In 2010 and 2011, the Rangers' march to the postseason was highlighted by key mid-season acquisitions that bolstered the team both in the regular season and in the playoffs. In 2010, the Rangers added Bengie Molina, giving the Rangers a legitimate starting catcher, and then swung a huge deal to land Cliff Lee, giving the Rangers a legitimate #1 starter. In 2011, the Rangers made moves for Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, and Mike Gonzalez to provide depth to the bullpen.
In 2012, the Rangers attempted to upgrade their roster primarily through a pair of trades, a mid-season free agent signing and one significant callup. Two of those moves sought to improve the rotation, and two of those moves sought to improve the bench. Ultimately, all four of those moves failed. In looking at why the Rangers finished second in the A.L. West and lost in the Wild Card Game, it is worth taking a look at the front office's failure to meaningfully improve the roster mid-season, and how it whiffed on all four moves.
The first pair of moves, the signing of Roy Oswalt and the trade for Ryan Dempster, were an attempt to shore up the team's rotation depth. The depth of the team's rotation was expected to be a strength in 2012, with Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Neftali Feliz in the rotation, Scott Feldman as the long man/6th starter, and Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez in AAA knocking on the door.
That depth turned out to be an illusion, though. Feliz and Lewis both suffered season-ending injuries, Feldman wasn't good, Ramirez had a disastrous season that saw him get demoted to AA, and while Perez ended up starting for the Rangers down the stretch, he was disappointing enough early on that he was passed over for Justin Grimm when the Rangers needed a spot starter.
First, the Rangers turned to Roy Oswalt to help fill the hole, albeit not without some controversy. There were mixed feelings, at best, among the Rangers brass about whether it was worth spending $6 million on Oswalt, and there were whispers that Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, and company were being overruled on this issue by owner Nolan Ryan, who personally handled the negotiations to bring his longtime friend and protege back to Texas. After some tune-up starts in the minors, Oswalt joined the rotation, was very hittable, and ultimately was dumped to the bullpen when the Rangers acquired Ryan Dempster.
The move to get Dempster was ultimate triggered by the news Colby Lewis would be gone for the season. The Rangers, it was thought, didn't necessarily need to have an ace...but with Lewis and Feliz both done for the year, and neither Oswalt nor Feldman pitching well, the Rangers needed a warm body who could give them some quality innings over the final couple of months of the season. While I was not enthused about the acquisition of Oswalt, getting Dempster at a relatively low cost -- prospects Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks -- was, I thought, a coup.
As it turned out, both Oswalt and Dempster ended up flopping for Texas. Oswalt put up a 5.80 ERA in 59 innings. Dempster had a 5.09 ERA in 69 innings. Dempster had a 0.3 bWAR, Oswalt a -0.3 bWAR. And while the Rangers were 8-4 in Dempster's starts, the enduring memory from Dempster's time in Texas is going to be Game 162, when the Rangers handed him an early 5-1 lead against the A's in a winner-take-all game, and Dempster couldn't even get out of the fourth inning.
The impact of the loss of Colby Lewis is something I think is sometimes overlooked when evaluating the 2012 season. Lewis was the reliable veteran, the guy the Rangers knew they could count on, the guy who likely would have been their Game 1 starter in the playoffs, had he been healthy. If Lewis is healthy, the Rangers may still trade for Dempster, but he'd be their #5 starter, rather than Feldman or Perez down the stretch. And if Lewis is healthy and starting Game 162, I cannot believe he would have coughed up a 5-1 lead.
Moving on to the second pair of moves. A clear flaw of the Rangers' 25 man roster for most of the 2012 season was a weak bench, one that Ron Washington didn't trust and was reluctant to use. This was highlighted when Mitch Moreland missed almost six weeks in the middle of the year, resulting in the promotion of Leonys Martin, and putting the Rangers in a situation where their bench consisted of Martin, Brandon Snyder, Yorvit Torrealba, and Alberto Gonzalez -- none of whom Wash seemed eager to use. At the deadline, Daniels acquired Cubs' catcher Geovany Soto for righthanded relief prospect Jacob Brigham, and then, on August 2, called up stud third base prospect Mike Olt from AA, optioning Snyder to make room for Olt on the roster.
Swapping out Soto and Olt for Torrealba and Snyder seemed designed to replace two players that Wash wasn't comfortable using with a pair who were better defenders and who had more offensive upside. The decision to call up Olt, in particular, was encouraging, as it seemed unlikely that the front office would bring him up if he wasn't going to be used regularly.
However, as with the pitching moves, neither move really worked. Soto earned kudos for his work with the pitching staff, but put up a putrid .196/.253/.338 line in the process, with his offensive ineptitude exacerbated by Mike Napoli missing much of August and early September with an injury, meaning that Soto was playing every day. Olt, meanwhile, hit .152/.250/.182 in just a handful of at bats.
Here are the stats for the month of August, sorted by at bats:
Young, remember, missed three games because of paternity leave, which is why he has just 26 games, rather than 29, like most of the other regulars. Mike Napoli was hurt, resulting in Luis Martinez finally getting called up, although it isn't as if Martinez was used much in Napoli's absence. In retrospect, the Rangers, who knew that Napoli was hurting when they acquired Soto, probably should have waited to dump Torrealba until Napoli's situation was resolved, until they knew he was healthy enough to play or until he had to go on the d.l. Because while Torrealba wasn't one of Washington's favorites, he was certainly better, and more trusted, than Luis Martinez.
But then you also look at how neither Olt nor Craig Gentry -- who had gotten regular playing time earlier in the year -- were used in August, and you have to scratch your head and ask what was going on. August 5 seemed to be something of a tipping point for Ron Washington. That was the game in Kansas City where Mike Olt struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the 10th, and then Gonzalez and Olt each made errors in the bottom of the 10th that resulted in the winning run scoring for the Royals. Gonzalez was dumped soon thereafter, the Rangers went with a three man bench -- Olt, Gentry and Martinez -- and even those three men on the bench weren't used very much.
Its been argued that you couldn't expect Olt to get much playing time as a bench player, but there's a couple of problems with that. First, as I said before, the front office wouldn't have called up Olt if they thought he wasn't going to play. Indeed, indications from the media have been that there were those in the front office unhappy with how little Olt -- and then, in September, Jurickson Profar -- were being used. Olt's 25 August at bats are the equivalent of 140 at bats over a full season, Gentry's 28 at bats the equivalent of 156 at bats over a full season. If you are using a three man bench, and that's all the playing time your two non-catcher bench guys are getting, there's something wrong.
In any case, Olt and Soto didn't hit, Olt and Soto's presence didn't result in Washington using his bench enough, and the combination of poor production from those two, and a failure by Washington to use his bench more, contributed to the Rangers' collapse. And while you can complain that Washington should have used Olt and, come September, Profar more, it isn't as if Washington's feelings about using unproven players is a secret. One can reasonably argue that the front office should have done more to get Wash the type of proven bench help he would have used (and of course, the one veteran bench piece the Rangers got, Soto, was pressed into starting duty by the injury to Napoli). In any case, do you blame Wash for not using the pieces he was given properly, or the front office for giving Wash pieces they should have known he wasn't going to use properly?
While these four moves all flopped, its also worth noting that there's a fifth move -- a non-move, if you will -- that should be mentioned.
All summer long, I was expecting the Rangers to make a move for a proven lefthanded reliever, a guy Ron Washington would trust late in games. Robbie Ross was the only lefty reliever the Rangers had that Wash trusted, and Ross was ridden hard through the first half of the season, to the point he was nearly useless over the last couple of months.
Surely, I thought, the Rangers weren't going to go into the postseason with Michael Kirkman and Martin Perez as their only other lefthanded relief options.
But the Rangers never made that move. They never went and got a lefty reliever.
And in the two do-or-die games, when the Rangers needed a lefty reliever, Ron Washington went to Derek Holland. Derek Holland, who allowed a game-tying double to Coco Crisp in the fourth inning of Game 162. Derek Holland, who allowed a run-scoring single in the 7th inning of the Wild Card Game. Derek Holland, who gave up the 8th inning home run to Allen Craig in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the home run that ended up setting the stage for the Cards' big 9th inning comeback.
I think I'm now at the point where I am going to instinctively cringe at the thought of Holland coming in in relief in a big game. Stop being cute and just leave him in the rotation, already.
The Rangers' front office has received a great deal for praise for having built a great team. They deserve a great deal for praise for having done so. This is one of the best front offices in baseball.
But even the best front offices aren't perfect. Even the best front offices make mistakes, have failures. And the moves the Rangers' front office made during the 2012 season, in an effort to make this a championship team, failed.
If we are going to praise the front office for their successes, we also can't ignore their failures. The moves of the summer of 2012 qualify as failures.