Hello again, from deep inside the meat locker known as Lockout Central. Want an idea how things are going? Just walk outside. See the sleet and ice. Yeah, it’s worse than that.
MLB officials and Players Association officials met for a little bit on Tuesday, yelled at each other and then retreated to watch for signs. Like this: On Groundhog Day, MLB’s official own version, Madison Avenue Manfred, stuck out his nose and apparently saw no hope for spring to arrive on time.
But you’ve heard this before. Like, two days ago. In this same spot.
Just because baseball is as frozen as North Texas, though, doesn’t mean the Rangers aren’t working on things. Ah, who are we kidding? It does pretty much mean exactly that. The best the Rangers can do right now is hold a few more internal zooms (because nobody is tired of those yet) and make some post-lockout to-do lists for Jon Daniels and Chris Young.
Because, trust us, for teams with work still to do — and the Rangers are one of them — whenever this lockout ends, it is going to be a mad scramble to get to and through spring training. Free agency. Rule 5 drafts. Arbitration. Likely needing to reframe some degree of spring training schedules. It’s going to be a scramble alright and you don’t want to end up like Pat Mahomes in the waning minutes of the AFC championship game: Running in circles until you are out of gas.
That’s why we are here. But first: History. The ol’ tweeter timeline fills up with this question: Hey, anything new on the labor front? Here’s the answer: No. And baseball labor doesn’t function like any other labor union in the country.
In most industries, a work stoppage has usually served as a last-ditch attempt to jump-start negotiations. Since 1994, the last time there was an MLB work stoppage, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked 556 official work stoppages across the economy (minimum 1,000 employees). The majority of them ended within hours or days. Only 7% — 39 total — have lasted longer than two months. Baseball is on its second.
More: While some unions have had multiple stoppages in that time, none of them have had two stoppages as long as two months at the same company. In the real world, people are motivated to end stoppages. And they are motivated not to go through it again. But not baseball.
All of which qualifies as your lesson in labor history for the day and a way to get a gratuitous mention of Samuel Gompers in a column. Also, it’s a long way of saying: Who knows where this goes?
Whenever it ends, though, there’s a list of priorities the Rangers need to address. And fast. Like these:
- “Hello, Clayton? How are you feeling? How’s the arm? How about your old buddy Matthew Stafford? That’s something. Now, what if you pulled a Stafford for your hometown team.”
- Wait for Kershaw’s answer. The rest of the offseason — or whatever the period between a deal and camp could be called — hinges on it. If he’s in, that pretty much takes care of the remainder of the heavy lifting. If not …
- Check back with Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who will have a little more than three weeks left in his decision-making window on a free agent contract. He’s probably not going to take all of that available time, otherwise he’d be late to a camp. It also means he and teams are going to have to act fast. There is some thought that Suzuki’s price will jump significantly in the wake of the pre-Dec. 1 deals. If Kershaw is a “no”, make your best offer and get on with it. There’s a lot else to check in on. If Suzuki doesn’t go anywhere, further outfield additions probably drop way down the list.
- Uh, Oakland, what’s the deal on Matt Olson? What will it take to pry him loose? There isn’t a lot of time for haggling now. Getting caught in a long and drawn-out discussion could prohibit other moves from getting made. Either there is a deal to be made around a top prospect (probably Justin Foscue) and Nathaniel Lowe or there isn’t. Can’t dawdle.
- Regardless of what happens with Kershaw, time to circle back on pitching. As currently structured — Jon Gray, Dane Dunning and wild guesses — is not tenable. The Rangers need more reliable innings. Yes, minor league signing Nick Tropeano might be intriguing. There is a difference between “might” and “reliable.” For guys seeking to re-establish themselves, there is real opportunity to get innings with the Rangers. That should be a selling point. If Kershaw is here, that’s a selling point, too.
- It doesn’t end with the rotation. The bullpen needs veteran help. The Rangers already have Jake Diekman’s number. And Ian Kennedy’s. Get at least one of them in camp, even if it takes a guaranteed roster spot rather than the going non-roster invites that are commonplace for veteran relievers. The bullpen needs a veteran to shore things up for at least the first two months of the season. A guaranteed spot might be the separator in negotiations. Again, you want to act quick and be able to move on to the next line item.
- Are the Yankees (or another team) willing to give up legitimate value for Isiah Kiner-Falefa in order to move down their own checklists? If so, act. But the purpose isn’t to trade him simply to make room for Josh Jung at third base. It is to gauge value. If it’s not there now, it might well be at the end of camp.
Communicate clearly with Kiner-Falefa, too. If there is an opportunity for him to go play shortstop everyday, the Rangers will entertain it. If not, he’s got to compete with Jung at third and be willing to play multiple positions. And let him know that the subject could be revisited at the end of spring.
- Back to starting pitching. It’s always back to starting pitching.
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