What follows is over 1300 words with not a single statistic or concrete reference, but simply a fans perception of where the Rangers have been, are now, and will be.
2014 has gone, by all Ranger fans standards, horribly awry. Injuries derailed this season before it began and continued to keep this team off its tracks all throughout. With approximately just one month remaining in this all too forgettable Rangers campaign, there are lots of questions about how the Rangers will adjust themselves for next year.
I personally feel strangely optimistic. I think such a rough year has given the Rangers a chance to mentally redefine themselves and finally move on from 2011’s end. 2012 and 2013 seemed like seasons geared toward rekindling the magic that got the Rangers so excruciatingly close. The 2011 Rangers proximity to glory seems to have forced upper managements’ hand in extending their dominance by making forced trades (Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster anyone?) and taking on uncharacteristically large contracts (Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder) in attempts to get that last strike.
Now, there are no remaining connections between 2011 and today. Sure, Elvis Andrus remains and players like Derek Holland too, but a rock bottom finish has perhaps mercifully ended a four-year window of 90-win per season dominance.
The teams’ past half-decade life cycle has come full circle:
-2009: A nice surprise in general, signs that 2007’s Mark Teixeira trade and other shrewd drafting moves begin coming to fruition.
-2010: The club’s first World Series appearance; the Rangers played the roll of overachievers and did it with only approximately 55 million on the books for salaries
-2011: Hugely positive run differential and incredibly talented team, but we all know how that ended
-2012: Favorites to win the West and did so for about 160 games, but missed the playoffs following a huge final week collapse
-2013: Again led the division for most of the season but succumbed to the charging A’s in September and couldn’t get back to the playoffs
-2014: possible last place in MLB finish following an unprecedented amount of injuries and fortified division rivals
So, from 2008 (a 79 win season) or so through 2014 the Rangers seasons have resembled a rough bell curve with 2011 representing the zenith of the teams’ success. By finally hitting rock bottom and completing this so-called “life cycle” the Rangers should be ready for a fresh start in 2015.
Over the past week or so management has made several moves that reinforce that fresh start.
First, there are the roster moves that have been made sending players elsewhere in return for cash and/or future considerations. Those transactions have sent Justin Germano, Chris Gimenez, and Geovany Soto to the Dodgers, Indians, and Athletics, respectively. From an outsiders vantage point such moves might instill doubt, but there is almost certainly a reason for such decisions, especially in the case of Geovany Soto being shipped to rival Oakland. For one, the Rangers could simply be shoring up cash in light of their expanding payroll and preparing to utilize those funds elsewhere. Also, none of those players seemed likely to be in the Rangers future plans so generating some sort of late season return for them in a last-place year appears logical.
Second, there are the players that Texas has chosen more recently to shut down for the remainder of the season, namely Yu Darvish and Shin-Soo Choo. These moves prepare the Rangers to be healthier and more prepared for next season. Question his grit if you want, but Yu Darvish pushing his arm (the first time its acted up since he’s been playing MLB) late in a lost campaign could spell trouble for 2015 quickly. In Choo’s case, surgery on an elbow requires time to heal and his ankle wasn’t getting better anytime soon while playing either; an early offseason was probably appropriate.
By trading away some potentially helpful catchers down the stretch and shutting down some big name players the Rangers have further enforced their fresh start in terms of creating greater draft potential and renewing their “life cycle”. The Rangers are undoubtedly worse without Yu throwing every fifth day, even if he only is operating at 80% capacity; Shin-Soo Choo was second on the team in HR’s despite is relatively dreadful season given his career norms; Soto and Gimenez were decent bets to create decent production the rest of the way and possibly generate a win with their bats. With these players off the active roster, the Rangers are that much more likely to fully embrace a lost season and take the premiere compensation.
2015 is also likely a last chance for some non-players for the Rangers. Ron Washington has understandably fallen under the microscope for some of his tactical shortcomings as a manager. Some fans, myself not included, call for him to be fired for his flaws. Jon Daniels has also had his share of missteps: trading for Prince Fielder has proven a disaster following his injury (and given his massive contract), Jurickson Profar’s own injury, and Ian Kinsler’s solid play in Detroit. Very few people would argue that Shin-Soo Choo has worked out to date either, and his contract has only just begun.
I do not wish for either of those men to be fired. They have led the Rangers through the franchises most successful stretch and Jon Daniels’ larger plan cannot be objectively critiqued given the injuries that occurred. If Martin Perez and Derek Holland were marching toward 200 innings right now would the Rangers season be different? Would Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo be in the top-10 in the AL in OBP had they not been injured? Would these hypothetical scenarios change your mind regarding the Wash-Daniels tandem? Regardless, I believe the Rangers should be given one last chance to be healthy and prove themselves while playing at full strength, if only to give their manager a chance to manage a full squad and general manager a chance to see all his acquisitions play healthily on the same field.
Lastly, 2015 appears to be a tremendous year for all that is going on in the AL West outside of Arlington. Should the regular season have ended at the beginning of today, three AL west teams would have made the playoffs; the AL West is stacked and is clearly the best division in baseball.
The Athletics have outscored their opponents by 165 runs and are exceptionally well run. They will continue to play quality baseball past 2014 and will have as good a shot as anyone at a division title.
The Angels seem to have finally grown into themselves. For two seasons they played like an adolescent puppy adjusting to its oversized paws (massive contracts), but now are making the necessary adjustments. The team chemistry has been given two years to cement and they should be a real threat going forward.
Seattle has also made some strides. The Cano Deal has worked out better than most would admit they thought it might. Robinson Cano actually has accrued more WAR this season than Albert Pujols has in any of his non-cardinal campaigns. Additionally, the pitching (see Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma) makes them a threat in most season series’.
Lastly, Houston will only move closer to competence and eventual contention as the farm matures. The Rangers are poised to lose the Silver Boot for the first time in years at the hands of the young and accelerating Astros squad this year already. This team will only continue to improve with experience.
These four rivals, in addition to the (ideally) healthy and reenergized Rangers should make up one intensely competitive division. 2015 will be better because the Rangers will be better, but it will also be better because every in-division game will mean something and all these teams will bring everything they have, which is the best baseball has to offer. Ron Washington will be managing for his job. Jon Daniels will be managing for his job. The Rangers will be playing to prove 2014 will under no circumstances continue to define them. 2015 will be a brutal 162 game race and the Rangers will be poised and salivating to be back in it after a year’s absence.