Somewhere just above the bottom line in this game is talent acquisition, and a lot goes into it. Those who don't scout well, spend well, and develop well - and I mean all three - will have their occasional hits when comes to finding winning pieces, but it's the ones who fend well for themselves in all three phases that tend to put themselves most often in a position to win with a little staying power.
It wouldn't be all that upsetting to the average fan if the Rangers, coming off a World Series and off to the league's best start in 2011, was focused on leaving this group basically alone. Maybe keeping tabs on Eric Hurley and Michael Kirkman at Round Rock and getting Tanner Scheppers and Tommy Hunter and Brandon Webb well. Evaluating where Taylor Teagarden and Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry are while thoughts of increasing the bench by a third linger. Getting ready for the June draft. Figuring out what Chris Davis's greatest value to the organization might be. But basically not messing with a really good thing.
And yet, following an off-day during which stories were rampant that Texas was zeroing in on a deal with Cuban outfield prospect Leonys Martin, on Friday (hours before their big league players did this) the Rangers added two pitchers to the fold, claiming minor league reliever Ramon Aguero from Pittsburgh and signing injured reliever Manny Corpas to a minor league deal.
In acquiring Aguero, Texas placed a claim on a pitcher (with two options remaining) whom the lowly Pirates didn't have room for - designating him for assignment to make season-opening room on the staff for 30-year-old journeyman reliever Jose Veras - and whom every one of the other 28 clubs declined this week to devote a 40-man roster spot to. In signing the free agent Corpas, the Rangers add a 28-year-old onetime closer, even though he won't pitch this season due to Tommy John surgery.
Texas is hoping Aguero can harness a mid-90s fastball-slider-change arsenal, work past elbow tendinitis and back issues that dogged him this spring, and develop into a relief option. He's never pitched above AA but will join AAA Round Rock immediately. The club hopes Corpas, 28, still has something a year from now, when he won't have enough service time to take free agency if on the 40-man roster. There's little downside with either move, but only one team could make them happen, and in each case it was Texas.
The relentless pursuit of baseball players is something you never have to worry about this front office prioritizing, whether they're running a 2007 club looking to rebuild or the reigning American League champs.
Last year, without any financial independence, the Rangers acquired Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco in the spring, and Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina and Jorge Cantu and Jeff Francoeur and Mark Lowe in the summer. They signed Jorge Alfaro out of Colombia, just as in recent years they'd signed Martin Perez out of Venezuela, Jurickson Profar out of Curacao, David Perez out of the Dominican Republic, Jose Felix out of Mexico, and dozens of other key international prospects, a crop that we could learn any day will include the Cuban defector Martin.
While trades around the league involving prospects tend to include players who have proven themselves at the AA level, the Rangers never shy away from targeting a prospect playing at an organization's fourth minor league level (Roman Mendez), if not fifth (Neftali Feliz), if not sixth (Engel Beltre), if not seventh (Carlos Melo).
Texas went to Japan to bring Colby Lewis back. Used the now-obsolete draft-and-follow process to add Derek Holland. Used the Rule 5 Draft to acquire Mason Tobin. Used the minor league Rule 5 draft to take an outfielder with massive immigration issues and turned him into righthander Alexi Ogando.
Grabbed Mets Rule 5 pick Darren O'Day off waivers. Stole Pedro Strop when the Rockies tried to take him off the roster and quickly and quietly re-sign him to a minor league contract.
Took a flier on a 4-A player the Brewers lacked faith in, and were patient enough to wait until he became Nelson Cruz.
It would have been easy for what was then a pitching-starved organization to hold onto a rebuilt Edinson Volquez rather than take a chance on outfielder Josh Hamilton and all his issues. Or to buy into the consensus that Scheppers's shoulder was too risky to take a Draft Day chance on. Or to take a look out the fourth-floor window at the club's 20-year starting shortstop and decide to recruit Profar instead as a pitcher (as most teams wanted to do), if at all. Or to draft high school righthander Ethan Martin rather than Justin Smoak, given the 2008 summer Davis had just had in Arlington. Or to pay too much in prospects for Matt Garza, rather than improving the club's pitching by signing Adrian Beltre.
But part of the equation, in order to give yourself the best chance to get ahead in this game, is to take risks, particularly if you're good at rooting out or cooking up the good ones to take.
Just because you have Chris Davis, you don't pass on Smoak. Justin Same with Elvis Andrus, and Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas. Same with Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre, and Leonys Martin.
Is there luck involved, good fortune? Of course. Cruz could have been lost on waivers. Mitch Moreland could have taken the organization up on its offer a couple years ago to let him convert to the mound full-time. David Murphy might have never put it together, a fate he appeared to be headed for when Boston put him in the Eric Gagné deal. Ogando might have never been allowed back into the United States.
But good fortune isn't always accidental, and in this case I'd suggest we shouldn't overlook our good fortune as Rangers fans when it comes to the relentless baseball operations crew this organization is led by, a group that never relaxes in its obsession with evaluating and acting on every possible opportunity to add that one extra piece that could help this club win another game or two several years down the road.