While opinions differ on exactly why the Rangers exited the postseason practically before it even began, one thing just about everyone can agree on is that this team clearly lost its mojo. The magical blend of confidence, focus, execution and swagger that carried them to consecutive World Series appearances completely evaporated down the stretch this year. And though mojo is a mysterious and elusive element with no easy way of being captured, here are five important steps the Rangers can take which should help improve their chances of reclaiming it in 2013:
1. First, Figure Out First
The Rangers had five different guys play first base during 2012. They did not have a clear starter, nor did they even have a true platoon system in place. Mitch Moreland started the most games there this season with 82, which is the third-lowest total among American League teams for their “primary” option at 1B. The league average in 2012 was 109.3 games started, and each of the two teams with fewer starts from their “primary” 1B option (Toronto and Oakland) employed a traditional platoon.
Moreland is a solid fielder with a somewhat streaky bat, though he still has never really been given the opportunity to prove himself as the team’s everyday first baseman over a full season. He’s never going to develop further without being given that chance, so the Rangers need to decide once and for all whether he’s the man at first base moving forward. If so, give him enough starts so he can legitimately try to build and sustain momentum at the plate. If not, stop playing a shell game and find someone you feel confident in as your regular first baseman. Either Mitch is your guy, or he’s not - figure it out.
One of the reasons Moreland didn’t get more starts at first base this season, is because the Rangers had to keep figuring out a way to force aging veteran Michael Young into the lineup. For the most part, Young has been a very good soldier during his 12-year tenure with the club. He was the best player on this team and the face of the franchise throughout those long, dark years when the Rangers suffered through eight out of nine losing seasons, before they became perennial contenders.
But Young’s not Young anymore. His best days are clearly behind him, and with his 36th birthday right around the corner, it seems highly unlikely he has much left to contribute to a team with championship aspirations. He can’t effectively field any position (not even 1B, despite taking away 40 starts there from much better options) and his bat has so drastically declined it is sheer lunacy to have him ever serve as this team’s designated hitter - much less have him start 71 games in that role. Either he needs to make his greatest move as a leader and step away from the game, or the Rangers need to force that gold watch on him themselves.
3. Brain Wash
The person who’s most to blame for continuing to force Michael Young into a lineup in which he no longer belongs is Ron Washington. Wash has always been a player’s manager, whose biggest strength has been that he runs the clubhouse like a master chemist. But despite his skills at chemistry, Wash is no rocket scientist. He lets his fierce loyalty to certain players (Young chief among them) blind him to making the right choice in so many situations. He’s skinny as a stringbean, yet relies on his seemingly nonexistent gut far too often.
Though many fans are now so disillusioned by Wash they would like to see him fired, it’s not quite time for such a rash action...just yet. However, the Ranger braintrust need to do whatever it takes to force as much intelligence as they can into Wash’s virtually impenetrable skull. It’s one thing to go “by the book,” but you can’t just read “the book” - you have to be able to comprehend it, as well. If you feel the need to bring a lefty in from the pen to replace Yu Darvish in an elimination game (a questionable move to begin with), make sure it’s a known, dependable bullpen quantity (Koji Uehara) and not a flaky, unreliable starter (Derek Holland).
4. Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em
Of all the questionable decisions Ron Washington made this season, few were more inexplicable than his near outright refusal to play highly-touted phenoms Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. It’s well known that Wash doesn’t trust young players - especially rookies. But if Profar and Olt are both so valuable they couldn’t even be considered in any possible trade scenario (the Rangers claim nobody is untouchable, but clearly, these two are), then their value is on the field and not in the dugout or back down on the farm.
Neither Profar nor Olt were given much of an opportunity at all this season to show what they could do, combining for a mere 59 plate appearances. Meanwhile, as they were wasting away collecting cobwebs in the dugout, guys like Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre were being worn down to the nub. Perhaps this team would still be playing right now if Profar and Olt were given more of a chance - even if they didn’t produce to expectations, they’d at least have given several others vital rest which might have kept this team’s offense from running out of gas down the stretch.
5. Toss Josh
This one, frankly, is a no-brainer. Yes, his power numbers are gaudy and would be hard to replace, but his undisciplined approach at the plate has yielded such diminishing returns that it’s finally gotten to the point where he’s more of a liability at the plate than an asset. The same could be said about his once spectacular fielding skills, as evidenced by his fatal botching of a pop fly in Oakland than even Timmy Lupus would have caught (for proof, see here:
Taking these steps won’t guarantee the Rangers a third World Series appearance in four years, or even a return to the postseason, but not taking these steps almost certainly would cause this submarine (as Wash called it) to sink even further than it already has. The Rangers need to do whatever they can to resurface next season.