Before Mike Bacsik was a local radio personality and after he was the son of a 1970s Texas Rangers pitcher, he played in the big leagues himself, for the Indians and the Mets and the Rangers and the Nationals. Whether that gives him added credibility or not to have said what he did yesterday after Texas traded for Alex Rios, a player whose motor and body language has been questioned more than once and whose untapped potential gets mentioned as often as his actual production on the field, I’m unsure, but what he said struck a nerve.
Tweeted Bacsik: "If you get traded into a pennant race and you're an everyday player, you see it as, ‘I’m the player who can put the team over the top.' . . . [A] player sees it as his chance to become a savior and doesn't want to disappoint his new teammates. Remember what Rick Carlisle says about pressure.”
Carlisle has a sign in the Mavericks locker room that says: “Love pressure.” The title-winning coach says pressure “has one of two effects: It makes diamonds or it bursts pipes.”
I don’t discount the body language thing. They don’t all have to be Matt Garza or Grant Balfour or Jered Weaver, but you want to see the key players on your team showing a pulse, and not getting benched in the middle of a game for not running out a double play ground ball. But here’s the thing.
How would you feel if Texas, sitting right now in a virtual tie atop the AL West after this run of 10 out of 11, finished the season five games out of any kind of playoff spot?
Imagine that for a minute. Five games out. The Rangers have been more than five games back on just two days since 2009 (and that was two weeks ago, right as this dominant run was about to get underway). Imagine Texas limping to a finish where the club is five games out of a Wild Card spot, and some larger number of games behind the A’s in the division.
It would be the most successful finish to a season in Alex Rios’s 10-year big league career, with the exception of one.
He’s been on a few teams that won more games than they lost, marginally, but he’s finished seasons 30.5 games out of the playoffs, 15 games back, 11 games back, 10 games back, nine games back, eight games, 7.5 games back, and six games back. That doesn’t count the White Sox in 2013, a miserable year that has that club 22 games out of the second Wild Card spot this morning and stripping down.
The one season in which a Rios team was closer to 162+ than six games out was last year, when the 85-77 White Sox finished three games behind Detroit (having held first place for four months before spitting things up with a week to go).
It happened to be Rios’s career year. A slash line of .304/.334/.516, an OPS+ of 125, and a number 15 finish in the AL MVP vote, a couple spots ahead of Albert Pujols.
Nobody ever questioned Adrian Beltre’s or Mike Napoli’s or Joe Nathan’s motor, but none of them had won a ring or had much of any post-season success at all, and that story line came up when Texas acquired each of them. The hungry Rangers like hungry players.
I have no idea if Rios really plays as spiritlessly as his reputation suggests, or if he’s hungry for another pennant race, or if 2012 reveals anything reliable about how he competes when he’s on a competitive team.
But I do know he’s a good defensive right fielder, has some juice in the bat, at least in spurts, can put pressure on the opponent with his legs, and, last night notwithstanding, is a better bet to help Texas win games these final two months than a platoon of Joey Butler and Engel Beltre. As we discussed yesterday, as long as ownership was comfortable with the financial investment — Rios is guaranteed about $3.5 million the rest of the way this season and $13 million in 2014 (when Nelson Cruz and David Murphy will be free agents), with a $1 million club option to buy out his $14 million commitment in 2015, with Chicago kicking in $1 million in the trade — you don’t turn away from the opportunity because of Leury Garcia, who has a chance to be a tremendous utility player, but no more than that in Texas. When names like Martin Perez and Luke Jackson and Rougned Odor are getting tweeted around, that’s one thing. This is another.
And I also know that the Rangers, in large part because of their manager, tend to get a lot out of their new players, sometimes a good bit more than their former teams did. Maybe it’s the winning atmosphere, the culture in the clubhouse, the hands-off approach of the skipper. Maybe it’s the type of player they target.
You probably remember seeing the national columns a week ago declaring trade deadline winners and losers, a couple of which placed the Rangers in the “L” column, presumably because they made no news in the final couple days of July.
But Texas is the team that, nine days before the conventional July 31 deadline, traded for the best pitcher in the league who was moved, and that, nine days after the deadline, traded for arguably the best hitter who changed addresses. Be my guest if you prefer Alfonso Soriano over Rios, but make sure to factor in not only the age and contract but also the defense and baserunning.
Garza won his first start as a Ranger, and since his second start, the club is 10-1. Nobody knows if the abstract boost that a move like adding Garza played any role in the team’s turnaround — it’s not as if the subtraction of Cruz has had an adverse effect so far — and Garza is player who, at least in the obvious sense, can only help your team win once every five days.
Maybe that’s all Rios will do, too.
But I like the idea of Alex Rios in a pennant race, not only because of what it might do for Texas but also because of what it might do for the player. Pressure can lead to one of two things, and there’s a pretty decent stack of evidence of what being thrust into this intensely competitive battle just might lead to in Rios’s case.