Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Oct 5, 2022
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Baseball

Chris Woodward Didn’t Win. That’s Not Why the Rangers Fired Him.

The fourth-year manager’s dismissal is bigger than what's happened on the field. It’s about what’s next.
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Chris Woodward departs just shy of his 500th game managed. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers’ decision to fire Chris Woodward isn’t as simple as pointing to his four losing seasons in Arlington and calling it a day.

Perhaps it would be in another sport, under a different ownership group, but modern baseball amounts to a handful of teams determined to win running up against plenty more merely open to the concept, and the Rangers positioned themselves as the latter far more often than the former during the bulk of Woodward’s tenure.

Because you can only judge a manager’s bottom-line success so much when, prior to this offseason’s free-agent splurge, Texas ran Opening Day payrolls that ranked 20th (2019), 14th (2020), and 21st (2021) despite playing in the nation’s fifth-largest media market. That’s doubly true when a farm system ranked 20th in baseball upon Woodward’s arrival (per Keith Law, then of ESPN and now of The Athletic) provided no reinforcements during the 2020 COVID-shortened season, either.

Even this year’s roster, which the front office stocked with much higher-grade baseball weaponry, came into the season with its share of pockmarks, from the outfield to the back of the rotation to damn near every bullpen arm. The 2022 Rangers were not robust enough to sustain Mitch Garver, their biggest trade acquisition, barely lasting a third of a season. They were too thin to endure Opening Day starter Jon Gray, previously one of the game’s more durable starting pitchers, requiring three stints on the disabled list. Plunking down a half-billion dollars on a middle infield has a way of warping expectations. But pragmatically speaking, Texas always figured to be middle of the pack in the AL West the way it is now, with a fluky—and historically bad—record in one-run games plunging what might have been a frisky team firmly into mediocrity.

So while no one would accuse Woodward of going above and beyond from a bottom-line standpoint, he delivered around the level for which he was equipped. And on the outside, this is where our analysis often ends. Managing can be fuzzy, ineffable work: relationships and stimuli and vibes. This is especially true when managing a team on the come up. Whatever Woodward has done mattered far less than what the organization believed he was liable to do with serious resources—which, until further notice, we should now expect this ownership group to continue providing. There was always an element of prognostication involved with him, even as he knocked on the door of his 500th game managed.

Which is where these paragraphs from the Morning News’ Evan Grant, who broke the news this afternoon, come in:

More significantly, the quality of play, which wasn’t sharp from the start of the season, has never really improved. The Rangers seemed to function more as individual parts than a team. A key element of a championship culture — an all-for-one attitude — never really seemed to develop. There was no galvanizing force in the clubhouse despite the commitment of $500 million to free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.

Both are meticulous in preparation, central to Woodward’s philosophy. Neither, however, has grabbed hold of the clubhouse in the same way that previous leaders of the last 25 years — Will Clark, Michael Young and Adrían Beltré — did. As .500 slipped away from the Rangers over the last six weeks, there seemed to be an air of resignation around the team.

Either nobody could — or would — do anything about it.

Everything you just read is more of an indictment on Woodward in the here and now than the losing—the consecutive last-place finishes, the 102 defeats last season, the hilarious number of one-run defeats this year, all of it—ever was. It is a referendum on his ability to be the mortar that binds the front office’s bricks together. To lead.

That isn’t to say he lacks the raw tools or even that he couldn’t have cultivated them here given more time in his first managerial job. Woodward just turned 46: he’s a relative teenager in the baseball coach’s life cycle. He can and should continue to grow, learn, and develop.

But it is to say the Rangers lacked conviction in his ability to do those things well enough or fast enough or both in a moment when they are now flush with cash and prospects, along with two very expensive focal points who will play the 2023 season at age 29 (Seager) and 32 (Semien). There is no more speculating for a team with designs on winning as soon as next season. It’s time for results, and if Woodward’s failure to deliver them until now only says so much, the lack of a convincing groundwork for earning them going forward says plenty. It’s why president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, who hired Woodward, dropped phrases like “we are looking at the future” and “continue to develop a winning culture” in a statement after the decision was made. It’s why, in a press conference, he alluded to shortcomings in the team’s preparation and approach.

That’s the complicated calculus behind a seemingly straightforward decision. Now, for the first time in a long time, the endgame is obvious. The Rangers’ next manager must win—and quickly.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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