GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Say this about them, they are cool.
The Texas Rangers might appear to be waist deep in one conundrum or another, but they grin and shrug and hit a hanger off the wall and win a ballgame – at least they have for going on a year.
The hallmark of a composed ballclub is not in avoiding the messes, because they always come, but in carving good at-bats and first-pitch strikes through the middle of them.
They won a pennant in a season their manager tested positive for recreational drugs, their owner filed for bankruptcy and finally sold, and their operations were subsidized by Major League Baseball.
So, when the Rangers were a month into camp and their iconic third baseman already insisted he didn’t want to play for them anymore and their iconic team president ousted the CEO, taking that job for himself, the Rangers showed up every morning after that, checked the lineup card and knocked the dirt from their spikes.
They’re cool like that.
“We’re kind of seasoned at this,” their general manager, Jon Daniels, said Friday night on the concourse of Goodyear Ballpark, where the Rangers were playing the Cleveland Indians. “We’re not flippant about things going on. At the same time, [manager Ron Washington] has created an atmosphere that these are able to stay focused.”
The fact is, they hardly knew short-timer CEO Chuck Greenberg. He was the friendly guy behind the batting cage in the new cowboy boots. And veteran infielder Michael Young(notes) walked into camp, put his head down and hit. Out of pride, out of responsibility, and as a way out of town, he’s batted .355.
There’s been no thaw between Young and Daniels, and it doesn’t appear Young is any closer to, say, Philadelphia or Colorado or Anaheim than he was a month ago. Meantime, Young has played first, second and third base, and made two starts as designated hitter, where it appears most of his at-bats will come in the regular season.
It works today, because Mitch Moreland(notes), Ian Kinsler(notes) and Adrian Beltre(notes) willingly take days off in March, but maybe it doesn’t when Young is slogging through 15 consecutive games without wearing a glove, and if he finds the DH lifestyle isn’t for him and his production suffers, and that $16 million per year starts looking even more weighty.
For what it’s worth, Daniels still seems bothered by the rift.
“It does matter,” he said. “I don’t think it has an impact on wins and losses. But it does matter for the organization.”
As for any conversations since Young arrived in camp, Daniels shook his head and said, “We chose not to get into it that day and we’re still not.”
A big spring from Chris Davis(notes), who rediscovered his stroke and confidence in the Dominican Republic this winter and entered Friday night’s game batting .410, apparently won’t free Young, either. Though Davis would give the Rangers depth at first and third, just as Young does, the club rightfully prefers Young’s body of work over Davis’ three weeks. Chances are, they won’t trade Young or Davis in the near future, and if Davis keeps hitting management will spend the next two weeks figuring a way to keep him on the big league roster.
Yeah, at some point everybody had to start playing baseball again, which probably was best. That’s what the Rangers are good at, or certainly were good at a season ago. They don’t quite look the same as a pitching staff without Cliff Lee(notes) out in front, which leads, of course, to the question of Neftali Feliz(notes), who saved 40 games last season and will make his third start of spring training Saturday.
A survey of Daniels, Nolan Ryan and Washington revealed that they talk a lot about Feliz’s role and aren’t ready to make public their decision, assuming they’ve reached one. On one hand, they’d hate to weaken themselves in the ninth inning. On the other, this is a club that traded for and then attempted to re-sign Lee, then pursued Matt Garza(notes) and Zack Greinke(notes). It knows the value of a top-end starting pitcher, and believes Feliz could become one.
“He’s got the potential to be a No. 1,” Washington said, “if he honors the craft.”
Not even Feliz seems completely sold on one job over the other, though at the moment he’s leaning toward starting if the Rangers allow it.
“If you canvassed everybody,” Ryan said, “I don’t know what it would be, if it would be 50-50.”
Daniels called them, “The most interesting conversations we have every time we meet, whether that’s formally or just in the hallways.”
If as a group they truly are unsure, they’d be best to start Feliz. If he doesn’t take to it –and there’s nothing to suggest he wouldn’t – the transition back to the ninth inning wouldn’t be difficult.
And in case the final couple weeks haven't been interesting enough, Julio Borbon(notes) has dropped a ball or two in center field, and you wonder if the Rangers wouldn’t be wise to re-think Josh Hamilton’s(notes) move to left.
Maybe another day, though. They have enough to consider.
“We’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” Washington said, smiling broadly. “It’s been a long time since the Texas Rangers have been in this position.”
They’d probably say that given the alternative, the one they lived with for most of half a century, it’s pretty cool.
- Jon Daniels