MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Rangers equipped to handle loss of Hamilton

Justice: Texas equipped to handle loss of Hamilton

I don't believe the Texas Rangers are in a desperate situation. In fact, I can see them contending without adding a single player between now and Opening Day. Yeah, I'm out on this limb alone.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has talked for months about giving his best young players -- some of the best in baseball -- more of a chance to play. Circumstances -- not the circumstances he wished for -- have given him a chance to do just that.

The Rangers are never going to know how good Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez and the others are until they throw 'em out there and let 'em play awhile. Not for a day at a time, either.

They must have a real chance to play, and who knows where that will lead? There was a time early last season when it looked like neither Craig Gentry or Mitch Moreland belonged in the Major Leagues.

But they kept playing and got better. That's how it goes with young players. They must have the opportunity to succeed and fail, adjust and readjust. There's only one way to find out.

Those young players may be the Rangers' best options, so why not embrace the future? Yep, this is a scary time.

Managers prefer veterans because veterans come with a track record. Veterans usually don't have the dramatic highs and lows that are part of adjusting to life in the Major Leagues.

That's why Rangers manager Ron Washington kept playing his veterans last summer when Daniels was presenting him with younger -- and interesting -- options.

Now Washington may not have a choice, so why not begin next season by moving Ian Kinsler from second base to first and penciling in 19-year-old Profar at second?

Profar is among baseball's most heralded prospects, and after a season when one young kid after another -- Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Manny Machado -- handled themselves well, the Rangers owe it to themselves to find out.

In his six years in charge, Daniels has done a phenomenal job, not just in putting winning teams on the field, but in building a great organization. One of the toughest aspects of leadership is being able to make tough, unpopular decisions.

As much as we become attached to certain guys, every player has a value. The Cardinals assigned a value to Albert Pujols last offseason, and when the Angels put more cash on the table, the Cardinals walked away.

What happened to the Cardinals anyway? Did they collapse? No, they didn't. General manager John Mozeliak acquired an impact hitter in Carlos Beltran and trusted his core of veterans and his terrific player development system to do the rest.

That's why the Rangers are in good shape. They've got great ownership. They've got great leadership in Nolan Ryan and Daniels. They're coming off a season when they drew 3 million fans.

I just hope Daniels can escape the noise. Do something, Jon. Do anything, Jon. Do it now, Jon. Adam LaRoche. Michael Bourn. We don't care, Jon, but please do something.

About the worst thing Daniels could do at this point is make a decision for the sake of doing something.

Besides, there's no free agent out there who is going to replace Josh Hamilton's presence in the lineup. LaRoche would be a tremendous addition, not just at first base, but also in the clubhouse.

Nick Swisher is solid, too, but he's not going to come close to touching Hamilton's home run totals. Unless the D-backs are willing to trade Justin Upton, the Rangers just may not have great options out there.

Daniels certainly would take a top-of-the-rotation starter, but is one available? The Mets apparently asked for Olt and outfielder Leonys Martin, and Daniels refused to do that deal.

Daniels was stung by Hamilton's departure because he believed he'd be given the chance to match any offer. But he should have known that's not how free agency works.

His lineup looks dramatically different without Hamilton. Still, he has a solid starting rotation and a deep bullpen. His left side of the infield -- shortstop Elvis Andrus and third baseman Adrian Beltre -- is the best in the game.

Daniels needs a better season from Kinsler and continued progress from Moreland and Gentry. Regardless, the Rangers probably will be good enough to stay in contention until July when he will know more about his young guys and be better able to target his needs.

The bottom line is that the Rangers were never about one guy. Hamilton is a splendid player and a fan favorite. But good organizations endure, and the Rangers still are one of the best.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.