There's a new world for the winning.
There's a new world to be won.
I've developed a habit the last few years of leading off the story that will conclude that season's book by quoting a go-to song or TV show. Examples: Radiohead, a couple times (I know Westworld, once. , last year.is still unreadable for some of you; , merely maddening).
"One Day More" comes from Les Misérables. Though it's been around nearly 40 years, it was new to me this year, introduced by a group of gifted high school kids. It's far more memorable and uplifting than the 2018 Rangers season was. Whether Rangers fans and players and club officials choose to apply the translated title of the musical to 95 losses and 36 games out, it was certainly a year, between the lines, that the organization will be happy to lower the curtain on.
It's been a week in which the story line dominating one local team's fortunes has been "," prompting new questions as to whether a change needs to be made, while for another team in town all the talk is about a change that was made at head coach, the result of which has been .
Meanwhile, the baseball team finds itself in between the two, past the point of determining a coaching change was in order but still working through the process of zeroing in on the profile of his replacement, and who might fit it best.
The Mavericks are exceptionally stable in the coaching department; their 2018 has been and will likely continue to be about, troubling , and .
But for the Rangers, like their football and hockey cousins in town, the story of 2018 has in large part been about coaching, and the club's determination that the right man for the 2015 club and where it was positioned then is.
It's an unfamiliar situation that the Rangers find themselves in. Over the franchise's first 23 seasons, 15 managers came and went, and whether they took the top step for eight seasons (Bobby Valentine) or for one day (Eddie Stanky), what they had in common was zero playoff appearances. Seven men have managed the Rangers since then. Three took the team to the post-season. Two of them resigned with games on the schedule, one (Johnny Oates) seeing writing on the wall after the first month of the quarter-billion-dollar shortstop's Texas career had gone dismally for the team, the other (Ron Washington) feeling a very different type of pressure that led him to walk away.
The third man to manage Rangers playoff games, Jeff Banister, became the first in the organization's 47 seasons to move on in more conventional fashion, more in line with the natural cycle of sports: A coach with playoff notches in his belt dismissed as a non-playoff season ended, with the team deciding it needed.
Since I made an effort to leave as much corniness behind as possible when I joined The Athletic, I'd never invoke Les Mis again and shoehorn "General Lamarque is dead" into this story. Never.
Banister, the field general from La Marque, will probably manage again. But not in 2019, not in Texas.
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It's not as if the 2018 season itself was without its narratives, without its positive developments and its setbacks. Levi Weaverlast week.
The work that Mike Minor, Jose Leclerc, Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, Ronald Guzman, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa did, at varying levels, changed for the better how they might be viewed going forward.
There was a season-defining week as July came to an end, supplemented by a couple moves earlier than that and one thereafter, that sent six big leaguers away and brought 11 new prospects into the fold, which on its own alters the outlook for 2019 and beyond.
Add to that what is being hailed as an impact amateur draft in June and another international infusion in July, and the farm system has a dramatically different look from the one Texas took into the 2018 season.
At his season-ending press conference, Jon Daniels said that among the positives he takes from what was clearly a trying season is the development of the club's young players -- not only the opportunities they got (in some cases unexpectedly) but, more importantly, what many of them did with the shot they were given. In spite of the team's difficult season, Daniels pointed out, the young nucleus of the team never laid down. Profar's season got stronger after its midpoint. Leclerc's work wasonce Keone Kela's role as closer was vacated at the end of July. Gallo was at his best, by far, in August, when the flurry of trades essentially white-flagged the season, and appeared playable in center field after that. Adrian Sampson, Ariel Jurado, Yohander Mendez, C.D. Pelham, Jeffrey Springs, and Connor Sadzeck showed flashes in late-season pitching trials.
Odor, for 63 games (June 16-September 2), played at an MVP level offensively (.306/.381/.587) and in the field. For the other 66 that he was healthy for, however -- 43 beforehand but another 23 at the end of the schedule -- he hit .198/.267/.254. He was actually less productive over the final month of the season with the bat than he had been over the first month and a half. The way the middle of the year went for the 24-year-old (who is younger, for example, than Leclerc, Gallo, Profar, Springs, Sadzeck, and Drew Robinson), it appeared Odor had not only rediscovered his approach but perhaps found a new level. The way his 2018 ended, though, was troubling.
As was Nomar Mazara's disappointing three-month stretch to finish his season (.215/.274/.354), though the 23-year-old was playing through a thumb sprain. Delino DeShields continued his trend of following a good season at the plate with a bad one (.216/.310/.281), and for all the defensive progress he's made in center field, he's going to have to compete in camp for a starting job. Willie Calhoun continued to hit AAA pitching and reach base, but his power receded. Alex Claudio battled through the most hittable of his nine pro seasons (by a lot), Eddie Butler was one of the sabermetrically least effective pitchers in baseball after coming over in the Cole Hamels trade, and Martin Perez pitched his way into a declined option, in all likelihood.
All told, the pitching staff is headed for an overhaul, though that's going to be more than a one-winter process, and the offense -- while projectable at its core -- needs improvement in almost every direction.
And then there are the two infielders, the leaders of the team, who control their own immediate futures. Elvis Andrus must decide a few days after the World Series ends whether he wants to exercise the first of two available opt-outs in the contract that otherwise guarantees him $14-15 million a year through 2022 (with a club option in 2023). He's all but pledged that he's staying. Adrian Beltre has no procedural timetable for his decision, and there's far less feel for whether he will decide, once and for all, that he's truly "." But to this point, he has pledged nothing.
Given how Beltre handled the trade deadline -- insisting that-- it's fair to assume he's not going to hold the Rangers up headed into the active part of the off-season. Surely he'll let the organization know his plans by time Andrus must declare his. The thoughts he shared with the media toward the end of the season, unlike any year before this, give off a vibe that his departure, while far from a certainty, may be more likely than not, and clearly more likely than it's ever been going into a winter.
Texas has options on three players aside from Perez (whose deal calls for $7.5 million if not bought out for $750,000): Robinson Chirinos ($2.375 million/$1 million buyout), Doug Fister ($4.5 million/$500,000 buyout), and Matt Moore ($10 million/$750,000 buyout). Chirinos will be back; the veteran pitchers won't, at least not under the terms of their existing deals.
Beltre is one of three conventional free agents, along with Bartolo Colon and Yovani Gallardo. If either righthander is brought back, it will certainly be on a non-roster deal.
It's safe to assume that all four players eligible for arbitration -- Mazara, Profar, DeShields, and Claudio -- will be tendered. The league hasn't yet defined the service time necessary to qualify as a "Super Two" eligible for arbitration; for now Butler, Ryan Rua, Matt Bush, and Carlos Perez are candidates to be arbitration-eligible for the first time, and none is a lock to be tendered in that event.
The fact that Profar is out of options is immaterial, but it could be a factor as far as Sadzeck, Butler, Bush, Carlos Perez, and Hanser Alberto are concerned. (Mendez and Rua each have an available fourth option.)
There will be plenty of turnover on the fringes of the roster. As for its core, that's where the off-season gets most interesting. The certain change is at manager. The hold-your-breath possibility of change is with Beltre. But perhaps as impactful as any in the long term would be a Texas decision to take advantage of its greatest high-end depth, that of its young left-handed bats. Expect the Rangers to field inquiries from interested clubs who might have something they lack, something that they might consider more valuable in the effort to position things for a new world to be won, however soon that might be.
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Daniels didn't sidestep suggestions that 2019 could be another step in what the organization has called its development phase, acknowledging the realities of the competitive landscape in the division and the league in the short term. It could be that 2020, the year when Globe Life Field opens, is Texas's target date as it evaluates frontline trade and free agent opportunities.
But as we saw with Minor last winter, that doesn't mean the Rangers will duck out of the market over the next few months. They will look for pitching -- multi-year rotation pieces, but possibly multi-inning bullpen pieces as well, as the club evaluates the new pitching approach it experimented with late in the year -- and not only on the free agent market, where starters like Patrick Corbin and Charlie Morton could be cost-prohibitive. The idea will be to find the Winter 2018 version of Winter 2016 Morton.
Though three of the four teams still alive in the post-season have top 10 payrolls, their 2018 rotations were lined with trade pickups:
HOUSTON: Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole
BOSTON: Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez
LOS ANGELES (NL): Alex Wood
MILWAUKEE: Gio Gonzalez, Freddy Peralta, Chase Anderson (off the NLCS roster), Zach Davies (same)
The Rangers' farm system got stronger in 2018, and not just from trade, draft, and international scouting infusions. There were a number of, and the top tiers of the system are another year of development closer to the big leagues. While the Rangers shouldn't be considered likely to move key prospects this winter, given where they perceive their window to be, their ability to go get young, controllable starting pitching on the trade market is certainly greater now than it was a year ago.
But if Texas is going to make a trade for the type of pitching that would slide Minor down in the rotation, for example, it's probably going to take a young bat from the club's left-handed-hitting surplus. It's not easy to imagine Gallo, Mazara, or Odor moving (for various reasons), and neither Calhoun nor Guzman is going to carry an impact deal, even with a couple high-end prospects tacked on. (The Rangers could explore trading Shin-Soo Choo if they're willing to throw in significant cash -- though now armed with 10/5 rights, Choo must approve any trade -- but even in that case it's not going to be for a controllable front-end starter.)
The trades of Hamels, Kela, and Jake Diekman (and Jesse Chavez, Cory Gearrin, and Brett Nicholas) are part of the story of 2018, without question. If Gallo, Mazara, or Odor joins the category, the core of the Rangers club will look meaningfully different going into camp -- and not only because of who would be subtracted.
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Here's a few lasts to consider:
That's no fun to think about. No matter how much sports-sad 2018 gave Rangers fans, none of it would come close to an announced retirement from 29.
Whenever that does happen, this year or not, we'll look back on the Cooperstown career of perhaps the most dynamic, complete baseball player/teammate/leader/treasure this franchise has ever put its uniform on. Looking back isn't always all that useful in sports, unless you're tugging on nostalgia or celebrating greatness -- or if you're a GM poring over trends and precedent in the process of making a very big decision.
The best way to take refuge from a dispiriting look back is to choose to look ahead. Prospect rankings. Wild-ass. Time-lapse . The allure of a new season with the loss-column odometer rolled back to 0, the anticipation of what putting a new manager and a reconfigured roster in place could mean.
Brush off the lasts; dream on the firsts. On a new world for the winning.
It's the lot in life, at the moment, for a fan base that, for the last decade, has experienced plenty of success. Despite the way 2017 and 2018 went, there are still only four teams in baseball with more regular season wins over the last 10 years than the Rangers, and only four that have played more playoff games in that time. The team is in a down cycle, working to make the adjustments it believes are needed to point the arrow back up. To envision and pave the road to another day, another destiny. To a new beginning.
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