This afternoon Zack Greinke will stride to the mound in the stadium that, for the first time in his pro career, he won't call home. A bit of an upset, some think.
The Rangers' two biggest off-season pickups, Adrian Beltre and Brandon Webb, are expected to take big steps forward today in their preparation for the season, but neither is ready to make his spring debut.
It hasn't been a perfect off-season for Texas, but almost no team's ever is.
Still, Beltre is expected to be ready for Opening Day. Webb could be, too, and if he's not, remember that Tommy Hunter didn't pitch until June last year and still won 13 games.
And Greinke? Love him, wish Texas got him, but if it meant Hunter or Derek Holland, plus Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez, plus Jurickson Profar, plus Engel Beltre, and maybe more? Maybe if you were a GM on an instant gratification blitz like Atlanta's John Schuerholz was four years ago.
Plus, within the next year Greinke could be available again. As could Mark Buehrle, or Chris Carpenter. Or Yu Darvish.
And if, in that time, Holland emerges as a solid number three and Scheppers arrives as a lockdown setup weapon and Profar finishes the year playing shortstop for Myrtle Beach at age 18 (just as Elvis Andrus did when the Pelicans were a Braves affiliate in 2007) and Beltre has a season in Frisco and Round Rock that puts him on the doorstep going into 2012 - or if just a couple of those things happen - it sets the farm system up to pay dividends again, just as it did in July when Cliff Lee became available, and the idea of refusing to grossly overpay for Greinke this winter will have been validated.
Texas could have parted with half a dozen players to get Greinke in December. Or Matt Garza in January.
Ask the Mariners how that Erik Bedard trade worked out.
The Rangers could have guaranteed the 32-year-old Lee a seventh year and $161 million. They could have.
The first half of the contract would have been a risk well worth taking. Beyond that, hold your breath.
Nobody doubts that Jon Daniels is just as motivated to make sure 2010 isn't a flash year as he was to embark on the five-step teardown plan four years ago to move the Rangers toward contention. It would have been easy to view this World Series team as one that needed just a little winter tweaking: lock Lee up or trade some future assets (that wouldn't really have affected the immediate core) to get Greinke, go find a veteran catcher, consider a change at DH. The mainstream media would have celebrated the off-season, the fan base would have largely bought in, the clubhouse would have been fully on board.
But Daniels and his group took a few bold steps, apparently set in motion only when the efforts to land Lee or Greinke or Garza reached levels at which they were deemed foolish to act on, and Texas moved in a direction that was neither the easy way out nor an impulsive pushing in of all the chips. Signing Beltre to improve the defense and taking a flier on Webb were more unconventional ways to address the club's pitching needs than landing a number one, but evidence that the front office had backup plans that they were ready to move on, something we've come to expect these last few years.
Daniels was already positioned to become the second-longest tenured general manager in franchise history when his existing contract expired at the end of the 2011 season, and while his term has been marked by aggressive decisions, I doubt anyone expected that he'd operate this year with a Schuerholz mindset, going all in without the security of a long-term contract and without regard for the young players two and three years away from Arlington.
It takes nobody by surprise that Rangers have locked Daniels up long-term - his deal now goes through 2015, which would give him a 10-year run matching Tom Grieve's - but there was also this in one of the local write-ups of the Daniels extension:
The next step is to keep the foundation in place. Team president Nolan Ryan said that with Daniels' deal out of the way, the focus can shift to locking up key core players as well as members of the baseball-operations staff.
Assistant GM Thad Levine will be first, and the Rangers plan to have contacted all their targets within a few weeks.
"We'll work on extending people within the system because we feel like we have personnel that we really count on and are really important to us," Ryan said. "That's going to be a priority of ours to do in the very near future."
If this team continues to make the type of noise it made last summer, it's inevitable that Levine will start to get interviews to run someone else's franchise, and A.J. Preller and Scott Servais and Don Welke head a group of baseball operations assets that other clubs are going to come after, dangling promotions. But Ryan and the Rangers' ownership group seem determined to make sure that key folks in the Daniels group aren't going to reach free agency in eight months (the way Mike Maddux did after the 2008 season), and that's a very good thing.
There's no Rangers player with a guarantee that extends now beyond the one given to Daniels (Beltre is locked up through 2015, with a 2016 club option), and whether that was symbolic or not in settling on his contractual term I have no idea. But the continuity that it recognizes and promises more of, both at the GM post and presumably in other roles on Daniels's team, makes Friday's announcement one of the more invigorating made by this organization since the season ended with Texas one of the two final clubs standing.