You’ve already read this week how I felt about the 2021 Rangers in my eulogy on Tuesday. Yesterday, you got a taste of what Jamey Newberg and I are initially keeping an eye on heading into the offseason.
Today, we get the perspective of someone a bit closer to the action: Jared Sandler, the Rangers’ pre- and postgame host on 105.3 The Fan. He shares his perspective on what Chris Woodward does that transcends the wins and losses as well as the brighter moments in a long season. You’re definitely going to want to read his insight on Carlos Correa and why the Astros shortstop might be the perfect offseason acquisition for reasons that transcend his play in the field. Plus, I force him to make an entirely too early prediction on the Opening Day starter.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. We’ll check back in with him in spring training.
So this was a long year. I think that gets talked about plenty from the fans’ perspective but probably a little less in regards to the team. How did everybody in that clubhouse handle this year, and how is morale over a lost season?
I think having a lot of young guys certainly adds a different dynamic than a veteran team with super high expectations. The idea going into the year was that this was going to be a year for growth, and you’ve got a lot of young guys who have the energy of being so new — not ‘happy to be here, I don’t care about the results,’ but it’s still super exciting. For some, it was their major-league debut season. Others had less than 50 games of experience entering this year. And so, for a lot of those guys, yes, they’re trying to win, but they’re not dejected in the same way when things aren’t going well because I think they realize that every day they’re playing to prove something, whether it’s that they belong in the major leagues or, for a specific player, it’s ‘everyone knows I’m a major league, but do they know that I’m an everyday player?’ I think that brings a different energy and understanding.
With that said, no one enjoys losing more than winning, and it doesn’t change the fact that these are competitors at an incredibly high level. It’s a disappointment every night when you’re not able to win just as it’s a surge of excitement when you are able to win. So when you are losing more than when you are winning, there’s a level of disappointment that comes with it for any competitor. But I do think these guys understood and embraced what this year’s about and recognized how it sets things up for the future.
Everybody knows the lowlights, so let’s go the other direction. What was the moment or the moments that brought you the most joy throughout the year being around this team day in, day out?
I think the Adolis Garcia experience was super enjoyable. While Joey [Gallo] was still with the Rangers, when he went on a tear, he ended up going from really solidifying [himself as] what people believe is one of the best outfielders in baseball even if he doesn’t go about it in the traditional way and [even though] he’s had his challenges in New York. And Kyle Gibson, this is a guy who’s universally loved around the game. I know that stuff gets said a lot, but I don’t know any one player or staffer who knows this guy who doesn’t love him. The various things we were able to notice when he went back to Minnesota, the way players on the Twins and staffers interacted with him sort of supports that. For him to have the career he’s had and make an All-Star team — I think one moment that stands out is when those three found out they were all All-Stars. For each of them, it meant something special as opposed to a guy making his seventh All-Star game and it was a foregone conclusion before the year he’d be an All-Star. For Kyle Gibson, bouncing back from arguably the worst season of his career in such a big way. Adolis Garcia, not even being on an Opening Day roster, getting designated for assignment in February, and then Joey, Joey’s got this chip in his shoulder that 2019 wasn’t a fluke and he is a bonafide star. I think it meant a lot to each of those guys and for them to receive that. That was a lot of fun.
The joy, for me, I love watching the young guys compete and grow. Even though with growth, there are growing pains, just the opportunity to get to see the fruits of this farm system: A.J. Alexy and Andy Ibanez and obviously [Glen] Otto didn’t come up through the Rangers’ system, but seeing the future, getting a glimpse into the future is always a lot of fun, especially when you understand that that’s a big part of the year going into it.
Chris Woodward has a tough job. He gets handed a roster that’s not supposed to be competitive but the expectation from the fans is to try to win games. When someone sees 102 losses, that’s not going to reflect well on the manager no matter the circumstances. What are the things he does best that don’t translate to the final standings?
I think, first of all, winning cures a lot. We always hear that, and when a team is not winning, you’re more likely to learn about this confrontation or that guy is disgruntled. When a team is winning, they get swept under the rug, or they don’t exist. Well, this team lost a lot, and you go and ask the players about Chris Woodward, and they swear by him. It’s a big reason why Joey Gallo wanted to stay. It’s I think a big reason why this year has, even separate of the standings, has unfolded like it has with guys like Andy Ibanez starting slowly and really figuring things out. I think [Woodward] injects a level of trust and confidence in the players. I think they love playing for him.
I think one thing he’s great at is communicating, and that’s on a lot of levels. One, that’s communicating his intentions for a player, the role, what the expectations are. I think that applies to ‘Hey, we’ve got all this data, and this data can be useful, but I’ve got to be able to communicate it in a way that you can absorb,’ and it’s not the same for every player. I think that presenting an understanding of how a guy can get better and really encouraging that curiosity, that belief that ‘Hey, there’s always something out there better. I can always get better.’ Even an All-Star like Adolis Garcia, how can you still get better? There’s no complacency.
You’re right, he’s got a very tough job. It’s not easy to be the manager of a rebuilding team. But, man, I’ll be darned, that ship this year, it stayed afloat. I don’t think anyone realizes how difficult it is when you lose more than you win, and I just think that is a testament to the command he has over that clubhouse and the way those players respond to him.
This is a big offseason, and the front office is saying all the right things about spending big. Let’s take them at their word and assume they’re going to write at least one big check. Now let’s pretend you get to decide who it goes to. What name is at the top of your shopping list and why?
Well, I need a guy who is not only going to give me that high-level production that warrants a big contract, but I need someone who is also going to help shape the culture of the clubhouse and the organization moving forward. This is a very young team and not that the young guys aren’t capable from a leadership standpoint, but it’s a team that would benefit greatly from someone who has significant skins on the wall and who maybe has been there and can help cultivate that culture. You can’t quantify it, but I’m a huge believer in the importance of that.
It’s a unique group of shortstops. While I think Isiah Kiner-Falefa has done a lot of good things, he’s got the flexibility to play multiple positions. If you look at the best teams in major league baseball, almost all of them have a shortstop who is, if not their best hitter, a middle-of-the-order bat. It used to be first basemen and corner outfielders. I’m sure it’s all cyclical, but there are a lot of really good shortstops available and there are three guys who age-wise would make sense. That’s Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Corey Seager. Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are really good defensive players whereas Corey Seager is a really good hitter but maybe shortstop’s not his best position.
I don’t know these guys well enough to truly understand the culture side of it. However, in talking to folks, it seems that Carlos Correa’s the type of guy who would be a perfect fit for helping to shape the culture. I was not under that impression at all, and I asked someone who is familiar with the inner workings of the Astros and said that the Rangers would really benefit from someone who can help shape a culture. His response, without blinking, was ‘I can’t think of any player better at that in baseball than Carlos Correa.’ He went on to explain the commitment and drive to win and the way he went about his work on a daily basis and the respect he garners from his teammates. For those same reasons, maybe you don’t like him as an opponent. But it doesn’t matter what the opponents think. So he would be a really intriguing name.
Now, what can the Rangers bring to the table? Obviously, money’s a big part of that. I do think that it helps that Carlos Correa has won a World Series and maybe doesn’t feel the need to go to a team that is a World Series contender right away whereas Trevor Story’s never had that experience and he’s only been on one team that’s made it past the wild-card game and certainly has been on teams that have lost a lot. Maybe he feels the need to go to a team that he knows right away will be a World Series contender. I don’t know, but from what I’ve been told, Carlos Correa’s the type of guy who would look at the Rangers’ situation and embrace it, embrace the fact that he can play a huge role in turning something around.
Thinking more broadly about the offseason, what are the big questions you have in mind that you would like to see this team answer by the time spring training rolls around?
I think a lot of the questions right now, other than going and signing a shortstop, are simply about the continued development of the young guys. I don’t know that those are questions that will get answered this offseason.
I think that adding some veteran pitching for the rotation, whether that’s bringing back a guy like Jordan Lyles or signing someone who can stabilize the rotation while also helping bring these young guys along is super important. It’s great to have a rotation with a lot of youth, but to have a rotation with only youth, those guys aren’t going to go 110 pitches when they’ve already given up six runs to help protect the bullpen when you’re playing Game 7 out of 20 games in 20 days. You need that. I think the value of guys like Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt on the 2021 team is not identified on the back of the baseball card, and so you need those guys as well.
And I just think, Mike, what the Rangers have indirectly been able to achieve and directly preached is job competition. They’ve been able to indirectly achieve that just by the depth in the farm system. You look at the infielders in the farm system, yeah, you’ve always had however many teams’ worth of infielders but now the Rangers have more than a handful of guys who are thought of very highly. As a competitor, you want to be the best guy, and when you get to the big league level, you want to play every day. I think the signings that will be important are signings that will reinforce job competition, and one area I think Chris Woodward mentioned is Leody Taveras. Leody Taveras came into camp as maybe not the guaranteed center fielder, but it certainly seemed —
— the presumptive one.
Yeah. And so, singing someone and saying, ‘Leody, beat this guy out,’ and pushing these guys — I think those moves, while they’re not going to steal headlines and they’re not going to have this immediate impact that just excites people, I think that indirectly, it will help promote the growth of a lot of these guys.
And the last thing would be the trade deadline, for a team that is still rebuilding, is a tremendous opportunity to get better. The Rangers certainly don’t have a Joey Gallo to trade next year, but maybe they make some shrewd moves and get guys who perform well, they have bounceback years or whatever, they accrue some value, and perhaps the Rangers can turn that into a benefit moving forward. The Rangers, frankly, have a pretty good track record on the mound of signing guys and having them see a big jump in their career like Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, and most recently Kyle Gibson.
Let’s get out of here on a very, very early prediction. Is the Opening Day starter currently on the roster, and if so, who is it?
My guess is Taylor Hearn. If the Rangers were to give that nod to someone not on the roster, it would likely be someone with a ton of skins on the wall. I’m not sure if they’re going to acquire that type of guy this offseason. Opening Day is a big honor, and I think the Rangers would love to reward not only Taylor Hearn’s performance but the way he’s demonstrated what is important to the organization from a core value standpoint and the hard work and the commitment to improving.