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Desmond deal all about depth for Rangers

After weathering injuries the past two seasons, AL West champs staying prepared
MLB.com @RichardJustice

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers believe they might be good enough to win the American League West without Ian Desmond. That's not even a stretch, since this is already a really good baseball team.

Maybe Josh Hamilton still has some productive baseball left in him. Or maybe one of the kids -- Joey Gallo or Nomar Mazara -- is ready to be a dominant player. In a lineup with Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers can surely live with some uncertainty in one spot.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers believe they might be good enough to win the American League West without Ian Desmond. That's not even a stretch, since this is already a really good baseball team.

Maybe Josh Hamilton still has some productive baseball left in him. Or maybe one of the kids -- Joey Gallo or Nomar Mazara -- is ready to be a dominant player. In a lineup with Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers can surely live with some uncertainty in one spot.

Besides, this a team that will almost certainly rise or fall on the strength of its starting rotation -- which would get a boost from Yu Darvish's return from Tommy John surgery, as well as Derek Holland and Martin Perez's ability to stay healthy and perform at a high level.

Those three pitchers might decide whether the Rangers win their fourth division title in seven years. Beyond that, general manager Jon Daniels has accumulated depth up and down his roster. As he said, "Injuries happen. Things can happen. It's just the nature of the game."

There's never enough depth. That's the bottom line behind Texas' decision to sign Desmond to a one-year, $8 million deal. The signing was announced on Monday.

Desmond isn't a perfect fit. He has been a shortstop for most of his career, and the Rangers are steadfast that Elvis Andrus will remain their guy. Desmond will be the everyday left fielder, even though he has played just two games in the outfield.

Here's what Desmond brings to the table that offsets all that other stuff: He's a proven Major League hitter -- averaging 22 home runs the past four seasons, with a .759 OPS. Desmond comes with questions in this area, though. At 30, his OPS has declined for three straight seasons, with the veteran registering a .674 mark in 2015.

Video: PHI@WSH: Desmond opens scoring with solo home run

For the Rangers, though, the decision wasn't complicated. As they looked at the uncertainty regarding Hamilton's aching knee and his inability to stay healthy in recent seasons, they decided they would like to add another proven Major League bat.

Desmond still being on the free-agent market was probably the biggest surprise of this offseason. By signing him, Texas will surrender the 19th pick of the 2016 Draft.

On the other hand, Desmond absolutely makes them better. Even if the outfield isn't an easy transition -- and even if Hamilton gets healthy -- the Rangers have endured too much of this stuff the past two seasons to pass on a chance to add a player this good.

Two years ago, the Rangers had a season of optimism ruined by injuries. Texas used 64 players that season, including 40 pitchers.

"It was brutal," Daniels said. "We set every record possible for injuries, number of players used, most times on the DL, most days on the DL, most dollars on the DL. You name it, we've got it. It's like the Cal Ripken record. We're going to hold onto that for a while."

The Rangers were hit hard again last season, using 57 players and starting 8-16 before sprinting to the AL West championship after some key players got healthy and Daniels shored up the pitching staff.

Over those two seasons, Texas was forced to dig deep into its Minor League system, and the club found that some young guys -- for instance right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez -- were ready for the Majors.

Video: SEA@TEX: Gonzalez fans seven over six innings

So the Rangers have an interesting dynamic in camp, with Holland and Perez trying to re-prove themselves while some of their kids push for playing time. In the end, though, Desmond represents an upgrade over every other option -- including perhaps Hamilton.

"I get a bunch of questions about who is going to be the fifth starter," Daniels said. "There have been years we didn't have enough candidates. As we sit here right now, I don't think we can go wrong. We have eight guys competing between the long guy and the starting role, and they've all shown pretty well. We haven't started games yet. I get that. But I've been impressed by what we've seen so far."

Over the past six seasons, only the Yankees and Rays are have won more regular-season games than the Rangers in the AL. During that time, Texas has played more postseason games than any other AL team.

When Daniels took over as GM in 2005, the Rangers had not won a postseason series in their 34 seasons of existence. He's optimistic there's more to come.

"We believe in this team," Daniels said. "It's not going to be easy. It wasn't easy last year. We're going to have some rough spots. But we believe in this club, and we're going to continue to support these guys."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.

Texas Rangers, Ian Desmond