IRVING, Texas It's been nearly a week since the Rangers somehow lost Game 6 of the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, so fans across North Texas aren't far along in the recovery process. On the positive side, if such a thing exists, those of us who grew up here never envisioned a time when Rangers fans would be borderline despondent over not winning a World Series.
It hasn't been that long ago, say 2009, that even reaching the World Series seemed like a pipe dream. Now, our expectations for the Rangers have changed forever. The organization didn't even hold a rally to celebrate the season this time around. In some circles, fans are even referring to the 2011 season as a failure.
That's understandable in the harsh light of Game 6, but fans will eventually be able to appreciate what happened in 2011. In one postseason, the Rangers went from hat-in-hand intruders to a team that's revered by everyone in baseball. Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman was the first to admit heading into the postseason that he'd been wrong to refer to the Rangers as one-hit wonders.
Fans will eventually snap out of this funk, as long as they can avoid watching the Cowboys on Sundays. The Rangers are no longer a team that bridges the gap between the Mavericks and Cowboys in this neck of the woods. They have commanded the stage for two straight postseasons and we now have the makings of a baseball town. As Philadelphia sports fans have learned, there's room enough for two loves. The Phillies have just about pulled even with the Eagles in that community.
And in North Texas, the Mavericks and Rangers have become - understatement warning - much more worthy of our praise than the Cowboys. But when does this mourning period end for the Rangers? Probably not until spring training, which begins three months from now.
Until then, we can fill the void with some hot-stove talk. I found myself watching something called "Intentional Talk" on the MLB Network late into the evening Tuesday. The Rangers' first priority has to be shoring up the starting rotation. They'll allow No. 1 starter C.J. Wilson to test the free-agent market, where he'll likely sign a fat contract despite his postseason failure. If Wilson had been solid in the playoffs, the Rangers may have felt the pressure to pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of a 4-year, 80 million contract. But that's happening now.
There will be questions about whether closer Neftali Feliz should be given another opportunity to join the starting rotation. The Rangers gave him a brief shot in spring training last March, but there was way too much confusion surrounding the process. This time around, the Rangers plan to make a definite decision in January, so there's no ambiguity. It will be interesting to see how quickly Feliz can recover from his ninth-inning meltdown in Game 6. All these folks who keep saying manager Ron Washington should've sent him out for the 10th inning are looking past the fact that Feliz may have been mentally fried at that point. Nolan Ryan said as much when he joined us on 103.3 earlier this week.
The focus remains pitching, but there's also talk the Rangers could make a run at either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder in free agency. Current first baseman Mitch Moreland flashed his potential in last year's World Series against the Giants. It appeared the Rangers had their first baseman of the future, but he faded down the stretch in 2011 and had a regrettable postseason outside of his solo homer in Game 5 of the World Series. The problem with handing huge contracts to either Pujols or Fielder is that it could hinder the Rangers' chances to retain some of their core players in the future.
Over the next couple years, the Rangers will have to find a way to take care of Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz. After signing third baseman Adrian Beltre to a lucrative contract last offseason, going after Pujols or Fielder might seem like overkill, which is standard procedure for teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees. The Rangers now have an ownership group that is willing to spend money, but it's not going to start trying to money-whip the competition. When I reached out to him via text Wednesday morning, Rangers GM Jon Daniels didn't sound like a man who was ready to go in head first for Pujols or Fielder.
"It's unlikely, but I wouldn't rule anything out," said Daniels.
It is fun to imagine moving Michael Young to No. 2 in the order and replacing him at the cleanup spot with Fielder. You could move Andrus to No. 9 in the order, where he and leadoff man Ian Kinsler could still do damage on the basepaths. But for now, it's more likely the Rangers will spend lavishly on a pitcher such as Japan's Yu Darvish or perhaps even Wilson if the market for him isn't what many of us anticipate.
For now, Rangers fans must endure the longest offseason in the history of the organization. This is a different kind of misery, and whether you admit it or not, it beats the hell out of the first 40 years.