Roster turnover a modern challenge for managers
As players change teams, maintaining chemistry, continuity can be tricky
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The 2009 Angels won 97 games, swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series and took the eventual World Series champion Yankees to six taut games in the AL Championship Series.
Four years later, four players -- Jered Weaver, Kevin Jepsen, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar -- remain from that 2009 roster that appeared to have everything.
Displacing the Angels as AL West champions in 2010 and 2011, and coming within a strike of winning the 2011 World Series in St. Louis, the Rangers venture into the 2013 season with a decidedly altered look after a 93-win 2012 campaign.
Gone from the 2011 powerhouse are Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba, C.J. Wilson and the entire bullpen except for Alexi Ogando. Hello, A.J. Pierzynski, Lance Berkman and Joakim Soria.
The astonishing 2011 World Series champion Cardinals have been reshaped, if not dismantled.
Nowhere to be found from the old gang are Albert Pujols, Berkman, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Kyle McClellan, Octovio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes. Almost half the roster has been reshaped since Tony La Russa walked off into the sunset, a champion.
There's something happening here. What it is, it's not exactly clear.
Roster turnover is inevitable in the sport, but it seems to be increasing at a high rate in this era of elevated stakes and increased pressure to meet expectations created by proliferating payrolls.
Long gone are the days when infields such as the 1970s Dodgers stayed together for eight seasons. An infield or outfield that remains unaltered for three years is news.
The advent of free agency changed everything, but that's just part of the story. Patience is no longer the virtue it once was in building a team. This could be a response to the urgency expressed by a social media culture that demands winning it all -- now.
Of all the remarkable elements playing into the Giants' 2012 World Series championship run, none measured up to the way Bruce Bochy made it work with virtually an entirely different cast of position players from the troupe he had managed to a title just two years earlier.
"Boch has always been ahead of the game, as far as what goes on in the dugout," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's really sharp, and he's reached the pinnacle in baseball, winning championships with two totally different teams and concepts."
While the pitching staff returned virtually intact, only National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval were back from the 2010 Giants, who drew from an eclectic crew of hitters and fielders to support the golden arms.
"They lost [closer Brian] Wilson and absorbed it with [Sergio] Romo," Scioscia said. "The starters, the on-field chemistry of the pitchers and catchers, is very strong because of the continuity. It certainly helps having a great catcher like Posey. The pieces around them have changed, but they've continued to perform at a high level."
One year after airlifting Pujols out of St. Louis, the Angels added the dynamic Hamilton to their offense while introducing three new starters (Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson) and relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett to the bullpen. The search continues for that on-field chemistry required to return owner Arte Moreno's outfit to the top of the AL West heap.
Also at the forefront of the going-for-the-gusto class are the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Royals. At considerable expense these blue-clad outfits have acquired arms that they feel can make them complete.
Zack Greinke, linked with Clayton Kershaw, could make the Dodgers' rotation competitive with the Giants' high-end dealers. Toronto and Kansas City each added three starting pitchers -- R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson moving to Canada; James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana to Missouri.
The Nationals, who led the Majors with 98 wins, added a center fielder (Denard Span) to lead off and a resourceful veteran (Dan Haren) to lead a young rotation.
Built on young pitching, the A's upgraded defensively with center fielder Chris Young and offensively with catcher John Jaso while adding a pair of shortstops in Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie.
|"Player moves are more fluid than they were when I started playing 30 years ago."|
|-- Angels manager Mike Scioscia|
The Braves boldly united Upton brothers B.J. and Justin in a dynamic outfield with Jason Heyward, while the D-backs unloaded natural talent (Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, Chris Young) in favor of true grit and chemistry. The Indians created a whole new look with Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs.
This dizzying player movement has created challenges for managers to integrate new faces and talents seamlessly, frequently on the run in the middle of a pennant race.
"Player moves are more fluid than they were when I started playing 30 years ago," Scioscia said. "You're seeing more players non-tendered at an earlier age because of financial implications [arbitration].
"As far as getting personalities to mesh and setting an environment, that's relatively easy to accomplish. On-field chemistry, with guys switching positions or coming in, that's where the rubber meets the road -- especially if you have rotating catchers who get spun off. The pitcher-catcher relationship is always a process."
Of all the acquisitions made at the July and August deadlines last season, none was more important than the Giants' under-the-radar deal with the Rockies bringing Marco Scutaro into the fold. The little man made a huge impact with his sixth Major League team.
From August through October, the journeyman infielder from Venezuela galvanized the Giants -- in the lineup, on the field at second base and in the clubhouse with his calm yet forceful leadership.
In reflection, Scutaro feels Bochy and his coaching staff played a major role in the Giants' ability to deliver under pressure.
"It's no secret," Scutaro said. "It's preparation. They prepare us really [well]. They spend a lot of time with videos, showing us things. We study a lot of video, and it definitely helps."
In Texas, fans are on edge, wondering if the Rangers can sustain their average of 93 wins over the past three seasons in the wake of all the defections.
Berkman and Pierzynski have been imported to help fill the power void, with Pierzynski getting most of the catching responsibilities. The reshaped bullpen will factor into Texas' bid to reclaim the AL West title from the A's and hold off the Angels.
After an online poll called the Rangers' winter the most disappointing of any team, manager Ron Washington had a ready response.
"That's why you don't believe in polls or opinions -- you believe in what's inside of your clubhouse," Washington said. "We're not backing down. There is no lack of attitude or commitment. We're going into Spring Training with the same attitude and commitment that we've always had.
"We believe in what we do. You can't stop opinions. The only opinion that matters is what's inside the clubhouse, and we feel good about ourselves inside the clubhouse."
Their former leader, Michael Young, has taken his wisdom to Philadelphia. The Rangers will ask Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Co. can keep the good vibes flowing.
The Cardinals managed to forge on without Pujols, their leader, by getting contributions from free agent Carlos Beltran (32 homers, 97 RBIs). Yadier Molina delivered a career year offensively with a .315 batting average and .501 slugging percentage, and young Allen Craig and David Freese also were productive in the heart of the order along with Matt Holliday.
The Cards will score runs. The question is whether the pitching staff, leaning on young guns, can absorb the losses of Carpenter and free agent Lohse.
Rookie manager Mike Matheny, who took St. Louis to within one win of the World Series after an incredible comeback in Game 5 of the NL Division Series in Washington, had his option exercised through 2014. General manager John Mozeliak was given a three-year extension through 2016.
Management stability is perhaps more important than ever in an era of rampant player movement. The Giants have had two general managers (Bob Quinn and Brian Sabean) and three managers (Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Bochy) since 1993.
In the wake of all the roster turnover of the past two seasons, Sabean and Co. spent the winter keeping the championship chemistry intact. The Giants retained free agents Scutaro and Angel Pagan and signed Andres Torres, their center fielder in 2010.
His team's recent success, Sabean concluded, showed "how difficult it is to get a group together that works so well with the manager and the coaching staff and with each other."
Keeping it together is the new challenge.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.