Rangers open 2012 season as one of baseball's elite

A team that is left for dead by its owner isn't supposed to go to the World Series in the same year that it had sought protection from a bankruptcy court.

A Fall Classic the next season would seem like a stretch, even if new owners had assumed control of the club.

But the Texas Rangers did the improbable in 2010 thanks to tremendous talent and the coup of the trading season. They repeated as American League champions last season with largely the same talent and a few key additions thanks to ownership opening its wallet.

The odds would seem stacked against the Rangers as they try to make a third straight World Series appearance, just because it's such a difficult feat to accomplish.

Yet, this is a Rangers team that made a living two years ago as the longest shot in the playoff field. They got better in 2011, and have reached the point where they are no longer perceived as a flash in the pan.

Back-to-back pennants help change perception. So do talented players, sound management and deep pockets -- all of which the 2012 Rangers have.

They open the 2012 season Friday at 1:05 against the Chicago White Sox at the Ballpark. It is the fourth consecutive year the Rangers will open the season at home.

They are now an elite team, maybe the elite team in baseball entering the new season today.

The goal is to keep it that way.

"I feel like we're in a position to win for an extended period of time," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Ten or 15 years? Who knows? As long as we continue to build on what we've done, I don't see any reason why it can't be championships and playoff appearances year after year."

All Kinsler can do, though, is play. He isn't going to be contacting general managers for trades, hammering out deals with free agents or scouting amateur players across the globe.

Those responsibilities fall on GM Jon Daniels and his staff of assistants and scouts, whose work is presented to team president Nolan Ryan and principal owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis.

It should be a busy next few years, with Kinsler and others headed to free agency. First up are Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Colby Lewis and Mike Adams after this season, and Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young after 2013.

That's the core group of players Rangers brass spoke of throughout the off-season. They've shown they are championship material, and they all want to stay.

"You look at what the Yankees have done for so long. They've kept their players wearing a Yankee uniform," Kinsler said. "Their circumstances are a little different financially, but they've kept the players that they recognize as premier players at their position and they've kept them there as long as they possibly can.

"And they continue to win, and they continue to add pieces through their organization and free agency. That's the model for us to go after. A lot of people are starting to model their organization after the Rangers also."

The Rangers weren't a model organization when Daniels took over in 2005. The club had been built with too many free agents and not enough minor-league talent, and it wasn't a responsible financial model.

He and the club took some lumps when he decided a rebuild was in order in 2007. Trades -- including the Mark Teixeira deal that produced contributors Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison -- and heavy international signings produced the game's best farm system by 2009.

The talent pool is back on top again after quality prospects were dealt away to offset the lack of money in 2010.

Daniels is widely considered as one of the top GMs in the game, and staff members Thad Levine and A.J. Preller are thought to be future GMs. Ryan, of course, has the pedigree of a Hall of Fame pitcher who became a successful businessman.

It has proven to be a winning combination that is receiving high praise within the baseball industry.

"There's a sense of pride with our people and what they've been able to accomplish," Daniels said. "But the reality is that now it's a clean slate. Everyone is on equal footing.

"There have been a lot of exciting times the last couple years, but if you don't keep it going, that's quickly forgotten. We want to celebrate what was accomplished, but you've got to turn the page at the same time."

The most encouraging sign entering the season, Daniels said, is that the players, coaches, scouts and front-office folks are as committed as ever to keeping the Rangers on top.

Proof of that can be found in the signing of Yu Darvish, which required two years of scouting and $107.1 million guaranteed from ownership.

The results are yet to come, but the Rangers believe they are worthy of that elusive world title.

"We really set our goals really high," Andrus said. "At this point, we know what we're capable of doing as a team, no matter who we play and no matter the circumstance.

"It's been great being part of the evolution of this team. We're making history. That's what we've been doing. That will also keep with that hunger for the game and to try to go out there and do the best we can every game."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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