In recent weeks, much has been made of the contract status of Ron Washington heading into the 2014 season. More specifically, the fact that Washington doesn't actually have a contract beyond this season.
To that point, our favorite fear-mongerer, the (thought to be) retired Randy Galloway, had a piece over the weekend in which he once again chastises the oranization over everything from Washington's contract status to the handling of the Nolan Ryan situation, complete with name-calling and nicknames that are seemingly meant to be insults. It's definitely worth a read if for no other reason than to form an opinion on what follows.
The two most important members of the coaching staff — manager and pitching coach — are entering the final year of their contracts, meaning there is obviously a message of some kind being sent by Arlington’s powerful baseball god, Jon Daniels, the GM. Daniels has his lips wrapped tightly around the tender ears of Bob and Ray, and the owners are firmly convinced that Jon can do no wrong, despite roster mismanagement by the GM in 2013.
Galloway goes on to imply that Nolan Ryan was stripped of the power to tell Jon Daniels to back off when it came to disputes with Ron Washington on the way the team was fielded.
First and foremost, my biggest problem with many of the beat writers that were in the Nolan camp is the way they totally disregard one important fact. Around this time last year, none of us were sure if Nolan Ryan would return to the Rangers. We literally heard nothing from Nolan until he finally came out and said he would return.
As an employee of any company or organization, when you're at or near the top, you can get away with a lot of things. You can disagree with your employer. If you're the GM, you're allowed some mistakes on the personnel front. If you're the manager, you're able to get away with fielding a less-than-optimal lineup. You can do these things and get away with it, at least for a little while. You may be fired for it eventually, or at the very least, your contract may be allowed to expire, but on a one-time basis, those aren't usually fireable offenses.
What you can never do, in any situation, is show up your employer. In hiding for months and refusing to address speculation on whether or not he would return, Nolan Ryan showed up the Texas Rangers, and made himself bigger than the franchise. When that happened, the stage was all but set for him to depart shortly thereafter. Power struggle or not, it was this that eventually led to Nolan being forced out. Nolan was the lame duck in 2013.
Jon Daniels is the GM. As should be his right, ownership has made it even more clear that it believes in him. If we're being honest, an ownership group that doesn't believe in the GM is failing by not firing a GM in that position, as ownership is required to get behind a GM's decisions with money. When you're trying to field a contending team both for now and the next five years, you'd better believe in your GM, and you'd better make that clear.
As for Ron Washington's contract status, we're talking about a situation in which Daniels had to trade away Michael Young before last season in order to keep Wash from playing him every day once again after Young's production was a big reason for failure in 2012. Daniels has continued to provide Washington with new, young talent over the past few years, and Washington has continued to fight that by continuously playing veteran players to the detriment of the team.
So in 2014, with a roster set up to contend now, the Rangers want to be sure Washington is on board. No, it's probably not a good idea to want to design the lineup card every day, but if it becomes clear that Washington isn't on board with the direction of the franchise, then the organization will know he isn't the manager they need going forward. Yes, you're talking about a manager who helped lead the franchise to the World Series, but in this business, you have to have a forward-looking view.
Handing out a new contract for the sake of making Washington feel comfortable? I don't believe in it. Baseball isn't the business of feeling good. Players play on one-year contracts all the time at the risk of an injury keeping them from ever getting another. At the very least, if Washington proves this season that he is on board with the direction of the franchise, he'll have his new contract soon enough. Until then, this is a show-me business, and over recent season's, Washington has shown a propensity to go with his gut as opposed to following the direction of the organization, and there's no doubt that it has hurt the product on the field at times.
So, in the end, Washington does likely know he's on the hot seat. At the same time, there's no good reason that managing on a one-year contract should keep him from using the roster he is given to put the best possible product on the field. It doesn't make him a lame duck, but it does hold him accountable for being better in 2014. If he really is a lame duck, he'll quack like one.