Woodward staying aware of MLB dialogue

May 13th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Chris Woodward, like just about everybody else, is waiting to see what transpires in the negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association.

There are issues to be addressed -- financial and otherwise -- before the Major League season is ready to begin. But Woodward is hopeful it will get done and is preparing his team for Spring Training, once a return date has been set.

“I feel pretty confident,” Woodward said Wednesday in a conference call with the local media. “There is a lot at stake. We all want to play … there are a lot of reasons to get something done. I am pretty optimistic that something will get done.”

Until then, Woodward, his coaching staff and the Rangers medical personnel are doing everything they can to keep their players ready. Rangers pitchers have been throwing in whatever circumstances they can put together at home or at Globe Life Field.

The goal has been to stay around 40-50 pitches without maximum intensity. They will increase that once an agreement is reached and a start date for “Spring Training” is set.

Starting pitching is critical because the Rangers expect a rotation of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to be the strength of the team.

Woodward is expecting to play at least 15 “exhibition” games before the regular season begins. That would allow for three outings per starter. If the pitchers are built up to 40-50 pitches at the beginning, they could get to 80-90 pitches to start the regular season.

“It’s the starters I am most concerned about,” Woodward said. “If we can get them ready for Opening Day after a three-week Spring Training, that would be huge for us. If those guys are ready to throw 80 to 90 pitches, that would be fantastic. Especially in an 80-game season, you can’t afford to take one game lightly.”

The Rangers don’t know where Spring Training will be. Globe Life Field and the Rangers complex in Surprise, Ariz., are both possibilities. Surprise has more space and facilities, but the 100-plus-degree heat has come to Arizona, and that is not too attractive compared to climate-controlled Globe Life Field.

“I think Texas will be ideal,” Woodward said.

Working out in Texas may mean that the exhibition games end up being intrasquad affairs, but the Rangers -- and other clubs -- will have to make do.

Woodward said all clubs will have to deal with extraordinary circumstances. That includes adapting to strict health and safety protocols that could run from no mass victory celebrations at home plate to no chewing tobacco, sunflower seeds or spitting allowed anywhere.

“The on-field togetherness, that’s going to be where it’s tough for our guys not to be able to embrace each other as much,” Woodward said. “I don’t know if we’ll give knuckles or elbows. The in-dugout stuff during the game will be tough, because guys are so used to it.

“It’s up to us and the staff to take ownership of that -- this is what we have to do, we have to do it this way. We can’t complain about it because that’s only going to create a negative mindset. That’s what’s going to separate a lot of teams … the teams that can handle that.”

The size of rosters must also be determined. It is also understood that a “taxi squad” of extra players must be maintained in the almost certain event the usual reinforcements will be needed during the course of any season.

Who will be among that group? The Rangers aren’t eager to thrust young players on the 40-man roster -- Leody Taveras, Sherten Apostel, Anderson Tejeda -- into Major League action before they are ready.

The Rangers have a number of veteran players who were in camp on Minor League contracts who would make up a formidable taxi squad. But guys like Greg Bird, Matt Duffy, Blake Swihart, Rob Refsnyder and others may want to see if there are big league opportunities on other teams before accepting a taxi squad assignment.

“Keeping those guys engaged is going to be difficult and a challenge for everybody,” Woodward said. “The team that does that the best in keeping those guys engaged and ready is going to see some benefits.”

The Rangers are also not eager to have a taxi squad working out at the same facility as the active big league team. They may prefer to have them work either in Arizona or at the Double-A facility in Frisco.

There is also the possibility some players may not feel comfortable themselves or about their family’s health playing under the current conditions. No public concerns have yet to be raised by any Rangers players, but Woodward knows it might be an issue.

“Not everybody is going to be so gung-ho, 'Let’s get back out there,' ” Woodward said. "There is risk involved and everybody is going to deal with that in a different way. We have to be empathetic about that. If guys aren’t comfortable, I’m not going to force them.”

There is still much to be determined. The goal now for the Rangers is to be as ready as possible when the time comes.

“It’s getting to the point where we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Woodward said. “We may have a start time. It’s about getting our guys physically and mentally ready.”