For Rangers, it's business as unusual

2/16/2011 - MLB Michael Young Texas Rangers + more

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Just a month ago, Texas Rangers club president Nolan Ryan was thinking back to last year's spring training-turned-circus in the desert and said he couldn't wait for the 2011 edition.

"I look at this spring training as more normal," Ryan said in January.

So much for that idea. The Michael Young saga means there's already drama in Rangers camp before pitchers and catchers officially report Wednesday.

One way or the other, the team and Young will have to deal with it. Maybe that's a series of meetings between general manager Jon Daniels, Young, Ryan and others. Maybe it's trading Young during camp. But it's going to be a storyline that hangs over the proceedings.

If any team can overcome distractions, it's the Rangers.

Let's not forget: This team dealt with the news of manager Ron Washington's failed drug test in the middle of spring training last year and ended up in the World Series.

But Washington wasn't the only big story from spring training last year. A quick primer:

  • Khalil Greene, expected to be the club's utility infielder, didn't even report after dealing with social anxiety issues. That started a spring-long attempt to find a replacement before the team settled on Andres Blanco.

  • Ryan made national news by predicting 92 wins and saying he'd be "disappointed" if the team didn't win the AL West. For a team without a division title since 1999, it was a bold statement.

  • Second baseman Ian Kinsler suffered a high ankle sprain and would go on to miss the first month of the season.

  • C.J. Wilson went from reliever to starter, surprising many with his ability to make the jump. He won 15 games and goes into camp this year as the No. 1 starter.

  • Free-agent pitcher Rich Harden never really found his stride and ended up struggling during 2010.

  • Rangers general managing partner Chuck Greenberg, then a prospective buyer for the team, thought he'd end up owning the club no later than the end of April, a prediction that ended up way off the mark.

    Despite a roller-coaster ride in the spring, the Rangers rallied around each other. And maybe the craziness of the six weeks in Arizona allowed them to tune out the off-the-field distractions about ownership as the season wore on.

    That drama ended in the early hours in August when Greenberg and Ryan won a bankruptcy-court auction over the combined efforts of Houston businessman Jim Crane and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

    "There were a lot of times during the bankruptcy where I was thinking maybe it wasn't meant to be," Ryan said. "Then to sit there and go through what we did last year with the postseason and excitement and how hectic it was. It was hard to believe that a lot of those things were happening."

    But by the time October ended, the Rangers had new ownership, an AL pennant and a loud legion of fans that witnessed the first World Series ever played in Arlington.

    "I remember the season ended on Monday and we had a meeting at 9:30 on Wednesday to talk about the roster and the things we had to do, and the shock of the realization that it was over hit," Ryan said. "I thought, 'Wait a minute, we're not through with all of that, are we?'

    "It was an abrupt awakening. But you put all of that behind you and start planning for next year."

    "Next year" is here. And, not unlike last season, the distractions have arrived too.

    But there's also a different feeling.

    Last year, the Rangers hoped that the young players acquired the previous three seasons combined with the current core group and a few key free agents would be enough to make them competitive in the AL West. They were still unproven and, in a real sense, underdogs.

    This year, the Rangers are the defending AL champs and the favorites to win the division again. They won't be sneaking up on anybody.

    The team must deal with putting together a suitable encore to the best season in club history.

    "That's the exciting part about this," Greenberg said. "We want to be an organization that is contending every year. We have to learn how to embrace expectations and live up to them."

    The Rangers will also have to deal with distractions, though at least they've got some experience on that front. Just don't expect a "normal" spring training.

    Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.