Rangers traverse into great unknown

Rangers traverse into great unknown

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers remain a mystery, a team just as unpredictable as it was at the start of the season with almost the same list of unknown factors that will determine their ultimate fate.

Only the offense has gained clarity. Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Milton Bradley have blossomed into All-Stars and have transformed the Rangers back into an offensive powerhouse.

But the pitching staff remains somewhat muddled, injuries cloud key positions, their young players have brought an infusion of energy mixed with inexperience and unpredictable performance, and it's still unclear whether wearing the traditional label of "buyer" or seller" will be their direction at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

That usually depends on whether a team deems itself a contender. Manager Ron Washington believes the Rangers are, but it's still not an easy call right now.

"That will be answered on the field," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Our guys have been through a lot this year, from the rough start to the injuries, and done a good job. We've had good veteran leadership and the young players have handled themselves well. Overall, I'm pleased, considering the plan we put in place 12-14 months ago how far it has come. It's not a finished product, we've still got to get healthy and get better starting pitching.

"But I'm pleased where we are. I'm not underestimating what we are capable of in the second half."

That doesn't mean the Rangers will be buyers. Daniels doesn't like either label. He made it clear there will be no firesale regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, nor will Texas unload young players for a quick fix. Daniels basically said the Rangers will consider something if it will help them now and in the future.

Bigger and more immediate questions face Texas, particularly when Hank Blalock and Gerald Laird come off the disabled list.

Blalock, who has been out since the end of April, could come back immediately after the All-Star break and the plan has always been to move him to first base. But Chris Davis has been brought up from the Minor Leagues, and if he performs well, the Rangers have a tough decision facing them.

"It's something we've talked about internally," Daniels said. "It's an evolving process, not only on Chris, but on the team and what's the best mix, and how Ron wants to allocate playing time. When Hank is 100 percent healthy and performing at a peak level, that is a bat we want in the lineup. Our priority right now is to take it slowly with Hank and make sure he's 100 percent healthy."

Laird's return could be closer to August. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is handling the catching duties now with Max Ramirez behind him. Laird, who was playing well when he went down with a hamstring injury, will still get significant playing time when he returns, but that doesn't answer long-term questions about the catching position.

5/16, TEX 16, HOU 8 -- Hamilton's five-hit game
Josh Hamilton homers twice, triples once and drives in five runs in a 16-8 victory for Texas.
Highlights: Watch
6/19, TEX 5, ATL 4 -- Young's walk-off
Mired in a 1-for-32 slump, Michael Young singles in the bottom of the ninth to drive in Ian Kinsler for the walk-off win.
Highlights: Watch
6/25, TEX 3, HOU 2 -- Ramirez's first homer
In his first start at catcher, rookie Max Ramirez hits his first career home run, the game-winner.
Highlights: Watch
6/27, TEX 8, PHI 7 -- Davis' debut a blast
Chris Davis, making his first career start, launches his first career home run in front of the home crowd.
Highlights: Watch
7/1, TEX 3, NYY 2 -- Kinsler steals a win
Ian Kinsler swipes third for his third steal of the night.
Highlights: Watch

Texas also faces questions about its starting rotation and the workload being put on the bullpen. If the club was convinced that it had a real shot at winning it all, it might be in the market for another veteran starter. But Daniels knows that much still depends on Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, that Scott Feldman has given the team a big boost, and the Rangers are still determined to go as far as they can with Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza.

"We've got to get together a five-man rotation that can get a routine going so that on a given night we'll get a quality start and get to the back of the bullpen," Daniels said. "I don't want to take away innings from Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza as we have done in the past. The only way we're going to get where we're going is to develop guys in our rotation. They need innings and experience, and we in the organization feel strongly about giving them an opportunity.

"You are more likely to get a shot in the arm from a young starter than you are a guy in a trade."

Young players bring unknown results. The Rangers remain unknown and unpredictable.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.