Times long past, I think it means.
A year ago, it sort of felt — possibly — like that perennial World Series chase was a time long past for the Rangers. We were all pretty sure those 95 losses were freakishly anomalous, due in large part to record-setting injury numbers, but then again there were healthy veterans whose numbers had cratered, too, plus a first-time manager coming in, a couple division rivals who had what appeared to be impact winters, and then, in March, the loss of Yu Darvish for the year.
Instead, it’s now that brutal 2014 that feels like an outlier, an aberration, a time long past. Texas re-earned a place at the tournament table in October, and once again this has the look and feel of a contender, as has been the case every year this decade, other than 2014.
Jim Bowden ran an ESPN piece yesterday attempting to identify “[w]hat’s missing for all 30 MLB teams.” This is what Bowden said with respect to the 10 teams coming off playoff baseball:
* A power bat and bullpen depth (NYM)
* Starting pitcher (CHC)
* Patience to wait for farm system to deliver (LAD)
* Impact bat (STL)
* Starting pitcher, first base (PIT)
* Corner outfielders (KC)
* Bullpen depth, backup middle infielder (TOR)
* 1B or 3B (HOU)
* Starting pitcher (NYY)
* And Texas: Their players returning to good health
It’s been a relatively quiet off-season for the Rangers, but as we’ve talked about over and over, Texas got a four-month (and half-season) jump on its winter in July, plus it’s not as if the off-season is over.
But, as Bowden noted: “If everyone is healthy, the Rangers have a strong, deep club; now it’s just a matter of getting all hands on deck. All-Star starting pitcher Yu Darvish is expected back as early as mid-May from Tommy John surgery (surgery was in March), Derek Holland and Martin Perez would be another year beyond their surgeries, and Josh Hamilton has comeback player of the year potential if he can return from his long list of ailments.”
I might tap the Hamilton brakes, but you get the point. The Rangers, at least in the perception of Bowden and others, don’t need that added impact starter or a corner bat to contend. They may just need to be healthy.
The Yankees made a splash this week trading four prospects to Cincinnati for closer Aroldis Chapman — but as Sweeny Murti (WFAN) notes, New York was 66-3 this season when leading after six innings, 73-2 when leading after seven, and undefeated in the 81 games it led after eight. How much better, Murti wonders, does Chapman really make that team?
This isn’t exactly the 1997 Rangers replacing Mike Henneman with John Wetteland.
Some reports suggest the Rangers are lurking on Yoenis Cespedes (who wouldn’t cost a draft pick to sign, incidentally), and could turn loose a high-end bullpen arm for the right return (maybe a young, controllable starting pitcher with mid-rotation projection). But it doesn’t sound as if Texas plans to play big in free agency, and by all accounts the club isn’t proactively looking to move a reliever, or Mitch Moreland. The Rangers — as always — will look to be opportunistic, but that’s not the same as pushing the issue.
Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe) reports that Cliff Lee is “completely recovered from his flexor tendon tear and has been cleared to throw,” and he suggests the 37-year-old could be “a great gamble” for Texas, Baltimore, Kansas City, or Houston. That’s one situation I’m really interested in monitoring, but given the dollars it would take, even if heavily incentive-based, I’m not so sure the non-roster deal the Rangers signed righthander A.J. Griffin to a couple weeks may not be the more prudent risk to take.
Still: Would love to see Cliff back here.
Last winter was mostly quiet for Texas as well, headlined by the mid-January trade for one year of Yovani Gallardo and — in retrospect — the Rule 5 drafting of Delino DeShields.
But recognize that aggressive is always right around the corner when it comes to Jon Daniels.
I rank the Rangers’ top 72 prospects every winter for my book. Looking back at the list from a year ago, which I shared last New Year’s Day, and focusing on just the 24 that make up the top third, Daniels moved 10 of them in 2015, with another three not only graduating to the big leagues but lasting long enough to exhaust rookie status and remove themselves from this year’s list. None of them fell out of the top 24.
More than half of those two dozen from a year ago today are now with new organizations, or have established themselves in Texas.
More than half.
And as a result, Cole Hamels and Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman are also here, each for a long time, not to mention a supplemental first-round pick that the Rangers will recoup once Gallardo — whose 184.1 innings and the best ERA+ of his career helped Texas reach 162+ last year, when he was the de facto ace for the first half of the season — signs elsewhere this winter.
I’m not sure I’d predict that 10 of the 24 players who top the list in this year’s book get traded between now and New Year’s Day 2017, but I do agree with Bowden’s assessment that the Rangers don’t have much more to do this winter to position themselves to contend in 2016 — and knowing Daniels, that means we could be looking at another big trade deadline move or two this summer, as he once again gets a head start on the winter while boosting a pennant run in the meantime.
And making sure that 2014 feels, even more, like a time long past.
My Top 72 Rangers Prospects list, as found (with full write-ups on every player) in this year’s Bound Edition:
Happy New Year, you guys. Here’s to good health and to more moments like this one, and to even better ones.