The Texas Rangers Thrive while Owner Tom Hicks' Sports Empire Crumbles.

Maybe going bankrupt is the best thing that's ever happened to the Texas Rangers. On the field, at least, 2010 is shaping up to be the team's best season since 1999, the last time the Rangers made the playoffs, when they were sent packing in the American League Division Series by the New York Yankees.

You might think the months of wrangling in the press and in federal court by hordes of lawyers and money men fighting over who gets paid how much in the bankrupt franchise's eventual auction and sale would filter down to the field and front office, causing the sorts of distractions that can kill the delicate balance between winning and losing. If that's the case, though, you'd be hard pressed to tell it on a steamy July afternoon at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Inside a luxury suite at the park, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is twirling and tickling his young son Lincoln above his head as he watches the roster he's built wrap up a series against the Baltimore Orioles in its final game before the All-Star break. Dressed casually in an untucked black short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans, Daniels embodies the serene demeanor, lighthearted attitude and blue-collar ambiance that radiates throughout his players' clubhouse as the Rangers sit perched atop the American League West.

Father and son watch southpaw C.J. Wilson struggle to throw strikes on this 96-degree day as the Rangers are on the verge of a four-game sweep at the hands of the team with baseball's worst record. It's a disappointing series, but Daniels keeps his cool. Sure, his team is up to its neck in the most arduous and convoluted bankruptcy fiasco in the history of professional sports. Yes, the Rangers have had to borrow $40 million from Major League Baseball just to meet payroll and other obligations. Added to those worries are a looming July 31 trade deadline and the team's need for some payroll flexibility to acquire players needed for a playoff run.

But today, Daniels has good reason to relax and enjoy the moment. Just 48 hours earlier, he landed the biggest name on the market, 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, snatching the pitcher from AL West division rivals the Seattle Mariners—and right out of the grip of the hated Yankees.

"I tell you what, in some ways it's been kinda fun," Daniels says of dealing with the financial constraints attached to the bankruptcy. "It's been challenging. It forces you to think about things a little differently."

Not only did Daniels score the No. 1 item on his shopping list, but by including rookie Justin Smoak—a switch-hitting first baseman coveted by the offensively challenged Mariners—at the last minute with a package of three minor-league prospects, he killed a deal that the Yankees had in place to acquire Lee in exchange for three of their minor leaguers. Here were the bankrupt Rangers outmaneuvering the Yankees, the team responsible for knocking Texas out of the playoffs in each of the three seasons they've been there.

As if stealing Lee from The Evil Empire weren't enough of a triumph for Daniels, who grew up in New York as a Mets fan, he managed to convince Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik to include $2.25 million in cash in the deal to help offset Lee's remaining $4.2 million salary for the rest of the season. And while three talented prospects were included with Smoak in the trade for Lee, Daniels balked at forfeiting any of the organization's most coveted young pitchers, such as Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez.

Although pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers each had memorable seasons on the mound wearing a Rangers jersey, Daniels says Lee is the first legitimate staff ace in the prime of his career that the team's had at the top of its rotation since Ferguson Jenkins, who won 25 games for the Rangers in 1974.

"This is huge for our organization," third baseman Michael Young told the Dallas Observer shortly after a July 9 team meeting announcing the Lee trade. "JD's done an incredible job."

Back at the suite, the recent good news about Lee must have Daniels feeling magnanimous. While on the field below second baseman Ian Kinsler lines out with runners on first and second, blowing an opportunity to close the 3-1 deficit against the Orioles, Daniels mounts a defense of owner Tom Hicks, who in March 2009 defaulted on $525 million in loans owed by Hicks Sports Group LLC, the Hicks-owned parent company of the Rangers and Dallas Stars hockey team. The default was followed by Hicks (as opposed to the creditors) placing the Rangers into bankruptcy this May, and HSG now owes 40 lenders approximately $600 million in principal, unpaid interest and fees. The Stars are not yet in bankruptcy as HSG actively seeks potential buyers for the team.

Daniels describes himself as loyal by nature, so perhaps it's not surprising he's one of the few North Texas baseball fans with kind words for Hicks these days. Daniels says Hicks has always supported him and his staff, including building the Rangers' farm system into the No. 1 organization as ranked by Baseball America and ESPN. Hicks also supported trading away first baseman Mark Teixeira in 2007, which yielded 21-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus and 22-year-old closer Neftali Feliz, both named to their first All-Star Game this season.

"Tom's taken a pretty significant public hit, and I understand some of it, but, in my opinion, he's been a very good owner," Daniels says.

The Rangers' Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan filed on May 24 in federal court in Fort Worth was supposed to ensure the team's expedited sale to Rangers Baseball Express LLC—a group headed by Rangers President Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg—which signed agreements on January 23 and May 23 to buy the team and 153 acres of land surrounding the stadium for about $575 million.

The Greenberg-Ryan group had emerged from an auction process as Hicks' successor, but the lenders anxiously awaiting payment on their loans vehemently opposed the deal because they were guaranteed repayment of only $75 million under MLB rules designed to keep teams from facing foreclosure during the season. Although lenders were guaranteed only $75 million, they did stand to receive roughly an additional $150 million that would be left over once unsecured creditors were paid out of the sale proceeds, giving the lenders a total payout of approximately $225 million. Add to that another $150 million expected to go to the creditors from the eventual sale of the Stars and HSG's 50 percent stake in the American Airlines Center, and the lenders would still wind up taking a $225 million hit on the $600 million they are owed, with second-lien lenders receiving absolutely nothing.

More galling to them still was the fact that Hicks stood to walk away with $75 million from the sale of the land. Since HSG didn't own the land, it's not part of the bankruptcy, so the creditors wouldn't see one dime from that part of the sale.

The creditors wanted a sweeter deal and argued that Houston businessman Jim Crane submitted a higher bid—by at least $13 million to $20 million, according to an e-mail sent to MLB by HSG attorney Glenn West. After countless setbacks and legal maneuvers, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Lynn scheduled a new auction for August 4 to determine the new owner once and for all. Four additional bidders have shown interest, including Crane, Dallas real estate developer Jeff Beck, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and an undisclosed bidder that a lender testified has the financial wherewithal to "write the check" for the team.

Acquiring Lee wasn't the first move Daniels made while dodging the bankruptcy. Just 32 years old but in his fifth season as GM, he also traded reliever Chris Ray and 2007 first-round pick Michael Main for veteran catcher Bengie Molina eight days earlier without adding payroll because he convinced the San Francisco Giants to add cash—$2 million—to that deal as well. And before the season started and with the team on a tight budget controlled by MLB, Daniels spent what little free-agent money he had wisely, inking nine-time All-Star slugger and former Rangers nemesis Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers 1999 first-round pick Colby Lewis and veteran bullpen lefty Darren Oliver for a combined $13.75 million.

"I think if you were to take a vote right now around the league, he'd be executive of the year for what he's done, especially with his payroll constraints," says Jamey Newberg, author of The Newberg Report, an online Rangers newsletter.

Absorbing part of Lee's remaining contract puts the organization's total payroll at approximately $70 million, Daniels says, which ranks 25th among baseball's 30 teams and hovers "pretty close" to the budget MLB has allotted the team. The Rangers' bankruptcy handcuffs Daniels' power to negotiate long-term contract extensions with Lee and Molina, who are free agents at the end of the year, and he also can't hammer out a multiyear deal with Guerrero, who has a $9 million option in his contract for next year.

"We're not in a position to address it, but it's safe to say that would be on the short list of things to do when we're in a better position," he says of Guerrero's contract.

Young says none of the players are following the bankruptcy closely because it isn't something any of them can control—a sentiment echoed by several of his teammates. He stresses that he's had a "fine" relationship with Hicks since joining the team in 2000, and he refuses to "hop on board" with those publicly denouncing Hicks.

"With our team doing so well, I don't think it's in our best interests to have any negative energy," he says. "We're going to come out here. We're going to play hard. We're going to focus on the fact that we have a good club. And I want be in the middle of that rather than in the middle of something negative."

If the club's incredible success—an MLB-best 21-6 record in June and a team-record six All-Stars—isn't enough proof that it can overcome bankruptcy, consider that it has moved past what appeared to be a disaster when during spring training manager Ron Washington admitted to using cocaine last season.

Mike Rhyner, host of The Hardline on SportsRadio 1310 AM The Ticket for 16 years, says it's "nothing short of amazing" that the players appear unaffected by both the Washington incident and unresolved ownership situation. "If they can overcome that stuff, they may have the mental strength, mental focus and mental fabric to overcome just about anything because it's very conceivable that before the season opens, the manager loses whatever credibility he may have had in the room. Some would tell you he didn't have much to begin with."

But if there's a potential for a crack in this team's solid foundation, it lies ahead in the August 4 auction, which could leave the Greenberg-Ryan group out in the cold, with Ryan likely vanishing from the organization for good. Beloved by fans, management and players alike, Ryan has maintained he won't stay with the team if someone other than Greenberg becomes owner.

Daniels says Ryan has helped change the mentality of the team's pitchers since Hicks named him president in February 2008. Now they expect more out of themselves and no longer feel the stigma that once came with pitching for the Rangers. Ryan's also provided a calming influence and a steady hand when the team needed it most.

"There's stability at a time when there really isn't," Daniels says. "It's bankruptcy, auction and lawyers, and Nolan's the constant throughout all that."

For Rhyner, it's clear who should be blamed if Ryan is shown the door. He says perhaps the worst thing about Rangers baseball this year is seeing Hicks sitting in his regular seats at the ballpark acting like nothing's changed.

"The nauseating thing about it to me is it appears as though he's going to walk away pretty scot-free with his personal wealth intact—he's not going to lose a thing," he says. "I guess he didn't break any laws, and he's not facing jail time or being brought up on charges of fraud. All he did is take what amounts to a public trust and run it into the ground."

Hicks' ownership began unraveling—in public, at least—early on the morning of April 3, 2009, when something called FINAlternatives, a website that serves up hedge fund and private equity news, reported: "Private equity legend Tom Hicks' sports team holding company has defaulted on more than $500 million in loans, a source has told FINAlternatives." The brief item continued: "According to the source, who has seen documents relating to the loans, Hicks defaulted on a $350 million bank term loan, $100 million second-lien loan and a $75 million revolving credit facility."

Eventually, Hicks told longtime Rangers reporter Evan Grant, then blogging for D magazine's now-defunct sports website, that he was "optimistic that a satisfactory resolution will come together in the next couple of weeks with our lenders' cooperation." Late in the day, Hicks spokesperson Lisa LeMaster released a statement characterizing the missed payment as nothing more than "a business dispute" with some 40 lenders. In that same release, Hicks acknowledged that he was looking for "prospective partners," people who might find the Rangers—and, for that matter, the Stars—a suitable "long-term investment."

There was no suggestion that he'd have to sell the team outright. In fact, Hicks insisted that it was simply a case of the lenders being unreasonable and, sooner or later, all would be well.

By May 28, 2009, however, Hicks all but confirmed to The Associated Press he was looking to get out of the baseball business: "With the right partners, I would be willing to sell a controlling interest in the Rangers."

And there, as they say, is the rub. Just who gets to decide who are the "right partners" and more important, what is the right price for a team swimming in debt? After conducting negotiations throughout 2009, Hicks and Major League Baseball thought they had a winner in the Greenberg and Ryan group. Contracts were signed. Promises were made. And then...

Well, fast forward to May 24 of this year.

Flanked by Greenberg to his right and Ryan to his left, Hicks appears at Rangers Ballpark to announce that he and his lawyers agreed that filing for bankruptcy was the best way to solve the impasse between HSG and the lenders who had stalled the club's sale to the Greenberg-Ryan group. All of the creditors owed money by HSG will be paid back, Hicks insists, but he refuses to discuss specific dollar amounts.

The trio expresses optimism that bankruptcy will satisfy the creditors, but Greenberg acknowledges that some lenders might react "in a noisy fashion."

"Given the way some of these renegade creditors have behaved, I'm not expecting an overnight personality transplant," he says.

Give the man credit for a gift for understatement. The creditors were, in fact, the noisy equivalent of a tactical nuclear bomb, filing into bankruptcy court in Fort Worth to demand that HSG put the Rangers out for sale to the highest bidder. And that's where things stand today.

But the whole fight under way today begs a $600 million question: How did Tom Hicks, one of richest men in America, manage to swamp a baseball team with so much red ink?

Hicks, Greenberg, Ryan and the creditors declined interview requests for this story. Hicks did speak recently for lengthy articles in The Dallas Morning News and SportsBusiness Journal, but the two stories did little to explain how a man Forbes ranked as the 355th wealthiest American in 2008 with a $1.4 billion net worth failed so miserably at turning a profit with the Rangers, racking up a debt of $600 million on the Rangers and Stars after purchasing both teams for a combined $334 million.

In fact, Hicks not only claims in court documents that HSG wasn't profitable, he says the Rangers were never in the black since he bought the team for $250 million in 1998, and he burned through millions more of his own money to keep operations afloat.

Early in his tenure as owner Hicks spent grandly on team payroll, which ranked in MLB's Top 10 from 1998 to 2003. Signing shortstop Alex Rodriguez to more money than Hicks had paid for the team—a 10-year, $252 million contract—in December 2000 proved to be a horrendous gaffe. Even though Rodriguez had arguably the three most productive seasons in team history and won an MVP award in 2003, the team finished in last place in the AL West each year. The club also had to absorb a sizable chunk of his salary to ship him off to the Yankees, and as a part of the bankruptcy, Rodriguez is still owed $25 million. As a result, spending was dramatically reduced after the 2003 season, with the Rangers' payroll from 2004 to 2009 settling in between 18th and 22nd among MLB's 30 teams each year.

Home-game attendance, meanwhile, has been consistently mediocre, with 2008 as an anomaly when the team failed to draw 2 million fans for the first time since 1995. Performance on the field may have something to do with that, of course. The Rangers have posted only four winning seasons since Hicks bought the team—1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009—and a combined record of 959-985.

Because MLB doesn't produce accountings of its teams, it's unclear exactly how Hicks landed in bankruptcy. An HSG spokesperson declined to say what the money was spent on specifically, only that HSG in 2006 aimed to land a better interest rate and terms for the debt related to the purchase and "enhancement" of both the Rangers and Stars and their assets, along with generating new capital to support operations.

The refinancing and teams' modest payrolls still weren't enough to enable HSG to pay the interest on the notes, so Hicks sunk more than $300 million of his own money (as opposed to the more than $100 million figure cited in court documents) into HSG, which the spokesperson says he "does not expect to be repaid."

"After loaning the teams and HSG millions to make interest payments and meet operating shortfalls, Mr. Hicks finally said he could not do that anymore," the spokesperson says of why he made the decision to default on the loans on March 31, 2009.

 Hicks spun the failure to pay as a calculated tactic to negotiate with the 40 lenders and said in a statement that HSG had been "impacted" by the global credit crisis. He also began seeking investors to buy up to 49 percent of each team so he could retain majority ownership.

"The whole thing from the beginning has been nothing but negotiations," says Rustin Polk, a Dallas bankruptcy lawyer not involved in the case but who has followed along closely because he's a baseball fan. "By playing hardball, he gets a better deal for himself."

After discussions between Hicks and the lenders went nowhere and no minority ownership groups emerged, Hicks was left with little choice but to start soliciting offers for complete ownership, so HSG on July 2, 2009, sent information packets about the team to 10 interested parties. Hicks would select the Greenberg-Ryan group, Jim Crane and an investor group headed by Jeff Beck and former sports agent Dennis Gilbert to submit final bids by November 20.

Hicks chose Greenberg and Ryan—principally financed by Ray Davis of Dallas and Bob Simpson of Fort Worth, who both earned their riches in the natural gas industry—as the new owners on December 15, even though Crane had a higher bid. Hicks wanted to keep Ryan involved with the organization, and because MLB and 75 percent of its owners had to approve the sale, Crane was believed to be at a significant disadvantage. The owners may have had hard feelings toward Crane because, as The Houston Chronicle reported, he had a handshake deal in place with Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane at the end of the 2008 season to buy the team, but Crane backed out.

"Our family has chosen to negotiate with the group we believe will be best to protect and ensure the long-term positive future of this franchise," Hicks said in a statement.

"If [Ryan] had affiliated with any other group, I would have dropped out immediately," Greenberg said in a conference call after the announcement.

The sale appeared on track to become final in time for the new ownership to take over before the team's first game on April 5. Even as reports began to surface in late March that the lenders might attempt to block it, Greenberg told the Observer, "I'm very confident there are no road blocks ahead."

The lenders, increasingly concerned that Hicks hadn't nabbed top dollar for the franchise and would be pocketing $75 million out of the $575 million purchase price for the land, immediately began building roadblocks. Hicks on April 21 announced an impasse, prompting a swift response by MLB, which claimed it would be taking control of the sale process.

MLB, the Rangers and the Greenberg-Ryan group agreed that filing for voluntary bankruptcy would be the best way to accelerate the sale, and on May 24, Texas became the fourth professional baseball team to do so.

After playing just one season in 1969, the Seattle Pilots filed for bankruptcy and were purchased by Bud Selig, who moved the team to Milwaukee, changed the team's name to the Brewers and later became MLB's commissioner. The only court auction of a baseball team occurred in 1993 when the Orioles were purchased by a group led by Peter Angelos after owner Eli Jacobs filed for bankruptcy. And the Cubs were in and out of bankruptcy in one day after filing for Chapter 11 protection to expedite the club's sale to billionaire Joe Ricketts last year.

In an affidavit included in the filing, Rangers Chief Financial Officer Kellie Fischer said the club has experienced "cash flow deficiencies" since 2005 despite capital contributions, expense reductions and loans to HSG "in excess of $100,000,000" by Hicks. Lawyers for the team asked the court to OK the "prepackaged" plan—a financial reorganization aimed at shortening and simplifying the bankruptcy process—within 45 days.

Hicks acknowledged his readiness to bolt the professional sports business in The Dallas Morning News, calling it "a brutal invasion of privacy."

"I lost a lot of money," he said. "That was only because I wanted to win."

In a mediation session, the parties agreed to appoint William Snyder as the chief restructuring officer, meaning he'd be charged with giving an independent review of the sale and ensure that the deal with the Greenberg-Ryan group was transparent and fair—which eventually meant opening up the team for auction, basically to ensure that the Greenberg-Ryan offer was the best deal on the table.

Lynn also ordered the Rangers to submit a revised plan to allow the lenders to pursue a lawsuit against Hicks to recover whatever funds they believe they're owed at the end of the sale.

In a Fort Worth courtroom smaller than the Rangers locker room, dozens of lawyers waged a battle over time. The creditors needed more of it to allow for new bidders to emerge with higher offers, while the team and prospective ownership group saw the trade deadline looming and no chance to improve the AL West Division leader without an infusion of cash.

Selig, who months earlier had threatened to use MLB's "best interests of baseball" clause to seize control of the team, made it clear on July 6 during a conference call for the All-Star Game who he hoped would emerge as the winner. And he didn't mince words when talking about Hicks either.

"Tom Hicks put the club into bankruptcy...This has everything to do with Mr. Hicks and Mr. Hicks' personal economic situation...I would have liked to have the Ryan-Greenberg group approved a while ago."

Selig's motives for openly supporting Greenberg and Ryan are unclear, although Greenberg offered a compelling sales pitch in December after the two were chosen by Hicks. "If they had a Mount Rushmore of baseball in Texas, Nolan would be the first face chiseled out...The Rangers and Ryan belong together," he said.

Greenberg and Ryan also hired Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner to perform legal work, securing MLB's most trusted law firm in the process. MLB Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy, who has attended several of the Rangers' bankruptcy hearings, is a former partner at Foley & Lardner, which has served MLB since the late 1980s. As the principal outside counsel for MLB, Foley & Lardner attorneys work closely with Selig and DuPuy, who served as counsel to the commissioner when Selig owned the Brewers and DuPuy worked at Foley & Lardner. Joe Ricketts, who recently won the bid for the Chicago Cubs over Jim Crane and Mark Cuban, retained Foley & Lardner to assist him in the bidding process.

On July 8, the Rangers abandoned their plan for a July 16 auction after Snyder expressed his disapproval of the terms. Accusing Snyder of hijacking the sale, Greenberg and Ryan four days later actually filed a lawsuit against the Rangers, accusing the team of breaching the purchase agreement signed by both parties on May 23. The suit argued that if the club were to be sold to someone else, the difference between the two bids is owed to Greenberg and Ryan, leaving the creditors with no incentive to support a higher bid.

Dallas bankruptcy lawyer Polk calls the pending suit "genius" because there's no downside, while the upside is that the argument could ultimately win in court. As for Ryan suing his employer? "This thing is so crazy and so acrimonious anyway, it wasn't going to cause any further acrimony."

During yet another tug of war over timing on July 13, Andrew Leblanc, an attorney for the creditors, argued that there's no longer a rush to beat the July 31 trade deadline—that target date "proved false" after the Rangers traded for Bengie Molina and Cliff Lee. But Greenberg and Ryan pushed a new deadline: Their funding commitments evaporate on August 12.

Lynn scheduled an August 4 auction based on a date that Lou Strubeck, Snyder's attorney, said his client believed would allow potential bidders to secure funding. Because Greenberg and Ryan had already signed two agreements to purchase the team and had invested considerable time and money in the process, they were given "stalking horse" status, meaning their $500 million bid for the team is starting point for the auction. Additionally, Lynn granted a $10 million break-up fee to Greenberg and Ryan "partly to shut them up," and their bid must be bested by $15 million.

Essentially, any new bidder would need to put at least $515 million on the table. Anyone willing to top the high bid must do so in $2 million increments during the auction, and if someone other than Greenberg and Ryan wins, $10 million of the proceeds kick back to them to cover expenses. Confirmation of the winner takes place at 10:30 a.m. August 4.

Desperate to extend the auction to September 30 so potential bidders can properly evaluate the Rangers' assets and secure financing, the lenders challenged the date. The also argued that giving Greenberg and Ryan stalking horse status and a break-up fee "chilled" bidding. Snyder, Ryan, Greenberg, and even Ron Washington testified over the course of the resulting three-day bench trial, during which Crane, Beck and Cuban were revealed as having MLB approval to place bids. A fourth bidder was described by lender Sal Galatioto as having enough personal wealth to purchase the team simply by writing a check.

Galatioto and the lenders asserted that they were willing to let Greenberg and Ryan's financing expire because a better bid is out there, but the Rangers didn't want to risk losing the only concrete offer for the club. Snyder offered a compromise, testifying that the interested parties should sit down with court-appointed mediator Judge Russell Nelms and agree to a date.

Lynn stuck with the August 4 date, but despite making some concessions to Greenberg and Ryan, the jurist had sided with the lenders on one key point: The Rangers will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

At the risk of offending a potential employer once Hicks is out of the picture, pitcher C.J. Wilson's open about who the next Rangers owner should be.

"I would prefer if Chuck Greenberg's the owner because I've had interaction with him, and he seems like a very positive, motivated guy," he says. "And I love Nolan, so obviously that's my horse in the race."

Two days before Daniels and his son watch Wilson walk off the mound in the fifth inning having tossed an alarming 111 pitches—three of them wild, Wilson's changing clothes in the clubhouse three hours before game time against the Orioles to prepare for a workout. First base coach Gary Pettis plays cards with relievers Alexi Ogando and Frank Francisco; outfielder Nelson Cruz leans back in a black leather chair and watches MLB Network while listening to his iPod; and Josh Hamilton, Tommy Hunter and Julio Borbon try on stylized T-shirts that a man's peddling out of a suitcase.

"I'm too big for this kind of stuff," says the 280-pound Hunter as the fitted shirt won't budge past his shoulders. Hamilton shoves Hunter aside, and the two share a laugh.

Wilson, the team's union representative, attempts to address the team's bankruptcy when Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" wraps up and Ian Kinsler yells: "Play it again!"

Wilson cracks a smile and then composes himself, explaining that the bankruptcy's not an issue because the team has been playing so well. Sure, it wouldn't have dragged on so long in a perfect world, he says, but the key to being successful in sports is keeping your focus where it needs to be.

"It's like being a kid in a messy divorce," he says. "You get a little bit bummed out—more so for the reputation for the team and organization."

The interview is cut short because of a team meeting. "It must be about something major for us to have a friggin' team meeting," he says. Team spokesperson John Blake enters the clubhouse and announces that there's a 5 p.m. news conference for "a major announcement."

At 4:24, Wilson tweets: "Merry christmas rangers fans! we won the Cliff Lee sweepstakes narrowly beating the Miami Heat. #mlb. #DOWORK and #upknucks to JD and staff"

Following the press conference at which Daniels, Ryan and Washington announce the Lee trade to the media, the Observer asks Daniels about the likelihood of negotiating a contract extension with Lee, a free agent at the end of the season, given the club's unresolved ownership situation.

"I haven't asked the question, mostly because I expect I know the answer," he says, knowing full well that a multiyear deal for Lee will commit the team to more than $100 million—money it doesn't have to spend until a new owner is in place.

On his way up the elevator after the announcement, Ryan says he's concluded a frustrating week of mediation, and it doesn't look like the bankruptcy case will be decided in a timely manner. "I think for the best of everybody, we need to bring a resolution to this process and really get back to our business, and that's baseball."

News about Lee has spread throughout the ballpark, and 43-year-old Alvarado resident James Hardy just heard about the trade via text message. Hardy points out that while Daniels has put the club on par with the Yankees in terms of talent, he also made the team much more attractive to potential bidders.

"It's like trying to sell a '69 Camaro for X number of dollars, but then you went out and put a brand new engine in it," he says. "Now it's worth a lot more money."

Paradoxically, increasing the team's value could attract a high bidder and result in the exit of Ryan, who's the preferred ownership group of 57-year-old Mesquite resident Joe Montemayor.

"I thought the Yankees were going to snag Lee and then, all of the sudden, boom, we got him. I was surprised," he says. "I'm just hoping now they don't sell to the wrong people."

Lee's first start for the Rangers against Baltimore the following night draws the largest walk-up crowd in the history of the ballpark—14,300—but he allows six runs, including three homers.

"It was exactly what we expected, really," Daniels says of his new ace, who tossed a complete game and didn't issue a walk. "He's going to come in, work quick, pound the strike zone, and he's gonna put the good guys in the dugout pretty quickly."

Lee pitches much better in his second start in Boston—just two runs in nine innings—and wins his first game with the Rangers in his third outing with a strong performance against the Angels. The Rangers rebound from the four-game sweep against Baltimore to win three of four against the Red Sox, two of three against the Detroit Tigers and extend their lead over the Angels to six games after Lee's victory.

Rhyner of The Ticket says this Rangers team is very good relative to past ones, but he notes that they've "benefited mightily" from a forgiving interleague schedule. And even if they make it into the postseason after tough September road trips to Minnesota and Anaheim, a home series against the Yankees and four games against the Angels at home to end the season, the playoffs are an entirely different animal.

"Just like in football and basketball, you start seeing different guys play different ways, different teams do different things," he says. "There's always a thing or two that you see in the postseason that you just weren't seeing from someone in the regular season, and I just wonder if maybe the Rangers are not giving everything they've got just to get where they are."

With Lee heading a rotation that features Wilson, Lewis, Hunter and depth at the fifth starter's position; one of the best bullpens in baseball; and a lineup that features MVP candidates Hamilton and Guerrero, the Rangers almost seem destined not only to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but maybe, just maybe, finally compete for a World Series Championship.

Daniels certainly seems to think so, as he doesn't appear to be done shopping just yet. Reports claim he's shown interest in upgrading at first base where Chris Davis has struggled mightily at the plate, and he's explored the available left-handed relief options on the market as well.

In the meantime, who does he think of when someone says Rangers owner?

"I think about Tom until such point that Chuck and Nolan buy the club," he says. "That's just the fact of the matter. And, obviously, we're all looking forward to that time. We're all looking forward to getting out of the situation we're in right now."

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