Rangers manager Ron Washington has always been wary of the Mariners’ potential as a sleeping giant in the AL West, at least in his public pronouncements, if not his heart of hearts.
This year is no exception. Washington, in fact, expressed more concern than ever today before the Mariners faced Texas in Surprise. He believes Seattle’s offseason additions could make a huge difference.
“(Michael) Morse is a man. A big man,” Washington said. “(Kendrys) Morales is a man. A big man. They’ve got (Raul) Ibanez, a pro. And then they’re got those young kids who learned on the job last year. I always feared Seattle even though they held up the bottom. You never heard me talk Seattle down. They played. They can pitch, and they can catch the ball. That means they were always going to be in ballgames. They were, but they just didn’t have the offensive power. Now, they’ve got guys who have been in the war to go along with that pitching and defense to go along with Eric Wedge molding them.
“I’ve never taken Seattle for granted because they can pitch and catch the ball. They will always be in ballgames. All it takes is a hit. They’ve just never had that experience in the lineup to get that hit when they need it. Now, they have guys who have done it in their careers.”
I bring this up in part because it’s always interesting to hear what the opposition thinks, but mostly because of a story that is erupting today — news of a potential power struggle in Texas that might result in the departure of the legendary Nolan Ryan. That on the heels of what I feel is a foolish decision by the Angels to play hardball with their young superstar, Mike Trout.
It’s quite possible that neither story will have any tangible effect on the two teams, who on paper should fight it out with the defending AL West champion Oakland A’s for the division’s top spot and a potential wild-card berth (if not two). But anything that causes disquiet among their rivals can’t be a bad thing for the Mariners, right?
First to the Rangers, who have already had a tough offseason with the loss of Josh Hamilton to the Angels and Mike Napoli to the Red Sox (plus Michael Young, a player in decline but a mainstay for years, to the Phillies), and their inability to land several targets (Justin Upton and Zack Greinke foremost among them; there is now speculation they may go after Kyle Lohse, still sitting at home unsigned, with Sunday’s injury to Martin Perez in the game with the Mariners).
On Friday, the story broke that GM Jon Daniels, who has done a fabulous job building a powerhouse in Texas, had been promoted to president of baseball operations/general manager. At the same time, Rick George, a former executive with the PGA tour, was made president of business operations. The footnote was this: Ryan was suddenly now just the CEO, no longer the president and CEO. Hmm. For a guy so visible as the figurehead of the Rangers, it seemed ominous, but Rangers ownership insisted it was no big deal.
But maybe it is. The well-connected columnist, Randy Galloway, came out came out with a piece Sunday night that cites sources saying Ryan could be gone from the organization by the end of spring training. Now, to be fair, there are also quotes from owner Bob Simpson saying strongly he doesn’t want Ryan to leave — but nowhere did I hear Simpson denying it could happen.
I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but it just seems strange that the Rangers would try to mess in any way with Nolan Ryan, of all people — one of the most popular and iconic athletes in the history of the state of Texas. Galloway asserts that at the least, Daniels now has final say over baseball decisions, and George over business decisions. It’s unclear where that leaves Ryan, whose run as a top Rangers executive has coincided with a period of unprecedented success for the Rangers: Three straight playoff appearances, and two American League pennants. Daniels was the mastermind of the baseball moves that fueled the run, but Ryan seemed to set a tone of professionalism and competitiveness that permeated the organization. He’s Nolan Ryan, for crying out loud. It would be a shame — and a public relations nightmare — if internal politics drove him away.
While that situations percolates, let’s turn to Anaheim. I can’t for the life of me understand why the Angels decided to draw a line in the sand regarding the 2013 contract of Trout, who had perhaps the greatest season a rookie has ever had. By many accounts, he is now the best player in baseball, but as a player with barely over one year of service time has absolutely no leverage over his contract. Yet. Arbitration is likely still two years away, and free agency is five more years down the road. The upshot is that the only requirement of the Angels is that Trout be paid at least the major-league minimum, which this year is $490,000. They renewed him at $510,000, drawing the ire of Trout’s agent, who called the contract unfair.
The Angels are absolutely within their rights, as bargained by Trout’s union, and Trout — who publicly took the high road— will get paid handsomely in the not-too-distant future if he keeps up his pace. But why in the world would the Angels want to risk alienating their best and most marketable player for what amounts to pocket change? This is a team that just paid Josh Hamilton $125 million (a year after giving Albert Pujols $240 million), took on about $86 million in acquiring Vernon Wells, and has been loose with their money in other deals. And they’re worried about a couple of hundred thousand dollars that would have left Trout with a warm and fuzzy feeling — and which, I would submit, he warranted based on last year’s numbers? Yes, this is the only time the Angels will have leverage, but again, is it really worth it to make a statement with this guy? The Angels apparently don’t want to set a precedent affecting other pre-arbitration players, like Mark Trumbo, by going over their standard scale. But I’d bet other players would understand that an exception is warranted for a player who turned in a historical season.
I don’t think this will affect Trout’s performance this season. If anything, it might motivate him to have another great year. But players tend to remember perceived slights. Could this make Trout a little more hesitant to sign a long-term extension, a little more determined to test free agency? As Orange County Register columnist Jeff Miller wrote in the piece linked above, “The Angels saved a little now at the risk of alienating their best player later on. This cold business decision one day could prove to be very bad for business.”
And in the insular world of the AL West, anything that might be bad for an opponent is good for the Seattle Mariners.