Round about the time the Los Angeles Angels reclaimed the American League West, the Texas Rangers took it back again with Wednesday's signing of Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, and still have room – on the roster and, believe it or not, in the budget – for slugger Prince Fielder.
Whether they choose to spend either on the free-agent first baseman will play out over the next week or so.
Either way, the Rangers continue to evolve into what the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox used to be, which is to say the offseason isn't over until they say it is, until the last free agent is signed and the last available piece is traded and the last dollar is cast.
Of course, they don't spend anywhere near what those Goliaths do (or the Angels, for that matter). And yet they manage to insert themselves into every conversation, romance nearly every significant free agent, dance all over every trading deadline, and then go to the World Series. Twice. In a row.
It's been a decade since the Yankees did that and almost a century for the Red Sox.
The Rangers, who did nothing for 50 years – no matter where the franchise rested – are the geeky kid who grew up to run the joint. A little Nolan Ryan, a little Jon Daniels, a little TV money – OK, a lot of TV money – and suddenly they've got the cattle to match the hats.
Look, I don't know what Darvish is going to look like on a big league mound. Presumably, he'll still be 6-foot-5, still throw gas, and still get plenty of hitters out. He'll also be 25, making more starts than he did in Japan, pitching in a hitters' park and facing lineups loaded with sluggers for the first time in his life. The world changes. Ask Daisuke Matsuzaka. Ask Hideo Nomo. Historically, Japanese pitchers have two or three good seasons in the majors and then become bat-shy journeymen, or worse. Hiroki Kuroda, whose numbers have sustained or improved over four major league seasons, is the rare counterpoint, which the Yankees are now counting on.
The point is, for $111 million in posting and contract money, Darvish – over the life of his six-year contract – is a risk, the kind the Yankees and Red Sox used to take. They could afford to make the big mistake. Nobody kills the Yankees over the money they spent on, say, Irabu or Kei Igawa; they kill them for thinking those pitchers would get people out in the big leagues. The money is incidental in New York. Just like it is in Boston. Matsuzaka helped the Red Sox win a World Series. That's good enough. Now he's just annoying to watch pitch, but not much more detrimental than that, particularly since he doesn't pitch that often anymore.
[ Related: Darvish pact could reach $70 million with incentives ]
The Rangers live in a different economic world than the Yankees and Red Sox (and Angels), but have mitigated their risk just the same. See, it's called "depth."
The Darvish signing likely means Matt Harrison or Alexi Ogando will be in the bullpen in 2012, so either the 14-game winner or the 13-game winner isn't good enough to stick in a rotation with Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz and Darvish.
They basically flipped C.J. Wilson for Darvish. Their lineup remains better than the Angels', even with Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Their bullpen is deeper, though the ninth inning – Joe Nathan in Arlington, Jordan Walden in Anaheim – is sketchy for both.
Imagine, then, what Fielder could do for the Rangers, for an already muscular offense, and then what the Rangers could do for Fielder.
After all, he's done his time in the market where everything must go right in order to contend. And he has his suitors in Seattle, Washington, maybe Chicago (North Side), Miami, Baltimore and Toronto. Through no fault of his own, it appears his timing is simply crummy. The Yankees and Red Sox are both set at first base and perhaps diving for the luxury tax threshold. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets are utter wrecks financially. The Chicago White Sox are, well, I don't know what they are. The Angels opted for Pujols.
That leaves among the high-powered, sexy and capable franchises, the previously low-powered, unsexy and incapable Rangers.
They'll pitch. They'll win. And they'll keep doing it. That's with or without Fielder, which is exactly what Fielder should be looking for.
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