DISCONNECT AT THE TOP?

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

First of all, apologies to fans for taking a month off between posts. Other obligations got in the way, but please expect more frequent posts going forward.

Today’s post is the first in a series to examine two questions: What went wrong with the Rangers leading to the season ending collapse and what do the Rangers do going forward?

This past Tuesday, the Rangers held their year-end press conference at which manager Ron Washington essentially fell on the sword over playing his regulars too much. Clearly, the Rangers looked out of gas in the final weeks of the season. There were mental mistakes on the base paths as well as in the field, a clear sign of mental fatigue. There were physical mistakes afield on routine plays and lack luster at bats, clear signs of physical fatigue.

Kevin Goldstein is noted in the baseball industry as a premier talent evaluator, particularly of minor league systems. He is now a member of the Houston Astros front office team, but last June when he was still with “Baseball Prospectus” he held a Sunday afternoon session for Ranger fans. Jon Daniels spoke at that gathering at which time he said that fans should not expect any spectacular moves at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline; I. E., no Cliff Lees. He indicated the Rangers’ focus would be on shoring up the bench.

As the trade deadline approached though, most speculartion had the Rangers involved in first Cole Hamels until he was re-signed by the Phillies, and then Zach Greinke, who Milwaukee ultimately traded to the Angels. Texas did finally make a deal for Ryan Dempster, arguably the next best starting pitcher after Greinke rumored to be available.

Daniels also bolstered the catching situation with the acquisition of Geovany Soto. Clearly, Yorvit Torrealba was a negative and Mike Napoli was slowed much of the season by injuries. Soto was a good acquistition, though it is questionable if he fits in the Rangers’ plans going forward.

But Daniels did nothing to shore up the bench. Two seasons ago after acquiring Cliff Lee in early July, Daniels strengthened the Rangers’ bench with outfielder Jeff Francoeur, and infielders Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman. Francoeur in particular was a helpful addition.

When Daniels failed to land veteran bench help this past summer, the team summoned Mike Olt from AA Frisco, where he had become the Rangers’ premier power hitting prospct at the upper levels of the farm system. Daniels said at the time that Olt was a better player than any veterans he found available at the trade deadline. Later when the rosters expanded, Daniels added middle infielder Jurickson Profar, also from AA Frisco. Profar is considered by many to be the best minor league prospect in all of baseball, but one of the top five for sure.

Profar and Olt then were the two major acquistions to shore up the Rangers bench at season’s end, but neither had much impact. Olt was slowed in September with plantar faciaitis; but the main problem was Washington simply refused to play them.

In looking over Washington’s six year reign as manager, he has never been good at developing young players. Indeed, there are some who thought that Washington was the wrong man for the job in 2007 when he took over because of he is not good with young players. Most of the young players that have come to the Majors from the Rangers’ farm system and contributed since Washington’s arrival are pitchers, and much of the credit for pitchers has to go to pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Elvis Andrus is the only position player that has graduated from the Rangers’ farm system and performed at an elite level. Mitch Moreland and Craig Gentry are the only other position players that have contributed. On the other hand, at least two position players have moved on and become productive elsewhere. Chris Davis hit 33 home runs for Baltimore this season, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia has become a serviceable starting catcher with the Red Sox. Both players had ample playing time to develop here and did not, so it’s not a matter of giving up too soon. It may however be a matter of not being able to bring young players along to become productive at the Major League level.

Certainly Washington’s job in September was not to develop Olt and Profar; it was to win a pennant. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. They were the bench players Daniels provided, and they should have played more, both for their own development and to keep veterans playing at the top of their game with appropriate rest. Undoubtedly, there was disappointment if not disillusionment with the young players and their playing time. Ranger fans now know that tired veterans did not get the pennant won.

The question of playing the young players came up frequently down the stretch. Washington was asked numerous times about the situation on local sports talk shows, including ESPN’s Ben & Skin as well as the Ticket’s Norm Hitzges. They particularly asked in relation to Michael Young, who turned in the worst offensive season of his career.

Randy Galloway has indicated that there were September conferences between Daniels and Washington on the topic of playing time. Washington was not unaware of the problem in other words. If Daniels campaigned for more playing time for Olt and Profar, Washington apparently did not heed the advice. It all makes you wonder if there is a growing disconnect between the manager and general manager, and how this will affect the team going forward.

The biggest question the Rangers will initially address this off season is Josh Hamilton’s contract. Irrespective though of how that situation is resolved, the Rangers are going to look much different next season, and that is likely to include more young players to develop. Hopefully, the disconnect will also get resolved.

Follow on Twitter @rangerrap

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