Rangers built for long-term success

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It took less than 20 minutes after a Game 7 loss in the World Series for Texas Rangers players and staff members to set the goal of getting back to the Fall Classic for a third time. They know it won't be easy.

"The reason why it hurts more this year is how close we were," said general manager Jon Daniels, whose team came a strike away from winning the title twice in Game 6, only to see it slip away. "Last year, we won Game 3, but we weren't nearly as close as we were this year. These opportunities are precious. We know how hard we had to work to get to this point. The bottom line is we've got to get better. We had a hell of a year and we've got to get better."

The reality is that the Rangers have the pieces in place to make a sustained run. They have a young core group of players under contract for the next few years. They have one of the strongest minor league systems in the majors. They have an aggressive front office willing to look into any and all options and an ownership group willing to write checks, if necessary.

They'll need it in order to try to stay on top of the AL West and do what the Los Angeles Angels did for most of the last decade: Become a mainstay in the playoffs.

"They've done a lot of things right over a long period of time," Daniels said. "And they've got a lot more flags flying than we do. We've got to catch up."

There are some opportunities this offseason to improve. Assuming another team gives C.J. Wilson a contract out of the Rangers' comfort zone, Daniels and his crew will be looking for some more pitching. They could get into the sweepstakes for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish or make a trade. And don't be shocked if they poke around on free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, who could certainly bring a big bat to a position that has lacked some firepower in Texas recently.

"Our organizational mindset is never a one- or two-year window," Daniels said. "It's to build a team that can last a long time. We can't predict the future, but I know we'll do everything we can to get back."

The Rangers are trying to build a club in the mold of the Angels or Atlanta Braves. They want a team that has staying power and can compete for championships every year.

Daniels scoffed at the idea of comparing these Rangers to the Braves quite yet.

"They put up a streak of division championships that we aren't close to," Daniels said of the Braves' stretch from 1991 to 2005.

True. But like the Braves, the Rangers went from basement dwellers to contenders with shrewd trades, smart free-agent signings and, most important, a minor league system replete with talent. The Braves won their first pennant in 1991 but lost in seven memorable games to the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. The Braves had a 3-2 lead in that Fall Classic heading back to the Metrodome, but lost two heartbreakers -- Kirby Puckett's walk-off homer in Game 6 and Jack Morris outdueling John Smoltz for a 1-0 win in Game 7. Atlanta returned to the World Series the next year, only to fall to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games.

Sound a little familiar?

The Braves eventually made it back to the World Series in 1995, beating the Cleveland Indians in six games. They did it with a tremendous pitching staff and clutch hitting. And while the Rangers don't quite have Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and Greg Maddux, they do have young talent that is starting to blossom.

Derek Holland took a critical step toward becoming a mainstay in the rotation with how he finished the season. He has the stuff to be at or near the top of the rotation in the future. Alexi Ogando wore down as the season progressed, but as he gets used to the rigors of starting, his 97 mph fastball and ability to move the ball in and out make him a valuable weapon. Scott Feldman looked more like the guy that won 17 games in 2009. He could challenge for a rotation spot. Matt Harrison showed signs of getting more consistent. And there are others, headlined by Martin Perez, hoping to get their shot. Add in a true No. 1 either at the trade deadline next year or in free agency and it's a truly formidable rotation.

In terms of free agents, the Rangers don't have many. Mike Gonzalez will have his left knee scoped this week and wants to return to Texas next year. Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor and Darren Oliver are also free agents, along with Wilson.

But in the coming years, members of the nucleus will need to be re-signed to keep this team intact. That includes Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton, among others. Daniels is aware of that, and it's part of the club's financial planning. All of it is designed to keep the Rangers among baseball's elite.

"We want to be an organization that isn't in and out, not a one-hit wonder, where we can sustain it over time," Daniels said a few days ago. "That doesn't mean you're going to be in the World Series every year. You're going to have years where injuries get you or moves don't work out, but where you don't have to take a three-, four- or five-year step back to rebuild. You want to keep that window open as long as possible."

They've got the foundation in place to do that. Now they've got to add a few more pieces and be sure that they can bounce back psychologically from two straight World Series losses.

"I don't worry about that," Daniels said. "This is a strong group mentally from top to bottom and it starts with Wash. We'll come back and get to work."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.