In a season filled with bad, this was the baddest news of all. A mid-afternoon quick check of my Twitter feed turned a normal day into one filled with shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Most of all, concern.
The winningest manager in Texas Rangers history was gone. Resigned. Not even an on camera statement. Just a note saying goodbye. Granted, it was a longer resignation letter than Richard Nixon’s when Watergate forced him from office but still. Just a “I’m leaving for personal reasons. I’m sorry I let you down. Leave me alone.”
OK, that last part got written a little nicer. He asked that we respect his privacy. It still means the same thing.
Immediately, of course, baseball writers and Rangers fans parsed every word of the resignation letter and the ensuing news conference with Jon Daniels and Rangers ownership for clues about the REAL reason behind the sudden departure. Daniels immediately stated Wash would allow him to categorically state this has nothing to do with substance abuse. A few years earlier a dalliance with cocaine led to some embarrassing moments for the organization but Wash had come through the other side on top.
Later, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News said he had received several categorical denials this had anything to do with baseball, substance abuse or his contract. Many were going the route of health reasons when third base coach Gary Pettis said afterwards he hoped Wash had a speedy recovery. However, Grant said later that a text from the former manager himself quashed the notion the resignation had anything to do with his health or the health of his wife of 47 years.
All we know for certain is Wash said he was leaving to address a personal matter. From Daniels’ reaction in the subsequent news conference, there was a distinct impression that whatever the personal matter was, maybe the front office didn’t think it warranted going as far as resigning his position. It was also clear the Rangers didn’t want Wash to leave, yesterday or anytime in the near future.
Until Wash himself decides to address the topic we’ll never know, but I do know I’ve already read some things that are so totally off base they’re ridiculous. A so-called writer on one web site said it was the best thing to happen to the Rangers because Wash was now “out of touch” with his players. Yeah, that’s why players like Derek Holland say he was like a father to him.
What I DO know is Ron Washington is a baseball lifer. He’s been in the game for 50 some years. He loves the game. He’s fond of saying whoever the 25 guys are who’s playing on his team that day, that’s his favorite team. There is no way Wash would just walk away from the life he’s known for so long unless it was for something vitally important to him.
What made Wash unique was his ability to know what buttons to push for each player. Some, like Holland and Elvis Andrus, need a kick in the rear sometimes. Others, like Michael Young, only needed encouragement. With Josh Hamilton, it was long talks in his manager’s office when he played in Arlington. Who knows the method Wash used on Milton Bradley but he reached Bradley in a way no one had before and the result was the best year of his career.
Wash was not a strategist. There’s no doubt about that. Yet he still led his team as close to the edge of a championship as one can get without earning the honor. Even Rangers fans got frustrated to no end by the emphasis Wash placed on the bunt. Sabermetricians would constantly print their charts showing how sacrifice bunts lessened the chances of a big inning. Maybe they’re right but Wash didn’t care. Big innings are great but all Wash cared about was the next run. Singular. Get one run. Then get another. That’s the way he thought.
Ron Washington never got the credit he deserved. In 2010, the Texas Rangers went to the World Series for the first time. Ron Washington did NOT get honored as the AL Manager of the Year. Instead, the award went to Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins.You’ll never convince me he deserved it over Wash that year. I think they gave it to Gardy as more of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” like they did at the Oscars when they gave Paul Newman Best Actor for “The Color of Money.”
It galled me when I watched the Hall of Fame ceremony this year and heard the words written on Tony LaRussa’s plaque about how he “led” the St. Louis Cardinals to victory in 2011 when they were a strike away from losing it. Sorry, the Cardinals two comebacks in Game 6 had nothing to do with LaRussa. In fact, had the Cards lost in ’11, much would have been made of Tony’s bullpen gaffe earlier in the series. Instead he’s praised as the master tactician. If Texas had won the Series in ’11, I guarantee most writers would say they won in spite of Wash. But it isn’t true.
The fact is Wash was a much better manager than anyone wants to give him credit for. Getting 25 men to play as a team isn’t easy. A lot has to happen before you can even think about strategy and tactics and Wash probably got more out of his teams than any manager in the game. Folks who frequent sites like FanGraphs think Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay is the epitome of the modern baseball manager for the way he embraces new statistical trends. Wash is probably the direct opposite of Maddon. Do a Google search, though, and you’ll find Maddon is effusive in his praise for Wash and the job he does as a manager. Maddon knows it isn’t just strategy.
The ones who play the game and manage the game from the dugout and coach the game day in and day out know what type of manager Wash is and they respect it. Don’t suggest the Rangers are better off because another manager can take them to “the next level.” Wash already brought them to the next level. I can only hope his permanent replacement can get the Rangers back to the level Wash was able to bring them to.
Ballplayers get at least three months off between end of season and start of spring training. I took three and a half weeks off between blog posts. Am I rested? I don’t know. Am I in shape for the 2013 season? Absolutely not!
I vegged out over the past three and a half weeks. I thought about posting some thoughts but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I spent more time playing with my Christmas presents than I did looking into the minutia of Texas Rangers baseball.
Most common statement I’ve heard from non-Rangers brethren since the off-season began and, more specifically, since Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels: “Bet it’s going to be hard to watch the Rangers this year. They’re going backwards.”
I agree it seems the Rangers have gone backwards going into 2013. Gone are Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Ryan Dempster. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz won’t be any help until the second half of the season at the earliest. Coming on board? Joakim Soria, who’s also disabled until after the All-Star break. Lance Berkman, who was limited by injury to less than 100 at bats in 2012. New bullpen pieces in Jason Frasor and Josh Lindblom. A new catcher in AJ Pierzynski. Not exactly a group that’s going to make you forget Hamilton, Young, Napoli, Adams and Uehara, right?
And yet, and yet. I am possibly looking forward to 2013 as much as I looked forward to 2010, when I began this corner of the webiverse chronicling a team that, for the first time in a decade, was possibly going to contend for a title. That team exceeded my expectations and made it to the World Series. And while I harbor no illusions of the 2013 squad being in the Fall Classic, I won’t totally discount the possibility either.
I am looking forward to seeing what the infusion of youth does for this team. Whether the names Leonys Martin, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar will become as well-known to baseball fans as Josh Hamilton and Michael Young were for the past few years. I can’t wait to see if Yu Darvish builds on a successful rookie campaign to become a bona fide ace. Whether Derek Holland can put a pedestrian 2012 behind him and progress to be at the very least an above average #3 starter. I want to see if new hitting coach Dave Magadan transforms Texas from a team of sluggers to hitters who work counts and put pressure on the pitcher. Will the Rangers running game improve and will baserunning coach Gary Pettis be able to effectively do his job from the third base coaches box instead of his usual first base box? Will Berkman stay healthy enough to impact the team? Is Nelson Cruz going to rebound from a so-so 2012 both offensively and defensively to be the presence he was in 2010 and 2011? Can the new bullpen pieces quickly coalesce into a unit that consistently delivers a lead to Joe Nathan in the 9th?
Most important of all, how will Ron Washington handle the youth movement? Wash took a lot of flak last year for staying with his veterans, especially Michael Young, while Olt and Profar languished on the bench in September. And if he gets all the young guys to perform at a high level and the Rangers continue to compete for a division title, will he finally get some consideration for Manager of the Year?
OK, so Texas didn’t get Zack Greinke. Or Justin Upton. Or Hamilton. Or Napoli. Or James Shields, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, Travis D’Arnaud and J.P. Arencibia, all of whom Jon Daniels kicked the tires on during the off-season. Nor does it appear that Kyle Lohse or Michael Bourn are Arlington bound. Yet I’m excited about the 2013 season.
Pierzynski and Berkman aren’t sexy signings, but the two of them have something the rest of the team doesn’t have- a World Series champion ring. I bet that counts for something, including what impact their work ethic might have on Olt, Profar and Martin.
For sure, this is a team with flaws. Just 20 days from Spring Training and there’s no clue who will be the utility infielder or fifth outfielder. It’s anyone’s guess who will be in the bullpen besides Nathan and Frasor. The fifth starter for the rotation has yet to be determined and none of the names in contention are likely to strike fear in the average major league line-up.
What gets me excited is this. If Wash can keep this team in contention through the All-Star break, the second half will see Feliz and Soria returning to the pen and Colby Lewis to the starting rotation. That would make for an intriguing stretch run.
Too bad it’s still 20 days from pitchers and catchers reporting and 66 days til Opening Day at Houston.
When can a positive become a negative? When you can see how easily it could all fall apart.
Such is the case of the Rangers relief corps as we head to the Spring Training finish line. For all the questions about the starting rotation, the relief corps has been seen as potentially one of the strongest in the American League. So strong that many could see no shortage of depth even if 2010 closer Neftali Feliz joined the starting rotation in 2011.
Please, Rangers coaching staff, don’t let that happen. I’m beginning to think Feliz as closer is essential to the Rangers successfully defending the AL West.
Look at the two people most prominently mentioned as candidates to replace Feliz as closer. Mark Lowe has gotten torched in Spring Training: 7 Innings, 14 Hits, 11 Earned Runs. Alexi Ogando, who’s been stretched out as a starter candidate, was doing OK until his last appearance when he couldn’t make it out of the 8th against the Dodgers.
Also consider the Rangers two LOOGY’s: Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, are 41 and 40 years of age respectively. And lastly, there’s the 7th inning guy, Darren O’Day.
O’Day is the one I am most concerned with at this point. The righthanded sidearmer has had a wonderful two year run with the Rangers, a 1.99 ERA over 136 games, a 0.918 WHIP and a 3.41 strikeout to walk ratio. Rangers fans have taken to singing his name when he comes into games, changing the familiar soccer tune “Ole Ole” to “O’Day O’Day”. As of September 3rd, O’Day’s 2010 featured a sparkling 1.51 ERA, only 36 hits given up in almost 54 innings and only one home run given up the whole season.
Since September 3rd, though, life has not been good for Darren O’Day. He closed out the regular season giving up four home runs in his last nine games over just 8 1/3 innings. In the post-season, O’Day pitched 11 more games, but only lasting 4 2/3 innings in that time, giving up two more bombs and compiling a 7.71 ERA.
Now, in Spring Training, O’Day has pitched in six games. In 7 innings of work, he’s given up 16 hits, 8 runs and 5 home runs. Since September 3rd of last year, all told he has given up 11 home runs over his last 20 innings. Making matters worse, O’Day says he and pitching coach Mike Maddux have been going over video and can’t find any flaws in his delivery.
This is beginning to remind me of a pitcher the Angels had in their glory days of ’02 and ’03. Ben Weber had a different type of delivery (nothing like O’Day’s) and had ERA’s of 2.54 on 2002 and 2.69 in 2003 has one of the Angels’ set-up guys. His post-season ERA in 2002, though, was a robust 10.80. In 2004, the wheels came off. Weber went 0-2 with a 8.06 ERA in 18 games with the Angels, followed by 10 games with an 8.03 ERA for the Reds in 2005 and his major league career was over.
Some pitchers, once batters figure them out, never recover. Will this be Darren O’Day’s fate? I sure hope not. But that thought, combined with the other potential threats mentioned earlier among the relief corps, has me hoping the Rangers keep Feliz in the bullpen.
In other news: A week ago, the competition couldn’t have been stronger for the 3rd, 4th and 5th slots in the starting rotation. Then nobody pitched as though they wanted it badly enough. Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, Tommy Hunter, Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison all had middling to poor outings over the past week. Holland recovered to pitch five solid innings against the Royals on Sunday.
In a radio interview, Mike Maddux indicated the Rangers are pretty close to deciding on Harrison and Hunter for two of the three available starting slots, leaving one slot open for Kirkman, Holland or Feliz (Hurley was optioned to AAA Round Rock the other day). If Feliz goes to the bullpen (and he pitched 5 solid innings Saturday), I see Holland as the last rotation slot. If Feliz stays a starter, he’ll probably get the last spot with Holland either going to long relief or back to Round Rock for now.
Too many starters is a good problem to have. If one falters, the hope is Brandon Webb will be ready by then to take his place. Most teams have one or two starters go on the DL every season as well. While all Rangers fans would love to see a true ace in the rotation, having as many as four starters on your AAA staff that already have the talent to compete on the major league level helps pave the way to inner peace!
Last item of pessimism: Julio Borbon has forgotten how to play defense. A year ago, first base coach Gary Pettis, a former center fielder himself, took Borbon under his wing and taught him the art of playing center field. His defense in 2010 was infinitely superior to what he showed in 2009.
This spring, however, Borbon has looked terrible in the field, having committed five errors- some throwing, some fielding. Even an average center fielder won’t commit five errors in an entire season, let alone 15 exhibition games. Borbon blamed the bright sun of Arizona for some of the miscues (I could buy that in the one TV game in which he had an error), but then he had two errors in a night game against the Padres. Borbon is hitting well and running the bases well this spring, but his defense is making a lot of people uneasy. The Rangers have even toyed with playing David Murphy some in center. They really do not want Josh Hamilton playing out there fulltime in 2011.
For a lot of players, the next seven days represent crunch time. Can Chris Davis hit his way onto a team with no real open position for him? Can O’Day and Lowe turn it around? Will Feliz start or finish? Will Michael Young or Davis get traded? Will there be some surprise releases or demotions? Stay tuned for our next episode, same bat time, same ball channel!