ARLINGTON — Brandon Wood knew this might be coming, but when it did on Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark – where teammate Joe Saunders had been given the news last year — it hit him like a thunderbolt.
His life with the Angels was over. Time to move on to whatever was waiting in the on-deck circle.
Nobody knows for certain why all that talent didn’t translate into production. My best guess is that those years spent riding the Salt Lake-Anaheim shuttle, waiting and waiting for his shot, gradually chipped away at Wood’s confidence.
When the opportunity to play regularly finally arrived last season, he overreacted to early struggles (and bad luck with line drives and long drives landing in gloves) and tied himself in emotional knots. He was unable to pull himself back together, pressuring himself inordinately.
Here is what so many demanding, today-is-everything fans can’t seem to understand: athletes, no matter how gifted, are cursed with the same insecurities and personal issues as the rest of us.
Wood always appeared supremely confident. He knew he was good, having excelled throughout his young life. But when he started questioning himself early last season, it began a cycle that overwhelmed him.
To his credit, he remained grounded and retained his sense of humor throughout. Teammates genuinely cared for him and felt for him. He’s a good guy, open, gentlemanly. If you have a heart, you hope good things happen to him now.
There are several places I would like to see him land. My first choice would be San Diego. The Padres’ manager, Bud Black, knows Brandon from their time together with the Angels and would understand how best to extract all that talent from this exceptional package.
Wood is a shortstop. He became a third baseman, and a good one, but in his heart and mind, he is a shortstop. It was fascinating to see how different he was when he was in the lineup at shortstop rather than at third.
He hit when he played shortstop. His one stretch with the Angels where he played consistently good baseball came late in the 2008 season when Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis were down, and Wood was the shortstop by default for a month.
He was excellent defensively – good hands and range, strong arm, fine instincts – and hit in the .250 range, occasionally showing his stunning power. A confident Wood, at shortstop, has the ability to be a force. I truly believe that.
Another intriguing fit would be Arizona, his hometown team. He’d have to be a third baseman there, with Stephen Drew at shortstop, but the low-key environment, ballpark and comforts of home would be benefits.
Houston and Pittsburgh could find a role and at-bats for Wood. There are other places where a roll of the dice on an athlete with his skills would make great sense.
Know this: Wood is not giving up on himself. His eyes red, the shock and pain evident, he mentioned redemption several times after getting the news Tuesday night.
Wood admitted that he put too much pressure on himself last season, and it was a lesson learned. Given a real chance in the right environment, Wood might make somebody look lucky – and smart – by bringing him aboard.
This is not a lost cause. The talent, commitment and intelligence are there. Here’s hoping Wood unlocks the key and shows what he can do. – Lyle Spencer