Randy Galloway

February 15, 2014

Rangers open spring with their lame ducks in a row

The real reign of Jon Daniels begins with Wash, Maddux in contract limbo.

It is time once again to say, “pitchers and catchers report today.”

Those are holy words for many of us, but more importantly, for every major league club, it’s the verbal dividing line between the long winter off-season and the official start of the new baseball year.

The Texas Rangers have pitchers, catchers and an assortment of everyday regulars reporting Sunday to the spring training camp in Surprise, Ariz.

The new year is here.

But the ramifications of what occurred over an active winter will help define, positive or negative, what awaits the Rangers in the new baseball year, starting with a couple of huge long-term financial plunges.

Prince Fielder, for one. The Choo-Choo Man, for two.

Unfortunately, the left-hander-trips-over-dog story from last month might have a bigger impact, and not in a good way, than even the batting-order acquisitions of Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.

It was a thin rotation to begin with. Doggone it, losing Derek Holland to knee surgery creates a holding pattern that will at least be half the season, and even that timetable is probably optimistic.

For winter laughs, however, the club’s suddenly power-playing ownership duo of Bob and Ray decided a week and a half ago to totally cheese-up a fine ballyard in Arlington by slapping a sappy corporate name above the front door.

Of course, it will always be “The Ballpark” to 99.9 percent of the fandom, but then again, the Rangers went to a World Series or two when Bob and Ray stayed out of the way. Over the last 15 months, however, Bob and Ray have anointed themselves baseball Einsteins.

Out, however, with the off-season, and in with the new baseball year, starting immediately in Surprise.

Which brings us this morning to the most intriguing non-winter development that leads off the Rangers’ new baseball year:

The manager, Ron Washington, arrived in Arizona this weekend as a lame duck-sitting duck.

The pitching coach, Mike Maddux, arrived in Arizona this weekend as a lame duck-sitting duck.

The two most important members of the coaching staff — manager and pitching coach — are entering the final year of their contracts, meaning there is obviously a message of some kind being sent by Arlington’s powerful baseball god, Jon Daniels, the GM.

Daniels has his lips wrapped tightly around the tender ears of Bob and Ray, and the owners are firmly convinced that Jon can do no wrong, despite roster mismanagement by the GM in 2013.

For Washington and Maddux to have gone an entire off-season in lame-duck limbo makes no baseball sense. Under the circumstances both did great jobs in a troubling 2013 season. Both, obviously, were better at what they do than Daniels was at his job.

Maybe Jon will surprise both on Sunday with new contract extensions. Maybe it will happen next week. Or maybe before the start of the regular season. Or maybe …

Not at all.

When asked over the winter, Washington repeatedly said he wasn’t worried about his contract status. That’s a fib. Not a lie. Just a PR answer. Every manager, and every head coach in any sport, IS concerned in this situation.

I laughed a month ago when Kirk Gibson, manager of the Arizona D-backs, went on and on about his lame-duck status for 2014 being absolutely a non-factor and non-worry. Yeah, sure.

Two weeks later, when offered a contract extension, Gibson signed it immediately. I thought it didn’t matter, Kirk.

More on Washington’s status in a second, but most puzzling is why Daniels stonewalled Maddux all winter. It was so strange that one theory surfaced that indicated it was Maddux who wanted to move on from the Rangers after this season. That theory, however, was false.

Meanwhile, once Washington’s contract status finally gained traction in the local media over the winter, Daniels kept giving answers that praised his manager. Those answers, however, led to no action on a contract extension.

Of course, Daniels could be looking for a tradeoff with Washington. It’s no secret Daniels wants a strong daily say in the manager’s lineup card. Who plays and where they hit has been a previous source of dispute between the GM and the manager, except Washington once had Nolan Ryan in his corner. Nolan, when he had the power, would order Daniels to back off.

But now, if Washington stays a lame duck, the more power Daniels has with his lineup-card obsession. And if Washington signs a new contract, what promises does he have to make to Daniels about that lineup card?

Washington is a good manager who has massive respect in his clubhouse.

Maddux is a good pitching coach who has respect throughout baseball. The only negative comment about Mike from a local pitcher I ever heard came from, yes, C.J. Wilson. There you go. That’s the ultimate compliment for Maddux.

No contract extensions thus far for Wash or Maddux lowlights a Rangers off-season that was otherwise full of adventure, good and bad.

The new baseball year begins Sunday in Surprise.

Lame ducks and a lame left-hander are the negatives to watch closely.

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