San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 31st, 2008
Look elsewhere for Rangers

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

The Texas Rangers are an historically irrelevant franchise entering an historically irrelevant season due to reasons for which they’re never held accountable by their public or the Metroplex media.

Only a baseball fan deeply committed to following the game could even feign interest in the Rangers, where no iteration of ownership has ever put winning at the top of the agenda. The Rangers enjoyed a nice little run around ten years ago, when they won three divisions in four years from 1996 through 1999. But the Tom Hicks regime has been unequal to sustaining the prosperity it inherited.

Since 1999, the Rangers are very good at distracting their public with absurd pronouncements and very bad at maximizing their market to assemble competitive baseball clubs. The upshot is a 21st century utterly devoid of pitching or pennant hopes.

The blustering pronouncements began entering the 2000 season, when the Rangers worked a set of deals that were supposed to make their pitching staff more left-handed so they could beat the New York Yankees in the playoffs. Instead, the changes took the Rangers completely out of the playoff picture by leaving them inexperienced at second base, third base, center field and left field.

A year later, the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez and acted like they were making progress, utterly neglecting the tattered state of their pitching staff. Thus, the Rangers wasted three seasons in which Rodriguez gave them everything they had a right to expect.

Entering the 2007 season, the Rangers signed Michael Young to a long-term extension, proclaiming him the face of their faceless franchise, a pronouncement that managed, inexplicably, to trick almost everyone. A year later, the Rangers still have no identity.

Now, the Rangers are rebuilding, which is fine, but they’re also skimping on their big league club, which is utterly unnecessary. Not a single good reason has ever been provided to explain why a club in baseball’s largest single-club market can’t bankroll a contender while developing minor league talent.

But the Rangers go unchallenged by the sporting intellects who should know better, so Rangers fans will suffer a season that means nothing in 2008. Take a look around this ball club and you might see a half-dozen players who will still be around when the Rangers plan their return to contention, which is slated for about 2011.

Young should still be around by then, as should Ian Kinsler, Hank Blalock, Josh Hamilton, Brandon McCarthy and C.J. Wilson. But the likes of Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, Gerald Laird, Marlon Byrd, Milton Bradley and the rest of them all will be long gone by 2011, so what we’re really watching is a placeholder ball club with little relation to the next potential Texas contender.

Those who manage to remain interested in the Rangers will turn their attention to the Oklahoma RedHawks, the Frisco RoughRiders, the Bakersfield Blaze, the Clinton LumberKings and the Spokane Indians, for the next Texas Rangers contender is to be found mixed throughout those minor league teams where true hope lies.

Pitcher Eric Hurley, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and shortstop Joaquin Arias begin the major league season on the Oklahoma roster. The Frisco roster includes pitchers Thomas Diamond, Scott Feldman, Brennan Garr, Matt Harrison, Warner Madrigal and Doug Mathis, catchers Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez, shortstop Elvis Andrus, third baseman Chris Davis, and outfielders Ben Harrison and John Mayberry.

Pitcher Omar Poveda, third baseman John Whittleman and outfielder Julio Borbon are penciled in for Bakersfield. Clinton’s roster includes pitchers Beau Jones, Kasey Kiker and Zach Phillips, shortstop Marcus Lemon and outfielder David Paisano and Chad Tracy. The Spokane roster shows pitchers Blake Beavan, Neftali Perez, Michael Main and Neil Ramirez, catcher Cristian Santana and outfielder Engel Beltre.

Thus are named most of the leading prospects, and they’ll either develop, or they won’t. The point remains that if you’re tracking the Rangers’ progress towards becoming a contender, you’re paying very little attention this year to the ball club in Arlington and much more attention to the teams within the system.

Naturally, the big league club will cycle players in from the top-level farms in Oklahoma and Frisco, and players will begin to shake themselves out. Meanwhile, the Rangers will talk for a while as if they’ve got hopes, but that talk will die early unless the big league club finds unexpected magic and gives the impression of being a contender.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Rangers need only be better than the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics to win the American League West. Most forecasters believe the Athletics have torn down enough to land in last place after trading pitcher Dan Haren and outfielder Nick Swisher for prospects over the winter, so it’s believed the Rangers will at least move past Oakland this year.

However, it remains that Oakland starting pitchers Rich Harden and Joe Blanton both are better than anyone in the Texas rotation, and the Athletics are back with closer Huston Street, though his durability is suspect. In other words, the Rangers probably are in for a taller order than most people think just to escape the division cellar.

And even if the Rangers escape the cellar, it really doesn’t matter. The players who will accomplish such a minor feat won’t be around the next time the Rangers figure they might actually win something worth winning.

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