One division that’s going to be worth our attention this season is the AL West. Seattle ought to be fun to see how far defense can take a team in this day and age. Anaheim went through a pretty big makeover that could very well leave them vulnerable following three straight division championships. And Oakland is… well, trying to get by on a wing and a prayer at this point, I suppose.
But the Texas Rangers are the team that I’ll be putting my money on to come out of the division. They’re certainly not perfect – their two biggest offseason acquisitions – Rich Harden and Vlad Guerrero – come with huge injury risks. However, while they lack star power, the Rangers do appear to make up for that with a collection of young players ready to make a name for themselves, backed up by veterans capable of playing strong supporting roles.
The aforementioned Guerrero should be one of these veterans. While it is unrealistic to expect Vlad to turn back time, he should be fine as a DH. And though I feel that he is overrated, a healthy Josh Hamilton is still an offensive force. But moreso than either of those guys, my faith in this offense comes from the trio of Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, and Ian Kinsler. None of them will lead the league in walks, but jeebus, they can mash. Based on his minor league numbers, Davis in particular still has considerable untapped potential, and he seems primed for a breakout in 2010. If second year CFer Julio Borbon and 3B Michael Young can get on base at a decent clip, the Rangers offense should be able to score enough runs.
And while the rotation after Rich Harden may not boast household names, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be solid.
Harden has the ability to be a top-10 pitcher in the bigs. The only problem is by this point, we’re all pretty certain that he’ll never get there. The 28 year-old has never thrown 200 innings and has barely topped 140 in each of the last two seasons. He can’t really be considered much of a wild card anymore because you know what you can reasonably expect from him. If Harden can reach 150 innings in 2010, the Rangers should simply count their blessings.
Scott Feldman may not be as good a pitcher than his 2009 numbers indicate (still decent nonetheless), but the one guy that Rangers fans should be excited to see is 30 year-old Colby Lewis. Back in the 1999 draft, Lewis was a sandwich pick (38th overall) for the Rangers and had become a strikeout machine in the minors. But he underwent rotator cuff surgery in 2004 and bounced around several organizations thereafter before going to Japan in 2008 where he blossomed, winning 2 straight strikeout titles. Now back with the organization that drafted him, Lewis should be able to make his name known in a “where the hell has this guy been” type story.
Another interesting story developing is that C.J. Wilson is being taken out of the bullpen and will be a starting pitcher this season. Wilson was a starter coming through the system, but hasn’t been given that role since his rookie year in 2005. He does feature a selection of pitches that could make the transition smoothly, but that doesn’t seem like a likely scenario to me. Figure an ERA just at or just above 4.50 as a benchmark (which isn’t the worst thing in the world, I suppose).
However, I feel that the organization is making a mistake with Neftali Feliz. I don’t doubt that the 21 year old is already a good reliever. But do I doubt that putting him in the bullpen, even just for this season, is the right course of action. If he’s not good enough to put into the rotation and be counted on for 150+IP, then he should be in the minor leagues so he can work on getting to that point. Spending a full season in the bullpen means he pitches 70 or so innings in 2010. Think you can get the guy to pitch 160 innings in 2011 if you needed a starter? Yeah, good luck with that one. Moreover, in the bullpen, Feliz can get away with primarily using his electric fastball with little use for working on his off-speed pitches. Again, if you need him to be a starter in 2011…
On the whole, the Rangers did quite well this off season. They parted ways with a ton of veterans whose best days were way behind them (Kevin Millwood, Andruw Jones, Hank Blalock, Pudge Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, Kris Benson, Eddie Guardado, Jason Jennings, etc) and mostly filled their absences with younger, cheaper players who very well could outproduce their predecessors. That really is a win-win-win right there. And the veterans that they did sign (Harden and Vlad) were on low-cost one-year deals which was very smart considering their injury histories.
With Anaheim taking a few steps back this off-season, the division is ripe for the picking. The Texas Rangers look capable of taking it.
Final Grade: B
Notable additions: Rich Harden, Vladimir Guerrero, Colby Lewis, Chris Ray, Endy Chavez, Darren Oliver, Toby Hall, Esteban German,Clay Rapada
Notable subtractions: Kevin Millwood, Marlon Byrd, Andruw Jones, Hank Blalock, Pudge Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, Kris Benson, Jason Jennings, Joe Inglett
C: Jarrod Saltalamachia/Taylor Teagarden
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Ian Kinsler
3B: Michael Young
SS: Elvis Andrus
LF: Josh Hamilton
CF: Julio Borbon
RF: Nelson Cruz
DH: Vlad Guerrero
SP: Scott Feldman
SP: Rich Harden
SP: Colby Lewis
SP: C.J. Wilson
SP: Matt Harrison
CL: Frank Francisco