The 2009 Rangers weren’t supposed to be good.
That team was very young. Its players were often hurt. The front office rushed key prospects to the major league club.
The 2009 Rangers won 87 games anyway. They got great seasons from Face of the Franchise Michael Young and rookie phenom Elvis Andrus. Career minor-leaguer Nelson Cruz had a strong full season. Ian Kinsler hit 30 bombs. Neftali Feliz rode an arm made of distilled magma and ancient magic to a 1.74 ERA. On top of those players, they had a stockpile of prospects that ranked #2 on Baseball America’s organizational list the next year. The Rangers were good, and everyone knew they were going to get better.
In the years to come, they won 90 games. Then 96, then 93, then 91. After the most injured season in baseball history (seriously, they lost 2000 player days to the disabled list http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2222445-inside-the-2014-numbers-of-each-mlb-teams-regular-season-injury-impact) they roared right back to 88, then 95. Over the last nine years, Texas won 785 games.That’s 4th in all of baseball during that span. Look, I made a chart! (and then I called it a graph because I was tired)
They should have won a title. Maybe two, depending on whether you viewed Josh Hamilton’s bout with Ocular Keratitis as preventable. But they didn’t, and that’s what will haunt fans of this team for years to come.
But if they want it to be years and not decades, it’s time for this team to face reality. The window has closed.
Part of that is the Rangers’ fault, and some of it is simply the Astros evolving into their true form as a baseball Juggernaut. Houston isn’t just a better team because they won a World Series. They’re better because they spent years selling out every aspect of their organization to ensure they could sign the best possible young players, develop them, and put them in a position to succeed. They drafted, developed and traded unbelievably well, but look at that chart I told you about one more time. Have you spotted Houston yet?
You’re not misreading that. They’re 30th. Even accounting for three years of contention, you can still call them the Lastros one more time.
But regardless of how you feel about their methods, and of how many Houston baseball fans they alienated from 2011-2014, Houston had a goal. They built their team with a real purpose, and they’re reaping the rewards now. The Astros are better than the Rangers in every way. They have definitively better starting pitching. Better relief pitching. A stronger defense. A group of hitters that puts the one in Arlington to shame. Oh, they’re also younger and less expensive. And their farm system is better. It’s hard to find a category in which the Astros aren’t currently superior to the Rangers. Outside of ‘number of Adrian Beltres,’ in which the Rangers still lead the league.
Baseball is an unpredictable game, and there’s certainly an outlier scenario where Texas is a contender next year. There’s a universe where the 2014 Rangers’ injury luck replicates onto the 2018 Astros, Rougned Odor becomes Vladimir Guerrerro, Martin Perez finds his change-up in a void portal from 2011 and Robinson Chirinos learns to frame pitches with his mind. But if you’re of the opinion that those things are remote, you’ll understand my skepticism about the 2018 Rangers.
They don’t have stars and they don’t have depth. They don’t have elite prospects in the high minors. They do have young players with upside, but while Joey Gallo was a pleasant surprise, Nomar Mazara has underwhelmed and Rougned Odor spent the 2017 season collecting horses and falling into the Grand Canyon.
This team is OK. The offseason hasn’t begun, but outside of anything outrageous they’ll likely win between 75 and 85 games next season. If Japanese mega-phenom Shohei Otani decides he loves it here and spurns 29 other teams with nearly identical bids, you can adjust those numbers some. Just remember what I said about skepticism in the last paragraph.
It’s time for the Rangers to rebuild. They had a phenomenal 9-year run, and GM Jon Daniels should be commended for orchestrating it. The Rangers have been a model organization and brought the state of Texas its greatest extended stretch of baseball. But if the franchise wants to re-enter the national conversation as a World Series contender, it needs to rebuild. Texas doesn’t need to tank; it needs to stop focusing on outside acquisitions in their 30s to save a situation that may be beyond repair. Find the next wave of Rangers instead. Cole Hamels will not be on the next great Rangers team. Neither will Andrew Cashner or Carlos Gomez. Adrian Beltre will be posing for his Hall of Fame bust, which should include a hat with a big ‘T’ on it. Elvis Andrus may be here, but he won’t be the Elvis he was in 2009.
What Elvis could be is the next generation’s Michael Young. The leader, the mentor, the guy who’s seen and done it all. Joey Gallo will be here. If the Rangers have the Astros’ good fortune, Hans Crouse, Cole Ragans and Leody Taveras will be here. But it’s not enough. This team has sold parts of its future for nearly a decade now, all in devotion to propping open a World Series window. They had a spectacular run, created memories and funded a new stadium.
But the window is closed. Don’t mourn what it wasn’t; rejoice over what it was. Remember the playoff wins. The champagne showers. The MVP season. Remember Adrian Beltre, and Josh Hamilton, and Yu Darvish, and every other player who gave 100% for this organization.
But remember that it’s over, and that if you want to see the Rangers riding in their own parade, the status quo isn’t going to cut it. It’s time to rebuild.
Or Moyal is the Managing Sports Editor at WFAA. You can tell him how wrong he is or share pictures of your dog on Twitter at @OrMoyal.
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