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2009 Texas Rangers Preview: Closer to Heaven

BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Karl Wright, BaseballEvolution.com
April 4, 2009


The 2009 Texas Rangers come into the season with, if nothing else, another year of continuity on both the field and in the manager's office.  Manager Ron Washington brings back an eerily similar squad to the one he had entering the past season, complete with the "Past-Their-Prime-Outfielders Tour" hosted annually by the Rangers. They have the same pitching, too. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla again are the "strength" of the rotation. This has disaster written all over it, right? Maybe..... or maybe not.

2008 Standings - AL West
West W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Los Angeles Angels 100 62 .617 0 50-31 50-31 765 697 .542 66-46 34-16
Texas Rangers 79 83 .488 21 40-41 39-42 901 967 .468 58-52 21-31
Oakland Athletics 75 86 .466 24.5 43-38 32-48 646 690 .470 50-58 25-28
Seattle Mariners 61 101 .377 39 35-46 26-55 671 811 .414 40-70 21-31

First Base - Chris Davis

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Omar Vizquel SS
Andruw Jones CF
Derrick Turnbow RP
Eddie Guardado RP
Brendan Donnelly RP
Departed Pos.
Milton Bradley DH
Ramon Vazquez Util
Frank Catalanotto Util
Gerald Laird C
Jamey Wright RP

This kid can hit, period. He may not bring the Mark -Teixeira-type production the Rangers have enjoyed in the past, but then again, this offense doesn't really need that type of output from him. They just need someone who can carry his own weight and is not named Ben Broussard or Frank Catalanotto. With Davis, the Rangers clearly have a natural first baseman, both in the field and at the plate (.285 BA, .549 SLG, .880 OPS, 17 HR, 20 BB, 88 SO in 295 AB).

The only thing that can derail this ideal situation at first would be injury, and that may be a problem for Davis in the early part of the season. He left a March 30th spring contest with a "left patella tendon injury." While the Rangers insist that his departure was merely precautionary, remember that "patella" really means "knee-cap" and Davis did not play the following day.     

Second Base - Ian Kinsler

Expect another spectacular offensive output, but perhaps even more importantly, look for Kinsler to become more proficient in the field. Washington has had three full seasons to work with Kinsler's approach at second and there is reason to think that his decision-making skills will improve at the position this season. Any defensive upgrade possible would be appreciated by the Rangers' pitching staff, but the club is really counting on him at the plate.

His 2008 numbers (.319 BA, .517 SLG, .892 OPS, 18 HR) rivaled all second basemen, and may have been at the top of that list if not for a sports hernia suffered in the second half of the season. Throughout his tenure with the team, he has struggled with injuries, having never played in more than 130 games in a season. It will be especially important for him to reverse this trend, as the the club has no one on the bench behind him, due to the decision to roll with seven relievers. 

Rangers Team Capsule

1/5/10: Contract Year Wonder - The Texas Rangers have won the gullibility sweepstakes, signing third baseman Adrian Beltre to a six-year, $96 million contract. Beltre, who turns 32 in April, has had two spectacular seasons: 2004 and 2010, both contract years. In his 11 big league seasons outside of 2004 and 2010, Beltre has an RSL of .264/.318/.435.


There is some hope for Rangers fans. Beltre represents a huge upgrade defensively at the hot corner over Michael Young, who shifts to designated hitter. In fact, over the past three seasons, no third baseman has saved more runs defensively than Beltre (55) and none has cost his team more runs than Young (-31). Additionally, Beltre's 2010 season was not a product of Fenway Park, as he went .327/.370/.583 on the road. He has gone .306/.336/.521 for his career in Arlington.

Still, third basemen in their mid-30s tend to age quickly and Beltre has been a bust whenever not directly motivated by money. Expect a terrific year for him in 2016, however, since he is incredible every six years and will be once again playing for a contract.

Shortstop - Elvis Andrus

Outside of the near-signing of Ben Sheets, the Rangers' shortstop position was the only source of off-season drama for the team. Michael Young was "asked" over the winter to move over to third base to make room for the 20-year-old Andrus. If you recall, Young did not take the request very well and began requesting a trade, a la Jay Cutler. Of course, the primary motivation for this move was for John Daniels to begin showcasing the talent he has accumulated through trades, but it will also make the infield better defensively at both positions without severely damaging the offensive output potential from each.

Elvis is not expected to be a big bat in the lineup (he's projected to hit 9th in the order), but he's hit for average this spring (.288) and could possibly hold his own with good protection provided by the rest of his team. This would simply be the proverbial icing on the cake for the Rangers, who will be relying on Andrus' fielding prowess to help stifle the opposing team's run output. Last year, the Rangers allowed 967 runs, worst in the majors, and Andrus' presence should help curb this.

Third Base - Michael Young

There was concern that even with Young eventually accepting his new role at third, he would not adapt very well to it. That sound you hear is the Rangers' front office collective sigh of relief that he's performed decently enough this spring to dismiss any notion that he may be a liability on the corner.

Despite being severely overpaid (a key factor in how this past winter's drama played out; John Daniels wouldn't get much in return for him at that price), Young still produces well enough at the plate to be considered a top player, even at his new position. He will be backed up by Hank Blalock, which can't give anyone the warm-and-fuzzies, as he's been an injury-prone nightmare since he broke onto the scene. This is yet another reminder of the lack of depth the team will bring into the season.

Catcher - Jarrod Saltalamacchia


Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The centerpiece of Daniels' trade of Mark Teixiera to the Braves, Saltalamacchia is expected to produce with the stick - now. He was somewhat of a disappointment last season, batting .253 with only 3 HR and 26 RBI in 198 AB. However, this season, he won't be spending any significant time in AAA Oklahoma City, as last season's starter, Gerald Laird, was shipped off to Detroit this past off-season.

He'll be backed up by up-and-comer, Taylor Teagarden, who is obviously a better defensive option, but has yet to prove himself at the plate over the course of a major league season. Don't be shocked if Teagarden takes over as the regular catcher before the end of this season, especially if Saltalamacchia isn't providing pop in the lineup.

Pos '08 '09
C Laird/Salt Salt/Tea
1B Davis Davis
2B Kinsler Kinsler
3B Vazquez Young
SS Young Andrus
IF Blalock Vizquel
LF Boogs Dv Murphy
CF Hamilton Hamilton
RF Dv Murphy N Cruz
DH Bradley Jones/Blalock
OF Cat/Byrd Byrd

Outfield -  RF - Nelson Cruz
                  CF - Josh Hamilton
                  LF - Dave Murphy
                  DH/Res. - Andruw Jones
                  Res. - Marlon Byrd

The biggest question in Rangerville has got to be whether Jones can be this year's Milton Bradley. No, not a guy who only plays on days he thinks his stats will benefit from participation, but a guy who can hit .300+ with 20 or more HR. Last year with the Dodgers, Jones had a miserable year, batting a .158 with 3 HR in 75 games and basically being asked to take $20+ million to not hang around Los Angeles. After a horrendous start in spring training, he rebuilt his swing and earned the DH/reserve-outfield-spot, forcing an outright release of the redundant left-handed bat of Catalanotto (at a cost of $6 million).

The rest of the outfield crew are known and trusted commodities, but may be making their last opening day appearances with the Rangers. It's widely suspected that Daniels has plans to deal Cruz before season's end, perhaps as early as May, in order to get Hamilton to his permanent spot in right. This, in turn, gets Byrd in  centerfield on a full-time basis (instead of only getting the starts in LF against left-handed pitching), which would turn out quite nicely if Jones holds up his end of the deal at DH. With Murphy as the other end of the LF tandem, this is a pretty salty outfield unit.

Starting Pitching -   RHP Kevin Millwood
                                 RHP Vicente Padilla  
                                 RHP Kris Benson
                                 RHP Brandon McCarthy
                                 LHP Matt Harrison


Josh Hamilton

Again, starting pitching is not the strength of this team, as is evidenced by Benson being considered third in the rotation. Before writing this unit off, consider a couple things: first, Millwood and Padilla are in contract years and the Rangers have some strong arms developing on the farm. Both Millwood and Padilla were spectacular the last time they were playing for contracts. Actually, neither of them have had a truly decent year since those contract seasons. The addition of Benson allows for further development of pitching prospects Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz before adding them to the big league rotation, which may happen later in the season. Expect a breakout-type season from McCarthy, as he's beginning to shows signs that he was worth the trade that saw John Daniels send southpaw John Danks to the White Sox. Harrison should fill the role of left-handed fifth starter fine, especially in Arlington, where much is not expected of the fourth spot, let alone the last.

Relief Pitching - Closer - RHP Frank Francisco
                              RHP Scott Feldman
                              LHP C.J. Wilson
                              RHP Jason Jennings
Pos '08 '09
SP Millwood Millwood
SP Padilla Padilla
SP Feldman Benson
SP Harrison./Mendoza McCarthy
SP Gabbard/Ponson Harrison
CL Wilson Francisco
LP Guardado Guardado
LP Nippert Wilson
RP Wright Madrigal
RP Rupe Rupe
RP Jennings Jennings
RP Benoit Feldman
                              LHP Eddie Guardado
                              RHP Josh Rupe
                              RHP Warner Madrigal

Clearly an area of concern for Daniels and Washington was the bullpen. So much so that they decided to take seven relievers into the season. Feldman was an unexpected last-minute addition when Benson was deemed good enough to be in the rotation. He will provide long-relief alongside Jennings, who hasn't been healthy for the last two seasons. Wilson returns as the setup man he is destined to be, as it has become apparent he is not in the Rangers' plans as a future closer. The aging Guardado is back again as the other southpaw in the pen, even after being traded away. Francisco is adequate, but is probably not thought of as a long-term solution, but will likely remain in the role until the Rangers fix their other five problems on the pitching staff.

Overview

Contrary to the speculation of many, this division has not already been won by the rival Angels. While the Mariners and A's have improved, the ceiling has come down a bit. With a strong start in either of the last two years, the Rangers would've been in contention deep into the summer. To say they got out of the gate slowly would be an understatement. They put themselves out of contention by the end of the last two Aprils. With that in mind, consider that the Angels will be starting the season with several starters still healing from injuries. The Rangers appear to be the second-best team in this division, and if they are able to take advantage of the Angels' injury problems by posting a .500+ record in April, you can bet on some big crowds in Arlington come summertime.

Realistically, though, anyone looking at this team has to see that the severe lack of depth is going to be the downfall of this team. Despite having seven guys in the bullpen, only three or four of them are really going to be able to be counted on. What happens if two or three of those guys get hurt? 2008 happens. Of course, the infield has a depth problem, as well. If something happens with Young, we're expected to think Blalock will be able to finish out the season for him without problems? Oft-injured Ian Kinsler doesn't even have a backup on the 25-man roster, unless you count Omar Vizquel. While I do think the Rangers will get off to a respectable start this season, it's easy to see that this lack of depth, coupled with the harsh Arlington summer heat, will not allow the Rangers to compete come September.

Prediction: 84-78, second in AL West


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