An entire weekend has passed since the 2012 Texas Rangers were bounced out of the postseason picture in a 5-1 defeat at the hands of a Baltimore team that surprised everyone in the way it consistently won close games this season. Unfortunately for the Rangers, this game wasn't close enough in the end, and from the first pitch when Michael Young provided an error in a way that only Michael Young can, it proved to be a microcosm of a tumultuous season that didn't end the way any of us wanted it to.
This was supposed to be the season. After being one strike away in 2011 and adding Yu Darvish to the mix -- the same Yu Darvish that pitched like an ace without any run support on Friday night -- this was supposed to be the team that had the right mix of offense, pitching, and defense to finally finish the deal. Unfortunately, that very attitude was what brought the team crashing back down to the reality that nothing in baseball is a given.
Once the calendar flipped to July, the Rangers became a mediocre team, hovering around .500 for the 2nd half of the season due to an inability to drive in runners in scoring position. It was an arrogance that kept the problem from being fixed, and it started at the top with Ron Washington. Washington, for all of the goodwill he built up in managing the team to back-to-back AL pennants, wasted all of that and more with his constant insistence that things would simply work themselves out. In his mind, the team was full of winners who would eventually start clicking. As much as I've harped on Michael Young being one of the worst players in baseball in 2012, it wasn't ever really Young's fault. It was his manager who chose how to use him. The manager has to put players in a position to succeed, and Washington failed miserably at the task this season.
Despite Young's struggles, he was continually placed in the lineup instead of used in a more situational role as he should have been. Young was still effective against lefties, yet he was used in the middle of the lineup every day. Craig Gentry was a lefty killer, yet ended up being benched for the better part of two months because David Murphy had strung together some hits against them. As could have been predicted, Murphy came back down to earth against lefties, and by the time Gentry was given another chance, he didn't have time to ever find a rhythm.
Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar were called up to help infuse the lineup with young talent, but Washington made it abundantly clear that he intended to stick with his veterans. In the final moments of Friday night's loss, Washington put in Profar as a pinch-hitter, and Profar delivered. It was the kind of moment that just leaves you screaming at the television, asking why that sort of move wasn't tried months ago. Sure, it might not have worked, but given the inability of the offense to ever really click in the 2nd half of the season, Washington owed it to himself, his organization, and the fans to try something different.
Perhaps the most dubious part of the evening was the part played by Josh Hamilton. If Hamilton wasn't planning on this season being his final in a Rangers uniform, he likely is now, as he'll need to do a lot to regain the love of fans that watched him throw up excuse after excuse every time he failed to deliver this season.
To be fair, we've always known that Hamilton comes with baggage, but it was always the type that left you worrying about a diversion off of the path of sobriety, not the kind of things we saw this season. When he reached a period of struggles, Hamilton refused to adjust, rather he always found an excuse not to. When he was utterly useless during the months of June and July, he ended up blaming it on an addiction to chewing tobacco. When he pulled himself from a game in September against the Angels and missed five more games after that, he ended up blaming it on being addicted to caffeine. In 2011, when he failed to consistently hit during day games, it was because he had blue eyes, thereby making it difficult to see the ball.
In 2010, Hamilton eliminated a toe tap from his swing based on the recommendation of Clint Hurdle. After the adjustment, Hamilton went on a tear in which he was the AL MVP despite missing significant time on the disabled list. This season, however, Hamilton couldn't be bothered to adjust anything. His attitude, and the enabling of his manager and other players around him, left him of the mindset that everything would come around at the right time. In the meantime, the excuses built up, and on top of that, he couldn't be bothered to even give full effort on most days.
In the past, it was Hamilton's reckless style of play that made him special, yet also injured him. It was that version of Hamilton the team always needed, because anything less and Hamilton was rather ordinary. This season, with free agency looming, it's likely Hamilton didn't want to sacrifice his body and risk not maximizing his value on the market. No longer did you see him sliding headfirst, jumping into walls, or laying out to catch a ball in outfield. Instead, you saw more jogging, less highlight-reel defensive plays, and more of a guy that would rather swing and hope the ball went over the fence than a guy that wanted to put a ball in the outfield or take a walk and take his chances on the basepaths.
Hamilton is gone. I just see no way the Rangers pay him the kind of money he'll demand, especially with the taste of the last few weeks still fresh in their mouths. What happens next is entirely dependent on how well the Rangers make the next transition.
Yu Darvish looks primed to be the ace the team wanted. Most of the offensive talent is still there. There is a young influx of talent ready to take charge. What isn't known is how much Michael Young will be utilized, and how willing Ron Washington will be to trust young players. In 2009, Washington wasn't asked, he was told: Elvis Andrus was to be his starting shortstop. Washington was opposed to the idea, and took every opportunity to get Andrus out of the lineup. Almost 4 years later, Andrus could be one of the hottest trade commodities on the market with Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings.
This is a team that could contend immediately in 2013. At the same time, a refusal by Washington to allow his young players to be a vital part of the organization could make next year a rebuilding project instead. For a manager that professed this season that he would ride out the sinking ship, he must realize that the ship has sunk, and it's time to call for help.
Washington was a coach with the Oakland A's in 2002 when the events of Moneyball took place. He didn't agree with the sabermetric approach then, even though it worked, and he quite obviously thumbed his nose to it this season, as the A's used the same approach to upend the Rangers on the final day of the season to win the AL West. The most important characteristic of a Major League manager is his ability to make the necessary changes, and the success of the team moving forward will hinge on Washington being able to make some changes with himself. The Texas Rangers have likely been humbled, and I can only hope that humility will spark a flame and drive the team to get back to playing the kind of baseball we expected over the last couple of seasons.