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Last year, writing the season preview for the Texas Rangers, I was feeling a little, well, limp. So I had to rely on the little-blue-pill of the writing world: the exclamation point! And indeed, in retrospect, the exclamation point was the aptest possible punctuation mark for the 2008 Rangers. Pitching: terrible!!!! Offense: unstoppable!!!!!!

Indians Rangers Spring Baseball

Hamilton knocked in 130 in '08

But ultimately, as amazing as Texas’s offense was last year –  scoring 901 runs for far and away the best mark in the AL — the Rangers still finished 21 games out of first in the AL West. As fantastic as their offense was, their pitching was even more fantastically bad, allowing 967 runs — also far and away the league’s worst mark. Their team also finished dead last in MLB in defensive efficiency.

But if the 2008 season demanded exclamation points, the appropriate mark of punctuation for the 2009 season is: ?

The question mark.

So will this year be different?

In an October article for Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein listed the Rangers as a candidate to be “the next Rays.” Is that crazy? Well, Goldstein recently ranked their farm system second in MLB. Keith Law ranked them first.

neftali

Young and (almost) ready: Feliz was born in 1988, but could be the staff ace by September

Both agree that their system is deep and talented, and flush with young pitching.

When will those young arms contribute? For the two most advanced prospects, Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, it could be later this season. However, they won’t really be ready to assume regular, major league roles until next year.

What about the defense? Will their focus on improving their glove work in spring training pay off? Will the infield defense improve with a corps of regulars – instead of a rotisserie of different fielders? Will Michael Young be any better at third than he was at short? And will I ever understand why they gave him a Gold Glove last year? Will anticipated rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus be able to make the most out of his good arm, speed, and range, while avoiding the errors that plagued him at the lower levels? And will Omar Vizquel excel as Crash Davis to Andrus’ Nuke LaLoosh?

Can the offense repeat last year’s stunning performance? While they lost free agent Milton Bradley — the team’s OBP leader, at .436 over 126 games –  Marlon Byrd is a not-too-shabby replacement (OBP’ed .380 over 122 games) and comes without the ominous emotional forecast (partly crazy, 20% chance of rage). A full season of Chris Davis, and a good year from breakout candidate Jarrod Saltalamacchia, could also soften the blow.

Dodgers Rangers Spring Baseball

Aging fast: putative ace Millwood seems like he's been around forever, and plays like it too, but is actually only 33.

Was it a mistake for GM Jon Daniels to focus only on minor-league deals, and give up on Ben Sheets? I don’t think so – the Rangers will have enough pitching by 2010 to support their offense. And if they continue to work on their team defense, they might actually start to make their pitchers look good. Or, you know, as good as they can look in Arlington. One thing that confused me, though, was why Daniels was interested in Sheets (of all pitchers) when the Rangers had trouble last year with injured starters. Last year, the “workhorse” of the team was Vincente Padilla, with 171 innings pitched. Otherwise, only Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman crossed the 150 innings mark — and indeed, the trio of Padilla, Millwood, and Feldman were the only Ranger pitchers to cross the 100 innings mark. What these Rangers need is not a fragile genius, but a steady guy who can take the hill every fifth day and give ‘em seven decent innings. If they were targeting anyone, you would have expected them to go for someone like Derek Lowe, whose groundballs might occasionally give their spotty defense trouble, but who at least (theoretically) wouldn’t let too many balls leave the park. Wouldn’t you?

But all in all, this was a fine offseason by the Rangers – don’t you think? They clearly know their young pitchers won’t really be ready until next year, so this winter wasn’t the time to panic or do anything ca-rayzay. They made some solid moves to develop their positional prospects. They signed two former Gold Glovers to minor league deals. The Rangers have a realistic view of their future – and how many teams can you say that about?

Grade: A-?

Added (all on minor league deals): Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, Kris Benson, Brendan Donnelly, Eddie Guardado, Jason Jennings
Lost: Milton Bradley, Ramon Vazquez, Jamie Wright

Lineup:

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B Chris Davis
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Michael Young
LF David Murphy/Marlon Byrd
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Hank Blalock

Rotation:

Kevin Millwood
Vicente Padilla
Scott Feldman
Matt Harrison
Brandon McCarthy

CL: Frank Fancisco/CJ Wilson

-Hot Offseason Action Index-

5 Responses to “Hot Offseason Action: Texas Rangers”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, I don’t see how you can give the Rangers anywhere near an A-, even with the question mark. They didn’t even add a single player of any measurable worth! I understand that they may be waiting on their prospects, but with an offense as good as they have, all they would have had to do is sign a few pitchers and they could have been right in the thick of it this year. I mean if the Rangers are going to try to be the new Devil Rays, well at least the Devil Rays know how to sign the occasional veteran to support the youth.

    Also, I simply cannot allow your assertion that Marlon Byrd can replace Milton Bradley to go uncontested. Milton Bradley was the best hitter in the entire American League last year, and it wasn’t even all that close. Sure, he has his problems, but just saying oh it’s okay because we have Marlon Byrd doesn’t really fly.

  2. Nick, I don’t think Sarah was saying Marlon Byrd alone will replace Bradley. But a full season of Davis along with a full season of Nelson Cruz (who has absolutely crushed minor league pitching at every level) could be enough to keep Texas’s offense among the league’s best.

    Also, there’s no reason to suspect we’ve seen Hamilton’s best. And Murphy should continue to improve. And Blalock might actually stay healthy as a DH.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Oops, I went on vacay right after I posted this and only now am seeing these comments.

    Nick, I give myself a pat on the back for eliciting the “and it wasn’t even all that close” from you. Bradley and Byrd both had limited playing time last year, so I certainly would not say Bradley was the best hitter in the entire American League. Yes, he had the highest OPS – but he also had over 200 fewer ABs than teammate Josh Hamilton. Bradley has had such a checkered history – since his debut in 2000, he’s had only three seasons with 100 games or more – it would be premature for any Rangers fan to mourn his loss at this point.

    I think if you read the full paragraph again you’ll see that I was saying Bradley’s loss will be softened by Byrd, plus Davis and Salty – not Byrd alone.

    Re: the grade, yeah, I wished they had gotten some reliable veteran hurler guy, but their farm system is SO good, and is SO close to being ready, I find it hard to mark them down too much. I wasn’t about to sit here for another 6 hours worrying over whether it should be a B or an A- or whatever – frankly, giving these grades just reminds me of how ridiculous our grading system is. But that’s a different rant.

  4. Nick Kapur says:

    In my view the grades serve their purpose perfectly, which is to encourage discussion and debate. If we had a clearly understood, objective, and well-defined grading rubric, then there would be no discussion and this blog would be boring.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    I guess….but to me, I could have just as easily given the Rangers a B and been happy with it. Or a B-, or a B , or an A-. It just felt a little arbitrary.

    In short, I think they had an above-average offseason and have a well-above average farm system, a farm system, moreover, that is stocked with exactly what they need: nascent pitching acery.

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