Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Texas Rangers.
2008 record: 79-83
Finish: Second in American League West
2008 opening-day payroll: $67.7 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: Between $62 million and $72 million
The no-man's land of a burgeoning contender is indeed difficult to traverse, something the Texas Rangers are learning this offseason. They sit on a farm system gold mine, perhaps the most loaded in baseball, and yet their kids are just far enough away that they know better than to push the idea of contending in 2009.
The Rangers have introduced themselves to stasis, or at least the baseball version of it. They've signed no free agents this offseason. Their headline-grabbing move was trading Gerald Laird, a spare part anyway because of Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Max Ramirez, the Rangers' troika of kiddie catchers. Aside from a salary-dumping rumor here and there – surely Texas would love to get rid of Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla – all's been quiet on the Rangers' front.
Whether it stays that way depends most on other teams' moves and just how much the free-agent market shrivels. If the New York Yankees pass on Andy Pettitte – or vice versa – and the Rangers show interest, would he skip retirement for a shot at a nice paycheck and likely mediocrity? Should the price for free-agent pitchers drop precipitously – and by handing $8 million guaranteed to Randy Johnson, the San Francisco Giants seemed to answer, unequivocally, that it won't – could Ben Sheets move into his suburban Dallas home full time?
Much depends on the attitude of the Rangers' new president, Nolan Ryan, already tasked with determining whether Ron Washington is the right manager to lead the Rangers' new wave. Sheets makes the most sense for Texas, which, even after losing outfielder Milton Bradley to free agency, needs little help offensively. Between Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, the Rangers had the two best hitters in the AL in the first half of 2008. Add Chris "Crush" Davis (18 home runs in fewer than 300 at-bats as a rookie), veterans Michael Young and Hank Blalock, the Teagarden/Saltalamacchia platoon, David Murphy and Nelson Cruz – hey, he slugged nearly .700 at Triple-A and better than .600 in his monthlong tryout – and the Rangers could top 900 runs again.
Which leaves the pitching. Ah, the pitching. Ever the hypodermic needle in the Rangers' soda. Four times this decade have the Rangers finished last in baseball in ERA. They are the anti-Braves. Last year's 5.37 ERA completed the quartet, and the Rangers' rotation and bullpen look about the same barring a move.
So begins the waiting game. No one ever said no-man's land was a desirable locale.
Now, about that gold mine.
For all of the flak general manager Jon Daniels has caught over some boneheaded trades – he'll never live down the Adrian Gonzalez-and-Chris Young-for-a-yearlong-membership-to-Costco swap, and the John Danks-for-Brandon McCarthy deal is fast approaching that – he has pulled some nice swindles himself.
The Mark Teixeira deadline deal to Atlanta two years ago may be the latter half of the decade's version of Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips. For Teixeira and reliever Ron Mahay, Daniels got Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison (the Rangers' No. 3 starter), shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus (starring at Double-A before his 20th birthday) and Neftali Feliz, considered one of the 10 best pitching prospects in the game.
Then there's Derek Holland, a left-hander who came out of nowhere and could be up midseason, and Michael Main, a former first-rounder with frontline potential, and all sorts of other tantalizing pitchers from Latin America, and, well, it's all so exciting until you remember the whole DVD debacle.
Danks, Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond were nicknamed the DVD trio coming up. It wasn't particularly clever, and it didn't have any real significance, and it's not as if their last names comprised some other acronym they'd be branded with that – FBI? CIA? ELO? – but it stuck. And they were supposed to anchor the Rangers' rotation for years. Until Diamond blew out his arm. And Danks got traded. And Volquez did too (albeit for Hamilton).
Anyway, the lesson is obvious: waiting on prospects – especially ones who pitch – is a backward way of approaching success. Though with the payroll limitations from owner Tom Hicks, it's a necessity embraced with aplomb by Daniels and his scouts.
The onus, then, is on Ryan. He brought the organization's top pitching prospects to Arlington for an offseason seminar. He plans on pushing them to throw more complete games. He will not coddle them. Nolan Ryan doesn't coddle.
He only hopes that gold mine doesn't turn out to be full of pyrite.
NEXT: Florida Marlins