I was in the prime of my adolescence during the majority of the 2000's decade, so I understand better than most what it's like to cheer for an absolutely hopeless major league franchise. Hi, Texas Rangers, I'm talking about you guys. So when 2014 came along I wasn't all that let down. Of course it sucks for your team to be the worst in the sport, but it wasn't a sign of what's to come as much as a symptom of injuries and bad luck. And for that, there's promise for the future.
However, behind the Insider paywall in ESPN's recently released Future Power Rankings -- which is defined as "an attempt to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years" -- the Rangers only check in at #15, after being #3 in 2013, #2 in 2012. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Now, on the surface this seems like a downer, especially since the Angels (12th) and Mariners (14th) rank ahead of Texas. But, understanding the methodology, it's really not that bad. It's a three-person panel -- Buster Olney, Jim Bowden and Keith Law -- and team ranks are based off the quality of the major league team (which was particularly weak in 2014), the farm system (which is strong), finances, management and mobility. Being that 2014 was such a poor year on the field, it has to leave a sour taste in the mouths of observes -- especially taking recency bias into account -- though I'm not sure how the Rangers lost points in the management department since there haven't been any significant changes in the front office. (i.e. Jon Daniels leaving.)
The American League West is jumbled in this list. Clearly ESPN are rewarding the Angels for having the most complete major league roster, in spite of having one of the worst farm systems in MLB and not a ton of surplus capital to spend. The Athletics, for instance, rank 5th in the AL West, 19th in MLB, and have a comparable big league roster with a similarly weak farm system as the Angels. If anything, I think the Astros should be rated higher than 16th, because they have one of the best farm systems in baseball, a strong front office and nothing but money to spend.
Again, recency bias rewards teams like the Angels and penalizes the Rangers for being so bad last season.
Still, having the Angels 12th, Seattle 14th, Texas 15th, Houston 16th and Oakland 19th suggests the American League West is easily the most balanced division in baseball, with very little separating them on a competitive level over the next several seasons. With all my homer-ness set aside, it's hard for me not to believe the Rangers have the best balance of major league talent, minor league assets and money to spend compared to the rest of the west, which juxtaposes good big league teams with little money to spend (Anaheim, Oakland) with teams like the Astros, who don't have a team to speak of but have a ton of talent coming in the future. Given health, Texas have a solid major league roster with a wave of top-tier prospects making their way up in the next couple years.
The anchors holding down the Rangers, notably the contracts of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, are thus far unproven entities since they were both injured in 2014. It doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to see them both performing to reasonable expectations in 2015, and that drastically changes the construct of the roster.
A large factor into why the Rangers rated so highly in the Future Power Rankings the last couple years is because the panel was dealing with a team fresh off 90-plus wins. I don't think that can go understated. As proven by Vegas's opening line of 33:1 that Texas win the World Series in 2014 -- a figure that will go down this winter because so many people will put money on them -- the Rangers will enter next season as an underdog, a spot they haven't experienced in quite a long time. I don't know why, but I welcome that mentality back in my life. Not necessarily because it's where I want my team to be, but rather it's what I've grown up knowing. It's what I'm conditioned to be.
People love rankings, for it generates discussion and page views and articles like you're reading now. In my mind I think #15 is totally underselling what the Rangers are capable of between 2015-2019, but my heart enjoys the challenge of knowing all it will take is one good season -- preferably next year -- before Texas are back at the top.
Where they belong.