I am not sure how good the 49ers are at fielding but they have 4 strong arms on the team. They have some major power in the middle of the lineup with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. I feel like Randy Moss will be able to cover a lot of ground in center. I am most excited about Justin Smith at catcher. I can guarantee you that people will be sliding around him and nobody will be doing anything if he is blocking the plate.
Okay, so that isn't really what I mean at all. What I really wonder is can the 49ers go from a laughing stock bottom dwelling team for the last 10 years, have a Cinderella season, and turn into a model franchise that is a consistant winner. That is what the Rangers have done. I am not saying the Rangers are perfect or that they are going to win or even go to any more World Series. What I am saying is that they have rebuilt their organization from the top down and have great results to show for it.
To start with we know they both lose to the Giants at important times. If you are not a S.F Giants fan then this was probably too soon. I apologize to 49ers fans but I couldn't help myself. I am not really a Rangers fan. At least not the way I am a 49ers fan. I have been a 49ers fan basically since the time that I developed conscious thought. I am pretty sure my first thoughts went something like this..."I like juice" and then basically the next thought was "Joe Montana is the greatest QB that has ever lived, maybe not statistically but based on other attributes such as his leadership, decision making, and the ability to perform in the clutch on the biggest stage." Or something like that. I spend hours every day on NN and searching for 49ers news. The Rangers on the other hand I had never given a second thought to until I moved to Dallas a few years ago. And even then, as with most people in Dallas, they still didn't matter to me. However, as I drive around town now and listen to sports radio, or hear people in my office talk about the team, or I read stories about them I hear some very similar themes to that of the 49ers.
Lets take a closer look at some these after the jump
First, let us look at where the franchises were as a whole:
Rangers: From 2000-2009 they never made the playoffs and they only finished with 1 season over .500. That lone winning season was in 2009. They had been to the playoffs three time in the late 90's and never won a series. The last playoff appearance was 1999. All time the franchise had only won a single playoff game. The Rangers owner was Tom Hicks. Tom Hicks was known as a cheap owner. He would sign a few flashy free agents that he thought would help sell tickets because he was more concerned with that than with winning baseball games.
49ers: Form 2003-2010 their best season was .500 and they had zero playoff appearances. They averaged less than 6 wins per season. Everything the franchise had built during the dynasty years was laid to waste. They were owned, and more importantly controlled, by John York. During this time the franchise seemed more concerned with trying to save money then winning football games.
Now lets look at where they were on the field:
Rangers: The Rangers were looked at as a 1 dimensional team. They could hit for power. And that was about it. During that run they had a lot of overpriced homerun hitters. The pitching and defense left a lot to be desired. Because of their poor records they did have some talent on the team that was acquired through high draft picks. However, it was never really developed well and players weren't put in positions to succeed.
49ers: After years of defensive minded coaches the 49ers had developed a respectable defense. Due to their constant losing they had selected high in many drafts and had players with potential, a lot of busts, and teams that never lived up to expectations.
What changed for the Rangers:
The changes happen at the top. Ron Washington was hired as the manager in 2007. He has improved the recored of the team every year he has managed them. That was only the beginning. In 2008 Nolan Ryan was hired as the team's president. More importantly he was part of an ownership team that purchased the Rangers in 2010. During this time the Ranger's GM Jon Daniels really came into his own. Although some of his early decisions were questionable at best, he is now considered a top GM.
Rangers' change in atmosphere:
There is one thing that is important in Arlington now, winning baseball games. Nolan Ryan has given the Rangers instant credibility. He knows baseball inside and out. Everybody in the organization is focused on building the best franchise possible. The Rangers now have a great philosophy on building a team. They draft well and have built one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. They make smart trades. They make smart free agent decisions.
In 2010 the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee mid season and he played a key role in helping them get to the World Series that year. In the offseason they put a value on Cliff Lee and a number of years that they would be willing to sign him for. When that value and those years weren't accepted by Lee they let him leave. In what was considered a very controversial decision at the time they let their best pitcher leave because he wouldn't work within their philosophy. The next year CJ Wilson was their number one pitcher. He played well throughout the year. At the end of the season he was a free agent. Again they came up with a value and a number of years that they were willing to sign him. He refused and they let him walk. How did they respond the next season after having lost their two best pitchers in the each of the last two off-seasons? Well they currently have the best record in baseball.
I do not think that every decision that the Rangers make going forward is going to turn out in their favor. I am saying that they have a plan and a philosophy. Basically it comes down to making smart baseball decisions. They are going to build a team from the inside with a few strategic trades and free agent signings. They wont over pay for players. And if they lose somebody then it is time for the next man up.
By building a team this way they have become one of the most well rounded teams in baseball. They are good at base running, fielding, starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting for power, and hitting for average. Plus, they have great depth.
How are the49ers changes the same?
Again we go to the top. The ownership changed. At least, control of the team changed. At the end of 2008 Jed York took over as de facto owner. He was in control of the football team. Like Jon Daniels did with the Rangers he made some mistakes at first. However, he fixed them relatively quickly, including promoting Trent Baalke to GM in early 2011.
Baalke has extensive experience in scouting and evaluation of talent. I would say this is the most important aspect of a GM. In order for a team to consistently make good decisions in player acquisitions they must have a strong scouting department. Baalke understands scouting as that is how he began his NFL career.
Jim Harbaugh brought instant credibility to the 49ers much the same way Nolan Ryan did for the Rangers. I am not saying that Jim had a similar career to Ryan as players. They are not even close that way. But Harbaugh is respected in football circles. His football IQ should be unquestioned. As a 16 year NFL quarterback he understands the pro game. As the son of a coach, brother of an NFL coach, and after 2 successful stints at college coaching he was a very hot prospect when the 49ers signed him. He knows football inside and out.
Along with Jim Harbaugh the 49ers brought in a coaching staff that is good at what they do. I would like to stress two coaches in particular. Brad Seely is one of the best Special Teams coaches in football and just a great football mind. Vic Fangio has a history of coaching some great defenses.
49ers change in atmosphere:
For those of us that follow the 49ers closely, and if you are reading a football blog around the end of June, that would be you, there has been a significant change in atmosphere with the 49ers. No longer does the team seem concerned about finding the best way to save money. They now seemed concerned about one thing. The best way to win football games. The people making decisions are football people. Jed York hires people who are more football savvy than him to make football decisions. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh come from football families and they love football. They are competitive people who want to win.
The 49ers make smart football decisions now. They no longer give giant long-term contracts to CB's who don't perform. They put a value on players and determine a number of years that they are willing to give him and they don't over pay. At the end of the 2011 season the 49ers had two major areas of weakness. The right guard and wide receiver. Yet, when Adam Snyder and Josh Morgan got overly large offers from other teams the 49ers let them walk. Could those players go on to have good years with their new teams. They very well could. But that doesn't mean that the decision to let them walk is the wrong one.
In 2011 the 49ers lost Takeo Spikes. At the time it seemed like a big loss. However, the 49ers were able to fill that spot with a better, younger, cheaper player in NaVorro Bowman. The 49ers also let Aubrayo Franklin walk after last year. Again he was replaced by somebody cheaper who filled his role excellently. They let Dashon Goldson test free agency last year. He ended up coming back and signing a very favorable 1 year contract for the 49ers. They seem to refuse to over spend or sign players for longer than they want to. The contracts they do sign seem to be very team friendly. They are making smart football decsions.
And like the Rangers and their stacked farm system the 49ers seem to be building all sorts of young depth. Only a few players on the entire team are 30 or older. And all of those players seem to have young players waiting in the wings to fill their roles. This offseason is going to result in good players being cut from the team becaues the 49ers just don't have room for all of the talent they are acquiring. Like the Rangers the 49ers are now a place that players choose to play. By building the team this way the 49ers are now one of the most balanced teams in football.
The next step
In 2009 the Rangers were a Cinderella team. They were never supposed to make it as far as they did. In 2010 they were supposed to come back to earth. However, they contended again. This year the Rangers are the best team in baseball and should contend for the World Series. Not only do they have a good team they have a well run organization which should mean that they will contend for years to come.
Last year the 49ers had their Cinderella run. This year they need to come out and contend again. After that it is about becoming a routine contender. They must continue to make good football decisions and that will lead them to becoming one fo the premier organizations. Not a team that does everything perfectly, or a team that wins every Super Bowl, but a team that we can be proud of as fans and a team that contends on a regular basis. A team like the Rangers.