Step Back And Take A Deep Breath

First and foremost, I apologize for being so long in posting. I said that I was going to post more frequently, but that simply hasn’t happened. I’ll work on it. Now to the meat of the story.

As many of you Ranger fans already know, Martin Perez (torn UCL) and Matt Harrison (spondylolisthesis) are probably done for the year, and Harrison, sadly, could be finished for his career. In a season wrought with injuries, these two seem to be the straws that break the camel’s back.

I’m here to tell you: don’t freak out. All will be fine.

Sure, they might not be fine this year. As a matter of fact, the next five months may be some of the most painful of your fandom. But, it could also be the foundation of future successes. Let me explain.

The starting rotation right now consists of Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, Robbie Ross, Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez. Derek Holland threw in a simulated game earlier this week, so he could be back in three weeks (hopefully). Tanner Scheppers is rehabbing from an injury, as is Joe Saunders. Schepp is almost certainly going back to the bullpen when he returns, and word is that the front office would like Saunders to do the same.

The bullpen isn’t exactly stacked with well-known relievers. Alexi Ogando, Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Sean Tolleson, Aaron Poreda, Miles Mikolas, Scott Baker and Joakim Soria step up when the starter leaves the bump. While Soria has been a solid closer and Frasor has been an extremely consistent set-up man, the rest have been decent, at best.

The pitching mound isn’t the only place on the diamond that has problems. Prince Fielder is hitting in the mid-.200’s with almost no power numbers. Jurickson Profar, once touted as the games best prospect and the reason for trading away Ian Kinsler, has yet to see the playing field. Adrian Beltre once again has hamstring problems, and his backup, Kevin Kousmanoff, was on a certified tear before herniating a disk in his back. J.P. Arencibia, who was brought in to provide some pop to the lineup hasn’t produced. At all. Perhaps the only shining star on the field has been left fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who is hitting .315 with a .482 OBP. He’s been solid in every sense of the word and might be our only All-Star selection.

The Rangers are five games back of the Oakland A’s. I know that isn’t insurmountable. Another three-game sweep could pull us to within two games, and then all bets are off. But let’s be realistic: the team ERA is one of the highest in the league and the offense is one of the worst. Those two combined will keep the Rangers out of contention for the West, and a wild card spot is also out of the question.

Let’s take a step back here for a moment and take a look at the bigger picture of things. The Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 team is probably the single greatest team in Rangers history. The next year, the Rangers lost the West in the last series of the regular season and then lost the wild-card play-in game. In 2013, the Rangers lost a play-in game to get a Wild Card spot. They have been trending downward since 2011. No team can stay on top forever; they must take a period of time to reload their roster and work their way back to the top of the mountain. Some teams try to negate this process by constantly signing the game’s top free agents, giving them long contracts in order to get that player’s last three or four good years before age takes its toll on the player, or they send their best prospects to another team for the other team’s better players, only to lose them to free agency a year or two later. These teams usually end up hitting a salary-related wall and are forced to rebuild with cheap free agents rather than reload with internal talent

The Rangers current predicament prevents the team from going out and signing any top-tier free agents. There are none available midseason. So that leaves the Rangers with two options: 1. trade for a top player, or 2. bring up a player from within the organization. General Manager Jon Daniels has said that the organization is done trading away top prospects for rental players. He seems set on developing talent from within to fill holes. The truth of the matter is that it would take more than one player to get the team back to a high enough level to compete for a World Series. That, along with Daniels’ stance on trading prospects, would make us assume that the team’s only choice is promote a minor leaguer or two to fill a spot on the field.

This brings us back to the question of competitiveness this season. As I said earlier, the team isn’t going to win the Series this year. So let me tell you the good news. The Rangers could use this season to bring some minor league players up, give them experience in a low-pressure situation, all the while preparing them for future success, possibly as soon as next season. The season should become about reloading, not rebuilding.

From here on out, I’m writing about what I would do if I were JD. I’m not saying he will do any of these things, obviously, since he refuses to call me to ask my opinion after every game. But I can offer what I think the team should do to make itself better and ready to compete from Opening Day next season.

First, you have to look at which players are expendable. The organization’s depth at middle infield means that someone can go. The player that would have the highest yield/return in a trade (excluding Elvis Andrus) would be Jurickson Profar. Though he is hurt, Profar is still considered to be a high-ceiling player, and the could bring back the best pitching prospect in a trade, and let’s face it: if anyone is going to be traded, we have to get pitching back in return. After all, we’re in this predicament because we don’t have a lot of depth at the position in the high levels of the minors. Profar could be replaced by Rougned Odor, the organization’s current highest rated prospect (who also happens to be filling in for Profar at the moment), or Luis Sardinas, the versatile middle infield prospect that is currently filling the role of utility man on the big league roster. In this case, we’re looking at trading Profar and putting Odor in his spot.

Let’s take just a brief moment to talk about Prince Fielder. Fielder is having a horrendous year compared to his own standards. I believe that Fielder is trying too hard to be the savior of the offense. No one else (other than Choo) is producing, so Fielder is taking that duty upon himself. He needs to take a moment to relax and he needs his teammates to step up and produce so Fielder doesn’t feel that need. Once he is able to relax, he should absolutely crush in the Ballpark.

Next, we have to look at the catching position. Robinson Chirinos is currently the starter, with Arencibia serving as the backup. Geovany Soto is slated to come back at the end of June. When he does return, Arencibia should be released to make room for Soto on the roster. Chirinos started the year as the starting AAA catcher, but has proven to be a major-league ready player. He will provide continuity with the pitchers, and his bat has been far more reliable than Arencibia’s. Should the Rangers have a need for a third catcher after J.P. is released, the club could bring up prospect Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro is widely considered to be one of the best catching prospects in the game, with plus defensive skills. He has been receiving individualized mentoring and tutoring with sure-to-be first-ballot hall-of-famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. A call-up in September would go far in getting Alfaro mentally acclimated to becoming a big leaguer.

In the outfield, Michael Choice is currently serving as the fourth outfielder and occasional DH. This doesn’t really help with his development. Alex Rios is playing under the final year of his contract, assuming that the team decides to buy out the option year ($13.5 million salary as opposed to a $1 million buyout), which could make him attractive to a team that needs a solid outfielder. This would allow Choo to move back to his natural right field position and Choice to slide in at left field full time.

September call ups also create an opprtunity to allow some minor league players the opportunity to taste the major leagues. The Rangers currently have the minor league’s biggest name in power hitting – Joey Gallo. Gallo led all of minor league baseball last year in home runs with 40 (becoming the youngest player to ever hit 40 home runs in a minor league season). Gallo could be a September call up and see time at third base and DH. With all of his power, Gallo needs to work on his pitch selection. He tends to strike out a lot, so seeing the drastic difference between a pitcher in A ball and a pitcher in the majors could help him to work on developing an eye at the plate, which could help him arrive in the bigs sooner rather than later.

By allowing minor leaguers the opportunity to taste the majors in a low pressure situation allows them to understand what will be required of them when they do eventually make it, as well as to address areas of their game that need to be developed and improved in order to be successful at the major league level. These players are usually called up in time when they were replacing an injured player, learning on the fly rather than having time to develop. By understanding that this season could be used to develop those younger players, they could make a bigger impact when they do arrive in Arlington on a more permanent basis.

So there you have it. Just because the team most likely isn’t going to win the Series doesn’t mean that this will be a failed season. With the right moves, the team could develop talent in the lower levels to make them ready to get here faster. The team should see this as an opportunity to reload, not rebuild.

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The Kinsler “Problem”

Since he came up to fill the void left when Alfonso Soriano was traded to the Washington Nationals, Ian Kinsler was one of my favorite players. I loved that he looked goofy (because I look goofy), that he gave every game everything he had and, most importantly, he rocked the knee-high socks (I think every player should).

As his career progressed, there was no doubt that Kins, along with Michael Young, was one of the team leaders. On the field, he filled the leadoff position nicely and twice joined the 30/30 club. He owns the team record for leadoff homeruns from that position, as well.

However, Kinsler wasn’t perfect. Fans would tell you that more than anything, his knack for hitting infield pop-ups was downright painful and annoying. He was all-to-eager to swing at the first pitch, a trait pitchers caught on to, and that usually meant a shallow fly to second or short. On the defensive side, Kinsler could flash some serious leather and make impossible plays look routine. But he could also make routine plays look impossible.

As he grew older, his contract became a burden. Paying an aging second baseman with declining numbers like he was the premier player at his position was becoming detrimental to the team. In 2013, team management asked Kinsler to move to first base or the outfield so that top prospect Jurickson Profar could make his way into the lineup. Selfishly, Kinsler said no. Little did he know that decision would cost him his spot on the team.

The 2013 offseason provided Rangers GM Jon Daniels an opportunity to free up a spot for Profar and bring in some serious left-handed power, something the Rangers were lacking after the departure of Josh Hamilton. Daniels traded Kinsler to the Tigers for Prince Fielder and cash.

Naturally, the fan base that had watched Kinsler grow from a kid to a team favorite was sad to see him leave. There were even quite a few fans who became upset with J.D. for trading Kinsler, feeling betrayed, of sorts. However, baseball is a business, and when a GM lets his personal relationship with a player dictate how that player is treated, you become the Dallas Cowboys – a perpetually bad team tied up in big contracts with no way to bring in fresh talent. Daniels may be many things, but he is not a businessman that lets his emotions guide decisions. He does what the team needs him to do, and sometimes, those decisions are not popular – but they are the right decisions. Such is the case with Kinsler.

Kinsler was angry with the trade. He has that right and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. However, the way that he handled himself after the trade shows his true colors. Airing out his dirty laundry in an ESPN The Magazine article, Kinsler calls JD a “sleazeball,” and says that he hopes the Rangers go 0-162. He complains that the Rangers “burdened” (my quotation marks for sarcasm) him by wanting him to be a leader and show some of the younger players how to be a pro, when they should have just let him worry about himself. Furthermore, he reignited the Nolan-JD controversy by claiming that Daniels forced Nolan out and that Nolan “shits gold” in North Texas and JD would regret that move. (Editor’s Note: I will have a column up later in regards to the Nolan controversy, stay tuned) He ends it by saying that he is glad he is playing on a team that has Cabrera and Verlander so he can just be himself and not worry about the Tigers being “his team.”

What can we learn from this interview? A few things. First, Kinsler clearly doesn’t understand that baseball is a business and that no one – let me repeat, no one – is bigger than the team. If Michael Young can get traded, then anyone can be traded, especially a statistically declining second baseman. Second, Ian Kinsler’s maturity level is closer to that of a child than a professional ballplayer. No one expected him to be happy with the trade. But to go to one of the biggest sports news outlets and call your old boss a “sleazeball” – c’mon, grow up. If you have a problem, call JD, tell him you’re pissed and leave it at that. Don’t invoke the scorched earth policy and burn everything in sight.

Third, after all the organization had given him, Kinsler would rather see turmoil in the front office than any semblance of stability. He knew that the Nolan issue was, though mostly healed, still a touchy subject. He made these comments solely to put himself on the side of Nolan in an attempt to make himself look to be a member of the excommunicated “Team Nolan,” which puts more pressure on JD and fuels the JD haters. Again, a childish move.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we learn that Kinsler wasn’t a team leader, or even a team-player. Kinsler was solely about himself. He didn’t care about the success of his teammates while he was here, which leads me to believe that he didn’t truly care about winning. After all, how can one not want to help his teammates grow yet does care about winning, when the two concepts are directly related to one another?

So there it is, the point of my diatribe – Ian Kinsler no longer cared about the team or the organization, so he no longer had a place with it. Jon Daniels did what he had to do – he removed the cancer before it spread to other parts of the “body.” He replaced declining talent with near-unlimited potential. He replaced a below-average bat with immense left-handed power in a park that is designed for lefty power. He made it clear that no one is above the team.

The Infield Grass 2.0

When I started this blog in 2011, it was my plan to keep it up with commentary, observations and game recaps for the Texas Rangers and MLB. It was a noble goal – one that I proudly carried through for a season. But, after that season, I was exhausted. I just couldn’t bring myself to make the commitment to write for the 2012 season.

So I missed it. Then I declined to blog about the 2013 season. I was too busy working with my new job. I didn’t want to work on this blog and give a half-ass effort.

It’s now 2014. I’ve had the itch to get back to writing, but I was steadily balancing myself atop a proverbial fence, waiting for the wind to come along and blow me one way or another.

Well, Ian Kinsler has provided that wind (and quite a bit extra hot air). I’m ready to get back to it. But not without some changes. First and foremost, I cannot guarantee that I will have daily posts or game recaps. More likely, I will offer a “week in review” type of post and throw in assorted posts about something that has intrigued me. I don’t want to saturate the already flooded interwebs with meaningless babble. I want to offer quality observation and, hopefully, share with you my love of Texas Rangers baseball.

With that, I say Welcome to The Infield Grass 2.0. Enjoy reading!

An Open Letter to Baseball Writers

Ryan Braun cheated.  And like seemingly most people who are accused of something, he denied that he cheated.

Then came his announcement earlier this week that he was accepting responsibility for his actions (though he didn’t say what his “actions” were).

And that’s when you, the baseball journalists, chimed in.  Jon  Paul Morosi was one of the harshest critics, saying “Ryan Braun is all about Ryan Braun.”  He even threw out this slap in the face: “Braun is one of the most cravenly selfish figures in American professional sports.”

That’s right, Braun did this for Braun.

It had absolutely nothing to do with anything else.

It had nothing to do with the fact that owners pay the most money to players who may hit .230 but crush 40 home runs a season.

It certainly has nothing to do with the media’s glorification of the longball.

And it definitely has nothing to do with the fans’ willingness to pay $60 a seat to watch a player hit a ball 450 feet.

Wait…it has everything to do with these things.

The home run is perhaps the most over-glorified feat in sports.  I say that knowing that two nights ago, as Nelson Cruz parked a ball on Green’s Hill in the Ballpark in Arlington, I jumped in celebration on a run that, at that point in the game, proved to be meaningless. But that is what fan’s want to see.

Fans want to see it so badly that they will pay ridiculous amounts of money for seats at a baseball game.  It isn’t uncommon for a family of four to drop $250 on tickets, hotdogs and drinks.  They’ll buy t-shirts and hats of their favorite player (probably one of the team’s big bats) and do so happily.

Owners see this opportunity for profit and happily hemorrhage money to home run hitters. Don’t believe me?  Then tell me why Alex Rodriguez has signed not one, but two contracts in excess of a quarter-billion dollars a piece?  Why is Ryan Braun currently guaranteed more than $100 million?  Why did David Ortiz, who couldn’t play defense to save his life at this point in his career, receive a two-year, $26 million deal just to swing a bat?

These guys aren’t getting paid that kind of money to hit doubles.

The media loves the home run, too.  ESPN’s Baseball Tonight dedicates an entire segment to the home runs of the day.  Chris Berman is known for his “back, back, back, back” call for home runs.  Which leads us to the most useless event in American sports – the Home Run Derby.

For three hours, we all sit and watch as baseball’s biggest sluggers try to hit as many home runs as they can.  Somebody lobs a ball to them and they crush it.  (Because that takes skill – the balls might as well be on tees.)  Fans “oohh” and “ahh” while baseball writers furiously scribble down notes on distance, form, etc.

So please, don’t come at me with your “holier than thou” mentality when you are part of the cycle promoting the home run ball.  Players, fans, owners, journalists – we are all guilty in this.

Did Ryan Braun cheat?  Absolutely.

Does he deserve to be punished?  Absolutely.

Did he do it for selfish reasons?  Perhaps.  But we all patted him on the back and told him how wonderful he was when he was hitting those home runs, so why wouldn’t he do whatever it takes to continue?

As my grandmother always says – “Don’t ever point a finger, because there will always be three pointing right back at you.”

More Than A Year…Really?

Wow, it has been more than year since I’ve posted anything to this blog. That is sad, much like the Rangers’ season last year.  I really have no excuse other than the fact that the past 14 months have been hectic.  I’ll work on correcting this problem.

Like posts in the past, updates will carry Ranger news and opinion from myself.  I’ll also be adding a new addition to The Infield Grass.  I’ve recently jumped back into the world of baseball card collecting, so I will be creating an area just for that.  It will highlight some of my best hits as well as additions to my autograph collection.  What makes a 30-year-old man get back into card collecting?  Well, boredom and free time are a good catalyst, and an inspiration like Pat Neshek is a pretty good motor.  So there you go.

Along with my once-lost-but-now-found hobby comes the chance to “meet” some cool new people and find interesting blogs. Andrew is a young collector that has started his own box break group. I’ve bought into his first break, which will also be my first break (I purchased three teams – the Rangers, Nats and Giants, and will be assigned three more. Here’s to hoping for a Bryce Harper auto).  Through Andrew, I came across William’s blog.  William has a ton of interesting stuff on his blog, as well as photos of his collection of baseballs autographed by Hall of Fame baseball players. This is very similar to another one of my (related) hobbies – collecting autographed baseballs from every major league player to wear a Rangers uniform.  Check his spot out if you have a chance.

Again, I can’t believe that I have been gone a year, especially considering how well we kept up the season before.  I’m flying solo this year, so bear with me as I try to make time to keep this updated. And check out my new card page!