Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Born-Again Rangers

Way back in April 2008, I wrote a post about the tortured history of the Texas Rangers baseball club. At that time, the team was at 7-16 and looking like they were done before the season really got under way. I announced their death that day and while the season proved me right (they finished 79-83 and , although officially in second place in the AL West, a full 21 games out in the division standings.

But while I called them "dead" that day, they were, in fact, about to be born again.

That previous summer, prior to the All-Star break, Texas made three trades that completely reversed the franchise' horrible history. On July 31, 2007, the Rangers stunned their fan base when they traded their star first baseman, Mark Texeira, to the Atlanta Braves, for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and four minor leaguers. Later that same day, they traded pitcher Eric Gagne (who had an all-star past and seemed on the verge of a comeback) for David Murphy, the Red Sox top draft pick a couple of years earlier, and a minor leaguer.

But the third trade happened the summer of 2008 and it put the Rangers in place to be reborn. On June 20th of that year, the team sent one of their best young arms, Ednison Volquez, to the Cincinnati Reds for Josh Hamilton.

Most pundits, following all of these moves, felt Texas was still 2-3 years away from winning. After all, the players they gave up - Texiera, Gagne and Volquez - were already performing at the major league level (and in Texiera's case, starring at that level). Team General Manager Jon Daniels, the youngest GM in the league, we looked upon as being way over his head.

But Daniels has proven them all wrong, hasn't he? Much like what Jimmy Johnson did to Mike Lynn, when the Cowboys dealt Herschel Walker to the Vikings back in 1989, this trade was not about what veterans the Rangers were getting. It was about the future.

Now, with the ability to use hindsight, we see that these trades not only boosted the big league roster (Murphy and Hamilton), but because of these acquisitions, the Ranger farm system ranked among the top 2-3 in all of baseball. And this year, it has finally come to the surface.

You see, the minor leaguers that were included in the deals included shortstop Elvis Andrus, pitchers Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones, and outfielder Angel Beltre.

This year, Andrus is an all-star, and perhaps the best young shortstop in the game, Feliz is among the best closers in baseball - as well as the leading candidate to win Rookie-of-the-Year, Harrison is a solid long reliever/spot starter, and Jones and Beltre are tearing up the minor leagues (Beltre was just voted minor league player of the year in the organization).

But perhaps the biggest contributions this season have come from Hamilton and Murphy. Murphy has been primarily used as the teams fourth outfielder for the past couple of years. Solid, but not spectacular. But because of injuries to Nelson Cruz and Hamilton, he has proven himself invaluable and likely to displace started Julio Borbon as a starting outfielder (when Hamilton comes back). Since Hamilton went out with a ribcage injury a couple of weeks ago, Murphy has hit over .400, with towering home runs and multi-RBI games (he had four more RBI tonight).

But the MVP of this team is Josh Hamilton. What Hamilton has been able to accomplish has not been seen in these parts before. After starting off slowly for the first month an a half, Ham-bone has been nothing short of remarkable. Since May 20th, he has hit over .400 (his current batting average is whopping .362), and has displayed tremendous power and outfield range. In addition, he plays with the intensity and desire of a true champion.

The play that epitomizes Josh Hamilton that comes to mind was when he scored from second on an infield single (he has done that twice now). In the same game, he homered, doubled twice and made two outstanding, highlight reel catches in the outfield.

Suddenly, the future has arrived in Arlington. With the new ownership of Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, the emergence of guys like C.J. Wilson, Nellie Cruz and Ian Kinsler, as well as the stability of Cliff Lee, Michael Young and Vlad Guerrero, this Rangers team is vastly different that I've ever seen before.

No more are the 10-9 shootouts common in Texas. Today, you are more likely to see a 2-1 game here. In the past, a win required Juan Gonzalez or Rafael Palmeiro to hit enough home runs to survive suspect pitching. But these days are no more. And the games are even more exciting than ever. Who know "small ball" could be so much fun? Of course, there is still a lot of power in the lineup. But there is also a lot of speed.

But more importantly, there is good pitching. And a GM who isn't afraid of making deals.

I don't know if this is the year the Rangers finally have playoff success. But I do know that for perhaps the first time in the team's 38 years, the future looks bright and sunny.

1 comment:

yag said...

Don't forget Ron Washington... Loved him in Oakland. Still do.