Look out, below. The Rangers, who not so long ago were morphing into the Yankees, are coming down to Earth before our eyes.
Barring some diplomacy worthy of a great secretary of state, Nolan Ryan is on his way out of the organization. He feels marginalized by front-office changes that were announced March 1 and probably already would have left if not for fulfilling some commitments he made for spring training, including representing the team in a two-game series at the Alamodome in San Antonio on the way to Houston for the March 31 opener.
That game will be ESPN's Sunday night opener, and it will be the first regular-season game the Rangers have played without Michael Young or Josh Hamilton on the roster since 2000. For them, it will be like the Yankees post-Derek Jeter, and even if they are putting on the appearance of business as usual, it has been anything but after an unproductive winter when they failed to land starter Zack Greinke and lost Hamilton to the rival Angels.
I asked Ryan what that was like.
"Well, we knew we might lose him," Ryan said. "But to the Angels? No, we didn't see that coming. That was a shock. ... And we thought he was going to give us a chance to match any offer he got."
A lot of people in Texas turned Hamilton into a villain for not taking the offer from Arte Moreno back to Ryan, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and the club's owners, Bob Simpson and Ray Davis. But it's unlikely the Rangers would have given Hamilton $125 million over five years, not after management had come to distrust his ability to stay sober following a series of incidents the last few years. Oh, and it didn't help that his dropped fly ball at Oakland led to a collapse last September.
I asked Ryan if the Rangers would have matched.
"Now that's a good question," he said. "We didn't get there, so I don't know what we would have done."
How involved would Ryan have been in the decision?
That's the question that has Ryan on the verge of walking away from his position as the team's chief executive officer. He's clearly no longer on the same page as Daniels and many of his top lieutenants, and Ryan's history suggests he only will be involved in a business if he either has control or a lot of influence.
Is there room for Ryan and an office filled with bright, young baseball executives working 16-hour shifts to keep the Rangers at the top of the American League, where they have been the last three years? The future success of the franchise -- especially its position in a Dallas-Fort Worth sports landscape the NFL's Cowboys always have owned -- depends on that question being answered positively.
Daniels is as highly respected as any GM in the game, and to be on the same level as Billy Beane, Brian Sabean, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Brian Cashman and Dave Dombrowski says a lot. But Ryan's involvement with the team has had enormous value in selling the team to its fans, many of whom have turned tailgating into a new baseball custom in the parking lots adjacent to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Rangers ownership sided with Daniels and his staff over Ryan on a few decisions this winter, and subsequently promoted Daniels to president/baseball and a non-Ryan guy, Rick George, to president/business. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway has reported that ownership offered Daniels the title of CEO -- Ryan's title -- but Daniels told the Dallas Morning News that didn't happen.
Daniels doesn't want Ryan to leave. He knows he would be blamed for it, fairly or not, and doesn't want to be to Ryan what Jerry Jones was to Tom Landry. That's no way to go through life, especially not when you're somebody who can be fired, not an owner yourself.
Will Ryan stay or go? One thing that's sure is ESPN will have plenty to talk about when the Rangers-Astros opener arrives.
Tight fit: Following up on a breakout season in the minors, the Brewers' Khris Davis has been one of the most impressive hitters in Arizona. But he could be a candidate for a trade because until further notice the 25-year-old is stuck behind Ryan Braun.
Davis, who hit .350 with a 1.055 OPS in 82 games spread between three levels last year, is stuck in left field because he does not have the arm to play center or right. He tried first base in the Instructional League without convincing anyone he could make the transition.
Davis hit three home runs in as many days last week, including an unofficial one off Team Canada.
"I've always heard this guy can really swing it and it's nice to see him doing it," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Even his outs are hard. He's hitting off-speed; he's hitting fastballs. He's doing a great job."
Still blessed: The Blackhawks have generated some discussion about the best start ever for a team in pro sports. It's hard to beat the Bulls' 41-3 start in the 1995-96 season but the 1984 Detroit Tigers did.
Given the more balanced nature of baseball, and the fact the best teams rarely manage a .650 winning percentage, the Tigers' 35-5 start remains hard to believe. They were far more dominant than the Blackhawks have been, almost doubling the score of their opponents (236-120) over the first 40 games.
That Bless You Boys team was as much about the brilliance of Sparky Anderson as the talent it possessed. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were in their primes, as were ace Jack Morris along with Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish, but Anderson used his pitching staff and bench like a true master.
Here's a good omen for the Blackhawks. Both the 95-96 Bulls and the '84 Tigers not only won championships but rolled through the playoffs, the Bulls going 15-3, the Tigers 7-1.
Another level: You wonder how long the Pirates will regret not meeting Scott Boras' price to sign Mark Appel? The Stanford ace returned to school after not signing and seems capable of turning in one of the all-time great college seasons.
In back-to-back starts against Texas and Fresno State, Appel threw nine-inning complete games, getting 54 outs while facing only 62 hitters. That's incredible dominance given the composite bats college hitters use.
Appel struck out 25 and walked two in those starts, allowing six hits. He's among the college pitchers the Cubs are studying closely with regard to the second overall pick this June. One question he presents is how much of an advantage he has this year because he's a senior facing younger hitters.
THE WHISPERS: Yankees may get desperate enough for Soriano
The Yankees appear to be imploding around GM Brian Cashman, making some wonder if the Steinbrenner brothers will become more involved. If they do, Alfonso Soriano could be in play in trade talks before opening day. Cashman wants nothing to do with the two years left on the Cubs outfielder's contract but injuries to Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez could dictate the addition of a veteran. ... It has been a good spring for Cuban outfielders. While the Cubs' Jorge Soler has impressed scouts with his all-around game, Leonys Martin has seized the center-field job for the Rangers and Yasiel Puig has shown he could be an option in the near future for the Dodgers, who owe outfielders Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier a combined $323.8 million. ... The Tigers aren't pursuing Carlos Marmol now but might before spring training is over, as there are few proven closers on the market. Manager Jim Leyland is pushing President Dave Dombrowski to find an upgrade over the guys in camp. ... While the Angels were silly enough to renew Mike Trout's contract with only a $20,000 raise, the always difficult Marlins renewed the contracts of seven players, including Giancarlo Stanton. He will earn only $47,000 above the $490,000 minimum in his final pre-arbitration year. ... Newcomers Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn -- not to mention manager Terry Francona -- have changed the tone around the Indians dramatically. Francona says Swisher is the first player to do drills and does them right, setting a tone. Raburn is on a mission to show the Tigers should have found a place for him. ... The Reds' Billy Hamilton could be one of the most exciting players in baseball, but he has looked overmatched at the plate this spring, compiling a .200 on-base percentage in his first nine games. ... Philip Humber remains in the running for a job in the Astros' rotation. ... Speaking of the Astros, don't look for Nolan Ryan to take a role with that club if he leaves the Rangers. He would not fit what the franchise has been doing since Jim Crane bought the team from Drayton McLane.
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