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2010 Texas Rangers Preview: Optimism in Arlington Spring Preview
by Karl Wright,
April 6, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Rich Harden SP
Vladamir Guerrero DH
Ryan Garko 1B
Andres Blanco MI
Darren Oliver RP
Chris Ray RP
Departed Pos.
Kevin Millwood SP
Marlon Byrd CF
Andruw Jones DH
Ivan Rodriguez C
Omar Vizquel MI
Kris Benson SP
Jason Jennings P
Eddie Guardado RP

Something odd has been brewing in Arlington, Texas: Genuine, over-the-top optimism. Some of the players have predicted as many as 95 wins this season, while team president, Nolan Ryan has gone on record with a 92-win prediction. As usual, though, the Rangers have managed to bring the good news, bad news routine to Arlington. The good news is that your franchise brings back many of the key components of their offensive machine, with the possibility of improvement as they’ve added young prospect Julio Borbon and veteran slugger Vlad Guerrero to the starting mix. All they need now is to avoid losing any ground in the pitching department.

Did I mention there was bad news?

Catcher – Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Once again, the Rangers will depend on Saltalamacchia to man home plate, with Taylor Teagarden backing him up. They have to be hoping for some improvement from his 9 HR, 97 K and 70 OPS+ (worst in the starting lineup last season). Fortunately for Salty, there appears to be no punch to either of the alternatives, Max Ramirez included. It would appear that his defense will keep him around for awhile.

First Base – Chris Davis

In last year's preview, I indicated that this player could out and out hit the ball and with power. Last season proved that what he can do even better is strike out. He was rung up to the tune of 150 times last season while only drawing 24 walks. He was sent down mid-season last year to get his head straight and it appeared to work for the brief time we saw him at the end of the campaign. If he is able to get the strikeouts minimized, he actually could be a contributor to the team.

Second Base – Ian Kinsler

Kinsler is staring the season on the DL, but that shouldn’t be worrisome or shocking. He’s a regular at Club DL and never really appears to be worse for the wear when he returns. If he is able to continue putting up numbers as he did last season (31 HR, 86 RBI, 31 SB), this offensive machine will be fine.

Third Base – Michael Young

Last season was not Young’s best power year, but it was one of his more consistent performances. He posted an OPS+ of 128, best on the club. Mix in his 36 doubles, 22 homeruns and 68 runs batted in and he had a solid 2009 season. He’ll be 33 this year, though, and Rangers fans must know that he’s probably due for a steady decline soon. He’s been hit with the injury bug before and I actually expect to see him spend significant time on the mend this season.

Elvis Andrus

Shortstop – Elvis Andrus

One of the primary reasons that the Rangers were in contention throughout 2009 was the defensive play of Elvis Andrus. The upgrade from Young was very obvious and may very well have won several games for the club. He doesn’t have much power, but what he lacks there, he makes up for with speed. He had a team-high 33 bagswipes and eight triples last season. As long as this youngster can keep his on-base percentage up, he’ll be a force on both offense and defense in 2010.

Outfield – Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Julio Borbon

Disappointment Candidate
Michael Young
.892 OPS in 2009 was only his second time over .836

ROY Candidate
Julio Borbon
Best leadoff hitter in Texas since Otis Nixon?

This could be a very potent group. Hamilton has shown flashes of greatness between stints on the DL and in rehab. He followed up an incredible 2008 that saw him cash in 130 RBI with 32 HR, and an OPS of .901 with a dismal 2009 campaign, posting 54 RBI, 10 HR, and a .741 OPS. The question here is, who is the real Josh Hamilton? This season should answer that. Cruz is likely to be the one providing the power from this unit. He walloped 33 HR last season, driving in only 76 RBI, though. Borbon broke through last season and showed terrific speed, athleticism and prowess at the plate. He showed enough to allow the Rangers to let go of last year’s centerfielder, Marlon Byrd. In only 179 plate appearances, he was able to tally a .312 BA, 15 BB, and a whopping 19 SB.

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.

Starting Pitching – Rich Harden, Scott Feldman, Tommy Hunter, C.J. Wilson, Matt Harrison

Harden was the big free-agent offseason acquisition for the cash-strapped Rangers this winter. It would appear to be somewhat counterintuitive that the response to arguably the best season Kevin Millwood put up as a Ranger would be to ship him off and replace him with the injury-prone Harden, who hasn’t pitched in more than 148 innings since 2004. The rest of this cast are old hat. Feldman came on last year with a 4.09 ERA in 189.2 innings, but can hardly be considered a bonafide number two. Hunter may well fill that role, but not until he is able to get himself healthy, as he starts the season on the DL with a strained rib cage. C.J. Wilson has convinced the coaching staff that his effectiveness out of the bullpen (2.81 ERA, 84 K) can translate to the rotation. Matt Harrison will again get the fifth starting spot, but will have to mind his p’s and q’s as reliever Neftali Feliz and AAA starters Brandon McCarthy and Derek Holland await their opportunity.

Neftali Feliz

Relief Pitching – Frank Francisco (closer), Darren Oliver, Chris Ray, Neftali Feliz, Darren O’Day, Dustin Nippert, Doug Mathis

In order for the Rangers to compete this season, they will need this unit to be effective. At first glance, it appears capable. Francisco is coming off of a 25-save season in which he tallied 57 K in 49.1 IP and should be a staple in the closer’s role. Should he falter, Feliz and his 100+ mph fastballs standby to pick up the slack. The aging Oliver returns to Texas following two stellar seasons in Anaheim (2.79 ERA over 145 total IP) and may be able to provide veteran leadership and fill the elder statesman role that Eddie Guardado did last season. The Rangers hope that Ray will bounce back from a less-than-stellar 2009 campaign that saw him post a 7.27 ERA, but will likely lean on O’Day to provide quality short relief if he is able to duplicate the numbers he put up in 2009 (1.94 ERA, 54K, 55.2 IP). Long relievers Nippert and Mathis hope to put together solid seasons as they did last year and will be counted on to be the emergency starters.

Final Word

The AL West may have finally come to the long-awaited point where power finally shifts to a club not in Anaheim… or Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it appears that while the Angels slowly begin their decline, the Mariners and Athletics are resurging. Seattle has a formidable rotation with their new ace, Cliff Lee, and their acquisition of Chone Figgins only makes the divisional power-shift more obvious. Oakland isn’t nearly the paper tiger that Seattle is, but with a healthy Justin Duchscherer and comeback candidate Ben Sheets, they could end up being more potent than anyone expects.

With these facts in mind, I predict that the 2010 Rangers finally break the Angels’ spell over the division and will win the AL West this season. I like Nolan’s prediction and will go with a 92-win effort for this club.

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