Belief in Things Unseen
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
This is a hope piece, but not in the traditional sense.
I don’t have a flurry of moves Jon Daniels can make to flip this Rangers team into the squads that opened this decade; those moves aren’t out there to make.
That seismic wave of hope already hit the West Coast, centered on Anaheim, with the Shohei Ohtani signing in mid-December. That was the move to make this offseason. There were others out there, but only one carried the franchise-altering, talent-to-cost ratio of that Japanese tremor.
Perhaps no team in baseball put as much into the Ohtani pursuit as the Texas Rangers. Others chronicled that search better than could I.
If you really want to understand it, search for some of Evan Grant’s work on the Ohtani pursuit; in particular, focus on the scouting and outreach investments the Rangers made over the past SEVEN years—that is, since Ohtani was 16, the limit for contact with an international amateur player.
To say his signing elsewhere was crushing would be an understatement. The column ink and megabytes poured into Ohtani analysis overload is unprecedented, at least in my memory.
I won’t add much, except to say this: no player who’s never pitched an inning for a U.S.-based team has gotten the scrutiny that Ohtani warrants.
That’s all the time I’ll spend on Ohtani here.
He’s an Angel, as is an all-time Ranger favorite of mine, Ian Kinsler, along with a myriad of signings designed to stake firm hold to second place in the West and favorite in the Wild Card race for Anaheim. That’s my bet, anyways, heading in 2018.
The Rangers haven’t let the news lessen their investment in the Far East and partnerships there, and that’s very good news.
After the wave
Jon Daniels could have done a lot once his greatest Christmas wish vanished in the California sun.
But unlike some previous regimes here, he didn’t then try to make The Hangover 4: Major League.
He didn’t go out and throw foolish contracts around like a GOP-backed tax cut. No, he stuck to a Plan B I can support: make 2018 a don’t-call-it-a-rebuilding year.
He made smart moves.
- Doug Fister has proven himself before to be a shut-down starter, and those days may be gone, but I’m all for getting the last bit off a used cigar butt, as Warren Buffett would always say.
- Matt Moore had a horrible run between Tampa Bay and San Francisco, with the weight of an underperforming and undertalented team on him at each stop, but a change of scenes and fresh expectations to start a season could do wonders.
- Mike Minor was an unheralded signing, but there’s hints of great expectations there. He’s got a swing-and-miss pedigree and pitch repertoire, and pitched well for KC last year in his move to the pen after a failed Atlanta starting run and a labrum tear.
- The team hasn’t throw long years (never mind huge dollars) at Eric Hosmer or D. Martinez as 1B/DH added offensive solutions. Joey Gallo came through in a big way in his make-or-break year, which usually hints at either a fall to earth, or a breakout. I’d bet on the latter, knowing the character of the man and the breadth of the athleticism and learning still left in him.
- Rougned Odor could, if the team wanted, get pushed by Willie Calhoun (although the Rangers have firmly slotted him into LF, I believe). Given his contract, they should (and I believe will) focus on driving consistency vs. scrapping a player (via the only route available, a low-value trade) that they’ve invested years and dollars. It worked to ride out the storm with Elvis Andrus. They need to have faith that the benefits of Rougie will return, and the deficits will recede. And, he can’t be as bad as last year, right?
- The bullpen … well, it can’t be as bad as last year…right? Minor helps. Plus, there’s still meat on the FA bone out there, and trades to be made for young arms needing polish, too. I won’t be surprised if that’s the theme the rest of this offseason – potential needing polish.
- And while I still flash on the Neftali Feliz experiment every time I hear “Matt Bush” and “starter” in the same sentence, I don’t mind a spring training tryout. Just protect the most important real-estate on the man’s whole body—between both ears.
- Now, don’t forget, Jake Arrieta is still out there, a hometown boy, and likely to get less than he was looking for (in dollars, although probably not years) the later into the offseason he goes unsigned (although Scott Boras always gets his players a good deal; it’s JD’s job to keep it a fair one).
That’s the one big move left I wouldn’t mind seeing this team make. The years scare me, but the stuff is ace-level electric when it’s on, and going from the pressure-cooker that is the present-day Cubs to home cooking for a middling team might be just what his mechanics (and mindset?) need.
Doubling down on the kids
But more than those moves, Jon Daniels seems to still know what brought the Rangers pennants in 2010 and 2011; he and Jeff Bannister, from his Pirates experience, know that the true currency of baseball lies in young, controllable talent.
Of that, the Rangers are still lacking (at the upper levels of the minors, at least) in terms of Grade A prospects, but make no mistake—they’re on the right side of those tracks, and not changing course.
That’s where hope lies with me. It’s with the kids who’ll show up in Surprise to question marks, limited fanfare, and low expectations for 2018. Calhoun may play much of 2018 in Texas, but the weight of expectations may still be too high for his limited MLB experience. Yohander Mendez still has a game-changing changeup, if he can control it (and his mental engine) at the highest level; that may take more clacks before it clicks in. And Ronald Guzman is a legit minor league hitter, but a season away from MLB contributor, at least.
Instead, the likes of Leody Taveras and Cole Ragans and their young brethren will ply their trade—and, more importantly, learn to live with unflinching failure—in places as close as Frisco and as far as Spokane and the Down East Wood Ducks.
But beyond the RoughRiders, they’ll not make much noise anytime soon in the Metroplex.
So just what has that left us with, here at the dawn of 2018?
In the coming weeks, we’ll do our best to give you an analysis in a few parts: who have the Rangers lost; who have they gained; and what lies in store, at various levels, to give you hope?
Don’t expect any revelations. Because my gut tells me, if this team has career years from the new additions and gets contributions from kids we’ve barely heard of—that is, if we hit the baseball lottery—this team is still, at best, battling for a single spot in a Wild Card playoff.
But this team must go down to go up, even with the likes of Adrian Beltre still lifting our hopes—for him (and, by extension, we as fans)—that this team can do something remarkable in his time here.
The best champagne only tastes great if you’ve lived off lukewarm Pabst for a few years. It tastes even better if you’re showing in it after all but popping the ultimate cork, as this team did in 2010 and, heart-wrenchingly, 2011.
Rangers fans don’t recently have much love to lose for the Astros, if they ever did, but there are plenty of lessons to be learned there. Those ‘Stros took their lumps with fill-ins and overwhelmed kids in 2011 to 2014. They retooled. They traded away veterans that would make the difference between a dismal 55 wins and an equally meaningless 65 or 70.
In time, the kids found their feet, the fill-ins gave way to the real deal—and within three years of losing 92 games, a trophy rode through downtown Houston after a most unlikely summer and fall, on so many levels.
The Rangers have the foundation to take that ride. They need patience, and pieces, but the pedigree still lives in the clubhouse of Andrus and Beltre, and in the arm of Cole Hamels.
One or all may be gone by the time a parade takes a turn onto Ballpark Way, but my money is that sometime within the first half-decade of Globe Life Field—given pedigree, patience, vision, and the courage to stay the course—the Commissioners’ Trophy will parade through the streets of the Metroplex.
If I were the Rangers, I’d stay the course, regardless of what it means for 2018, 2019, or even 2020. And I’d invest in a cool, dark, humid room at that new cathedral just going up across from Globe Life Park, because that champagne better taste awfully sweet going down.
They, and we, will have earned that much.