Ten critical decisions led to Rangers' ascent

Ten critical decisions led to Rangers' ascent

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers profess to make decisions in a collegial manner. That is, general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington seek multiple opinions before any major move is made.

Daniels has his cadre of close advisers in the front office and Washington has his coaching staff. Then there is club president Nolan Ryan, who exerts considerable influence in all areas of baseball operations.

Together they have all made dozens of decisions that have led to the Rangers closing in on their first division title since 1999. Obviously, given the Rangers' standing in the American League West, most of the decisions have worked out. Some haven't fared as well, while others had minimal or no impact.

In at least one bizarre head-scratching instance, the Rangers were spared from their own judgment when the White Sox claimed Manny Ramirez on waivers from the Dodgers. He has yet to drive in his first run for the White Sox.

But there are 10 decisions made over the course of the past 12 months that seem to stand out as significant reasons why the Rangers are headed to postseason play. They are worth reviewing:

Signing Vladimir Guerrero: This has Daniels' fingerprints all over it. Daniels' philosophy over the past few years -- while operating under extreme financial constraints -- was to look for high-profile, high-impact free agents who were coming off injury or down seasons, hoping they could make a strong comeback at a relatively bargain price. Eric Gagne, Sammy Sosa, Milton Bradley and Rich Harden all fit in this category.

Many clubs steered away from Guerrero because he was coming off his worst season while dealing with physical problems. The Rangers put on a full-court press and, with a huge assist from Washington's superb sales job, landed an impact bat who has made a big difference -- both in the lineup and in the clubhouse.

Signing Colby Lewis: Midway through January, the Rangers appeared to have a full rotation with Harden, Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Tommy Hunter. But Daniels firmly believed that the Rangers' success lay in their vast pitching depth and was eager to add one more starter.

He went after Lewis, who was coming off two excellent years in Japan, and landed him for the modest price of $5 million over two years. He's had some tough luck, but is headed for 200 innings with a sub 4.00 ERA. Look for him to be even better next season.

C.J. Wilson to the rotation: This move was widely discussed throughout the organization -- and there were many who advocated the move. Ryan was especially keen on Wilson being given a chance to start. Others had their doubts.

But only one person deserves full credit for this move being a huge success. That is Wilson himself.

The Rangers simply offered him a chance in Spring Training. Nothing was guaranteed. But Wilson won a spot in the rotation by knockout. By the end of Spring Training, everybody knew it was the right move and there was really no difficult decision to make.

Elvis Andrus to the leadoff spot: This was one of several early moves made by Washington that proved to be the right course. Julio Borbon began the season as the leadoff hitter but struggled mightily. Washington didn't wait long. He moved Andrus to the leadoff spot midway through April and he immediately took off.

Andrus has had some cold spots over the summer and physically he has been worn down some. But for the most part, he has been a true catalyst for the Rangers diversified offense -- with a chance to do for them what Derek Jeter did for the Yankees during his prime.

Neftali Feliz takes over as closer: When Frank Francisco struggled as the closer early in the season, Washington again didn't wait. He turned the role over to Feliz and the 22-year-old right-hander has flourished in his first full season. At some point soon, he should set a rookie record for most saves in a season.

Feliz has always had dominating stuff, but he has also developed much-needed mental toughness to handle the high-profile adversity that comes with the position.

A corollary to this move was the decision a month later to add Alexi Ogando to the bullpen despite extremely limited professional pitching experience. Ogando showed he could handle the move and that led to another key decision later in the season involving Chris Ray.

Keeping David Murphy engaged: Murphy began the season as the Rangers' fourth outfielder with little prospects for playing time amid a starting unit of Borbon, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton. But Washington kept him "engaged" by finding him playing time as much as possible. Most of the time it was against tough left-handers that Washington didn't want Borbon facing.

By keeping Murphy involved, Washington kept him sharp. In doing so, Murphy was able to step in and be highly productive while Cruz and Hamilton have been down with injuries. Once Hamilton returns, Washington's biggest decision in postseason will be whether to go with Murphy or Borbon in the starting lineup.

Signing Andres Blanco: The Rangers took a hit right before Spring Training when they found out that Khalil Greene would not be reporting to camp because of personal issues. Greene was supposed to be their utility infielder and the Rangers were caught without a viable replacement.

They spent the rest of Spring Training looking at one infielder after another, before finally landing Blanco from the Cubs for future considerations. Washington took one look at him and knew he was the answer. That proved true, even after the Rangers acquired Cristian Guzman at the Trade Deadline. Blanco was big for the Rangers in August while Ian Kinsler was on the disabled list.

Handling Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Here is how it played out. Saltalamacchia was the Opening Day catcher and had the game-winning hit. He went on the disabled list two days later with recurring physical issues in his back/neck/shoulder. He was sent to Triple-A on rehab. He never came back.

The Rangers simply said, "No more." They quietly decided that Saltalamacchia was not coming back to the big leagues. Instead, they cast their lot with Matt Treanor, a career backup, and Max Ramirez. Treanor, a late Spring hand-me-down addition from the Brewers, hasn't made anybody forget about Ivan Rodriguez -- but the Rangers are 38-22 in his 60 starts behind the plate.

Saltalamacchia, who still has considerable talent, was finally traded to the Red Sox on July 31 with a chance for a fresh start. Now for the first time in several years, the Rangers are no longer dealing with unhappy catchers questioning their playing time.

Ray for Bengie Molina: This was a head scratcher at the time. Ray was pitching well out of the bullpen, the Rangers were winning, and they were professing much happiness with the duo of Treanor and Ramirez behind the plate.

It is clear now that the Rangers had deep concerns about Treanor holding up physically over the course of the summer. They felt they needed another veteran catcher to share the load, so they traded Ray and Minor League pitcher Michael Main -- a former first-round pick -- to the Giants at the beginning of July for Molina.

The addition of Main made it a high price, but Molina helped stabilize the Rangers' catching situation. The team's fears were also realized when Treanor missed a month with a knee injury.

Acquiring Cliff Lee: The Rangers are 4-8 so far in Lee's 12 starts. Certainly Harden or Feldman could have done just as well or better.

But there are three points. One, the acquisition of Lee was a huge psychological boost for the Rangers, especially when it seemed he was going to the Yankees. Prior to this, the Rangers were never serious candidates to acquire this kind of an impact pitcher at the Trade Deadline.

Secondly, Lee did pitch a high number of innings at a time when the rest of the staff -- bullpen and rotation -- seemed to be wearing down. Third, Lee will still be at the head of the Rangers rotation when the playoffs begin.

This series of major decisions that worked out in the Rangers' favor is why postseason baseball will be played in Arlington this year.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.