A rival executive posed an interesting question Saturday morning upon hearing the news that Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish likely will require Tommy John surgery:
Has any team in recent memory crumbled as quickly — and as surprisingly — as Texas?
Maybe the first-to-worst Boston Red Sox from 2013-14, but even as they crashed, they were sitting on wads of cash and one of the game’s deepest farm systems.
The Phillies’ descent was more gradual, and everyone could see it coming. Likewise, no one will be shocked if the Tigers eventually decline because of similar age/injury issues.
But the Rangers?
The team that entered 2014 coming off four straight 90-win seasons, including World Series appearances in ‘10 and ’11?
The team that had a top-three farm system, according to Baseball America, in three of those four years?
Injuries wrecked that team — injuries last season to one key contributor after another, injuries that accounted for a combined 2,116 days on the disabled list, the highest total going back to 2002, according to the Hardball Times.
Ill-advised acquisitions of older, expensive players such as first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo also didn’t help. Nor did the losses of talent from a series of aggressive July trades (Cristian Guzman in 2010, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara in ’11, Ryan Dempster in ’12, Matt Garza in ’13).
And now, Darvish.
So much for the idea that Texas would be a perennial power for the better part of the decade. The Rangers finished last in ’14, behind even the sadsack Astros. And they could finish last again if Darvish is out for the season.
Not to sound alarmist — OK, I’m sounding alarmist — but without Darvish, which team exactly will the Rangers beat out in the AL West?
Yes, Fielder is returning from neck surgery, and shortstop Elvis Andrus is showing renewed dedication, and newly acquired right-hander Yovani Gallardo is coming off six straight seasons of 180 to 200 innings. But the rotation without Darvish would be severely diminished, and the bullpen already was an open question.
Oh, and enough of the ambulance chasing on Twitter and elsewhere every time a player gets injured. Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels is not walking through the Rangers’ clubhouse door.
The Rangers were unwilling to absorb Hamels’ contract before Darvish was hurt. As pointed out by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, why would they add Hamels now, other than desperation? Phillies lefty Cliff Lee might make more sense — at least, the acquisition cost would be lower — but Lee is 36 and coming off, ahem, an elbow injury.
The Texas farm system is still good, ranked No. 11 by Baseball America. But in a division this competitive, it would be foolish for the Rangers to make a go-for-broke move. Better to wait until July, if they are still in the race — if.
The Angels, coming off 98 wins, are unlikely to be derailed by the expected suspension of outfielder Josh Hamilton, who often was missing in action last season, or just plain missing.
The Mariners might be even better than the Angels. The A’s will compete, because they always compete. And the Astros, after an active offseason, figure to at least improve on the 70 wins they achieved last season.
Without Darvish, the Rangers’ rotation likely would be down to Gallardo, left-hander Derek Holland, lefty Ross Detwiler and righty Colby Lewis, plus a fifth starter to be named — maybe internal, maybe external.
Not embarrassing. But not elite.
New manager Jeff Banister spoke bravely on Saturday to reporters at the team’s training complex in Surprise, Ariz., saying, “Through every obstacle, there is opportunity. It can either destroy us or galvanize us and make us stronger. We are going to challenge and prepare this team.”
Fair enough, but it’s impossible to minimize the pending loss of Darvish, who during his three-year, major-league tenure has led all starting pitchers with a 30-percent strikeout rate, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Any talk of a Rangers revival in ’15 began with the expectation of Darvish producing his usual brilliance in his age 28 season. And now that expectation is gone.