|It should come as no surprise that the Rangers' core is a strong one. (Getty Images/EOB)|
We wrap up our "Core Values" series with a look at the Texas Rangers, who have been a part of the playoff fray in each of the last three seasons. The Rangers, of course, will be without Josh Hamilton going forward, but if any organization is positioned to survive such a loss, it's Texas. That's thanks in large part to a deep and stable core.
As for our somewhat arbitrary definition of "core," here's a reminder: Feel free to skip over the blockquotes if you've been with us since the start.
What's a core? For our purposes, a team's core comprises a "cornerstone player," a "face of the franchise" and then the "future face of the franchise."
So what's a "cornerstone player"? For starters, it's one of the best players on the roster and perhaps the very best player on the roster. Beyond that, though, it's the player whom the organization has identified as the talent around which to build by signing him to a long-term deal. In other words, they've backed their faith in the player's abilities with the most powerful statement of all: lots of redeemable U.S. currency. Not only do they see this player as central to their current aims but also to their designs on future contention.
What's a "face of the franchise"? He -- and we're getting subjective here -- is the player who most prominently embodies the franchise in question. He's that player whom you think about when you think about this team. Is he the same guy as the "cornerstone"? Sometimes. But the cornerstone is primarily a financial designation. The "face" is, for lack of a better term, a cultural identifier. They're not mutually exclusive, but they're not not mutually exclusive, either. What about the word "values" that you see in the headline above? After we identify and evaluate the three elements of the core, we're going to slap a letter grade on the whole thing.
And now on to the core of the Texas Rangers:
Cornerstone player(s): Yu Darvish
This category is about financial commitments, and the Rangers have a number of them (for instance, six players are signed through at least the 2015 season). One deal, though, stands out.
If you look at the parameters of Darvish's deal -- six years, $56 million -- there's nothing especially jaw-dropping about it, at least by contemporary standards. But don't forget that the Rangers, in inking Darvish, also coughed up a $51.7-million posting fee, payable to Darvish's old team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, for the privilege of signing him. Framed so as to include that posting fee, you're talking about a nine-figure investment in a player who, at the time, had never thrown a pitch in the U.S. major leagues. All of that makes Darvish the cornerstone.
Face(s) of the franchise: Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre
Now that Michael Young is elsewhere, Ian Kinsler is the longest-tenured Ranger. And now that Josh Hamilton is elsewhere, Adrian Beltre is the most valuable Ranger. So they're the faces of the Rangers at this moment in time.
Kinsler, who's signed through at least 2017, has been a Ranger since he was drafted out of the University of Missouri in 2003. He's also a career .272/.350/.460 hitter with 143 homers and 157 stolen bases in 188 attempts. The advanced metrics also suggest he's been a plus glove at second base throughout recent history. On the downside, Kinsler showed signs of decline last season -- both at the plate and in the field -- which raises concerns that his contract is going to extend into his deep decline phase. On the upside, the Rangers have the organizational depth to treat Kinsler as a sunk cost should it come to that.
Beltre, meanwhile, is one of the most complete, most electric players in baseball. He's a sorcerer in the field -- he is, without exaggeration, one of the greatest defensive third basemen in baseball history -- and over the last three seasons he's put up OPS+'s of 141, 131 and 137. Throw in the aesthetics -- those lunging snags at the hot corner, those home runs from one knee -- and you've got a most worthy "face." Expect Beltre to continue performing at a high level.
Face(s) of the future: Darvish and Jurickson Profar
Will Darvish take the next step in 2013? Signs point to yes. He's coming off a rookie season in which he posted an ERA+ of 116 and ranked second in the majors with a strikeout percentage of 27.1. As well, Darvish's numbers improved markedly after tweaking his mechanics in August of last year. Throw in the fact that his age -- 26 -- lends itself to skills growth, and Darvish seems poised to take the next step. Don't be surprised if he settles in as a first-order ace over the next half-decade or so.
As for Profar, he's generally regarded as the top prospect in all of baseball. And that's with good reason. Profar's tools earn as much praise as his baseball smarts, and he's capable of sticking in the middle infield provided the Rangers make room for him. Nothing, though, sums up Profar's promise quite like this: Last season he batted .281/.368/.452 at Double-A despite being just 19 years of age and despite skipping over High-A entirely. He's a special player.
Of course, the Rangers' young talent base goes beyond "merely" having the best prospect on the planet. Mike Olt has ceiling. Elvis Andrus is still just 24 (and already one of the top shortstops around). Martin Perez and Cody Buckel are in the pipeline. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are locked up long-term, and don't forget that the gifted Neftali Feliz should be back at some point after the All-Star break. Suffice it to say, the Rangers are well positioned for the future.
Grading the Rangers' core: A-
Sure, the Angels have once again stolen the headlines, and they might be the on-paper favorites in the AL West. But that's no indictment of the Texas core. The only thing keeping them from the highest possible grade is Kinsler's seeming decline. Everything else, though, looks uncommonly strong.
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