After the abrupt ending of an equivocal train wreck with a 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card game, the Texas Rangers found themselves in an interesting and ultimately optimistic position. Rangers fans had perhaps grown jaded with disappointment, and expected an offseason glimmering with blockbuster acquisitions, with names like Zack Greinke and Justin Upton being floated about, but just a mere 2 ½ months later, the Rangers now find themselves beneath the oppressive shadows of an ultimately disappointing offseason, the likes of which is getting unreasonably bashed for a strict adherence to “The Code”.
It seems so long ago when the Rangers overthrew those mighty Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. The 2010 Rangers were an exuberant and youthful bunch, led by an MVP season from Josh Hamilton and an equally impressive comeback season from DH Vladimir Guerrero. The mid season acquisition of Cliff Lee did nothing but bolster the pitching staff and legitimize the team as a genuine World Series contender. But let’s take a second to analyze the 2010 Rangers:
2010 was branded by the Rangers front office as the year in which the Rangers young core, together with a strong veteran presence, would make their way to the AL West division crown, and boy were the right. But more importantly, 2010 was the result of a long and deliberate adherence to “The Code”.
Consistent winning baseball had long eluded the Texas Rangers franchise, so it was an acute sign of awareness that following the prodigious haul that was acquired from Atlanta following the Mark Teixeira trade, that the Rangers declared their stance on rebuilding the franchise from the ground on up. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the first step in establishing “The Code”—a rigorous plan to not only field a championship team, but to do so season-by-season.
The next step in the code was deliberate and precise: Wait for the right opportunity. Texas, being rich in prospects, assessed their position and knew that it was time to go all-in, thusly acquiring Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners, and the rest is history.
How this relates to the current dilemma facing the Rangers is actually quite simple. The Rangers again have a young and promising core, highlighted by mega prospect, Jurickson Profar, and have assessed their current position and deemed it as unnecessary and detrimental to building a consistent winning team, year-to-year, by spending excessive amounts of money on the free agent market for players like Zack Greinke, whom by himself would not have made the Rangers a lock for the playoff contention. Signing Greinke would improve the team in 2013, but it would also hamstring the team in terms of addressing other needs for the club by already being over or near the budget cap. Besides, it’s unrealistic to dismiss the fact that the Dodgers would’ve outbid any other team that was involved in negotiations anyways. Let’s face it, neglecting to sign Zack Greinke wasn’t a failure on the part of the Front Office, it was a result of being interested in a certain player but only at the right price. The quotes that came from Greinke regarding his impressions of the Rangers during the Winter Meetings were more than likely a leveraging tactic to add more gasoline to the burning fire that is the Dodgers’ money inferno. In the end, it always comes down to money.
Presently, the effects that the new TV deals are having on the MLB landscape are beginning to unfold, as evidenced by the most recent blockbuster FA signings and trades: The price of WAR is inflating, and the value of prospects seems to be lower than in recent years, as evidenced by the James Shields-for-Wil Myers (and others) and R.A. Dickey-for-Travis d’Arnaud (and others) trades. Perhaps this has something to do with why Arizona is said to not be impressed by Rangers’ prospect Mike Olt, and their rumored insistence on one of the Rangers “coveted” shortstops.
Now, onto that aforementioned, longly-rumored and often mused about Elvis Andrus-for-Justin Upton trade: This hypothesized deal obviously makes sense for both sides. With Elvis Andrus, the Diamondbacks could easily expect a 4 WAR player at shortstop, and maybe even a 5 WAR player if Andrus’ bat ever takes the next step, as indicated by Andrus wRC+ 0f 95 in 2012, so there’s definitely room for improvement in the offensive department, but Andrus is still very young, so it is still very much possible. As for Justin Upton, the Rangers would be acquiring a corner OF whom would push incumbent right fielder, Nelson Cruz, into the DH role, a role that was primarily occupied by Michael Young, who was a proverbial kink in the cog of the Rangers’ offensive machine in 2012. So by having Nelson Cruz in the DH role alone adds wins to the team as compared to the offensive output from that position in 2012. Now, with Justin Upton, the Rangers would be acquiring a middle of the order bat that could projectively replace Josh Hamilton’s bat in the lineup. Part of what makes Upton so desirable is both his age and his team friendly contract. Upton oozes with potential and has already delivered an MVP caliber season in 2011, so the talent is still there. By all indications, 2012 was the result of Upton’s insistence to play through injury, something that also seems to negate the notion that Upton is selfish and not a team player, for what it’s worth. As for why this hypothesized trade has yet to happen is simple. Rather than looking for some complex answer, the most likely reason is that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, has a very solid team that could challenge for one of the NL Wild Card spots, and the fact that Arizona already acquired a young SS in Didi Gregorius, without losing Justin Upton’s bat in the lineup. I don’t think that there was ever a true willingness on behalf of Towers to trade Upton, but then again, I’d love to be proven wrong.
In 2013, expect the Rangers to field a young and athletic team. A team that relies on stolen bases and small-ball, rather than HR’s. The starting rotation is very solid and even underrated to some degree, especially if Derek Holland can ever find some consistency, and if Yu Darvish continues his ascent to becoming a legitimate MLB ace. This team will be competitive in 2013, and as it stands now, the 2013 Rangers would win between 80 and 85 games, but by 2015, when the Rangers long-discussed TV deal finally comes into fruition, Texas will be able to somewhat balance the scales between them and the other big spending clubs. This offseason, the Rangers have stuck to the code that brought the franchise its first tastes of success. An adherence to the mentality of developing prospects and being a powerhouse in the international market like a small market team, but having the resources of a larger market club. This offseason certainly hasn’t been a success, but it is definitely not the disaster that many many have labeled it as. The moves that have been made, rather lack thereof, will contribute more to the club in the future than if these moves were made in the present, with the exception of the Rangers’ rumored reluctance to trade Elvis Andrus, whom not only blocks Jurickson Profar from his natural position, he also could (and still can) bring in a hefty return in the form of a TORP or MOTOB. But according to Rangers owner Bob Simpson, when questioned about the team’s goals, “by 2015 the goal is that this team will be self-sustaining, but our payroll may be another 40 or 50 percent higher. So that will move you up to a level where you should field a great team year after year. We just need to bridge the gap to get this great franchise to permanent success.”
The Rangers still have a clear vision for the direction of the franchise, and as long as Texas sticks to the code that brought the team its first tastes of winning, the Rangers will be a yearly contender for the foreseeable future.