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Five keys.

A couple months ago, I’d never heard of Parker Millsap, had never been to a country music show and had never wanted to be.  Things change.

Four days ago, Nelson Cruz was rumored to be on the verge — no, really, for real this time! — of signing a multi-year deal with Seattle.  Then came news of righthander Hisashi Iwakuma’s finger injury, which threatens to keep him off the Opening Day roster, and suddenly, with Seattle considering spending significantly on another starting pitcher, Cruz is once again not a sure Mariners thing.

Three days ago, I hadn’t thought in years about Jim Fregosi, a baseball lifer who was once traded by the Angels for four young Mets players that included a 24-year-old Nolan Ryan (the only time Ryan was ever traded) and who six years later was traded by Texas to Pittsburgh for corner man Ed Kirkpatrick (a player that was involved, two months after that, in the strangest-ever Rangers trade that nobody knows about), but who in between was part of a Rangers delegation of four or five players (I’m going to say Roy Smalley and Bill Fahey and Bill Singer were in the mix, too) who came out to Northaven Park one Saturday morning in the spring of 1976 to widen the eyes of a few hundred Dallas Chamber Baseball players, among which was at least one seven-year-old dreaming of a life in the game that ended up quite a bit different, though with baseball still a big part.

Two days ago, I’d never heard of T.J. Oshie.

Things change.

A day ago, the last time we’d seen the Texas Rangers in uniform — aside from a couple notable pressers in November and December — was in an ineluctably quiet ninth inning in which Adrian Beltre skied out to left, A.J. Pierzynski rolled out to second, and Cruz bounced out to short.

Today, Beltre is in presumably packing for Arizona.

Pierzynski is in Florida.

Cruz is in limbo.

Soon Beltre will join the three dozen or so 1’s and 2’s who officially reported to Surprise Recreation Campus today and started getting their work in.  This morning, it was a case of last-in/first-out, as the newest Ranger, righthander Tommy Hanson, was the first pitcher sent out to throw a bullpen.

If the organization feels by the end of March that the 27-year-old doesn’t have his fastball or his command back, the investment could cost reportedly as little as $125,000.  If, however, Hanson regains his form to the point at which he earns a rotation spot and then hits all his incentives, the one-year deal could pay as much as $3.6 million.

And due to service time, Texas would have discretionary control over Hanson in 2015 as well.

There’s a sizable range of outcomes with respect to Hanson, but given what will be needed from the fifth spot (we hope), it’s not as if the 2014 season hinges on how this educated roll of the dice turns out.  Jayson Stark (ESPN) polled 23 league executives on an assortment of things going into spring training, and among the results was the collective opinion that, next to the Yankees, the Rangers are the most improved team in the American League.

That’s not because of Tommy Hanson.

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, and Texas was extremely active this winter to make sure the needle would be pointed again in the proper direction.  But winter work and off-season surveys only mean so much.  So, for that matter, does spring training.  Preparation is key, but the next six weeks are mostly about health and getting your head right with ball.

Last year I rolled out a “Five Keys” report as camp opened, so I figured I might keep that going and do the same today.  There’s not going to be anything particularly provocative on this list.  We all know what’s going to be important for this team to do from the end of March through the end of September to make sure the season doesn’t end there.

This list won’t include Beltre or Yu Darvish being great, or Prince Fielder being better.  Those are givens, things that Texas is obviously relying on and expecting.  What I’m looking at the more pivotal issues that could key this club to a lengthier season than the past two.

So here we go, my second annual Pitchers & Catchers (and 20-day cleanse)-commemorating “Five Keys”:

fivekeys

5.  Tactics.

The Rangers have to be better tactically.  Ron Washington has to be better tactically.

I’m a Wash guy.  But Wash can be better.

Whether Tim Bogar will help make Wash better is something we won’t know until things start to play out, but especially in a season in which coaching strategy takes on an added layer with the introduction of instant replay and challenges from the dugout, the role of bench coach is now even more important.

I’ll go ahead and add baserunning here, because the bulk of the problems this club had on the bases in 2013 involved bad decisions — but those appear to fall on the shoulders of the runners themselves.  Wash preaches aggressiveness on the basepaths, something that’s been a signature of this team when it’s playing its best baseball, but, right or wrong, he entrusts the decision-making in large part to his players.

The absence of Craig Gentry takes away one of the Rangers’ most effective base runners (not just their fastest), but Leonys Martin can be better, Elvis Andrus can be better, Jurickson Profar isn’t going to steal a lot of bases but he can be more aggressive in taking the extra base, and so on.

With the margin of error in the standings being so slim the last two years, it feels like an uptick on the tactical side of things, even a slight one, is something that has to be a focus.  Getting just a little bit better in that area could be huge.

4.  My favorite Martin’s.

Both Leonys and Perez showed flashes last season.  The outfielder’s came in May and June.  The lefthander’s came in August and September.

Obviously Perez’s finish prompts a lot of folks to assume he’s ready to grab a number two or number three responsibility on this staff, while Leonys’s disappointing second half at the plate (.238/.289/.348) blunted the excitement of that early run of baseball that suggested he’d arrived.

But there’s no reason Leonys, who will be 26 when the season begins, can’t take that next step in terms of consistency.

There’s also no guarantee that Perez, who will first take the ball in April right around his 23rd birthday, will be able to avoid a sophomore slump.

If those two are able to build on the really good parts of 2013, the Rangers are in business.

3.  Nef.

Joe Nathan is gone.

Neftali Feliz’s fastball is back.

We know the first thing is true.  By all reports coming out of the Dominican Winter League, the second is as well.

Wondering if a guy like Tanner Scheppers is ready for the ninth inning is one thing.  In Feliz’s case, we know he can own that role.  There are physical questions he’ll have to answer stateside, starting now, and mental questions he’ll have to quash, something that will have to wait until April, and probably beyond that.

And having Bengie Molina back around — well, that can’t be a bad thing.

If Feliz can reclaim the closer’s role, allowing Scheppers and Joakim Soria to contribute in theirs and Neal Cotts to once again do Neal Cotts things, this bullpen has a chance to be exceptional.

If Feliz can’t nail the job down, then we just might have an issue.

2.  The first inning.

How hard do you have to strain to imagine a lineup featuring Shin-Soo Choo at the top, Andrus hitting second, Fielder hitting third, and Beltre cleaning up as the front four of an American League All-Star lineup?  Unlikely, of course (not that Scott Boras would agree), but none of them would constitute a ridiculous longshot on his own.

The Rangers have a chance to put real pressure on teams by coming out on the attack in the first inning, seeing lots of pitches and doing damage with the ones that damage can be done with.

Profar and Martin — who hopefully draw from the at-bat-grinding approach that Choo and Fielder bring to this team — will have three or four or more chances each night to set things up for that Choo-Andrus-Fielder-Beltre machine.

We all remember that very long stretch of baseball last summer during which Texas could get absolutely nothing done in the first inning.

That needs to change, and there’s very good reason to believe the Rangers can be a good bit better at 1 and at 2 and at 3 in the lineup in 2014 than they were in 2013, not to mention at 8 and at 9.

1.  Matty.

It hurts my head (unless it’s the cleanse supplements I started today) to think about where Texas would have ended up, rather than charged with a play-in Game 163, if Matt Harrison pitched in 2013.  Coming off 14-9, 3.39 in 2011 and 18-11, 3.29 in 2012, he gave Texas two starts last year, both losses, before shutting down for the year with a lower back injury a week into the season.

Baseball-Reference.com provides an “ERA+” statistic for pitchers, which normalizes ERA by using a score of 100 to represent the league-average ERA and adjusting for ballpark.  In the last four years (the two World Series seasons and since), these are the top 15 ERA+ seasons for a Rangers starting pitcher:

150  C.J. Wilson (2011)
145  Yu Darvish (2013)
134  C.J. Wilson (2010)
133  Matt Harrison (2012)
133  Alexi Ogando (2013)
130  Matt Harrison (2011)
128  Colby Lewis (2012)
126  Alexi Ogando (2011)
121  Colby Lewis (2010)
120  Derek Holland (2013)
120  Tommy Hunter (2010)
114  Martin Perez (2013)
113  Cliff Lee (2010)
112  Yu Darvish (2012)
112  Derek Holland (2011)

If Harrison made his customary 30+ starts in 2013, rather than only two, meaning some significant portion of the starts made by Nick Tepesch (17), Justin Grimm (17), Matt Garza (13), Josh Lindblom (5), Ross Wolf (3), and Travis Blackley (3) would have instead gone to the club’s Opening Day starter . . . .

I can’t even finish the sentence.

Of all the things to change for 2014, that’s number one.  Harrison and Darvish threw bullpens this morning after Hanson did, and the most important story there is that Harrison threw his pitches and came out of it just fine.

His return is massive, and I would suggest a bigger “addition” to this pitching staff than Masahiro Tanaka would have been.

Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) thinks Jon Daniels had the second-best winter of any big-market GM (next to New York’s Brian Cashman), ranks the trade of Ian Kinsler for Fielder and $30 million as the second-best trade of the off-season (next to Oakland trading Jemile Weeks for closer Jim Johnson), and considers the Rangers’ trade of Gentry in a deal for Michael Choice the third-boldest move of the winter (next to Seattle’s Robinson Cano contract and Detroit trading Fielder for Kinsler).

In Stark’s column, the one in which executives all over the league had Texas as the second-most improved team in the AL, the Fielder-Kinsler trade wasn’t judged to be the best overall — but Stark notes that four execs voted for Texas in that category, three voted for both teams in a “win-win” sense, and zero thought Detroit made the best deal.

The Texas-Detroit deal, as big as it was from a headline standpoint, probably falls somewhere between the Rangers’ trade of Alex Rodriguez (either time) in the off-season after 2003 and the one that Joel Sherman (New York Post) reports today that the Rangers and Mets apparently discussed just before camp in 2004, when they “engaged in escalating talks built around [Alfonso] Soriano for Jose Reyes,” who was just coming off his rookie season at the time that the Rangers picked Soriano up in the A-Rod deal with the Yankees.  Sherman writes that Rangers owner Tom Hicks “scuttled those [talks], telling his baseball executives he never would be able to explain to the fans trading A-Rod and Soriano.”

(For what it’s worth, I looked back at my reports from that month, and there were stories in the media then that both the Rangers and Mets denied that any such trade talks took place.)

Sherman puts a bow on his story (at least from a Rangers standpoint) by noting “how close the Rangers came to having a double-play duo of Reyes and Cano.”

And if that doesn’t get you going, watch tonight’s 30 for 30 documentary on ESPN, titled “The Deal,” which walks us through the timetable of the A-Rod trade, first to Boston, which was killed by the league, and then to the Yankees.  You’ll hear from Cashman and John Hart and Theo Epstein, who tells us that if he’d succeeded in working a financial deal out with A-Rod that the league accepted — after trading Manny Ramirez and Jon Lester to Texas to get him — he was going to turn around and trade Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez and Brandon McCarthy.

So, yeah, Texas could have had Soriano and Cano (instead of Soriano and Joaquin Arias, as we all know), and allegedly could have flipped Soriano for Reyes . . . or the Rangers could have had Ramirez and Lester in the first place, before Aaron Boone got hurt playing basketball, which led to the Texas-New York talks, and if McCarthy had gone to Boston then John Danks would never have been traded with Nick Masset and a kid for McCarthy and a kid . . . and think about what all changes for the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Rangers if that’s how things went down 10 years ago.

But I’ll leave that anger/schadenfreude cocktail to you guys, and focus instead tonight on what’s supposed to be a game-changer of an episode of HBO’s “True Detective” (which I can hardly get my head wrapped around, considering what a game-changer last week’s was).

A few days ago, I don’t think I’d ever heard all that detail on Soriano and Reyes and Ordonez and McCarthy.  A few weeks ago, I guarantee you I didn’t hold Matt McConaughey, whom I knew 25 years ago in a much different setting, in the regard I hold him now.

Things change.

T.J. Oshie has elevated things exponentially for himself in the last couple days, too, and I’m not betting against Parker Millsap doing that in the next couple years.  A little elevation in 2014 in the way the Rangers approach things tactically, in the way Leonys Martin and Martin Perez go about taking that next step, in Neftali Feliz’s game and in the Texas attack at the top of the lineup and in Matt Harrison’s health, and things are going to change in a big way this year.

I’m so ready for baseball.

A Newberg Report Valentine.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Diamonds are green
And there are just two sleeps before Pitchers & Catchers Report.

Tommy Hanson, Nelson Cruz, and the amateur draft.

Would the Rangers have reached the World Series in 2010 without Cliff Lee?  Without Bengie Molina coming in to upgrade the Matt Treanor/Taylor Teagarden mix behind the plate?

Does Texas win the pennant in 2011 without Mike Adams, or get to the playoffs without him in 2012?

Same goes for Koji Uehara, notwithstanding his brutal first half of October the first of those two years.

Although his run here fell short of expectations, if Matt Garza wasn’t around in 2013, do the Rangers still win eight of those 13 starts he made, and do they get all those innings (he averaged getting an out in the seventh), relieving a little pressure on the pen? Without Garza, is Texas around for Game 163?

Does the club get past 162 in 2012 and again in 2013 without Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross?

How does the farm system look right now without Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Williams, Luke Jackson, Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, Travis Demeritte, Akeem Bostick, Alec Asher, David Ledbetter, and Cole Wiper?

All of those players, from Cliff to Cole, were brought to Texas because of the Rangers’ draft power in the top few rounds.  Some were drafted in rounds 1 through 4, sometimes because Texas stayed away from signing more compensation free agents (either others’ or its own).  Some were signed well above slot in a later round due in part to the bonus pool boost the Rangers got because they had extra picks.  Some were acquired by trading players drafted in those first few rounds.

We’d all feel better if the Rangers added a more reliable rotation option that Tommy Hanson.  Like free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, for example.

Sure, adding Nelson Cruz would theoretically put this lineup into rarefied territory.

But sign Jimenez, or Ervin Santana, or a bat like Kendrys Morales, and maybe you miss the chance to draft the next Williams.

Bring Cruz back and you might not get the chance to bring in the next Scheppers.

Yes, that forfeited second-rounder to sign another compensation free agent could turn into Tommy Mendonca instead of Williams or Ross.

And losing the opportunity to get that extra supplemental first if Cruz signs here rather than somewhere else could mean no Julio Borbon rather than no Scheppers.

But the best way to maximize the drafts hits is to draft more players.

Granted, there are no-compensation free agents still out there — A.J. Burnett and Suk-Min Yoon, for instance — but they aren’t going to be affordable for what might end up being a depth piece once Derek Holland returns.

If you were to drill down on the list of the Rangers’ top 32 prospects according to Baseball America, here’s what you will find:

Fifteen were signed internationally.

Nine were drafted in the first two rounds.

Three more were chosen in Rounds 3 or 4.

Five were taken in later rounds.

Look solely at the top 10, and every one of them was international (four) or taken in the top two rounds of the draft (six).

You can make the argument that the premium draft picks (and the associated draft bonus allotment), from a pipeline standpoint, are even more important for the Rangers this summer, as the club will be capped at $250,000 per player on the Latin American market this year as a result of blowing past the cap last year.

I get the argument that ending up with Kevin Matthews and Zach Cone because you didn’t sign Cliff Lee doesn’t always mean you’ve managed to extend the window.  And that having enough farm strength to add Ryan Dempster (or Garza, arguably) isn’t always suitable for framing.

But draft power is a huge, huge priority for this organization, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that without it, these last four years — and the next four and more — end up going not nearly as well.

If Texas didn’t have its second-round pick last summer, Bostick is not a Ranger.

And without Bostick — who signed for $400,000 under slot — the Rangers wouldn’t have had enough in their bonus pool to take Wiper in the 10th round and sign him (for more, as a matter of fact, that it took to sign Bostick).

You better believe money isn’t the only reason Texas hasn’t jumped out to sign Cruz or Jimenez, or Morales or Santana.

Maybe Michael Choice is ready to handle the short side of a DH platoon with Mitch Moreland.  Maybe he’s not.  And maybe there’s another right-handed bat who isn’t yet in the mix, but will be.

And maybe Hanson, rumored to be in agreement on a roster deal with a $2 million big league split (plus incentives), will be closer to Colby Lewis than Brandon Webb on the reclamation scale.  Maybe another year removed from his shoulder problems and the death of his stepbrother encourages the Rangers that 2014 will be better for Hanson than 2012 or 2013 were, and that he’s a candidate to return to his 2009-2011 form, when he was fulfilling the potential he was thought to have when Atlanta reportedly refused to include him in the trade talks in 2007 that led to the Braves parting with Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz.

Or maybe he’s Webb, or Rich Harden, and as a result Nick Tepesch will be real important in the first half.  And in that case, all you lost on Hanson — if he’s even in the big leagues — will be $2 million, which would be something like the 15th-highest salary on the roster.  If Hanson end up earning more, that’s probably good news.

What you would not lose, whether Hanson pans out or not, is one of those premium draft picks, and in a year when the Rangers will have their hands relatively tied in Latin America, maintaining a certain level of draft power — and what that could mean to the inventory of future big league pieces and trade ammunition — is just something that can’t be ignored.

All academic.

As the Rangers’ equipment truck continues its westward slalom, eyeing a Tuesday arrival in Surprise, there’s word that Texas and righthander Tommy Hanson are in talks at a level reportedly as serious as those that Seattle and Nelson Cruz are supposedly engaged in, though the Rangers are said to be on the periphery, at least, with Cruz as well as Korean righthander Suk-Min Yoon, a pitcher whose health and effectiveness have trended in the wrong direction the last couple years, which is the same that can be said for Hanson.  Baltimore is believed to have the inside track on signing Yoon.

Soon enough Yoon and Cruz and Hanson are likely to know where they need to be in the next week or so, whether it’s the same North Bullard Avenue address that the Rangers truck is drawing its four-day bead on, or somewhere else in Arizona, or Florida.

It’s just about that time, but even seven sleeps feel like too many, and if you need some baseball to help cut through all this fog and get you through it, I can tell you that the 2014 e-book is getting closer to rolling out, but in the meantime, I’d strongly recommend to you some of the strongest local baseball journalism we’ve been treated to in years — Jeff Wilson’s exceptional series of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports from the Rangers’ Dominican academy in Boca Chica.

The fifth and final of Wilson’s stories was published this morning, and if you’ve missed any of them, take some time between now and Pitchers & Catchers to read them.  Links:

It’s just about that time.

Naming rights, and wrongs.

In about three hours, the Rangers will announce that they have forged a deal with an unidentified company on the naming rights for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.  From a business standpoint — and potentially a player personnel standpoint —  this stands to be a pretty significant development.  These rights agreements aren’t handed out impulsively, and they’re generally lucrative deals.

There’s some symmetry to the timing here, as the stadium was called The Ballpark in Arlington when it opened in 1994, was renamed Ameriquest Field in 2004 (though that didn’t last long), and will evidently take on a new name in 2014.

No idea what the announcement will be, though Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) speculates that the naming rights partner could be a Korean-based company, such as Samsung.

I’d rule out “Chan Ho Park,” and would note that the pitcher by the same name had a Rangers career of three-plus years, half of which overlapped half of Ameriquest’s three-year run, and both of their runs with the Rangers ended prematurely and not well, shortly before their runs overall ended prematurely and not well, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Seriously, this is a pretty big deal.  If handled well — and this front office and ownership group is excellent at handling things well — this could help the baseball team add (and keep) better baseball players, and we’re all in favor of that.

For those of you connected to the news world only by email during the work day, I’ll send something out once the new naming rights partner is announced.

Next . . . my annual National Signing Day clarification, take 16:

jamienewberg

Nope

JDN ballpark

Yep.

I’m not gonna write about Jerrod Heard.  (Well, for now.)

He’s not gonna write about Yeyson Yrizarri.  (Ever.)

Finally, in case you missed yesterday’s Ben and Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan, Michael Young was in studio for about an hour, and it was really outstanding radio.  Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 for your ears to listen to.

All-time leader.

My plan in writing up the Michael Young retirement announcement was to keep it short.  That’s never an easy task for me, of course, but in this case, the right thing to do seemed to be a quick entry.  Say what I want and get out.  No frills.

Then an unexpected thing happened on Twitter, and then underground at Rangers Ballpark Friday, and so much for that plan of mine.

There were a bunch of cool ballplayer tweets praising Young as a teammate (Josh Hamilton, Mark DeRosaFrank CatalanottoA.J. Ellis).  As an opponent (Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kipnis, Ozzie Guillen, David Aardsma).  As an example (Dustin PedroiaIan Desmond).

As a mentor (Elvis Andrus).

But then there was one that made me think an extra second or two, from Diamondbacks righthander Brandon McCarthy, whose tweets are generally more in the Larry David category (that’s meant to be a huge compliment) than of the reflective variety:

A career’s worth of teammates are saddened to hear that Mike Young is retiring.

McCarthy’s career started with high expectations as a White Sox prospect.  Today he’s an established, fairly reliable, well-paid veteran starting pitcher.  In between was his four-year stint in Texas, which can only be qualified as a disappointment.

A pitcher.  A pitcher who didn’t get it done in Texas.  A pitcher who spent half his Rangers career on the disabled list, including basically the whole 2010 season, as he watched his teammates win the franchise’s first playoff series and first AL pennant and battle in its first World Series.

Paying tribute to the veteran position player who never spent a day on the DL.

Hard to imagine McCarthy and Young having less common ground as ballplayers.  I thought of that Tommy Hunter story that stayed with me from years ago, but still:  What prompted that tweet from McCarthy?

Why was Michael Young so revered by those who played with him and against him, so important to this franchise, so identifiable for Rangers fans with the era of this team that grew up and became a legitimate, consistent contender?

Was it the kind of light tower power or defensive artistry or video game athleticism that fans and teammates and media will talk about when other veteran players hang the cleats up?

It was not.  It was none of those things.

Maybe it’s as simple as a recognition that he made players better.  Teams better.  Baseball better, in Texas.

With Pudge, I’ll never forget the feet and arm behind the plate.

Cliff: That Draper/assassin thing.

Beltre: The wizard’s work at third base.

With Young?  They talked Friday about him holding the franchise mark in games played, hits, multi-hit games, total bases, doubles, triples, and home batting average.

I’ll remember him for none of those things.

There are specific moments that Neftali Feliz and Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz will be remembered for as Rangers.  Michael Young?

Check Richard Durrett’s list of Young’s top 10 moments in Texas.  It starts not with a big hit or a great play, but a team moment.  There are career milestones and awards, and further down the list a couple big plays in very big games.

But it started with a team moment, and it’s probably the one most of us think of first, too.

He was a lightning rod for some fans late in his Rangers career, and that’s part of the story, to be sure.

There are those who loved him unconditionally, those who overlooked the weaknesses in his game that started to become more evident just as the team got great and who ignored the publicized tension between player and management.

There are those who focused on those weaknesses — and the sense that the manager and the media gave him a pass — when the franchise had reached a level at which every moment and every decision mattered like never before, and that’s a faction that tended to overlook (or deny with the sabermetric force of a thousand squared up lasers to the opposite field) his role in helping brand the clubhouse with a resilience and a shoulder chip that helped a mediocre team learn to be very good, a very good team grow to be great.

The reality is that Young was not as perfect and not as flawed as some fans believe unshakably — with all the stubbornness of Michael Young the baseball player — and that’s OK.

Young’s was a career marked by durability and consistency, and part of that consistency was that stubborn streak, one that paid huge, teamwide dividends and also caused an occasional problem, a point of focus regardless of which part of Michael Young’s career you choose to think about most.

I know which one mattered most to me.

Roger and Troy had their detractors toward the end of their careers, too.

Sports.

Unlike Roger and Troy, though, Young — despite being the Rangers’ all-time leader in playoff at-bats — didn’t have a stack of huge game moments, post-season or otherwise, to build a retrospective highlight package around.  But, again, where Young’s career lagged in huge moments and singular displays of baseball awesomeness, it lapped the field in other not-so-apparent areas.

Texas got to the World Series in 2010 despite a subpar Young season at the plate (.284/.330/.444) and in the field (as a second-year third baseman).

And again in 2011 with Young turning in one of his best (.338/.380/.474, while DH’ing and filling in on the infield corners and second base).

His imprint was all over both clubs.  Its stability and its toughness and its resilience.  Ask every veteran and every rookie and every coach and every clubbie who was a part of either team.

Ask McCarthy or Chris Davis, who were watching from the sidelines with the rest of us in 2010, and with other clubs in 2011.

Ask DeRosa or Mark Teixeira (“This was a guy who had to work his way up, had to earn everything . . . , and played the game the right way”), who were gone well before 2010, whether they think Michael Young had anything to do with helping turn the Rangers from what they were for almost 40 years into a World Series team.

Ask Ron Washington.

Jon Daniels alluded to it at Young’s retirement gathering on Friday, talking more than once about how he was a central part of the best teams in Rangers franchise history, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

“He was the first to embrace Elvis,” Daniels noted, referring to the time that the organization moved Young off of his position, against his wishes, not the last time that that would happen.

“He embraced Adrian.  He embraced Mike Napoli.  Those guys became some of his closest friends on the team.  In large part, the way that the clubhouse remained strong and, in many ways, got stronger was due to the way he handled those situations.  Despite their arrivals having a personal impact on him [in terms of his own role on the club], he made those guys feel welcome and brought them into the fabric of the team.  They had success together, but in no small part because of that.”

Two weeks before Young turned 34, had hadn’t appeared in so much as one playoff game.

After that, he was a post-season player in 2010 and 2011 and 2012 and 2013.

That’s not to say the Rangers wouldn’t have made it to the Wild Card Game in 2012, or that the Dodgers would have missed the 2013 playoffs without him.

But I’ll always believe he was as responsible as anyone on the field for the Rangers playing in October 2010 and and in October 2011 (“We don’t have rings — and that still eats at me — but that was a championship team”), and not just because of what he contributed before our eyes those two years.  He’s the Rangers’ all-time leader in all those statistical categories I listed above, but, more importantly, as far as I’m concerned, he’s this franchise’s all-time leader.

Period.

I’ll believe forever that what he meant to this team off the field, for so many years, helped a lot of players get the most out of what they had (as Wash said, he “lifted teammates to levels they maybe didn’t know they had”), and helped this team win.

I mean win.

He’s going to help this team in 2014, too, and I don’t mean because of what Michael Choice and Lisalverto Bonilla might contribute.

And I don’t mean because of what he might actually contribute himself in 2014.  I’d be surprised to see Young join the franchise in a non-playing role this year.

I’d be surprised to see Young not join the franchise in a non-playing role before too long, though.

It’s just too soon to expect him to do anything but hang with his family right now.  As much as I’d love the idea of him being around Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor, Prince Fielder and Joey Gallo, Luis Sardinas and Chris Bostick, Martin Perez and Akeem Bostick, sharing some of that old-school wisdom and competitive drive and hallmark mental toughness, right now he needs to be with Cristina and Mateo and Emilio and Mateo, and not just for just a few days here and there.

He’s earned that, and so have they.

But eventually?

He said several times on Friday that he’d love to get back into the game in some capacity, at some point, and looks forward to talking with the Rangers about that.  “I think it’s important to pass things down,” he said, pointing to his experiences being on the other side of that exchange.  “There are fine points of the game that I’d love to pass on.  There are some things you have and some things that you have to be taught, but there is a chance to learn something every year.”

Daniels, after noting that Young was a player who “constantly proved people wrong,” added: “He only said about a dozen things today that our young players could learn from.”

I counted more.

Coaches, too.  And fathers.

Wash, turning his gaze at the podium away from the full room of reporters and toward Young, looking him in the eye: “The game of baseball’s gonna miss you.  I certainly hope you don’t stay away from the game of baseball.  Because there’s some kid out there — don’t know it yet — that one day is gonna have the influence of Michael Young.  It would be a shame if you didn’t stay in the game in some capacity after you figure out exactly what you want to do.”

Wash was probably talking about a kid like Travis Demeritte, or Yeyson Yrizarri, when he said that.  But it goes beyond that.

I’ve shared this picture with you before.  My wife took it in Arizona, when Max was three years old.

 

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Some folks unsubscribed from the mailing list when I sent that out, and I get it.  (I shared it as much for the Blalock and Wright stopdowns as anything.)  But it made an indelible impression on me, and I know it did on my kid.

Less so, by a thousand times, than what happened on March 21, 2012, at halftime of the Mavericks-Lakers game.  I’m not going to tell that story here (yeah, I know that will probably cause a few more unsubscribes), but the few of you I’ve shared it with know why it’s something I’ll never forget and which, for me, helps define what separates Michael Young, and what Wash was talking about, and what JD was talking about, and what Brandon McCarthy was talking about.

Wash said, “I don’t think this game will be able to survive without Michael Young in it.”  A little strong, maybe, but yeah, if Young decides he wants to stay in baseball, that needs to happen.

And, as Daniels, similarly aged and like Young a transplant (Young from California, Daniels from New York) who is raising a family in the Metroplex and now calls this his home, unambiguously said, aside from noting that he admires Young most as a husband and father who was always able to balance that with his career: “If Michael Young wants to be involved in the game, it should be here in Texas.”

Yep.

It’s one thing for the team press release to say: “We want [Michael and his family] to know there will always be a place for the Youngs in the Texas Rangers family.”  Sincere, to be sure.  But hearing Daniels say what he said (and seeing him get choked up when talking about Young being able to walk away from the game on his own terms and about his priorities in life) — that carried so much good weight.

If you watched the Friday presser, you saw evidence that Young and Daniels put in the work to get past what was not the cleanest relationship toward the end of Young’s time here as a player, and to patch things up.  Tip of the cap to two good dudes.

Young said Friday that, as far as legacy goes, all he ever demanded of himself was effort.  To give it everything he had every day.

It’s probably fair to assume that Young and Daniels reconciling — to put the “bumps in the road” (Young’s words) behind them — took effort, on both sides.

“You fail, you get up, you learn,” Wash said, about something else.  “You fail, you get up, you learn.”

I wrote 14 months ago, when Daniels traded Young away: “It was possible to be fans of both Michael Young and the front office, even as the tension and drama between the two mounted, because both, in their own way, and according to their own very different job descriptions and accountabilities, have always been relentlessly determined to win.”

It’s easier now.

After the lineups are introduced on Monday afternoon, March 31, and Daniels is up in his seat, Michael Young should be walking onto the field, with a baseball in his hand, and he should be the one to throw the season’s first pitch, before his former teammates Yu Darvish and Cliff Lee throw theirs.

As he makes that walk to the mound, Chuck Morgan should play “Sure Shot” over the P.A. system.  (And for the record, I nearly titled this report “Because you can’t, you won’t, and you don’t stop.”)

A year ago, David Brown (Yahoo! Sports) interviewed McCarthy, who, answering a snarky question about a team’s grittiness quotient, said he wished there were a way to quantify mental ability and explained as follows:

“There are people that are just better mentally than anybody else.  Talent is pretty evenly spread through the game — even from the elite players to the players who are Triple-A starters.  There’s not a big gap at all and I know it’s cliche, but there’s really not.  And there are just people that are really good mentally.

“I know Michael Young is kind of a dividing point for all of the metrics, but he’s one of the best mental players I’ve ever been around.  Not just from the teammate or “super teammate” aspect, but he’s absolutely locked in mentally and so, so good at focusing on taking it day to day, at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.  And that’s one of those things — it always gets passed over because most people can’t see inside.  You only the see the performance [and the result] and what you can quantify.  And I wish there was a way to quantify mental ability.  Some guys are just better at that, when everybody else would kind of fall apart.”

Michael Young is one of those local athletes we all feel like we grew to know.  Part of that is he was here 13 years, an eternity in pro sports.  Part is because he wasn’t any bigger or faster or more powerful than he was, which I suppose made him seem more like one of us.  Part is because he was at his locker every night, win or lose, and so we heard from him after almost every game.

But I feel like I learned a little more about him after reading this week what McCarthy had to say, and Catalanotto and Cuddyer and Pedroia, and hearing JD and Wash talk on Friday, and then Michael himself.

Leadership is learned in different ways, and taught in different ways, too.  Sometimes it comes from a guy in uniform, whether he plays next to you or behind you — or was just displaced by you.  Sometimes it comes from a guy who wore the uniform once upon a time, passing along the things he learned along the way himself.

Michael Young led here, and we all benefited from that.  Elvis Andrus did, Tommy Hunter did, Josh Hamilton did, Ron Washington did, you did and I did.  So many people and organizations in this community did.

That doesn’t end now, and I mean that not only because of the imprint he left on so many people still working to get this team back to the World Series, but also because, one day, he’s going to be back with this franchise, making an impact on any number of young players who don’t know it yet, but are going to benefit from the influence of Michael Young, and that’s a really good thing for every single one of us.

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Locos.

You won’t ever convince me that this isn’t the worst sports week of the year, ranked firmly behind last week and next week because, while there’s no baseball and no football action moving the needle, this week the sports world has decided it has no choice but to descend on the Super Bowl site for non-stop programming that offers non-stop garbage.  Bits that aren’t funny, news that’s barely news, stories that get recycled so many unapologetic times that they lose whatever marginal meaning they might have had through the first cycle.

It’s a super-sized bag of RedBullExtreme-Infused Doritos Locos Tacos Turbo-Supreme.  An industry deciding “Pitbull featuring Ke$ha” should be the wether bearing the bell.

Love the NFL.  But . . . Uncle.

I suspect it’s not by accident that the folks for whom baseball is a 12-month venture chose this week to ping our dulled sports senses with the unveiling of the prospect lists they’ve been working on all winter.

Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has seven Rangers in his Top 101 — second baseman Rougned Odor (39), catcher Jorge Alfaro (41 — Parks believes he “could crack the top 10” a year from now), righthander Chi-Chi Gonzalez (70), shortstop Luis Sardinas (72), outfielder Michael Choice (79), outfielder Nick Williams (88), and third baseman Joey Gallo (95) — which is seven more than the Angels, and in fact nearly as many as the rest of the AL West (Houston 5, Seattle 3, Oakland 1) combined.  Parks adds that Texas, Houston, Minnesota, and Toronto are among the teams with the strongest minor league depth outside the Top 101.

MLB.com has Alfaro at 39, Odor at 59, Choice at 72, Sardinas at 76, and Gallo at 92, with Jim Callis calling Alfaro’s the strongest arm of any position player prospect in the game, at any position, with Gallo’s arm second only to Alfaro’s and his power second only to Minnesota’s Miguel Sano.  Callis has righthander Luke Jackson among 15 players who just missed the Top 100 list.

Baseball America won’t reveal its list until later but its ranking of the top 10 Rangers’ prospects landed this morning: Odor, Alfaro, Choice, Williams, Gallo, Gonzalez, Sardinas, Jackson, Travis Demeritte, and Ronald Guzman.  Ben Badler suggests the club’s “[t]op-end talent [is] lighter than usual but [there’s] plenty of depth, especially from the international program.”

ESPN’s Keith Law will reveal his Top 100 later today, but yesterday pegged Texas as the number 13 farm system in the game (Houston 1, Seattle 21, Oakland 26, Los Angeles 29).  His Rangers rankings will be revealed tomorrow.

Thank goodness there’s no “Media Day” leading up to the World Series.  I suppose if there were two weeks off after the two pennants were won, rather than just two or three days, baseball coverage might get so tricked up that news would be delivered by dudes wearing Colonial wigs or capes (tights for both), TV Azteca babes (no tights), or Regis (not sure).

Not every sports journalist was hitting it hard at the Prudential Center yesterday, interviewing each other.  Some were in Texas (probably in jeans and a North Face) spotting Nolan Ryan leaving a meeting of some sort at Minute Maid Park in Houston.  Others were checking in with Michael Young and discovering that his decision is apparently down to Chavez Ravine or retirement.  Jeff Baker is reportedly close to choosing the Marlins, Nationals, or Orioles, and A.J. Burnett has evidently decided he’s not quite ready to hang them up, and between Baker and Burnett I know which one I’d be a whole lot more interested in as far as the Rangers are concerned.

What I really need to know is what some D-list “celeb” thinks the most important Justin Bieber question to ask a nickel corner is.  Brought to you by VH1.

Baseball prospect lists are what they are.  Whether your publication(s) of choice think Carlos Correa should be ranked higher than Taijuan Walker doesn’t mean anything.  Just because Parks believes Gonzalez projects to be a “2/3 starter; most likely a 3” for Texas, and possibly sooner than you might think, isn’t “news.”

But it’s an absolute gift from the sports gods when it’s delivered in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, and if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna turn the radio off and go chase down some predictions on where Derek Fisher and Max Pentecost are slotted to go in this June’s Rule 4 Draft.  No thanks on the Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos.

Dazed, confused.

The TV locked me in Sunday night and Monday night, three times.  One of the shows I watched was designed to make you think back 20 years.  The other two only did it by accident.

If you’re in college now, you never know: That new band that grabbed every bit of your attention, that made you slam the brakes, may stick around more than 20 years, still making music and making awesome documentary films, too.

That other new band that seemed at first like it had something won’t last nearly as long, but that doesn’t mean the lead singer will necessarily give up, not as long as he can find cool venues that hold 500 to keep doing his thing.

Twenty-plus years from now, that frat guy at your dorm, no matter what you happen to think of him at the moment, may turn into one of the best actors in the world.

Maybe you’ll have kids one day and you’ll cross paths with others who had kids around the same time and they’ll become friends and you’ll become friends and baseball may be a big reason why.

And you’ll see those kids start to learn that what matters is the team, and that’s an awesome thing.

You’d never dream that the 17-year-old kid taken first in the draft would, 20 years later, epitomize whatever the absolute opposite of the team concept is.

Eddie Vedder is a baseball fan, and so is Matthew McConaughey, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that those two guys have a greater respect for the Great Game than Alex Rodriguez does.

If you’re in college now, you’ll write something that you think is the best thing you’ve ever written, and it probably is, and in 20 years you won’t be able to look back at it without cringing.

In 20 years maybe you’ll blog, and some entries will suck more than others, like maybe one you spit up on a mid-January morning when you’re tired of “60 Minutes” stories dominating MLB Network content, and 20 minutes after you hit “send” you won’t be able to look back at it without cringing.

But there’s no shame in the effort.  Sometimes the path leads to rock and roll royalty and other times it leads to The Kessler.  Sometimes the trail to “True Detective” is littered with “Sahara” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

As a friend shared this morning, one of the world’s great forward-thinking companies has decided to reach back to a movie which came out around the time that Pearl Jam and Live debuted, that Matt McConaughey lived at The Castilian, that Alex Rodriguez was drafted out of high school, and ask: “What will your verse be?

The answer to that question, in Rodriguez’s case, is so sickening, and it didn’t need to be.

There’s no shame in the effort.  Except for when there is.

Whatever.

Avoiding the knee-jerk reaction.

The news hit Twitter a little after 5:00 yesterday afternoon, news that Derek Holland had fallen on a staircase at home on Tuesday and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Friday morning to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, which is not the knee that he injured twice in 2010.  He’ll miss the start of the regular season, with the club reportedly making plans conservatively for a mid-season return.

I’ve gained about 30 new subscribers and Twitter followers since the news broke, and I’m about to disappoint all of them and most of the rest of you.

My first thought was to speculate about what Texas could do in response, as far as winter acquisitions are concerned.  I quickly dismissed that thought. Maybe the Rangers were already in on Masahiro Tanaka, maybe not.  But they’re already over budget, and Holland’s injury isn’t going to change whether they’re in the mood to step out even further on Tanaka.  They will, or they won’t, but I’d be shocked if that plan is different today from what it was a week ago.

Step up in David Price trade talks with Tampa Bay?  If that’s where your head is on this, my response is, as usual: You’re the Rays.

I’d bet it’s more likely that Tampa Bay calls Texas in light of the Holland development than it is that the Rangers call the Rays.  And the demand isn’t going to come down from wherever it had been.

Holland isn’t the Rangers’ ace, but he did lead the club in starts and innings pitched in 2013, and was very good (though less effective at home, which could lead to a bad joke in light of this new development, a place I’m going to avoid because I’m better than that, even though I’m obviously not).  You don’t replace him with Robbie Ross or Tanner Scheppers or Nick Tepesch or Michael Kirkman or Jose Contreras and expect to get comparable production (to say nothing of the void a Ross or Scheppers shift would leave in the pen), but don’t expect Texas to go out and devote nine figures or four blue-chip prospects or a number one draft pick to go out and find a starter of Holland’s caliber.

The Rangers will probably add another depth piece between now and camp, probably on a non-roster veteran who can come in and compete for a rotation spot.

They were going to do that anyway.

I thought maybe I’d write about the idea that you survive for three months and then you get Holland back, in a pennant race, with a fresh arm.  But I decided against fleshing that out, because last year there was optimism in camp that Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz would be back by mid-season, and after Matt Harrison’s April surgery the half-full glass gave hope of a similar timetable.

As Jon Daniels has pointed out, the rotation that the organization expects to roll out at Frisco in April may be the strongest at that level since this front office arrived.  But Chi-Chi Gonzalez and his crew-mates aren’t going to get here any time before Holland gets back.

I thought maybe I’d write about where falling on stairs fits on a list that includes butter knives (Oddibe McDowell), sunflower seeds (Greg Harris), pinky-shaking (Charlie Hough), and high fives (Jeff Baker), but why pile depressing on top of freaky?

I considered writing about the risk of giving long-term deals to starting pitchers, even relatively young ones (Harrison, Holland, Feldman), but I wouldn’t want a redo on the Martin Perez contract, so I’m not going down that path.

It’s been a tremendous winter of aggressive growth at 1000 Ballpark Way, and maybe we’ll look back at the Holland injury as one that gave a young pitcher like Ross an opportunity that he ended up seizing like C.J. Wilson did four years ago.  Or one that blunted the Rangers’ first half so much in 2014 that they resisted overpaying for a tier two starter in July, like it turns out they did this past summer.

Or maybe Texas pieces things together in the rotation for a few months, the revitalized offense goes on a tear straight out of the gate, and Holland comes back in the second half with something to re-prove, and he proves it.

But for now, I don’t have the energy to dig deep on any of it.  I wanted, at different times in the last 18 hours, to focus this report on the next pitching move Texas might make, on the opportunities opened up even further for a handful of Holland’s teammates, the idea of the lefthander giving Texas a boost himself in July and August, and the risks associated with committing long-term to big league starting pitchers and with overtrading for pitching to accommodate what might appear to be a needy rotation.

I wanted to write something thoughtful, something unemotional, something that stepped away from the immediate gut-punch of the story and examined what this could mean, or lead to.

But I can’t.

It just sucks.

New year.

The Tyler Seguin Trade wasn’t supposed to haunt the Bruins this quickly, Oklahoma wasn’t supposed to do that to Alabama, and Charlie Strong may not have been the first choice, but Adrian Beltre was basically a fallback, too.

I doubt Beltre is giving much thought to Florida State-Auburn, where 2012 Rangers draft pick and Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will celebrate his 20th birthday on the national stage Monday night, and he probably doesn’t find it very interesting that J.P. Arencibia, whose birthday is tomorrow (on the three-year anniversary of Beltre’s signing with the Rangers), played his first minor league season for Auburn (New York, that is) and kicked off his second minor league season in the Florida State League, where he took off as a prospect.

Winston is from Alabama but committed to Florida State, while Arencibia is from Florida but committed to Tennessee, but if Arencibia had gone to Florida State, history likely changes for at least one player, as Buster Posey arrived in Tallahassee a year after Arencibia’s own college career began, and I’m fairly sure Beltre doesn’t care.

Beltre is probably thinking more about Prince Fielder, and how even in a massive down year in 2013 (.819 OPS) he outproduced every hitter Texas tried in the number three hole, namely (in order of appearances), Lance Berkman, Ian Kinsler (.677 OPS in that spot), Nelson Cruz, Alex Rios, and A.J. Pierzynski, and I’m guessing Beltre likes that a lot.

Fielder is probably thinking about Shin-Soo Choo, and how none of the primary leadoff hitters he’s played with in his nine seasons (Brady Clark, Rickie Weeks, Felipe Lopez, Austin Jackson) could do that.

Choo, who says he’d bat anywhere in the lineup and it wouldn’t alter his approach, is probably thinking about kicking off each game with Elvis Andrus, Fielder, and Beltre grabbing helmets behind him, and about how, if Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin take that next step, maybe for some stretches in 2014 that leadoff role for Choo in the first inning will seem in later innings like he’s hitting in the three hole himself.

Profar and Martin probably aren’t thinking much quite yet about getting back on the field, coming off their first (basically) full big league seasons and then winter stints together on Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Republic, where their teammates included Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre, who is some respects is this year’s version of Julio Borbon, but not really, and Dee Gordon, whose father Tom faced Fielder’s father Cecil 51 times in the big leagues, holding the slugger to a .213 batting average and a strikeout every fourth time up, which Arencibia’s detractors would say sounds pretty familiar.

I know Chase Cutler and Drake Detherage and Kendall Gill and Ty Holt and Will Kriska and Dominic Mele and Max Newberg and Preston Payne and the injured R.J. Ruais and Jake Storey and Preston Stout aren’t thinking about Arencibia or Beltre or Charlie Strong this morning, but instead about the Pelicans, and not the version that Andrus played for while in the Braves system or that Profar skipped while a Rangers farmhand.  Those 11 are thinking about two hours from now, when they’ll play their first game together as Dallas Pelicans, not that this game counts, but then again not that any of them “count” when your eight- and nine-year-olds are simply out there playing the game and getting better at it, even on the first weekend in January, not that I’m trying to get all solipsistic on you.

Buster Olney (ESPN) thinks the Rangers have the best lineup in baseball (and the seventh-best rotation and fifth-best defense), Bob Nightengale (USA Today) predicts Texas returns to the World Series this year (against St. Louis), as does Gil LeBreton (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) (against the Dodgers), Neftali Feliz never wants to be a starter again (which I’m good with), Peter Gammons has Texas among at least six teams checking in with San Diego on right-handed-hitting outfielder Chris Denorfia, and after all this time there’s hardly any more certainty where Cruz will land than there is about Masahiro Tanaka’s eventual address, which will be determined no later than the afternoon of January 24, hours before the Rangers’ annual Awards Dinner at the Gaylord Texan.

The baseball winter is on the back stretch, but there’s still plenty that’s up in the air, and all those 2014 projections are just that, really, because sports, and even if we thought we knew how things would play out, the underdogs then haul off and get on a BCS winning streak that Winston and the Seminoles will try to snap Monday night in Pasadena, at the same time that Seguin and the Stars will try to take the Islanders down in Uniondale, New York, a mere five hours downstate from Auburn, home of the Doubledays, whose uniform was the first Arencibia wore professionally, which has me thinking again about 11 kids who are playing ball here in a little bit, after which we’ll have 43 sleeps left until Rangers pitchers and catchers report, which is about 42 sleeps too many, if you asked me, but you didn’t, so, you know, Happy New Year and all that and I’ll catch you later.

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