Commentary

Rangers fully committed to arms race

By signing Yu Darvish, Texas proves it will do whatever's necessary to improve pitching

Updated: January 18, 2012, 11:59 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

For parts of four decades, the Texas Rangers have been the big leagues' version of a beer league softball team.

No more.

This franchise, from top to bottom, finally understands that winning championships is about pitching -- not a never-ending string of majestic homers.

General manager Jon Daniels and CEO Nolan Ryan have been moving the Rangers in that direction for years.

Now, the shift is complete.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
Kirby Lee/US PresswireYu Darvish was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts in Japan last season.

Reaching an agreement with pitcher Yu Darvish on a six-year contract worth about $60 million removes any doubt that the Rangers believe pitching is every bit as important as hitting.

The Rangers used to tell us that all of the time, whether the general manager was Tom Grieve or Doug Melvin, then the club would go out and sign or trade for yet another masher.

We all knew it was lip service.

Then JD traded for Cliff Lee in 2010, and the Rangers' conversations about pitching gained merit. But the Rangers let him walk after that season when they refused to meet his contract demands and the Philadelphia Phillies swooped in and signed him.

JD and the front office let C.J. Wilson leave after this season because they thought investing more than $100 million -- Darvish's salary plus the $51.7 million posting fee -- in a potential ace was a better investment than Wilson, who bombed in the postseason.

Eventually, Darvish should be a front-of-the-rotation starter for the Rangers.

Until then, though, he's just part of a rotation that for now includes 23-year-old converted closer Neftali Feliz, 24-year-old Derek Holland, 26-year-old Matt Harrison and 28-year-old Alexi Ogando.

At 32, Colby Lewis, who's in the last year of his contract, is the old man.

No one is saying this is the next coming of the Atlanta Braves' rotation of the '90s that featured Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Tom Glavine, but the Rangers have positioned themselves to be rotation strong for years.

And there's more young pitching on the way.

Left-handers Martin Perez and Robert Ross and right-hander Neil Ramirez should all arrive no later than 2014, if everything goes according to plan.

Right-handers Cody Buckel and Roman Mendez rank among the club's top prospects, too.

The Rangers, like the New York Yankees, will always have offense. Hitters will always be drawn to their ballpark and its wonderful jet stream, which makes it an offensive paradise.

It's different for pitchers -- at least it used to be.

If you have talent and good mechanics and stuff, you can pitch well in Rangers Ballpark.

Lee did it. Wilson did it.

Holland did it in the World Series, when he allowed two hits and no runs in 8⅓ innings in Game 4.

The Rangers believe Darvish can pitch well here, too.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder was 18-6 with a league-best 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts last season in Japan. In his career, Darvish is 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA.

Still, it's always going to be harder to persuade pitchers as opposed to hitters to sign with the Rangers as free agents.

That's why JD has emphasized acquiring quality pitchers by any means necessary.

Free agency. Trade. Rule 5. Draft. International free agency.

Whatever it takes.

JD and Ryan understand pitching is ultimately the key to winning titles, and their rotation had to get better. Doing so required taking a monumental risk by letting Wilson go and hoping the franchise could win a blind bid for the negotiating rights to Darvish.

But it all worked out.

Darvish could be terrific and still never meet the unrealistic expectations fans and media will create for him after all of the hype. If he ignores it and learns from Mike Maddux, one of the game's best pitching coaches, he'll eventually be the Rangers' best pitcher.

And that might be enough to help the Rangers win their first title. Only time will tell.

What we know for sure is the Rangers have clearly changed their philosophical approach -- and that's a good thing.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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