Jonathan Tjarks, John Stathas and JP Starkey sit down and discuss the 2012 Rangers -- and what will happen to the Rangers going forward.
We all know what happened, but why did it happen? How could the Rangers go from the top seed and the odds-on favorite to go to the World Series and then not even escape the wild card round, in the span of a week?
Jonathan Tjarks: Two things jump immediately to mind -- the decline of the Rangers offense and the back end of their rotation over the last month. By the end, if it wasn't Matt Harrison or Yu Darvish on the mound, Texas couldn't count on a quality start. Derek Holland was maddeningly inconsistent while the #4 and #5 spots were complete black holes: Ryan Dempster couldn't get it done against high quality opponents, Roy Oswalt was just done in general, Martin Perez wasn't ready and Scott Feldman got figured out by the rest of the AL. The offense, meanwhile, couldn't pick up the slack, as Adrian Beltre was seemingly the only middle of the order batting hitting well. The Rangers hitters are such free-swingers that when they get in a slump they have no Plan B. It would be nice to see a few more guys who can string "professional at-bats" together.
John Stathas: My simple explanation is exhaustion. It wasn't the only factor, but it was the main one. The Rangers just played a full season after back-to-back World Series appearances. And many of our star players have made appearances at the All Star game. That's A LOT of baseball over a three-year span without much time off, especially for your major contributors. What that translates to is tired arms and mentally fatigued hitters. It really wasn't shocking to see the arm injuries in the pitching staff or the extended slumps we saw from multiple Ranger hitters. It's tough to overcome that exhaustion, both physically and mentally. The mental part might even be the toughest of the two. And it's a slippery slope. Once the Rangers started dropping games in the last week, we all knew it was over...we just didn't want to admit it.
JP Starkey: There's no simple answer. I thought all along that the Rangers needed to acquire a top of the rotation starting pitcher, ala Zack Greinke. I wrote about it time and time again. While I wasn't right, I wasn't exactly wrong either. If Texas has Greinke on the mound in Game 162, they're probably AL West champions. Ryan Dempster was never going to be the answer.
That said, the offense playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde didn't help at all. Josh Hamilton's decision to mentally check out wasn't really expected at this time of year.
Do you think the Rangers were mentally checked out for the Wild Card game, or just physically taxed -- or neither?
Tjarks: It's very hard to say. Josh Hamilton certainly seemed like he was: the dropped ball in Oakland in Game 162 and the weak punch-outs in the play-in game certainly weren't the best ways to end the season. However, I don't know that you want to make huge long-term roster decisions based on any one baseball game, even if it was in the playoffs. Suffice to say that they didn't get it done, but if you want to make changes, you need to make changes about things that happened over the entire season (*cough* Michael Young).
Stathas: I wouldn't say they "checked out" (except Josh Hamilton...he packed his bags weeks ago). To me, it was the physical/mental taxation coupled with the slippery slope I mentioned earlier. Once the season got the point of needing the play-in win to salvage a postseason appearance, it was all over but the crying.
Starkey: It's difficult to say and tough to speculate since I'm not in the clubhouse, but I don't really think the Rangers were in a good mental state by the time the Wild Card round rolled around. Whether that falls on the players or Ron Washington, I'm not sure, but there's no way that Texas should have lost to Baltimore with Yu freakin' Darvish pitching. There was a clear disconnect between talent and production in that game, and to me, that has to do with the mental state of the Rangers.
What will your lasting memory of the '12 Rangers be?
Tjarks: Kind of has to revolve around Hamilton doesn't it? Say what you will about his behavior and demeanor over the last few months, but his run in April and May was pretty historic. Guys with his type of ability don't come around very often, even for successful franchises. Big picture, I think fans view teams in chunks bigger than a season long, so to me, the lasting memory of the '10-'12 Rangers was of the greatest team in franchise history and two runs to the World Series. Can't be mad about that, even if Texas is now "the Buffalo Bills of MLB" (as if that's a bad thing).
Stathas: My complete and utter loss of respect for Josh Hamilton. The Oakland drop, jog, and laugh may have sealed it, and the 0 for 4, five-out, eight-pitches-seen finale was the icing on the cake. I understand that the game of baseball gets the best of you at times. You'll struggle mightily at the plate for what seems like ages. I know, I've been there. But when you're in one of those slumps, you step up your game in the areas you have complete control over: fielding, running, and overall hustle. You bust your ass in any way you can to help the team when your bat isn't getting the job done. Josh Hamilton didn't. I don't care if the sun was in your eyes, that doesn't affect your ability to sprint like a madman after a dropped ball. And for a guy to repay an organization and fan base that has given him three second chances (by my count) in the way that Josh Hamilton did, is tremendously disrespectful and outright childish. The "boos" were appropriate. Good job fans.
Starkey: I'll remember the '12 Rangers as a transitional team. I didn't expect the Rangers to win the AL West this year (I picked the Angels). I always thought that this would be Hamilton's last year as a member of the Rangers, and it looks like I was right.
While most will think about Hamilton, I'll remember Yu Darvish. I'll remember following his spring training starts, and how he progressed as a starter throughout the year. I fully believe Darvish will be the face of the Rangers, as they move on from the '10-'12 Rangers.
Does this team need to be shaken up, or can the Rangers win with a very similar team in '13? Assuming that it is possible to retain all the same pieces.
Tjarks: This team does need a shake-up, if only because their core players from the 2010 team will be three years older by the start of next season. If you look at the Braves and the Yankees of the 90's, they constantly added new players into the mix every year. That's the only way you're going to stay relevant over the next decade, which should (and I'm guessing is) the goal in the Rangers front office. They've shown a great ability to identify talent, so if they think they can get younger at some positions, that makes a lot of sense to me.
Stathas: A "shake-up" Boston style is definitely not needed. But replacing one of the best 3-hole hitters in the game and acquiring a frontline starting pitcher is going to be enough of a shake-up. There also needs to be some position swapping in the field and in the pitching staff. But overall, the Rangers still have a lot of talent on the roster and will still be able to compete for a division title in 2013.
Starkey: Yes, but to a small extent. The Rangers need somebody new in the clubhouse, and frankly, Michael Young has got to go. Getting rid of Young and adding a capable DH would do wonders to the lineup. Of course, Texas needs to replace Hamilton, but that will happen, too.
Again, I've never stepped foot in Texas' clubhouse, but it seems to me that something has to give in there -- and new faces and personalities will be welcome. Getting rid of Hamilton's delicate personality will also do wonders.
What changes would you making going forward to the Rangers?
Tjarks: Kind of tying back into my last answer, I'd like to see them get a lot younger in the infield. Beltre and Andrus are rocks on the left side, but Profar, Mitch Moreland and Mike Olt are all ready for more playing time on the right. While Kinsler's bat profiles much better at 2B, I can't justify not playing Profar at this point and it's hard to imagine any scenario where Texas could get equal trade value for a plus bat and a plus glove at the age of 20 in an up-the-middle position. From there, the dominoes are clear -- Kinsler moves into the OF and the team spends the money they aren't spending on Hamilton on an impact OF bat. I wouldn't mind spending money on another arm, but it seems like you can slide Ogando back into the rotation at a fraction of the cost, which would allow you to spend more money to fortify the bullpen.
Stathas: There's a lot that I would do, that I don't see Jon Daniels a) doing, or b) having the ability to do. But I'm going to play armchair GM for now. First of all, I would make Alexi Ogando and starting pitcher once again. I hated the decision to put him back in the bullpen this season. In his first season as a starter, Ogando won 13 games and had a 3.51 ERA. He struck out 126 batters and walked only 43 over 169 innings. But for some reason this offseason, the Rangers front office thought was a good idea to use him as the 7th inning reliever and turn our young closer (who had 72 saves over the previous two seasons) into a starter. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I know Nolan Ryan knows that saying.
Some other moves I would make: Get Nelson Cruz out of the field and make him your everyday DH. Get rid of Michael Young (unlikely) or turn him into a utility infielder. I would love to trade Ian Kinsler (my loathing of his baseball skills being well known) but I don't think any team in their right mind would touch his contract. So teach Kinsler how to play left field and stick Profar at second base. Re-sign Koji Uehara. Re-sign Napoli if the price is right, but I won't cry if he goes elsewhere. And for the love of god, give Mitch Moreland 600 at-bats and let him see lefties regularly. I guarantee he hits at least 25 home runs. I would also love to see the Rangers pursue Justin Upton and Zack Greinke.
Starkey: If I'm Jon Daniels, I'm offering the Diamondbacks Michael Olt and a pair of lesser prospects for Justin Upton, cutting ties with Michael Young, and making Nelson Cruz the everyday designated hitter. I'm putting Kinsler in left field during spring training, to see if he can be an asset in the outfield.
I'd sign Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton to a three, maybe four-year contract, and move forward with an offensive core of the Uptons (or Bourn), Andrus, Beltre, Moreland, Jurickson Profar and Kinsler.
If the Rangers have the resources, I'm backing up the truck for Zack Greinke, too.
Josh Hamilton. What should the Rangers do with him, and where do you predict he goes?
Tjarks: As much fun as watching Hamilton has been, there's no way I'm giving someone with his checkered history and behavior over the last few years a massive long-term contract. It's hard to say where he ends up, because all it takes is one desperate bidder (see: Prince Fielder and Detroit last year), but here's my rough prediction: Hamilton is shaken up by a change of scenery and has a great season in 2013, but then slowly starts sliding back into the habits we all saw. By year 3 of his next contract, his new team will be trying to unload him and eventually he'll be appearing on the "Broke" sequel in ESPN's "40 for 40".
Stathas: First of all, I personally would not make him an offer at all (see #3). But if I had to, it would be 4-years $60 million and not a penny more. Some team is going to give him more years and more money. That's fine. He can go be a mentally and physically deteriorating headcase for some other franchise. Boston seems to be the top candidate, but they may not want another Manny Ramirez garbaging around the Green Monster. The Yankees will hire any big gun and they have a hole in left field, but Josh may not want the daily scrutiny of the NYC press. That leaves San Francisco, and I'll put my money on them. They have the money and need for a huge bat in the middle of their lineup. The lack of a DH hurts his longevity in the NL, but the Giants need a big bat now to keep up with the Dodgers and can always trade Hamilton to a contender in a few years. But is Josh willing to venture into the godless city of San Francisco? I think he is. And good riddance.
Starkey: You have to make him a courtesy offer. After all, he did help put the Rangers back on the map. At this point, though, it's best for both to part ways.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict he ends up as a member of the Seattle Mariners. Seattle is moving the fences in for 2013, and they're desperate for offense. What better way to get better than add an MVP candidate from one of your rivals?
Well, there's lots of better ways, but it won't shock me if that's what happens.