Communication issues shake up Texas
Two weeks ago, Michael Young said he felt "misled and manipulated" by Texas Rangers management. On Saturday, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels made clear that he didn’t appreciate that his integrity had been "called into question."
After reporting to camp amid the wrong sort of hoopla, Young was asked if he had any intention to meet with Daniels. He said no. Daniels’ response, when asked about their relationship: "I would love to walk in and hug everybody every day, but that’s not critical for us to win."
Glad to see we’re making progress.
So the team’s star and GM — both integral to the Rangers’ first pennant, won four short months ago — are not on speaking terms. This is no way to begin a title defense. But let’s not overstate the impact of this conflict, either.
In baseball, a player-manager feud is bad, and player-player is probably worse. Player-GM? There is a reason you rarely hear of such quarrels: Players pay their agents very good money to resolve — and occasionally initiate — disputes with the people upstairs. Dialogue among GMs and players (or their representatives) is most extensive during the offseason. As you may have noticed, the offseason is over. The players belong to the manager now.
"The general manager is not in here with us — he doesn’t play," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It’s his job to put a team together that he thinks is going to win. But it comes down to us.
"Just because he (Young) is not talking to the general manager doesn’t mean we’re not going to win, or that this thing is going to fall apart. It’s about what goes on between the lines."
Still, M.Y. vs. J.D. is relevant to the extent that it reveals a chasm in understanding between the team’s on-field and off-field personnel. Leave it to Nolan Ryan — the Hall of Fame pitcher and current club president — to put his finger on the essence of the problem.
"When I look back on it, I probably could have done a better job of communicating with Michael, knowing from a player’s standpoint how it feels," Ryan said. "We (players from Ryan’s era) were a victim of circumstances at times. Nowadays, with communications like they are and all the agents involved, we’re dealing with a different situation than we were 10 years ago or 15 years ago.
"I probably should have communicated more, and that probably would have helped."
We live in the Twitterific information age, but somehow the Rangers and Young failed to develop a good understanding of how the other party was feeling. Maybe the team should have added a "Missed Connections" entry to Craigslist: No. 10, we were leaving messages for you all along. Then we realized that we were calling an old number for Chan Ho Park! Please come back.
Young requested a trade several weeks ago after feeling "misled" (again, his word) about the club’s plans for him. It doesn’t look like he’s going to be dealt — at least not anytime soon. Daniels fell short of claiming responsibility for Young’s bruised feelings. But he offered this: "Clearly, if everything had gone perfectly, we wouldn’t be having a press conference on reporting day. … Nobody’s happy that we’re in this spot right now. Nobody looks good."
Daniels and his staff have worked hard on a roster that — at least on paper — may be better than the one we saw in the World Series last autumn. Young, the pro’s pro among his teammates, pledged Saturday that he will be ready for Opening Day. And yet here is why Rangers fans ought to be concerned: An organization that could have saved so many headaches with a few well-timed phone calls now has a complex cast of position players that will require — you guessed it — highly coordinated levels of communication.
All yours, manager Ron Washington.
In baseball, there is a delicate balance between building a team with sufficient depth and overstuffing a roster with redundant parts. On this important matter, we need a video review to determine if Daniels kept both feet in bounds.
Rangers officials say they have 11 "everyday players," which is something of an oxymoron in a sport with nine men per side. As the manager, Washington must allocate days off in a manner that (a) helps the team win and (b) keeps the clubhouse content. That won’t be easy — at least until injuries simplify his job.
At the moment, the Opening Day lineup looks something like this: Yorvit Torrealba catching; Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland around the infield; Josh Hamilton, Julio Borbon and Nelson Cruz in the outfield; and Young at DH. That leaves out catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli and outfielder David Murphy.
Napoli, 29, is the player to watch. He led the Angels with 26 home runs last year and is moving to a more-hitter friendly ballpark. He also reported to camp in terrific shape — around 10 pounds lighter and noticeably toned up. He is two years away from free agency and needs to produce. I expect him to have a big year.
And if he does, intrigue will come standard on every lineup card. Napoli bats right-handed (just like Young), plays a little first base (just like Young), and could be the designated hitter (just like Young). What if Napoli gets off to a hot start while Young struggles, as he did last April? Or if Young, who always has been attached to a single defensive position each year, is simply out of sync in the utility role?
Then we might be reminded of an absolute baseball truth: On the Scale of Grumpiness, a discontented star is trumped only by a discontented star who isn’t playing all the time.
Remember: Young didn’t request a trade until after the Rangers acquired Napoli. If you’re curious whether Young holds a grudge against Napoli for that, the answer is a resounding no. Young greeted Napoli with a hug almost immediately after walking into the clubhouse around noon on Saturday.
Young also professed his loyalty to Washington on Saturday, saying, "I love my manager." Now Washington must work diligently to keep that relationship strong during what could be a turbulent year, by communicating with Young early and often about when and where he will play.
But I’ll be honest: Saturday didn’t offer many encouraging signs in that regard. In the morning, Washington passed up an opportunity to declare that Young would be guaranteed at least 500 plate appearances. Later, Young said he believes that he’s an everyday player — which meant 718 last year. Daniels, meanwhile, declined to offer an estimate.
Three men. Three different interpretations. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?