Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins mid-February. Our series continues with the Texas Rangers.
2012 record: 93-69
Finish: Second, AL West
2012 final payroll: $134.3 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $128 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 12
Hashtags: #howbaseballgo #hamgone #yu2 #benjamins4harrison #pumatown #theryanexpression #phatelvis #waitingonprofar #higholtage
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There's no pleasure in being the Cinderella-ed. Seriously, when a bunch of guys are Bernie dancing and sneak-attack pie-ing and wide-eyed winning in the most ridiculous, least expected ways, and it ain't you? When the best you can muster is a good, hard glower from the team president's seat?
But to have it happen twice?
The two best redemptive stories in baseball last season were the Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles. In order for those stories to reach their delirious potentials, the Rangers first had to be hauled down from five games ahead with nine to play. And the Rangers had to lose seven of their last nine games. And then the Rangers had to return home from the Oakland debacle, line up their 16-game winner (Yu Darvish) against a guy (Joe Saunders) who was 0-6 in six starts in their ballpark, and get run off the field in that game, too.
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The Rangers finally had pushed past the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West – their farm system was better, their big-league team was better, their front office was better – only to experience these two miserable weeks in which the team across the way celebrated nearly every night.
Unfathomably, they'd finish second in the division. Then second in the AL wild-card game. Then, just to keep the trend rolling along, winter came and the Rangers finished second (or not first) for Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton. They called the Miami Marlins and learned Giancarlo Stanton was not (yet) available. They watched as the Angels signed Hamilton, a year after the Angels signed C.J. Wilson. Given enough time, the Angels apparently would reconstruct the entire Rangers team, circa 2011.
Suddenly, the twice-defending American League champions had holes. So, along the way, they traded franchise icon Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Josh Lindblom and younger reliever Lisalverto Bonilla. They signed Lance Berkman to cover the DH spot. Mike Napoli left to sign – eventually – with the Boston Red Sox, so the Rangers signed A.J. Pierzynski. They also signed relievers Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor.
The Rangers had the money, the prospects, the roster space and the incentive to own the offseason. Instead, they got Cinderella-ed again. But, hey, it's gotta turn midnight soon, right?
So the Rangers had a trying five months.
Fact is, plenty of organizations would love to have their problems. They're still among the handful of contenders in the league. They're still smart with their money, their roster and their prospects. Given the inherent depth challenges in Oakland and the tendency toward underachieving in Anaheim, it would surprise few if the Rangers re-orient themselves, win the division and play well into October again.
A few things will have to go right.
Berkman likely will have to stay upright. A reasonably healthy Puma batted .301 and hit 31 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. The other Puma gimped around on a disintegrating body and batted .259 over 32 games for the Cardinals in 2012. He's penciled to bat third for the Rangers, between Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, so in Hamilton's former home. For Hamilton's flaws, he turned the three-hole in Texas into an MVP, a batting title and just last season 43 homers and 128 RBIs.
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Pierzynski, at 36, will have to be closer to the guy who hit 27 home runs and OPS-ed .827 in last season's walk year, rather than the guy who hit eight home runs the year before, and nine the year before that.
Center field will have to find its way, somewhere between Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon and, perhaps, 21-year-old prospect Leury Garcia. The most likely spring outcome is a platoon of the left-handed-hitting Martin and the right-handed-hitting Gentry, assuming Martin can handle the job defensively.
And, the Rangers will have to fill out their starting rotation. The top four spots seem secure with Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando, and will be for years. Harrison agreed to a five-year, $55 million extension in the offseason. He and Darvish are under club control through the 2017 season, Holland through the 2018 season, and Ogando through 2016. The immediate candidates for the fifth starter are Martin Perez, Justin Grimm, Robbie Ross and Kyle McClellan. Then, Colby Lewis should return by June from flexor tendon surgery and Neftali Feliz could be back from Tommy John surgery by midsummer.
In part because of circumstance and in part because they have the farm system for it, the Rangers this winter chose the longer view. Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, Martin and Perez, among others, are bearing down on the big leagues. The organization is healthy. The options come opening day and beyond are plentiful.
The Rangers perhaps would have been better with Hamilton and Greinke. Or Upton and Greinke. Or just Greinke. But they've still got enough to compete.
When it became apparent his stay in Arlington was nearing its end, derisive boos from home fans still alive in his head, Hamilton quoted from scripture: "If they don't receive you in a town, shake the dust off your feet and move to the next."
In summary: "When you're getting run out of town, get in front of the crowd and call it a parade."
Either way, there goes Hamilton and here comes Berkman. And if Rangers fans could ice over on maladies of day vision, caffeine, Copenhagen and the rest, wait'll they get a load of advancing age and rickety knees.
Berkman is due $10 million this season with an option for $12 million in 2014. He'll be the designated hitter, with some possible reps at first base and in the outfield, if it comes to that. If he can stay on the field and hit, Berkman will cover at least some of what Hamilton did for five years in Texas. If not, the Rangers likely will be looking to spend prospects for production come the trading deadline.
In the waning hours
Rangers fans, all aboard, The
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