Dip in production negated pitching gains
ARLINGTON -- Before the 2009 season started, Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan couldn't have anticipated that the high-and-tight fastball questions hurled at him from the media throng Tuesday would have little to do with pitching.
But that was the unpredictable part of the season for the Rangers. It was a successful season, no doubt, with 87 wins and the fourth-best record in the American League. But it was also a season that ended without a playoff invitation for the 10th consecutive season in large part because the team simply didn't produce enough hits and runs for a rotation that was vastly improved.
Other offseason Rangers needs
The Rangers are meeting the next few weeks to map out the offseason. It probably includes an attempt to get:
At least one right-handed bat
If Marlon Byrd (above) is re-signed, that would be a right-handed bat right there. But manager Ron Washington would like another. His team struggled against left-handed starters and it left Washington trying to juggle the lineup.
Situational left-handed reliever
The Rangers would like to use C.J. Wilson in his role as a late-inning set-up guy. So that leaves a need for a lefty who can come in and get an out or two against left-handed hitters at key moments of the game.
This would probably only happen through a trade, but with all the young pitchers fighting for spots behind Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman, having a top-notch, veteran starter couldn't hurt. The Rangers saw firsthand last season that depth on the mound is important. But getting a big name is a long shot given the Rangers' financial constraints.
It led to several questions at Tuesday's end-of-season news conference about the status of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. The club scored 784 runs, the lowest number for any full season since Jaramillo was hired before the 1995 season. The team batted .260, its lowest average since moving into Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in 1994.
"Do I anticipate changes? No," Ryan said. "But I'm not going to stand here and tell you there aren't going to be because we haven't had our meetings and gotten everyone's opinions. It has to come down the players. The players have to make the adjustments. If they don't make the adjustments, you could have King Kong and it wouldn't matter, and I think they understand that."
This used to be an offense that walked about as proudly as King Kong and devoured opposing pitchers in the process. They scored a league-high 901 runs in 2008, hit .283 and finished third in the league in homers. In 2009, they still hit home runs -- 224, tied for second in the majors behind the Yankees. But they were 20th in the majors in runs scored and RBIs with runners in scoring position. Too often, the offense did not deliver in the clutch. It was a combination of impatience at times, with players swinging at first pitches that produced quick outs. Or it was an inability to even move runners over by putting the ball in play to the right spots.
"They have to be more disciplined," Ryan said. "When they come up in certain situations, they have to make mental adjustments on what they have to do to be successful. We have people that are capable of doing that. They're at the point now where they have to do that."
Daniels' job is to do what he can to bolster the offense through free agency or trades. First, he and his staff must figure out if Marlon Byrd can be re-signed. Daniels said the club wants Byrd back. But that may come down to exactly how much money they can spend this offseason.
"We're going to look at all ways to improve the club," Daniels said. "When you're one of the two or three top teams from a payroll perspective, you can kind of go out and pick off two or three guys and buy those pieces on the free agent market. That's not how we operate. We're going to continue to develop our own players and look to add winning pieces around them."
Daniels and Ryan acknowledged that youth had much to do with the offensive struggles. The Rangers gave plenty of rookies or second-year players a chance to hit in various situations and there was a steep learning curve. Factor in injuries, like those that limited Josh Hamilton to 89 games played, and up-and-down seasons from a handful of veterans, and the offense never found its rhythm.
Washington preached manufacturing runs and there were spurts in which the team did that, mainly by getting aggressive on the basepaths. The Rangers were second in the AL with 149 stolen bases (led by 33 from Elvis Andrus and 31 from Ian Kinsler). But they weren't able to get enough of those runs home.
"We have to understand how to score runs without getting base hits," Washington said. "Put the ball in the play. We struck out in situations where if we put it in play, it would have resulted in another run. Now that they've been through it we expect it to get better."
It has to get better for this team to reach its lofty playoff expectations in 2010.
Richard Durrett covers the Texas Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.