This perhaps constitutes a strange way of kicking off the post-ASB discussion, and I'm not sure this is really anything more than a rephrased-and-cleaned up version of yesterday morning's Clubhouse post on the subject, but ... let's take a shot at it anyway.
There's been a recent spate of Nolan Ryan-centric columns emanating from the local sports media, virtually all of which have emphasized the importance of his continued association with the organization beyond 2010 -- be it in the role of part-owner or team president. What strikes me as interesting, however, is the vagueness with which his actual value to the organization is frequently described; the most oft-invoked buzz word is "credibility," after which it seems as though hyperbole has a tendency to seize control. Case in point: one local columnist recently referred to Ryan as a "straight-shootin', story-tellin', beef-sellin', team-buildin' man." Uhm, okay then?
This isn't an attempt to disparage Ryan's contributions to the Rangers organization over the last two years, but between this influx of columns foretelling doom and gloom if/when Ryan departs the organization, and the recent setbacks his ownership group has incurred in bankruptcy court, I've been thinking about something: Is Ryan truly that integral to the success of the Rangers going forward? In other words, are his future contributions to the organization so important that any scenario in which he leaves is not only bad, but bordering on disastrous?
Frankly, I don't know the answer to this question, and -- make no mistake -- it's a question that deserves more consideration than the casual fan is going to bother devoting to it, because Nolan Ryan, in the eyes of a sizable portion of Rangers fans, can do no wrong. In their eyes, he is faultless. That sentiment, in a nutshell, represents one of the three prongs of Ryan's trident of power: his ability to captivate a certain faction of the fan base with his baseball accolades and supposed "Texas-tough" persona and other miscellaneous virtuous qualities and so forth. It helps sell tickets and it helps enhance the Rangers brand. What it's worth is not clear, but it's worth something.
I suppose we can distill all of that down into the aforementioned "credibility," which leads into his player-side impact. Obviously, Ryan's greatest impact in this area has been his reconstruction of the Rangers' pitching philosophy and the role he played in the implementation of more stringent conditioning programs for pitchers (it's still too early to accurately gauge the impact of these changes), but there's also a line of thought which holds that having Ryan affiliated with the organization makes it easier to attract free-agent pitching talent. This may be the case in a situation where everything else is equal, but from the standpoint of signing pitchers, money -- and, to a lesser degree, contract duration -- are a great deal more influential over a player's decision to sign than anything else. Ryan's presence certainly doesn't hurt in this regard, but I question the degree to which it would facilitate the signing of, say, a top-of-the-market starting pitcher.
As I said yesterday, however, Ryan's greatest value seems to derive from his acting as a shock-absorbing buffer of sorts in the Rangers' organization chart, insulating the front office from the potentially meddlesome actions of ownership and the business side and helping keep these disparate parts synchronized. Two years ago, Mike Hindman -- and presumably others -- predicted that Ryan's single most important function would be him preventing Tom Hicks' latest whims from screwing up the front office's plan for sustainable, long-range success; if that's truly the case, then Ryan has been nothing short of an unmitigated success during his team presidency.
As far as the question I posed about 350 words ago is concerned, I'm still not sure what the right answer is, but then I'm not sure anybody can definitively know what the right answer is. Again rephrasing what I wrote yesterday, I think the single greatest consequence of Ryan leaving the organization -- even above and beyond that of the corresponding P.R. hit, which would, of course, be huge -- would probably be any ensuing disruptive effects on the front office and its ability to continue doing its job to the best of its ability without ownership-imposed interference. From a purely on-the-field standpoint, the current owner-president-GM dynamic is paying nice dividends right now; knock out the first two links, however, and the third may not stick around indefinitely.
[To expand upon this a bit, recall that Jon Daniels wields an out clause in his contract that permits him to walk away if/when ownership changes hands. He has tried to defuse any talk of him leaving the organization, but if he's made aware that new ownership is going to impose sweeping changes throughout baseball operations (and let's face it, new sports franchise owners have a tendency to engage in this sort of behavior), and his protective shield (Ryan) is gone, and there are other teams ready and willing to throw money at him, then wouldn't there be some inclination on Daniels' part to control his own fate and walk away rather than simply waiting to get axed? Think about it.]
It's certainly not a given that Ryan's ouster would precipitate the total break-up of the Rangers' front office; this concern may be totally unfounded, and I may be guilty of helping stir up panic where it's not even merited. Having witnessed this front office finally construct a legitimate World Series-contending ballclub, however, and having seen Daniels quell my lingering concern that he couldn't "finish" building such a team, it's now fairly safe to say that keeping the front office intact and Ryan -- or one of his appointees -- in place as its protectorate is the one big thing that's going to maximize the Rangers' chances of success going forward. Lose Ryan, and the threat level rises.
That, in my mind, is what most needs to be singled out and focused upon in the context of the "Will Ryan stay or go?" discussion. Filter out all of the other hackneyed clichés and metaphors. They're just not worth your time.