Rangers GM Jon Daniels a winner in trade for lefty ace Cole Hamels

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Circumstance and bad luck ruined Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels’ first attempt to build a dominant pitching staff.

He's back at it.

The Rangers agreed to a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for ace Cole Hamels, among the game’s best left-handed pitchers, on Wednesday night, according to sources.

It took six players, including pitcher Matt Harrison, prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, to acquire Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman.

But the Rangers didn’t have to give up slugging prospects Nomar Mazara or Joey Gallo.

Consider that a win for Daniels.

Hamels, who threw a no-hitter in his latest start, is 114-90 with a 3.30 ERA in close to 10 seasons with the Phillies. He’s made at least 28 starts in each of the past eight seasons, and he’s had five straight seasons with at least 200 innings.

Now with a little better luck, the Rangers can return to championship-contender status next year banking on a rotation headlined by Hamels and Yu Darvish, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery.

The Rangers also will have Derek Holland, Martin Perez and an assortment of players who will compete for the fifth spot, including Nick Martinez and Alex Gonzalez.

Hamels, who rejected a deal to the Houston Astros, is three years into a seven-year, $159 million deal with the Phillies. He is scheduled to earn $75 million over the next three seasons, but the Phillies will pay some of it. The contract contains a team option for a fourth season.

That's still less than Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million), the Washington NationalsMax Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) or the Los Angeles DodgersClayton Kershaw (seven years, $215 million).

And it’s probably going to be considerably less than the Tigers’ David Price will receive in free agency this offseason.

When Daniels tried to build a dominant staff following consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, he acquired Darvish and signed Holland and Harrison to long-term deals. None of the deals averaged more than $11 million a year.

Injuries wrecked a good plan.

Darvish is out this season after injuring his arm in spring training. And Harrison is trying to be first player to successfully pitch after spinal fusion surgery; he’s made just nine starts over the past three seasons.

Colby Lewis missed half of 2012 and all of 2013 with a hip injury that required surgery and nearly ended his career. Knee and shoulder injuries have limited Holland to six starts the past two seasons.

When the Rangers went to the World Series in 2010, three starters made at least 29 starts. In 2011, their top five starters made at least 30 starts.

This season, their top two pitchers -- Darvish and Holland -- have combined for one start.

Yes, the Rangers need a right-handed bat and bullpen help, but none of those matter if the starting pitching remains suspect.

Daniels has tried to draft top-of-the-rotation starters by using first-round picks on pitchers in each of the past three years and in five of the past seven.

Daniels has never been afraid to trade for quality starters -- even if it meant giving up on some coveted prospects, which is exactly the right tack to take.

Too many times, general managers mistakenly fall in love with prospects -- who should almost always be used as currency to acquire proven veteran players, because succeeding in the big leagues is so difficult.

No guarantees exist that a player who has excelled in Double-A or Triple-A can translate that into success at the game’s highest level. Even one good year doesn’t mean a player will stack a string of quality seasons together.

This game is about constantly adjusting, and now that defensive shifts are in and performance-enhancing drugs essentially have been removed from the game, the pitchers rule once again.

So whenever there’s a chance to acquire a Cliff Lee to make a playoff run, then it must be done.

Sometimes, the moves don’t work out, like when the Rangers acquired Ryan Dempster in 2012 or Matt Garza in 2013.

Still, those are the types of gambles the best GMs take. Cowards never win in this game; at least Daniels gives his teams a chance.

Much work remains in the offseason to make these Rangers a legit contender next season, but if Hamels heads the rotation and Darvish returns to dominance, then the Rangers are a lot closer than when Wednesday began.