You're scrolling quickly through the TV guide and there is nothing on. Of course there is nothing on. It's November, and baseball is over. No basketball. You aren't in the mood for IFC's Woody Allen marathon. The green football channels race past your screen so fast you can't read them. AMC is playing a Breaking Bad marathon and while you still miss Heisenberg, you've kind of moved on in the year since the show left the airwaves. Fine. You settle with MLB tv.
The 2014 season wasn't kind to the Texas Rangers, and Bill Ripken is letting you know it. You are treated to a series of flashbacks of Prince Fielder striking out and popping into shallow center before the broadcast moves to an infographic with numbers like "2020," "Age 36," and "$24,000,000." While these terrifying numbers burn into the LED curtain of your screen, Harold Reynolds' familiar voice chimes in like the guy at the bar giving his two cents before you could finish your story. "Now let's be honest, nobody saw this coming. Down year in Detroit, hitting in that park--Arlington was like a dream come true for the guy!" Another voice responds, "I can't help but think of Pujols and Hamilton here."
Next the screen splits and it's now both Fielder and Cano wearing red hats emblazoned with a white T. Cano's strikeouts are up a little--but his homers can't account for the BABIP regression that brought his average to sub .300 levels, and the rumors of clubhouse strife don't even need to be mentioned: you've seen it and read about it everywhere, every day for the past six months.
The AL West looks quite a bit different than it did in 2011. The power has shifted remarkably, and not only that--graves have been dug that will stay filled until the next decade. The two powerhouses filled with talent and the payrolls to match set their ships on fire and watched from the poop deck as they were swallowed whole by the sea: first the Angels, Pujols and Hamilton and the decimated minor league system. Now, the Rangers, Fielder and Cano and more mismanaged TV dollars to entice big-name stars while racking up numbers in the L column.
You knew the M's were probably always going to have to be a Wild Card team if they were going to make the playoffs in this division, but the Rangers sure are making it a lot easier. And it's a story for the ages, isn't it? Two Goliaths, brought to their knees not by some wide-eyed David but by their own hubris and just enough bad luck. The Oakland team, still finding unopened candy bars while dumpster diving. Nolan Ryan's Astros, going through collective puberty together--still a few years away from actualizing Billy Beane's wet dream of a World Series like everyone knows they will. And then the Mariners: still spending, still building, but somewhere right in the middle of all of this. The future looks bright.
The analysts were right. What a foolish idea, gambling so much of your team's future on a few thirtysomething years of regressing infielders. Shouldn't they have learned anything from the Angels? There was no upside--only risk. And now the Rangers have to live with their mistakes through the better part of the decade, watching AL West crowns go to those...other...guys until they can crawl out from under the collapsed walls that were once holding up the biggest cathedral of baseball royalty west of the Mississippi.
Its October and you're watching Pedro and Keith Olbermann talk about how badly they want to see Yu Darvish face Michael Wacha in a few weeks. Pedro keeps doing the wachawacha thing, and the television immediately cuts to a Rangers season summary, starting with those annoying tinted press-conference clips with the newly-signed free agent wearing a strange hat that now seems all too familiar. This time, it's Fielder.
Whoever else is in this short little montage doesn't quite matter--because we are treated with a smattering of cropped and cut scenes from April-September: those spinning dreadlocks and bat flips, towering fly balls sucked up by the humid air and deposited well past the left-field fence only 332 feet from home plate. See, the Tigers needed to unload Fielder's contract. Sure. They needed Scherzer, they needed salary relief (thanks a lot for ruining our plans, by the way). But the Rangers needed a bit of a reboot as well, and to think that a down year for a player capable of 5 wins casts doom and gloom for his new franchise is pretty absurd. Sure, his defense and baserunning aren't the best. But those new fences, you guys.
You start flipping through the channels and land on a few other sports networks, all filling airtime talking about how much they loved this deal for Texas, how it rejuvenated a franchise in desperate need for a retooling. Nobody mentions the names of Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton. Nobody airs a stock clip of Mike Scioscia looking quizzically confused over a dugout scorebook, because even while that makes for some damn good television, it's not the story in the AL West anymore. No.
The AL West is still a battlefield, and while the Mariners made improvements, it was a tough year between the always annoying A's and the games the M's still manage to blow to the Astros and the Angels. But the Rangers are still the Rangers. The AL West is still the obnoxious, stacked, tumultuous battlefield it always is. It makes for good baseball, but boy, couldn't we maybe ship one of them out to the NL East?
It's always a little frustrating when a division rival makes a huge move like the Rangers made yesterday by acquiring Prince Fielder. Alright maybe not frustrating, but it certainly hits closer to home when it involves a team directly affecting the M's place in the standings. And while one move like this isn't enough to determine who "wins," or who set themselves up for a huge failure, it certainly is tempting to write a narrative over the top of it before it even starts to happen. Think of the Angels. Think of the poor Blue Jays, and how that crazy game-changing deal worked out for them.
The Rangers are still going to be good with Fielder, and they are still going to be good with Profar or Cano at second (though, for the record that Cano idea is a little silly). The Rangers are still going to be beat by the Mariners now and then, especially if the M's take Kyle Seager with them to Arlington.
But even if the Rangers blow up next season, the M's are still in a difficult division, and are a long way from shooing themselves into first. So when you hear analysts and prognosticators deciding what's going to happen next year based on one--albeit huge--trade, just remember they are going to change their story in November anyway. The only thing we know that changes is that we get to see Prince Fielder playing baseball a little bit more now. And that's fine by me.
(h/t The Big Lead)