For this week’s view from behind enemy lines, I am lucky enough to be joined by Levi Weaver, who is frankly too cool for Texas (even though he recently cut his glorious flow, because apparently we can’t have nice things now). Levi is the Texas Rangers storyteller for WFAA.com, which is a very fancy website that even has an app. You can find him on Twitter, @threetwoeephus or @baseballtx; either one is the best way to keep tabs on the Rangers (his eulogy to the 2016 Rangers, “It Breaks Your Heart Just the Right Amount,” is a must-read). Many many thanks and praise to Levi for answering my silliest of questions here.
Let's start out with a softball: What is your favorite thing about Adrian Beltre, and why is it everything? Okay, no, seriously. Beltre's time in Seattle was...checkered, as much as we love to pretend he was ours first and try to claim him as an honorary Mariner. Why has he gone from “eh, ok” in Seattle to “wow, HOF” in Texas?
There really isn't anything to dislike about him, is there? He is the unquestionable leader of the clubhouse, but occasionally does things like run all the way up the left field line to avoid a tag. He not only plays when he's hurt, but remarkably somehow plays better when he's a little dinged up. There's the head-touching thing. He doesn't self-aggrandize, constantly deflects praise to his teammates, and pretends not to remember things he doesn't want to talk about, but does it all with a knowing glint of mischief in his eyes. Which reminds me: he has a terrible poker face. Check out this bit of locker room video after the Bautista/Odor fight last season. In short, he is as close to perfect as you could ever hope for from a player you root for. As to why he didn't do so well in Seattle, the prevailing wisdom is that Safeco is a pitcher's park and Globe Life Park is, well, not. I'm not sure that's it, but in the absence of any better conspiracy theories, I guess I'll stick with that. It's even though, if you think about it: did you see Tom Wilhelmsen's ERA in Texas last year? I think we're square.
Last year, the Rangers won--don't check my numbers on this--every single one-run game they played. My question is, do you miss your firstborn and do you think he's enjoying a good life with the mysterious changeling who spirited him into the forest?
Yeah, he was returned unharmed on my front porch on October 6th.
Okay, but seriously. Why did the Rangers win so many one-run games? Luck? Witchcraft? Good old-fashioned-Texas-stick-to-itiveness?
Some of it was luck. Jeff Banister alluded a little bit last season about a "proprietary" plan for winning come-from-behind games. I think he said "proprietary" so he had an excuse not to tell us that it consisted of "go, uh... go out there and get hits, and then some other hits. Walks are ok too", but it seems a bit implausible that the plan alone was the cause. If it were, it seems like he would just tweak it, implement it in the first inning, and call it the proprietary plan for winning every game 10-0. So yeah, I think there was a little luck, but a lot of fans think using the word "luck" means you're saying the team wasn't good. No! They were a really good team, and I really think they had the talent to go win the World Series, had they not turned into pumpkins (which were promptly pecked to death by a swarm of Satan-Birds). Speaking of luck, they also lost a lot of games early in the season thanks to a bullpen that way under-performed. Take away the bad bullpen luck and the good one-run luck, and I really think the Rangers were about as good as their record.
Now, as for beating the Astros roughly seventy times in one season, I have a theory. But it's proprietary.
What are you most excited about for this upcoming season?
Healthy Yu Darvish, Angry Cole Hamels, Maturing Martin Perez, Comeback Tyson Ross, Change-of-Scenery Andrew Cashner, and Healthy A.J. Griffin. I really think this will be the best rotation the Rangers have had in awhile. That's the one that's easy to believe in. The bigger dream: did Josh Hamilton's knee surgery do the trick, allowing him to transition to first base and make a Lifetime Movie out of the 2017 season?
Probably not, but it would make my job a lot easier.
What makes you the most nervous about the upcoming season?
Ahh, right, you meant about the Rangers. I have a few:
1. FIRST BASE: Will the combination of Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar, Travis Snyder, Will Middlebrooks, James Loney, Josh Hamilton, and a scarecrow fashioned with pine tar from broken bats and old belts be able to replace Mitch Moreland at first base? Mitch was a super streaky hitter and struggled a lot last year, so I think offsetting the offense won't be too hard. But he also won a Gold Glove, and deservedly so.
2. BOOM OR BUST: Speaking of Joey Gallo, I think this is a supremely important year for him, and I hope he finds a way to thrive at the big league level. I believe he has the talent, he just needs to close the hole in his swing and rediscover his confidence.
3. MORE LIKE OLD HAMELS: Ha Ha if you joke about it, it can't come true. That's a thing I just made up that I hope is real. But yeah, late-season Hamels worried me a bit last year, and I hope it was just a blip.
4. COLBY LEWIS: Will Baseball Dad come back on a minor-league deal? Will we see him at the mall with some other team, leading to years of therapy, asking "Was it all my fault? Did they break up because of me?" Will he disappear into the woods, only to reemerge in seven years having built a fully functioning war machine? Will he grow a b-- ok, yeah, he's going to grow a beard.
Why can't the Rangers figure out how to use Jurickson Profar? He seems like such a nice young man.
He doesn't want to play first base (and really, he's not a first baseman, so I guess it makes sense). Elvis Andrus' contract was, for awhile, considered too rich (with too little output) for the Rangers to sign him. After last year, it has flipped some, and you don't want to trade a borderline all-star. Rougned Odor is firmly ensconced at second base, and Adrian Beltre gets to play third base until he says otherwise. Profar is too slight to catch, and the outfield is Mazara, Gomez, and Choo. DH would be a waste, so for now he's a super-utility player until someone is injured or he is traded. Of course, the downside is that it's hard to get much trade value for a utility infielder.
It's an unfortunate set of circumstances for the kid, and you're right, he's the kind of player and person you want to root for. But right now, first base is really the only job opening.
If you had to give the Rangers an offseason grade, what would you assign them? What final moves would you like to see them make?
It helps if you understand that the Rangers' offseason started last year when they traded for Jonathan Lucroy. That addressed a major catching question that had lingered in Texas for years. Cashner is probably a solid #5, and Ross could be great. I guess a lot of the grade will depend on how those guys (and Gomez) perform. It sucks that Jake Diekman went down, because the bullpen appeared to be a real strength, and now they kinda need another lefty. If they could find a way to trade for Sean Doolittle, I'd be over the moon. That won't happen, but maybe you see a Travis Wood or someone similar. Dario Alvarez and Andrew Faulkner both also have a chance to make the team now. As we discussed earlier in the Profar talk, there really aren't a whole lot of holes on the team, offense or defense. You can always improve, but this team could be...really good?
Side note: a lot of people are begging the Rangers to sign Mike Napoli to shore up first base. I'd be fine with that, but I also think Ryan Rua is better than a lot of people think.
I was CRUSHED when the Rangers signed Tyson Ross. Why do you think he chose Texas over his other suitors; are you excited about the signing, and why?
According to Ross, the Rangers' medical staff—specifically their experience with helping pitchers come back from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome—was a major factor. If he's right, and they help him come back and be a close facsimile of who he was before the injury, you could see your dreams come true next year in Seattle (with 4-5 additional years tacked on).
But for now, I'm really happy about it, though I'm tempering my excitement until we get an official return-to-action date. If he comes back on May 1st and performs like we hope, that's a steal. If he doesn't make it back until mid-August and struggles, $6m probably could have gotten you Mike Napoli. I'm hoping it's the former.
Do the Rangers repeat their success from last year without anyone else having to give up a firstborn, or will they be chasing the Astros for the majority of the season like the rest of the division? How many games is this team built to win?
The Astros have really gone all-in this off-season (and if they get Quintana from the White Sox, that will be just the worst) so they should be much better, but they also should have been much better in 2016, and—while we're at it—2015, too. Either the law of averages says that 2017 makes up for the bizarre head-to-head record, OR—and I don't hear enough people talking about this—the curse of Nolan Ryan is real, and the Astros will just keep losing until they throw him overboard and he is swallowed by a whale.
Seattle has also made quite a few moves, and should make things interesting. The A's have an exciting fun team with a lot of potential (he said, every year for nearly two decades), and the Angels have Mike Trout, who may end up the first-ever 35WAR player on a 35-win team.
I still predict the Rangers win the division, but I expect it to be closer than last year, coming down to the final day or two of the season.
Many thanks to Levi for doing this, and many not-thanks to the Astros for being the Astros. At least if Texas beats us we get to see happy Beltré.