Never has a Texas Rangers team been so ready to start a new season than the 2014 club that finished with 95 losses.
There have been worse teams in franchise history, such as the original Rangers who lost 100 games and followed it up with 105 losses in 1973. The 1982 and 1985 teams limped home to 98 and 99 losses.
Those clubs, though, didn’t come close to having the preseason expectations of the 2014 team, which crashed and burned like no other.
The Rangers were the favorites to win the American League West after acquiring Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to bolster the offense. The rotation would be strong, with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez, and later with the return of Matt Harrison.
But by Game 162, Fielder, Choo, Darvish, Perez and Harrison were on the 60-day disabled list, and they weren’t alone. Holland missed the first five months of the season, and Elvis Andrus was sucking wind in the worst season of his career.
And, out of nowhere, beloved manager Ron Washington resigned unexpectedly.
There was no do-over button to press, but there is a start-over button for 2015. Many players want to prove what they are truly capable of doing after dismal seasons, all for a new manager who has been pushing a prove-’em-wrong button for most of his life.
“These guys are hungry to play baseball,” Choo said. “A lot of guys had injuries last year, and I can see and tell they’ve learned a lot from last year. I’m not worried about anything health-wise. I’m happy to be playing baseball.”
That player, Choo said, can hit .300 with 20-plus homers. He can get on base. He can steal bases. He can be a good defensive player.
Choo was none of those things last season in the first year of a seven-year contract worth $130 million. He dealt with a sprained ankle and bad elbow, both of which would need surgery.
“A lot of guys believed in me and trusted me and put me here. I want to give back to those guys,” Choo said. “My goal is always to do better than last year. I want to get back to what I’m used to.”
Fielder was acquired from Detroit for Ian Kinsler, lugging behind him seven more years and $138 million on his contract. Fielder hit three homers in 150 at-bats before having season-ending cervical fusion surgery.
Many are wondering if Fielder can ever recover and be anything close to the player he was in Milwaukee — five straight seasons with no fewer than 32 homers. Fielder, however, doesn’t have those same questions.
“That’s their opinion, and their opinion is none of my business,” Fielder said. “It’s not my job to prove them wrong. It’s my job to help my team win by any means necessary. I don’t have to live up to their expectations. If I did that, I’d be a sad person.”
Choo, Fielder and Holland each said they had never been so excited to get spring training started. Andrus didn’t agree, only because he started work on correcting 2014 only weeks after the season.
Andrus came to camp too heavy last year. He put on muscle but learned he can’t play at 216 pounds. He also didn’t throw much last off-season, and a sore elbow hounded him all year.
Andrus posted career lows in batting average (.263) and on-base percentage (.314), grounded into a career-high 21 double plays and was caught stealing a career-high 15 times.
His eight-year, $118 million contract kicks in this season. Overpaid and underperforming are now tags attached to Andrus.
“Sometimes you hear bad, negative things about you,” he said. “It makes me want to get better and prove everybody wrong.”
Andrus is hardly alone. Not only are there players who were injured or underperformed in 2014, but also players who want to build upon the opportunities they were given last season to show they aren’t flukes.
Jeff Banister was told that he would never be a big-league manager, but now he is. General manager Jon Daniels didn’t adequately supply the system with quality depth, especially on the mound, but he did so in the off-season.
There’s no do-over button for 2014, but there is a start-over button in 2015. And there’s a long line of Rangers waiting to push it.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760