Heading into 2010, the year the Texas Rangers first went to the World Series, if there was one position the front office wasn’t worried about for the present and the future, it was catcher. Texas enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in the catching department. At the major league level, Jarrod Saltalamacchia would be the every day catcher for the first time. Backing him up would be University of Texas phenom Taylor Teagarden, who would supply some needed power. Down on the farm, Max Ramirez was the emergency guy at AAA Round Rock and coming up in the system was well-regarded Jose Felix in AA Frisco.
Saltalamacchia lasted for all of two games and five at bats. He had the game winning hit in the season opener but suffered an injury and didn’t tell manager Ron Washington about it. When it came up after Game 2, Salty went on the DL, Wash publicly chastised him for not speaking up and added he had a lot of growing up to do. Saltalamacchia never returned to the Rangers. During rehab, he developed a case of the “yips”, causing his throws back to the pitcher to sail. He got sent off to the Red Sox in the trade that netted Texas Chris McGuiness and Roman Mendez.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take long before the Rangers determined Teagarden, for all his power potential, wasn’t able to hit consistently. His long swing led to 34 strikeouts in just 85 at bats. Five of his 11 hits went for extra bases but a .155 average was all he could muster. Before anyone knew what hit them, Teagarden got sent down, Ramirez came up and the Rangers’ starting catcher was someone they picked up at the end of training camp, Matt Treanor, who turned into a godsend. Treanor wasn’t any great shakes, but he gave Texas quality at bats and handled the pitching staff well for 82 games, until the Rangers picked up Bengie Molina from the San Francisco Giants to handle the heavy work down the stretch.
Since that 2010 season, the Rangers have gone through Yorvit Torrealba, Mike Napoli, Teagarden, Treanor, Geovany Soto, Luis Martinez, A.J. Pierzynski, J.P. Arencibia, Chris Giminez, Tomas Telis and Robinson Chirinos and there’s still no true starting catcher in sight for 2015.
Phenom Jorge Alfaro is still at least a year away. In the meantime, the Rangers enter 2015 with the aforementioned Telis and Giminez at AAA Round Rock, if something happens to Chirinos or new arrival Carlos Corporan.
Chirinos was as much a godsend for the Rangers in 2014 as Treanor was in 2010. With Rangers hitting the DL almost every other day, including Soto in pre-season and Arencibia hitting a pitiful .133 on May 16th, Chirinos came up big time, posting a slash line of .239/.290/.415 with 13 HR and 40 RBI. Adding to his importance was his defense. Chirinos came out of nowhere to lead the American League in throwing out would-be base stealers at 40%. His 2.4 WAR ranked 5th among AL catchers. Chirinos’ performance earned Soto a trade to the A’s once he returned from the disabled list.
This year, Chirinos enters the season as the clear #1, although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to match any of his 2014 numbers. Last year was his first full season in the majors and his performance could go in either direction. The plan is for Chirinos to catch about 100 games, just a few more than he caught a year ago. Injuries aside, his expected back-up for the other 62 games will be Carlos Corporan, who comes over from the Houston Astros.
Jon Daniels told the crowd at FanFest that they did due diligence on Corporan, talking to a number of Astros pitchers about him. One of them, former Ranger Scott Feldman, praised Corporan and credited him for elevating his game in 2014.
The Rangers aren’t looking for great offense from the catcher position. The top priority is catchers who work well with the pitching staff. Still, Corporan has a little pop in his bat and if the Rangers get a combined 3.0 WAR out of the two of them, they’ll be happy.
The more things stay the same, the more they change.
Two consecutive World Series appearances. Three consecutive playoff appearances. Unparalleled success. Brought about by constant change.
Now comes word that there’s a possibility they will also be without Michael Young. Strong rumors have Young going to the Phillies in exchange for a relief pitcher and a prospect provided he waives his 10-5 no trade rights to allow the move.
To Young fans, he has long been known as the Face of the Texas Rangers franchise. To his detractors, he is derisively nicknamed, alternately, “Face” and “Leadership”.
Young had a 2012 not to remember, sinking to new lows in batting average, losing much of his extra base power. The SABR folks will tell you he had one of the worst WAR’s in the last 22 years. On the other hand, to a man his teammates talk about the value of Young’s leadership in the clubhouse. Manager Ron Washington says Young basically runs the clubhouse for the team.
From a pure statistics standpoint, losing Young might not hurt the club substantially. The question is, will that team cohesiveness remain the same if and when he’s gone?
I’m ambivalent about the possibility of Young leaving. I get that his best years are behind him and that he’s a defensive liability, while at the same time suspecting 2012 was the same kind of anomaly Derek Jeter had a couple years ago before coming back with a vengeance.
I also am not one to discount the idea of leadership in a clubhouse. A team, like a business, is composed of lots of disparate elements. Management provides the vision and department heads implement it. Beyond that, we all know work organizations that just seem to run smoother because of a worker bee who sets a tone that others just seem to follow. I’m willing to bet Michael Young is one of those people.
At this writing, there’s no guarantee Josh Hamilton will return to the Rangers. The odds are against Mike Adams returning as well. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz won’t be able to help until the back half of 2013 at best. If none of the Rangers free agents return AND Young is traded, the question becomes: Do the Rangers have the offensive horses to win WITHOUT Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young, even if they manage to score Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks?
The past two seasons, Texas has succeeded largely because the parts they lost from the previous year were mostly complementary pieces, replaced by better alternatives (Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish, Napoli, Adams, Uehara). In 2013, there are going to be key pieces replaced and only time will tell if those pieces are better, worse or about the same as those they replaced.
Diehard fan I might be, but I don’t think Greinke and Upton would be enough to offset the loss of Hamilton, Young and Napoli. Two of the three, maybe. But not all three.
For two weeks, Rangers fans have been expecting something BIG. For two weeks, the media has been expecting something BIG.
Of course, the Rangers front office doesn’t listen to the fans and the media, at least not in the trade speculation department. Nope, they go out and do what they do and think strictly about making the team better.
So in the midst of every Rangers fan saying, besides a top of the rotation pitcher, that Texas needs help on offense, Jon Daniels went out and got a new catcher who was hitting for a lower batting average than the one they designated for assignment. Needless to say, there was a bit of head-scratching going on there.
Following the Rangers 15-8 thumping at the hands of the Angels, Texas announced they had reached an agreement on a trade to bring Geovany Soto over from the Cubs in exchange for AA pitcher Jake Brigham and a player to be named later or cash. Meanwhile, the Rangers designated catcher Yorvit Torrealba for assignment, giving them ten days to trade him or release him.
At first glance it was a head-scratcher. Sure, Torrealba is batting in the low .220’s, but Soto is at .195 for the year. As much as the offense has scuffed and sputtered the month of July, where does it make sense to trade for a guy hitting under the Mendoza line?
Here’s the deal, though. Soto has more extra base power in his bat. Since there’s not that much difference between .195 and .220, you might as well get some pop out of the hits. The front office, though, wasn’t even thinking about the offensive numbers. What they saw was a catcher who’s better defensively than Torrealba, one who will throw out more runners trying to steal and one who will allow fewer passed balls.
While Torrealba was being praised earlier this season for improving his game-calling, he was proving woefully weak throwing out runners and was even tagged as too nonchalant in going for pitches in the dirt, resulting in passed balls.
It could be this is the only move the Rangers make before the deadline. It won’t be from lack of trying. If they fail to land that big pitcher they’ve reportedly been coveting, it’ll be because Jon Daniels is a victim of his own success. So much has been made of the deal Daniels made with the Braves years ago that resulted in Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz that every team is looking to make that kind of haul for their star players. Daniels, though, is unwilling to part with Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt or Martin Perez to get that TORP. I happen to agree with him. Much as I want Texas to get that Championship on the third try this year, it can’t be at a price that could weaken Texas in the long run.
After 3 PM Central Time today, the only deals that can be made involve putting players on revocable waivers. If another team claims them, you can either withdraw the waivers or make a deal. As much as it might have been sacrilege to say it over the past five years, I’m going to offer a bold thought that I could see happening after today. What if the Rangers made Michael Young available through the revocable waiver process? Young is having his worst career year ever and the saber crowd of Rangers fans has been yelling for his departure. If someone claims Young, they work out a deal that includes pitching. Meanwhile, the Rangers bring Olt and his power bat up from AA for the stretch.
Trading Young outright before the deadline today would probably rile the non-saber fan base too much. Make it a waiver deal, when most fans understand a lot of roster people are put on revocable waivers every year and it might make it more palatable to the base.
Hey, it may never happen, but it would be a bold move on the part of the front office. At the same time, I’m bracing myself for possibility that Geovany Soto is going to be the only “big” move this year.
Rangers win! But first, a message to the losing pitcher:
Sometimes you win games you’re supposed to lose. Sometimes you lose games you’re supposed to win. Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks was most assuredly in the latter statement Wednesday night. Miley stymied the Rangers through seven innings, giving up only two hits over seven innings and with only 72 pitches. Miley was superb, but was unfortunate enough to be squaring off against the Rangers Matt Harrison.
Harry wasn’t nearly as good as Miley, but he didn’t give up any runs either over 7 1/3 innings. Harrison now has a 16 1/3 inning scoreless streak.
It was becoming more and more apparent the game was probably going to be decided by the bullpens, as both pitchers threw goose egg after goose egg. But it was Miley who finally cracked.
The third time through the line-up, it was looking like the Rangers were getting better at bats against the Diamondbacks rookie. Ian Kinsler fouled off a number of pitches before flying out to end the sixth. Josh Hamilton got just the Rangers second hit in the 7th and Michael Young ended the inning with a fly to the warning track in right. Still, Miley didn’t crack.
Finally in the 8th, Mike Napoli coaxed a walk from Miley, the first he had given up since May 26th. Yorvit Torrealba laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to send Napoli to second. Following a Nelson Cruz pinch-hit strikeout (once it got to 0-2, you just knew Cruz would swing and miss at the third pitch and he obliged), Craig Gentry hit a screaming liner to third that glanced off Ryan Roberts’ glove and plated Napoli with the only run of the game.
Joe Nathan was nails in the ninth. Paul Goldschmidt worked an eight-pitch at bat against Nathan, only to strike out swinging. Jason Kubel followed and worked Nathan for another eight pitches before succumbing to a called third strike. A fly ball to center ended it. It was the Rangers’ second 1-0 victory of the season.
I’ve seen games where the Rangers weren’t hitting against pitchers they usually don’t have any problems with and games where they didn’t hit against pitchers they shouldn’t have a problem with. This game they weren’t hitting against a pitcher who was just pitching a superb game. The team I love won the game, but I feel for the losing pitcher. He deserved much more than an “L” in the box score for the game he pitched.
Easily the best game of the season from a drama standpoint.
When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.
Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.
The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.
Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.
The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.
The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.
The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.
Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.
Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.
Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.
By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.
All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!
Wow, is this team playing tight or what?
Even the Rangers know it. Following Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Angels, the team held a closed-door meeting to talk about it, and it’s no wonder. Saturday’s game was a microcosm of everything that’s been wrong in Rangers Land over the past three weeks.
Runners in scoring position? Can’t cash ’em in. Bad defense? Where do I begin? In this case, the pitching was good, maybe even more than good. Certainly it was good enough to win and should have been good enough to win but in the end, it wasn’t.
All you need to know about this tightness Texas is playing with appeared in the 7th inning of a 1-1 game. After the Rangers tied the game at one in the top of the 7th, Erick Aybar led off the bottom of the 7th with a bunt single Yu Darvish couldn’t come up with cleanly. Personal opinion was the scorekeeper was generous in giving Aybar the hit. If Darvish fielded it cleanly, I think he would’ve been out at first. Mistake #1. Aybar proceeded to steal second. Mike Trout then hit a ground ball past a running Aybar to Elvis Andrus at short. Had Andrus thrown to first, Trout would have been out. Instead, Andrus decided to complain loudly when the umpire ruled Aybar hadn’t been hit by the batted ball. Andrus apparently thought the ball had clipped Aybar’s jersey. Whether it had or not is immaterial. Andrus should have thrown to first for the out, then complained about Aybar. Mistake #2. Trout then stole second to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Alberto Callaspo then singled to right, plating Aybar and making it a 2-1 game and sending Trout to third. A walk to Albert Pujols loaded the bases and ended the night for Darvish. Koji Uehara came on to face Kendrys Morales, who lofted a fly ball to right. Trout tagged and came home. The throw to the plate appeared in time to get the out, Yorvit Torrealba turned and applied the tag and th umpire ruled he didn’t get the tag in before Trout crossed the plate with the third run. Torrealba was livid, was ejected rightly for his tantrum and may face a suspension for his actions. Mistake #3.
I saw the replay several times and while I thought Trout indeed was out at the plate, I also know it was such a close call you can’t say definitively the ump got it wrong. Just no excuse for Torrealba to go off like that after the play, but it said a lot about how little things have been mounting on this team for a while and it took something like this to release the pressure valve and get this team playing again the way they’re capable of playing. Maybe Aybar would have made it a 2-1 game regardless of the Trout at bat, but if Elvis had done his job, Trout never would have been in position to score that third run, which proved to be the decisive one.
Texas can still take some positives out of Saturday’s loss. They became the first team to score a run off of Scott Downs this season, even if it was of the unearned variety, keeping Downs’ ERA at 0.00. And they became the first American League team to get a hit off of Ernesto Frieri in 14.1 innings of work, when Mike Napoli got a clean single to lead off the 9th. At the same time, seeing Josh Hamilton strike out with the bases loaded in the top of the 9th was as disheartening to me as David Freese’s walk-off in Game 6 of last year’s World Series.
I’m sure all these things were discussed in that closed-door meeting following the game last night, as well as a few things I’m not even aware of. Hopefully, this club plays with a renewed focus this afternoon, because the focus hasn’t been there for a few weeks now.
Following the 13-inning thriller that was Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays, the Rangers did something they haven’t done in 15 days- won two games in a row. If they win tomorrow, it will be their first winning streak since April 21st, over a month ago.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, here come the Angels.
The Los Angelenos who no longer wish to be associated with the city of Anaheim in name have now won five in a row, Albert Pujols is hitting again, and they’ve now leaped into second place in the West. Yes, they’re still a sub-.500 team. Yes, the gap is still 6 1/2 games. But the Angels hot streak puts into perspective the chance the Rangers squandered over the past couple of weeks playing, in essence, treading water baseball. Just two more wins over the past two weeks and we’d be talking about an 8 1/2 game lead.
What it boils down to is, these last two wins have been nice, but my boys still have to keep their feet on the gas and take no prisoners else they find themselves in more of a dogfight a month from now.
That being said, today’s win was sweet, if only because it had the makings of a heartbreaking loss for the longest time. After getting out to a 2-0 lead, the Blue Jays scored four times in the top of the 6th to take the lead. Uh oh, I said. Here we go again. I’ve seen too much of this over the past few weeks.
Then the Rangers came back in the bottom of the 6th. Big time. Back to back to back home runs with two outs from the bottom third of the batting order: Nelson Cruz, Yorvit Torrealba and Mitch Moreland. All of a sudden it was 5-4 Rangers.
The Jays would tie it in the 7th and there it remained stuck until the 13th. In that time, the Rangers twice had the bases loaded and could not score. For five consecutive innings, they got the lead-off batter on and could not score. It was disheartening. When the Jays finally broke through with two runs in the top of the 13th, I was resigned to another loss. And angry too. Here Texas was playing a team who already had a tired bullpen, having sent Brandon Morrow to the showers in the first inning Friday night, and they couldn’t take advantage in an extra inning game. It was not quite as disgusting as Wednesday’s pitiful performance against Kevin Millwood on Wednesday, but it was close.
Then a miracle. Bottom of the 13th, trailing 7-5, Ian Kinsler led off with a walk. Elvis Andrus, who had three sacrifice bunts on the day, this time was allowed to swing away and he did to the tune of a double that plated Kinsler and brought Josh Hamilton to the plate. Hambone ended the game with his third career walk-off homer and Texas had an 8-7 win.
After the game, Hamilton would be given oxygen and an IV to treat dehydration, making him iffy for the afternoon game on Sunday.
Friday night’s game was a laugher all the way. Kinsler started the game off right by working a 13-pitch walk out of Brandon Morrow. Kinsler was also the last batter Morrow faced. Unfortunately for him, it was the second time he’d faced him in the first. After 40+ pitches, Morrow was pulled and there was still an out to go in the first, with the Rangers up 6-0. By the time it was all over, Nelson Cruz became the second Ranger with 8 RBI’s in a game this season and Texas had a 14-3 win.
For the first time in over a month, the Rangers have a chance at a sweep this weekend with Yu Darvish getting the ball for the finale. Thanks to today, I’m starting to believe in the magic again.