August 23, 2014

MLB Insider: Ex-Rangers come into focus during torturous season

The Angels need a lift, but Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson might not provide it.

As the torture of 2014 continues for fans of the Texas Rangers, here are a few more things that might add to their misery:

Entering Saturday, the major league leader in home runs was former Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz. He could have been had for as little as $7 million in the off-season.

Second on the list was Jose Abreu, the latest Cuban sensation who will be the American League Rookie of the Year. Ten months ago, the Rangers were a competitive suitor for Abreu, a first baseman. Some in the organization would be surprised to learn if they were any lower than third in the bidding that was eventually won by the Chicago White Sox.

Imagine if the Rangers had won that bidding, and they hadn’t needed a first baseman when Detroit called a month later with a Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade in mind. The Rangers would, theoretically, have Abreu, Kinsler and potentially Cruz rather than Shin-Soo Choo. They might have had enough money left over to sign a starting pitcher.

Things might not be so torturous at this point.

Cruz and three former Rangers players, not to mention others on the coaching staff, are riding high in Baltimore. How high? At 73-54, the Orioles had a seven-game cushion in the AL East, though third baseman Manny Machado is set for season-ending knee surgery.

In the AL West, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson are in first place with the Los Angeles Angels, though not because of significant contributions from those former Rangers.

The Angels’ hopes might be fading, too, after their best starting pitcher this season, Garrett Richards, suffered a knee injury and is also done for the season. The Angels will still make the playoffs, though without Richards their playoff run could be short and bittersweet.

Maybe their fortunes will improve if Hamilton and Wilson improve. Hamilton moped his way through the past month, slumping at the plate and admittedly starting to overthink the game. There’s probably a line from Bull Durham that could be applied here.

But the slump is nothing unfamiliar to the Rangers, who dealt with a second-half Hamilton crumble in 2012 that undeniably led to them losing out on a third consecutive AL West title.

He had the same vacant look on his face last weekend as the Angels played at Globe Life Park. Hamilton was terrible, and finally he tapped out from the drought’s chokehold and asked for a day off.

Hamilton came around somewhat last week, though in his case something is better than the nothing he was giving the Angels. Maybe the days off and extra attention the Angels blanketed him with made him feel warm and fuzzy again.

But his numbers through 76 games — .269, nine homers, 40 RBIs — have made the Angels wonder where is the Hamilton who hit them well — .303, 14 homers, 55 RBIs — and just about everyone else well while with the Rangers.

He might be gone. And Wilson might not be too far behind. The left-hander is toiling with a 4.59 ERA, by far his worst since becoming a starter, and an ugly 1.419 WHIP.

Surely he has an explanation. His on-the-record track record suggests that he does, and it also suggests that he will never admit that when he can’t command his pitches, which is more often than not, he’s an ordinary pitcher.

But Hamilton and Wilson are getting what they wanted. They chose to leave the Rangers.

Across the country and in the National League East, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was dealt away by the Rangers, has carved out a nice career for himself.

He wasn’t completely without a hand in the 2010 trade that sent him to Boston. He didn’t think he should have been in Triple A with a case of the yips, and there was some significant noise behind the scenes before the Rangers and Red Sox struck a deal that produced Roman Mendez and enough cash to sign 14th-round pick Nick Tepesch.

Saltalamacchia isn’t complaining. He won the World Series last year with the Red Sox and signed a three-year, $21 million contract in the off-season to play for his hometown team.

And the Miami Marlins aren’t half bad. They won’t make the playoffs in all likelihood, without enough punch in the lineup behind Giancarlo Stanton, but they have withstood the loss of stud pitcher Jose Fernandez with a deep arsenal of young arms that could make them a threat in future seasons.

Saltalamacchia now knows how to work with a pitching staff and get them through innings. That’s something the Rangers haven’t had in one player over the course of multiple seasons, and might not have until Jorge Alfaro has two or three seasons under his belt.

That’s if Alfaro is the high-upside big-leaguer the Rangers envision. They thought that once about Saltalamacchia, too. He might not be an All-Star, but he’s turned into a nice player the Rangers could have used the past few seasons.

While the losses of Cruz, Kinsler, Hamilton and Wilson, among others, are bemoaned loudest, especially in a torturous 2014, the Saltalamacchia loss is too often forgotten.

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