FORT WORTH, Texas -- The goal of the Texas Rangers' front office this winter has been to make the 2011 team better than its predecessor, but not necessarily winning baseball's annual off-season shop-a-thon to do so.
Jon Daniels and crew seemed to have succeeded on both fronts.
The Rangers are better, thanks to the additions of Adrian Beltre, Arthur Rhodes and Yorvit Torrealba. Yet, Boston, Baltimore, Detroit and both Chicago teams have outdone the Rangers with big trades and multiple free-agent pickups.
Because of their work, the Red Sox will be favored to unseat the Rangers as champions of the American League. The Rangers, though, should be the clear favorites in the AL West, and they might not be done building their club before spring training.
"Everything that we've been talking about and looking to do this off-season has been in the name of improving the club to the point where we can win the division, get back to the World Series and, ultimately, win it," general manager Daniels said last week while announcing the signing of Beltre.
"Overall, what we've accomplished to this point is to put together a club that is really balanced."
Club brass likes the versatility of the offense and pitching staff, and believes Beltre and Torrealba will tighten the defense. That will help a starting rotation that stands as the biggest question facing the Rangers.
The big pitching acquisition, it appears, will elude them this off-season. They missed out on re-signing Cliff Lee and trading for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza. Brandon Webb represents the lone addition to the rotation so far.
If Webb can return to the form -- 2006 National League Cy Young Award and runner-up finishes the next two years -- he showed before suffering a shoulder injury that has kept him out since April 2009, the Rangers will have a No. 1 starter.
For now, though, the Rangers and Webb are hoping that he will be healthy at the start of the season. There is also a hope and expectation that the young pitchers who have contributed the past two seasons will be better and more effective.
And, as the Rangers learned last year with Lee, there will be an opportunity for a mound upgrade at midseason.
"We've looked at Cliff and some other guys," Daniels said. "If we could add that type of player, we would. But I'm also real comfortable with where we are. We haven't necessarily made the one big move, but because of that the reality is we've maintained our depth and maintained our flexibility. I think we'll have some interesting decisions to make in spring training."
No matter who winds up in the rotation, they should receive plenty of run support from a lineup that again should rate among the best in the league.
The Rangers had one of the most versatile offenses in baseball, leading the majors in batting average (.276) in 2010 and in baserunners going from first base to third on a base hit (122). They also led the AL in sacrifice bunts (53).
Beltre and Torrealba replace Vladimir Guerrero and Bengie Molina, and manager Ron Washington is planning to do his best to keep Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz from getting hurt.
That trio combined to miss 129 games. But in 16 postseason starts each, they combined to hit 14 homers with 29 RBI.
Their health is key, as is their presence in the lineup. Beltre, who is coming off the second-best season of his career (.321, 28 homers, 102 RBI), will bat between Hamilton and Cruz in the clean-up spot.
"It's huge," Beltre said. "Hitting in front of Hamilton, he's the best player in the big leagues right now. And Cruz, he's proved he's a guy who can hit .300 and have power and produce. I know I'm going to get my pitch to hit."
Beltre, armed with a six-year contract worth $96 million, is the Rangers' off-season prize, but they are still looking at what's left on the free-agent market.
A few starting pitchers could intrigue the Rangers, and they have been linked to risk-reward types Jeff Francis and Bartolo Colon. Despite the potential punch of the offense, the Rangers haven't stopped looking for hitters who would provide quality depth.
There are 42 days until the first full-squad workout of spring training. In an off-season that has seen the Rangers improve a club that went to the World Series in 2010, that's plenty of time to find a few more upgrades.
"There are still some things we're going to look into," Daniels said. "This may be the club we go to camp with. We're confident if it is.
"But there's a chance we'll try to improve as well."