January 2013

Oh Nellie…

I am sick to death of everything associated with performance enhancing drugs. I’m sick of hearing about PED’s, I’m sick of hearing about athletes who are using PED’s, I wish it would go away and never tarnish the sports pages of my favorite newspaper again.

I have always taken a more nuanced approach to the whole steroids and the Hall of Fame issue. I think Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, not only because he was putting up Hall of Fame caliber numbers before his association with BALCO and steroids, but also because at the time of his use, they were not out and out banned by Major League Baseball. They may have been illegal substances as far as the government is concerned, but not according to baseball.

You want to keep players out of the Hall who were caught using after bans were put into place by MLB, then be my guest. You get no argument from me.

So now there’s an article written in a Miami newspaper. A lengthy article. Seven pages on-line long. An article that apparently shows the BALCO days still aren’t behind us. BALCO has just been replaced by the “Anti-Aging Clinic”. In particular, one of these clinics seemed to have a lengthy list of clients, including Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera, who were both suspended in 2012; Alex Rodriguez, who admitted juicing when he played with the Rangers, but has insisted he has been clean as a whistle ever since; and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers.

(Snarky comment) Nellie, if this is true, I’m afraid the PED’s you used last year didn’t enhance your performance at all. Your home runs, slugging percentage and OPS were down from 2011 and your strikeouts were way up. (End snarky comment)

English: A picture of Nelson Cruz.

A picture of Nelson Cruz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article appears to be well researched and the odds are pretty good based on what I read that the Rangers are now looking at the distinct possibility of going without Cruz for the first two months of the 2013 season. Considering how much power the Rangers lost in the line-up due to the departures of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, this is going to make the Rangers offense look completely different than in years past.

Baseball players aren’t choirboys, we all know that. Thanks to the money that can be made by players, it’s no surprise that many are willing to cross a line in order to aid their personal bottom lines. It’s not good human nature, but it is very human and visible in all walks of life: from business people who gain in their careers even when it comes at the expense of the very customers they’re supposed to serve; stockbrokers who gain an edge from insider trading; educators who learn how to rig test results so it enhances the funding for their schools; police officers who manufacture evidence to pad their arrest stats. Every profession has cheats associated with it.

For me, this is the first time the cheating has affected my team in the present day. There have been plenty of Rangers tainted by the cloud of steroid use: among them Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, A-Rod and Rafael Palmeiro. They all were “outed” AFTER the fact. This is today. The 2013 season. Nellie Cruz. Hypocrite I may be, but despite the nuance I have in the PED argument, it hurts that a player from MY team apparently has chosen to cross that line and affect his team’s chances due to his own selfishness.

Juan Gone, A-Rod, Canseco and Raffy using steroids didn’t affect the way I felt about them because they always struck me as the type of guys that would do something like that. Nellie has never struck me that way. I probably have more affection for Nelson Cruz than I had for any of those other four. He plays with joy. He was instrumental in starting the whole “Claw and Antlers” thing in 2010. Now I’ll never look at Nelson Cruz the same way. If he gets a suspension, which would not surprise me at all, what will my reaction be after he serves his suspension? Will I immediately forgive him and move on or will I have an instant suspicion as soon as he hits his first home run of the season? I honestly don’t know.

Spring Training Begins (For The Blogger)

Ballplayers get at least three months off between end of season and start of spring training. I took three and a half weeks off between blog posts. Am I rested? I don’t know. Am I in shape for the 2013 season? Absolutely not!

I vegged out over the past three and a half weeks. I thought about posting some thoughts but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I spent more time playing with my Christmas presents than I did looking into the minutia of Texas Rangers baseball.

Most common statement I’ve heard from non-Rangers brethren since the off-season began and, more specifically, since Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels: “Bet it’s going to be hard to watch the Rangers this year. They’re going backwards.”

I agree it seems the Rangers have gone backwards going into 2013. Gone are Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Ryan Dempster. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz won’t be any help until the second half of the season at the earliest. Coming on board? Joakim Soria, who’s also disabled until after the All-Star break. Lance Berkman, who was limited by injury to less than 100 at bats in 2012. New bullpen pieces in Jason Frasor and Josh Lindblom. A new catcher in AJ Pierzynski. Not exactly a group that’s going to make you forget Hamilton, Young, Napoli, Adams and Uehara, right?

And yet, and yet. I am possibly looking forward to 2013 as much as I looked forward to 2010, when I began this corner of the webiverse chronicling a team that, for the first time in a decade, was possibly going to contend for a title. That team exceeded my expectations and made it to the World Series. And while I harbor no illusions of the 2013 squad being in the Fall Classic, I won’t totally discount the possibility either.

I am looking forward to seeing what the infusion of youth does for this team. Whether the names Leonys Martin, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar will become as well-known to baseball fans as Josh Hamilton and Michael Young were for the past few years. I can’t wait to see if Yu Darvish builds on a successful rookie campaign to become a bona fide ace. Whether Derek Holland can put a pedestrian 2012 behind him and progress to be at the very least an above average #3 starter. I want to see if new hitting coach Dave Magadan transforms Texas from a team of sluggers to hitters who work counts and put pressure on the pitcher. Will the Rangers running game improve and will baserunning coach Gary Pettis be able to effectively do his job from the third base coaches box instead of his usual first base box? Will Berkman stay healthy enough to impact the team? Is Nelson Cruz going to rebound from a so-so 2012 both offensively and defensively to be the presence he was in 2010 and 2011? Can the new bullpen pieces quickly coalesce into a unit that consistently delivers a lead to Joe Nathan in the 9th?

Most important of all, how will Ron Washington handle the youth movement? Wash took a lot of flak last year for staying with his veterans, especially Michael Young, while Olt and Profar languished on the bench in September. And if he gets all the young guys to perform at a high level and the Rangers continue to compete for a division title, will he finally get some consideration for Manager of the Year?

OK, so Texas didn’t get Zack Greinke. Or Justin Upton. Or Hamilton. Or Napoli. Or James Shields, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, Travis D’Arnaud and J.P. Arencibia, all of whom Jon Daniels kicked the tires on during the off-season. Nor does it appear that Kyle Lohse or Michael Bourn are Arlington bound. Yet I’m excited about the 2013 season.

Pierzynski and Berkman aren’t sexy signings, but the two of them have something the rest of the team doesn’t have- a World Series champion ring. I bet that counts for something, including what impact their work ethic might have on Olt, Profar and Martin.

For sure, this is a team with flaws. Just 20 days from Spring Training and there’s no clue who will be the utility infielder or fifth outfielder. It’s anyone’s guess who will be in the bullpen besides Nathan and Frasor. The fifth starter for the rotation has yet to be determined and none of the names in contention are likely to strike fear in the average major league line-up.

What gets me excited is this. If Wash can keep this team in contention through the All-Star break, the second half will see Feliz and Soria returning to the pen and Colby Lewis to the starting rotation. That would make for an intriguing stretch run.

Too bad it’s still 20 days from pitchers and catchers reporting and 66 days til Opening Day at Houston.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 219 other followers

%d bloggers like this: