After reaching the World Series last season, it’s easy to forget about all the struggles the Rangers have had in the past 11 years. After winning the AL West in 1999 with an impressive 95 wins, the Rangers spent the next the next nine seasons wallowing in mediocrity. They always had a good offense and never lost more than 91 games in a season, but until 2009 they only had one season where they finished with above a .500 record.
Over the past few years, though, the Rangers have gone through a transformation: their major league team is the strongest in the AL West, their minor league system is much improved, and they finally have a new ownership in place that has already expanded their payroll.
Present Talent – 83.33 (8th)
Future Talent – 80.0 (16th)
Financial Resources – 83.46 (5th)
Baseball Operations – 84.17 (8th)
Overall Rating – 83.08 (7th)
The Rangers have always had a good offense; until recently, though, they’ve never had a strong enough pitching staff to complement that offense. Pitching well in the Ballpark In Arlington is no small feat – it’s a very hitter-friendly park – and the Rangers compounded their problem by filling their past rotation with names like Chan Ho Park, Pedro Astacio, Vicente Padilla, Ryan Drese, Rob Bell, and Rick Helling. In fact, the 2010 club scored 29 fewer runs than the lowest scoring Rangers team from 2000-2008; their success stemmed from their pitchers, who allowed 100 fewer runs (or more!) than any of those clubs.
Due to some shrewd trades and free agent signings (and a minor league system that was rated 4th best in the majors in 2008), the Rangers have a core in place that should be around for multiple years going forward. Nelson Cruz is under team control through 2013, while Josh Hamilton is signed through 2012. Ian Kinsler and Colby Lewis both have affordable team options for 2013, and Adrian Beltre is signed through 2015. And if you want to start talking about young talent…well, Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland, Mitch Moreland, and Elvis Andrus aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With a core this talented and affordable, the Rangers are in a good position for the future.
Of course, the Rangers do have some dangling bad contracts that hurt their flexibility. Michael Young’s contract is looking less and less attractive every day (signed through 2013 at $16 million per year), especially now that he’s splitting time at first base and DH. Also, Scott Feldman looks less likely to repeat his “breakout” 2009 season now, as he posted a 4.73 FIP / 4.69 xFIP in 2010 and is starting this season on the DL. He’s only owed $10 million through 2012, though, so his contract extension at least isn’t that damaging. And with the new ownership in charge of the Rangers, these contracts aren’t nearly as damaging as they’d be on some other clubs.
In fact, the Rangers’ new ownership situation already appears to be making a significant difference. Past owner John Hicks defaulted on a loan in early April of 2009 and put the club up for sale shortly thereafter, so there was plenty of financial uncertainty circling around the team. Who would buy the club? How would they run it? Would they be willing to invest money in the team’s payroll, or no? While Chuck Greenberg has now left new ownership team due to differences with Nolan Ryan (and rumors that he was trying to butt into baseball operations decisions), the club appears to be in very good hands. The Rangers had kept their payroll around the $55-65 million range for the past seven seasons, but Ryan has already increased that to around $85-90 million for 2011. Also, and possibly most importantly, Ryan has signed GM Jon Daniels to a four year extension and stated publicly that:
“With the team of people we have in place, I’m not a micromanager. I really believe in hiring good people and allowing them to do their jobs. So it will definitely be a joint effort, not only in the front office, but as it’s been in the baseball department.”
Daniels took over running the Rangers before the 2006 season, making him the youngest GM in baseball at the time (although also newly appointed Andrew Friedman was only a year older). He had a bit of a learning curve and certainly made some early trades that didn’t work out (trading away John Danks and Adrian Gonzalez for peanuts smarts a bit), but his overall track record is very positive and he’s made it clear that he values advanced statistical analysis. During his time with the Rangers, Daniels has restocked the minor league system, built a strong pitching staff, and turned the Rangers into a team built for long-term success. His work this past season might be his pièce de résistance: working through the swirling financial issues, Daniels struck gold with Colby Lewis, switched C.J. Wilson to the starting rotation, and managed to swing a trade for Cliff Lee. He got the Rangers to the World Series, which is no easy feat even under the best of financial circumstances.
The Rangers are in a very good place at the moment. The back end of their pitching rotation is a bit weak and they’ll need to get creative if C.J. Wilson leaves via free agency after this season, but they are still well situated to compete for many years in the future. The AL West isn’t the strongest division at the moment, and the Rangers appear to have both a smart ownership and baseball operations team in place to fill any holes that may develop in their squad. Rangers fans, be glad – ownership switches don’t always have this happy of an ending.