MLB Power Rankings: What All 30 Teams Will Be Wishing for This Christmas
The Texas Rangers have already secured the rights to Yu Darvish, superstar Japanese hurler. They spent $51.7 million to begin negotiations with him on the eve of Hanukkah. Now, they may be angling for a Christmas present just as gaudy. Prince Fielder doesn't exactly fit under a Christmas tree, but he'd be a heck of a gift for Rangers fans.
Texas may or may not still have interest in Fielder after acquiring the exclusive rights to woo Darvish. If they were to make that splurge, however, they would almost certainly enter 2012 as favorites to win a third consecutive American League pennant. At present, they are in a real dogfight for that distinction with division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Nor is Texas the only team looking to make a move or two to put themselves over the top in the coming weeks. Here are up-to-the-minute Christmas power rankings of all 30 MLB teams, complete with one thing each club would love to get this holiday season.
30. Houston Astros: Your Attention, Dear Houston
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The Houston Astros have a lovely downtown ballpark in a city of over two million people—a city with an easy hold on the fourth ranking in population among U.S. metropolises. They are alone in that city, when it comes to baseball, and no other pro team has an obvious stake there that should supersede their interests.
Even though their media market ranks just 10th in the nation, the Astros should not have trouble generating attendance, attention or revenue.
Yet they do. The Astros' attendance figures behave much like those of the Chicago White Sox, a sorry second fiddle act in a city only slightly bigger. Both teams might creep into the top 10 in attendance when they are at their very best, but they sit in the 20s most years, and that restricts them.
Until this season, the Houston Texans had never been much fun to follow. It's a mystery why the Astros have never developed a really impassioned fanbase, but they haven't. Unless and until that changes a bit, the team will have to continue to behave like a mid- or even small-market team, and that spells trouble as they engage in rebuilding.
29. Los Angeles Dodgers: A Non-Awful GM
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Frank McCourt is the preferred scapegoat in Dodgertown, and rightfully so. He probably even pressured his GM into some bad moves over the years.
Still, Ned Colletti has made nothing but bad moves. He's the worst GM in MLB today, and may be the worst ever. He spent a huge sum this winter to secure the rights to:
- Juan Rivera
- Aaron Harang
- Mark Ellis
- Adam Kennedy
- James Loney
- Chris Capuano
- Jerry Hairston
- Tony Gwynn
Last winter, his haul of acquired and extended talent included:
- Ted Lilly
- Matt Guerrier
- Chad Billingsley
- Juan Uribe
It's great that Colletti extended Matt Kemp, but he didn't exactly get a discount, and he committed huge money to these players over the next three seasons along the way. For the money the team has laid out in just the past 14 months, they should probably have been able to sign Prince Fielder and keep Hiroki Kuroda. That would be a better team.
Colletti's job is probably safe until the team changes hands, but for the good of the organization, a Christmas dismissal would be a Christmas miracle.
28. Oakland Athletics: A New Home
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Nobody comes to see the A's play in Oakland lately, and it's hard to blame them. The team has been through hard times of late, but that's not the reason folks are staying away. There are lots of better ones.
Oakland was once a much more vibrant community than it is now. The economic downturn has hit hard there. San Jose is now where the people and the money are, and the Athletics desperately want to be there. That's technically the Giants' territory, though, so it's become a turf war.
The tipping point might be that the facility the A's call home simply is not up to snuff. The Coliseum is still a viable home for the Raiders, if only just, but it's a nightmarish hole of a home park for a baseball team.
That goes double because of the massive comparative disadvantage the A's now face, other teams having built beautiful cash registers (ahem, ballparks) into which they have moved to general laudation and major boosts in revenue. No one needs this kind of help more than the A's, and as the Rays can attest, that's saying something.
27. Baltimore Orioles: A New Owner
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New Orioles baseball chief Dan Duquette was something like the team's fifth choice. They wanted Tony LaCava, Jerry Dipoto, Allard Baird and others, but many of those to whom they reached out declined to even interview for the vacant position after Andy MacPhail left.
The reason is owner Peter Angelos. No top job in baseball offers less flexibility or less autonomy than this one, because Angelos is forever butting in. He demands such input over the team's activities that he has never even given out a job called "general manager." He works hard to retain a choke hold on the team's decision-making, and that is to the detriment of all involved.
26. New York Mets: A Rich Person with Poor Judgment
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By now, you've read the New York Times story on all the perks a $20-million investment in the New York Mets could bring you, and you're thoroughly plumbed the depths of your mind for ways to fully avail yourself of your access to Mr. Met.
If you're still interested in getting on board, the Wilpons also have a lovely bridge not far from the park they think you'll love.
The Mets need a miracle, a cash infusion from (not one) several fools who are eager to entrust millions of dollars to a family currently living on bank-loan life support after being deked by Bernie Madoff. It's not likely to come, but there's always hope, and there's also an Ebenezer Scrooge joke here that I just can't quite reach.
25. Chicago Cubs: To See an Old Friend
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It isn't as though everyone has always wanted Anthony Rizzo. He went in the sixth round of the 2007 MLB draft, and it took a modest $325,000 to sign him. The Boston Red Sox liked him enough to draft him, and to stand by him through his battle with cancer in 2008, but they ultimately dealt him in 2010 to obtain Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres.
It was Theo Epstein who drafted Rizzo, on the advice of then-scouting director Jason McLeod. It was Jed Hoyer who dealt for him three-and-a-half years later. The three men who had faith in Rizzo from the beginning now all work for the Cubs, and they're looking for a young player around whom to begin to rebuild.
Rizzo is available thanks to a big trade that brought Yonder Alonso to the Padres. If the Cubs can get a solid minor-league arm to go with Rizzo, they will give the Padres Matt Garza and continue to mine for long-term assets even at the expense of short-term success.
24. San Diego Padres: The Right Price
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The Padres have behaved strangely this winter.
They dealt for closer Huston Street, which (for a team run by smart people, as the Padres are) usually signals an effort to contend in the near-term. Yet, they traded Mat Latos (their ace, by a mile) just two weeks later.
One possible explanation for that is that San Diego feels it's a better team with Edinson Volquez and Yonder Alonso than with Latos and either Rizzo or Jesus Guzman at first base. That seems unlikely, though; it would not be worthwhile to rock the boat so just to make a modest short-term improvement.
More likely, the Padres are building and swapping pieces to make themselves viable contenders for a long time to come. The NL West certainly doesn't provide a major roadblock in that regard. If that is the goal, they need to assess their surplus talent at first base and trade either Rizzo or Alonso.
The better bet is Rizzo, and the best bet is that the Padres will hold onto him for a few weeks to make sure they get the right price. If the deal comes along unexpectedly, though, as it seemed to for Latos, GM Josh Byrnes has proved he will pull the trigger quickly.
23. Minnesota Twins: A Reliable Program with a Low Deductible
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Ha! Get it? Because the Twins can't stay healthy!
A huge reason for the misery that was 2011 in Minnesota was the inability of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and the bulk of the pitching staff to stay on the field for any extended period. The problems aren't necessarily going anywhere.
Span and Morneau are dealing with concussions, which never really go all the way away, and Mauer has always been fragile. Worse, the team can't afford to move their superstar out from behind the plate, because he just is not worth $23 million per year anywhere else.
Still, things can only get better in that regard next year, right? Right? Wait, the team signed Jamey Carroll, 37, to play shortstop every day, and injury-prone Ryan Doumit to back up Mauer at catcher?* Yikes.
*I actually like both moves, but the injury risk is certainly there for each.
22. Seattle Mariners: A Prince for King County
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Prince Fielder could change the Mariners forever.
This team has not had a true slugging star since Edgar Martinez retired. They haven't had an elite left-handed bat since they traded Ken Griffey Jr. The Mariners offense was the worst in MLB by a ghastly margin for the second year in a row in 2011. Fielder would be the best batter the team has had in years.
SafeCo Field would not intimidate him. He could handle the big dimensions, and he could handle the retractable roof. He would even be able to DH sometimes, giving the team a boost defensively at first base.
It makes all kinds of sense, but it's unlikely to happen by Christmas. It's unlikely to happen at all.
21. Pittsburgh Pirates: Their First Choice
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The spending constraints within which the Pirates have to work at all times have always held them back when it came to big free-agent pursuits. They never get their first choice.
This winter, they have a chance to change that. They will not be alone in weighing the relative merits of Casey Kotchman, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena (among others) as the offseason heads out of the superstar phase, but they will be in position to carefully examine their options.
The Bucs need not hold spots for both Casey McGehee and Pedro Alvarez in their starting lineup; they should pick a player of interest and lock him up, even if it be for bigger bucks than they would normally shell out. These are the rare times when a second-tier free-agent signing can be a great bargain. Supply is soon to outweigh demand on the first-base market.
20. Chicago White Sox: A Manual
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No, not Jerry Manuel again, but a manual. A title to look for: "How to Rebuild."
At the Winter Meetings, White Sox GM Kenny Williams traded a delightfully cost-controlled closer in Sergio Santos to Toronto for a pitching prospect. At that point, he openly declared full rebuilding.
Maybe that was a bluff; maybe he changed his mind. Either way, within a fortnight, Williams had signed John Danks—his best trading chip to begin the rebuilding process—to a five-year, $65-million extension. Danks is a decent anchor, but the team needs to trim payroll in the worst way, and it's not likely to happen now. Williams seems to have no idea of the direction he wants to go. Maybe some light reading would help.
19. Colorado Rockies: An "Undo" Button
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How the Rockies ended up deciding to pay Michael Cuddyer $10.5 million more over the life of a three-year deal than Josh Willingham made when he signed with the Twins is beyond me. Then again, Dan O'Dowd's decisions are rarely easy to explain.
For instance, last summer, the Rockies made it clear they would trade Ubaldo Jimenez only for a sensational offer. Apparently, though, that meant getting two pitching prospects with big questions to answer and a couple spare parts, because that was the deal they ultimately struck with the Cleveland Indians.
I'm sure an actual "undo" button would send the Rockies spiraling into some bad Christmas-movie plot about appreciating things as they are, a blend between Home Alone, A Christmas Carol and Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Even so, it would be worth it if the team could undo those two bad deals and try something different.
18. Cleveland Indians: Miracle-Gro
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The Indians had two pitchers with a particular skill set as of last summer in Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona. Both were great inducers of ground balls. Apparently seeking uniformity of purpose, then, they went out and acquired Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe, who favor grounders at least as vehemently.
No team in baseball is going to need infield defense more in 2012. Unfortunately, that's not the team's great strength at the moment.
Asdrubal Cabrera is flashy but lacks range, especially to his right. Projected second and third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis are better bats than glove men, though neither is a slouch. Even defensive specialist Jack Hannahan is not the ideal fit at third base for the Tribe, though, because according to Fielding Bible Plus/Minus, he is weakest going to his left. That leaves a gaping hole on the left side of the infield.
It's not as though this unit has no athleticism. They will make enough plays to make the pitchers' approaches work. Still, letting the grass grow a shade longer on the infield would be a great help to the Indians' run prevention going forward.
17. Kansas City Royals: Mr. Right
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Kudos to the Royals' front office. Despite some goofy moves this winter, they have made some good ones (like the trade for Jonathan Sanchez), and they have resisted the urge to make some bad ones. Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez went for too much on the trade market, and the Royals wisely have waited for the right chance to strike in their effort to round out their starting rotation.
It's fast approaching, if not here. Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt remain on the market, and sound like they will be relative bargains. It might be possible to obtain Matt Garza or Wade Davis without giving up Wil Myers, in which case it would be wise to do so. The Royals really and truly could win the AL Central in 2012. They have only to take advantage of the after-Christmas sale on top-flight pitching.
16. Milwaukee Brewers: An Upheld Appeal
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The Brewers' entire hopes for 2012 currently ride on an appeal that will take an indeterminate amount of time to decide, and that will be decided (essentially) behind closed doors. That has to be remarkably frustrating.
If Ryan Braun is out 50 games in 2012 for a positive performance-enhancing drug test, the Brewers' window to compete has closed early. The team can't possibly win even half its games without their superstar left fielder, especially with Prince Fielder out of the picture. It's a waiting game.
15. Miami Marlins: Yoenis Cespedes
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I thought about being cute with the title or something, like I have with the other slides, but there's really no point. The Marlins' chips are on the table here. Cespedes would be a huge get for them.
After missing out on both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the team still needs an impact player at some position of need in order to truly contend in 2012. Center field is a position of need; Cespedes is an impact player. Expect them to spend $50 million or so buying themselves this gaudy belated Christmas present.
14. San Francisco Giants: A Do-over
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The Giants won the World Series in 2010. They had the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey. They had Brandon Belt waiting to come up and add much-needed thump to their lineup. They had it all.
But it all went for naught. In many ways, 2011 was a lost year for San Francisco. Andres Torres and Pat Burrell flamed out. Aubrey Huff proved he will not earn the bad contract the team gave him after the 2010 season. Belt never really got a fair shake, and struggled. Posey went down for the year in May.
This season, they'll try to get the stone rolling again. The starting rotation remains stellar. The team is better in the outfield than it was a year ago, with Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera replacing Burrell and Torres. Giants GM Brian Sabean can only hope the fans still have World Series fever in Year Two post-title, so that his team can capitalize more effectively this time.
13. Washington Nationals: A Little More Time
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My gut says the Nats are a year away yet. They still have a black hole in center field and a grossly overrated shortstop in Ian Desmond. They can't possibly know exactly what to expect from Adam LaRoche, Mike Morse and Jayson Werth, and their bullpen has borne a heavy load the past two seasons.
Bryce Harper could fix all of that. Prince Fielder would change a lot of it. The team has already addressed their pitching paucity with an aggressive trade for Gio Gonzalez, ensuring one of the game's best rotations. They just need more time to let Harper and Anthony Rendon gain seasoning. If the regular season were postponed by four months next season, the Nationals would be NL East favorites.
12. Atlanta Braves: A Holiday Sucker
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To be clear, that refers not to hard candy, but to the sort of executive who would give up a top prospect in order to get Jair Jurrjens.
The Braves have every reason to deal Jurrjens. He's their eighth-best starting pitcher. His career ERA is an impressive .340, and his ERC (according to Bill James) is 3.46, but his FIP is a less sturdy 3.88 and his xFIP is 4.22. SIERA and tERA are equally unkind.
Jurrjens lost two miles per hour on his average fastball in 2011, has battled injuries and is not more than an average pitcher. Yet, the Braves have put a high price tag on him. Their Christmas wish can be that someone will be foolish enough to pay sticker price.
11. Detroit Tigers: New Uniforms with the Names on the Front
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Jim Leyland is old, so this isn't funny. Dave Dombrowski seems to be just toying with his manager.
Leyland is in charge of rotating Andy Dirks, Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly, Brennan Boesch and Danny Worth through his lineup, at the corner outfield spots and second base. It's really not fair to Leyland to force him to do so without putting the names of each guy in plain view at all times. They're almost completely interchangeable. At times, they're downright indistinguishable.
To ask Leyland to know that Raburn, Kelly and Worth can play a little infield, while the other two can't, or that Dirks, Kelly and Boesch are the left-handed batters, is not fair. None of these guys is worth that much memory. Instead of even the altered unis, maybe Dombrowski should just find Leyland some more talented corner outfielders.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks: A Move to the AL
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Signing Jason Kubel, especially for $15 million over two years, was a curious deal for the Diamondbacks. Kubel bats left-handed, like incumbent left fielder Gerardo Parra. He's not going to play first base much, or so the team says right now. Apparently, Parra will now become a floating fourth outfielder, presumably spelling both Kubel and Chris Young on a regular basis.
Then again, maybe the team is simply loading up to move to the American League. The Astros are slated to do so in 2013, but the Diamondbacks are better built and better situated for such a move in every way. It may not be the preference of ownership, but Kevin Towers is building an AL-style team. They could really use that DH slot for Kubel.
9. Cincinnati Reds: The Final Piece to the Puzzle
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The Reds are close to being NL Central favorites going into 2012. They had it for a moment, after the Mat Latos deal, and before the St. Louis Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran Thursday. Now the ball is back in their court.
The obvious hole left on this roster is the one in left field. Chris Heisey is a great part-time option there, alongside Drew Stubbs, but he can't be an everyday player if the Reds want to win the division.
The missing piece of the puzzle is sitting there, waiting to be plucked. Kosuke Fukudome has a career .368 OBP against right-handed pitching, and could easily play left field, as well. He's a cheap free-agent option; the Reds can acquire him without losing the fiscal flexibility to sign a closer. That extra outfield piece could be the difference for the Reds next year.
8. St. Louis Cardinals: A Little Respect
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Like many others, I expect David Freese to regress in 2012. I expect Jon Jay to struggle holding down an everyday job. I expect Chris Carpenter to show extreme wear and tear after pitching to more batters to gut the Cards through without Adam Wainwright than any pitcher had faced in a decade. I expect this team to struggle.
I do not expect them to suddenly wilt without Tony La Russa. I do not expect them to miss Albert Pujols much, because they signed a player (Carlos Beltran) who was as good last season as Pujols. I do not expect them to miss a beat on the mound, as Wainwright will be back and Shelby Miller could be up by the stretch run.
This team might not look the way it did a few months ago, but it has the potential to be every bit as good. The more apropos question might be whether being as good will be good enough next year.
7. Toronto Blue Jays: A Pitcher
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The Blue Jays missed out on Yu Darvish, and that really bummed people out. The excitement that had built during the week leading up to that announcement popped like a balloon.
The front office, though, can ill-afford to dwell on their loss. They bid what they felt Darvish was worth, and now, they must set their sights on a different target. Their biggest need is still starting pitching, as their rotation is pocked with flaws after Ricky Romero.
Matt Garza makes a ton of sense in Toronto. Jair Jurrjens might, too, at the right price. Wade Davis is the typical Alex Anthopoulos target, but he's likely off-limits for intradivisional trade.
6. New York Yankees: Anti-Aging Cream
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The Yankees aren't getting old; they're already there. On average, they were the oldest team in the AL in 2011, both at the bat and on the mound. Jesus Montero will get more time this year, which will help in a way, but Derek Jeter (38), Alex Rodriguez (36), Mark Teixeira (32), Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson (31), A.J. Burnett (35) and Mariano Rivera (42) all still will have their key roles.
Even the perceived rising stars, like Robinson Cano (29), Brett Gardner (28) and CC Sabathia (31), are getting older than you think. The team will not necessarily collapse this season, but they need to be ready for a 2013 that is going to get ugly. Brian Cashman can only hope to keep his charges young in baseball terms (i.e., productive) for a few years more.
5. Philadelphia Phillies: The Escape Clause
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It's a far-fetched Christmas dream, but the Phillies are bound to wish they had built an escape clause into Ryan Howard's mega-deal that begins in April. Howard is set to earn $125 million over the next five years, but his production is already in decline and he will begin the deal on the disabled list with a severe Achilles injury.
Philadelphia always has money, but this is a bad place to have a ton of it tied up. Unfortunately, MLB contracts don't come with escape clauses, amnesty or team opt-outs. Howard is about to become a very rich burden on the team's roster.
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: A Home for Bobby Abreu
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Mike Trout is ready for the big leagues. He needs no more seasoning in the minor leagues. Normally, he would get it anyway, and the Angels would be happy to wait until he was fully ready. Right now, though, there's a sense of urgency afoot.
The Rangers remain better than the Angels, albeit in a very close contest, and the Angels can't afford not to carry one of their six or seven best position players simply because he is very young and can be held back without penalty.
Therefore, GM Jerry Dipoto needs to make a trade. Bobby Abreu is the natural candidate, a player who can still hit but has little utility to the Angels in their current logjam. Once Abreu is gone, Trout will be in the clear and on the roster, and Mike Scioscia can work playing-time out from there.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: Money, Money, Money, Money; MONEY
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A team that has made the playoffs three times in four years and plays a thrilling brand of baseball should not ever have to compromise this way.
The Rays need a first baseman, and ideally, they would grab someone with offensive upside. In fact, that's the priority. Improved offense at almost any position would be welcome. To that end, the Rays got in touch (however briefly) with Carlos Beltran.
Of course, they could not afford Beltran. He would have had greater interest and utility in playing for the Rays than the Cardinals, but Tampa could not even nearly match the $26 million St. Louis gave him over two years.
Eventually, they're going to have to fill this hole via trade. It means giving up far too soon on a pitcher they really like, and locked down for years to come, in Wade Davis. They can't let this opportunity to win go by, and they can't acquire free agents because they're cash-strapped.
So it comes down to this: People of Tampa-St. Pete, earn your team, or kindly give them to someone who will. The lack of attendance and even (on occasion) interest in this great baseball in a large community is tragic.
2. Boston Red Sox: A Healthy 2012
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The Red Sox limped to the finish in 2011, missing the playoffs on the season's final day. The problem, though, was not the clubhouse hi-jinks, nor any lack of intensity or talent. It was simply that the Sox were not able to physically survive.
Josh Beckett pitched the final month on one ankle. John Lackey pitched through a torn ligament. Clay Buchholz never made it back from a back injury, and the Sox lost Kevin Youkilis for the year on September 15, after he spent a fortnight trying to play through injury himself.
The Sox were the best team in the AL in 2011, just not the luckiest. They struggled to stay healthy and went cold at the worst possible time. If they can just stay healthy next year, they should be back in October.
1. Texas Rangers: A Brain, for Ron Washington
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Ron Washington absolutely and without equivocation cost the Texas Rangers the World Series in 2011. This article details the laundry list of errors he and Tony La Russa each made, but notice, Washington's ended up being much more costly.
He is a great motivator and players' manager, but an awful, miserable tactician. If he isn't smarter, the Rangers will always be vulnerable in postseason play. Texas GM Jon Daniels needs to work closely with Washington on what's wrong with his approach, and never be afraid to chastise his skipper for a poor choice.