Rangers Leading Culture Change in Baseball

You could see the sadness and discomfort on the face of Commissioner Bud Selig as he carefully read his trophy presentation speech to the world from a folded up index card after the St. Louis Cardinals captured their 11 th World Series title. As Selig relayed a speech that was somehow not prepared after seven months of baseball, his tone and mood seemed dejected despite World Series champion Cardinals celebrating around him.

With a new champion crowned and a historic, memorable seven game series in the rear view mirror, the celebration on the field and the wide grins on the face of every Cardinal player spoke for themselves. St. Louis was 10 ½ games out of the playoffs on August 25 th , but rallied with a memorable September in which they won 23 of their last 31 games. Despite the excitement surrounding this team, World Series ratings – and playoff ratings – were sadly disappointing.

The team of destiny collided with the returning World Series participants in the American League – the Texas Rangers – in the fall classic. The Rangers became the first team since the 2001 New York Yankees to appear in back to back World Series. The Cardinals added a chapter to their history book, defeating the still championship-less Texas Rangers in a dramatic seven game series.

While St. Louis has a legacy of their own, the viewership of the MLB postseason was not reflective of the quality baseball that was played in the month of October. Bud Selig knows that the sport thrives when the most popular teams in the league are in the championship. The Boston Red Sox choked away a playoff appearance and the New York Yankees were eliminated in round one after finishing with the best record in the American League. The Philadelphia Phillies did the same in the National League, but were knocked out by the future champion Cardinals in the first round as well.

The truth is that as long as teams without the big payroll and attractive market are putting together championship caliber organizations, fans of the game must embrace the new upcoming teams that are the future of baseball.

With back to back American League pennants, the Texas Rangers are positioning themselves as baseball’s new “empire.” Since Nolan Ryan took as team President and General Manager Jon Daniels began drafting, trading and identifying young talent, as well as acquiring veteran leadership to build a new powerhouse in baseball, teams like the Rangers and Cardinals will attempt to dethrone the already existing empires in the game today.

The ratings say it all. This country has not yet recognized the culture change in baseball. Demonstrated by the Rangers, as well as teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks and the World Series champion Cardinals, the method of building from the inside rather than purchasing parts from the outside is starting to take maximum effect. Without the big bucks to lure free agents or register national interest, small market clubs are utilizing obvious strategies to build winning baseball teams that have been often ignored by front offices around the league for years.

The top five payrolls in Major League Baseball are the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, and White Sox. Only two of these teams made the playoffs, and despite their league leading regular seasons, both the Yanks and Phillies failed to reach their conference championships.

You have to crawl down the list and slide past the top ten to find the champion St. Louis Cardinals (11). The Rangers are slotted at 13, thanks to the sale of the franchise in 2010. The Rangers payroll increased 67.1% in 2011, by far the biggest climb in baseball. Texas’ $92.3 million dollar budget is dramatically improved from their weary $55.3 2010 budget, but their new and improved bank is still over $100 million dollars less than the Yankees, who spend as much on individual players as teams like the Royals and Pirates expend on most of their starting roster.

Without divulging into the specifics, the “buy your players” strategy has worked for many teams over the years. However, when a team signs a big name player, they are forced to surrender premium draft picks. For example, the Yankees used their abundant resources in the 2008 offseason to sign highly touted free agent Mark Teixeira for $180 million dollars. Thanks to baseball’s compensation system, Teixeira’s former team, the Los Angeles Angels, were given draft picks for losing the bidding battle to New York. The Angels used the 25 th pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft via the Yankees from the Teixeira signing to draft outfielder Mike Trout. Thanks to brilliant scouting from the Angels front office, instead of spending over a fourth of their payroll on one player, the organization used the compensation pick to identify a cheap young talent who would proceed to become the top prospect in baseball entering the 2010 season.

This is just one example of how simple the new strategy in baseball is – think ! Most MLB teams cannot attract star free agents due to financial reasons among other important factors. But they can outsmart the big shot clubs with an intelligent front office that does exactly what Andrew Friedman is doing in Tampa Bay, Kevin Towers is doing in Arizona, Theo Epstein did in Boston for years, and what Jon Daniels is doing right here in our neighborhood.

The 2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers are proof that the culture of baseball has changed. The big markets are on high alert, and the smaller markets are drooling at the opportunities ahead of them. Why? Because it’s working.

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