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Why Can't the Texas Rangers Always Play the Kansas City Royals?

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SURPRISE, Arizona -- After a week in Arizona I can honestly say the Texas Rangers have a chance to win the World Series. That is, if the league suddenly dissolves to just them and the Kansas City Royals. The Rangers beat K.C. 8-7 yesterday, improving to 3-0 against their Spring Training bunk mates. (At the moment, they're all knotted up with the San Francisco Giants.) As for other camp nuggets:

New center fielder Josh Hamilton looks to be the real deal. His massive, heavily tattooed forearms are the biggest this side of Steve Garvey, or maybe even Popeye. Hamilton’s body, after years of drug abuse, has been through hell, and playing 162 games is out of the question. But hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo says the kid -- acquired in a trade for former pitching prospect Edinson Volquez -- has more raw power than, get this, Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez. So far this spring, he’s six for nine. Been a long time since the Rangers had a stud center fielder.

General manager Jon Daniels’ late-season trades last year have impressed most seamheads, especially those at Baseball America. Hang around long enough, and someone from the organization will beat you over the head with the fact that BA ranks their farm system fourth. “We’re No. 4!” seems a rather meek rallying cry, but it is impressive that shortstop Elvis Andrus (19), third baseman Chris Davis (65), pitcher Eric Hurley (77), catcher Taylor Teagarden (80) and pitcher Neftali Feliz (93) are included in BA’s Top 100 prospects.

Not sure if president Nolan Ryan’s presence will equate to anything tangible, but if nothing else stability in the Rangers’ front office is a major step in the right direction. Finally, a discernible plan led by a Hall of Famer is in place.

As much sense as it would make in their lineup and in their allure, the Rangers have no interest in free agent slugger and noted asshole Barry Bonds. “There are very few things that Nolan would want that I would veto,” Hicks said last week. “That would be one of them. We want character players.” Considering Hamilton and his much-publicized transgressions, I guess Hicks means “character players” that have found Jesus. Bonds could play DH, produce runs and generate a buzz, all things Texas is sorely lacking. Yes, he’d be a distraction, but if you’re headed for a ninth straight year finishing third or worsem isn’t that a good thing?

The Rangers, by the way, are guaranteed at least two wins the opening month of the season. They host the Royals April 29-30. --Richie Whitt

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