11/06/11 6:00 PM EST
Top to bottom, Rangers a model franchise
Daniels' guidance has club built to thrive in Majors and Minors
By Peter Gammons / MLB.com
About a year after former general manager Tony Reagins confided that he had a pretty good idea that when he traded Mike Napoli to Toronto that the Blue Jays would likely flip him to Texas, he and about 10 other Angels employees lost their jobs because they couldn't see that the Texas Rangers have become an equal power to the Sunday Night Baseball soap regulars of Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
It's not simply that the Rangers have won the last two American League pennants, or that in the regular season they were a game back of the Yankees for the best record in the AL, or that they were second to New York in run differential. It is how they have built and developed the franchise that former owner Tom Hicks allowed to get so confused.
General manager Jon Daniels, assistant GM Thad Levine, senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller et al have built from logistics and their strong beliefs in scouting. They traded for Josh Hamilton. They traded for Nelson Cruz and were fortunate to get him through waivers in 2008. They made the franchise-changing Mark Teixeira deal that brought them Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They traded Eric Gagne for David Murphy and prospect Engel Beltre, who was nearly part of a deal involving Matt Garza last winter. They beat other teams to Colby Lewis in Japan. Preller and the Rangers' Dominican scouts saw an outfielder in the Oakland system named Alexi Ogando and dreamed of him as a pitcher, took him in the Minor League phase of the December 2005 Rule 5 Draft, then because of immigration problems waited until he could get into the U.S. before the 2010 season -- and had themselves a dominant arm out of the bullpen who in 2011 became an All-Star starter.
They knew that they had enough in their system in 2010 to trade for Cliff Lee, win the pennant and make the World Series for the first time in franchise history. When Lee left, they had enough in the farm system to nearly get Garza, but when that didn't work, they signed Adrian Beltre -- which gave them the best defensive left side in the game, a perfect complement to three left-handed starters (as Derek Holland showed in this World Series) -- and had enough bullpen depth to be able to trade Frankie Fransisco for Napoli. Then, when it was evident that they needed bullpen help at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, they had two top pitching prospects (Joe Wieland and Rob Erlin) to trade to San Diego for Mike Adams and the depth to trade Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to Baltimore for Koji Uehara. In case you didn't notice, before his World Series heroics, Napoli batted .383 in the second half of this season (second to Miguel Cabrera's .385 mark) and led the Major Leagues in on-base plus slugging percentage.
Oh, yes. After Lee left, even in the heat of this past summer, the Rangers' starters tied the Rays for the AL lead in quality starts and ranked fifth in starters' ERA and innings pitched.
And they drew a franchise-record 2.95 million to The Ballpark in Arlington with what is a buzz of interest in the fourth-largest market in the country, albeit one that is in the heart of Cowboys and Longhorns land.
Now? The Rangers may or may not be able to re-sign C.J. Wilson. They may or may not sign Japanese/Iranian pitcher Yu Darvish. Their farm system is considered one of the deepest in the game, with big-time left-handed pitching prospects like 20-year-old Martin Perez, 23-year-old Miguel de los Santos and 22-year-old Robbie Ross. Three different organizations have said they thought the Rangers' Myrtle Beach club in the South-Atlantic League was loaded with the most prospects in the Minor Leagues, especially 18-year-old shortstop Jurickson Profar, who hit 12 homers and had 57 extra-base hits as a teenager and led one scouting director say "he has the makeup of Dustin Pedroia and the skill set of Hanley Ramirez."
The Rangers could have Feliz, Ogando, Matt Harrison and Holland in the rotation next season, with Ogando the eldest at 28. Then they can ponder the pros and cons of going hard after Prince Fielder, who may be a natural in Texas because of the ballpark and the fact that other than Hamilton -- who will be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season -- the lineup is right-handed-heavy.
The Angels will not make the same mistakes again, especially after owner Artie Moreno hired Jerry Dipoto as general manager. The Angels had one fewer quality start than the Rangers, their starters' ERA led the AL and they may add to Jered Weaver, Danny Haren and Ervin Santana. Kendrys Morales will be back. Even if he doesn't win, Mark Trumbo would have been named AL Rookie of the Year in many seasons. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos are young, fast and so athletic that they change the way the Angels play defense.
The Rangers and Angels are powerful big-market teams that, when run right -- and Eddie Bane's drafts were run right, hence Trout, Trumbo and Bourjos -- can and will be perennial contenders.
What concerns many small markets is that now that the Cubs are in such credible, creative hands, the Dodgers will eventually be sold to a credible owner and begin restoring that great franchise. Fred Wilpon and the Mets have cut back the organization and will not have a top three payroll, but they hope they can dig out of their post-Madoff hole.
"Once the Cubs, Dodgers and Mets are back in terms of revenues ... it will make business in the small markets even more difficult," said one club president. Hence Commissioner Bud Selig's urgency in trying to get the Dodgers' mess unfurled and the Mets on solid ground, as well as coming up with solutions for the difficult situations in Tampa Bay and Oakland; the latter case, getting the A's to San Jose is a solution, albeit a messy solution.
Now, it will take time to restore the Cubs, who have been operating as if the College of Coaches were a part of their immediate past. It will take time with the Dodgers; the sale may be complex and take more time than some realize as they unravel the McCourt books, and their payroll this offseason may not be what they had hoped. It will also need to be approved by McCourt and may preclude the signing of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier past their 2012 free agency, or the addition of any significant free agent. It may also take a few years to get the Mets straightened out, which could keep the club from signing Jose Reyes and might force a David Wright deal between the Winter Meetings and the Trade Deadline to initiate a rebuild.
But the return of those big-market clubs will eventually happen, which may indeed make life more difficult for the rust belt and other small-market teams. Agent Scott Boras has suggested that the first round of the First-Year Player Draft be broken into three groups, based on revenues. For instance, the first 10 picks would be the 10 smallest-revenue teams, based on record. Picks 11-20 would be the middle markets, based on record. Picks 21-30 would be the largest markets, from worst record to best.
Part of the thought process is that large-market, high-revenue teams (like the Cubs) may not deserve the No. 5 pick in the Draft just because of incompetence. Same goes for the Orioles, who after 20-something years of disappointment would be a mid-market club, but because of poor decision-making will again have a higher pick than many small-market teams. If the Orioles see a player in the Draft whom they feel is a perfect fit, then let them trade up to a small-revenue team to get him, using Major League-ready players.
The baseball universe is evolving, and very well-run teams like the Rangers have demonstrated the value of good, young players and hence a well-run business and thoughtful allocation of resources. Some good people lost their jobs with the Angels due in part to the Napoli fiasco, because they didn't appreciate that the Texas Rangers have become one of baseball's elite franchises and organizations.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.