We have now entered the top 10 of our 2011 Rangers Dazzling Dozen series, where we look at the top 12 moments of the Rangers' season.
The Rangers spent most of November and part of December chasing after Cliff Lee. They made several trips to Arkansas in an effort to woo Lee to remain in Texas, but the free-agent pitcher went to Philadelphia instead.
So with some money still left in the budget and no pitcher that intrigued them on the market, the Rangers looked for other ways to improve the team. That led them to Beltre. The third baseman was coming off a solid season with the Boston Red Sox (.321 average, 28 homers, 102 RBIs in 154 games). But it cost $80 million for five years with a vesting option for a sixth year at $16 million. That's not a small investment. And the knock on Beltre was that he only played well in contract years.
But the Rangers felt that Beltre would make them one of the top defensive infields in the majors (especially on the left side) and would add an important presence to the middle of the lineup. They didn't have any depth at third base in the organization and Beltre provided a long-term solution (while they built up the stock at third base).
Beltre certainly lived up to the first year of his contract in 2011. He hit .296 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs despite missing 35 games with a left hamstring strain.
Beltre won a Gold Glove for his work at third base, making the Rangers' infield better with his glove at the hot corner. He was a stalwart in the middle of the Rangers lineup, hitting cleanup for most of the season. He was the No. 5 hitter when he returned, with Michael Young hitting cleanup the final month of 2011 and into the postseason.
Beltre batted .264 with five homers and nine RBIs in the playoffs, which included his memorable three-homer game in Game 4 of the ALDS.
But Beltre wasn't the only January move that had a lasting impact on the Rangers in 2011. Near the end of the month, the Angels traded Mike Napoli to Toronto as part of the deal for Vernon Wells. It didn't take Rangers general manager Jon Daniels long to call his counterpart in Toronto, Alex Anthopolous, to inquire about Napoli. The Blue Jays had an interest in Frank Francisco for a while and it didn't take long for a deal to come together.
Napoli came into spring training as the third catcher, but quickly showed he was better defensively than most folks thought. Texas traded Matt Treanor the last week of spring and kept an extra reliever on the roster, making Napoli the backup catcher.
The catcher caught fire halfway through the season. He hit .206 in May and .179 in June before a strained left oblique muscle sidelined him for final few weeks of June. When Napoli returned July 4, he started an unbelievable run that didn't end until the final game of the postseason. Napoli hit .383 in the second half of the season with 18 homers and 42 RBIs. That included a ridiculous September, when he batted .429 with eight homers and 19 RBIs. He also had a 3.16 catchers' ERA. And his bat was so critical that he was in the lineup in the same game as Yorvit Torrealba at times, playing first base.
Napoli was the starting catcher in the playoffs, hitting .328 with three homers and 15 RBIs. He did a good job with the pitching staff and made key throws to get would-be base stealers.
What it meant: It's difficult to imagine the Rangers going as far as they did in 2011 without Beltre and Napoli. Both were late offseason additions that produced big-time results. Beltre drove in runs and gave the middle of the lineup added power. And he was tremendous on defense. Napoli was a calming presence to a young staff, seemed to come up with a clutch RBI all the time (stay tuned for more on that as we count down this Dazzling Dozen) and was solid defensively.
The aftermath: Both players produced in the postseason. It's one thing to have a great regular season, and another to get it done in the playoffs. Beltre certainly made his mark with the three-homer game and key hits at other points. Napoli had several memorable hits in the postseason.