The off-season brought a seismic shift in the dynamics of the Texas Rangers clubhouse, but to hear the survivors tell it out here, nothing really has changed.
“You look around in here, and some of the faces are different, of course,” said left fielder David Murphy, certainly an ongoing steady voice in the team’s clubhouse culture.
“But the expectations in here are still the same,” added Murph. “Thirty teams are in spring training, all of them thinking they’ve got a World Series shot, with obviously some more realistic than others.
“For us, we are still in the realistic category. Anyone who doubts that, and is basing those doubts on the changes we’ve had, is simply wrong.”
Well, OK. The right or the wrong opinion on the Rangers is pure speculation at the moment.
Three weeks into spring training is normally not an early point. But this will be the longest spring training stay in club history (courtesy of the World Baseball Classic in March), so this camp hasn’t even heated up yet, including the still rather chilly Arizona weather.
“Do I have a worry about this team? No, not at all,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler, now the longest-tenured Ranger with seven seasons on the roster.
“But is it a little weird this spring? Yes, it is.
“Would I like to have Mike [Michael Young] in here right now? A hundred percent, yes. Everyone knows that answer from me.”
And Josh Hamilton, he was asked?
“Sure, I would,” answered Kinsler, “and Nap [Mike Napoli] and some of the other guys who are gone. But I’m not sitting here disappointed with what we’ve got. You can miss the other guys, personally, but from the standpoint of the ballclub, you separate that, and you move on.”
Granted, at the moment, the Rangers are a tough club to figure, even offensively, and it’s been a long, long time since there were any doubts about run production.
I repeat a comment from this space earlier in the week, but a day never goes by out here when the importance of Lance Berkman’s health isn’t mentioned in conjunction with how the batting order sets up.
One of Ron Washington’s managerial strengths has been reading his clubhouse’s demeanor, and knowing when to react. Most of the time he’s been effective in that area, with last September being an exception.
But over the last four decades-plus, no Rangers manager has ever maintained a tighter clubhouse. As Washington also admits, he had Young as an important ally in that clubhouse scenario.
“The good thing at this point, and it’s still early, is I don’t see any change in the attitude, the demeanor or the approach of this club,” he said. “There’s no doubt we will miss those guys who are gone, and miss them for a variety of reasons, on and off the field.
“But it’s a business of change. Always has been. Teams lose people and continue to move forward, even when it’s a Michael Young who is gone, and he was the most respected guy here by our players, plus the most respected guy from players on other teams simply because of how he played the game.”
Washington paused, and added, “We have moved on. And moved on in a positive way based on what I’m seeing so far.”
Gary Pettis, the third base coach, put it another way.
“The focus this spring has been on getting to know the new guys who came in as opposed to missing the guys who aren’t here,” he said. “Some of those guys who aren’t here, you just don’t replace, like Josh with his talent and Michael because he’s Michael.
“But if we get pitching and defense, the impact on the field won’t be any different than it has been.”
This new version of the Rangers is winless so far in Arizona (0-5-1) after dropping an 8-4 decision Wednesday to the White Sox over in Glendale.
The record, of course, is absolutely not an issue out here.
But there has been a seismic shift in the dynamics of the clubhouse. Watching how this develops over the course of the long spring in Surprise could be a telltale sign on how the regular season eventually goes.
Just not as much, to repeat what Gary Pettis said, as pitching and defense.