During the winter between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, I wrote a piece about what I thought had made the Rangers organization so successful and, in addition to doing a great job of identifying talent, what it boiled down to was that Jon Daniels and Ron Washington were running a meritocracy. The jumping off point was how Michael Young seemed to believe that he was immune from the rules of an organization that was driven by the singular goal of getting better, no matter what.
C.J. Wilson begged for a slot in the rotation, so they gave him the chance to earn it which he did. Alexi Ogando rocketed from the DSL to the majors in short order because he earned it. Rich Harden sucked and was sent packing. Almost everything was open for discussion. Anyone who demonstrated they could do the job and best serve the organization in a role had the role and any role that could be improved upon was subject to be improved upon. No entitlements. There was no pecking order. You either did the job and got the job or you didn't do the job and lost the job.
No one was immune, not even Young. After he didn't cut it at third base in 2010, he was out and Adrian Beltre was in for 2011. Yet, after he put aside his pre-spring training hissy fit and demand to be traded, Young settled into his new role and produced at the plate like he had never produced before.
Was the message to Young -- that if you aren't going to do the job, we'll find someone who will -- something that drove him to his best offensive season? Was it something that drove the entire roster to understand that they had to show up every day, put everything into it or risk losing their spot?
If you believe in accountability, it's hard to argue that it didn't play a role in what drove Young to a stunningly productive season at the plate in 2011.
We hear a lot about accountability with respect to the local sports scene, especially with the Cowboys for whom there appears to be none. For a time, it was quite easy to compare and contrast Arlington's neighboring professional sports franchises and point to accountability as the secret sauce that made one of those two organizations the envy of their sport and the other the laughing stock of it's league. (Well, accountability as well as a full-time GM vs. a part-time GM).
As the 2012 season began to stall during the summer and then went into a spectacular nosedive in September, I thought frequently about my meritocracy theory and how this organization had clearly abandoned that approach and become an organization with a culture of entitlement.
Throughout the summer, I expressed this primarily by issuing admittedly snarky tweets about Michael Young's expansive role both at the plate and in the field in 2012 in spite of wielding one of the two or three worst WAR's in the game, but this was not the only issue, just the most obvious and the most frustrating.
Obviously, continuing to allow Ian Kinsler to bat in the leadoff spot in spite of a poor approach and even worse results had the scent of entitlement attached to it. Through the heart of the summer when David Murphy was the club's hottest hitter and the most likely to get on base on a regular basis, we continued to see Kinsler and his .312 OBP hitting at the top of the order and Young with his .682 OPS hitting in the middle. The fact that Murphy posted a .380 OBP and a .859 OPS did not expand his role much. He got 457 at-bats. Young got 611 ABs and Kinsler got 655.
Craig Gentry spent weeks at a time on the bench in spite of doing everything you could have possibly asked him to do when called upon. Delivering a breakthrough .304 / .367 / .392 / .759 performance at the plate and once again providing what was, by far, the best outfield defense of any Ranger didn't earn him much. As the club fell apart down the stretch, Gentry appeared -- if at all -- as a pinch runner or late-inning defensive replacement.
For whatever reason, in 2012, a Ranger couldn't do much to earn a bigger role because roles were spoken for and, it seems, could not be lost no matter what.
The old "produce or we'll find someone who will" approach applied to exactly two veteran players this year: Yorvit Torrealba and Roy Oswalt. In 2012, a veteran could struggle mightily not for weeks while he was given a fair chance to straighten things out, but for months and there would be no response from the manager other than to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the reality of what was happening.
With the 2012 Rangers, a player could quit on plays, take himself out of the lineup in the middle of a game, take a week off in the middle of a pennant race, come back and show absolutely zero passion or interest and continue to have his way.
I find it very hard to believe that any of this could have gone on with the 2010 Rangers. Someone would have put a stop to it. Right?
If we are to believe all that has been written about the clubhouse dynamics at RBiA over the past few years, it is Michael Young who was the accountability czar in the room. The 2010 Michael Young, it would follow from what has been written over and over and over again, never would have allowed 2012 Josh Hamilton to happen to his clubhouse.
Clearly, 2012 Michael Young was unable to reign in the eccentric Hamilton and now a whispered narrative is beginning to emerge from the clubhouse: Hamilton was an emotional drain in the room; they had to twist Hamilton's arm to play on far too many occasions; Hamilton didn't fit in with the grinder mentality that the rest of the roster possessed; Hamilton was on an island in the room; players rolled their eyes at Hamilton's maladies, mental or physical, real or imagined, etc.
Was there simply nothing Young could do to control what we are led to believe is a clubhouse that he controls so completely that it would implode if he were to leave it? Or has he lost his clout?
And if he has lost his clout, was it because he was allowed to play every day in spite of being an anchor in the middle of the lineup that the rest of the guys were forced to attempt to drag around for 162 games? Did his credibility vanish when it became clear that no one would hold him accountable? Can you still be the accountability czar in the clubhouse if nobody is holding you accountable?
Which brings us to Ron Washington.
I am not saying that it was Michael Young's responsibility to enforce accountability for the 2012 Rangers. I am simply taking note of what we have been told by those closest to the team: Whether or not it was Young's job to wield massive power and control in the clubhouse, he did so. Either the manager ceded that power to him, he simply took it, or the manager's inability to wield control over the clubhouse forced Young to step up to fill the void. However Young came to power, he did so to such a degree that he made himself indispensible.
But I have to ask: Can a manager who has either ceded or lost control of enforcing accountability in the clubhouse get it back? Can a manager who has ceded or lost control of enforcing accountability in the clubhouse to one player ever assume the role of enforcing accountability when the player who has usurped that power fails to get the job done and is not held accountable by anyone?
The 2010 and 2011 Rangers were shown that if you don't get the job done, someone else would be given the chance to do the job. That really wasn't the case in 2012.
In 2010, Chris Davis came into the season with the first base job, but he didn't produce enouth to keep it (.571 OPS in 45 games) so he was replaced. Justin Smoak also failed to get the job done became expendable by not producing sufficiently (.670 OPS in 70 games) to make himself essential. The Rangers went out to get Jorge Cantu to fill a void at first, but he didn't produce (.605 OPS in 30 games).
And then they gave the manager a rookie, considered by many to be a marginal prospect at best, named Mitch Moreland. The manager gave Moreland a chance to earn the job, and he did (.833 OPS in 47 games). In spite of being a rookie with no experience, Ron Washington penciled him into the lineup more often than not down the stretch and was rewarded with a stunning post-season performance by the kid (.348 / .400 / .500 / .900 in 15 postseason games).
Contrast that with 2012 when the manager was handed two of the top 10 offensive prospects in baseball and refused to see what they could do. Worse, he evidently used the lack of a veteran bench as his excuse for over-exerting his veteran starters. On several occasions, one of the worst shortstops in recent MLB history -- several years removed from playing the position -- got a handful of starts as the best shortstop prospect in baseball sat and watched from the dugout.
What might Jurickson Profar have offered to the 2012 Rangers? Might he have been to the the 2012 Rangers what Moreland was to the 2010 Rangers? Might he have been more than that?
I think back to an interview I did for the DMN with Jon Daniels after the 2008 season and one of the things that stood out to me was what Daniels said in response to a question about what he thought Washington brought to the table. In a transparent poke at Buck Showalter, Daniels explained that if the entire Rangers roster fell ill in Anaheim for some reason and was unable to post up, they could send Washington the Bakersfield roster and he would go to war with them against the Angels expecting to win.
The point of the story was that Washington simply took whatever grocieries he was given and went about the business of making the best meal he could out of them. Clearly, that guy no longer exists. In 2012, he wanted to cook with the old groceries even if they were starting to rot because he didn't know what the new groceries would taste like.
A clubhouse insider recently told me a story about a member of the front office baseball operations braintrust suggesting that Washington bench Kinsler for a week this summer. This was scoffed at by the insider on the grounds that "you don't punish Major League players." He did not say whether Washington shared this belief, but it sounds consistent with what Washington did this summer. But the point that is lost on insider who relayed this story is that benching a player for failing to do his job is notpunishment. It is accountability.
I have thought about all of this constantly this week for somewhat obvious reasons. Sure, Joe Girardi is fortunate that it wasn't Derek Jeter but Alex Rodriguez who went completely into the tank this October. He never could have done that to Jeter. Then again, Jeter held up his end of the bargain. He didn't put his manager in the position where he had to deal with that sort of a mess. Washington had to endure an entire summer with both his Jeter (Young) and his A-Rod (Hamilton) providing next to nothing to the cause and no doubt this was a monster of a problem, but it is equally clear that Washington did a very poor job of addressing the mess.
Thus, it is certainly compelling to see a manager who refuses to sit by doing nothing about it while watching his ballclub go down the tubes with a fading star serving as an anchor dragging the thing down. Having the cojones to sit Rodriguez did not save the Yankees season for Girardi, but I would bet that that there won't be a single player who shows up at Yankees camp in the spring who thinks he is entitled to a damn thing. An old, stale organization just got a big wakeup call from within. As their season went down the tubes, the manager sent the entire organization a message that there are no entitlements and there will be accountability.
Meanwhile in Arlington, the final message from the manager was just the opposite and, absent a significant intervention on the part of the front office, Rangers will report to Surprise in the spring with some believing that there is nothing they can do to lose a job and others wondering if there is anything they can do to earn one. And if that doesn't change, this thing will continue to grow very stale.
I am certainly not advocating that the Rangers make the same mistakes that the Red Sox made in response to their epic meltdown of 2011. Ron Washington won't be replaced and he shouldn't be. He can't march in there in the spring and suddenly suddenly become a ball-busting manipulator, but he must get back to being the guy we heard about in the early years of his tenure here: the guy who told players the truth, whether they liked it or not; the guy who assigned roles based on maximizing his personnel assets rather than worrying about hurting someone's feelings.
The front office will probably try to make Washington's job easier by moving Michael Young. If they succeed, then Washington will have to find a way to assert himself more as a leader and hold players accountable and if not -- which is the far more likely scenario -- he will have to find a way to demonstrate to the rest of the clubhouse that the Rangers will once again be a meritocracy come hell or high water and that those that don't do their jobs will be held accountable. No matter who they are.