Rangers sign critical core member in Ian Kinsler

ARLINGTON, Texas -- To me, the most important member of the core group of Rangers heading toward free agency was Ian Kinsler.

That's saying something, considering 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton is in that group. So are Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli. All three are key contributors.

But Kinsler is the sparkplug of the offense, a solid defensive player and a key leader in the clubhouse. He's been in Texas since he debuted in 2006 and has watched the organization go from last place to first. And Kinsler's been a big part of that success.

On the field, he gives manager Ron Washington a versatile leadoff hitter that can make a game 1-0 almost as soon as it starts with a big swing of the bat, but also can utilize his patience and his feet to make things happen on the bases.

Kinsler's plate discipline helped him walk 89 times in 2011 and his smarts on the bases -- coach Gary Pettis said no one on the club is better at watching the pitcher's tendencies and knowing when to steal than Kinsler -- make him a real weapon.

But it isn't just the on-field stuff. General manager Jon Daniels constantly talks about wanting solid "make-up" guys and leaders. Kinsler has grown into that role. He can be vocal when necessary -- he went out to the mound Monday during a rocky first inning to try to calm Yu Darvish -- and also leads by example. He plays the game aggressively and hard and does whatever it takes to win.

He's also one of the best second baseman in the game, and that probably made this negotiation difficult in that he's putting up traditional corner-infield numbers and raising the bar on what teams have to pay middle infielders. He's not the only one, with Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia doing the same. But both sides found the right number to get the deal done.

This is a big signing for Texas. They've got more to come.