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Spinning wheels and wasting time

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One of the hallmarks of a bad organization is an inability to commit to a particular course of action...in particular, the inability to decide whether the team is going to be a legitimate playoff contender, or if it is in development mode.

It is one thing when a Boston or a St. Louis elects to go with veterans rather than players from within the system, because they want the known quantity for a pennant race and don't want to live with the possible sacrifices that the growing pains that go with playing young players would entail.

It is another when teams like Pittsburgh or Tampa choose to reward mediocrity and stick with older has-beens and never-weres rather than give the players who might be contributors down the line an opportunity to show their stuff.

This point really hit home for me last night, as I watched Pedro Astacio pitching (instead of Ricardo Rodriguez), Chad Allen at DH (instead of Adrian Gonzalez), Gary Matthews Jr. in the outfield (instead of Laynce Nix), and Rod Barajas behind the plate (instead of Gerald Laird).

For whatever reason, this organization has developed a fear of building from within that seems to have become pathological. The organization seems to feel that finishing a few games over .500 is so important -- so critical -- that it is worth sacrificing the develop of players who should be major-league-ready because the they don't want the risks associated with living through those players learning curves. This team has become the poster child for worshipping at the altar of the "proven veteran", opting for experienced mediocrity over youth.

How else can you explain the Pedro Astacio fiasco? How else can you explain giving a guaranteed contract to a 35 year old pitcher who hasn't had a good season in 5 years, and locking him into the starting rotation from Opening Day? It was obvious from the get-go that he was guaranteed a place in the rotation, despite some dissenting views that he was just insurance.

And sure enough, Astacio had a poor spring -- was slapped around in one game, and then got hurt -- and yet received his starting job, while other players within the organization -- major league ready pitchers -- were sent down to AAA. Ricardo Rodriguez continues to toil at Oklahoma, while the organization fiddles with an archaic rehabilitation project.

The catcher situation, I've harped on time and time again...and yet, the organization appears surprised that Rod Barajas, who, save for a two month stretch last season, has been an awful hitter, has been an awful hitter this season. The Rangers have one of the worst starting catchers in the league, and are paying him $1.8 million to boot, while last year's Opening Day catcher -- the best catcher in the organization -- is catching Ricardo Rodriguez in AAA.

And what is so frustrating is, anyone should have been able to see that Pedro Astacio was most likely going to flop, that Rod Barajas was going to revert to being the waiver-wire caliber player that he's always been, that Gary Matthews Jr. was going to hit like a 4th outfielder. And yet, this organization seems to have gone into the season thinking otherwise, just assuming that Astacio was going to resurrect his career, that, just hoping that Matthews and Barajas were going to have late-career renaissances that would allow them to perform at levels that nothing in their history suggested they were capable of maintaining.

I just don't understand what the organization thinks it is accomplishing. I don't understand why they think having Barajas behind the plate, Astacio on the mound, and Matthews Jr. playing regularly are wise decisions. Even if those players are better than the options within the system -- something that I doubt -- you are still talking about the difference between a team a game or two above .500 and a game or two below .500.

And this frustration on my part stems from the complete lack of activity this past offseason. The Rangers went into the 2004-05 offseason needing a DH, a RF, and one or two starting pitchers. They signed a right fielder who has been a bust thusfar, did nothing on the DH front other than make a late run at Carlos Delgado and give Greg Colbrunn a minor league deal, and dragged in the slag-armed Pedro Astacio as their purported solution to the starting pitcher problem.

I don't know what is more troubling...the fact that a big-market team has gotten so penurious, payroll-wise, that a one year, $5 million deal for Richard Hidalgo represents an earthshattering free agent signing, or that the team is apparent so desperate for a modicum of short-term success, so incapable of taking a longer view, that it is willing to cast aside players like Ricardo Rodriguez and Gerald Laird so that replacement level veterans can have regular jobs.

Even the youngsters who do get a chance are on an extremely short leash. Sam Narron was the apple of Buck Showalter's eye for about 6 weeks last summer, with his rise culminating in his being added to the 25 man roster for a spot start -- something I warned against at the time as being very premature. He had an awful outing, and that, apparently, was all the team needed to see. He was dropped from the 25 man roster, wasn't called up when rosters expanded in September, and lost on a waiver claim to Milwaukee in October...from hot prospect to organizational flotsam in just three months.

Adrian Gonzalez wowed the coaching staff with his red-hot March, and the papers were abuzz with how he forced his way onto the team and into the starting DH job with his performance. After two weeks of part-time play, having not found a groove offensively, he was dispatched back to Oklahoma, with the official reason that the team couldn't find him enough ABs. Does that even make sense? Did someone not sit down and think about how much playing time Gonzalez was going to get before the season started? Does anyone in this organization look more than three days down the road?

This problem, incidentally, doesn't just manifest itself in the 25 man roster management. Ben Kozlowski was lost to waivers because the organization decided they'd rather protect Travis Hughes and Agustin Montero, two relievers in their late-20s who have never had success above AA. Why Hughes and Montero over Kozlowski, the Rangers' minor league pitcher of the year in 2002? Because Hughes and Montero were more likely to help the team right now. Never mind the fact that Kozlowski has a better chance of being a quality major league pitcher down the road, we're trying to win 84 games in 2005!

Jason Bourgeois is lost to waivers because the Rangers want to add Greg Colbrunn to the 40 man roster. Colbrunn, originally an NRI, is old, broken down, hasn't hit for several years, injury-prone, and would serve as nothing more than a part-time DH...a role that Jason Hart or Chad Allen could serve just as well. But because Colbrunn is a "proven vet" -- and better yet, one of Buck's Boys from his D-Backs days -- he has to be added to the 40 man roster, given a major league contract, and allowed to rehab his injury in AAA, despite the fact that he brings nothing to the table at this point that is worth preserving a 40 man roster spot for. This organization would much rather lose a prospect from the 40 man roster than take the risk that a grizzled vet might sign a minor league deal elsewhere.

So in the meantime, we are treated to spectacles like the one last night, where a gritty vet gets shelled while worthy players toil away in AAA. And for what? To win the pennant, make the playoffs? Don't be silly...even Rangers management doesn't think that's realistic at this point.

No, it is in a desperate attempt to hang around, stay close, hope that folks will remain interested through the summer while the Rangers remain on the fringes of the race. It is because management believes that the fans would rather see an 83 win team with the Astacios and Brocails and Colbrunns and Barajases of the world than a 78 win team with the Ricardo Rodriguezes and Juan Dominguezes and Gerald Lairds getting an opportunity to grow and develop. Management would prefer to limp along, spinning their wheels with the proven mediocrities, and only go with the young players who may actually contribute to the next Ranger playoff team if there is no other option available.

It is frustrating, absolutely frustrating, to watch.