Going into the postseason, I had this belief that, even though the Rangers collapsed down the stretch, they still possessed more talent of anyone in the 10-team field. There was still a one-game playoff, we still had Yu Darvish pitching, we were still at home, we were still facing the Orioles and Joe Saunders, and somehow the experience of the last two postseasons would prove to be enough. I still liked our chances to run through every matchup the Rangers were presented with. I was wrong.
On the first pitch of the game, a Nate Mclouth one-hop smash past a diving Michael Young, it seemed the tone was set. On the third pitch, a well-placed J.J. Hardy squeaker up the middle, the Rangers trailed 1-0. Just like that. An entire season of winning baseball juxtaposed by two weeks of garbage that put Texas in the position it was now having to deal with, and the most talented team in baseball would have to come from behind. Against the Orioles.
I watched every pitch of the game. It was strange, really. I live and die by the Rangers like most fans, irrationally living my days in a vicarious sort of way, but that night the losing didn’t bother me. It was as if — since that was the way things had been going for so long — nothing was going to surprise me. For one game in the season I was outside myself, viewing in on a Rangers team I knew in my head that I loved, but that this was simply the way things had to be. It just happened to be the last game of the season. I was more amped for each game in the Angels series — the final home stand of the season — and every potentially division-clinching game in Oakland. The wins just stopped coming.
And somehow, the playoffs had to continue without the Rangers.
Sans the Rangers game, I picked nearly every playoff matchup correctly, from the ALDS/NLDS matchups, to each of the two championship series’. And in the World Series, I picked Detroit over San Francisco. Coming full circle, I was as wrong about the final series as I was in the first when Texas lost to Baltimore.
And yet, as much as my egocentric psychosis tries to push me in a certain direction, I’m truly ambivalent to it all. I don’t care to be right or wrong. Sure, it would have been nice to see the Rangers rain on the Orioles parade, then to see us stomp down the Yankees and Tigers in succession — as we’d done the previous two ALCS’s — before avenging our 2010 World Series loss to the Giants. But it never happened. And I don’t care.
I’m just happy the 2012 season is finally over.
* * * * * *
This offseason brings promise that we as Rangers fans have never experienced, which is kind of funny. In 22 years of being alive the only thing that really surprises me anymore is how there can still be so many firsts to go through. I believe the three tiers of the Rangers hierarchy — that being Ron Washington, Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan — even at their eclectic ranges of experience, could probably agree with that sentiment.
They’ve each been a part of losing Rangers franchises, just as they’ve each played a very specific role in rebuilding it and watching it flourish. In what is currently the offseason of 2012-2013, they now must find a way to take something that’s clearly been a winner, and transform its identity in such a way to keep it a winner.
But it won’t be easy.
After the way the 2012 season concluded, it would be an understatement to say more questions loom than answers, but there are some things we already know. For starters, Ron Washington will be the manager in 2013. There was some futile uprising from a select portion of the fan base calling for his head, but that got dumped in the same pile of over-reactionary drivel along with the idea that Michael Young is still a serviceable big leaguer. And secondly, Dave Madagan replaced Scott Coolbaugh as hitting coach. Mike Maddux isn’t going anywhere.
So the coaching staff is intact, and upgraded at hitting coach.
Next, we’re looking at what to do with our impending free agents. Josh Hamilton is obviously the first on the list, and he’ll be receiving the highest payday, and probably the biggest of anyone on the market. And it won’t be with the Rangers.
Mike Napoli is also a free agent, but his case is a bit more up in the air. With how thinly spread the catching talent is in the Major Leagues, it would behoove the Rangers to make a play at Napoli, who is a legitimate 3.0 fWAR/year catcher because of his bat alone. Qualifying offers to free agents (which determine if a franchise nets compensation for a player leaving for another team) are set at $13.3M. Because of the down year Napoli had in 2012, it might make sense for both he and the Rangers to agree on a 1-year/$13.3M deal for 2013, which would make him a much more valuable commodity when he hypothetically reached the free agent market after the 2013 season.
The five main pitchers Texas could potentially lose probably won’t cause too much sting. Ryan Dempster is a good bet to receive a two or three year deal on the open market, so he’s gone. Roy Oswalt probably caused more harm than good in his stay in Arlington, so the front office probably wouldn’t want him back even if he wanted to pitch for pennies. Scott Feldman‘s $600K buyout will certainly be exercised. And then Mike Adams and Koji Uehara round out the list. I’d love to have Uehara back, but his spot on the priority list is as low as anyone, being that he’s a relief pitcher.
The paradigm of “what-ifs” far outweigh the number of certainties concerning the Rangers heading into 2013, but I’m really just ready for all the action to start.
I’m tired of being tired of baseball.