The Texas Rangers have to be getting a little tired of looking up in the standings at the end of the year. For a team who hasn’t won fewer than 90 games since 2009, they have finished behind the Oakland A’s in each of the past two years in the usually tough AL West.
The Rangers have a slew of solid pieces occupying their roster but also some holes that they’ve worked to fill this offseason. In 2012 they finished 1st in baseball in runs scored while pounding out 200 home runs but they plated 78 fewer base-runners in ’13 and only hit 176 long balls. In fact, 2013 marked the 2nd consecutive year of a notable regression in the runs scored department. The losses of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and others have been felt loud and clear.
GM Jon Daniels went to work this offseason in impact fashion by acquiring Prince Fielder from Detroit in the Ian Kinsler trade and plucking Shin-Soo Choo off the free agent market. These two additions alone could provide 50+ home runs and 200 RBI’s. The offense should be an improved product with legitimate star power joining Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios and the expectation of continued development from young studs Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin.
If Ron Washington’s pitching staff can stay off the disabled list then this team should be elite. Derek Holland will start the season on the shelf but the Rangers do have plenty of options to pull from in his stead. It’ll be a next-man-up approach in Arlington as they try to recapture the AL West crown.
Best Case Scenario for 2014
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and so are the expectations. With Yu Darvish front-lining what has the potential to be a good rotation and an offense that projects to be an improved unit, the Rangers have their eye on the AL West crown and another deep run in the playoffs. Their top-end is a World Series title.
Most Important Rangers
It’s hard to drop this on a newcomer, but Prince Fielder was brought in to demolish opposing pitching like he did in his Milwaukee days and provide elite protection for Adrian Beltre. At age 34, Beltre is probably the superstar who gets the least hype around the league. He is ridiculously productive, hitting over .300 and averaging 31 homers, 36 doubles, and 100 RBI’s over the past four seasons, including three in Texas. Now consider that Fielder has been the lineup protection to three straight MVP winners (Miguel Cabrera in 2013 and ’12 and Ryan Braun in 2011) and Beltre must be giddy with excitement. Fielder is coming off a ‘down year’ in ’13 as he hit .279 with 25 homers while driving in 106. Most expect his power to return to a 40-home run level in the more hitter-friendly confines in Texas. If he can get back to that and 125 RBI’s then the Rangers can convincingly argue that they have the best 3-4 combo in baseball.
And speaking of superstars, Yu Darvish is the likely frontrunner for the 2014 AL Cy Young award after taking a back seat to Detroit’s Max Scherzer in ’13. Darvish got a handle on his command after an occasionally wild rookie year and was possibly the best pitcher in the game. With a pitching staff that has trouble taking the ball every 5th day, Washington needs his ace to be that guy and nothing suggests that he won’t. Now 27, Darvish posted an astounding 277 K’s in just 209.2 innings a year ago and is probably the one pitcher across baseball who could threaten to reach the rarified air of 300 K’s. If he can push his innings worked up to 230 or so it could get interesting.
Potential Breakout Players
With Ian Kinsler out of town and occupying 2nd base in Motown, Jurickson Profar now has the gig all to himself. He and Elvis Andrus could become a dynamic keystone combo up the middle if Profar lives up to the hype. Not surprisingly, Profar struggled for much of 2013 at the ripe age of 20 when trying to adjust to major league pitching, batting just .234 with a .308 on-base %. He is believed to have the knack and the intangibles to play above his birth certificate though. Expect Profar to hit at or near the bottom of the order most of the year as he gets his footing. Hopefully his preseason shoulder issue is a non-factor. If it is, a .260 average, .330 on-base % and low double-digits in homers and steals should be in the works.
Take your pick between Neftali Feliz or Joakim Soria. One of these guys should be the team’s closer as Washington has to fill the massive vacancy created via Joe Nathan’s departure. Both pitchers were injured for much of 2013 and both also have intriguing resumes as 9th inning men. Soria has a lifetime ERA of 2.50 and WHIP of 1.06, spending the first five years of his career as Kansas City’s closer. During that stretch he saved 160 of a possible 180 games. At age 29, he is once again fully healthy and ready to be an elite stopper. But that’s only if Feliz doesn’t get in his way. Feliz will turn 26 in May and saved 72 of 81 games between 2010 and ’11. The notion of him being a starting pitcher is probably done for good now so he can focus on being a guy who uses his power arsenal to get the last three outs, or the 2nd to last three outs. My hunch is that Soria gets the gig, saving 40+ games, and that he and Feliz form a nasty 8th-9th inning duo to help cover a questionable rotation.
Worst Case Scenario
Clearly, Oakland isn’t a fluke. They can pitch and they can bash and lately that’s been their perfect recipe to win the West. Seattle looks to be a much improved team and considering that Texas is 71-43 against them since 2008, this could put a dent in the Rangers’ win column. And life as a #2 team in a division is workable these days but also very tenuous with the nature of the 1-game wild cards. With other teams across the American League improving such as Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle, and New York, the wild card could be harder to come by in 2014. Worst case scenario is a win total in the 80’s and being on the outside looking in come October.
Areas of Concern
Injuries to the starting rotation have been aplenty. Will Colby Lewis be ready by Opening Day? And if he is, will he be any good considering he’s made just 16 starts since the 2011 season came to a close? Matt Harrison should be at or near 100% by the beginning of April, but will he produce like his 2011-12 self or his other not-so-good years? How rusty will Derek Holland be upon his return? Can Alexi Ogando and his 19 starts since 2011 be a reliable part of the rotation for a full six months? Nick Tepesch, a candidate for a rotation spot, has been experiencing a tight back already this spring. Will he be ready and reliable? Is Martin Perez as good as he appeared to be in 2013? I could go on and on but you get the point. The rotation could be a revolving door from week 1 with Darvish as potentially the only rock to lean on. If things spiral out of control in this department the season will likely be doomed.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2013
With so much uncertainty in the starting rotation, the Rangers would be elated if Alexi Ogando got it rolling again like it’s 2011. His control suffered along with his health in 2013 as he walked 41 in 104.1 innings, managing just 18 starts. When he’s healthy and on his game he can be a dominant force but he’s had trouble staying on the field like so many of his teammates have.
On offense, it’s probably unfair to characterize what Leonys Martin did in his rookie year as down but compared to his promise there appears to be more here. A career .323 hitter in the minors with a .388 on-base %, Martin hit just .260/.313 as a rookie but did steal 36 bags in 45 tries. If he can somehow latch onto the #2 spot in this batting order, which is probably a long shot, as a result of raising his on-base skills he could swipe 45 bases and score around 100 runs.
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