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Quiet offseason doesn't dampen Rangers' hopes

Banister reminds players they can build off successful 2015
March 6, 2016

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Rangers manager Jeff Banister gathered his players before the first workout of the spring, he addressed the usual issues, talked about his hopes for 2016 and then threw the guys in uniform a curve."We had a celebration," Bannister said.Before the first batting practice session of the

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Rangers manager Jeff Banister gathered his players before the first workout of the spring, he addressed the usual issues, talked about his hopes for 2016 and then threw the guys in uniform a curve.
"We had a celebration," Bannister said.
Before the first batting practice session of the spring?
"We celebrated the (2015) division title," Bannister said. "I wanted to make sure the guys knew what we accomplished last season."
There has been enough focus by others on that American League Division Series in which the Rangers won the first two games and the Blue Jays won the final three.
Banister doesn't want that five-game glimpse in October to obscure what Texas accomplished during the 162-game regular season.
And there are times, even today, when it does seem that the general public has cast aside the Rangers' second-half charge in which they overtook the Astros to claim bragging rights in the Lone Star State and the AL West. Texas finished two games ahead of Houston.
The Astros were a wonderful success story in 2015. With a youthful roster, the franchise that had lost 416 games the previous four seasons led the division most of the season, claimed a Wild Card spot and then knocked off the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game before being eliminated in the AL Division Series by the eventual World Series champion Royals.
Their return to respect has earned the Astros plenty of offseason and Spring Training attention.
Nobody denies they deserve that. But don't forget the Rangers. 
They had their own resurgence in 2015 and have every reason to believe they can be a better team in 2016.
They did not have a headline-stealing offseason. Between the Nov. 16 acquisition of reliever Tom Wilhelmsen and outfielder James Jones from the Mariners for outfielder Leonys Martin and right-hander Anthony Bass and the Feb. 29 signing of free-agent shortstop Ian Desmond, who is being moved to left field, the Rangers mainly tinkered, signing a group of big league veterans to Minor League deals with invites to big league camp.
But then they didn't really need to do much. They had pieces in place. And that's what Banister wanted to make sure hadn't been forgotten.
"We showed a video of the celebration and accomplishments of last year," he said. "We need to be proud. We need to feel good about what we did accomplish."
And a lot was accomplished.
These Rangers may have played in the 2010 and '11 World Series and claimed a Wild Card berth in '12, but they also finished in last place in the AL West in 2014, losing 95 games, their worst season since losing 99 in 1985.
And in the first inning of the first game last spring, troubles began.
Ace Yu Darvish got three outs and was done, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery.
And then Josh Hamilton was limited to 50 games because of injuries in his return to Texas. Second baseman Rougned Odor was so inconsistent that on May 9, hitting .144, he was sent back to Triple-A for a five-week refresher course. And right fielder Shin-Soo Choo was an offensive non-factor the first half of the season, hitting .221 with 85 strikeouts in 296 at-bats.
The Rangers? They struggled to be competitive. After games of July 28, they were 47-52, in third place, and eight games behind the Astros.
Shortly after that began a transformation that provides hope for 2016 as well. They added left-hander Cole Hamels to the top of the rotation and acquired right-hander Sam Dyson and lefty Jake Diekman for the bullpen at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Not only was Hamels 7-1 for the Rangers, but they were 10-2 in his starts. Dyson was 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA and allowed 29 baserunners and struck out 30 in 31 1/3 innings. And Diekman had a 2.09 ERA in 26 games.
Meanwhile, Odor returned from the Minors and regained his spot in the lineup, and Choo had a second-half resurgence that saw him hit .343, score 56 runs and drive in 44.
All of that helped the Rangers win 41 of their final 63 games. And with everyone back this spring, Texas has reason to feel good about what lies ahead. And the likelihood that Darvish will need the first two months of the season to get ready to return means he could become an in-season booster shot.
"Last year was a great learning process for us,'' said Banister. "I look at it as one of the largest growth periods this team went through. They overcame challenges. They weathered the storm. It's something that we can build off this year."
Banister says it will make the challenges of 2016 easier to face.
"The dynamics of this game is you have to continue to learn until you stop putting on a uniform," he said. "Nothing can be assumed. It's not that easy."
It's what makes the celebrations so enjoyable. It's why Banister wanted to remind the Rangers of the good feelings before they ran onto the field for the first time this spring.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for