The fourth and final A.L. Western division rival in our series of team previews is the Texas Rangers. After starting the decade with back-to-back World Series losses, the Rangers have failed to advance past the new “wildcard elimination game” in the two years since. Can the 2014 team finally get over the hump?
Prince Fielder (Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)
General Manager Jon Daniels has been aggressive this winter in his attempts to upgrade an already solid roster — starting with the November trade that brought Prince Fielder to Arlington. Even though the Rangers gave up an outstanding player in Ian Kinsler, I still like this deal for Texas.
Regular readers of CTH probably know that I’m not a fan of long term deals that pay outrageous amounts of money to aging players. But, the $30 million in salary relief included by the Tigers is what makes this deal different.
In his next move, Daniels packaged his fourth outfielder and swing man Josh Lindblom to acquire a couple of Oakland’s top prospects. Outfielder Michael Choice could make an impact for the Rangers as early as this season.
The Rangers also signed highly coveted free agent Shin-Soo Choo. The left-handed hitting outfielder with a .389 career OBP has been inserted into the leadoff spot by skipper Ron Washington. Choo will be followed in the batting order by SS Elvis Andrus, Fielder (1B), 3B Adrian Beltre, and RF Alex Rios. Mitch Moreland should see the bulk of the playing time at DH batting sixth. Catchers Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia will man the #7 spot with 2B Jurickson Profar and CF Leonys Martin rounding out the order.
That’s an excellent lineup that is going to give opposing pitchers some problems. But the Rangers’ starting rotation has a few more question marks. Yu Darvish is clearly the ace and Martin Perez had an impressive rookie campaign in 2013. After that, the questions begin.
Derek Holland (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Matt Harrison made only two starts last year before going on the disabled list with thoracic outlet syndrome. Whatever that is cost the lefty the rest of his season. Supposedly ready to return to the rotation, Harrison has been slowed by lower back spasms this spring.
Another lefty, Derek Holland, had knee surgery last month and is expected to miss the first half of the season. Colby Lewis missed all of 2013 due to a hip injury that required surgery and Alexi Ogando has also had trouble staying healthy for a full season.
What have the Rangers done to try to answer some of those questions? Tommy Hanson was signed to a 1-year deal and is now the favorite to claim a rotation spot. The former Brave had a terrible 2013 pitching for the Angels, but he is only 27 and I think he is a good candidate for a bounce-back season. Imperfect game pitcher Armando Galarraga has also been invited to camp as a non-roster player. Nick Tepesch could also be an option.
Despite a dominant 2013 performance, the Rangers parted ways with closer Joe Nathan. Instead of paying big money to the 38-year old who posted a 0.897 WHIP en route to 43 saves, the club appears to be ready to hand ninth inning duties to another oft-injured player. Neftali Feliz, who has pitched in only 14 games over the last two seasons, is slated to be the team’s closer. If Feliz should falter, Tanner Scheppers and Neal Cotts provide Ron Washington some flexibility in a strong and fairly deep pool of bullpen pitchers.
For more info on the current state of the Rangers, I sent a few questions to Nolan Wriitin’ editor Ben Dieter. Here are his responses.
CTH: There are a ton of health concerns with the Rangers’ starting pitchers. How do you see the rotation shaping up to start the season?
BD: It has definitly been a problem for the Rangers so far this year. First Derek Holland falls over his dog, now Matt Harrison is having back problems again after two seperate surgeries on his back last year. The way I see the staff shaping up (if no one else gets injured) would be:
Yu Darvish (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
Colby Lewis or Nick Tepesch
CTH: I thought Jon Daniels did a great job this winter by adding Fielder, Choo, Choice, Arencibia, Hanson, etc… Do you expect to see any more moves made prior to Opening Day?
BD: I expect to see the Rangers inquire about Kendrys Morales and maybe another starting pitcher like an Ervin Santana, but I really don’t see them signing either of them. I think they will try and add a few more small pieces from the list of released free agents that happen during the course of spring training, but no more big moves.
CTH: Rougned Odor. I love this guy’s name! What else can you tell us about the Rangers’ top prospect?
BD: He most definitely has a great name! Odor is a very highly touted prospect for good reason. He has been the youngest player in almost every professional level that he has played at, and that trend will continue in my opinion. At Mytrle Beach (A ball) Odor had a line of .305/.369/.404 in 100 games, and then at Frisco (AA ball) he continued hitting well with a line of .306/.354/.530 in 20 games. Odor is already at the AA level and just turned 20 years old on February 3rd. Odor will start at AA ball and may be at Round Rock before 2014 ends, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got to the big club in September just so he can get a taste.
CTH: What sort of marks would you give Ron Washington as a manager?
BD: I think that Ron has done a great job, and I think last season was one of his best. He took a team that lost a ton of talent (Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara) and got them to a game 163. The players seem to really believe in his system, and they play hard for him. Unfortunately, if you don’t win your job is in jeopardy. So if they miss the post season again this year, he may be in trouble.
CTH: Are the fans getting restless at all and are expectations to the point where anything less than returning to the World Series will be considered a disappointment.
BD: Fans are definitely getting restless. But, in my opinion, if the Rangers can win a post season series the fans will at least be satisfied if not happy. If they can make it to the ALCS, I would be satisfied. But expectations are much higher than they were five years ago, that’s for sure.
CTH: How do Rangers fans feel about the departure of Nolan Ryan and his subsequent move to the Astros front office?
BD: Most Rangers fans I talk to are mad at Jon Daniels for chasing Nolan Ryan off. That is not totally the case. They had their disagreements, but I don’t think we will ever know exactly what happened between them. Ryan is a Texas icon, not just a Texas Rangers icon. I personally always knew that if he left the Rangers he would wind up with the Astros again, and I am not mad at him at all. I think we are all sad that he left, and a little worried that he will help turn the Astros around sooner rather than later!
Thanks, Ben! Personally, I think this Rangers lineup will be score enough runs to overcome the questions surrounding the rotation. I’m predicting a 96-66 record and a division title. A playoff series win is a possibility, but I’m not quite ready to commit to that.
Again, big props to Ben Dieter for coming into enemy territory and Climbing the Hill with us! Check out Nolan Writin for more Rangers coverage. Who knows? Maybe a certain CTH writer could be answering a few questions for Ben there next week. Hint, hint.