Chuck Greenberg, Nolan Ryan, Jon Daniels

Rangers take unique route to World Series

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The Rangers have earned their first trip to the World Series. And they didn’t do it with mirrors, either. They defeated the team with the American League’s best record during the ALDS and last year’s World Series champions in the ALCS. Without question, they were the best hitting team in the American League during the playoffs and the best pitching team. They are exactly where they belong.

We’ll have plenty of time to talk about what happens next, but let’s not forget where this team — and this franchise — came from.

What better place to start than with the redemption story of Game 6 starter Colby Lewis. He was originally drafted by the Rangers as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, but shoulder surgery derailed his first stint with the team. Lewis eventually headed to Japan in 2008 after posting a 6.71 ERA over his first 72 games (34 starts) in the majors. Finally healthy, he found himself back on the radar of major league general managers while pitching with the Hiroshima Carp. Despite being courted by several teams, Lewis eventually returned to Texas on a two-year, $5 million contract. 11 years after he was originally drafted, the 31-year-old right-hander posted a 3.72 ERA during the regular season and pitched the Rangers to the World Series in Game 6 on Friday night. It’s almost too good to be true.

We’re all familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton by now, so I don’t need to rehash it all here. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels took a real leap of faith when he acquired the talented-but-troubled outfielder from the Reds in exchange for Edinson Volquez and Daniel Herrera in December of 2007. There have been some bumps along the way — Hamilton relapsed in early 2009 and has struggled to stay healthy at times — but we’re seeing why Tampa Bay selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft. He was just named the ALCS MVP and could be adding some more hardware later this fall.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has had to battle some demons of his own since testing positive for cocaine last summer. When the story was first made public back in March, there was a real danger that Washington could have lost the team, but instead they have rallied around him. Nobody will ever mistake Washington for a tactical genius — see his bullpen usage during the ALCS — but his players have done nothing but praise his attitude and leadership skills during this postseason run.

Keep in mind that just a few months ago, the future of the franchise was still very much in limbo. Hamstrung from any additional spending by major league baseball, general manager Jon Daniels was somehow able to swoop in and acquire Cliff Lee from the Mariners when everybody thought he was going to the Yankees. One trade single-handedly moved the Rangers from a legitimate contender to an elite postseason force. The eventual sale of the franchise to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan put an exclamation point on the Rangers’ first division title since 1999.

There was something symbolic about Alex Rodriguez making the final out in Game 6 on Friday night, but I didn’t take it as poetic justice or revenge. Instead, I saw it as the official act of waving goodbye to a previous era. Finally breaking ties with a past regime that believed in buying success rather than banking on the strength of individual will and the concept of team.

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report:

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.