It’s been a while since we checked in with Jared Sandler, the Rangers’ pre- and postgame host on 105.3 The Fan, as well as our Vibe Check correspondent. Let’s just say there was no shortage of topics to discuss. Among them: the seaosn’s defining moment, the disconnect between a team that’s improving and the standings that don’t reflect it, and what he makes of this week’s Nathaniel Lowe debate.
We have not spoken since before the year got underway, and a lot has happened. Rather than making you rehash it all from your front-row seat to everything, let me ask you this: what has felt like the defining moment of the season?
I think the statement that the organization made when they announced Chris Woodward was going to be relieved of his duties was a reaffirmation that this is not in rebuild mode where losing is acceptable and the end results don’t matter. Even though this is a team that is still climbing up the mountain, and development and growth are an essential part of this, there is a focus again on competing in the standings. Obviously, the front office and ownership felt like, in order to maximize their ability to do that, they needed to make a change in that critical position. I just think, whether it was that decision in and of itself or just the conversation that it led to, I think it reminded and reenergized guys in that clubhouse that there is an expectation to win and there is a commitment to do what is needed to be done in order to win.
This is a team whose record is not commensurate with its talent. They probably should be competing for a playoff spot, even if it’s on the outskirts of that competition. I think there’s a new energy that was re-instilled. I don’t want to make it about Chris Woodward being the problem because I don’t know if that’s fair to suggest at all. But I just think, when you make a big change like that, it gives you an opportunity to refocus everyone, and I think that’s what that decision ultimately did.
There’s been a lot of frustration within the fanbase—and, for that matter, ownership—about a lack of progress in the standings. But peek under the hood, and Texas has a positive run differential. Martin Perez has pitched better than any Rangers starter in years. A number of young guys are taking a jump in performance. It’s a much better situation than last year. What do you think is the disconnect between that reality and the overall feeling on the outside?
I think just communicating with fans through on-air conversations, social media, and then casually, around town, I think when you haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt unless it comes from a fan who is truly locked in on the day-to-day and has a tremendous understanding of team building. That’s just an unrealistic goal for the average fan because there’s so much that goes into that.
But just from a standings perspective, as we’re having this conversation, I think the Rangers and the Giants are the only two teams in baseball with a positive run differential that you can’t really say are competing for a playoff spot. The Giants, at least, are the second team out of a playoff spot in the National League whereas the Rangers are double-digit games back and have four or five teams in front of them. So I guess you could really stretch it and say the Rangers are the only team with a positive run differential that really is not in a playoff race right now.
Which can say a lot of different things, but one of those things, to me, is their performance really has been better than the end result. There’s always a degree of luck that goes into any athletic season. You do create your own luck, so this is not an excuse, but I do think it’s one of things where, if you look beyond the record and see what’s going on, to me, what’s going on is a team that lost 100 games last year with a lot of questions about what they had in place for the future is in outstanding position offensively amongst their position players. Their pitching has a ways to go, and they know that, but because their lineup is what it is, it will allow them to focus their attention and their assets on improving the rotation.
Which steps have been the most encouraging to you this season?
To me, the brightest thing is what’s in their lineup. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager are locked up for several years. You’ve got Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis Garcia who are under your control for the next four years beyond this season. Ezequiel Duran, Bubba Thompson, Leody Taveras, and Josh Jung are all under control for several years. Jonah Heim is under control for a few more years. The only guy who is on the roster right now who you think can be a big part of the lineup next year who is not under control for a significant amount of time is Mitch Garver, who is under control for just one more year. Everyone else is under control for the next several years. They’re not all going to be a part of it, and they’re not all going to see that period of control through with the Rangers. But the Rangers are the team in control as to who they want and who, for lack of a better way of saying, don’t want to be a part of this thing moving forward. And by “don’t want,” I mean who they feel they can move in a trade to help the major league club in other areas.
There’s always a fear when you sign someone to a big deal, and I’m going to throw a curveball to the people who say they still have that fear with Corey Seager and Marcus Semien: I don’t think you should. Marcus Semien took on a lot. First of all, moves a family, his wife, and three young kids, to the state of Texas. I don’t know how to quantify how that adds to your plate, but it does. He was on the executive committee for the players association, so a lot of the lockout stuff that we talked about and we discussed, the meetings and whatnot: that was on his shoulders. He was part of a small group that had that responsibility. He was then asked to come here, and he’s almost looked at as the leader in the clubhouse that he’s never been a part of and, because of the lockout, never had any sort of runway to acclimate with his teammates or staff and the way of doing things. There’s no doubt in my mind that that, along with the pressure of signing a big deal, contributed to the slower start. But if you look at his numbers since May 28, the day he hit his first home run, he is the guy who the Rangers more or less thought they were signing.
With Corey, a lot of the under-the-surface numbers suggest he’s been among the most unlucky hitters in baseball. You get rid of the shift next year, this is a guy who is going to hit .300 and have a .900 OPS. He is that good of a hitter. So that’s not a concern.
With Marcus and Corey, there’s a very strong track record here in the last 10 years of position players either signing a big deal with a new team, getting traded to a new team, or getting traded and signing an extension where that first year isn’t necessarily a bad year relative to the league but is not what their standard has been. That second year, they get back to, “Oh, this is the guy we know.” Because there’s a lot of change there, and I don’t think you can discount that.
Help settle a StrongSide debate. I, a charter member of the Nathaniel Appreciation Society, see what he’s done this year as proof that, at last, Texas has its first baseman and that this is someone who—even with some regression—has to be considered a core part of where this team is going. Jamey Newberg sees a nice player who has some glaring weaknesses (defense and high fastballs) and is on a second-half run for the ages. Therefore, Texas should shop him this winter while his value is at its apex and see what the market is. Where do you land on this?
He’s made some really impressive strides offensively in a year where offense is down. He has shown that he is an everyday offensive player in Major League Baseball, and a really good one. What’s even more valuable is he’s a left-handed hitter who hits lefties really well.
And you’ve been on that for a while. You’re the biggest person beating that drum.
I think he started 3 for 30 against lefties or something and since then he’s been a monster. But the beauty of the situation is they don’t have to make the decision on him with any sort of immediacy or any sort of loss of leverage because he is performing at such a high level to where no one in their right mind would be upset if Nathaniel Lowe is in your lineup. He is a really good hitter. And he’s gotten better defensively in the second half. His defense has improved, and he’s too good of an athlete not to have more defensive improvement in the tank. He also knows he needs to improve defensively and is committed to that. Because I know we always think guys are on board with what our assessments are, but that’s not always the case. Nathaniel’s really smart. I think that almost plays to his advantage because he understands, he gets it.
Now, this isn’t specific to Nathaniel, it applies to everyone on the Rangers: the Rangers are in the business of making their major-league team better. That sometimes means they trade prospects to add to their big-league roster, but one of the trends we’re seeing more and more of in recent years is if you really want to get a big-time player—and for the Rangers, that likely means a big-time pitcher—teams do want major league-ready talent to be a part of that deal if they have control left. Any of these young guys—and that includes Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis Garcia but also the Josh Smiths and the Ezekiel Durans and Bubba Thompsons of the world—all of these guys are going to get asked about. And because all of these guys are going to get asked about, it would be irresponsible to suggest they could not be part of a deal. But I do not think the Rangers are looking at Nathaniel Lowe and saying, ‘We’ve got to move on from this guy.’ I think they’re thrilled with his growth and development offensively, as they should be.
We’ve got a month and a half left before the season ends and you get your life back. What’s your checklist of things you want to see accomplished on the field the rest of the way to make you feel good heading into the offseason?
I’d like to see anyone who has a future with this organization sprint through the finish line. I’d love to say that I want them to finish with a certain record, but I think to some degree, that’s sort of immaterial. What I would say is the organization is run by human beings and made up of human beings and owned by human beings, not robots. I’m sure it gives you a better feeling when you go into the offseason playing good baseball. I’m sure it encourages certain things that maybe a bad finish would not.
I’d like to see Corey Seager and Marcus Semien continue to trend in the right direction. And for the young guys, I want them to take their lumps. When Cole Ragans comes back off the IL, I want him to take his lumps but I also want him to have success mixed in there. I want these young guys to continue to develop a better understanding of what it takes to have success. So, yeah, I’d love Leody Taveras to have a 25-game hitting streak to close out the year. But the more that these guys can learn now and take their lumps now in a year in which the playoffs really not part of the conversation, the better prepared they’ll be for when the playoffs once again are part of the conversation, which starts Opening Day 2023.
As far as one individual, I’d love to see Josh Jung come up. I want him to start getting comfortable with what it means to be a major-league third baseman, an everyday player at this level and continue to grow. At the end of the day, that’s what’s most important for where this organization is. They don’t have a bunch of veterans who are 35, 36 years old who you’re hoping can just maintain their level of production. They are full with a roster full of hitters whose arrow should be pointing up. In order for that to be the case, you need them to grow.