Buck Stops Here?
With the MLB trading deadline officially past, I can confidently give Jon Daniels a B+ for his deadline activity. Carlos Lee is an All Star who lives in Texas and wants to play for the Rangers, Of course, the hitters always do. Nelson Cruz is a bit of a free swinger but has potential All Star skills. If you saw John Rheinecker's start tonight, or any of his starts the last month, you know Kip Wells has no chance but to be an upgrade. And Matt Stairs is a good addition to the bench who may make the team less reliant on Whiff Wilkerson.
In another year, the grade may have been lower as starter and reliever holes either weren't addressed or weren't filled with a sure thing. In the context of this season, with only perhaps the Yankees doing better at the deadline, it's been a great rookie year for Daniels, minus the Soriano trade.
But Daniels is in danger of seeing his hard work go to waste at least for this season. The team is in an inexplicable skid and having trouble gaining momentum from the Carlos Lee trade. Some would say holes in the rotation have finally once again been exposed. Some would say it is the uncharacteristic lack of power from the offense. Some would say it is the absence of David Dellucci in the clubhouse.
Yet, these answers, while factors, may be missing the main flaw of all: the manager. In case you've missed it, Buck Showalter is under.500 in over 3.5 years with the Rangers. A team that flashed a ton of potential in 2004 has faltered since. In case you don't remember, that was a young team relieved to be free of the veteran primadonnas that roamed the clubhouse and often worked against the young players that would soon take their jobs. A freer clubhouse resulted in a team that enjoyed the game of baseball and almost shocked the AL West.
Fast forward two years. It's year four for Showalter, traditionally his final year with a team after he's worn out his welcome. And while I believe this has been in the making since 2003, it is starting to come to a head. First, it was the screwball treatment of stripping Kevin Mench and Gerald Laird of their jobs when they elected to rehab injuries over playing winter ball in 2003 and 2004 respectively. At the time, those could be dismissed as isolated incidents and a manager trying develop young players.
Now, those sort of actions in the treatment of players have ballooned and festered in the minds of the players and they are starting to speak out. Take a look at some of the grievances coming out of the clubhouse:
"Nobody has said anything to me. I saw the lineup; it didn't have my name in it. I do feel a little confused right now. I've come to the park every day preparing to play hard. Now, things look different." - Hank Blalock when asked about Buck's comments that he would no longer play against left handed pitchers.
"I'm very surprised. If they are taking a different approach to the catching situation, I'd expect to hear something. I haven't heard anything." - Rod Barajas upon learning Gerald Laird was getting his first start in weeks against a right handed pitcher.
"I had conversations with some of my teammates like [Brad] Wilkerson and it was just a joke. We were like, 'What are we doing? What have we done to deserve this?' I hope to come here and play every day. That's what I'm thinking and that's what I'm hoping for. It's nice to get that opportunity again." - Mench after being traded on his platoon situation in Texas.
Now you can say Blalock is hitting poorly against lefties and should hit the pine. But here's a guy heating up in July being benched while Wilkerson, hitting worse against lefties, plays DH. Also, Mench has been streaky this season but was a guy who had shown he's a better hitter when playing every day instead of being platooned. And I have called all season for Laird to be the regular catcher.
Regardless of if these are the right moves, it is clear proper communication does not exist between player and manager when changes are made. It's also a sign the Showalter has worn out his welcome and the players no longer respond to him. He very well may have lost the team.
And now, Jon Daniels, with all the moves he has made, sees his team in the AL West cellar. He has to wonder if there's one more move to made. The players spoke out against John Hart and an upgrade was made. Will Daniels recognize this and make a move to free up the clubhouse once again? Or will he let his hard work go to waste?