I was at the University of Texas in 1988, a resident assistant at the Castilian and days from my second year of fall finals when Major League Baseball convened in Atlanta for the Winter Meetings. I won’t say that the Meetings weren’t front and center on my mind, but (1) the Rangers had just lost 91 games and finished 33.5 games out of first in the West — their worst deficit since the club’s inaugural 1972 and 1973 seasons; (2) there was only so much coverage to be gathered from the day-late Dallas Morning News and the three daily lines devoted to each team in the USA Today, and we were still a couple years away from Frank Deford’s The National and more than that from the Internet (at least as far as my own awareness was concerned), which meant my world wasn’t yet opened up to the cornucopious awesomeness of dial-up Prodigy; and (3) I was in college.
Maybe if I’d known then what I know now, that a month before those Meetings, Rangers GM Tom Grieve offered the Yankees a package including Pete O’Brien, Jose Guzman, and Mitch Williams for Don Mattingly, or that short-lived New York GM Bob Quinn tried to get Grieve to tack on Steve Buechele, Bob Brower, and two prospects in an expanded deal that would include infielders Mike Pagliarulo and Bobby Meacham from his end, I’d have been a lot more fired up in the days leading up to December 3, having lost some amount of sleep over the thought of the Topps artists getting their airbrushes primed, but alas, my Twitter follows amounted then to zero.
We weren’t aware then of the Mattingly possibility (or news of it hadn’t traveled to Austin, at least), and so my dormant 19-year-old baseball brain was blindsided by the most awesome Winter Meetings ever, as Grieve, frustrated by Quinn’s constant waffling, turned his attention elsewhere and traded Williams, Curtis Wilkerson, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Luis Benitez, and Pablo Delgado to the Cubs for Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, and Drew Hall (December 5); traded O’Brien, Oddibe McDowell, and Jerry Browne to the Indians for Julio Franco (December 6); and signed free agent Nolan Ryan, who was being chased by the Astros, Angels, and Giants (December 7).
If there were a Newberg Report then, it would have imploded without me ever getting around to the note that Grieve threw Quinn a bone by sending him Brower (who would get 69 more big league at-bats) for Meacham (who would get none), or that the Rangers believed they came close — almost immediately after acquiring Palmeiro and Franco and Ryan — to picking up Reds first baseman Nick Esasky for reliever Dwayne Henry (who had fanned nearly 12 batters per nine AAA innings that season, though for the fifth straight year he’d appeared in the big leagues without success). (Cincinnati would trade Esasky days later to Boston in a three-for-three deal — and he went on to have his career year, hitting 30 homers and driving in 108 runs with an .855 OPS, earning a top 20 MVP finish.)
The flip side of anticipating nothing and getting your doors blown off is when your team is perennially in contention, your front office is perennially aggressive, Twitter exists, and the baseball media tags your team as “running the Winter Meetings” . . . and then very little happens.
Of course, “winning the Winter Meetings” is even less meaningful than winning the winter, and so while a Mason Tobin pickup might headline your official Meetings activity (December 2010), signing Adrian Beltre four weeks later and trading Frankie Francisco for Mike Napoli three weeks after that doesn’t make those two pickups any less awesome just because they didn’t come down in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The year after that, Jon Daniels wasn’t invited to take the podium on his home turf at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas when Baltimore conveyed unprotected infielder Greg Miclat to Texas after he slid through the Rule 5 Draft, to complete the trade that sent catcher Taylor Teagarden to the Orioles for minor league reliever Randy Henry. The key work Daniels and his crew did that week, while the Angels were winning the Winter Meetings by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson (en route to what would be a third of four straight seasons missing the playoffs), was selling Ray Davis in Dallas and Bob Simpson in Fort Worth on the idea of going very large on a blind bid for the rights to negotiate with a Japanese righthander they believed could break the mold as far as Asian pitchers coming to the States were concerned.
(They were right.)
Truthfully, Daniels typically doesn’t make a huge splash during his four-day hotel stay. Here’s what he’s done in his nine Winter Meetings (excluding the minor league phases of the Rule 5 Draft, except where notable):
- Dec. 5-8, 2005: Traded Alfonso Soriano to Washington for Brad Wilkerson, Armando Galarraga, and Terrmel Sledge; traded Esteban German to Kansas City for Rule 5 Draft pick used on lefthander Fabio Castro (White Sox); selected outfielders Alexi Ogando (Oakland) and Jayce Tingler (Toronto) in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft
- Dec. 4-7, 2006: Re-signed free agent Vicente Padilla
- Dec. 3-6, 2007: Traded Freddy Guzman to Detroit for Chris Shelton
- Dec. 8-11, 2008: Selected infielder Guilder Rodriguez (Milwaukee) in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft
- Dec. 7-10, 2009: Signed free agent Rich Harden and acquired Clay Rapada from Detroit for future considerations; traded Kevin Millwood and cash to Baltimore for reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named later — identified as minor league left-handed reliever Ben Snyder at the completion of the Rule 5 Draft, after Baltimore selected him from San Francisco
- Dec. 6-9, 2010: Sent cash to Cubs for Rule 5-drafted righthander Mason Tobin (Angels)
- Dec. 5-8, 2011: Received Miclat from Baltimore to complete the Teagarden trade
- Dec. 3-6, 2012: Signed rehabbing free agent reliever Joakim Soria, and acquired righthander Coty Woods and lost first baseman Chris McGuiness in the Rule 5 Draft
- Dec. 9-12, 2013: No action (other than acquiring quarterback/second baseman Russell Wilson in the AA phase of the Rule 5 Draft)
The bulk of the Rangers’ winter work during the Daniels Era has come before the Winter Meetings (Joe Nathan, Prince Fielder, Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom for Michael Choice and Chris Bostick, J.P. Arencibia) or afterwards (Beltre, Napoli, Yu Darvish, Josh Hamilton, Colby Lewis, Shin-Soo Choo, Vladimir Guerrero, John Danks-plus for Brandon McCarthy-plus, lots more).
But I’m no less stoked for the Winter Meetings, which get underway this morning, in spite of the evidence and of the common omission (this year) of the Rangers from everyone’s list of clubs expected to rock the world.
The Padres, this year’s hosts, are said to be in heavy on Matt Kemp or perhaps Yoenis Cespedes, and yet Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) suggests “[o]ne possible match” that would send that club in a different direction altogether: “[The] Padres need [a] shortstop. [The] Rangers have [a] surplus — and San Diego’s [A.J.] Preller knows their players well. [Jurickson] Profar [a] possibility?”
And that’s not nearly all we’ve heard in the last half a news cycle.
* Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) shares a comment from Daniels that not only reinforces the unlikelihood that he goes big during the Meetings themselves but also suggests the club’s big splash may not happen this season until July, if at all: “It’s something we’ve talked about a lot. Before we jump out and add a ‘finishing’ type piece, I’d like to see where we are with our core players. Is it prudent to be a little more conservative right now and add some pieces to the core and still maintain our flexibility?” Grant’s interpretation is that unless Fielder, Choo, and Tanner Scheppers bounce back in 2015, perhaps loading prospects up now for a one-year piece like righthander Jordan Zimmermann or outfielder Justin Upton “would be short- and long-term wastes.”
* Grant believes the Rangers’ primary target could be Padres righthander Andrew Cashner, who has two years of club control remaining and is primed to earn $3-4 million through the arbitration process in 2015. As Grant points out, the Rangers’ desire for an established, controllable starter (and perhaps a tandem catcher) and depth in frontline prospects, the Padres’ extreme familiarity with those young players, and Cashner’s apparent interest in playing in his home state of Texas could line the two teams up on a deal — but you would think that assumes San Diego doesn’t instead go big on someone like Kemp (the club already loaded up for Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas, falling short), in which case it would seem less likely that the Padres would trade Cashner at all.
* Rosenthal hears that the Nationals are renewing efforts to lock Zimmermann up long-term. A failure to reach a deal could lead Washington to trade the 28-year-old and pursue free agent Max Scherzer.
* Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM), who predicts Texas will be a “7” (out of 10) on the “aggressiveness scale,” lists outfielders Kemp (whose contract, according to Jim Duquette [MLB Network Radio], is not insured), Cespedes, and Upton, righthander Jeff Samardzija, and catchers Miguel Montero and Jason Castro as possible trade targets for Texas, not to mention free agents Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Geovany Soto, Gerald Laird, and McCarthy.
* Bob Nightengale (USA Today) thinks Kemp will “definitely be traded,” and said on MLB Network last night, flatly: “I think Kemp goes to Texas.” Nightengale considers a Kemp-for-Profar deal a “perfect fit.” (I’d suggest the pesky financial side of that deal would be not-so-perfect).
* Nightengale suggests the White Sox are the frontrunners to trade for Samardzija. Oakland, having traded Addison Russell in its July deal to acquire Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, would seem very likely to target White Sox shortstop prospect Tim Anderson.
* Rosenthal believes Seattle is “serious about Melky” Cabrera even though Nelson Cruz is already in the fold for a lot of years.
* According to Jon Heyman (CBS Sports), the Yankees and Rangers discussed Elvis Andrus before New York completed its trade last week to acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius from Arizona.
* Will Carroll (Bleacher Report) tweets that the “Angels seem to be the team everyone is saying is active early at the Meetings. Early buzz for them and [the] Marlins.”
* Heyman reports that the Angels are making C.J. Wilson available on the trade market, perhaps to set themselves up to jump in on one of the big free agent starting pitchers. Mike DiGiovanna (Los Angeles Times) notes that Wilson can block trades to eight clubs. According to multiple local reports, Texas isn’t interested in reacquiring the 34-year-old, who is due $18 million in 2015 and $20 million in 2016.
There’s a lot more where all that came from, and thanks to Twitter and MLB Network (TV and radio), the rumors will be flying faster than any of us can track, and that’s a pretty great thing about the off-season in The Great Game, especially these next four days, even though 95 percent of what we hear will never get closer to actually happening than Don Mattingly to the Texas Rangers, 26 years and a month ago.
It’s all good, because sometimes it’s the less flashy things that ultimately do come together, and even if we don’t see them coming — and even if they may not seem like it at the time — it can be those moves that we end up talking about decades later.
Almost makes me want to go fire up the beep-buzz-hiss-scratch-whirr of the dial-up so I can pull up the Prodigy bulletin board and see what’s gone down or, more likely, been trial-ballooned in the last few hours.
So as rumors swirled Tuesday morning that Texas was the favorite to sign Torii Hunter on a one-year, career-finishing deal — which ultimately didn’t happen — and I began to accept the apparent reality that the 39-year-old was going to be the one big off-season addition to the offense, what had previously been an elusive feel for what I was hoping to see the Rangers do this winter suddenly came into focus.
I felt with conviction that Hunter would fill an important role in the clubhouse, but less so between the lines, and when it looked yesterday like he and the Rangers were at the altar, I wasn’t feeling better about 2015.
That doesn’t mean I would have been right about it, but a Rangers team with Hunter as the added bat seemed like one that could absolutely return to contention — with so many impact players returning to health — but not one all that easy to envision getting to the ALCS. And success for this franchise is now measured in pennants, not playoff appearances.
Of course, add a number two starter to the mix, and I would have reserved the right to feel much better about this season even without a major offensive upgrade, especially considering the fact that Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Jurickson Profar should give the club a boost at the plate just by being ready to go. That would be true, for me, even without bringing in another everyday bat — and chances are there still will be a hitter brought aboard, though it won’t be Hunter.
But still needing that frontline pitcher to join Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, here’s where I am:
I don’t want to trade for a one-year rotation piece unless the deal fits one of two categories: (1) it involves prospects (or big leaguers) who wouldn’t project to be core guys here; or (2) the pitcher would likely have large July trade value in case the season goes south.
Nomar Mazara in a deal for Ian Kennedy? No, thanks.
Jake Thompson-plus for Mike Leake? Pass.
Alec Asher, Hanser Alberto, and Tomas Telis for Johnny Cueto? No chance the Reds play ball on that one, obviously.
You want to talk about Mazara or Thompson, or Chi Chi Gonzalez or Jorge Alfaro — or Profar — for a one-year pitcher, it better be Cueto or David Price or Jordan Zimmermann or Hisashi Iwakuma or Zack Greinke (who can opt out halfway through his six-year deal, a year from now) you’re bringing to the table. (And it’s unlikely any of those pitchers would be available in the first place.)
No to Bud Norris or Rick Porcello or Tim Hudson or Scott Kazmir or Kyle Lohse or Mark Buehrle or J.A. Happ or Jhoulys Chacin or Kennedy or Leake, at least not for that top tier of prospects.
I go back and forth on guys like Jeff Samardzija, Doug Fister, Mat Latos, and Yovani Gallardo. I could conceivably be talked into category one, but it would take some work.
Give me Cueto or Price or Zimmermann, and the opportunity to extend them here before they ever reach free agency — or to trade them in July if 2015 doesn’t break right — then I’ll discuss just about any young player outside of Rougned Odor and Joey Gallo. Otherwise, we can talk about Nick Martinez and Nick Williams and Jerad Eickhoff and Luis Sardinas and Lewis Brinson and Odubel Herrera and Jairo Beras and Asher and Alberto and Telis and maybe even Luke Jackson and Corey Knebel, but now that I think about it, you can stay away not only from the players listed three paragraphs above but Keone Kela, too, because when he arrives it’s not going to be normal, and I’m inclined to be difficult to deal with if you think Ryan Rua is just a fungible piece, and know I value Ryan Cordell more than you’ll expect me to.
I’m not sure how big I want Texas to go on the bat (Matt Kemp or Michael Saunders? And is Mike Napoli really on the table?), and I would much rather have a starting pitcher with more than a year of control (Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, maybe even Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee depending on how much Philadelphia is willing to pay them down) than a one-year guy because, at least for now, I feel better about 2016 than I do about 2015.
Yes, I understand that Colby Lewis is evidently a lot closer to returning to the Rangers than Torii Hunter ever was to joining the club. And that Texas could be the club that gives Alexi Ogando the opportunity he seeks to be a starting pitcher in 2015, even though he’s now a free agent along with more than 30 others who were non-tendered around the league yesterday (a largely uninspiring group that includes a handful of interesting players like rehabbing starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, relievers Wesley Wright and Logan Ondrusek, pitching prospect Jose Campos, infielders Everth Cabrera, Daniel Descalso, Justin Smoak, Adam Rosales, and Gordon Beckham, outfielder Slade Heathcott, and the guy I want the Rangers to sign, lefty-mashing LF/1B Kyle Blanks).
But even if they were to bring both Lewis and Ogando back, the Rangers will still add another starting pitcher, probably via trade, and they’re going to aim higher than those two in terms of what the expectations will be.
It’s early. The off-season isn’t a race. And 2015 is far from etched.
I’m not here to say that it worked out for the best when the Mavs failed to sign Dwight Howard a year and a half ago and “settled” for Monta Ellis as a fallback, even after last night, and I’m far from comparing Torii Hunter to Dwight Howard, but it may end up working out just fine for Texas that Hunter decided, after all the talk of wanting to finally get to a World Series before he calls it quits, to take the biggest payday, back where his career started, at or near the bottom of the division.
Maybe “losing” Hunter and Hyeon-jong Yang, in an off-season that apparently hasn’t delivered Rangers news fast enough for some folks, will ultimately turn out to be the best developments of the winter.
A couple quick things:
Baseball America ranks the Rangers’ top 10 prospects as follows:
- Joey Gallo
- Jake Thompson
- Jorge Alfaro
- Nomar Mazara
- Nick Williams
- Chi Chi Gonzalez
- Luis Sardinas
- Ryan Rua
- Luis Ortiz
- Josh Morgan
For what it’s worth, I didn’t include Sardinas on my own top 72 list since he exhausted his rookie status in 2014 (by spending 60 pre-September days in the big leagues — the threshold is 45 days), and I have Morgan much further down on my own list, but the other eight on BA’s list are in my top 10, though not in the same order.
The one that stands out the most is Thompson, half of the return from the Joakim Soria trade in July, checking in at number two, ahead of Alfaro and Mazara, not to mention Gonzalez. The Rangers were able to pick up a young pitcher of Thompson’s stature and upside for a veteran reliever, a prospect who at age 20 dominated AA competition after the trade, and in a system that BA’s Ben Badler says boasts a “[s]trong combo of upside and depth,” he sits today, at least in that publication’s estimation, as the Rangers’ best pitching prospect and second-best prospect overall.
After talking to some folks about Thompson, who played for Rockwall-Heath High School, I included this in my Bound Edition writeup on the big righthander: “There are some in the organization who believe that if Texas had waited another week before making the July 23 trade with the Tigers, Detroit might have pulled him off the table given how his stuff began ticking up right after the deal did go down.”
I can also tell you that Thompson will be among our autograph guests at the Thursday, December 18 Book Release Party at Sherlock’s in Arlington.
And so will Joe Mikulik, who managed Gallo and Alfaro and Williams and Gonzalez last year at Myrtle Beach, and is responsible for some of the most epic manager meltdowns in minor league history (like this one, and this one, and this one last summer with the Pelicans).
And so will new Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele, one of the great defensive players in Rangers history.
Jake and Joe and Steve will join Derek Holland, Jason Botts, and Emily Jones at the party, which will be emceed by Ben Rogers of the Ben and Skin Show (105.3 The Fan). We’ll also collect toys that night to support the Rangers’ Cowboy Santa effort, and might have a memorabilia raffle as well. The event will probably start at 6:00 and go until 9:00.
If you order your books now, you’ll have them well in advance of the party — orders will ship this week.
And that’s this morning’s edition of Today in Stuff.
November 20 is one of those days on the baseball calendar when the ratio that’s most appropriate to focus on isn’t strikeout-to-walk or groundball-to-flyball, but instead bang-to-hype.
Teams spend hours and days evaluating which draft-eligible prospects to place on their 40-man rosters, a layered analysis that weighs not only which players are on the right path to the big leagues and most likely to be lost in the Rule 5 Draft if not protected but also which of them are least likely to stick with a new club if chosen.
And writers and bloggers spend hours and column inches predicting those decisions and breaking them down . . . in spite of the reality that the December draft historically offers marginally more impact than scouting the independent leagues. A quick review of Rule 5’s history reveals that, in the last five years, the drafted players who have played for the Rangers are Seth Rosin, Chris McGuiness, Coty Woods, Nate Adcock, and Mason Tobin, which doesn’t count Ben Snyder, who never made it to the big leagues. So, uh . . . yeah.
But we dig it because the first month of the year with no baseball to watch feels like it’s been six months since ball, and because November 20 is a day to celebrate prospects and that’s fun, and because it’s a signpost of sorts to see your team and the other 29 all drop a handful of players from the bottom of their 40-man rosters and reinvigorate things with young players to dream on.
November 20 is a day of baseball hope.
The Rangers’ decision to draft righthander Luke Jackson in the supplemental first round out of a Florida high school in 2010 carried an expectation that he’d be rostered on November 20, 2014, just like fellow high school picks Jake Skole and Kellin Deglan, who were taken 30 and 23 picks earlier, but player development in baseball isn’t like most sports. Player development is hard.
Righthander Jerad Eickhoff (15th round) was the seventh college player Texas selected in the 2011 draft (from a community college that’s hardly more recognizable than Jackson’s high school), but the only one the club added to the roster yesterday — although the ninth (Ryan Rua: 17th round), 10th (Nick Martinez: 18th round), and 18th (Phil Klein: 30th round) beat him by a few months. Outfielder Zach Cone (supplemental first round) and lefthander Will Lamb (second round) weren’t rostered on Thursday, with only one of them a real risk to lose in the draft — and it’s not the one the Rangers’ ranked higher in June 2011.
With regard to the players the Rangers signed in the 2009-10 J2 class, it wasn’t long before catcher Jorge Alfaro — signed at age 16 for $1.3 million, the most any team had ever paid an amateur player from Colombia — was considered a lock for November 2014 addition to the roster along with fellow class members Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas (both of whom arrived sooner, of course), while a far less heralded member of that summer’s J2 crop, shortstop Hanser Alberto, carried no such expectations when he signed for $65,000 out of the Dominican Republic, even if senior director of minor league operations Mike Daly secretly held out hope since Alberto was the first player he ever signed (then as director of international scouting).
Alfaro, Jackson, Eickhoff, and Alberto all played at least part of their 2014 seasons with AA Frisco, and all four were rewarded last night with the validation, the pay bump, and the spring training nameplate that addition to the 40-man roster provides. There’s nothing unique about the fact that all wore the RoughRiders uniform last summer — that’s the level where you often see your first-time draft-eligibles stating their case for roster protection — but it does lead to another point I’d like to make here, which is less about the decision about whom to shield from the draft or whom the Rangers, faced with a tremendous roster crunch, opted to risk losing.
On Frisco’s 2014 roster were not only those four, each of whom will be on his first option when camp breaks this March, but also the following players who weren’t added to the roster because they didn’t yet need to be:
Joey Gallo. Chi Chi Gonzalez. Nomar Mazara. Jake Thompson. Nick Williams. Andrew Faulkner. Keone Kela. Alec Asher. Michael De Leon. Pat Cantwell. Josh McElwee.
Plus a few who could have been protected but weren’t and who, if the Rangers are fortunate enough to slide them through the December 11 draft, are legitimate candidates to get to the big leagues: Lamb. Odubel Herrera. Trever Adams. Martire Garcia.
If you think the purpose of this morning’s report is solely to share the Kool-Aid, consider these two Thursday tweets from Baseball America’s Ben Badler, who’s far from a Rangers homer:
Keep hearing great things from scouts about Jake Thompson. Stuff is there for a potential frontline starter. Strong trade by the Rangers.
Going over our AL West Top 30s. Significant talent gap between the Astros/Rangers and every other farm system in the division.
To make room on the roster for Alfaro, Jackson, Eickhoff, and Alberto, the Rangers dropped righthander Miles Mikolas, lefthander Aaron Poreda, and outfielders Jim Adduci and Daniel Robertson, releasing the first two so they could pursue opportunities in Japan, designating Adduci for assignment with the same possible outcome, and trading Robertson to the Angels, where special assistant to the GM Tim Bogar likely put in a good word.
Dropping both Adduci and Robertson leaves Texas with an outfield group of Shin-Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Rua, Jake Smolinski, and Michael Choice (and possibly Mitch Moreland), a pretty clear signal that the club will add an everyday outfield bat this winter — not that keeping Adduci or Robertson would have meaningfully changed that — but that’s a discussion for another time.
As is the near-certainty that the roster trimming isn’t finished, even if Texas doesn’t pull off a trade of multiple rostered players for one in return before the Winter Meetings, because you can bet the Rangers’ roster will have fewer than 40 players on it when the Rule 5 Draft gets underway. Players like Adam Rosales, Michael Kirkman, and Ben Rowen are likely in some amount of roster jeopardy, for three very different reasons.
Another time on that, too.
For now the talk is about the window that’s open and isn’t going to start shutting anytime soon, which is not to say the Rangers aren’t going to prioritize winning while Yu Darvish is guaranteed to be around, but the bigger point is that you look at Alfaro, Jackson, Eickhoff, and Alberto, ages 21, 23, 24, and 22, and then at the four players dropped from the roster, ages 26, 28, 29, and 29 — none of whom other than Poreda ever had the upside the four newest roster members are thought to have — and couple that with the idea that Darvish and Choo and Moreland and Profar and Prince Fielder and Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando should be ready to roll when Pitchers & Catchers Report, and that Martin Perez is looking at a mid-season return, and tack on the likelihood, by all accounts, that Texas will add a frontline starting pitcher and an impact bat and a 1 or 1A catcher before we get to Surprise, and those little Ben Badler tweets about the Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle farm systems serve to simply pile onto what’s already a big and awesome heap of hype.
And that’s what 40-man roster decisions and trade rumors and prospect rankings amount to — a bunch of off-season hype. The bang comes later, if it comes at all, and maybe in six years we’re talking about Hanser Alberto being dropped from someone’s roster so he can hook on with a club in Korea.
But we do feed on the hype, and the hope, because sports, and while yesterday’s news amounted to fairly routine procedural steps that would have landed in the agate type back in the days of agate type, the implications give us plenty to dream on, and some baseball teams are in a much better position than others to give their fans reason to believe the bang-to-hype barometer stands to swing decisively in the good direction in the near term, the long term, or both.
Mid-Monday morning, national writer Scott Miller reported that the Blue Jays were hiring Rangers assistant minor league hitting coordinator Brook Jacoby to take over as their new big league hitting coach, a position he had held with the Reds from 2007 through 2013. In Gerry Fraley’s note on the Dallas Morning News site about the loss of Jacoby, he added that the Rangers decided after the season not to bring Tony Fernandez back as a special assistant to the GM, after he’d served in that role for three years.
About a half-hour later, I thought about Fernandez for the second time over the same cup of coffee, after having not given a moment’s thought to his name in a long time. Word broke that new Braves GM John Hart had pulled off a trade reminiscent of the Fernandez/Fred McGriff-for-Roberto Alomar/Joe Carter deal two dozen years later — a good, old-fashioned talent-for-talent swap that wasn’t necessarily driven by dollars or rebuilds, one objective of which accounts for nearly every trade made these days in baseball — by sending outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to St. Louis for righthanders Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.
It was an old-school trade involving four valuable players who haven’t reached their ceiling but are young enough to still dream on the possibility that they will. Three big righthanders (all from Texas) and an even bigger outfielder, a prototype right fielder who was an everyday big leaguer at age 20 and an All-Star the same year. One of those deals that, you could easily suggest, could make both teams better right away — especially coming early enough in the winter that it could lead both to deal further from new strengths.
Because of the pre-peak status of the players involved, it’s a deal that’s more dynamic than Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder was a year ago. Because of the success that Heyward, Miller, and Walden have already had, it’s more of an impact deal that Yankees bat Jesus Montero for Mariners righthander Michael Pineda three winters ago was supposed (or turned out) to be — or that the heavily spitballed (and never-would-have-happened) exchange in 2013 of Rangers shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar for late Cardinals outfielder prospect Oscar Taveras might have been, and you can’t really count Jon Lester and Yoenis Cespedes in July because Lester was clearly nothing more than a two-month rent horse.
Seven years ago, Minnesota and Tampa Bay got together on a six-player deal that looked a little then like Monday’s Atlanta-St. Louis trade. Two days after his 24th birthday, the Twins sent a package headed by righthander Matt Garza — like Miller (a few weeks after his own 24th birthday) a former first-round pick with two years in the big leagues – to the Rays for a group including outfielder Delmon Young — like Heyward a former first-rounder himself and a runner-up in the Rookie of the Year vote.
At the time, Tampa Bay’s outfield, which had been divested a year earlier of the repeatedly dashed anticipation of Josh Hamilton’s arrival, was still loaded. Aside from the 22-year-old Young, the Rays had 26-year-old Carl Crawford (with one year and two club options left on his multi-year contract), 23-year-old star B.J. Upton, 26-year-old tease Rocco Baldelli, 23-year-old enigma Elijah Dukes, and 21-year-old Desmond Jennings, whom Baseball Prospectus had judged that off-season to be baseball’s number 18 prospect.
The decision to reallocate a position of abundance worked out well for the Rays, who got solid work over three seasons and two post-seasons out of Garza, while Young was largely a disappointment in Minnesota.
Tampa Bay chose correctly, making out better than the Braves did when five months earlier they sent Elvis Andrus to Texas, banking on the depth of having Edgar Renteria in the big leagues and rookie Yunel Escobar arriving, plus AAA shortstop Brent Lillibridge as another Top 100 Prospect in the game.
And better than the Rangers did a year later with what was widely judge to be enviable depth behind the plate, with 28-year-old Gerald Laird, 23-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who had come over with Andrus in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves), 24-year-old Taylor Teagarden, and 23-year-old Max Ramirez, all four of whom had seen time in the big leagues in 2008. Publications all over the industry were convinced that the Rangers, with their avalanche of catching depth, lined up perfectly with the Red Sox, who could arguably match a similarly positioned pitcher up with each Texas catcher from an inventory that was headed then by Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard, and Nick Hagadone.
The Rangers made no such 2008 deal with Boston (which assumes one was ever really available), instead shipping Laird and Teagarden and eventually Saltalamacchia off unceremoniously (for minor leaguers Guillermo Moscoso, Carlos Melo, Roman Mendez, Chris McGuiness, Michael Thomas, Randy Henry, and Greg Miclat) and losing Ramirez on a waiver claim after designating him for assignment. The Red Sox ended up with both Saltalamacchia and Ramirez, though they had the latter for only five January days before losing him to the Cubs on their own attempt to get him through waivers.
Toronto had its own catcher surfeit in 2009, and didn’t really capitalize on it. J.P. Arencibia was MVP of the AAA Pacific Coast League. The Jays had Travis d’Arnaud at High Class A and A.J. Jimenez at Low Class A, each ranked as his league’s best defensive catcher in Baseball America surveys of league managers. Splitting the season at Low A and Short-Season A was Yan Gomes, and he shared time at the lower of the two levels with Carlos Perez, who some felt would be the best of all of them.
They ended up losing Jimenez temporarily to Tommy John surgery (in May 2012), moving Perez along with other prospects in a large deal that netted them J.A. Happ (in July 2012), overtrading d’Arnaud (after the 2012 season), trading Gomes brutally (after 2012), and non-tendering Arencibia (after 2013). They had acquired Mike Napoli in January 2011 (from the Angels with Frosty Rivera for Vernon Wells) — but, prepared to turn catcher over to Arencibia with caddy Jose Molina already on board, four days later flipped Napoli to Texas for Frankie Francisco.
The Rangers were thrilled to add Napoli because that ballyhooed catching surplus of theirs hadn’t panned out.
The Blue Jays, because theirs hadn’t either (Jimenez is still around, splitting 2014 between AA and AAA), gave $82 million yesterday to Russell Martin for his age 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36 seasons.
This time of year, anytime there’s a big player move you have to step back and ask how it might affect your own team’s plans, and whether it could create new opportunities.
If there was some thought that Hart and Jon Daniels might connect on a trade of C/LF/DH type Evan Gattis, on the one hand the Braves’ trade of Heyward would seem to reduce the possibility, with Justin Upton theoretically now sliding over to right field in Heyward’s place and opening left field up for Gattis.
On the other hand, writers like Buster Olney (ESPN), Bob Nightengale (USA Today), Joel Sherman (New York Post), and Mark Bowman (MLB.com) believe Upton could still be moved, with Seattle (not on Upton’s no-trade list) a candidate (possibly for righthander Taijuan Walker, Olney suggests). According to Sherman, Atlanta won’t stop looking for opportunities to dump Upton’s brother B.J.’s contract on someone, and Bowman believes Gattis could still be on the move.
In St. Louis, Heyward joins an outfield that now has no role for Randal Grichuk, who might have been useful as a relief option for the lefty Taveras if he were still with us. Not sure Grichuk makes sense here (Ryan Rua and Jake Smolinski deserve a shot), and while Peter Bourjos might, Grichuk isn’t a good enough center fielder for the Cardinals to part with Bourjos for what his trade value would bring.
Miller joining Atlanta’s rotation probably doesn’t free anyone up that would fit the Rangers’ objective of finding a controllable starter they could plug into the middle of the rotation.
As for Martin signing with Toronto — he’s not going to catch 140 games, but do the Jays really want to spend more than $20 million behind the plate this year, with $5 million going to Dioner Navarro for fewer than 50 defensive games? The switch-hitter could be a solid fit for Texas as Robinson Chirinos’s partner behind the plate, and though I suspect that’s probably more than the Rangers would want to spend on a part-time catcher, Chirinos will make marginally more than the $500,000 minimum . . . and probably shouldn’t be counted on as a lock to repeat his breakout 2014.
And the Blue Jays still have Josh Thole, who caught every one of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s starts in 2014 (and not many more). Doesn’t Toronto need to hang onto Thole and move Navarro?
Navarro will be 31 when the 2015 starts, coming off his first season as a frontline catcher since 2009. In a market where a number of teams are looking for a catcher — including at least a couple who had been intent on signing Martin — Navarro is going to have some trade value over the next few weeks.
Daniels told MLB Network Radio on Sunday that his “clear focus has been on the trade front” rather than the free agent market, as were “most of the teams [he] spoke with” at last week’s GM Meetings in Phoenix. Tops on the list for Texas are a starting pitcher and a run-producing bat, but catcher fits in there as well, and after Martin there’s just not a lot at the position on the free agent market, prompting players like Navarro, Alex Avila, Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan, Yasmani Grandal, and Rene Rivera to pop up in off-season trade rumors. The free agent options just don’t move the needle as much.
Maybe it’s the TV money geyser. Maybe it’s Kansas City and Baltimore and Pittsburgh turning the clock back 30 years and winning again, emboldening more small market teams to make a financial effort to compete. Maybe it’s just a fluke year. But more and more players are getting locked up internally and kept off the open market — I haven’t even mentioned yesterday’s news of the record-setting commitment the Marlins are making to Giancarlo Stanton — and as a result Monday’s huge Atlanta-St. Louis trade feels like it might be a precursor, rather than an aberration.
The Rangers aren’t going to be party to a Heyward-Miller throwback type of deal this winter in which a young player with star upside at something close to peak value is traded for another. They’re not trading Yu Darvish or Derek Holland or Rougned Odor, and beyond that they all come with bad money or health questions.
But that doesn’t mean the Rangers won’t deal this winter — they will — and it doesn’t mean they aren’t in a position to win in 2015. Fewer things have to go right next year than went wrong last year in order for Texas to be playing for something with a week to go.
It was easy to imagine Jason Heyward, drafted and developed by his hometown Braves, playing an entire career in an Atlanta uniform. But it rarely happens. Even Tony Fernandez, after eight seasons with Toronto that included four Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances, was traded in that huge four-player deal in 1990, traded again in a less noteworthy deal two years later, and traded once more in an even smaller deal in 1993. After his lengthy run with the Jays, he went to San Diego and then New York (NL) and then Toronto again and then Cincinnati and then New York (AL) and then Cleveland and then Toronto a third time and then the Seibu Lions and then Milwaukee and then Toronto one last time. Whether Heyward has another swim through Atlanta (or two or three more), the odds are that he won’t finish his career without changing teams again.
Same goes for Darvish. And Holland. And Odor.
It’s the modern reality of the game, the kind of thing that didn’t stop John Hart or John Mozeliak from making yesterday’s blockbuster trade, and that won’t stop Daniels from listening on Andrus and Luis Sardinas and Luke Jackson and Nick Williams and anyone else he thinks could have more ultimate value to this organization as a trade piece, an analysis fully dependent on how the GM on the other end of the smartphone assesses the Rangers’ assets, and his own.
The process of lining up needs and evaluating windows is a complicated one, with a finite number of teams and a basically finite pool of baseball players capable of filling perceived needs, and when the demand exceeds the supply, as it usually does since most clubs are (properly) never satisfied, to get to the finish line on an impact trade it often takes a good amount of imagination, almost always takes a heavy measure of guts and conviction, and it doesn’t hurt when you have a 25-year-old outfielder with five-tool ability or a 24-year-old starting pitcher flashing signs that he might be ready, in at least one of the four years you’ll control him, to pitch at the very top of your rotation, and are willing to discuss the idea of putting that player in someone else’s uniform.
I’m not sure yet whether we’re witnessing a paradigm shift, or if this is just the level that this winter’s market has necessarily found, but there’s a reason we still talk about Fernandez/McGriff for Alomar/Carter 24 years later, and you get the sense that Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins is just the first of a handful of trades this winter that we’ll be talking about when those guys are all done playing, maybe staying in the game as the special assistant to somebody’s GM.
THE 2015 BOUND EDITION OF THE NEWBERG REPORT
** PREORDERS UNDERWAY **
We are now taking orders for the 2015 Bound Edition of the Newberg Report, my 16th annual book on the Texas Rangers. It’s over 300 pages commemorating the 2014 season and the significant events after season’s end designed to reshape the club’s immediate future, all chronicled in the book in daily, exhaustive, emotional detail. For any Rangers fan, this book will be one to look back on for years and years.
The 2015 Bound Edition, with forewords written by Rangers Director of Pro Scouting Josh Boyd and Rangers Field Reporter Emily Jones, not only looks back on 2014 but also serves as a primer on what you can expect from this organization for years to come. Nowhere can you find more information and analysis on the players that the Rangers are developing as future members of the major league team and, in some scenarios, as ammunition for trades that could dramatically alter the roster this off-season.
More than 3,000 of you on this mailing list are past customers of the Bound Edition, but for those of you who are relatively new to the Newberg Report, here is what you can expect from the book:
The book picks up right where the 2014 eEdition left off, taking you from late December 2013 through the early October 2014 and containing every report I wrote in that span (including every “Trot Coffey” rumor dump). The Bound Edition is the most thorough account you’ll find of the many twists and turns that the 2014 season took, and of the implications of the personnel moves that highlighted it.
Not just a complete record of the Rangers’ season, the book includes a feature section comprised of an entire section of new material that won’t ever appear on the website or in any e-mail deliveries. Included in that section are rankings and analysis of more than 70 Rangers prospects throughout the club’s highly ranked farm system, making the Bound Edition a primer on the players who should help keep this organization in contention for years to come. There’s also the annual “40-Man Roster Conundrum” chapter, breaking down the organization’s decisions headed toward the Rule 5 Draft, which this year stands to be as critical as any for Texas in recent memory, as the club could very well suffer losses in the draft due to an overcrowded roster and a large number of legitimate prospects whose service time makes them draft-eligible.
The photographs that appear on the glossy front and back covers (both shown above) feature some of the organization’s top young players. As always, the covers are perfect for autographs.
The 2015 Bound Edition is $24.95 per book, plus shipping.
Because I have to front the printing costs, if you plan to buy copies of the book, preorders are appreciated. The plan is to have the books ready for delivery in time for the holidays.
I also have all the previous editions of the Bound Edition for sale. The price breakdown is as follows:
- 2015 Bound Edition – $24.95 (plus shipping)
- 2014 eEdition – $9.99
- 2013 Bound Edition – $20.00
- 2012 Bound Edition (2011 World Series edition) – $20.00
- 2011 Bound Edition (2010 World Series edition) – $20.00
- 1999/2000 through 2010 Bound Editions – $15.00 each
Previous editions will be shipped separately from the 2015 book (in most cases right away). As far as previous editions are concerned, shipping is $3.00 for the first book, and $2.00 for each additional book.
- Buy two or more copies of the 2015 Bound Edition, and I’ll throw in a free copy of last year’s eEdition
- A gift set of all 16 books (15 Bound Editions plus last year’s eEdition) is available for $225, which is a $35 discount
You can also order by check or money order, payable to “Jamey Newberg,” at:
Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein, P.C.
1601 Elm Street, Suite 4100
Dallas, TX 75201
If you are paying by check or money order, please make sure to include your mailing address, and specify how many of each book you want.
I’m extremely biased but, trying to pretend to be slightly objective, I think this is the kind of book that any Rangers fan’s library should include. I’m happy to answer any questions you have.
There were a couple places where I’ve seen Jeff Banister’s story compared to Guilder Rodriguez’s, based on the long and in some ways incredible journey each took as a player, against the odds, to get that one big league shot.
They’re probably the two people in the organization that Jayce Tingler has most in common with.
When the Rangers acquired the 5’8”, 155-pound outfielder in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December 2005 — the same draft in which they took Oakland outfielder Alexi Ogando — they were picking up a 25-year-old who had never played above Class A and had a .263 batting average and .320 slug in three seasons on the Toronto farm. It would stand to reason that Texas was adding Tingler to the organization with visions that went well beyond fortifying the Bakersfield Blaze outfield situation with a BB/K machine, even if it wasn’t evident then to us as fans.
Tingler fared well for the 2006 Blaze, hitting a career-high .330 (with exponentially more walks than strikeouts, as he’d done at every level) and earning both Cal League All-Star recognition and a mid-June promotion to Frisco.
But a month later, after hitting .227/.306/.227 as a RoughRider and having a couple eye-opening conversations with Rangers director of player development Scott Servais and minor league field coordinator Mike Brumley, he was released, with a specific transition in mind.
That fall the Rangers put Tingler work in the Dominican Republic — but not before he went home to Missouri in August to study up on his Spanish — and by time spring training rolled around, he was on the coaching staff of the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team, which he would manage in 2008 and 2009, leading the club to first-place finishes each season, just as he did when he skippered the Rangers’ Arizona League club in 2010.
The Rangers probably had something bigger in mind than Tingler’s elite ability to draw walks when they acquired him from the Blue Jays (who had drafted him as a University of Missouri senior, seven rounds before the Rangers took his teammate Ian Kinsler) — or at least realized they had something special once he arrived.
Just as Texas didn’t draft Rodriguez from Milwaukee in the minor league phase of 2008’s Rule 5 Draft because of his stalwart .254/.345/.273 slash line in eight seasons at Class AA or lower on the Brewers farm. There could be bigger plans for him, too, and if so his six seasons in AA and AAA with the Rangers will have driven that home.
Tingler’s playing career didn’t last a third as long as Rodriguez’s, and he didn’t get that one big league at-bat like Banister, but he did coach on the farm like Banister (for one year), manage on the farm like Banister (three years), serve as minor league field coordinator like Banister (three years, not counting one as coordinator of Arizona and Dominican instruction), and, now, will take on the role of big league field coordinator like Banister did under Pirates managers Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon, in what will be a newly created position as far as the Rangers go. It’s a role Banister brings with him from Pittsburgh, and he’s chosen Tingler, a baseball operations beast with a background and a mindset that resonated with him, to fill it.
Banister told local reporters yesterday, after it was announced that pitching coach Mike Maddux, hitting coach Dave Magadan, bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, and assistant hitting coach Bobby Jones would remain on the coaching staff, and that he was staying internal with three of the four remaining spots — promoting bench coach Steve Buechele, first base coach/catching instructor Hector Ortiz, and Tingler from positions on the Texas farm (Banister says he’d like for the open third base coach position to go to “someone he’s familiar with”) — that “it’s extremely important to me that these coaches have gained traction with the players in the organization. They will aid me in getting up to speed with our guys. I wanted guys who had that kind of knowledge and those kinds of relationships, and I wanted guys who would work together as a group.”
Tingler, according to local reports defining the scope of his new position, will “organize spring training, organize workouts, and act almost as a secondary bench coach during games,” and will also be involved with big league baserunning and outfield instruction, two areas that Gary Pettis was responsible for before he left to take a job on Houston’s coaching staff.
Banister talked about wanting his coaches bringing ideas to each other — “iron sharpens iron,” he said — and if you know Jayce Tingler at all, you know he’s going to bring plenty of vision and energy and feel to the table. According to Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News), Jon Daniels wanted to promote Tingler to director of player development (from his Arizona/Dominican role) after the 2011 season (when Servais left to become the Angels’ Assistant GM), but Nolan Ryan instead brought former Astros GM Tim Purpura* in to fill that role — the same position that San Diego GM A.J. Preller, according to Dennis Lin (San Diego Union-Tribune), wanted to consider Tingler for in the last couple weeks in spite of his agreement with Texas not to hire Rangers personnel for a specified length of time.
(* I’m not sure if Purpura remains with the organization, but he’s no longer listed on the Rangers’ front office webpage, and his LinkedIn page indicates that his 2014 position with Texas as special assistant in business operations ended in October.)
At least for the foreseeable future and hopefully for a very long time, this is going to be a franchise that develops players well and gives itself solid options from the farm system to impact the club in Arlington without severely impacting the payroll. It’s going to be a very good thing to have a guy like Tingler here to help acclimate those young players when they arrive — as a guy who understands what makes every one of them tick without having to rely on filed reports — and to use some of that “gained traction” from nearly a decade with this franchise to help Banister recognize right away how they might be able to help this team win.
None of this is to diminish how cool it is that Buechele (who crossed paths in Pittsburgh with Banister in 1993, in the spring training following Banister’s one big league appearance) and Ortiz, who have paid 15 combined years of dues on the Rangers farm, are getting the opportunity to impact this franchise on the big league level again, 20 years (in Buechele’s case) and 13 years (in Ortiz’s case) since they made their final Major League appearances as players, both with Texas. If I wasn’t slammed right now trying to finish this year’s book, I’d have spent a good amount of time on the meaning of the Buechele promotion, on several interesting levels — including that Banister has just done for Buechele what Clint Hurdle had done for Banister four years ago — and on all the different hats Ortiz has worn with the Rangers, and how this newest hat is not only such a huge thing for Ortiz himself but also could be for the young Rangers catchers who have already arrived . . . or could soon.
Instead, I gave myself the time to crank out a little bit about Jayce Tingler, who has filled so many roles for this franchise and has always been considered capable of more, and the very cool new hat Jeff Banister just put on his head.
Swing and a miss.
Fastball up and in, ball one.
Slider down and away, rolled over to the 5.5 hole, gloved by the shortstop on the lip of the outfield grass.
The dream typically stars Babe Ruth, or Robin Yount, or Adrian Beltre.
Not Rob Sasser.
Or Moonlight Graham.
Or Jeff Banister.
It was July 23, 1991. The Pittsburgh Pirates, owning baseball’s best record by a healthy margin and on their way to matching the most wins in franchise history since 1909, had a comfortable 10-3 lead over Atlanta coming out of the seventh-inning stretch, when catcher Mike LaValliere grounded out to Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser to start the bottom of the frame. Pirates righthander Doug Drabek was the next man up.
Except manager Jim Leyland decided his ace had done enough for the day.
The next man up, instead, was a 27-year-old who had posted up for nearly 500 games and 1700 plate appearances on the farm, and was about to be entrusted, by Leyland, with his first of each on the big league level.
And his last.
Unable to find his own bat or his own helmet because his teammates had hidden them, Jeff Banister — who’d been told by his AAA Buffalo Bisons manager Terry Collins that morning that he was going to Pittsburgh to fill in while catcher Don Slaught was on the disabled list — grabbed Cecil Espy’s bat and someone else’s lid and made the walk to home plate at Three Rivers Stadium, on ankles and knees that had been operated on nine times in high school and college, some of which were conducted before doctors found bone cancer in one leg, which is to say nothing of the junior college collision at the plate that left him paralyzed from the neck down for 10 days, a terrifying sports moment that would have never happened had a Yankees scout not requested that he catch that day — or if he and his family would have allowed doctors to amputate the left leg three years earlier in the wake of the cancer diagnosis.
On a pair of legs relief-mapped by a series of scars that were reminders of what was never supposed to be possible, Jeff Banister made the walk to home plate, as perhaps the least decorated big leaguer ever produced by the University of Houston, pinch-hitting for certainly the school’s most decorated player ever.
But as a big leaguer, nonetheless.
Charged with facing aging Braves reliever Dan Petry, who was pitching in mop-up relief for his second of three teams that season in what would be the 13th and final year of the 32-year-old’s career, Banister swung through one, watched one, and connected with the third Petry pitch, beginning his sprint toward first base just as Blauser started sprinting away from it. Blauser met the ground ball in the hole and fired it to first base, but Banister got there first, firing through those 14 steps while “carr[ying] a whole truckload of people with me down the line.”
He legged it out. And was safe.
The debut single drew an ovation from the the Pittsburgh crowd of fewer than 22,000, among which were none of Banister’s family members — Banister’s wife, mother, and sister had instead driven up from the Houston area to Oklahoma City, where Banister’s Bisons had traveled 1,200 miles to play the Rangers’ AAA club that night. Nobody, including Jeff, had expected Bisons-89ers to go on without him.
Gary Redus followed Banister’s one-out single with a fly to right, Jay Bell went down swinging, and the inning — and Banister’s big league playing career — came to an end. Bob Patterson took over on the mound, and in the lineup slot that Banister held down for less than 10 minutes. With one swing of the bat and 14 intense strides, Banister cobbled together a 1.000/1.000/1.000 slash line, one that’s forever frozen on the back of one baseball card.
It wasn’t a Travis Ishakawa moment by any measure, except to one man.
When Banister — a non-roster, part-time, .240’s-hitting minor league catcher who was replaced on the big league roster four days later by his Buffalo counterpart, Tom Prince, who held things down until Slaught’s return — talked about that infield single at Friday’s press conference introducing the 50-year-old Texan as the Rangers’ new manager, he said:
Touching first base and seeing the umpire give the safe call, it was complete satisfaction. Everybody goes, “Oh, don’t you wish you hit a home run?” Now: no. Then: no. Because it was such a challenge, so difficult to get there, why would I want it easy? It would be easy to trot around the bases.
It was magical for me then, and it’s even more magical now. When I talk to my kids, when they’re sitting back and wanting things to come easy to them, I say: “Life ain’t easy. You’ve got to grind it out. When you grind it out, it’s that much more satisfactory to you.”
It’s a quote that would surprise nobody if it came from Ron Washington, and in some respects, both in personality and in coaching history, there are similarities between the Rangers’ 17th full-time manager and their 18th.
But there are unmistakable differences, too, one of which can be illustrated by a comment Banister made in his presser, when he noted, parenthetically, that you chase the big inning because the data suggests putting up a three-run frame results in an 80 percent win probability.
Forget whether the numbers bear out; the significance is at least twofold. First, this is a manager who wants to understand metrics and to take advantage of them.
Second, less bunting.
When Banister started talking about “looking for the ways . . . we can outplay the predictable outcome,” the Wash double-takes were out the window, but it also became very clear that Banister (who has spent the bulk of his coaching career in player development, which along with scouting he called the Pirates’ “lifeblood”) is far from a slave to the numbers.
“I understand the idea of analytics but also understand the human aspect of the game. This is still a game played by humans. Because of that, any number of times, the general numbers may not play out for you. . . . Ultimately that’s what it’s all about. Showing up and playing hard. Being ready to play and playing to win. Show up and play hard every night for 27 outs, hard outs. We show up to play and we show up to win.”
Pitchers who attack the strike zone, who work quickly, who compete. Hitters who adjust to the game situation. Runners who will take the extra base. Defenders who are “extraordinary at the ordinary.” Teammates who go to battle with a “next man up” mentality, ready to fill in when another man is down.
That’s the stuff that reminds you of Wash. But when Banister is described by Pirates quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald as “a guy . . . who will pop in and say, ‘Have we ever thought about this?’ or ‘How is the game changing?,’” you don’t expect him to be the type of manager who will bat Mike Carp third and Rougned Odor ninth over and over and over when the season is lost, or who will bunt in the first inning or refuse to take a reliever out of his papered role, dismissive of the situation.
That’s not to be dismissive of Ron Washington, the greatest manager this franchise has had. But he put this organization in a position of having to replace him, and that created an opportunity. An opportunity to gauge the roster, which is different from the 2006 group Wash inherited, and the game, which is played in a different way from how it used to be played, and try to reinvigorate the clubhouse and the organization with a new voice to integrate with the others in charge.
Tim Bogar could have been that voice, unquestionably. The players and management were familiar with him; he was somewhat of a known quantity. He succeeded under trying circumstances over the season’s final three weeks, and had demonstrated that he had different ideas from his former skipper on how to run the club — and they seemed to work. He seemed to communicate well with the press and, by extension, the fan base. For a number of years he’s been a frontline managerial candidate, more so (at least apparently) than Banister. He trained under Terry Francona and Joe Maddon and Ron Washington.
It would have been easy and safe for Texas to shed the “interim” tag and appoint Bogar as the full-time manager, and not one member of the media or segment of the fan base would have denigrated it as easy and safe.
For Texas to decide, after formally interviewing Bogar and Banister and six others since season’s end, to forgo the option that seemed to line up so well and instead roll the dice a bit, it’s obvious that Banister (who gets three years and a club option for a fourth, compared with the two Washington got on his initial deal) had to have blown the doors off the core of the 12-man committee that Jon Daniels put together to help make this choice.
That doesn’t necessarily make the choice the right one. That will play itself out.
But this is a risk Rangers management believed was worth taking — or maybe more to the point, one not worth not taking — and that part I have faith in. Aggressive and risky is good, if the risks are measured. No more bunts in the first inning.
The front office has put itself on the line with this hire, and that’s better than seeking out the least controversial path — if you don’t think it’s necessarily the best one. I was a big Tim Bogar guy, and am confident he will manage winning teams in the big leagues. (I’d have said the same about Banister if he hadn’t won this job — and I still find it interesting that the Astros, whose ballpark is 20 minutes from Banister’s home, narrowed their search to A.J. Hinch, Torey Lovullo, and Banister three weeks ago, and went with Hinch.) But the Rangers, after all the homework and all the conversations, believed that Jeff Banister was the perfect candidate to be the next man up for this team, and for now that’s absolutely good enough for me.
News broke last night that Bogar would not be part of Banister’s staff, and that the Rangers, whose contract with Bogar extends through 2015, offered him a non-coaching position (likely some sort of special assistant to the GM role) as a fallback opportunity should he not find a position he wants with another club.
Maybe the situation was too awkward — for both Banister and Bogar — to move forward with one reporting to the other, particularly with Bogar having managed the team himself for the final three weeks of the season. There is precedent that would have supported the idea that a Bogar return couldn’t be ruled out — Don Wakamatsu was Buck Showalter’s bench coach in Texas, interviewed for the opportunity to replace him, and though he lost out to Washington, remained on the Rangers coaching staff for a year, manning third base on Wash’s first staff . . . Maddon was named interim manager for the Angels in 1999 after Collins resigned late in the season, and stayed on as bench coach for six years after Los Angeles hired Mike Scioscia in the winter as the new full-time manager — and there’s even relevant history with Banister himself.
Banister had been a minor league player, player/coach, manager, and field coordinator with the Pirates for 20 of his 24 years with the franchise when, in August 2010, the organization fired bench coach Gary Varsho for disloyalty to manager John Russell and elevated Banister to the bench coach position. Russell was fired after the season and Banister interviewed for the manager post, and the club’s decision came down to him and Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle (out of a group of candidates that had included Bo Porter, Ken Macha, John Gibbons, Eric Wedge, Dale Sveum, and Carlos Tosca), with Hurdle getting the ultimate nod.
Banister says Hurdle sat down with Banister afterwards, and asked him why it is that he coaches. What it is that gives him joy in the game. How he transfers that joy to other human beings. Satisfied with the answers, Hurdle, the newcomer, asked Banister, the holdover, to remain as his bench coach. Banister accepted, and held that job the last four seasons.
That’s not going to happen with Banister and Bogar, for whatever reason. I’d love to see Bogar remain with the franchise in some capacity, but (1) it wouldn’t be for long, because he’ll manage in the big leagues soon, and (2) it would mean he couldn’t find a better opportunity, and I don’t wish that for him.
That said, if I have a vote, I’d prefer not to see Bogar filling Oakland’s bench coach vacancy, created when Chip Hale left a week ago to manage the Diamondbacks.
Does Banister have an external candidate in mind for the job to his side?
Could it be fellow finalist Kevin Cash — and would Cleveland permit Texas to hire its bullpen coach (who may be viewed as Francona’s heir apparent but who will probably get the chance to manage somewhere before Francona is done with the Indians) away for that position?
The Pirates didn’t trade righthanders Kurt Miller and Hector Fajardo to the Rangers for Steve Buechele until a month after Banister’s one Pittsburgh at-bat, but I assume the two were teammates the following spring training in Bradenton (before right elbow surgery wiped Banister’s season out). Whether that has any sort of impact on the chances that Buechele — who also interviewed for the job Banister won (as well as the one in Houston that neither got) — could land on the big league staff is unknown.
There’s at least one certain opening on the staff aside from Bogar’s, as Gary Pettis (outfield/baserunning/third base) has taken a job with Houston.
Hitting coach Dave Magadan has reportedly spoken to the Yankees and Mets and A’s about their hitting coach vacancies (though the Yankees have ruled him out), and Texas reportedly obtained permission to reach out to A’s hitting coach Chili Davis before he took the job in Boston. In the meantime, Magadan will visit with Banister and Daniels in Surprise on Thursday, according to Calvin Watkins (ESPN Dallas).
Mike Maddux says he wants to stay. (Notably, Banister worked with Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews in the Pittsburgh farm system from 2003-07 — and Andrews is considered a star here, just as pitching coordinator Danny Clark and AAA pitching coach Brad Holman are.)
No word on Andy Hawkins, Bengie Molina, or Bobby Jones.
We know two things, according to local reports: Banister won’t be forced to retain any incumbent coaches he doesn’t want, and (per Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News) he won’t be permitted to bring anyone over from the Pirates, based on an agreement between the two franchises.
In any event, according to Watkins, the Rangers want to have the coaching staff finalized before the November 10-12 GM Meetings, with Banister looking for “men with passion for people . . . difference-makers . . . guys who love to prepare, who like to be at the ballpark, who want to learn and don’t know it all and are willing to make adjustments. The name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back.”
Are there a couple clichés sprinkled in Banister’s media game? No question. Does that matter? It doesn’t make Buck Showalter or Hurdle any less effective at managing a ball club.
How he communicates with his players is more important than how he communicates with us (and for the record, I thought he was extremely impressive on Friday, especially when he began taking reporters’ questions).
Factor in some of the things that those who have known him longer have said in the last few days, and you get a picture in higher definition.
Jerry Crasnick (ESPN): “Anyone who’s dealt with Jeff Banister will tell you he’s the real deal. Not a big name, but [the] Rangers just made a great hire.”
Bob Nightengale (USA Today): “Jeff Banister, the new Rangers manager, is one of the most passionate baseball men you’ll ever meet. A pro’s pro.”
Fitzgerald: “He’s a baseball guy. But he can communicate with nontraditional people in the clubhouse and reach them. He’s got a pretty cool ability to reach people on any level.”
An anonymous Pirates player, according to Jared Sandler (ESPN Dallas): “He makes guys better at [the big league] level and that just doesn’t always happen. . . . No one is better at dealing with different types of players and people. . . . He’s a tough SOB. He isn’t scared of challenging situations. He’s a rock in the clubhouse.”
An unnamed Pirates insider, according to Shan Shariff (105.3 The Fan): Banister “is a Roger Clemens, Greg Swindell, kick-your-ass kind of guy, in a quiet and humble way.”
C.J. Nitkowski (Fox Sports; also pitched in the Pirates farm system for two years): “Great move by Texas hiring @BannyRooster28 as their next manager. Widely respected, terrific leader, nice to see him get this opportunity.”
About that Twitter handle . . . a “banty (bantam) rooster” is a miniature breed of the bird, and when used in reference to a person, it means someone small in physical stature but aggressive, spirited, and ready to attack anything in its way.
Banister isn’t a little guy, but he says he was as a kid, and that’s when the nickname stuck — when he was just the wiry son of a high school football coach and an algebra teacher, not yet a teenaged cancer patient or college-aged paralysis victim who took on fights on a completely different level altogether.
Daniels, who has repeatedly referred to Banister as “a winner and a survivor, in every sense of the word,” and “a man of tremendous integrity and physical presence,” told the local press on Friday, six weeks after Washington had resigned (and one year to the date, incidentally, after Nolan Ryan had done so himself): “I’m not sure I can define the perfect manager — but I’m pretty sure I can define the perfect manager for us.”
A survivor, in every sense of the word. Cancer. Paralaysis. An unexceptional minor league career that nonetheless led to a big league opportunity. Nearly three decades with one franchise, as a 25th-round draft pick and Low A player and High A player and AA player and AAA player and big league player and AA player-coach and rookie-level manager and Low A manager and winter league manager and High A manager and AA manager and big league field coordinator and minor league field coordinator and fall league manager and big league bench coach.
In the later years of that timeline, there are two professional moments that stand out when painting a picture of Jeff Banister, survivor.
In the summer of 2007, the Pirates were sold to a new ownership group and GM Dave Littlefield was replaced by Neal Huntington, who had been with the Indians for a decade. Huntington came in and fired manager Jim Tracy, senior director of player development (and interim GM) Brian Graham, senior director of scouting Ed Creech, and director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio, telling reporters:
Since my appointment as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates we’ve undergone an exhaustive review of what is here, who we are, what we do, who is in place, what’s good and unfortunately in some situations what’s not so good. . . . It became very clear to me that we needed some change. If we are going to successfully implement our philosophies, our vision and our system we needed to change the leadership. We needed to change the direction of our baseball operations department.
Huntington added explicitly that the new direction would be heavily grounded in sabermetrics, a clear departure from the way the Pirates had done baseball business throughout their organization to that point.
Banister was the organization’s 43-year-old minor league field coordinator, older than Huntington and considerably older than the new 29-year-old director of player development (Kyle Stark) and new 27-year-old director of baseball operations (Brian Minniti) he was bringing in to help usher in a completely different way of doing things.
Many player development officials were let go. Banister was one of the few who survived.
Three years later, in August of 2010, when Varsho’s (and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan’s) failed coup left the embattled Russell without a bench coach, Pittsburgh didn’t elevate another member of the big league staff into the role for the season’s final two months. The club promoted Banister, who had held down the field coordinator role on the farm (the Rangers’ equivalent is Jayce Tingler) for nearly eight years.
When Russell lost his job that October, Banister was included in the field of candidates to replace him — and was a co-finalist with Hurdle — but the Pirates awarded the job to the Rangers hitting coach shortly after their World Series run ended.
There’s little question that Hurdle had a list of colleagues in the game that he was prepared to bring in as his right-hand man. But after talking to Banister — a lifelong member of a franchise Hurdle was charged with helping turn around and the man he’d just beaten in landing the manager’s job — he decided he wanted Banister to ditch the interim bench coach tag and stay on as his permanent sidekick.
Four years ago, the Pirates hired an assistant coach off the Texas staff, and the arrow started pointing up right away.
The Rangers now look for the same success by reversing the move.
After Washington’s sudden resignation, the Rangers’ 12-man committee went to work, reportedly whiteboarding over 40 candidates (including some sitting managers) to consider targeting. The committee then came up with a list of eight to interview. From that group, five were eliminated, leaving Bogar, Banister, and Cash. After Texas had reached out to 20 of Banister’s former teammates, coaches, players, and bosses, looking for the right man to fill five defined job description “buckets” (reinstatement of a winning culture; getting the most out of his personnel; presence; preparation; organizational partnership), he had legged the process out. He’d survived yet again.
Noticeably absent from those five categories is any reference to analytics, although in helping set the tone not only in the clubhouse but also throughout the organization, it’s reasonable to assume that Banister will bring his data-driven experience into three of the five, with an emphasis on simplifying the information so that it’s usable for his players.
Truthfully, it’s all assumption at this point. The same would be true, even if to a slightly lesser extent, with Bogar. The Rangers chose to interview only men with no experience at the full-time helm of a big league baseball team, and managing AA teams or Arizona Fall League squads — or even a decimated big league club three weeks from euthanasia — can only tell you so much. We don’t know how this is going to go.
Neither does Texas, of course. A tremendous amount of energy and homework went into this front office taking sizable risks on Josh Hamilton, and on Yu Darvish, and on Ron Washington, and here’s another one, at the expense of the more familiar and more predictable option. The Rangers could have stuck with Edinson Volquez, and C.J. Wilson, and Don Wakamatsu. Would there be two AL pennant flags flying if they did?
It’s cheap and maybe even offensive to compare what the Rangers went through in 2014 to what Banister has gone through in his life, and I’m not meaning to do that at all, but you absorb this Friday quote from the Rangers’ new dugout leader and it’s difficult to ignore how it might ring true for an organization that needs to prove that this season was an outlier, and not a shift:
I understand perseverance. I understand what hard work means, that pain is one of those things we’re given to let us know we’re alive from time to time. You survive. Push. Endure. The other option is not what I’m looking for.
He wasn’t talking about a baseball season. But it says something about what drives him, and maybe about why he coaches, and how. About that relentless, internal fire to push forward, to succeed, to pass on, that he says “was formed a long time ago in a couple hospital rooms.”
Again, none of us knows if Jeff Banister, the next man up, is the correct choice. We all have a fairly defensible idea that he’s the riskier one.
But this isn’t about making the logical move. It’s about making the right move.
The Rangers have to get this right.
And I’m all for playing for that three-run inning.
In a story published last night, Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington writes that Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar, one of three finalists for the club’s permanent post, “appears to have been passed” by Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister and Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash, who according to Sherrington “look like frontrunners in a surprising turn of events.”
The balance of the column speculates that Banister could be the favorite to land the job.
The Rangers are expected to make the hire this week.