in its effort to avoid missing the playoffs altogether.
The Rangers have a chance to make things meaningfully worse for the A’s this week, just as they did for Atlanta over the weekend.
The silver lining, of course, is that any loss to Oakland takes Texas closer to securing the 1.1 pick in June and all those other goodies, though this three-game win streak in combination with the Rockies’ current seven-game skid has Colorado just 1.5 games back in that backpedal chase. Arizona had briefly caught the Rockies before going on its own win streak these last three days, but there’s now 4.5 games of distance between the Rangers and Diamondbacks.
Speaking of Colorado and Arizona, Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) was the first to report that Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine is on the Diamondbacks’ list of 10 candidates for their vacant GM position, while Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) speculates that if the Rockies dismiss GM Dan O’Dowd, Levine could be a candidate there as well, as he worked in Colorado’s front office for six seasons before Jon Daniels brought him to Texas.
But that’s not what brought me to my keyboard this morning. Buster Olney (ESPN) published a story on Saturday titled “Oakland’s collapse could be worst ever,” and I enjoyed that a lot before even reading the article, especially because I’d just read a chat that Olney’s ESPN colleague Keith Law conducted that included this exchange:
Q: How many hitters in minors have a future 70 hit tool, [and] is J.P. Crawford one?
A: I wouldn’t put that on many prospects. Addison Russell would be one. Crawford . . . I’d feel more comfortable at 60 or even 65. 70 is pretty rare.
Yes it is.
And Russell, like Yoenis Cespedes and Billy McKinney, belongs to someone other than Oakland going forward. Which is awesome.
Maybe you think the schadenfreude is a little unbecoming and a lot pot/kettlesque given where the Rangers’ season has gone, but 2014 is what it is for Texas, and you can recover from injuries.
Recovering from Cespedes (and a premium draft pick) for impending free agent Jon Lester, and Russell/McKinney/Dan Straily for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel? The A’s have a chance over the next two weeks to make sure their season doesn’t have a devastating “worst collapse ever” result, before salvaging things when they trade Samardzija this winter (or I guess possibly next summer) to start to restock a turbo-decimated farm system.
And Texas has a chance, late tonight and late tomorrow night and Thursday afternoon, to make things even more difficult on the A’s, a position that I hate the Rangers find themselves in, but we are where we are, at least for 2014, and I’m not a bit above looking forward to this opportunity to keep knocking the Oakland kettle off the stove . . . not that I won’t be keeping an eye on Colorado and hoping for a little Rockies pride at home against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks these next six days.
Twenty years ago today, the Rangers had already played the final game of what to that point had been their unluckiest season. A franchise that had never played a post-season game was in first place in the American League West (albeit with a 52-62 record) when, on August 12, 1994, the Players Association went on strike.
New stadium. New uniforms. First place. No playoffs.
The Stars were coming off their first season in Dallas and were weeks away from the second NHL work stoppage in two and a half years. The Mavericks were coming off their second-worst season ever (also known as “the Quinn Buckner era”), enabling them to draft Jason Kidd. The Cowboys were kicking off their first season under Barry Switzer, coming off of consecutive Super Bowl wins. The day before September 12, 1994, Dallas (which would ultimately go 12-4 but lose to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game) squeaked by the hapless Houston Oilers, 20-17, in its home opener.
It was nearly four years before the first Newberg Report, a terribly crafted email I sent to a few friends that focused on the AAA contract given by the Rangers to 28-year-old 4-A lefthander and Fort Worth product Ricky Pickett. It was written very poorly, regrettably preserved evidence of an effort that was about 9,999 hours short of the Gladwell threshold. It contained exclamation points.
I’d like to think there were no exclamation points generated from my desk back on September 12, 1994. That Monday, 20 years ago today, was my first day as a lawyer.
Ron Washington (Low A manager), Tim Bogar (second-year big leaguer), and Mike Maddux (ninth-year big leaguer) were each with the Mets, and 20 years later they’re all part of a story whose next chapters are uncertain, as a season whose Unlucky Quotient obliterates 1994 nears a merciful end.
Arizona Diamondbacks GM candidate Thad Levine finished up his bachelor’s degree and baseball career at Haverford College in 1994, and four-year-old Engel Beltre presumably had two fewer injured legs than he does today.
Rougned Odor was seven months old on September 12, 1994, and of all the awesome images I have in my head of that kid, whose future I can’t wait to see unfold (preferably in a Rangers uniform), the one I can’t shake right now is seeing him quietly seethe in the dugout last night, all alone, well after all his teammates and coaches had retreated to the clubhouse after a sweep at the hands of baseball’s best 2014 team, the Angels. Bet he was a handful at seven months old.
Dominican “14”-year-old Albert Pujols was about to move to New York in September 1994, after which he would move to Missouri, after which he would be drafted in the 13th round, after which he would play in 2,102 big league baseball games before striking out four times in one of them, and it would come at the hands of Nick Martinez (twice), Spencer Patton, and Neftali Feliz, because not even Albert can predict ball.
And even if he could, it’s highly unlikely that he’d have foreseen that it would happen in a game that ended the worst 76-game stretch in Texas Rangers — and predecessor Washington Senators — history, culminating a 19-57 run that feels pretty much like a 19-57 run.
That footnote from last night’s loss comes from the great Scott Lucas, who was in Austin those seven years I spent before that September 1994 day and has been since, and yesterday he delivered his final minor league game report of the 2014 season. It was Scott’s best year yet, at least from a writing standpoint, though as a new father I suspect he might think of this as his best year in other ways, too.
So might Guilder Rodriguez, about whom Scott wrote on Monday, and about whom I will write about myself one day soon, bringing Jayce Tingler into the discussion because I think there’s an awesome parallel.
Jayce, who was born the “same year” as Pujols, probably won’t think of this as his best year, but it was a tremendous season on the farm for the Field Coordinator and his troops. While there have been an obscene number of setbacks at the big league level, there have been remarkably few in the organization’s minor league system this season, and a huge number of players who without question will consider this their best year yet, and rightfully so.
The Texas Rangers will think of 2014 as something entirely different. They now have baseball’s worst record by a full five games, and of course that’s not the worst part of it.
The only people at my office who will know that today is my 20th anniversary to practice law are those who read this newsletter, and that’s cool. It’s not a big deal. It’s sorta hard for me to believe that I’ve been at it this long, but it’s not a big deal.
But I do want to thank everyone I work with for making our law firm a place I still look forward to pulling into (almost) every day.
And I want to thank Scott for another really fantastic year of writing, and for doing what he does so reliably and with integrity.
And Jayce for another great year on the farm.
And Roogie for being Roogie, which includes that cold postgame stare out of the dugout and across the field last night, which was the 20-year-old saying to the Los Angeles Angels, I think: Go ahead. Get your licks in now.
(Or, as a hat-tip to that awful first-Newberg-Report-ever back in 1998: Get your licks in now!)
My wife and I finally got around to watching Season 2 of “Derek” the last few nights, at the end of which the Ricky Gervais character says, through tears:
That’s the amazing thing about life. You can just start again.
It’s what you do from now.
It’s never too late, until it is.
It’s one of the amazing things about sports, too, and I can’t wait for Texas Rangers baseball in 2015, when things can just start again, and give us genuine, renewed hope that we can celebrate the 19th, 18th, and 16th anniversaries of something special, if not the fifth and fourth.
On September 5, 2007, Ron Washington’s first Texas Rangers team beat the Royals, 3-2. The victory, Texas’s second straight and 9th of 11, drew the club to within 17 games of the division lead.
On September 5, 2008, an 8-1 loss to the Red Sox dropped the Rangers to 17 games back.
It would get better.
On September 5, 2009, Texas fell to the Orioles, 5-4, but, especially for a franchise that hadn’t played beyond 162 in a decade, still had hope at just 4.5 games back.
On September 5, 2010, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2011, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2012, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2013, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2014, Ron Washington — who hadn’t managed a ballgame in which the Rangers were mathematically eliminated since 2009 — announced hours before he would have done so again that he was resigning, immediately, from the job he’d grinded in uniform for 37 years to earn, the job he’d performed for eight years after that, building toward and cementing the greatest run in franchise history.
The fighter, walking away from the fight.
The man who consistently demanded and inspired effort and belief from the players who played for him, issuing a written statement that he felt he’d let the organization down, and its fans.
The baseball lifer, pulling his own plug.
We’ve heard it a hundred times, Wash talking about doing what the game asks you to do.
You make a long list of the things that Ron Washington, as genuine and transparent a man in his position as we’ve seen in local sports, is and is not. That list would include, near the top, that Wash is not a quitter. It was a hallmark of his 20-plus years as a player and his 20-plus years as a coach, and of every one of his teams. No quit.
In my November 7, 2006 article about the hiring of Wash as Rangers manager, I wrote:
Daniels called Washington authentic, a class act, one of the most contagious personalities he’d ever been around. I saw Washington interact with people for two hours yesterday, and came to the same inescapable conclusion. His character and enthusiasm are infectious.
Washington was almost apologetic in classifying himself as a “player’s manager,” a cliché label that nonetheless can’t be avoided when describing his coaching style. “We’ve all got to have each other’s backs, through thick and thin,” Washington said, and it was impossible not to believe he meant it, and lives it.
Eight years later, all Wash did was drive that point home, living it through leadership, over and over.
So what happened?
Something evidently outside the boundaries of thick and thin.
According to local reports, it has nothing to do with his contract, which ran through 2015 (“[w]e were already discussing 2015 and looking forward to getting the Rangers back to post-season contention,” Wash said in the statement he released to the press), or the club’s disappointing 2014 results.
This isn’t drug-related, we’re told.
It’s not health-related, we’re assured.
(In spite of Gary Pettis, Wash’s close friend and the only member of the coaching staff during his entire tenure, cryptically telling reporters Friday: “We just hope he has a speedy recovery, and gets back on his feet soon.”)
“As painful as it is,” Wash wrote, “stepping away from the game is what’s best for me and my family.”
In a season that has made so little sense on so many levels, that comment from the reliably resilient manager and baseball man’s baseball man — especially if health and his past drug use issues and current contract status are not involved — is just about impossible to wrap your head around.
There will be talk show guesswork as to what Wash is going through — why, in Jon Daniels’s words, the 62-year-old “needs to be doing what he’s doing” — but USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale takes the best approach:
It really doesn’t matter what the specific reason, but you know it’s got to be pretty serious for Washington to walk away. . . . Let’s not jump to assumptions. No need for rumors or speculation. Let’s sit back and permit Washington [to] tell us what happened.
He deserves that from us.
While it’s the most sensible thing Nightengale wrote, it’s not the most striking. Wash sent USA Today the following text message:
I’ll be back! Need some time!
We all have our favorite memories of Wash. Taking awesome, unapologetic liberties with the language. Wildly sending runners around third — from the dugout. Making those occasional early-game mound visits with nobody getting loose in the pen, usually targeting a young Derek Holland. Slapping his players in the face, lovingly, often targeting Derek Holland. Hitting grounders with that fungo and tirelessly throwing BP. Always teaching. The hugs. The pregame shows with Eric. The profanity-flooded clubhouse speeches that made every one of us go digging for the eye black.
Here’s Grantland writer Jonah Keri’s favorite:
Was at winter meetings talking to team exec. Wash walks by. Exec stops [our] conversation, runs over, hugs Wash, chats him up.
Maybe 20 seconds later, scout from another team does the same. A minute later, baseball ops guy from another team.
Within five minutes of first spotting Wash, there are maybe 9-10 people hugging him and crowding around to chat.
Other than Scott Boras’s winter meetings pop-ins drawing huge crowds with cameras every year, never seen anything like that. Before or since.
MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby responded to Keri’s series of tweets, particularly that final one, with his own:
[D]ifference is Wash drew a crowd from people because they wanted a handshake, not a headline.
Who walks away from that, and the 40-plus years that built up to it?
I’m concerned for Ron Washington and whatever’s going on. It just can’t be what the game asked him to do, and that’s troubling, whatever the reason is.
As for who succeeds Wash, it’s Tim Bogar for the next three weeks and maybe beyond that. He’s qualified to have been on a short list of candidates even if he hadn’t spent the last 11 months with the organization, and it stands to reason that he’ll have a real opportunity to influence his chances while running the ballclub as it plays out the string and tries to spoil other teams’ plans for October (while seeking to avoid 100 of its own losses). Bogar is quick to point out that he learned a ton from Ron Washington when he was a AAA infielder and Wash was a AAA coach, and having coached on Joe Maddon’s, Terry Francona’s, and Wash’s big league staffs, he’s learned from some of the best — and from three very different personalities — in that role as well.
Other names thrown out by various reporters as candidates to succeed Washington permanently in 2015 include pitching coach Mike Maddux and AAA manager Steve Buechele, along with external possibilities Dave Anderson, Don Wakamatsu, Omar Vizquel, Bud Black, Dave Martinez, Bill Haselman, Michael Young, Gabe Kapler, and Mark McGwire, and I’ll go ahead and irresponsibly suggest it would be worth looking into Maddon, who is under contract with Tampa Bay (through 2015) and thus would require an open mind on the Rays’ part and, even if that hurdle were cleared, a lot more talent expenditure than when Boston sent veteran infielder Mike Aviles to Toronto in October 2012 for manager John Farrell and righthander David Carpenter.
For what it’s worth, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reports that the “Rangers have not yet decided whether to begin [their managerial] search now or wait until after [the] season,” and are “[d]oing due diligence on internal [and] external candidates.” There’s nothing much to say about this part of this story for now, and since I’m still feeling the gut punch over Wash’s decision to leave, it’s not something I really care to think about yet anyway.
Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) also reports that the Rangers and Jon Daniels, according to a major league source, have begun discussions on a long-term contract extension. Aside from JD deserving the extension, from an objective standpoint it makes all kinds of sense to have the GM in place for a longer term than the manager (and any other baseball operations officials) that he’ll offer jobs to this winter.
In the last 11 months, I’ve had to write about the departures of Nolan Ryan and A.J. Preller and Don Welke, a record-setting number of injuries, at least one of which could be career-threatening — and the loss of Richard Durrett — and while sports helps us learn to lose, we’ve all had more than enough baseball loss the last year, and that was before Ron Washington’s abrupt and mysterious decision to no longer see this team through thick and thin.
I’m at a loss myself, unsure of how I feel or what to say or what I hope is happening in Wash’s life, because all I can think of right now is what I hope it isn’t. And I wonder what he’s doing right now, and how it must feel to wake up and not have a professional baseball uniform to put on for the first early September since he was 17 years old.
That is, since 1969, when the Texas Rangers didn’t even exist. Ron Washington has worn the uniform, has lived the dream, longer than the Texas Rangers franchise.
His legacy goes well beyond the back-to-back pennants and the four straight 90-win seasons. He made Rangers players better, Rangers teams more resilient and more successful, Rangers baseball more fun. He made an absolutely huge impact here, in lots of ways, many of which will still be felt.
I think back to the Gold Glove trophy that Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez gave to his beloved infield coach a decade ago, the one that was damaged in Wash’s New Orleans home three years later during Hurricane Katrina, the one that Chavez replaced soon after that in a pregame ceremony in Arlington that nearly brought Wash to tears.
Chavez had the original trophy engraved with a simple inscription: “Wash, not without you.”
That’s where we all are today, I guess. At least it feels that way.
But it can’t. This is no time to close the window and shut the blinds. A tenure is over — number 38 needs to be retired next year — but that doesn’t mean an era is. St. Louis returned to the World Series without Tony LaRussa.
Man, I miss Ron Washington. A lot. And that won’t change.
I miss Pudge Rodriguez and Michael Young and Mike Napoli and Cliff Lee, too.
And one day I’ll miss Adrian Beltre, but he’s still here and so am I and we just move forward.
Through thick and thin.
The last September 3 that found the Rangers somewhere other than first place had been 2009, a season in which Texas ran out a roster that featured graybeards Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, Eddie Guardado, and Pudge Rodriguez but also broke in rookies Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, Pedro Strop, and a 25th-round pick out of an Alabama community college in just his third pro season, lefthander Derek Holland, who came into 2009 with as much buzz as any pitching prospect the franchise had developed in years.
The Rangers had only two winning months that season, none after July, and finished 10 games behind the Angels, but we could all see things coming together, even if in September 2009 no adult realistically thought a World Series the next year was possible.
On this September 3, Texas is once again trailing Los Angeles in the division, only this time by 30.5 games, and Holland is an established 27-year-old veteran. But his start last night, at least for me, carried as much anticipation — for much different reasons, of course — than the 21 starts and 12 relief appearances he made in that 2009 season, when at 22 he was the second youngest (next to Feliz) of the 23 pitchers on the club.
Last night, Holland was the 37th Texas pitcher to take the hill in 2014.
Michael Kirkman, who relieved Holland after seven really strong innings (7-6-1-1-0-6) against a team fighting for 162+ in its park, was number 38, an all-time MLB record for pitchers used by one team in one season.
Sometime this week, Lisalverto Bonilla and Spencer Patton will make it 40 pitchers in 2014.
And 63 players, also a record number in the history of big league baseball.
I don’t know if 13 players seeing time on the 60-day disabled list (Holland, Joseph Ortiz, Geovany Soto, Engel Beltre, Jurickson Profar, Pedro Figueroa, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Alexi Ogando, Tanner Scheppers) is a record, and I don’t want to check.
But I do know the club’s 13 big league debuts in 2014 (Seth Rosin, Nick Martinez, Luis Sardinas, Daniel Robertson, Rougned Odor, Ben Rowen, Jake Smolinksi, Roman Mendez, Matt West, Phil Klein, Alex Claudio, Jon Edwards, Tomas Telis, Ryan Rua) sets a franchise mark, and all things considered, there’s a lot there to be encouraged by.
Five of the club’s top seven minor league affiliates earned playoff baseball this year (three of them — Frisco and Myrtle Beach and Spokane — will get their post-seasons underway tonight), and that’s encouraging, too.
I could sit here this morning and write a report about Rangers bench coach Tim Bogar, pitching coach Mike Maddux, and AAA manager Steve Buechele, and how they might fit into a story along with Tom Lawless, Dave Martinez, Dave Clark, Joe McEwing, Phil Nevin, and Craig Biggio, but given the choice I’d rather spit out 500 words on 17-year-old Mexico native Samuel Zazueta, a lefthander who followed his brilliant debut season in the Dominican Summer League (1.63 ERA, .203/.255/.278 opponents’ slash, 49 hits [zero home runs] and 12 walks in 66.1 innings, 91 strikeouts) with a gem in that club’s playoff-opening win against the Giants on Thursday (6-1-0-0-2-8) and then another awesome effort yesterday against the Red Sox (6-4-1-1-3-8) to put the Rangers in position to win that league’s championship series this morning.
I’d rather talk about Joey Gallo falling one 2014 home run short of (childhood friend Kris Bryant’s) minor league lead with his 42, and falling one AA home run short of leading both the Texas League and the Carolina League, the latter of which he departed way back on June 6.
That’s right. While with Myrtle Beach, Joey Gallo played two months out of the Carolina League’s five-month schedule, and no hitter in that circuit hit as many as his 21 home runs.
And in three months out of five with Frisco, his 21 homers was one short of a league title.
But for one night, last night, the big league game monopolized my baseball focus, just as Holland did back in 2009, when he battled through an inconsistent rookie season but carried a big bag of promise on a club that had never won a playoff series, yet was getting a lot closer than most people imagined. In a 2014 season almost devoid of moments that reminded us of this club’s last four years of nearly singular dominance, watching Holland deal last night provided one.
Taken by itself, the result of Kansas City 2, Texas 1 will never matter. Derek Holland flashing his 2011 form? As we all think about 2015, that matters a lot.
This is the season of 26 disabled list assignments and Player of the Month Adam Rosales, of more players than wins (for now), of Mike Carp batting third in his last act before being designated for assignment, for a team that just two and three years ago would regularly bat Mike Napoli eighth.
But it’s also the season of Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos and Daniel Robertson — and yes, Adrian Beltre — and of two dozen huge steps forward on the farm, with a spring around the corner when few organizations will have more power on Draft Day or in the international market.
There’s no telling what 2015 will bring on the big league front, but it will be better than 2014, and the last time there was no question that the next year would bring much bigger things was 2009, when the Rangers were on the doorstep of their best years ever and we knew it, when Derek Holland was breaking into the bigs and, for those who looked past the numbers and understood what he just might be, providing appointment baseball every fifth day.
He provided appointment baseball again last night, in a season short on it, and while I’m not going to sit here and suggest next year will be a World Series season, I wasn’t thinking that in 2009 either, and I know this: If Texas is going to erase the ugly memory of 2014 in 2015, Derek Holland will be a huge reason why, and last night’s game, whatever the final score was, should give us all confidence that things can change course quickly and drastically in this game, and not just in the direction things have gone this year.
There’s a lot to get to and I planned to do it this morning, but I thought this was more important.
The Do It For Durrett Benefit Concert at Billy Bob’s Texas is next Monday, September 8. You can find all kinds of details here and here — the auction lineup is seriously hard to believe. This event, which will help support Richard’s wife Kelly and their children Owen, Alice, and a third on the way, is shaping up to be an incredible showing of kindness and cool, and you can be part of that yourself.
I’d really encourage it.
Back with some baseball tomorrow.
For some reason, MLB sets the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline at 3:00 pm Central but the August 31 waiver trade deadline not until 11:00 pm Central, and for that reason there’s plenty of time today for Alex Rios to go 7 for 9 with five triples in a 16-inning game to reclaim his league lead in that category and prompt some contending team to send Jon Daniels an unexpected text that alters the 40-man roster yet another time.
But don’t hold your breath.
A year ago today, the Dodgers traded for Michael Young and the Pirates added Justin Morneau. In 2012, role players Jeff Baker and Ben Francisco were dealt. In 2011, the Rangers traded Pedro Strop for Mike Gonzalez and cash for Matt Treanor, and the year before that sent Joaquin Arias away to get Jeff Francoeur. There’s annually a move or two on this date, the deadline to put a player in your organization to make him eligible for playoff action. With the rare exception of a player who wasn’t rolled out onto the revocable waiver wire until the last few days (and claimed), the only players who can be traded today are those who cleared league-wide waivers at some point this month.
That includes Adam Dunn, who was acquired this morning by the limping Oakland A’s, in exchange for High A reliever Nolan Sanburn, ranked by Baseball America going into both 2013 and 2014 as that club’s number 11 prospect (2014: “one of the Athletics’ most exciting pitching prospects . . . fastball is electric at 93-94 mph and touches 96 with riding life, and his curveball shows impressive depth while coming in hard in the high 70s . . . upside is immense if everything comes together”).
The A’s, losers of 14 out of 23, including the last three to the Angels, who now lead them by four games in the division, gave up Sanburn — whom they drafted in the second round in 2012, more than 10 slots ahead of Alex Wood, Jake Thompson, and Nick Williams — for the possibility that Dunn can boost a flagging offense, and that makes me baseball-happy. If Sanburn pans out, it’s going to be for someone other than Oakland and well after Dunn retires.
That BA prospect list on which Sanburn ranked 11th over the winter has now seen Oakland’s top three minor leaguers (Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Michael Choice) traded, and the fourth (Raul Alcantara) a Tommy John victim this spring. The A’s keep on loading up for 2014 at the expense of the longer-term window — and at this point, especially having given up Russell, McKinney, and Yoenis Cespedes, they pretty much have to continue doing everything they can to win this year. As a Rangers fan, I support this wholeheartedly.
As for Rios, the Rangers have several choices, which we’ve gone over before. They can decline his $1 million option for 2015 this winter and still tender him a qualifying offer — only if they believe it’s likely that Rios will turn it down the one-year, $14-15 million deal on the assumption that he can get multiple years in what’s shaping up to be a thin market for hitters (the cautionary Nelson Cruz tale notwithstanding) — in which case they’d recoup an additional draft pick after the first round as well as the accompanying bonus pool money. They can instead exercise the option, making Rios a $13.5 million player for 2015 and either go into camp with him as the club’s right fielder or attempt to trade him — again, given the short supply of available bats this off-season.
Or they could trade him before 11:00 tonight, but given his thumb and ankle questions and his brutal month (.148/.169/.222 with zero home runs and one walk), the return would surely be negligible, especially in comparison to the possible ways this could go a couple months from now.
Then again, it’s just about gametime, Rios is batting third, and that first of five triples could be just a few minutes away, and could change everything. Holding my breath in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . .
None of these qualify as inexorable truth, but I 100 percent believe every one of them to be 100 percent true.
1. His slash line (.248/.282/.376) indicates less productivity than Shin-Soo Choo (.242/.340/.374) and Leonys Martin (.272/.326/.369) and fits more in line with what Mitch Moreland (.246/.297/.347) provided in 2014, but the Rangers simply cannot trade Rougned Odor. And I say that not because of what he did yesterday and not because he won’t turn 21 until the trucks leave for Surprise in February. Odor has an intangible that you can never have enough of (call it edge, call it swagger, call it fearlessness; one day it will be called leadership), and that doesn’t always accompany big talent. Texas needs Odor a whole lot. Put whatever variable you’d like on his trade value — it’s less than his value to his current organization, and maybe by a ton.
2. Every team in the big leagues has some of the world’s greatest baseball players on its roster. Sometimes it’s about arcs and timing. Take a look at the Rangers’ 2011 and 2012 rosters (even more so than 2010) and think about what some of those players did before those couple years and have done since. It will make you happy-sad.
3. Still have those 2011 and 2012 pages up? I miss that Elvis Andrus.
4. It would have been fun to see guys like Daniel Robertson and Jim Adduci and Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez and Miles Mikolas and Roman Mendez and Alex Claudio playing at Round Rock, at this stage of their careers, in 2011 or 2012. Throw Kevin Kouzmanoff in there, too.
5. It’s interesting that Texas and San Diego will both feed prospects to the Surprise Saguaros AFL roster, meaning Nick Williams and Hunter Renfroe will be teammates for five weeks a little more than a month from now, and that Trea Turner and possibly Jurickson Profar will be sharing time at shortstop, but I’d also like to predict that some greater-than-zero percentage of Neftali Feliz, Martin, Profar, and Tanner Scheppers will be Padres by this time next year.
7. I’m looking forward to Draft Day this coming June, and not just at the top. The Rangers’ second-round pick (assuming they don’t forfeit it with a free agent signing) will be around where their first-round position has been slotted the last few years.
8. I still want the Rangers to win every time I watch them play. But I want the Rockies to win every night, too.
9. This team misses Michael Young a lot.
10. This team will not miss Alex Rios.
11. This whole Yu Darvish narrative is unwelcome, and I’d encourage you to give five minutes to this article by Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan. I sure hope Darvish wants his next contract to be with the Texas Rangers.
12. Jason Parks is now in the game (as Scott Lucas points out, he’s a Cub Scout), and that’s all kinds of awesome.
13. I’m happy to hear that Choo has been dealing with both an ankle and an elbow all year. He has to be better in 2015, and now there’s a couple legitimate reasons to believe he will be.
14. Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reports that Cincinnati is “expected to trade at least one starting pitcher this off-season.” Johnny Cueto is going nowhere. Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, or Tony Cingrani? Interesting.
15. The Rangers have said lately that they would like to add a starting pitcher somewhere between the 2 and 4 slots, and that a trade is more likely than a free agent signing (like Max Scherzer).
16. David Price gave up nine straight hits in the third inning of his start last night, and has a 4.41 ERA since joining the Tigers. Drew Smyly, one of the pieces Detroit sent to Tampa Bay to get Price, has a 1.67 ERA since the trade. Smyly has allowed fewer runs in five Rays starts than Price allowed in that one inning. (OK, this one is inexorably true.)
17. Trading for pitching is risky. But the Rangers don’t shy from risk.
18. It’s going to be a fascinating winter.
19. Baseball is great.
20. And Adrian Beltre is Baseball.
So Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder and Matt Harrison and Martin Perez and Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland and Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando and Jurickson Profar and Kevin Kouzmanoff and Joseph Ortiz and Jake Smolinski and Pedro Figueroa and Engel Beltre and you and I have seen the Rangers record drop to 30 games below .500 for the first time since October 6, 1985, when Texas fell to California, 6-5, a game in which Bobby Jones, the current 64-year-old assistant hitting coach on Ron Washington’s coaching staff, started for the Rangers in right field, and by the way when Jones was a rookie with Texas 11 years before that, it was more than a year after the Rangers last picked 1/1 in the amateur draft, and also more than a year after the Rangers’ pick in that draft, Houston-area high school lefthander David Clyde, made his big league debut, giving up one hit and seven walks in a five-inning effort against the Twins, and the one hit was a home run by Minnesota left fielder Mike Adams, no not that Mike Adams, and the way Colorado — which was 20 years away from existing when Texas last had the 1/1 pick and took David Clyde — is responding to the loss of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to season-ending surgery, winning five of its last eight to move two games ahead of Texas in overall record, the name David Clyde is going to start getting mentioned more and more around here, and if it’s cool with you I’d like to change the subject and point out that Phil Klein, after ugly results his first two times on the mound for Texas, has pitched six times with a sparkling 8-2-1-1-3-9 line and as long as we’re on the subject of Rangers rookies, in spite of the number who have been pushed to Arlington this year, in many cases well ahead of schedule, the Rangers still have the best composite minor league win-loss record in baseball this year, meaningless in some respects but not so insignificant when you consider that (1) Texas consistently fields some of the youngest farm clubs in baseball and (2) director of minor league operations Mike Daly said, “Development is the most important thing . . . it supersedes everything else . . . but at the end of the day, winning is important . . . we expect to win at the major league level . . . it’s good to put players in as many of those situations as possible at the minor league level first . . . winning within the framework of the development is significant” (thanks, Evan Grant [Dallas Morning News]), and you realize that even if this weren’t a year in which finding promise on the farm was a welcome distraction, there’s a lot of winning within the framework of the development going on and that’s cool, and read this really outstanding Peter Gammons article and let me know when you’ve finished it, after which you should reconsider writing Michael Choice off, and if you’re still skeptical, that’s fair, but take note that after a .237/.326/.329 (.655 OPS) post-demotion July run with AAA Round Rock in July, he’s hit .296/.420/.606 (1.026 OPS) with 17 RBI in 20 games, and he’s still just 24 so a little patience is probably warranted, and seriously, go read that Gammons article, and this was really cool, too, and thank you guys for the honor system donations, and don’t forget to Do it For Durrett, and Happy Birthday to Luke Jackson and Omar Beltre and B.J. Waszgis (who was no Chris Gimenez: Go get ’em with Tribe, CG) and also to Jon Daniels, born four years and two months after David Clyde debuted but eight years and two months before the Rangers were last 30 games under, and when Thad Levine tells MLB Network Radio “we feel as if we should walk into 2015 with the same level of optimism we went into 2014 with . . . we are trying to make smart moves now and will continue that this off-season and get back to out-scouting people rather than out-spending people [as we] retool things,” and we recognize that Yu and Prince and Matt and Martin and Derek (please, no more setbacks) and Mitch and Tanner and Alexi and Jurickson and Kevin and Joseph and Jake and Pedro and Engel, for the most part, should be healthy or at least a lot closer to full health next year, and in terms of baseball mental health so should you and I, then JD’s 38th birthday, at least from a baseball standpoint, should be a lot more satisfying than his 37th, and on August 24, 2015 we can all hope I can pass along birthday wishes in something other than irritating one-sentence fashion.
I send one of these each year early in August, but didn’t want to do it this year until after our event to support the Richard Durrett Family Fund, so as not to take focus or dollars away from that effort. In fact, if you read the rest of this, I would encourage you to continue to support the Durrett family at www.doitfordurrett.com and attend the September 8 benefit concert and auction . . . and then, and only then, consider what follows if you see fit.
As you know, the content on the Newberg Report website and newsletter is free of charge and always has been. It’s never been a subscription-based product and I don’t want it to be, because that might mean some of you would drop out of the audience, which I don’t want.
Once a year, in August, we announce an “honor system” program, for you to respond to, or not respond to, as you wish. I’ll share your contributions with folks who put significant time and talent and energy into the Newberg Report – including Scott Lucas, Eleanor Czajka, Norma & George & Ryan Wolfson, Don Titus, Ed Coffin, Devin Pike, and Marty Yawnick – to help improve the product, some of whom do so every day. Without their efforts, the newsletter and website and book and our events wouldn’t be what they are today, and probably wouldn’t even exist.
What we ask for is modest, I think: a contribution of $15 to $25, or whatever you feel is appropriate, if you think it’s worthwhile. Don’t feel compelled to participate. Take part in this only if you want to.
Or you can send a check or money order to:
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With your positive response to this “honor system” program, we’ve never had to seriously think about heading down a subscription-based path. That said, I want to reiterate that I never hold it against anyone who chooses not to participate. This is totally voluntary. And again, please support the Richard Durrett Family Fund before you’d even consider supporting what we do.
Thanks to each and every one of you for your continued support of the Newberg Report.
There is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money.
— Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
I was away for a week when I heard the news that the San Diego Padres wanted A.J. Preller to lead their organization, and that Preller wanted to do it. It’s an outcome I always thought of as possibly unlikely — not because I doubted Preller could do the job, but instead because I questioned whether the 37-year-old would ever choose budgets and sponsor meets and media over the floppy hat and court shoes and Judesca Profar’s living room for the dozenth time, and a dozen more, if that’s what it takes.
It would be safe to assume that those three components Gladwell wrote of, the three things that he insisted in Outliers are what work must offer in order to truly satisfy, would lead a scout to chase one of those 30 GM desks, to cheerfully trade in the chain-link fences and the necessarily delayed shot at gratification and the solitude of the scouting wilderness to find that ultimate baseball satisfaction (not to mention the cash gravy). Still, I wasn’t sure — from purely a fulfillment standpoint — Preller, a scout’s scout who prefers doing his work behind the scenes, would see it that way.
I’ve mentioned a time or two that I’m not not very good at doing nothing — though Preller is exponentially worse at it — and part of my week away included a couple full-day drives. On one of those, to help fight through the monotony of the road, we listened to Outliers in the car.
In it Gladwell talked about the “right place, right time” opportunities that, in conjunction with their gifts, gave us Bill Gates and the Beatles and others, and I thought about the circumstances that led Preller, second in his class at Cornell, to this moment.
There was the friendship he developed with Jon Daniels at the Ithaca university.
The dogged determination to get into baseball that led to the internship he scored with the Phillies as a college junior (and by “scored” I mean “created for himself”).
The chance to work with and learn from and be pushed by Frank Robinson and Don Welke and John Hart — and Daniels.
The circumstances that led Tom Hicks to turn the Rangers’ reigns over to Daniels and to hire Preller from the Dodgers.
The state of talent-mining in Latin America that Preller capitalized on (Hicks: “JD had hired Preller the year before, and had the Dominican buzzing”), and the Rule 4 and Rule 5 drafts and the Darvish chase and a hundred other bullet points that led the Padres, focusing their search primarily on “who was going to be able to bring impact talent to the organization,” to target Preller as a GM candidate, and then a finalist, and then the right man.
At the right place and at the right time.
Just like a winning coaching staff in the NFL, you don’t keep a successful MLB front office — especially a relatively young one — together forever. Texas hasn’t won a title — and I suspect the idea of unfinished business to see through was something that factored in for Preller and that he had to overcome internally before saying yes to San Diego — but one strike short doesn’t make your baseball operations group any less smart or any less hard-working or any less productive. This was going to happen, eventually, and it’s fairly surprising that it didn’t sooner.
But since the Rangers’ consecutive World Series appearances, after which you’d have expected other teams to come after their front office talent offering opportunities at promotion, here’s the complete list of teams who, in the four ensuing years, have replaced their General Managers:
Winter of 2011-12: Padres, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Orioles, Twins, Astros
Winter of 2012-13: White Sox
Winter of 2013-14: Nobody
Summer of 2014: Padres
Of the eight GM changes in the four years preceding Preller’s hire, four involved internal promotions, leaving only four clubs who went outside for someone to take over the reins: The Cubs (reeling in the high-profile Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer tandem from Boston), the Angels (bringing Jerry Dipoto over from Arizona), the Orioles (recycling Dan Duquette), and the Astros, who reportedly targeted Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine before hiring St. Louis executive Jeff Luhnow.
Of those, only Luhnow had not been a GM before.
The Rangers hadn’t been raided since their back-to-pack pennants, but by all accounts they almost were (when Jim Crane, a year after trying to buy the Rangers, was said to have chased Levine — and possibly Preller), and aside from Houston’s search every other instance of GM turnover involved a promotion from within or the hiring of a former GM.
There just haven’t been a whole lot of situations in which Rangers officials were basically passed over.
As for the vacancy that Preller’s departure leaves in Arlington, will the Rangers promote from within? He was one of two Assistant GM’s advising Daniels, along with Levine, but setting titles aside, it’s Preller’s leadership on the scouting and player development side that will need to be addressed. Does Pro Scouting Director Josh Boyd get an expanded role, overseeing not only that effort but also the amateur and international scouting departments? Does Senior Director of Minor League Operations Mike Daly, whose niche has long been in Latin America, see his responsibility grow? What about Minor League Field Coordinator Jayce Tingler, a rising player development star in his own right?
There are others. Daniels told reporters last week: “We’ve got some really talented and capable people who in my opinion have been ready for that next step. They’re going to spread their wings a little bit. I view it as an opportunity for them and all of us, including myself, to grow.” Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) suggests San Diego actually did the Rangers a favor, forcing the organization to introduce an “outside voice” into its innermost “circle of trust” — even if that voice belongs to someone already in its employ.
As for the risk of losing some of those folks to the Padres, there appears to be clearly defined restrictions in that regard, though the exact nature of those limitations hasn’t been reported. What we know:
- Anthony Andro (Fox Sports Southwest) refers to “strong restrictions” on who Preller can take with him, given the level of the position Preller held here.
- Gerry Fraley (Dallas Morning News) suggests the restrictions that Texas set in June when granting the Padres permission to interview Preller might be similar to those the Rangers put in place when the Angels hired Senior Director of Player Development Scott Servais away in 2011.
- When Servais left Texas for Los Angeles, there was a period of at least one year during which he was prohibited from hiring someone who had been employed by the Rangers. But the Rangers allowed him to bring player development assistant Mike LaCassa with him at the time he was hired, and there could be similar concessions with Preller. Daniels told Marty Caswell (The Mighty 1090 Sports Radio/San Diego) that, in spite of the hiring freeze imposed on Preller and the Padres, “we’ve discussed the possibility of an exception here or there.”
- It’s possible the embargo in this case could last more than a year. Tom Krasovic (San Diego Union-Tribune) suggests that “[o]ften when [a] GM [is] hired from another club, two years must pass before he can hire from [his] ex-team [and] I hear that’s [the time]frame on Preller.” Dennis Lin (San Diego Union-Tribune) agrees that “[t]here’s supposedly a two-year moratorium on any Texas defections to San Diego” though there “[c]ould be an exception or two” — and that “Preller would probably love to bring [Senior Special Assistant to the GM Don] Welke over.” That’s surely at the crux of whatever discussions Daniels and Preller have had about waiving the restrictions in a special case or two. Welke mentored Preller with the Dodgers and came to Texas with him after the 2004 season. But you can bet the Rangers are reluctant to let Welke go.
- Lin adds that while “Preller may not be allowed to raid [the] Rangers’ staff, [one] source says some targets could conceivably allow [their] contracts to expire, then go to [the] Pads.” I’m pretty sure that’s not permitted under this type of arrangement. While most scouting and player development officials operate on one-year deals, I heard somewhere that a hiring freeze like this one would prohibit San Diego from hiring a Texas official during whatever the restriction period is, even if that official’s contract expires before being renewed by the Rangers for the following season — assuming they want to keep him.
- Lin has “heard Boyd’s name mentioned as a potential assistant GM” in San Diego but adds that he’s another official “the Rangers really want to keep.”
Here’s a thought that concerns me: Yu Darvish’s contract is probably going to expire after the 2016 season. Even under a liberal reading of the above, it appears that any hiring restrictions the Padres might have with regard to Rangers executives would expire no later than that time. Preller was at the forefront of the effort to scout and recruit and land Darvish, and so was Boyd, who taught himself Japanese.
Boyd and Preller’s relationship predates their time with the Rangers.
Boyd, who grew up in Southern California, spent four years scouting for the Padres.
You can expect Preller, who told Padres President & CEO Mike Dee during the interview process that “[a]s long as you have the quality of pitching that we have, you have a chance to win every night,” to push ownership to go as hard after Darvish two and a half years from now as he did here two and a half years ago. Having Boyd on board makes sense for several Padres-centric reasons, not the least of which might be a second recruitment of the ace righthander.
I hope Boyd stays. And I would really like Darvish to want to extend his deal here before we ever get to 2016.
(Beltre, who is close to Preller in age and was in the Dodgers organization at the same time, is free after the 2016 season, too. And now I need to change the subject.)
Another Rangers official who could be a fit with the Padres, if permitted to go, is Special Assistant Scott Littlefield, a huge scouting presence in the Texas front office who, according to Jeff Wilson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), lives in the San Diego area. Notably, Littlefield spent five years as a scout with the Padres previously (2005-09), including one as their national crosschecker.
Know who else had stints with the Padres, as players? Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. And the two pitching instructors who could theoretically be viewed as Maddux’s heirs apparent, Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and AAA pitching coach Brad Holman. And Special Assistant to the GM Greg Maddux.
Jim Callis (MLB.com) considers it a “[r]easonable assumption” that “some of Texas’s connections with Latin American free agents and buscones will be following Preller to San Diego,” but again, that could be a couple years from happening.
And considering Preller’s expertise internationally, no matter what you think of the powerful front office infrastructure he leaves behind — and it is strong, without question — with the new CBA restrictions on doing business in Latin America, international relationships are more important than ever, as is the ability to develop advantages under the modified, restrictive rules. While Preller’s departure doesn’t strip Texas of its identity and mentality on the international front, he’s now an added competitor, and will be a formidable one, and eventually may lead others to follow him.
You may not recognize names like Kim and Saab and Halabi and Aquino and Colborn and Furukawa, but pay attention if they pop up in trail notes separated by ellipses detailing Texas defections to San Diego. It’s their work the last few years that have made the Rangers, some might say, outliers on the international landscape. In a positive sense.
Some have painted Preller as an outlier of another type. Stories surfaced toward the end of the Padres’ interview process and certainly after the Preller hire that he and the Rangers had been punished years ago for some unidentified incident involving scouting on the international side. According to Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports), the alleged violation “stemmed from negotiating with a player who had been suspended for an age/ID discrepancy,” though Dee said the Commissioner’s Office gave Preller a “clean bill of health” and others said Preller was “penalized for a relatively minor infraction and question the validity of the process that led to his suspension, noting that baseball no longer employs the investigators who built the case against him.” That part is interesting.
Daniels commented a week ago on the allegations Preller has had to address: “I’m defensive because I care about him and because I know the truth. He works his butt off. That’s why he’s been productive, not because of any underhanded stuff.
“Are we aggressive? Is he aggressive? Absolutely. But we’re far from the only ones. He was one of the first young American guys to go down there and change the way business is done a little bit. That has ruffled some feathers.”
Questioned about the incident in his introductory San Diego presser, Preller said that “ultimately, MLB felt there were no violations” and that the investigation may have been triggered by a case of another franchise’s “sour grapes on missing out on signing an international player.” Baseball America speculates that the player in question could be Dominican righthander Rafael DePaula, who was suspended in 2009 for presenting false age data before signing late in 2010 with the Yankees for $500,000.
Ironically, New York traded DePaula (and former Ranger farmhand) Yangervis Solarte to the Padres for Chase Headley three weeks ago, while Preller was still interviewing with San Diego.
As for how Preller will be as a trading GM, that’s a question that can only be answered with time and with track record. He does draw on experience, even if he wasn’t the one calling the ultimate shots in Texas. Asked by Lin what he picked up professionally from his longtime friend Daniels, Preller said: “I learned a lot of things from JD, but two things really stand out. The first was that he was really good at seeing what our competitive window was. When we first went in there, we probably misevaluated that and helped out the Padres a lot with the Adrian Gonzalez-Chris Young trade (the Rangers received Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka). JD and I probably thought we were a lot closer than we really were to winning at that time. Pretty quickly, we realized we made a misevaluation. The second thing about JD is he’s a tremendous decision-maker. You have to be willing to make the tough move, the tough trade, and be right more than your competitors. He’s shown he can do that.”
And now Preller will be expected to show the same thing.
When asked on MLB Network Radio if he plans to help get Preller’s trade history started, Daniels said that there are players in every organization that baseball operations officials disagree on, and he joked with Preller that he fully expects him to come after some of those that he always liked more than Daniels does himself.
I can hear the conversation now.
“You love him. Give us a lot.”
“You don’t love him. Take less.”
Answering the question seriously, Daniels referred to the six-player trade Texas made with Oakland (Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro for Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Hart, and Mario Ramos) two months after Grady Fuson arrived from the A’s as the Rangers’ new Assistant GM, and to the deal that Padres GM Jed Hoyer made with his former Boston colleagues a year after taking the San Diego job, sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, and Eric Patterson. (Hoyer then became the Cubs’ GM a year after that, and about two months later he acquired Rizzo from the Padres.) It just makes sense that Preller, as familiar with the Rangers system as he is — and as instrumental as he was in scouting and acquiring so many of the organization’s big league and minor league players — would find a comfort level in talking trade with Daniels, knowing what the Rangers’ needs are and in fact what Padres players the Rangers like.
I’m not sure what the Padres’ 40-man roster conundrum looks like this winter, and though San Diego has a strong farm system, if there’s room to add a couple prospects to the big league roster this winter, the conversation between Preller and Daniels could be relatively open. Preller knows who the Rangers’ roster bubble guys are — he’d been at the center of deliberations on that very issue — and there might be an opportunity where he can help Texas relieve a bit of its impending 40-man jam. Unless the talks were to involve someone like Andrew Cashner (highly unlikely), roster addition candidates like Jorge Alfaro and Luke Jackson aren’t going to be discussed, but then you get to names like Ryan Rua, Jerad Eickhoff, Spencer Patton, Phil Klein, Will Lamb, Jon Edwards, Martire Garcia, Alex Claudio, Hanser Alberto, Odubel Herrera, Tomas Telis, Kellin Deglan, and Drew Robinson. You’re not going to be able to package three of those guys to get Tyson Ross, but if Preller finds an opportunity to offer Texas a player it covets — he should know what that list looks like, too — and can grab a couple of those names in the process, it would be less than a shocking development.
The Padres are excited about what Preller will work to accomplish with their organization, and they should be. Peter Seidler, one of the franchise’s lead investors, said after hiring Preller: “What resonated with me was his passion for baseball, his creativity and his work ethic. All those three things were off the charts. I love a creative approach to a problem or to an objective. I think the creative way he articulated that, how he was going to build this, the winning formula he had in mind, impressed all of us.”
Right there, wrapped up in one comment, are those three Gladwell components to creative work that can inspire greatness: Complexity. Autonomy. And the relationship between effort and reward. Seidler and the Padres have set the table for Preller to feast.
“I really want our staff to think about being cutting edge,” Preller said when introduced as the Padres’ new GM. “I look forward to being that type of group, being next-wave, being ahead of the curve. . . . Usually when you get an idea or thought that works, within a year 10 other teams are copying that or doing the same thing. That’s why you constantly have to hit on ideas that give you a competitive advantage and, when the competition catches up, hopefully hit on the next idea to take us where we need to get to.”
Preller acknowledged that he’d heard others characterize him “as this maverick out in the middle of nowhere, doing my job. [But] the biggest thing is, can you connect people? That’s what we did with the Rangers and that’s what I want to do with the Padres.”
“I want Padres fans to understand that it’s not going to be smooth sailing from Day One,” Preller said. “But I can promise you we’re going to have the hungriest, hard-working group of employees in the game. I feel pretty confident that once we get going in that direction, we’re going to be doing some pretty special things here.”
Effort, and reward.
Daniels talked in his MLB Network Radio spot about Preller’s work ethic and his preparation and his knack for “always looking two steps ahead as far as how to beat the competition, looking for where the value is, looking where other people aren’t looking,” and that’s not an indictment of anyone else still here. The sky is not falling, and nobody’s saying it is. But the Rangers have lost an important voice, and having one fewer of those than you had before is a loss. A.J. Preller is always thinking about ways to beat the competition, which is sometimes deciding that a Class A outfielder in the Oakland system (and banned from entry into the U.S.) is a pitcher, or agreeing that a shortstop from Curacao isn’t one, and now the Rangers are part of the competition.
In the e-book on the Rangers’ front office group I wrote two and a half years ago, Daniels talked about Preller’s potential to take on the role he now has: “Veteran baseball men, some of whom may have been biased against guys with A.J.’s profile (Moneyball didn’t help in that regard), would regularly say he’s one of the best baseball minds they’ve been around. That’s huge praise from a veteran guy to a young guy with no on-field experience. I’m convinced he could be a top GM in the game now, and if he put the same time into it, a top GM in the NFL.
“That may sound crazy, but he’s got a handle on the big picture that not many do.”
He could be an NFL GM, in at least Daniels’s estimation.
He’s the best basketball player you’ve ever seen on the back fields.
He taught himself absolutely fluent Spanish in the space of two months, an enormous edge in some of the most fertile talent territories in the world, almost none of which are subject to the draft and thus stage scouting and player procurement efforts built largely on grinding work ethic and nurtured relationships.
He can do just about anything you’d want a baseball operations official to do.
He would be a huge asset at your business, too.
Preller called Pat Gillick, John Schuerholz, Terry Ryan, and Hart the best General Managers of the last two decades and noted that they had one important thing in common — “the ability to connect the organization from top to bottom.” While Preller is justifiably praised for his ability to evaluate player talent (one industry source told Corey Brock (MLB.com): “I cannot think of another GM in baseball who can out-scout him,” though that’s sort of like moving Adrian Beltre across the diamond and calling him the game’s best-throwing first baseman, isn’t it?), Daniels told local reporters that “what that misses is just how gifted he is at . . . building a staff, hiring people, creating a philosophy and getting everyone to buy in and feel good about it.”
During the interview process, Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler was blown away by the priority Preller placed on doing just that in San Diego. “You have to have consistency throughout the organization in terms of how you’re going to do things,” Fowler acknowledged. “I’ve never been with an individual who understood personnel at all levels of baseball to the extent that A.J. Preller does. It was an unbelievable education in terms of who does what to whom, and how it gets done.”
Fowler and Seidler and Dee committed an eye-opening five years to Preller to get it done, after which they heard him say, publicly: “I learned a lot in Texas, and having people on the same page top to bottom is the most important lesson I bring with me. . . . One of the things I want our staff to understand is you don’t have Jed Hoyer guys or Josh Byrnes guys. You have Padres guys.”
Though presumably having been around Preller no more than a few times, Brock captured the 37-year-old perfectly. “In the end,” Brock wrote (missing an opportunity to go with “at the end of the day,” a crutch phrase that Preller will throw down on you about every other sentence), “Preller stood out among the candidates as a result of his words, background and what he has planned for the organization. There was a quiet passion with Preller, a sense of intensity, like he was ready to get started right there and then.”
That will be missed. Just because your organization might have that sort of passion and intensity and drive in abundance doesn’t mean you ever want to lose any of it, especially when the loss comes in the form of someone who had helped set the overall tone.
In Daniels and Levine, Daly and Boyd, Welke and Kip Fagg, Tingler and Littlefield and Kim and Greg Smith and Matt Vinnola and dozens of others, there’s still plenty of baseball operations firepower in Texas, even with Preller’s departure. Just as there’s an emphasis on keeping the pipeline flowing at the minor league prospect level, there’s a constant effort in Texas to develop evaluators and decision-makers. The Rangers will be fine without Preller, in part because of the work he did training and mentoring others the way Welke once mentored him. But this is a big loss — and that’s without knowing who else might join Preller, either now with the Rangers’ permission or after the moratorium is lifted in a couple years.
Another suggestion Gladwell made in Outliers is that “people at the very top [of their fields] don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” You probably wouldn’t believe the ratio of days on the road to days in his own Dallas home that Preller has spent the last 10 years. That proportion is going to settle down some with the new job title in San Diego, but he’ll still probably push 20-hour days (especially once he finds the right place to run ball before the sun comes up) and will surely put himself out in the field, scouting baseball players, as much as any GM ever has.
On the night last week that the Padres hired Preller, the Rangers got a complete-game shutout from Colby Lewis in a game in which every starter hit safely and drove in a run and scored a run. In a season that’s had too few of them, Texas 16, Chicago 0 was a complete game in every sense. The farm system won six of seven games that night, with AAA Round Rock suffering the only loss, though the former 17th-rounder Rua doubled twice and homered in that extra-inning defeat. Nomar Mazara doubled and tripled in his debut for AA Frisco that night, and Alfaro drew two walks in his, while Chi Chi Gonzalez lowered his ERA to 2.32 with a 6-4-1-1-2-6 effort that saw Lamb and Kela continue their own marches to a bigger stage. High A Myrtle Beach won, 2-0; Low A Hickory got sturdy pitching work out of righty Akeem Bostick and lefty Felix Carvallo; and the Arizona League club shut the A’s out, 3-0, in what would be third-rounder Josh Morgan’s final game at that level. Both Dominican Summer League teams won big, because that’s what DSL Ranger clubs do. The one affiliate that didn’t play on that Tuesday night was Short-Season A Spokane, as the Northwest League played its All-Star Game — with Rangers sixth-rounder Jose Trevino bagging MVP honors.
It was a night that, top to bottom, looked like what most of us think 2014 should have looked like, with players bearing Preller’s fingerprints coming up big at every level, including the one at the top, just as it was announced that he would be moving on.
It’s still hard for me to get my head wrapped around the idea that Preller now dreams on Austin Hedges rather than Alfaro, thinks long-term with Max Fried and Joe Ross instead of Jackson and Gonzalez, hopes Hunter Renfroe can develop into half the power threat that Joey Gallo projects to be, ponders Casey Kelly’s return from Tommy John surgery rather than Martin Perez’s, has Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland in his plans after all, and stares at what stands to be something in the neighborhood of the 10th pick in next June’s draft and the associated bonus pool, when a week and a half ago the question was whether his Rangers might end up at 1/1 in the draft for the first time since David Clyde’s name was called in 1973.
I’ll get used to that before long, but you’ll understand if I prefer to envision Yu Darvish and Don Welke and Josh Boyd and Scott Littlefield and Jayce Tingler staying right where they are — the organization if not the role — and for more than just the next two years.
I’m going to miss having A.J. Preller in Texas. I’m going to miss the edge he brought, the tenacity, the tireless will to beat the other guys. Again, that’s not to say any of those things will be missing now from the Fourth Floor. But Preller’s was an essential voice here for a long time — for the entirety of what has been the greatest run in franchise history — and now it belongs to another franchise that the Rangers will have to compete with, for players if not eventually for more than that.
Maybe Preller isn’t the outlier after all. Maybe he’s not the outlier so much as a front office that featured a couple Cornell roommates and a former college baseball player with an MBA at the top of a deep baseball operations roster, one that, but for a final strike not thrown and a final out not recorded, would be recognized today and forever as a Championship group, and yet managed to stay intact as long as it did.
If a series of “right place, right time” developments was necessary for Preller’s genius to manifest itself in baseball the way it did, maybe that story is still playing out, both for the Padres and their new GM, and for the Rangers and whoever is brought forward to carry more weight in Preller’s absence, as his 10-year chapter in Texas concludes. Maybe the relationship between effort and reward, worth more in sports than any amount of money, will be one we’ll write about another 10 years from now, with the legacy Preller leaves behind — not just in terms of pitchers and catchers and shortstops but also in the scouting and player development folks he helped groom for roles they’re ready to grow into — eventually bringing the Rangers that elusive title that drives baseball men to do what they do, and drives the rest of us to care at the most intense levels, looking not toward any supposedly falling sky but instead toward an imminent opportunity, because this is sports, to invite the newest competitor to go ahead and bring it.