Last night the Texas Rangers claimed their second straight American League Championship with a blowout victory over the Detroit Tigers. The Astros can learn a lot from what their neighbors to the north have done to build a winner. The Rangers market size and fan demographic is similar to that of the Astros. The Rangers have been able to put together a winner despite recent financial challenges that forced MLB to auction off the franchise, which was on the verge of bankruptcy.
How did the Rangers build a championship team that could be on the verge of reaching dynasty status? Let’s take a look at the roster of the 2010 A.L. Champs. Where did the talent come from? Eleven of the 25 players that played a significant role on the team were Rangers draft picks. Forty-four percent homegrown players is a pretty impressive number for a championship club. Justin Smoak was a first-round pick in 2008 but was part of the trade deadline package sent to Seattle in exchange for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe. The rest of the players drafted by the Rangers are listed below.
Starting pitcher Colby Lewis was also drafted by the Rangers in the first round of the 1999 draft. But Lewis was released by Texas in 2004 and bounced around the baseball world, including a stint in the Japanese League, before the Rangers signed him as a Free Agent prior to the 2010 season. Vladimir Guerrero and Darren Oliver were also signed as Free Agents prior to the 2010 campaign. Reliever Darren O’Day was a waiver claim from the Mets in 2009.
Eight of the players on the Rangers 2010 opening day roster had been acquired through trades. Three of those eight (Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, & Matt Harrison) came over in the 2007 trade deadline deal that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta. That particular trade appears to have been a key component in the Rangers championship blueprint. Michael Young has spent his entire big league career in a Rangers uniform. But Young was plucked from the Toronto Blue Jays farm system in a deal that sent Esteban Loaiza to Canada. 2010 M.V.P. Josh Hamilton was acquired from the Reds for Edinson Volquez and a bag of bats. David Murphy came over from Boston in exchange for a washed-up Eric Gagne. 2011 ALCS Most Valuable Player Nelson Cruz was a throw-in in the 2006 trade that brought Carlos Lee to the Rangers. That turned out to be another stroke of genius by Rangers G.M. Jon Daniels. Frank Francisco was also acquired in 2003 and made his big league debut with Texas the following season.
With their goal of making the playoffs within reach, the Rangers were buyers at the 2010 trade deadline. The aforementioned deal to acquire Cliff Lee was the first and biggest move. The Rangers also added veterans Jeff Francoeur and Bengie Molina to improve an already potent offensive attack. The result was the team’s first ever appearance in a World Series. But the Rangers were unable to defeat the San Francisco Giants and knew there was more work to be done. Let’s take a look at the subsequent moves that Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan made in an attempt to get their team over that final hurdle.
Francoeur, Guerrero, Lee, and Molina were not signed and became Free Agents. Francisco was traded to Toronto for Mike Napoli only four days after Napoli had been dealt by the Angels. In another brilliant move Jon Daniels had circumnavigated his division rival to get the player he wanted. Free Agent Yorvit Torrealba was signed and would team with Napoli to solidify the position of catcher. Endy Chavez and Yoshinori Tateyama were also brought in as low cost Free Agents. The big off-season Free Agent signing was third-baseman Adrian Beltre. The addition of Beltre was questioned at first, raising questions about the future of Michael Young. But things worked out nicely in the long run as Young became the team’s primary DH and filled in nicely at all four infield positions when necessary.
The offense had been upgraded once again. But how would the Rangers fill the void left by losing their ace starter, Cliff Lee? No problem, just slide the starters up a notch in the rotation and find a reliever to take over the fifth spot. That doesn’t sound like a solid strategy, but so far so good. Neftali Feliz was originally targeted as the fifth starter, but Alexi Ogando emerged as the better option. This allowed the Rangers to keep Feliz in the role of closer. Result- win, win. The rotation was looking good. Derek Holland was having an outstanding season, allowing the Rangers to trade Tommy Hunter for some more bullpen help. Koji Uehara was acquired from Baltimore for Hunter at the deadline. Padres set-up man Mike Adams was the final piece of the puzzle. Now the A.L. Champion Rangers wait to see which National League team will be their opponent as they continue their assault on achieving baseball’s ultimate prize.