Thursday, April 1, 2010
What's Nolan seeing that we're not?
By Jim Reeves ESPNDallas.com
Nolan Ryan is a thoughtful man. He is not prone to overreaction, a trait that was severely tested in July when manager Ron Washington offered to resign as Texas Rangers manager after his well-publicized confession to cocaine use.
The smart move, it seems to me, probably would have been to accept the offer, take the PR hit sooner rather than later, and move on to another manager.
Nolan Ryan is seeing something in Ron Washington that leads him to believe the Rangers can go far in 2010 despite the manager's transgressions.
Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels, however, chose the road less traveled, the one littered with compassion and forgiveness, and they have not wavered from that stance, not even when the storm broke this spring and Washington's transgressions became a national scandal.
So when Ryan says he believes the Rangers can win 92 games and capture the American League West title in 2010, there's reason to give his opinion serious weight. And when he continues to stand by that prediction after watching the Rangers slog to a Cactus League-worst 9-17 record this spring, maybe it's time to do a double take.
What is he seeing that most of us -- including the Vegas oddsmakers who have posted an over/under on Texas wins at 84½ -- haven't?
Sure, the Rangers look like a lot of hopeful teams. If they can stay healthy -- the most important word in their vocabulary this summer -- and if everything breaks right; if Rich Harden is as good as he seems to think he is; if Scott Feldman's 17 wins in 2009 weren't a one-season fluke; if C.J. Wilson is the starter he appeared to be in spring training; if the bullpen is as solid as it was a year ago (despite losing Wilson); if Chris Davis' resurgence is for real; if Julio Borbon can handle center field; if Jarrod Saltalamacchia can finally live up to his promise; if Washington's earlier decision to discover whether things really do go better with coke doesn't become a major distraction .
If if if .
Then we'll all be celebrating in October.
It just seems as if that's an awful lot of ifs that have to break in the right direction.
Which begs the question: Why is Ryan so darned confident?
Part of that confidence very likely is simple posturing for the sake of the players and the fans. After all, he's the club president and he's Nolan Ryan. He has to project positivity and confidence. The players need to know he believes in them, and fans need to buy tickets.
That said, Ryan is too honest to project such an air of confidence for the sake of image alone. There has to be more to it than that.
Here's an idea: Maybe he really does believe in this team. Let's take that thought one step further. Maybe he even really believes in Washington.
There were probably a number of reasons Ryan and Daniels didn't accept Washington's resignation on the spot in July. The Rangers were in and out of first place at the time, and there was a chance, albeit slight, that Washington's horrific mistake would never become public. If they could somehow avoid the public disgrace, doing nothing might be the prudent course. Whether they would have done the same thing had they known for sure it was going to come out anyway is pure speculation at this point.
And then there's this: Maybe Ryan and Daniels honestly believe that Washington is the perfect manager at the perfect time for the Texas Rangers, and that's why they were willing to stick with him when others would have cast him into the bar ditch like so much roadkill.
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Here's what I think Ryan and Daniels believe about this team regarding their manager: Less is more.
The Rangers are still breathing freer with less tension and less stress with Washington leading the team than under the often-suffocating and omnipresent Buck Showalter. Washington may or may not be the smartest manager in the game, but, last year's stupidity aside, he doesn't create soap opera issues in the clubhouse, either. He's not manipulative, and he's not a control freak. He's just a baseball guy who listens to bench coach Jackie Moore and pitching coach Mike Maddux and generally lets his players play.
There's definitely something to be said for the light touch rather than the heavy hand, at least for now.
There were bright spots this spring for the Rangers, and concerns popped up, as well. Many of the latter revolve around that most important word: health.
Ian Kinsler is hurt yet again and probably will open the season on the disabled list. Saltalamacchia missed too much time for various reasons and failed, yet again, to seize an opportunity to clearly make the catching position his. No. 4 starter Tommy Hunter also will open the season on the DL.
Free-agent starter Harden did not have a great spring, for whatever that's worth, and there are still lingering questions about just how good the bullpen is, though closer Frank Francisco looks solid entering his contract year.
On the bright side, left-handers Wilson and Matt Harrison stepped up to grab two of the starting rotation slots, allowing the Rangers to let Hunter regroup at his own pace and talented Derek Holland find himself again at OKC.
Davis picked up where he left off in September, which we can hope is proof that his struggles last season are behind him; Borbon looks as if he can handle center field; Nelson Cruz appears cool and confident; and Washington fell in love with late-arriving utility infielder Andres Blanco and his magic glove.
This is a good team, better than Vegas' over/under line of 84½. Washington is an underrated manager, and the Rangers are an underrated team.
But are they the 92-win team Ryan says he thinks they are? Maybe, but that's too many ifs for me at this point. I'm going with 89 wins and sorry, but that won't be enough to catch the Angels this year.
Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.