3. Texas Rangers
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A-Rod gives them marquee value, but how many 10-9 games can a team win?
By Stephen Cannella
Palmeiro's Pavlovian response is understandable; no doubt he and his teammates heard A-Rod questions in their sleep this spring. Upon lavishing Rodriguez with the fattest contract in sports history (10 years, $252 million) in December, Texas owner Tom Hicks gushed that the deal would "leapfrog [the Rangers] into an arena where we've never been before." He's gotten his wish. When, for example, was the last time you saw camera crews from CNN and 60 Minutes milling around the team's spring home in sleepy Port Charlotte, Fla.?
Rodriguez will receive the lion's share of attention in this new, zoolike atmosphere, but he's not the only big game to arrive in Texas. After a disastrous season in which they lost 91 times and became just the fourth team ever to tumble from first to worst in its division, the Rangers underwent a makeover that would've been dramatic even without the addition of their star shortstop. Designated hitter Andres Galarraga (one year, $6.25 million) and third baseman Ken Caminiti (one year, $3.25 million) signed hefty free-agent deals, and veteran second baseman Randy Velarde was acquired in a trade with Oakland. "Everyone wants to talk about Alex," says righthander Rick Helling, "but in any other year those other guys would be a big story."
The newcomers, along with holdovers like Palmeiro, catcher Ivan Rodriguez and outfielders Rusty Greer and Ruben Mateo, form a fearsome lineup that features two MVPs (Caminiti and Ivan Rodriguez), two batting champions (Galarraga and Alex Rodriguez) and 21 100-RBI seasons. The Rangers' lumber is so heavy that centerfielder Gabe Kapler, who hit .344 after the All-Star break, will bat eighth.
The anticipated avalanche of runs will be protected by a vastly improved defense. That's partly due to the new blood and partly because the Rangers' fielding couldn't get any worse. Gold Glovers (Caminiti and Palmeiro) will man two of the four infield positions, meaning Texas is unlikely to lead the American League in errors (135) for a second straight year. Last season's shoddy glovework also had a less quantifiable effect: A shell-shocked staff of pitchers wondered why ground balls were no longer their friends. "To an extent all you can worry about is making your pitches," says Helling. "On the other hand, we're in the big leagues, and when the ball's hit to a big leaguer, the play should be made. It's a nice feeling to know that now if I get a key double play ball, it'll be a double play."
Finding base runners to double up won't be a problem since a horrid pitching staff was one area the Rangers ignored this winter. A rotation that had the league's second-worst ERA (5.56) returns virtually intact. The plan is to mask the mound shortcomings with a bludgeoning offense and airtight defense and hope that general manager Doug Melvin can find some arms by midseason. More likely the Rangers will have to wait until next winter, when Hicks can empty his pockets yet again in the free-agent market. "One of the problems this off-season was that we made all those moves kind of late," says Palmeiro. "I have no doubt in my mind that if we had signed Alex and Andres and Ken earlier, guys like Mike Mussina and Mike Hampton would have taken a closer look at coming here."
For now the Rangers will have to content themselves with A-Rod, who confessed to nervousness this spring. "I feel like a rookie," he said. "This team is filled with veterans. I'm just joining the pack."
Until that pack includes better pitchers, however, A-Rod and the Rangers won't be leapfrogging anywhere near a World Series.
Issue date: March 26, 2001