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Baseball

Chris Young Is Here to Make Sure the Rangers Don’t Regress After World Series Season

Baseball fact: the Rangers aren't the Giants.
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Young won a ring with the Royals. Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a decent amount of time around four of the five general managers who have been at the helm of the Rangers over the last 40 years. While their personalities and approaches were uniquely their own, Tom Grieve, Doug Melvin, Jon Daniels, and Chris Young have had one thing squarely in common (and I can only assume John Hart did as well): a savage, impenetrable competitive streak. Given the job description, it’s hardly surprising, even if we didn’t see it often, or at least not in full force, when doing their media hits.

As far as Young, the Rangers’ present architect, is concerned, there is one résumé entry that only Grieve can relate to: a major-league playing career. But in Grieve’s nine big-league seasons, six with Texas bookended by one with the Senators and brief career-ending stints with the Mets and Cardinals, he never played in the postseason. Young did that twice. Once in 2006, his first season with the Padres (memorably, with Bruce Bochy as his manager), and again in 2015, Young’s best season in more ways than one. By some statistical measures, he was never better; he went 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 18 starts and 16 relief appearances, holding opponents to a .202 batting average and a .641 OPS.

And he won a ring.

Young pitched in both roles in the World Series that year, entering in the 12th inning of Game 1 against the Mets and throwing three brilliant, no-hit innings to earn the win, and then starting Game 4 in New York, a game the Royals would win 5-3. They would finish off the Mets the next night, eight years to the day before Young’s Rangers won their own championship.

It has been well chronicled, particularly these last five months, that Bochy’s three World Series championships managing the Giants were each followed by a disappointing season. After beating the Rangers in 2010, San Francisco finished eight games out in the NL West in 2011 and four games back in the wild card chase. The next effort to repeat went worse; after sweeping the Tigers in the 2012 World Series, the Giants finished 10 games under .500 in 2013, with double-digit deficits in both the division and the wild card. Bochy’s Giants then beat the Royals in seven in 2014 (the year before Young arrived in Kansas City), but 84 wins in 2015 only got them within eight games in the West and 13 games short of a wild card berth.

The team the Giants couldn’t catch in the division that year was the Dodgers, who were ousted from the playoffs by the Mets—the team the Royals, back in the World Series after falling to the Giants the year before, took down.

Though he had won Comeback Player of the Year with the Mariners in 2014, Young could command only a $675,000 base salary with the Royals in 2015, with workload incentives that could push the deal to $6 million. After his standout season and postseason, he earned the biggest contract of his career, an $11.5 million deal to stay with the Royals in 2016 and ’17 (with an $8 million mutual option for 2018).

From an earnings standpoint, it represented the pinnacle of Young’s 13-year playing career.

From a baseball standpoint, not so much.

The Royals, in the weakest division in baseball based on wins and losses, were in the thick of things into the season’s third month, sharing the AL Central lead as late as June 15. But they went 46-51 from that point forward, finishing 81-81, 13 1/2 games out in the division, and seventh in the race for the two wild card spots.

The World Series champs were mediocre in their title defense. And haven’t had a winning record since.

Bochy’s Giants and the 2015 Royals aren’t the only teams that came back to the pack the following season. No team has strung together consecutive championships since the Yankees won their third straight in 2000. Things happen. Injuries, which we’ve already seen. Regression. The physical toll of a seven-month season and shortened winter. Not having as many breaks go your way.

But it’s not a fait accompli. No player is going to accept that winning two straight can’t be done. Certainly not one who was part of a team that just made road history in the playoffs. Nor will a manager who has lived through that championship aftermath three times, or a guy who experienced it once as a player and is now confronting it for the first time as a GM.

Those things might even stir the competitive juices even further. Being part of the two-decade run of teams who backslid after their own ring ceremonies is probably a driver. The Rangers did things no team has ever done in 2023, overcame things never before overcome. Would Young take the Bochy Special: three World Series titles in five years? Undoubtedly so, but only in hindsight; he’s the type who wouldn’t accept that it can’t be three in four. Or in three.

Young and Bochy’s team has gotten things started on the right track, with series wins over two good teams in the Cubs and Rays. The Astros now come to town for four, and you should probably ignore their 2-5 record out of the gate. They’re surely looking at this series—in a park in which they went 9-1 in 2023, including wins in all three ALCS matchups—as an opportunity to get right. The Rangers, of course, overcame those three losses to Houston in the playoffs. The team that Young and Bochy led in 2023 not only defied franchise history; they bucked a lot of odds in the process. Given what those two had each been through before coming together in Texas, the charge in 2024 is probably even more acute: to find a way to check another box in the column marked It Just Doesn’t Happen.

Author

Jamey Newberg

Jamey Newberg

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Jamey Newberg covers the Rangers for StrongSide. He has lived in Dallas his entire life, with the exception of a…
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