Like every other year, the season — which is now fast-approaching — could literally go in an infinite amount of directions. Baseball is an extremely volatile sport on a year-to-year basis. And yet;
I can’t think of another year where there was so much uncertainty surrounding the Rangers. For all but one year during the entire 2000-2009 decade, the Rangers were impressively pathetic to watch. We expected them to stink, and we still watched night after night as they found new and exciting ways to blow leads late in games.
Then, in 2010, after executing a splendid 21-6 stretch in June, the team has veritably never looked back. They made the World Series that year (in 2010), and again in ’11; By 2012, they carried one of the most talented, flashiest rosters in baseball. The fan base was becoming indoctrinated into a brand new culture of winning Ranger baseball.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Through loose correlations and baseless intuition, this post is about why you should feel confident about the Rangers’ chances in 2013.
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I was 14 years old in 2004. That was the first year Texas was without their prized $252 million commodity — Alex Rodriguez — in what would have been the fourth year of his record ten-year contract. We parlayed his value into Alfonso Soriano, and Joaquin Arias (whom was chosen over Robinson Cano because of a better bat, I believe), who were on the Yankees at the time.
That was the year the Rangers were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the American League West again — because why wouldn’t they be? — with an outside chance at grabbing 3rd place.
There just wasn’t a whole lot of proven talent on the roster. They had talent, yes, but without the experience it was hard to hang your hat on the idea that they could be a winner.
Sans Rodriguez, the roster was led by its infield, a foursome featuring Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira at the corners, Michael Young in his first season at shortstop, and Alfonso Soriano in his first year with the club, playing second base.
The rotation was anchored by journeyman right-hander Ryan Drese, whom we acquired from Cleveland in the Ryan Ludwick trade, and, like Buck Showalter‘s 2012 Orioles club, the team won a ton of games through good bullpen fortune. That’s the only way to explain how teams overachieve — stealing games in the late innings.
Remarkably, the Rangers finished 2004 with an 89-73 record — which was clearly an aberration for a team with 75-win talent — and it was without the best player in baseball.
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Now let’s work our way back to where we started.
(Don’t get me wrong, what follows is extremely subjective reasoning, so just bear with me for a second:)
I look at Josh Hamilton and Alex Rodriguez in the same type of way. I think they are both exceptionally gifted baseball players when the lights are on — two athletes whose games transcend baseball on an historical level. That’s just the fact.
I’m not delusional just because they no longer play for my favorite baseball team.
However, with their amazing talents came — arguably — even bigger bags of drama. Josh Hamilton’s prior transgressions speak for themselves; there’s no reason to rehash over every detail.
Alex Rodriguez is a slightly different case study, because he didn’t have off-the-field drama, not until he was well into his tenure in New York, at least. Rodriguez seemed ostensibly like a good teammate who busted his ass every day on the field. Had his contract not been the largest in history, it wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a deal that he was playing in Texas.
And let’s face it, no one cared about the Rangers before A-Rod was here. He got all the headlines and stories because, well, he was really the only guy worth writing about.
So when he left, the Rangers were forced into finding a new identity. It was 2004 when people started noticing Young and Blalock on the left side, Teixeira at first base, and a bunch of spare parts who finally found a home, like David Dellucci, Rod Barajas, and Carlos Almanzar.
I’m not a big believer in much of anything, but that 2004 squad made me believe magic does exist.
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In a very roundabout way, I’m saying Josh Hamilton and Michael Young are gone. If you combine their #talent with the overwhelming amount of #leadership they exude, in this sense they are my symbol for Alex Rodriguez.
The Rangers — as an on-field product — are again forced to find a new identity, which is where players like Leonys Martin, Mitch Moreland, Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, and countless others come into play. They are the next wave of players who will be making names for themselves.
That’s what 2013 is about: The team proving they don’t need Josh Hamilton and Michael Young to win.
I think that’s what we lost in 2012. We didn’t have the chip on our shoulder. In 2010 the Rangers wanted to put their stamp on baseball. In 2011 they wanted to show they didn’t need Cliff Lee. Last year they lost the motivation that drove them so far for so long before that.
Josh Hamilton may be the most valuable player in the American League in 2013, but he could also be the MVP for the Rangers, because he gives them what they need: An added psychological motivation to a team fully capable of bringing home their 3rd AL West crown in 4 years.