December 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for One Strike Away…Twice!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 14 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Generosity of Texas Rangers Fans

For 26 families in Connecticut, I can’t even imagine how the holidays are handled this year. They are face to face with tragedy during what is supposed to be the most joyous time of the year. The American people feel great sorrow over what happened at that elementary school, but these families literally had their hearts torn from their chests.

While tragedies like these are horrific on its face, they also provide the morbid benefit of leading to societal change and incredible outpourings of goodness. Societal change could be coming in the way of stricter gun control laws. Incredible outpourings of goodness are exemplified by Texas Rangers fans.

There are a couple of web sites that are must visits for die-hard Texas Rangers fans. They are both listed on the right hand side of this blog for easy one click access. They are Lone Star Ball, which is an affiliate of SB Nation. The other is The Newberg Report, from Jamey Newberg, who also releases an awesome Newberg Report book every year chronicling everything that was the Texas Rangers for the season: the big league club, the minors, prospects and trade rumors for the year. I’m willing to bet most wired-in Texas Rangers fans visit at least one of these sites on a regular basis.

I bring these sites up because of what they’ve carried out in the midst of tragedy. One of the victims of the shooting in Connecticut was 7-year-old Emilie Parker. In learning more about her, it was revealed that little Emilie was a Texas Rangers fan.

Emilie Parker & Her Dad

Emilie Parker & Her Dad

Almost as soon as this knowledge came to light, the folks at Lone Star Ball started up a memorial fund for Emilie’s family. Within days, Rangers fans contributed over $7,000  to the fund. That was just the beginning. Jamey Newberg was preparing his annual book release party in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and announced that every dollar raised in the auction and raffle of donated items would go to the Emilie Parker Memorial fund. Jamey had his party last night (12/19) and the auction and raffle, as of this writing, raised over $19,000 for the Fund.

I’ve read that Emilie’s father was stunned by the outpouring of monetary support and promised to share the proceeds of the Memorial Fund with other families affected by the Newtown tragedy.

I, like almost every member of the human race, wish what happened at Newtown could be undone and all those who perished could once again be walking on the face of our planet. At the same time, I’m now reminded why Texas Rangers fans are some of the greatest fans in all of sport. I’m proud to be a member of that fraternity.

I wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons. Enjoy your families. Hug them. Let them know how much you love them. And pray that those 26 families can somehow find some peace this Christmas.

JD Gets Outmanuevered

Mike Napoli? Signs with Red Sox.

Koji Uehara? Signs with Red Sox.

Zack Greinke? Signs with Dodgers.

Justin Upton? Stays with Arizona.

James Shields? Traded to Kansas City.

Josh Hamilton? Signs with the Angels.

Just a couple short weeks ago, the word from Nashville was that the Rangers were dominating the Winter Meetings. Two weeks later, virtually every player speculated about going to the Rangers has gone elsewhere.

And such is the cycle of baseball. Jon Daniels has been the Boy Wonder of General Managers for the past five years. Today he is an also-ran, victim of his own success.

English: Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels at a gat...

Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels at a gathering in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This isn’t to say that JD isn’t a good GM. He’s one of the best and has put together one of the best farm systems in the majors. Baseball, though, is a big poker game with the GM’s when it comes to trades and free agents and it’s quite likely his brethren have learned JD’s “tells”.

In the case of Hamilton, there was too much honesty for his own good. It was well-publicized that Hamilton was willing to let the Rangers top the best offer he got. The longer the process went, the more it became apparent how far the Rangers were willing to go and that was four years, so Jerry DiPoto offered Josh five.

Arizona used Daniels to get what they wanted, which was a lot. By dangling Justin Upton out there, they found so many offers involving the Rangers and other players that could help them that they cut side deals to get all those players and now have no need to trade Upton.

Greinke? Well, the Dodgers are spending like drunken sailors. That was a long-shot anyway.

As for Shields, he was Daniels’ back-up plan should Greinke not work out, but the Rays got tired of waiting so they worked out the deal with Kansas City and probably got a better return than they would have from Texas.

Now speculation is already rife that the Angels will turn  around and trade one of their now spare outfielders to the Mets in return for RA Dickey, another Rangers target.

At this point, there’s very little Texas can do to respond to these moves. There’s not much in the free agent market anymore that will strengthen the team. There’s a very good chance the 2013 Rangers will contain a lot of mentions of Profar, Olt, Martin and Perez, youngsters who will be given a good shot at playing time. This is also still a very good team. They may not win the West in 2013, but putting the youngsters in now could pay  huge dividends in 2014.

Still, Rangers fans have every right to think the front office should have been more aggressive than they were this off-season. Much as Jon Daniels deserves a lot of credit for building the Rangers into World Series contenders, he has been outmaneuvered at every turn this off-season.

Losing Hamilton doesn’t make me distrust the Rangers’ front office. It does make me think Jon Daniels needs to adapt his style of playing poker.

Saying Goodbye

There are players that have defined just about every era of Texas Rangers baseball, good and bad.

The first team I followed, as the Washington Senators in 1970, were known primarily for Ted Williams managing and Frank Howard hitting.

Following the move to Texas, the first Rangers teams saw the emergence of Toby Harrah, followed by Jim Sundberg and Jeff Burroughs. In ’74 Fergie Jenkins came over from the Cubs and became the Rangers’ first dominant pitcher.

Buddy Bell came along and was the dominant name along with Sundberg for Texas starting in ’79 and going through ’83.

During the early Bobby Valentine years, the names we knew were Charlie Hough, Steve Buechele and Pete Incaviglia. In 1989, Nolan Ryan became the face of the Rangers, where he remained a fixture through 1993.

In ’91, the golden era of Texas Rangers baseball began with Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro fronting the team that would win three AL West crowns in four years from 1996-1999.

Gonzalez was the first to leave in 2000. At the end of that year came the next in line, Michael Young.

Michael Young - Texas - 2009 Home

(Photo credit: BaseballBacks)

Young was the second guy in the trade with the Blue Jays that sent Esteban Loaiza to Toronto. Pitcher Darwin Cubillan was supposed to be the main piece. He appeared in all of 13 games in a Rangers uniform, compiling a 10.70 ERA before being sent packing to Montreal.

The second guy in the trade would only go on to play in 1,823 games for the Rangers, the most in club history. He also leaves Texas as the Rangers’ all-time leader in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He was selected to seven All-Star teams, second only to Ivan Rodriguez in club history. He was named the Rangers Player of the Year five times, tying him with Juan Gonzalez for the most in club history.

Here’s the funny thing about Michael Young. He has never been the most important player in the Rangers’ line-up. His first couple of years, he had Palmeiro and Pudge right there with him. After they departed, there was Alex Rodriguez taking up the mantle. When A-Rod left, there was still Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock. They would then be supplanted by Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.

All those players who provided the real pop. Yet Michael Young was anointed as the face of the franchise. Part of that is certainly due to longevity and continuity. Through all the changes, Young was a constant. But it was more than that. Every manager he’s ever played for has admired his work ethic, his professionalism. Ron Washington admits the running of the Texas clubhouse was a job he ceded to Michael Young.

English: Michael Young

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The past few years he had major detractors, mainly because he twice demanded a trade. He volunteered to move to shortstop. He didn’t volunteer to be the third baseman. Two years after that he didn’t volunteer to become the DH/super utility guy. His relationship with General Manager Jon Daniels was strained, virtually non-existent at the end. Once he put on the uniform, though, Michael Young was all business. In the clubhouse and on the field, he didn’t complain about his role. Once the season began, he did his job to the best of his ability. Could I do that if I was asked to take a role I didn’t want? I seriously doubt it.

Young had a farewell press conference yesterday. He said in retrospect, he should have been more accepting of his move to third base but doesn’t regret anything about his displeasure in moving to DH. He looks at the move to Philadelphia as a new challenge and that he loves new challenges.

My guess is he will have a rebound year as the Phillies third baseman. He won’t be great defensively, but he’ll get his average back towards the .300 mark and he’ll hit for more power than he did in 2012. I’m also willing to bet Charlie Manuel and every Phillies player to a man will, by the end of the season, say he has made a positive difference in their club’s fortunes, no matter what his WAR might indicate.

I also predict that after his playing career is over and Jon Daniels has moved on to his next opportunity, Michael Young will return to the Rangers, be it in the front office, as a coach or even Rangers manager. And when that day comes, even his detractors will welcome him back with open arms.

I’m looking forward to seeing the development of Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Mike Olt over the next few years. Maybe they’ll be the ones who finally deliver that long sought after World Championship. If they do, I’ll be ecstatic. I’ll also think about Michael Young and wish he was there to see the dream come to fruition.

Losing Face

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.

The 2011 World Series Rangers were minus Vlad Guerrero, Bengie Molina, Tommy Hunter, Cliff Lee and Frank Francisco from the 2010 World Series Rangers.

The 2012 Wild Card Rangers didn’t have Yorvit Torrealba, CJ Wilson, Endy Chavez, Colby Lewis (injury) and Neftali Feliz (injury) from the 2011 World Series squad.

And thus far, the 2013 Rangers are guaranteed to be without Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara from the 2012 Wild Card team.

English: Michael Young, third baseman

Michael Young (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The Free Agent Wish List

Now that Mike Napoli and Scott Feldman have officially left the fold of the Rangers, the question becomes, who will Texas be replacing these guys with?

After non-tendering and then re-signing Geovany Soto, Texas basically has one “proven” catcher to go with into Spring Training. Pardon me for being singularly underwhelmed. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays seem to be skirting Security and Exchange Commission rules by trying to corner the market on catchers, having now stockpiled JP Arencibia, John Buck, Travis D’Arnaud and Eli Whiteside. I’m pretty sure they’ve got about four more on their AAA roster as well for safekeeping.

I was hoping Naps would return to the Rangers but it was not to be. We still don’t know if Josh Hamilton will return to the fold or not. Also out there from the Rangers roster are Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe.

But enough about who could be departing. Let’s talk about who I’d love to see arriving via the free agent route. I’d planned this article a month ago but the rigors of the “real job” got in the way. As a result, one of my prime free agent picks was snatched up, when the Giants re-signed Jeremy Affeldt to a 3-year deal. Texas never would’ve gone for three years on a reliever so c’est la vie.

BJ Upton may have gone on the list as well (though I’m not 100% sure of that), but Atlanta snatched him up. There are still quite a few out there, so here are the free agents on my Rangers wish list, starting with the obvious:

1) Zack Greinke: Well why not? He’s the prime pitcher in this year’s free agent class. The Dodgers are said to be the favorite at this point, which I can grudgingly accept. I do NOT want him returning to the Angels. I would LOVE to see Greinke in a Rangers uniform. He’s just the right age, he has playoff experience and his social anxiety issues have nothing to do with him pitching. MLB Radio this morning kept talking about how the “band box” in Arlington would not be good for Greinke, which goes to show how hard reputations die. Rangers pitchers have more than held their own at RBiA the last three years and additional construction in the 2011 off-season actually lessened the famous summer jet stream in 2012. I would love to see a Darvish-Greinke-Harrison Top 3.

2) Adam LaRoche: Put LaRoche at first base and all of a sudden Texas has one of the best defensive infields in baseball. Add in the production which certainly tops Mitch Moreland‘s the past two seasons and you’ve got a good recipe for success, whether Hamilton comes back or not. LaRoche certainly isn’t the top tier in first basemen but he’s at the top of the middle tier.

3) Eric Chavez: Hear me out on this one. Chavez did a great job in a utility role for the Yankees and, unfortunately, will probably re-sign with them now that the Bombers know A-Rod will be out for 4-6 months. Chavez is close to Rangers manager Ron Washington and credited Wash for his Gold Glove in Oakland. As overplayed as the Rangers were and as many nicks that Adrian Beltre got during the 2012 season, a proven guy like Chavez would fit right in with the Rangers.

4) Kyle Farnsworth: The bullpen has to be rebuilt and Farnsworth would be a good addition as a late inning guy. He’s closed and set up for the Rays and he could fill a variety of roles with the Rangers, spelling Joe Nathan when he’s pitched a couple of games in a row and setting up otherwise. Plus he’s one bad-ass martial arts dude.

5) Joakim Soria and/or Rafael Soriano: The same applies with these guys as it does to Farnsworth, minus the bad-ass martial arts dude part.

If Texas can’t get Greinke, I could see them possibly targeting Dan Haren, Shaun Marcum or Brandon McCarthy, but not much beyond that. I would also love to see Uehara come back in 2013.

Beyond that, I think the Rangers will look to improve more via the trade route than free agency. I also don’t expect them to get much done during the Winter Meetings. They don’t have a big history of splashy moves during this time.

This is a team in flux. I can’t wait to see what moves Jon Daniels has in store over the next two months.

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