With a record of 51-80, Texas's 2014 season is mercifully winding towards its conclusion.
As I write this, here are the bottom-five teams in baseball competing for the #1 pick in 2015's June draft:
1. Texas -- 51-80
2. Colorado -- 53-78 (2 GB)
3. Arizona -- 55-77 (3.5 GB)
4. Houston -- 56-77 (4 GB)
5. Boston -- 58-74 (6.5 GB)
With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez -- the Rockies' two-best position players -- out for the remainder of the season, Colorado stand to be Texas's greatest competition for that top pick. With roughly 30 games left on the schedule, anything is still possible; all these teams are still capable of winning 5 of 6 or 7 out of 10; but if you are a fan of the Texas Rangers, it should be okay with you if your team fails down the stretch.
I've already outlined the benefits of the Rangers having the worst record in baseball, but if you are -- like I am -- a lazy human being and don't feel like clicking on the link, I'll briefly remind you anyway.
For starters, owning the top pick in next year's draft doesn't only mean Texas can draft some random 18 year-old who they think will be a TORP in 5 years; it means they will have roughly a million more dollars to spend -- compared to owning the #2 pick -- on all draftees in the first ten rounds, giving them the freedom to take chances on more talented players that other teams pass on for signability purposes. It also gives them the first pick in the offseason's Rule-5 draft, the top spot in the waiver order for the entirety of the winter and through April of '15, and a bigger international draft budget.
Since the Rangers went well over their international draft pool during 2013 -- thus penalizing them in terms of capital to spend this year -- if we didn't know any better we might think they tanked this year by design.
Further, by owning a top-10 pick the Rangers will be able to sign any top free agent this winter without losing out on their first round pick. By signing Shin-Soo Choo last winter, they surrendered their first rounder to the Reds, though they later recouped one (and used it on RHP Luis Ortiz) when the Orioles signed Nelson Cruz. It was tit-for-tat. This winter, however, with starting pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields on the market -- three arms Texas figure to be heavily interested in -- it's important that they won't lose anything but a 2nd-round pick for their services.
If you want the Rangers to lose baseball games down the stretch, it doesn't make you a bad fan. In fact, the opposite is true. If you care about the future of the organization, you should be hoping for losses; you should be hoping for the number one pick, and everything that comes with it. The collective bargaining agreement rewards the worst team in baseball far more than it should, but since Texas are in this position -- where earning a playoff berth will be a mathematical impossibility as early as this weekend -- only the purest of Ranger fans will root for futility between now and the end of the regular season. There is simply no other way of looking at it.
I became a fan of the Rangers when I was six years old, in 1996. I wasn't invested, like, invested invested, until the 2000's, because there is only so much a little boy can process at such a young age. But if you've been a die-hard fan of the franchise since the 80's, or 90's, or early-aught's, you know what it's like to be a hopeless loser year-in, year-out. You know what it's like to have your favorite team be in last place every year. We're lucky, because since 2010 the Rangers have essentially been the standard-bearers of the American League; all they did was win and win and win. It was nothing like anything you were accustomed to.
Then this year happened. Yesterday Brandon wrote an awesome article on ESPN's main SweetSpot page highlighting the main reason why the Rangers are in the position they are currently in. Injuries. If you think otherwise that's fine; there's infinite comment space below for you to voice your opinion on the matter.
If not re-signing Nelson Cruz is part of it, okay. If the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade was a mistake, that's okay, too.
But nothing could have saved the Rangers in 2014. Even with Kinsler and Cruz, you'd still be looking at a team competing for the number one pick in 2015; they might not be the worst team in MLB, but they'd be right there.
The funniest part of 2014 is that it happens to coincide with Nolan Ryan's departure. It came with perfect timing. He still has roots within the media and fan base -- and they grow deep -- but I guarantee the same fans who have abandoned ship this year, the ones calling for Jon Daniels's head who think the Rangers won't be competitive until 2017 or 2018, are the same ones who will be voicing their opinions the loudest when this team is at the top of the American League West next year. Reactionary fans care not whether their favorite team is good or bad; it's their presence that gives a black eye to the rest of us.
Personally, I'm not concerned. My love for the Rangers isn't conditional; it isn't contingent on them winning or losing. I can see logically that it was untimely circumstances -- not blundered choices -- that drove this club into the dweller this season. I care about the future of my favorite baseball team, which is why owning the worst record in MLB isn't as much an embarrassment as it is an opportunity.
Texas will have a top-5 farm system heading into next year. With a #1 pick, a bigger draft budget, a larger international draft budget, the first choice in the Rule-5 draft and the top spot in the waiver order... a smart front office can work with that. The future of the franchise is in good hands, and being at the bottom in baseball for one season can only help aid them in re-reaching the top spot, a place they've been quite familiar with over the last half-decade.
If you care about the future, you should care about being the worst team in baseball this year.