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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 26, 2011 at 1:14 PM

Rangers rising as American League “super-power”

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(Rangers GM Jon Daniels greets Adrian Beltre after the third baseman signed a six-year, $95-million contract in January. Photo by Associated Press).

More ominous news for Mariners’ fans reeling from their 16-game losing streak that has the Mariners pointed towards their sixth last-place finish in eight years: Ken Rosenthal of FOX has a piece up today about the Texas Rangers’ emergence as a major player in the MLB power structure.

Rosenthal writes:

“Under new ownership, the Texas franchise is starting to resemble the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies, and not just in its spending power. The Rangers have the money and prospects to pursue just about any player they want.”

That’s not great news for a Mariners’ franchise still struggling to find its way. The Rangers are the defending American League champions and poised to make a strong run at another pennant. They are said to be going hard after Carlos Beltran, something they can do because of a farm system that was top-ranked by most analysts in 2009 and 2010. They already dipped into their talent pool to land Cliff Lee last year, sending Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke (along with since-retired Matt Lawson) to the Mariners. They are also looking for relief help to bridge the gap to Neftali Feliz.

The Rangers aren’t a perfect team, but they are very good, and they seem to have it all going right now, from top to bottom. Team president Nolan Ryan is baseball royalty. Their young general manager, Jon Daniels, was singled out by Pat Gillick last week in a conference call prior to his induction into the Hall of Fame. Someone asked Gillick which current general manager reminded him most of himself. He singled out Daniels, who was the youngest GM in history (28 years, 41 days old) when he was hired on Oct. 4, 2005.

Said Gillick: “I think he’s got a little bit — let me put it this way: I always considered myself a little bit of an adventurist, willing to try out new ideas. Daniels has a lot of new nuances; at the same time, he does some of the things that worked years ago, and are still valid. Jon is headed, in my estimation, in the right direction.”

In other words, he uses statistical analysis but still embraces scouting.

Daniels’ two best deals so far have been acquiring future MVP Josh Hamilton from the Reds for Edinson Volquez prior to the 2008 season, and getting Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Mark Teixeira (one year before Teixeira became a free agent) at the 2007 trade deadline. The worst would no doubt be the one that sent Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego in a deal that brought Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka to the Rangers. But all you have to do is look at the roster, and the standings, to see what kind of job Daniels has done.

Rosenthal concludes: “The Rangers rarely are included in discussions of the sport’s super-powers. But that won’t be the case much longer.”

The AL West already includes the well-heeled Angels, who have dominated the division for much of the past decade, and the A’s, who have hit hard times as they wait for a desperately needed new stadium, but who averaged 97 wins for a seven-year stretch from 2000 through 2006 during the “Moneyball” era. The Mariners had a stint as an upper-tier resident in the division, but those days are fast becoming a distant memory.

One other thing for Mariners’ fans to worry about: They’ve always had the advantage of being in what is now the only four-team division (not that they’ve taken advantage of it very often), where you merely have to beat out three other teams to make it to the playoffs; contrast that with the NL Central, with six teams, or all the other divisions with five. But those days are likely coming to an end. It seems only a matter of time before realignment hits MLB, and the AL West expands to five teams.

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