Landing a Top-Tier Free Agent Would Help Change the Rangers' Culture

Chris Halicke

The five words that provide an immediate gut punch to every Rangers fan: 

The Rangers are one strike away.

Twice, actually. But we all revert to the catch that never was when Nelson Cruz failed to haul in David Freese's line drive off the right field wall that blew a 2-run lead in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. 

Around World Series time, it's hard to not remember that night. I remember exactly where I was and the feeling of ecstasy ready to pour out when they got that third out. My wife was sitting next to me, glued to the television just as I was, phone in-hand, ready to call her father, a life-long Rangers fan. She wanted to hear how excited he was and inevitably hear his voice crack because the tears couldn't be held back any longer. The Texas Rangers were finally going to win the World Series.  

Then, the gut punch. One that has continued to haunt every Rangers fan for eight years now. 

Let that sink in. Eight years. Has it really been that long?

Unfortunately, yes it has. Next season will actually be the tenth anniversary of the 2010 Texas Rangers — the first team in franchise history to win the American League Pennant. No doubt the Rangers will have something in store next season to commemorate that tremendous accomplishment. 

It seems just like yesterday we were watching that line drive go over Cruz's outstretched glove in right field. Knowing that it's been eight years since it happened is another gut punch in itself.

Since then, the closest the Rangers have gotten to that stage is Game 5 of the American League Division Series against Toronto that had its own series of gut punches and kicks. And that replay we've seen way too many times of Jose Bautista throwing his bat from Toronto to Buffalo after a go-ahead three-run home run that essentially put the game away. 

The 2016 season had so much promise. Winning 95 games and owning the American League's best record, but a series of trades for rental players that didn't contribute led to a three games-to-none sweep by Toronto (yet again). This time, the loss sent the Rangers into an inevitable rebuild. 

Meanwhile, Rangers fans have had to sit and watch Astros fans enjoy their team's success, including a 2017 World Series championship. It's not been until recently with the allegations of cheating by stealing signs with technology have the Rangers' faithful had much to enjoy. 

After three losing seasons, the Rangers restocked their farm system. It's not quite where it needs to be, but has the Rangers farm ranked 14th in baseball. That's a big improvement from being in the basement three years prior. 

Texas also has several things going well in-house. Joey Gallo is on the verge of becoming a superstar. The strides he made in 2019 were massive, meanwhile making him one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. The Rangers also had two pitchers in Mike Minor and Lance Lynn finish with 200+ innings and 200+ strikeouts and earn votes for the American League Cy Young award. 

The Rangers have a considerable amount of talent internally. Some of it needs to improve in 2020 in order for the Rangers to have success. I haven't been shy about that and wrote about it last week here on SI Rangers Maven. 

I also don't want to undervalue how big of a win it would be if Texas landed an Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, or Gerrit Cole. 

I do think the Gerrit Cole pipe dream is exactly that...a pipe dream. If I were a betting man, I'd have a lot of money bet on Cole landing in Southern California. While I do think Cole's affinity for where he's from will play a significant role in his decision, I also think Cole will take the largest contract. Those two can also coincide, which is likely to happen.

Anthony Rendon, however, is Texas native. He's from Houston, but playing in his home state would surely be a nice little perk of signing with the Rangers. So would that whole "no state income tax" thing.  

Rendon is going to get paid this winter, and deservedly so. He's coming off a massive year that ended in a top-three finish in the American League MVP voting and the ultimate prize: a World Series ring. 

If the Rangers landed Rendon, that would send shockwaves through baseball. Many in the baseball community see Texas as the ideal landing spot for Rendon. He's of a good age (29) to get a big contract and the Rangers need a third baseman drastically. It would also be a great way to kick off the opening of a brand new, state-of-the-art, retractable roof ballpark.

Despite being located in a big market in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Rangers are seldom thought of as one of the big boys in baseball. The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Phillies always have deep pockets, but even smaller markets like St. Louis spend much larger than their markets dictate. Every now and then, the Rangers will be in the discussion for a big free agent and hardly ever land them. 

The last time the Rangers landed a big free agent was when they signed Adrian Beltre to a five-year, $80 million in 2011. As we all know by now, Beltre went on to become a cornerstone for the Rangers for several years, recorded his 3,000th career hit, and became one of the club's most beloved players of all time. He played more seasons with Texas than any of the other three teams he played for, and the best years of his career were in a Rangers' uniform. 

I'm not saying Rendon would be the second coming of Adrian Beltre. He's is one of the best to ever play the hot corner and putting that expectation on Rendon, or any player for that matter, is horribly unfair. 

If Rendon signed with Texas, it may not ever fill the void Adrian Beltre left in our hearts, but it would show this fanbase its commitment to winning. In other sports that have salary caps, while it's nice to have the top guys, having a balanced roster is a successful strategy because of how franchises have to allocate their funds. 

In baseball, spending has to be a part of a winning strategy. Sure, there's the occasional low-spending team that competes, but only two of the ten teams that won the World Series this decade were in the bottom half of the league in their Opening Day payroll (2015 Royals and 2017 Astros). 

The Rangers have been conservative with their funds during their rebuild these past three seasons. It's smart. They needed to see what they really had in-house before they start to pay retail for free agents to put them over the top. Building a team of free agents won't win. Free agency is a great thing when there's money to spend, but you have to have an internal core or it won't matter. Even the Yankees have learned that by now.

Now is the time. It's not "all in" in 2020, but now is the time to make a splash. It's time to go hard after the Anthony Rendons of baseball and make sure no one else outbids you. Show this fanbase that the Rangers are on their way. That they're the next team to fear in the A.L. West. And yes, we impatiently wait for the hammer to come down on those Houston Astros. 

Adding a superstar to a team is an immediate jolt to the clubhouse, to the fanbase, and to the rest of the league. It's too late for my father-in-law to see the Rangers win a World Series. He passed away with esophageal cancer in 2012. But it's not too late for another life-long fan to see their beloved team raise a World Series banner. 

The Rangers have been waiting to spend. They've admitted they'll spend this winter. Their new ballpark is about to open. Superstar free agents out there in positions the Rangers need. The stars have aligned. Is it okay to use the same theme from 2010?

It's time.

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