Rangers embrace baseball math: 84 is the new 10

Posted Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton Change is inevitable in pro sports.

Players grow old. Batting averages turn sour. Yesterday’s local hero is tomorrow’s free agent, signing a contract with the other side.

What’s happened to the Texas Rangers happens to everybody. Of their everyday lineup in 2010, their first World Series season, only shortstop Elvis Andrus remains a position starter.

But this is how it must be in sports. Change can rejuvenate a team. Change can provide a championship final piece. Change can sell tickets.

Change can get a manager — or a general manager — fired.

The clubhouse at the Rangers’ Cactus League complex seemed an odd place this spring. So many new faces. So much change.

At the end of the row, near where Michael Young used to dress, the biggest change — in more ways than one — has settled in. Young’s No. 10 jersey, hanging at his locker, had become a franchise banner, of sorts.

Prince Fielder’s giant No. 84, on the other hand, is going to take some getting used to.

Trading for first baseman Fielder came at a controversial price. Ian Kinsler, popular but ultimately polarizing, was the Rangers’ second baseman for eight seasons.

But to get something, you have to give up something. Kinsler was traded to Detroit, burning old bridges behind him.

Just two seasons ago, the corner of the clubhouse in Arlington where Kinsler dressed also included the lockers of Young, Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. No more.

Change. It can make an entire chapter of a major league team’s history disappear.

To replace Hamilton, who took the free-agent money and fled to Disneyland, general manager Jon Daniels got Fielder, which cost the Rangers Kinsler but also cleared the way at second base for young Jurickson Profar.

Cruz is gone, signing with the Orioles, but opening an outfield spot for Cincinnati’s MVP of a year ago, Shin-Soo Choo.

A.J. Pierzynski, who assumed Hamilton’s old locker last season, is now in Boston. Closer Joe Nathan, whose seniority merited an entire clubhouse nook in Arlington, signed with the Tigers.

As the lineup’s lead-off hitter, Kinsler specialized in playing his own brand of short attention span second base. Choo, on the other hand, the new lead-off man, seems to treat each at-bat as a sojourn to be savored.

What sort of guy has a 10-pitch at-bat in spring training? Patient Choo did.

The late Tex Schramm, the original general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, used to say that if a team isn’t changing, it isn’t improving. Schramm built a championship dynasty by knowing when to say when to his aging roster veterans.

Daniels made the difficult decisions with Young and Nathan, and he elected to spend the team’s money on Choo and Yu Darvish instead of Cruz and C.J. Wilson.

Change. If a team isn’t embracing it, it’s likely not hoisting a championship trophy, either.

Because of his torn shoulder muscle, Profar won’t be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. But it means the Rangers still will have a new second baseman and first baseman. UT Arlington product Michael Choice, the team’s star of spring training, is expected to play a prominent outfield role.

In baseball’s new math, change often has a way of tangling the algorithms. The impact of Fielder and Choo seems to be mitigated in the preseason baseball magazines by the loss of Kinsler, Cruz and Nathan. Choice and the move of Tanner Scheppers into the starting rotation haven’t even been on the magazines’ radar.

But this is how a baseball team builds. It rebuilds. It changes.

It swallows hard and says goodbye to old faces. And welcomes new ones.

In the Rangers’ new math, 84 is the new 10.

Change can make a team a contender. That’s the plan, at least.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @gillebreton

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