Last night, the Rangers got hammered by a score of 17-7, courtesy of another poor start by Nick Martinez and a 3-homer, 9-RBI outburst by Lonnie Chisenhall. During the game, I had a thought, and it's a thought that, coincidentally enough, Evan Grant apparently had as well, as he had a piece up shortly after the game. In it, he compared this year's club to that club from 2003.
As Evan pointed out, after last night's drubbing, the staff ERA of 4.60 is worst in baseball. Other than Yu Darvish, there's been little else to look forward to, especially lately, as nice starts by Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez have been covered up by their recent struggles. Both pitchers have recently had starts in which they've failed to pitch more than 2 innings, throwing an already-depleted bullpen into the fire and setting the stage for what has now been almost 2 weeks of medicore-to-bad baseball following a nice 7-4 road trip.
In 2003, Texas ended up finishing 71-91, 4th in the AL West. Despite that finish, there was much hope that a groundwork was laid for a successful future, which ironically ended up being put on hold.
At the time, it appeared that Texas had a star-studded infield that would be one of the best in baseball for the better part of a decade. Mark Teixeira was at 1st base, Michael Young was at 2nd, MVP Alex Rodriguez was at SS, and young Hank Blalock was at 3rd.
Mark Teixeira was a rookie, but had been named as Baseball America's top prospect in baseball heading into the season. Some names behind him on that list? Jose Reyes at 3, Miguel Cabrera at 12, Hanley Ramirez at 19, Cliff Lee at 30, Colby Lewis at 32, Josh Hamilton at 33, and at the time, Prince Fielder at 78, a full two-plus years before his Major League debut.
Michael Young was still playing his natural position, 2nd base, and was well on his way to becoming a fan favorite while posting up a wRC+ of 100 -- exactly league average -- before going on to have 7 seasons in Texas in which he was at least better than league average on that scale.
Alex Rodriguez was an MVP. Whether we were all blind to it, or simply didn't care, PED use wasn't something that had yet clouded his career, and the Rangers had one of the best power hitters in the game playing a premium defensive position. He was an asset with his glove as well, putting up a DRS figure of 8 and a UZR/150 of 10.1, the 3rd-highest figure for a SS in baseball that season.
Then there was Hank Blalock. After a stint with Texas in 2002, Blalock was the starting 3rd baseman for the Rangers for the entire season in 2003, and it looked as if he would complete the infield and make the Rangers an offensive juggernaut for the foreseeable future. Even as recently as 2001, he was coveted so much by A's GM Billy Beane that Beane demanded Blalock as compensation for alleged tampering when the Rangers hired away Grady Fuson from the Oakland organization.
Blalock had his best season in 2003, posting up a 5.0 fWAR, 28 DRS, and a UZR/150 of 22.2. On top of all of that, his 29 home runs seemed to indicate a player that would not only hit for average, but for power.
The framework was all there. At the time, Colby Lewis -- the pre-Japan version -- was still expected to pan out, Edinson Volquez was in the lower levels of the minor league system, R.A. Dickey was still a consideration for the future of the franchise, and big-money signee Chan Ho Park was still expected by some within the organization to be a power player in the Texas rotation. The Rangers even had a tribute to what was, at the time, the glory days, as Juan Gonzalez had come back to Texas for 2002 and 2003 after spending two years in Detroit and Cleveland.
Despite all of that, it just wasn't meant to be. Rodriguez was traded to New York. When Alfonso Soriano came to Texas, he came as a 2nd baseman, thus moving Michael Young to SS. Starting in 2005, Hank Blalock began to exhibit terrible plate discipline, eventually flaming out completely after the 2010 season at the age of 29.
Chan Ho Park was another example of Tom Hicks trying to throw money in the wrong places, eventually traded in July of 2005 to San Diego. Colby Lewis 1.0 never worked out -- and at least that part had a happy ending of sorts -- and R.A. Dickey was never an effective starter until he became a knuckleballer in New York for the Mets.
Perhaps the lone bright spot to come from that entire era that began with such promise was that Teixeira, who the Rangers vowed to trade if a long-term deal couldn't be reached, was traded in 2007 to Atlanta for a package of prospects that eventually helped get the Rangers to the World Series. Yet, I can't help but think that, just as important, Edinson Volquez was also traded after that 2007 season, netting the Rangers perhaps the best five years of Josh Hamilton's career, which certainly can't be understated, no matter how bitter his departure became after 2012.
So today, as I sit and think about how this season's pitching staff is eerily similar to that 2003 iteration on the basis of poor performance, I also can't help but think of what lies ahead. Yu Darvish is still going to be, barring injury, one of the top starting pitchers in baseball. There's still hope that Prince Fielder can at least come close to living up to some of the promise the came with his arrival during the offseason.
The same could be said of Jurickson Profar as well, who will end up having an entire season wiped out due to a shoulder injury.
Then there's Joey Gallo, powering his way through the minors while attempting to improve in the areas that could also determine whether or not he's an effective all-around hitter once he arrives in Arlington in the next 2-3 years.
Some part of me feels a bit more confident in the current front office and organizational philosophy than that which was in place back in 2003. So maybe, just maybe, the Rangers don't have to tear it all down before building it back up, and perhaps things can pan out better for Gallo than they did for Blalock, and perhaps after the injury bug has run its course in Arlington, we can be a bit closer to something resembling a star-studded roster in th enext few seasons as opposed to looking back a decade from now and contemplating what could have been.