A HOT SEAT?

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Lost in the recent saga about Nolan Ryan’s continued role with the Rangers is consideration of Ron Washington’s status as manager of the Rangers. One school of thought has Washington on safe ground no matter what happens this season. Certainly, the last three years have been the best three year stretch in Ranger history, and that should buy enough job security to survive a year, which in reality will be a rebuilding season.

However, there is an undercurrent of discord between Washington and his general manager Jon Daniels. Washington was of course Daniels’ hire, and Daniels stood behind him during some awful managerial times in his first couple of years. When Ryan took over as team President, many assumed that Washington for sure was on thin ice as far as keeping his job, and perhaps Daniels too. Ryan to his credit was not quick to pull the trigger. He has a laid back management approach and allowed Washington and Daniels time to prove themselves, which they did.

Despite the good will accrued from two World Series appearances in particular, Washington could actually be on the managerial hot seat. First, there is last year’s season ending collapse, as the Rangers held the best record in the American League for most of the second half of the season, yet was not among the final eight playoff teams once the Wild Card play-in games were completed. They lost six of their final seven games, failing to win the division after holding a five game lead with nine games to play. It was a collapse of monumental proportions, and Washington deserves a heavy helping of blame.

At the July 31 trade deadline, Daniels provided Mike Olt from AA Frisco to be the main power bat and corner infielder off the bench. He later added the number one minor league prospect in baseball- Jurickson Profar to be the backup middle infielder. Washington simply refused to play them. Olt batted just 33 times, while Profar got a mere 17. In the end, Washington was criticized for failing to rest his veterans, who were worn out. The biggest problem during the team’s late season collapse was the offense. Michael Young and Ian Kinsler were two of many that looked exhausted and simply did not hit in the season’s final weeks. There have been rumors that Daniels frequently met with Washington prior to games to urge him to make lineup changes that involved resting veterans, but Washington staunchly refused; and thus it seems possible that Daniels may not be fully committed to Washington going forward.

Washington has always fancied himself a “players’ manager”. In short, there don’t appear to be a lot of rules. At times it appears the inmates are running the asylum. One example was late last year when Josh Hamilton left the team on a September road trip with a flimsy excuse about eye problems. It did not set well with some in management and with many on the team. Washington certainly backed his player – he had no choice – but he shared some of the blame as he created an atmosphere in which Hamilton felt no responsiblity to give his all at a critical time of the season when others, such as Adrian Beltre, were playing through tremendous pain.

The paradox at this point is that Nolan Ryan may be a bigger proponent of Washington’s than Daniels. Daniels has shown that he is not bashful about making personnel moves, and he may be the one jumping off Washinton’s band wagon. With six managerial seasons under his belt, Washington is clearly a better manager now than when he started. On a personal note, I have never seen a manager grow so much into the job. However, it is obvious that he much prefers veterans to young players. Many of his critics in the early days pointed this out as a reason why Washington was the wrong man for the job. The team was in a youth movement in 2007 and 2008, yet he continued to push for veteran players such as Ben Broussard, Kris Benson and Jason Jennings.

In acutality, Elvis Andrus is the only position player the Rangers have brought to the Majors during Washington’s tenure that has become a top player. Jerrod Saltalamacchia was the most “Major League ready” player the team received in the Mark Teixeira trade; yet he struggled under Washington, and the team finally gave up on him, trading him to the Red Sox. Salty has blossomed in Boston to become a functional Major League catcher, while the Rangers have sought expensive veterans Benji Molina, Matt Treanor, Yorvit Torrealba, Mike Napoli, Geovany Soto, and now A. J. Pierzynski to man the position.

The young players that the Rangers’ farm system graduated to the Majors that have helped the team achieve their success in the past three seasons have by and large been pitchers – Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, and Robbie Ross; just to name a few. Pitching coach Mike Maddux, not Washington, is credited with the player development in the pitching area.

At this point, the Rangers are in another rebuilding mode. Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry appear to be a center field platoon. Profar and Olt will likely be with the team later in the season and expected to contribute when they arrive. Even more young pitchers such as Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez and Nick Tepesch may well become key members of the pitching staff. With the team in the mode of bringing along young players, the question now looms as to whether Washington is the right man for the job of managing the Texas Rangers.

It is unlikely that Washington loses his job this season. However, with more than 70 home runs and 250 RBI’s gone with the losses of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli; the Rangers could well struggle. The Las Vegas over/under number for Ranger wins this season is only 87. This team has the talent to contend and even win the division if they get the breaks. It also has the potential to finish third or fourth in the division and even win fewer games than they lose if the team doesn’t get those breaks. There is no question that Washington will be in hot water if there is a sub-.500 finish.

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