'I hope they go 0-162'

But a second baseman who launches 30 homers and steals 30 bags, as Kinsler did in 2009 and again in 2011, is much more valuable than a first baseman who hits for power. In a moment of veteran pride and defiance of youth, Kinsler declared second his domain. "These guys gotta earn it; that's what I did," he says. "I was a 17th-round pick, so there was zero coddling. I had to put myself on the prospect map." In other words: No kid was taking his job.

"We backed off at that point," says Jon Daniels, Rangers president of baseball operations and general manager. "We presented it as, 'We would like you to do this,' and we left it up to him." With Kinsler staying put at second, Profar bounced around among five positions last season and struggled at the plate, hitting just .234 in 286 at-bats. Meanwhile, in Young's absence, Kinsler became the longest-tenured Ranger, the de facto clubhouse leader. It fell to him to police the clubhouse, making sure players got to meetings on time and didn't wear earrings in the weight room. "I was bogged down," he says. "They wanted me to lead these young players, teach them the way to compete, when the only thing I should be worried about is how I'm performing in the game." For a guy trying to bust out of a yearlong slump and re-establish himself among the game's best second basemen, it was exhausting.

ON THE FIELD, Kinsler posted respectable numbers in 2013 -- .277 BA, 13 homers, 15 steals, 4.9 WAR -- but nothing close to his 30/30 heyday. He berated himself for a poor play at second, for every bad at-bat. "He's a little intense," third baseman Adrian Beltre says of his good friend. "Sometimes he'll go overboard because he just wants to win and doesn't care about anything else." For Kinsler, the stress, pressure and frustration continued to build. "We were playing bad as a team," he says, "and when you're playing bad, everyone's on edge."

Finally, in a late-September game against the Angels, Kinsler exploded over what he saw as a lack of effort from Beltre and Andrus. "Base hit to left," Kinsler remembers. "Leftfielder throws it in to Elvis. Elvis and Beltre are talking about the play, and Elvis is just holding the ball -- like the game isn't even going on. It's not a dead ball. It's not timeout. The play is still live. I'm like, 'Hey! Let's f -- ing go!' And Adrian's like, 'Chill out. We're talking about the play.'" Beltre and Kinsler continued their argument in the dugout and even went down the tunnel to hash out their differences. "For the two leaders of the team to be yelling at each other in front of the squad ... it's not very cohesive to winning," Kinsler now admits.

The Rangers lost 15 of their first 20 games in September and fell out of the AL West lead. A late rally led to a one-game wild-card playoff, which they lost to Tampa Bay. Then it was over. Another season gone. There was more talk of Kinsler's decline, another elite second baseman who faded quickly, like Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Chuck Knoblauch and Brian Roberts. The rumor mill churned with trade talk.

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