Go to any web site selling Texas Rangers gear and there they are: T-shirts and jerseys with the names Napoli, Hamilton and Young on the back.
Soon, they could all be in the bargain bin.
The Rangers are undergoing much more than a wardrobe change this winter. General manager Jon Daniels and team president Nolan Ryan are in the midst of reshaping the team.
Mike Napoli is already gone after taking an offer from the Red Sox via free agency. Josh Hamilton could be gone by the same route. The Mariners have shown interest and the Yankees reportedly are starting to sniff around.
Young is owed $16 million next season and isn’t walking away. However, he could be shipped to Philadelphia, according to reports, if he agrees to drop his no-trade rights.
In short, many of the biggest names in a core group that went to back-to-back World Series could be gone by spring training.
It will take some adjustment by the fans. It will involve more than buying new shirts and jerseys with different names on the back
What Daniels and Ryan are doing, if the reports from the recent Winter Meeting are to be believed, is forcing the evolution of a roster that started to go stale in 2012.
The Rangers made the playoffs last season – as a wild card. They led the AL West almost wire-to-wire before fading at the end. They were one-and-done in the postseason, losing the Wild Card playoff to the Orioles.
It wasn’t a collapse that left fans begging management to blow up the roster, and that’s not what Daniels and Ryan are doing. What the Rangers are attempting to do is more surgical in nature.
It’s no different than what the San Francisco Giants did after winning the 2010 World Series (over the Rangers, if anyone needs reminding). The core of that team was its starting pitching, which basically remained intact.
But of the group that won the Series again last October, only three position players were also on the 2010 team. Catcher Buster Posey is the only real mainstay of both World Series, with third baseman Pablo Sandoval and first baseman Aubrey Huff also collecting two rings.
The Yankees dynasty that began in the mid-1990s had a constantly changing lineup. Key components such as shortstop Derek Jeter, closer Mariano Rivera are still in place while center fielder Bernie Williams was part of the formula until his retirement in 2006.
The tricky part for the Rangers is determining who is an irreplaceable part of their winning formula and who can be discarded. It starts with Young.
Young is referred to as Face, as in “the face of the franchise” but it’s not said sarcastically. Young has been with the franchise since 2000. He’s seen a lot of bad seasons, when he was sometimes the only star of the team, and was a major part of the franchise’s unprecedented success the last three seasons.
But Young is 36 and coming off of a down year. His hefty contract, a reward for loyalty during the dark days, is now an albatross of sorts. In 2013, it will likely be even harder for him to find at-bats as a super-utility man with the emergence of youngsters Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt.
Young still commands the clubhouse and is the go-to go for the media. Yet as shortstop Elvis Andrus has matured, it’s become evident he is the player who sets the tone on the field. More and more, the club reflects Andrus’ personality.
While Young is Mr. Ranger, Napoli had become a cult favorite among the fans with gritty play and a knack for performing in the clutch.
Hamilton is a fan favorite if only because when he is on his game, he is arguably the best player in baseball. Hamilton’s troubled backstory and prominent faith have also endeared him, although he was booed during last season’s skid to the finish.
They aren’t the only ones who could be gone by Opening Day. Relievers Mike Adams and Koji Uehara are free agents. Right fielder Nelson Cruz could be gone if Justin Upton is acquired via trade.
To get Upton, the Rangers might have to give up Olt. It’s unlikely they would trade Profar, but his presence puts even Andrus in the pool of possible trade material.
The Rangers could look significantly different in April. If it’s a look that includes Zack Greinke, the top pitcher on the market, and Upton, one of the top young hitters in the game, the loss of some fan favorites will be easier to take.
Regardless, the Rangers and their fans should not be afraid to make changes if those changes ultimately benefit the team.
Even if it means all those Napoli, Young and Hamilton jerseys have to go to the back of the closet.