The Texas Rangers are an expensive pile o’ stink and spiraling toward their second garbage finish since GM Jon Daniels had his fun governor removed.
The Rangers are in their fourth season since Nolan Ryan was kicked out of an office that offered a view of statue of himself. The Express was JD’s Fun Gov. He was also complicit in some of the decisions that didn’t work, too.
This is how the Rangers have done since Nolan “left” ... cough-cough was fired:
2014: 67-95, last place in AL West. The Ballpark turned into Arlington Memorial Hospital with more injured players than hospital beds; manager Ron Washington quit late in the year on a team that was bad from Day One.
2015: 88-74, 1st place in AL West. Under first-year manager Jeff Banister, the Rangers rallied in the final two months of the season to steal the division from the Houston Astros. The Rangers led the Blue Jays 2-0 in the ALDS but a Game 5 collapse in the final innings prevented a trip to the ALCS.
2016: 95-67, 1st place in AL West. The team set a record for most one-run wins in season and posted the best record in the American League. They followed that by being swept in the first round against the Blue Jays.
2017: 50-55, 4th place in AL West. The team has struggled to be .500 and just traded pitcher Yu Darvish, reliever Jeremy Jeffress and catcher Jonathan Lucroy to three teams for a total of five prospects.
JD has earned his way back into DFW’s Shark Pit, and replaced Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones on the Throne of Stupid.
Right now is not an easy time to defend JD, but ... here goes. When Nolan left, it was all on JD. Which is the way he wants it. He built this team and he deserves the credit/blame.
He’s not as bad nor as good as his critics and defenders state. The truth about JD is that he resides in the dull middle. He simply fell victim to an open window and in his desperation to keep it ajar he made decisions that kept his team relevant without them remaining as World Series contenders.
For the record, the firing of Nolan is not on his hands. That decision and blame should forever remain on owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson.
Always know this when making such a case: JD was given the responsibility and final authority on all baseball decisions by team owner Tom Hicks in October of 2005. Hicks was following the Boston Red Sox model of hiring a young GM with the Ivy League degree.
In February of 2008, desperate for legitimacy and in need of someone to better sell the franchise, Hicks brought in Nolan Ryan to be in charge of ... well, pretty much anything he wanted. No way Nolan takes this job without some authority on baseball personnel.
JD should forever remain grateful to Nolan that he didn’t fire him. Many people in that position would have dumped JD in order to have their own guy in that job. That wasn’t Nolan’s style.
The downside was JD kept his job, but had to run decisions past a baseball God whereas previously he was the final say. The real surprise is that this setup lasted as long as it did.
It worked because the Rangers were winning, thanks in large part to the many moves and decisions made by JD before Nolan’s arrival.
In 2010, Nolan recruited “Ray Bob” to buy the Rangers. That was the same year JD was named MLB Executive of the Year.
Egos swell, feelings are easily hurt, and this awkward arrangement between two different styles met its end when the owners of the team went with the much younger guy after the 2013 season. Did JD stab Nolan in the back? Likely to some degree, both in order to retain his job and return final baseball decision-making to his iPhone.
Like any break up, there was no good way to handle it, and the Rangers didn’t. There is no good way to say goodbye to Nolan Ryan unless it’s on his terms. And never believe the narrative that Nolan was perfect and all of his decisions were doubles to home runs. The man has his flaws like any of us.
The problem for the Rangers is since the team reached the 2010 World Series, the majority of the decisions were made to find that one missing piece to give them that title. And they were all big money moves.
Adding Adrian Beltre in 2010. Paying for Yu Darvish. Acquiring Ian Desmond. Dealing for Prince Fielder. Adding Yovani Gallardo. Signing Shin-Soo Choo. Dealing for Cole Hamels. Trading for Lucroy.
And look at how the Rangers’ have spent that money to remain in contention:
2010: $55 million (MLB rank, 27th)
2011: $113 million (MLB rank, 12th)
2012: $148 million (MLB rank, 5th)
2013: $143 million (MLB rank, 6th)
2014: $142 million (MLB rank, 10th)
2015: $164 million (MLB rank, 7th)
2016: $168 million (MLB rank, 8th)
2017: $184 million (MLB rank, 8th)
(NOTE: ALL figures but 2010, which came from USA Today, come from Spotrac.com. Some payroll rankings go off figures tabulated at varying points in a season, usually opening day. This list is total payroll.).
The Rangers “went for it,” and under JD they remained pretty good thanks to a pretty good lineup that often benefited from playing in what had been the weakest division in baseball.
All of this “going for it” was eventually going to catch up with the Rangers, and when JD dealt Yu for three prospects it was essentially an admission that the post-2011 World Series plan missed.
This team isn’t close, and JD knows it. That’s on him. He knows that, too.
The results say that without Nolan Ryan the Rangers have been pretty good; the club is 300-291 (.507) with JD solely in charge. Because he is polite and professional, he has cultivated a good relationship both with the local and national media, which never hurts a man’s image.
On the MLB Network on Monday, there was nationally respected veteran baseball writer Tom Verducci praising JD for recognizing that his team wasn’t good enough and needed to deal players. Don’t think for a moment that opinion was not aided by JD returning phone calls and spending time with a nationally respected baseball voice like Verducci.
JD knows the game as well as anyone.
Evaluating his entire body of work, JD has been pretty good for the Texas Rangers. Not great. Not terrible. Just somewhere in the dull middle.
He has one more year before his contract expires. Now would be the time to make another good impression.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof