Rangers are proving to have a winning formula


Reporting from Arlington, Texas -- Assessing a season in which the Angels finished 10 games behind the Texas Rangers and out of the playoffs for the second straight year, Tony Reagins said, “We really don’t believe the gap is as wide as the numbers in the standings.”

It is that kind of flawed analysis that probably contributed to the dismissal of Reagins and two top assistants shortly after the season, a front-office purge that sent a clear message from ownership that the gap is growing, not shrinking.

The Angels have three outstanding starting pitchers, some promising young position players, and if their veteran hitters produce, they can compete in the American League West.


But they are no longer the class of the division, the model franchise others are trying to emulate.

That distinction belongs to the Rangers, who emerged from a 2010 ownership change and bankruptcy filing to reach the World Series for two straight years and seem poised to dominate this decade the way the Angels did the last.

They even stole a page from the Angels’ playoff book with a monster nine-run third inning in their AL Championship Series-clinching win over Detroit on Saturday night. The Angels had a 10-run seventh inning in their ALCS clincher over Minnesota in 2002.

“The Angels were the standard in our division, they were the dominant team for a long time,” said Thad Levine, a Rangers assistant general manager who is expected to be a candidate for the Angels’ GM job. “It wasn’t until we won the division for a second time that our guys started embracing the fact that we were the team to beat.”

The Rangers, who open the World Series on Wednesday night at St. Louis, aren’t just the Angels’ problem.

They are so talented and deep, have such a fertile farm system and are so efficiently and creatively run by 32-year-old GM Jon Daniels that the free-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are now trying to figure out a way to keep up with them.


“When you look at what’s happened with ownership, the bankruptcy, and the team on the field, I think it’s a testament to the people we have in the organization,” said Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is president and chief executive of the Rangers. “A lot of positive things have happened over the last few years.”

The Rangers, in their 39th year of existence in Texas, didn’t even win their first postseason series until 2010, but they now have the look of a team that could win many in the years to come.

Their offense is so potent that their Nos. 6 and 7 hitters, Mike Napoli (.320, 30 home runs, 75 runs batted in) and Nelson Cruz (.263, 29, 87), could bat third and fourth for many teams.

Their overall defense has improved and features Gold Glove-caliber players at third base (Adrian Beltre), shortstop (Elvis Andrus) and right field (Cruz).

Though they lost ace Cliff Lee to free agency last winter, their C.J. Wilson-led rotation was deeper and just as effective this season, ranking third in the league with a 3.65 earned-run average.

Their one weakness — bullpen depth — was addressed with the trade-deadline acquisitions of right-handers Mike Adams and Koji Uehara and left-hander Mike Gonzalez.


The Rangers have one of the top young closers in baseball in Neftali Feliz and a dominant swing man in Alexi Ogando, who has pitched out of the rotation and bullpen.

Ryan, baseball’s strikeout and no-hit king, and pitching coach Mike Maddux helped changed the mind-set of Rangers pitchers, who too often succumbed to the oppressive Arlington heat and used the fact they play in such a hitter-friendly park as a crutch.

“I don’t know why people still talk about that,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said of the stigma attached to Rangers pitchers. “It’s not the ballpark, it’s not the weather, it’s just a matter of having pitchers who are capable of winning games.”

Fifth-year Manager Ron Washington is bold and aggressive. He has the Rangers going from first base to third base on singles, stealing bases and playing fearlessly on defense, much as the Angels did when they won five division titles from 2004 to 2009.

He’s not afraid of an unorthodox move that might be second-guessed, such as walking Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera with one out and the bases empty in the ALCS.

“I feel better about this team at this time this year than I did last year,” Ryan said. “It’s more balanced, which is important.”


With a payroll of $92 million — that’s $50 million less than the Angels spent this season — the Rangers get more bang for the buck than just about everyone in baseball but the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of their veteran core, Beltre is signed through 2015, Michael Young is signed through 2013, and Josh Hamilton, Kinsler and Yorvit Torrealba are signed through 2012.

Many significant contributors, including Napoli, Feliz, Cruz, Adams, Andrus, Ogando, outfielder David Murphy, first baseman Mitch Moreland and pitchers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, are young and under club control.

Wilson and starter Colby Lewis are their only prominent free agents this winter. Their only key player over the age of 32 is Young, who is 34.

The payroll will rise as players move through arbitration and reach free agency, but with a new 20-year, $1.6-billion television contract kicking in after 2014, the Rangers should be able to meet those escalating costs.

Only the Yankees and Red Sox have TV revenue close to the $80 million a year the Rangers will average in their new deal with Fox Sports Southwest.


The pact is also believed to include an up-front bonus, which should help in Texas’ bid to retain Wilson, the left-hander who is expected to be pursued by the Yankees and Red Sox and could command a deal in the $100-million range.

“When you have someone of CJ’s caliber going on the market,” Ryan said, “you know it’s going to be a challenge to retain him.”

If Wilson leaves, the Rangers will survive. They lost a better pitcher in Lee last winter and thrived.

Since they committed to rebuilding in 2007, a program that began with the high-yield trade of Mark Teixeira to Atlanta and has featured some remarkable drafts, the Rangers have had the players to step into big league roles or the prospects to use to acquire the ones they need.

Among the five players Texas got for Teixeira were Feliz, Andrus and Harrison. Daniels picked up Ogando in the 2005 Rule 5 draft. His first three drafts included Holland, Moreland, Tommy Hunter, Justin Smoak, Chris Davis and Julio Borbon.

“Our goal was to have waves of talent that would hit the major league beach,” Levine said, “but not all at once.”


In 2006, Daniels acquired Carlos Lee and Cruz in a trade-deadline deal with Milwaukee, and Cruz has emerged as an October beast, with 12 homers in his first two postseasons. He had six homers and 13 RBIs against the Tigers to earn ALCS most-valuable-player honors.

Daniels acquired Hamilton, the Rangers’ star center fielder, from Cincinnati for pitcher Edinson Volquez in 2007.

Unable to add payroll with the team in bankruptcy in 2010, Daniels had enough prospects to acquire Lee from Seattle, with the Mariners paying the bulk of his contract. The Rangers also outfoxed the Yankees for Lee, who led Texas to its first World Series.

Daniels signed Lewis from Japan for $1.75 million in January 2010, and the right-hander won 26 games in two seasons. The Rangers outbid the Angels for Beltre, signing him to a five-year, $80-million deal, and Beltre had a huge 2011, hitting .296 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs.

Daniels also wanted Napoli last winter, but the Angels refused to trade the catcher within the division. So, Daniels waited out Reagins, and four days after Napoli was traded to Toronto for Vernon Wells, Daniels snagged Napoli for reliever Frank Francisco.

And although the Angels didn’t have enough expendable prospects to upgrade their shaky bullpen in July, the Rangers had enough to acquire not one, not two, but three relievers.


Not surprisingly, they pulled away from the Angels in September en route to their second straight division title.

“Our philosophy is to build from within, and if we have a specific need and there’s somebody out there who can fill that need, we’ll try to get him,” Ryan said. “I think the game plan is working for us, and our intent is to stay on that course.”