Breaking Down How the Texas Rangers Built the Makings of an MLB Dynasty
In the 10-season period between the Texas Rangers' last division title in 1999 and their next one in 2010, the team finished third or fourth in the AL West eight times.
History wasn't exactly on their side before that span either. Despite some success in the '90s, the Rangers still had only three division titles and zero playoff series wins in almost 40 years.
Let's just say times have changed. Consecutive American League pennants have transformed the franchise's image in the eyes of baseball.
Texas had eight players selected to this year's All-Star game. At the halfway point in 2012, the team is tied for the most wins in baseball, despite numerous injuries and a few stretches of poor play.
The Rangers don't look like they plan on slowing down anytime soon. Here is a breakdown of how this potential MLB dynasty was built.
Change in Philosophy
The change in philosophy is a big reason for the success in Texas, and there is plenty of credit to go around for that. Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels and Ron Washington (and their staffs) deserve a lot of credit.
Rangers pitching was long considered an oxymoron in the not-so-distant old days. Many excuses were tossed around as reasons for their problems, with the Texas heat among the most popular.
Ryan, Daniels and Washington have proven that excuses come from a losing locker room. Texas has had seven pitchers selected to the All-Star game the last three seasons, and, as a team, they finished in the top five in the AL in ERA in 2010 and 2011.
Defense is also a priority under the new regime. Texas has three terrific arms in the outfield, two of the best infielders up the middle and a Gold Glove third baseman to anchor the corner.
As far as offense goes, the Rangers are still a team where hitting is a big strength, but they are no longer the mindless home run mashers of the past.
In the new era, they steal bases, bunt runners over, hit and run, and employ other “small ball” strategies. It wasn’t what fans were used to at first, but the results don't lie.
Commitment to the Farm System
The Rangers' commitment to their farm system has offered them numerous opportunities the last several seasons.
First, they have been able to draw from their well of talent and sprinkle these young players in to the major league roster. Players like Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz allow the Rangers to compete now and in the future.
The farm system has also provided them with the assets they need to make big moves at the trade deadline. Cliff Lee, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara were easier to acquire because Texas has prospects that other teams envy.
As the 2012 season has shown, a good farm system can be useful when injuries begin to pile up. With multiple players in the rotation on the DL, the team was forced to call up youngsters Justin Grimm and Martin Perez.
Both were able to hold their own for the most part against big league hitters and help the Rangers maintain their lead in the division for the time being.
Young outfielder Leonys Martin has also been called up due to injuries on the roster. He has displayed his talent by providing a needed spark at the bottom of the lineup.
The Rangers have made many trades over the last several years that laid the foundation for their success.
The first one that must always be mentioned is the Mark Teixeira trade in 2007. This deal landed Texas three eventual All-Stars: Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz.
There is also the trade with the Reds that landed Josh Hamilton in Texas. The Rangers dealt Edinson Volquez, who is no longer with Cincinnati, for a guy who is now one of the best players in the game.
Another smart deal that sometimes goes unmentioned is the trade for Nelson Cruz. At the time, Cruz was a minor leaguer who looked like a spare part in the Carlos Lee deal. Now, Nelly is an All-Star and ALCS MVP who has been a major producer for the Rangers over the last few seasons.
Smart Deadline Acquisitions
With the team in first place at the halfway point in 2010, the Rangers made a franchise changing move. They dealt Justin Smoak and other top prospects to Seattle for ace Cliff Lee. They immediately made the lefty their No. 1 starter, and he helped Texas clinch its first AL pennant.
Although Lee was only a half-season loan, the acquisition was essential for the team to accomplish this goal.
The Rangers continued their aggressive and smart approach at the 2011 deadline. Closer Heath Bell was the player everyone was talking about, but instead of trading top prospects for another half-season loan, Texas acquired Mike Adams, who they could have under contract for all of 2012 as well.
Adams immediately helped stabilize a shaky bullpen and helped the team clinch a second straight AL pennant.
Better Use of Funds
Bankruptcy seems to have taught the Rangers a very good lesson. Instead of throwing money at free agents like candy on Halloween, the team has done a better job of getting more bang for their buck.
The 2010 season is the best example. Texas signed former Ranger-killer Vladimir Guerrero to a small, one-year contract when most people thought he had nothing left in the tank. He responded with a terrific season, batting cleanup and hitting .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBI.
There is also the small three-year contract Colby Lewis signed. After two seasons in Japan, Lewis returned to the MLB in 2010. He has won over 30 games in two-and-a-half seasons in Texas. More importantly, he is also 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in the postseason.
Rising from bankruptcy with new ownership, the Rangers now have a big television contract and deep pockets. Thus far, they've put their money to good use.
Adrian Beltre signed a big six-year contract with Texas as a free agent in 2011. One-and-a-half seasons into the deal, the third baseman has two All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger award.
Texas also spent over $100 million on Yu Darvish with hopes of making him their future ace. Halfway through his rookie season, Darvish has 10 wins, a 3.59 ERA and is fourth in the AL in strikeouts.
It’s one thing to sign talented players, but it’s entirely different to develop them in to consistent stars. The Rangers have done an outstanding job of this.
For example, when Texas acquired Harrison, Feliz and Andrus, all three of these players were 21 years old or younger. They were filled with promise, but there are a lot of ballplayers who never become the players they should be.
C.J. Wilson is another player who developed in to a fine player under the Rangers watch. Although he's now pitching for the rival Angles, Wilson sharpened his skills as a starter with Texas after they moved him from the bullpen to the rotation.
Robbie Ross is still young, but he has developed into a very dependable arm in the bullpen. He looks to have a bright future in Texas.
The old cliché says that everything is bigger in Texas, and that used to include egos.
Fortunately for the Rangers, their rise from baseball’s underbelly has not bred any prima donnas. The best example of their selfless, team-first attitude is Michael Young.
Young is a seven-time All-Star who has been asked to change positions an unprecedented three times. Though not thrilled about it, he has never been a distraction and each time put his ego in check for the betterment of the team.
The Rangers have the good fortune of a roster filled with guys who seem to love playing the game and being around each other. Success doesn’t always bring out the best in people, but as one of the MLB’s new model franchises, Texas is proving to be an exception.