Chris Woodward started his Monday being introduced to the media and the public as the Texas Rangers’ new manager, and closed it with what was a far more important gathering.
Seven players adjusted their schedules to accommodate a steak dinner at Nick and Sam’s in Dallas with their new boss.
The most important attendee, other than Woodward, was shortstop Elvis Andrus. The other six all made significant contributions to the 2018 Rangers, and five are 26 years old or younger.
And what did Woodward glean from the group?
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“They were pissed,” he said.
Not at him, mind you. Not at all. But rather at the expectations that have been placed upon the 2019 Rangers.
They are rebuilding, and just about everyone is predicting another below-.500 season for them. Looking at the starting rotation, which now includes Drew Smyly along with fellow left-hander Mike Minor, and free-agent spending forecast, well … .
But Andrus, Delino DeShields, Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, Matt Bush and Isiah Kiner-Falefa expect to win next season. Not win only 67 games, as the 2018 team did, but finish with a winning record and be in the playoff hunt.
They were serious, and Woodward said on Tuesday that he was encouraged by what he heard from his new players. It put a nice capper on a great day.
“These guys are eager, man,” Woodward said during the first full day of the general managers meetings. “I don’t know how many games we’re going to win next year. Nobody does, but they don’t like the fact that people have low expectations for us. I think that’s important.
“They want to win. They’re not looking at this thing as we’re expected to lose 100 games or 90 games. They were mad. They weren’t happy about that. That meant a lot to me, especially Andrus.”
Andrus and Woodward spent time after the rest left, and Woodward said that he stressed leadership to Andrus. Adrian Beltre could very well be retiring, and a giant leadership void would be created.
Shin-Soo Choo can’t do it all, and Robinson Chirinos is unlikely to return after the Rangers turned down his 2019 option last week. Andrus said late in the season that he was ready to take on a bigger leadership load, and a month off hasn’t changed that.
“He was 100 percent all-in,” Woodward said. “He wants it. We had a good talk after everybody left. I was very honest with him. I respect everything he’s done. He’s a veteran guy. He used to be just the joyful young guy. Now he’s the older joyful guy. I want his message to resonate with the younger guys.”
Woodward said that he laid out what playing for him will be like, and it starts with preparation. The work ethic and belief are in place, which will help as the players are asked to consider more ways for them to improve.
For the first time in their careers, they might be asked to do things a little differently. Woodward wants the players to understand that all who potentially could give them information are trying to help.
It won’t be too much information or too many different trial runs. One player’s plan will likely be different from all others’ prep plans. They will be urged to not get lost in the results but in the process.
It’s hard to have the results without the process.
“I wasn’t shy about explaining my expectations in moving this team forward, and I think they’re 100 percent on board,” Woodward said. “They do all the things you would want as a manager. The biggest thing I mentioned was getting them to understand the preparation. We’re going to look outside the box a little bit at how we do things, and we’re going to bring in as much help as we can to help them.
“Whether we win 70, 80 or 90 games, it doesn’t matter. As long as their belief is that we’re building toward something better, that we’re building toward a championship, I think that’s important to instill those messages now.”
But it wasn’t all give from Woodward. He took in some thoughts from the players, who left feeling as good about Woodward as he did about them.
“Everything we talked about, he was on board with it,” DeShields said. “It felt like he was one of us at the dinner table, and it made everyone comfortable right off the bat. It really seemed like he wanted what is best for us and wanted it to be our team. He talked about how huge creating culture is, being positive and trusting the process.
“First impressions were really good. I’m excited. We all were pretty pumped up to get going again and see what next year is going to bring. I know it’s the start of something really good for us and this organization.”