ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers are already starting to think about how to get to another World Series.
“We’ve got a very motivated group right now,” general manager Jon Daniels said Monday, three days after the Rangers’ second consecutive season-ending loss in a World Series, 6-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals. “In the clubhouse, on the field, and in the front office, we want to get the job done.”
Just like last year after their first World Series, the Rangers go into this offseason with their left-handed No. 1 starting pitcher being the most prominent free agent. This time, it’s C.J. Wilson coming off a winless postseason after winning 16 games in the regular season. Cliff Lee left in free agency last winter.
“No doubt we’ve got a decision to make and a discussion to have with C.J.,” Daniels said, not offering a timetable.
The two-time American League champion Rangers made their first offseason move Monday when they picked up the 2012 club option for Colby Lewis, who will make $3.25 million next season. The right-hander is 26-23 with a 4.06 ERA in two seasons since returning to Texas from Japan.
All the other core pieces, including all regulars in the primary batting order, are either already under contract or club control for next season. That includes Mike Napoli and AL championship series MVP Nelson Cruz, who are both eligible for salary arbitration, along with contracted players like Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young.
“We’ve got a really strong nucleus, a really good core,” Daniels said. “Most of the players on this club are going to be back, and are in their prime.”
The Rangers are also expected to talk with manager Ron Washington about a new contract. Since his debut in 2007, Texas has increased its victory total every season.
“It’s kind of the same thing as our core guys. No doubt he’s a huge part of why we’re here,” Daniels said. “There’s no question about his job security.”
The Rangers, a franchise that started as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961 and moved to Texas for the 1972 season, had never even won a postseason series until getting to last year’s World Series.
This year, they set a franchise record with 96 wins and won their second consecutive AL pennant. But they again lost in the World Series, in seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals after twice in Game 6 being within one pitch of winning that game and the championship.
“We’re all very emotional about how it ended, a lot of heavy hearts,” Daniels said. “But we’re certainly not going to let that take away from what we’ve accomplished, how far we’ve come, what we’ve been able to put together. … We’ve got a huge advantage going forward in our ownership group and their commitment to winning, not just being there, but winning it all. And a baseball group more motivated, more committed than ever.”
The Rangers began 2011 with a payroll of just over $92 million, a number expected to increase next season.
Part of that will come just from the anticipated increased salaries for Napoli, Cruz, reliever Mike Adams and shortstop Elvis Andrus through new contracts or salary arbitration.
What about the re-signing of Wilson or the possibility of pursuing 25-year-old Japanese standout pitcher Yu Darvish should he become available for bidding? Or going after the big free-agent bats of first basemen Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder?
Daniels said pitching is “going to be priority one, always will be.” But he added that the Rangers will sort through their own pitchers before starting to look externally, including the idea again of moving closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation.
The Rangers also considered making Feliz a starter last spring. Daniels said they will decide on Feliz before going to spring training, and that could obviously be affected by whatever other moves are made.
“As far as any sort of significant investment, whether it’s offense or pitching, especialy when you’re talking about a financial investment, our mindset is going to be to look internal first,” Daniels said. “The reality is over the next two, three, four years, we have a lot of players that, C.J. being the first, our core guys, have a chance to reach free agency. We want to make sure we’re able to retain the core.
‘Any free agency or big-spending acquisition outside is going to have to be looked at through that prism, what impact that will have on keeping our group together,” he said.
One example is Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP who avoided arbitration last winter with a two-year deal through next season. Without a new deal, he could be a free agent after next season.
Lewis was drafted by the Rangers in 1999, won 10 games as a rookie in 2003 and was in the rotation to start the 2004 season before tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He spent time with Detroit and Oakland after that before going to Japan for two seasons.
A few minutes after the World Series ended Friday night, Daniels sat in the dugout watching the Cardinals celebrate. He didn’t do that last year after San Francisco wrapped up the series in Texas after five games.
“It wasn’t fun,” Daniels said. “Just part of the deal, just a little extra motivation. … I think it was just a moment to kind of reflect on all that went into [the season], kind of leave 2011 there and get ready to move on.”