ARLINGTON, Texas — Seldom does an offseason go by without a coaching change for the Texas Rangers under president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. After a 102-loss season, it was essentially a guarantee.
With manager Chris Woodward addressing the media alongside Daniels and general manager Chris Young at Wednesday's end-of-season press conference, the skipper's job is undoubtedly safe for the 2022 season. But Woodward was going to face questions of the coaching changes that were announced by the club on Tuesday.
Bench coach Don Wakamatsu and hitting coach Luis Ortiz were shown the door. The fate of assistant hitting coach Callix Crabbe and run production coordinator Alex Burg will be decided by the new hitting coach. Though, from Woodward's remarks, it sounds like the writing is on the wall for both Crabbe and Burg, who were given permission to explore options elsewhere.
These are decisions that didn't necessarily come down to a philosophical difference or lack of effort. Simply, they are difficult decisions that boil down to a need of change.
"First off, I want to say 'thank you' to those guys," Woodward said. "It's really tough. Obviously, I've known Wak for a long time. I've played for him. He's mentored me. I can't thank him enough. But in terms of both positions, I think we just needed a new voice. I don't want to sound cliché, but that's kind of where we're at."
Chris Woodward isn't the same manager that he was when he was first brought aboard in 2019. He has different needs now after three seasons under his belt. Many may say his team overachieved in his first year as a big league skipper, winning 78 games. But the two seasons since have provided different challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic was arguably the catalyst that sent the Rangers into a full-fledged rebuild, leaving Woodward and his coaching staff with a vastly inexperienced roster in 2021.
With the Rangers preparing to add top-tier free agents to a handful of young big league players and a crop of prospects that will be hitting the big leagues over the next few years, expectations are quickly rising in Arlington. After losing 102 games in 2021, that even means as early as next season, though the organization understands it's unrealistic to turn it around by 30 or 40 wins in one winter.
That means, if Woodward is to keep his job beyond next season, he's going to have to be fully confident in the group alongside him. That starts with his right-hand man.
"The bench coach is somebody who can relay the message to the players and staff, be my outlet to making sure our culture and everything inside the clubhouse is running right," Woodward explained. "Somebody that I can trust and rely on everyday to make sure everything is moving in the right direction. I don't have eyes and ears everywhere. I kind of need that guy to be that, but also push the message consistently everyday."
It's no secret the Rangers have struggled offensively over the past two seasons. Even if you're generous and throw out 2020, chalking it up as a COVID year, 2021 saw its fair share of failures as well. In all of baseball, the Rangers were second-to-last in batting average, worst in on-base percentage, third-worst in slugging and worst in OPS. The only area they really excelled was on the bases, stealing the fourth-most bases in baseball, which is remarkable considering the extremely low on-base percentage.
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Even for a roster that finished the season with 13 qualified rookies and 20 players with less than two years of service, expectations were simply not met.
"We just haven't been able to get past [a certain point]. I felt like we could have been a little bit better," Woodward said. "Listen, I know Luis [Ortiz] poured his heart out. Luis gave it everything he had. He's a tremendous human being. He fits our culture in so many different ways. But, like I said, we just needed a new voice. It hurts, and it's a failure, in my opinion, from my standpoint that we didn't get where we needed to get to for him. It wasn't from a lack of effort."
As far as the new hitting coach goes, Woodward went on to preach the same things that we heard him say about what he expected from his hitters throughout this past season, with "preparation" and "grinding at-bats" specifically named. Ultimately, Woodward needs to see better execution in getting the players to buy into the message.
"There's a specific outline of what I'd like to see from our hitters everyday. I'm going to lay those expectations out to whoever our new hitting coach is," Woodward explained. "I'd like to see him come in and get to every one of our guys; be able to reach every single one of our guys, from our best hitter to our worst hitter, and get them to kind of fit that mold. I think that's really important. I'm not saying that wasn't done. I just know maybe it could be done maybe a little bit better or reached more guys."
The Rangers have a full plate this winter. Not only do they have ambitious plans in free agency and have some impactful decisions to make regarding the 40-man roster and who to protect from the Rule 5 draft, but now they have these coaching positions to fill, along with hiring a new farm director.
As far as a list of candidates go, it will surely materialize over the coming days and weeks. One intriguing name is Jayce Tingler, who has served in a variety of roles over 13 years with the Rangers organization. Tingler was just relieved of his duties as manager of the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. While it is unclear whether the Rangers will pursue him for any of their vacancies, it wouldn't come as any surprise if they did. There are people in the organization who still think very highly of him.
The potential of new blood — or reunions — in the organization can be exciting as the Rangers pivot away from tear-down mode. Even so, saying goodbye to a stalwart like Don Wakamatsu, who now has the third-most coaching years in club history, or good human beings like Luis Ortiz, Callix Crabbe and Alex Burg, is not easy.
"It was a really difficult decision," Woodward said of the coaching changes. "I don't take it lightly. You've got people's families and lives [to consider]. I'm excited about the change, but at the same time, it really hurts to have to make the change."
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