As third baseman Adrian Beltre ponders his next career move, he wants to play for a team that is capable of winning the World Series.
A championship ring is all he wants to accomplish before he leaves the game. That’s what he wanted in 2011 when he signed with the Texas Rangers, who were coming off an appearance in the Fall Classic and were headed there again his first season.
They haven’t been back, though last season they came closer than they had since the St. Louis Cardinals wrested the world title from the Rangers’ grasp. Toronto did something similar to the Rangers in 2015, winning the final three games of the American League Division Series to take the step Texas thought was its to make.
Beltre can be a free agent after this season, and he and the Rangers have talked about a contract extension. One of the reasons he wants to stay is because he believes the Rangers, who open the 2016 season at 3 p.m. Monday at home against the Seattle Mariners, are built to win the World Series this year and beyond.
“There’s no reason for me to believe they don’t want to win here,” said Beltre, who has been so thorough in his pursuit of a world title that he has discussed the direction of the franchise on multiple occasions with general manager Jon Daniels.
“JD has done what he promised me, that he was going to continue to keep [building] a team with a chance to win and that’s what we’re doing.”
Just because a future Hall of Fame inductee believes that the Rangers are a championship-caliber team doesn’t make it so. The Rangers will have to take the recipe they have and follow the directions.
The offense that flourished late last season, when the Rangers stormed from eight games back Aug. 2 to win the AL West, returns with the addition of Ian Desmond as the right-handed bat the Rangers were missing.
The Rangers aren’t going to overwhelm teams with power, though more is expected from Prince Fielder than the 23 homers he hit in his comeback 2015 campaign, but they can score in a variety of ways.
“You play from your strength,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Our strength is get on base, have speed, create and have occasional power.”
The starting rotation will have a full season of Cole Hamels, who was acquired at the July 31 trade deadline, and also will have Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis at full strength after dealing with medical issues in 2015.
Once mid-to-late May rolls around, Yu Darvish is expected to join the rotation after he missed all of last season. He and Hamels will give the Rangers one of the best 1-2 pitching punches in the game.
“Our pitching staff is the best we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is entering his eighth season. “The rotation and the bullpen are really solid. Plus, we have a lot of depth. When you have depth and that talent in the rotation and the bullpen, as a position player it makes you feel a lot better.”
But the Rangers’ biggest strength entering the season is their bullpen, which returned its top four relievers from 2015 and added right-handers Tom Wilhelmsen and Tony Barnette to give the Rangers six pitchers they believe are capable of closing games.
That duty still falls to Shawn Tolleson, with Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman and Keone Kela returning to the set-up roles in which they excelled in 2015.
“Our bullpen is phenomenal,” Lewis said.
Add it up, and the Rangers have the look of the reigning world champs, the Kansas City Royals. The similarities go well beyond the spring training home they share.
The Royals’ offense didn’t have a player with more than 22 homers, yet their offense produced. Their rotation wasn’t remotely spectacular, though their bullpen was to the point that it would hold a lead even if a starter lasted only five or six innings.
“They won the World Series because the back end of their bullpen was lights out,” catcher Chris Gimenez said.
The other area the Royals excelled in was defense, and the Rangers did not. Look no further than their three-error seventh inning that allowed Toronto to win Game 5 of the ALDS and keep the Rangers from advancing.
The Rangers’ focus in spring training was to make the routine plays first, and the great plays would follow. Despite some hiccups toward the end of camp, the Rangers believe they are better defensively.
“We don’t have one aspect that needs to be addressed,” Lewis said. “We’ve still got to have fun, and we’ve still got to have the same camaraderie we had last year. We can’t roll out and expect to win. We’ve still got to earn it. We’ve still got to take care of the small things that enabled us to do what we did last year.”
The Rangers, including Beltre, believe they are built to win the World Series.
“Clearly he wants to win. As do we,” Daniels said. “When he came here in 2011, that was the discussion. He wanted to know it wasn’t a one-year thing. There has been a consistency since he has been here. Our focus is trying to put the best possible team on the field. He feels we’ve lived up to what we said we were going to do.”