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The Texas Rangers: Good Process, Better Luck

Gabe’s post down below is just great. The comments on it are just great. What a great place. I’m sure you’re all very handsome (or beautiful), too.

It made me want to add on, on the theme of luck.

You know, it’s funny. The playoffs are such a different beast from the regular season because of what happens to pitching rotations--the Giants had three and a half terrific starters (the half being either Baumgarner or Sanchez, depending on the day), and that made them a matchup with anybody, despite the fact that their best offensive player in the regular season was a 23-year old midseason call-up (Gerald Dempsey Posey) and their best offensive player in the playoffs was a guy who was claimed off waivers in late August (Cody Ross).

Their best offensive player in the World Series, by the way,  was a guy who not only managed to get in only 72 games this regular season—not just because of injuries—but has struggled, lifelong, with the handicap of not having been born with a chin (Renteria).

So, as Gabe points out, none of this should have happened. And if it should have happened, that is, if sometimes people who weren’t really on your radar go hog wild in the playoffs--and they do-- it shouldn’t have happened to the Giants who—as Gabe points out—tried their very best to get rid of what turned out to be most of the centerpieces of their success. Somebody needs to ask Brian Sabaean now, if he still believes high draft picks aren’t worthwhile. If he says yes, he should not only be fired but, subsequently, kept from any job that requires an understanding of cause and effect.

But I think a good hard luck at the Rangers will delineate nicely the limitations of Right Process, too.

The Rangers, for the last several years, have been among the best "system" teams, by which I mean teams that invest heavily in their minor leagues, in their future. They traded Mark Teixeira for their starting SS, Elvis Andrus, and closer Neftali Feliz. They traded Eric Gagne, right before he fell off a cliff, for fourth outfielder David Murphy as well as Engel Beltre, one of their current top prospects. They’ve drafted pitchers for years, and CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis, as well as Derek Holland, are part of that process.  Ian Kinsler and Nellie Cruz, centerpieces of the offense with a handful of clutch playoff home runs each, were both Rangers draft picks as well.

That’s to say the Rangers did this thing the right way. They drafted well, they sold high, and they built a franchise.

But does anyone think this would have happened if they hadn’t lucked into Josh Hamilton—traded, straight-up from Cincinatti, for Edinson Volquez (well, and Danny Herrera), in 2007? What about Vlad Guerrero, who forgot how to hit baseballs all playoffs but carried the team for long, injury-ridden stretches of the regular season? What about Cliff Lee, the guy without whom nothing, for whom the Rangers traded their top prospect at a problem position for only the guarantee of half a season—which you probably shouldn’t do unless you KNOW you’re ready to go to the World Series. It worked out, but it wasn’t all that likely.

No, not only wouldn’t it have happened, it didn’t happen, last year. It wouldn’t have come close to happening if, say, you bumped up CJ into Lee’s spot, Colby into CJ’s spot, and then, say, Derek Holland into Colby’s spot. No way, no how. It wouldn’t have happened with any of the Rangers’ other over-the-hill hired guns over the years, Andruw Jones, Richard Hidalgo, Carl Everett and so on.

The point is, even when you do it right, you gotta do it lucky--as true of baseball as it is of dating, motorcycle-riding, and lion-taming.

And don’t think the Rays, who’ve drafted and traded maybe better than anybody of late, weren’t thinking about just that, when they were watching  Josh  Hamilton, their 1999 first round draft pick, win the ALCS MVP award and send the Yankees home--from the comfort of their respective couches.