Rangers reshaping team identity without Young
Versatile infielder provided leadership, All-Star production in 13 years with Texas
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Michael Young did more than just produce on the field during 13 seasons with the Texas Rangers. He did produce, and in a huge way, making seven American League All-Star teams and winning a batting championship. But he contributed in other important ways, saying what needed to be said and helping create a winning environment.
His stature among his teammates, the stature achieved during 13 seasons of solid production and leadership, is one of the more interesting things the Rangers will be attempting to replace in this season of change.
"It's documented what Michael meant to the community, to the team and to his teammates," manager Ron Washington said. "We wish him well in Philly. He's a tremendous person and baseball player and leader."
He was also about to celebrate his 36th birthday when last season ended, and his numbers were down dramatically from 2011. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels wasn't sure how much productive baseball Young still had left. He also was not sure he would accept a diminished role. And he believed the club would have better options.
So he made the kind of cold, tough decision that only the best executives make, the kind he has made frequently during the eight years in which he has constructed one of baseball's best franchises.
He decided the time had come to end Young's tenure with the Rangers and worked out a trade with the Phillies. Young agreed to waive his no-trade protection, and Daniels agreed to pay $10 million of Young's $16 million salary.
"Teams lose leaders all the time," Washington said. "We've always been a group that's been able to adjust to whatever is thrown at us, and we'll adjust now. I think we'll have a very good club. We've still got a very good nucleus. We certainly added some winning pieces in [A.J.] Pierzynski and [Lance] Berkman. They've won the World Series. They've always been winners wherever they are. Nothing will change here. We'll go about our business. We'll make sure we get to work on the things we need to improve upon. We'll continue to stress the things we feel we need to stress."
Change may be inevitable, but in the last few months, it has been dramatic for the Rangers. Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels, Mike Napoli with the Red Sox. Daniels replaced them with free agents Berkman and Pierzynski and believes one of baseball's best Minor League systems could dramatically impact the big league club before this season is over.
Now, though, how good are these Rangers? How will Young's leadership be replaced? Can Berkman come close to replacing Hamilton's offensive thunder? Has the balance of power in the American League West shifted toward Anaheim?
"I get it," Daniels said. "We lost some good players. We're very confident in the group we have here. We just have to play out on the field. It doesn't do any good to talk about it."
Actually, the Rangers believe they're going to be more than competitive. They believe they've got one of baseball's best rotations and a very solid bullpen. They also think that if Berkman stays healthy he'll do for the Rangers what Carlos Beltran did for the Cardinals in 2012 after Albert Pujols' departure.
In other words, don't overlook them.
"People seem to have focused on the negatives all offseason," outfielder David Murphy said. "But you also need to look at it from a positive perspective. We got some great players, and we were able to hold on to our prospects and give ourselves financial flexibility for the future. If you just look at the team, this is the best starting rotation going into a season that we've had since I've been here. You look at our lineup one through nine, and there are a lot of All-Stars, and there's a lot of depth."
As for that leadership thing, well, don't get them started.
"We've got a lot of guys in here who don't just have the ability to lead," Daniels said. "They HAVE been leading. I'm not worried about that. I'm pretty confident our clubhouse dynamics will continue to be a strong one. We keep getting the question of who's going to step up. I think in some ways that's an insult to guys like Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus and Joe Nathan and David Murphy and Matt Harrison."
The Rangers will tell you they loved Michael Young and respected him. They will also tell you that leadership is something that's hard to define. Beltre has had a huge impact, both in the way he has played -- he's arguably the best third baseman in the game -- and in the way he welcomes young players into the clubhouse. Kinsler has been more vocal than Young at times. Murphy's quiet professionalism impacts everyone.
"I want to be the guy that's respected and that people will come to," Beltre said. "But I don't think it's going to be one guy. Many guys will step up."
Kinsler, Murphy, Andrus, Nelson Cruz and Beltre all started Game 1 of the 2011 World Series, and as Kinsler said, "I don't think determining who is the face of the franchise is going to win us games. I think it's a little blown out of proportion. We're going to miss [Young]. He was obviously one of our leaders. But baseball is a game of change. It's inevitable. We're going to have to move on and try to do the best we can."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.