Reaction and Overreaction

Disaster Looms! Trade Beltre Now! Infield Wrecked!

These sensational clickable-link headlines found on ESPN.com yesterday morning were a far cry from sentiments expressed just five months ago. The Rangers, by all accounts, had a well-balanced team poised to continue its streak of four consecutive seasons with at least 90 wins. The improving health of Neftali Feliz and Joaquim Soria, along with strong 2013 campaigns from Tanner Scheppers and Neal Cotts, led the Rangers to believe they had a deep enough bullpen to allow the team to part ways with closer Joe Nathan earlier in the offseason. The rotation was deep and mostly under team control for several years. On December 26, 2013, Buster Olney published his list of the AL’s top ten lineups, ranking the Rangers number one, and this spring, ESPN released its first ever win-probability forecast, suggesting the Rangers were most likely to finish atop the AL West and third among American league teams in total wins.

On January 10, the Rangers, on paper, had what looked to be a top contender for the American League pennant. If not the top. That day, news broke that Derek Holland had injured his knee after (cough) “tripping over his dog”. A setback for sure, but with Matt Harrison on the comeback trail and Martin Perez on the rise, especially with what was considered by some the AL’s best lineup.

Fast forward to May 14. The Rangers learned that Perez would need Tommy John surgery, and that Harrison’s back troubles would threaten his career. On May 23, Jurickson Profarand Prince Fielder were both reported to be done for the year, compounding the team’s troubles and closing the book on what was surely the worst ten day period in franchise history. We are now at a place where all injuries are viewed through the same Woe-Are-The-Rangers lens. Earlier this week, news that sixth-outfielder Daniel Robertson fractured facial bones after colliding with Alex Rios was treated as if it were yet another crisis indicative of the team’s misfortune.

Suddenly, self-pitying Rangers fans are lamenting the three month loss of Geovanny Soto as if it were a Thurman Munson-esque tragedy. Yes, the same Soto who, playing part-time, “impressively” raised his batting average from .196 in 2012, to .245 in 2013.

For now, the temporary, concentrated, and powerful dose of bad luck should be seen as just temporary, and fans should take a step back and consider what the team has, instead of only what is hasn’t.

Yes, some players are moving further away from their prime: Beltre and possibly Fielder.
Some are moving closer: Profar, Leonys Martin, Rougned Odor, Michael Choice.
Some will continue to be in the midst of their prime: Choo, Andrus.

Holland will soon assume the number two slot in the rotation after Yu Darvish, giving the team a one-two punch at the top of the rotation as formidable as any in Baseball. Still, the bad news compels us to think about the potential darkness cast by the aging Beltre and Fielder, while at the same time leading us to ignore the promising futures of some of the Game’s top prospects (Fielder, by the way, was only 29 on opening day). Any current instance of bad news perpetuates and reinforces other negative thoughts, singling out a negative detail and exclusively dwelling on it so that all reality becomes negative. Psychologists refer to this line of thinking as Cognitive Distortion. Bob Nightengale of USA Today recently wrote, “You just don’t replace one of the premier power hitters in the game and still contend”, implying that the Rangers weren’t contenders before adding Fielder. His statement also implies that Fielder’s contributions thus far were akin to those of a premier power hitter. Neither assumption is true. Although the Rangers previously had Ian Kinsler, the team also a positionless Profar.

A word of advice that may be difficult to follow: RELAX

Before we check ourselves into the nearest sports fan therapy centers, let’s break this all down into a rational, digestible, and focused approach moving forward.

  • Yes, the 2014 season is pretty much Kaput. It’s time to think about 2015 and beyond.
  • The Rangers need to replace their injury-emptied back-end of the rotation in 2015.
  • The Rangers continue to have a surplus of elite middle infielders and prospects.
  • The Rangers have the same media-approved lineup, with the exception of Alex Rios, under club control for at least 2015.
  • The top of next year’s rotation should continue to rank among the best in Baseball.

Texas should move Rios and Soria before this season’s trade deadline in exchange for additional ammo to help the team fill out its rotation. Luke Jackson, Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez, and Perez should be ready to contribute in 2016, if not 2015. 2016 should also welcome Jorge Alfaro and Joey Gallo to the big league club. The combination of effective management and youth development time should lead the Rangers into the same strong position for the next five years that they’ve held for the last five years.

No, the catastrophe which is May 2014 doesn’t mark the end of Rangers baseball as we’ve recently come to know it. Instead, it’s only a hiccup and bump in the road. Again, take a deep breath, and RELAX.