Arm-Chair Managing in the Hours Before Ron Washington's Fired
It's less than a month into the baseball season, and the Texas Rangers have already hit rock bottom. Texas is tied with the Washington Nationals for the worst record in the bigs at 7-19, and team president Nolan Ryan is scheduled to meet this weekend with a different Washington (Ron) and general manager Jon Daniels. The team looks terrible, and some serious changes need to be made.
The first one's obvious: Adios Ron Washington. Don't give us all that nonsense about how he doesn't have good team to manage, hasn't been given enough of a chance and can't control how the players perform on the field. After an awful start last year, the team rebounded to give fans a little optimism about this season. However, Texas is even worse in '08, with its worst start since the team was moved here in 1972. Players are making silly mental and defensive errors, highlighted by reliever Wes Littleton's inability to catch the ball as he tried to throw it into his own glove.
Back when Washington was hired, I had a lot of questions about why he was chosen and more established managers like Lou Piniella, Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker and Joe Girardi weren't even interviewed. At the time, Oakland was searching for a manager as well, and even though Washington had been with the A's for 11 years, GM Billy Beane let him go to a division rival.
The solution? As wacky as this sounds, let's bring in good ol' Rusty Greer. Sure, he doesn't have experience either, but it would be difficult to bring in a veteran manager at this point in the season. Give Greer the rest of the year to show something, and if the team is still struggling at this level, then use the offseason to find a long-term solution.
Some angry fans might suggest getting rid of Daniels too, but I'd give him until the end of the year. Sure, he screwed the team by not getting a damned thing for Alfonso Soriano and giving away Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez and John Danks. But he was able to vastly improve the team's farm system last summer by trading Mark Teixeira, Ron Mahay, Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne for some very good prospects. And despite Edinson Volquez's great start in Cincy (3-0 with a 1.21 ERA in four starts), I still really like bringing in Josh Hamilton, who has been one of the few bright spots on the team this season, playing a great center field and hitting .293 with four homers, 21 RBI and 10 walks. But in order for Daniels to keep his job at the end of the year, he'll need to shake up the roster.
Something that seemed apparent last year has become extremely obvious this season: Ian Kinsler sucks at second base. He's making mental errors on a regular basis and already has five errors in 21 starts. Kinsler needs to be moved permanently to left field, where he should be a much better defensive player. He'll need some time to adjust, but there's no time like the present. He's already having a hard time at second, so let him struggle a bit in left until he gets better. There's no reason to think Kinsler won't be able to make the switch, and really, his future isn't at second anyway because ...
Michael Young should be moved back to second base eventually. It would be nice to put him back there now, but the Rangers' shortstop of the future (Elvis Andrus) isn't quite ready for the bigs. Perhaps he'll be able to take over at short next year, but until then ...
German Duran should be given the rest of the season at second base. He has just one hit in nine at-bats with Texas, but he has already played three positions (RF, LF, 3B), and putting him back at his natural position with regular at-bats will give the team an idea of what he's got. And again, no time like the present to find out. Duran had a great season in 2007, hitting .300 with 22 homers, 84 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 130 games for Frisco.
The Rangers also need a change at first base, where Ben Broussard is hitting .161 and Jason Botts is at .138. Broussard was a desperate offseason acquisition, and Botts hasn't been able to translate any of his success in the minors into anything in the majors. So enter Chris Davis, one of the team's top prospects. Davis, 22, had a monster season last year, hitting a combined .297 with 36 homers and 118 RBI at Class-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. This year, the left-handed power hitter is raking for the Roughriders (.348-6-15 in 17 games). Sure, he's got some drawbacks, as he's never played above Double-A and has alarming strikeout-to-walk ratios with a 21:6 ratio this year and 150:35 ratio last year. But there's no way he can be as bad as Broussard or Botts have been, and he is the future at first base.
Daniels should also put Gerald Laird on the market, take the best offer, and move on. Laird is incredibly inconsistent with the bat, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia should be called up since he's doing well in Triple-A (.291-2-13). It's time for the Salty era to begin.
As for right field and designated hitter, a mix of Milton Bradley, David Murphy, Frank Catalanotto and Marlon Byrd (when he comes off the DL) will do OK for now. At the trade deadline, Bradley and Byrd should be shipped off to the highest bidder. Then it will be time for Nelson Cruz to be given one final shot to make this team. Cruz is off to another hot start at Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting .339 with six homers, 20 RBI and five steals. He had great numbers there last year too (.352-15-45 in 44 games), but that translated into just a .235 average and nine home runs in 96 games in Arlington last year.
So, to summarize, the outfield would consist of Kinsler in left, Hamilton in center and a platoon in right. The DH will also be a platoon with catcher occupied by Laird, till he's dealt and Salty is given the job. The infield would be Davis at first, Duran at second, Young at short and Blalock at third base. I wouldn't be opposed to also dealing Blalock this summer if Daniels can get a decent return. This may seem like shuffling deck chairs just for the sake of making a change, but I believe this will really improve the team both offensively and defensively.
Moving quickly to the pitching staff, well, there's not much to work with. Kevin Millwood has been good (2.53 ERA) along with C.J. Wilson, but the rest is a mess. Maybe Vicente Padilla can play solid, and maybe he'll yield something in the trade market from a team desperate for an innings-eater. Once Kason Gabbard and Brandon McCarthy get healthy, you gotta see what they've got, but there really aren't a ton of young arms ready for a promotion. Eric Hurley is widely regarded as the Rangers' best pitching prospect, but he's off to a shaky start at Oklahoma City with a 6.93 ERA in five starts.
In order to make any major progress on the pitching front, Texas needs something it has needed for a long time: a No. 1 starter. Unfortunately, most teams aren't really in the mood to deal big-time arms. However, with Johan Santana and Dan Haren finding new homes in the offseason, there are deals out there if you know where to look and are willing to pay the price.
There's no fixing this season. No amount of firings and roster shuffling can turn this team into a contender. But the fan base wants to be given a reason to come out to the ballpark and give a shit. If major changes aren't made, the all-too-familiar phrase will be coming out of local sports fans' mouths after the Mavs are knocked out by the Hornets and the Stars season wraps up: "How many days left until Cowboys' training camp?"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.