The first thing everyone does after some other guy’s team wins the big silver trophy is ask themselves, ‘What can the people who run my favourite team learn from them?’
In the case of the new World Series champions, the Texas Rangers, it’s a short answer – nothing.
Texas did this the old-fashioned way – desperately, a bit stupidly and with a lot of blind luck.
What else can you say about a team whose big move of the off-season was giving a boatload of guaranteed cash to Jacob deGrom?
DeGrom does two things better than anyone else – strike out batters and tear muscles.
The Rangers gave deGrom five years guaranteed and he gave them four weeks in return. Once he comes back from Tommy John surgery, he’ll be fitter than ever and ready to tear new muscles you’ve never even heard of.
From that to this. How’d Texas manage it?
The Rangers’ most important performance innovation was hoodwinking Arlingtonians into paying for a new stadium. The old one had an important drawback – it was outdoors.
Have you been to Arlington in summer? It’s like being on the surface of the sun. But unlike Arlington, the sun is not uniformly sealed over by pavement.
As a working visitor, you’d sit in their sealed, air-conditioned press box watching the few fans in attendance lose half their bodyweight over the course of nine innings.
Like a lot of profitable institutions, the solution was charity. In high finance, the term of art is ‘public/private partnership’. Texas taxpayers and tourists have paid and will continue to pay for most of the US$1.2-billion it cost to build Globe Life Field.
Often, teams that are about to debut new buildings feel pressure to provide top-drawer entertainment. Not Texas. During its first full year in the new digs (2021), it lost 102 games.
The Rangers weren’t rebuilding. They were just unbuilding and there was no help coming. That year, MLB.com ranked their farm system 21st in the major leagues.
What they did have was a bunch of extra cash sloshing around and no good excuse not to spend it. So they went out and got two incredibly expensive players – Corey Seager and former Blue Jay Marcus Semien. It cost them more than US$500-million for the pair.
The next year, Texas lost only 94 games and fired the head of baseball ops and the manager. So, so far, so good.
This year, the Rangers spent like blackout-drunken sailors on pitching. When the pitching broke down (deGrom), they spent even more at the deadline.
The highlight there was the acquisition of geriatric millennial Max Scherzer. Scherzer had been so-so with the Mets until he was traded, and he’s been mostly injured since. He is to back pain what deGrom is to soft-tissue explosions.
So if Texas made all these terrible decisions, how did it end up winning? Easy. The guys who were supposed to hit did, and the ones who weren’t supposed to hit did as well. Texas was top three in most offensive categories. All that expensive pitching didn’t work out as well, but when you’re scoring more than five runs a game, it doesn’t matter so much.
This was no seamless process. The Rangers went on a nine-game losing streak in August. They lost the division on the last day of the season.
But when the games began to matter, everyone else lay down in front of them. Tampa Bay won the World Series in April. Sadly, that’s not when it is held. Texas swept it in the wild card.
Then the Rangers hit the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles did their rebuild the correct way. They were unbelievably bad for nearly 10 years. They spent that whole time focusing on the draft. They’re good all of a sudden. They also have an average age of, like, 17.
Texas versus Baltimore was adults versus children. The Rangers swept them, too.
They faced Houston in the ALCS. Everyone had already decided Houston had won this, including Houston. It was a weird series largely determined by which team’s pitching staff decided to implode that evening. The Rangers’ pitchers did it one fewer time.
At that point, the Rangers should have been playing Atlanta, or maybe Los Angeles. More complete teams put together more carefully and built with far more purpose. But they weren’t. They were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks – a team of nobodies who’d got that far because no one bothered to tell them they weren’t invited.
In a more fun and chaotic world, Arizona wins the World Series, but baseball isn’t big on fun plus chaos. The arrivistes of Texas cruised to victory.
So you know – who knows? Baseball doesn’t make much sense. People who believe they can impose sense on it end up looking foolish more often than not.
If the Toronto Blue Jays can’t take a template from this, there are a few highlights.
First, that they blew it by letting Marcus Semien go. I don’t care what the numbers look like when it comes to signing late-bloomers in their 30s. You had the guy for a full season, he finished third in AL MVP voting and based on that you thought, ‘Well, we’ve seen enough of that, thank you very much.’
Did he cost a lot? Sure. Is it your money? No.
Semien just won a World Series. Ergo, the Jays were wrong.
Second thing – that no one pays for a batting average. They pay for a result. Texas’s major breakthrough was hiring good players who were also grown men and proved winners. Seager and Semien set the tone. Everyone else drafted in their slipstream.
Who’s setting the tone in Toronto? Because whoever it is, they need singing lessons.
Third, that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
Texas embraced that chaos. It spent a ton of money. When that blew up on the Rangers, they spent a ton more. And then a ton more after that at the deadline. When the executive who spent most of that money didn’t get results, they found a new executive. When the manager didn’t deliver, they replaced him. Their answer to every setback was ‘change.’
Do you get the sense that the Toronto Blue Jays are an outfit that embraces change? Me neither.