Chris Woodward didn’t have much of a quiet off-season, except maybe on planes going back and forth between Phoenix and the Metroplex.
It’s a short flight, 868 miles on the frequent-flier chart, so, yeah, not a lot of quite time.
Much of his non-quiet time was filled with a handful of Winter Caravan stops and other functions around the town.
He spoke. He informed. He explained.
Texas Rangers baseball, judging on last season’s attendance and an over-under of 70.5 wins in 2019, could use someone sparking interest among the fandom, and Woodward is the one driving the club as its first-year manager.
Salesman, though, is not part of the job description, at least not to the ticket-buying public. The players have to be sold on what’s in store: a new way of looking at the game; “the process,” the key tenet with Woodward, over results; and putting it all together and still trying to be competitive.
Winning still matters to the players and Woodward, as well as the fans. Wins and losses, though, won’t necessarily define the 2019 Rangers, whose pitchers and catchers were scheduled to work out Wednesday for the first time this spring.
“I’m just trying to explain there’s a process here getting us to where we need to be,” Woodward said. “The one thing I wanted to make sure when I got a job is that my players understood the process far more than anyone else.
“I witnessed a lot of managers who are very open to their philosophies and want to be a guru-type. I have a lot of passion for what I believe, and there’s a distinct vision that I see for a championship team and the caliber and standards you need to have when you walk through that door.”
Don’t get Woodward wrong: He wants fans to enjoy the ride and take pride in the way the Rangers play the game. Nevertheless, expectations are at a decade-low for a franchise that first went to the World Series in 2010 and defended its American League title.
A third straight playoff berth followed before the Rangers missed out on a fourth by losing a play-in game to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. Division titles were won in 2015 and 2016, and the Rangers were two games out of the playoffs with 10 games in 2017 before a disastrous slide to the finish line.
The Rangers entered into a rebuilding phase last season, resulting in 67 victories after deals involving any tradable commodity who could bring prospects in return. The rebuild is continuing in 2019, though spring training won’t be about dumping veterans and salary.
“Major-league camp is about getting guys prepared now,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “The large organizational goals are one thing. I think the big-league camp and mindset of our players looking to improve today and get out there and execute today are two different things.”
The process Woodward speaks of involves, more than ever for the Rangers, volumes of data and advances in research and development, and applying it. It involves trusting the coaching staff, which involves relationship-building, and that the information is there to help players.
The information is tailored for each player, who then must make the best use of it with his talent. An 0-for-4 day at the plate might look frustrating, but not in Woodward’s mind if the four outs were all line drives or made while doing the right things.
But the internal expectations are the same as always.
“Our expectations are to win each game,” Woodward said. “I’m not really putting any limitations or expectations on this team. My job is to come in here and set the tone and set the expectations for how we’re going to compete and how we’re going to eventually win a championship.
“Whether that’s this year or whether that’s next year or two years or three years from now, I want these guys to understand our idea and our job is to win every single game and every pitch that we’re a part of. These guys want to win, and I’m not going to sit here and say they can’t.”
Teams have shocked in recent seasons and made the playoffs against all negative expectations. The Rangers believe their starting rotation is capable enough to give the offense the chance to win games.
If that happens, great. If it doesn’t happen, but the right foundation is being put down via Woodward’s process, that will be considered great, too.
Will outsiders be able to see through another 95-loss season to the process being implemented? Here comes a sales pitch.
“We’ve been pretty clear that this wasn’t the winter we would be looking to put the finishing touches and we were not competing at the highest level of the trade market or free agency,” Daniels said. “Can we go out there and compete without signing folks and some of the good things we’ve got going on? I absolutely think we can.
“But focus has been and will be on the future. Everybody that we’ve hired and all the transactions we’ve made have been with that in mind. When you combine that with some waves of talent coming up; some guys at the big-league level, especially on the position player side with guys that we think have additional steps that can take; some upper-level starting-pitching prospects that could very well get to the big leagues and start to make an impact this year; our staff; our investments on the infrastructure side; the facilities; the new ballpark coming; it’s an exciting time to be a part of this, and we hope our fans are excited for that as well.”
The players appear to be on board with Woodward and the process.
“Woody’s a young manager. It’s his first time managing, and he’s going to bring his own flavor to the team and the organization,” center fielder Delino DeShields said. “It’s something that we’ve fed off since the first week we met him. He’s present, he’s available, and I think it’s good for our team.
“He played for a long time. He gets the ups and down. He’s here for us, and that’s his No. 1 priority. It’s a very exciting time.”