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2011 Texas Rangers: The more things change...

BaseballEvolution.com 2011 Spring Preview
by Karl Wright, BaseballEvolution.com
March 31, 2011


Michael Young
When examining the Texas Rangers, you may have to double-check the calendar, because this season has a similar feel to that of, well, just about any other Rangers ballclub in the last ten years. All of the usual suspects are there: the hard-hitting lineup, average pitching, solid defense, a previously-injured and aging veteran pitcher, an overpaid third baseman, and a DH out to prove something. Tack on the fact that the catcher carousel has turned once again in Arlington and it becomes downright spooky.

2010 Standings - AL West
West W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Texas Rangers 90 72 .556 0 51-30 39-42 787 687 .562 62-49 28-23
Oakland Athletics 81 81 .500 9 47-34 34-47 663 626 .526 57-60 24-21
Los Angeles Angels 80 82 .494 10 43-38 37-44 681 702 .486 57-54 23-28
Seattle Mariners 61 101 .377 29 35-46 26-55 513 698 .363 47-65 14-36

Mitch Moreland will begin the 2011 campaign at first base after fending off a resurgent Chris Davis, who had a very fine spring. Moreland apparently has the job so locked up that the team now lists Davis (who will start the season at Triple-A Round Rock) as a third baseman. With Davis in the minors, the Rangers plan to use Michael Young as the primary backup here, with a number of scheduled starts sprinkled in. Newly-acquired Mike Napoli will also figure into the plan at first, between starts at catcher and DH.

Look for Young to pick up spot starts at third and also a significant number of games at second, as Ian Kinsler has only played in more than 130 games once in his career. As was the case in 2010, Andres Blanco will be the infield utility player, serving primarily as a backup to Elvis Andrus at shortstop. The Rangers are hoping that the 22-year-old Andrus is able to add some pop to his bat and improve from last season that saw him hit 0 HR to go along with 15 doubles. But, as has been the case since he was brought up, the reason Elvis is in Arlington is his defense.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Adrian Beltre 3B
Mike Napoli 1B/C
Brandon Webb SP
Yorvit Torrealba C
Arthur Rhodes RP
c
Departed Pos.
Vladamir Guerrero DH
Cliff Lee SP
Frank Francisco RP
Rich Harden SP
Jeff Francoeur OF
Jorge Cantu INF
Bengie Molina C
Adrian Beltre was the big-splash signing the organization made this past off-season. Many have criticized GM Jon Daniels for this move, citing Beltre's penchant for putting up incredible offensive stats in contract year. Don't expect that serious drop-off this time, though, as he'll be playing home games in a true hitter's park. The real value to the Beltre pick-up is his glove. Replacing Young with Beltre at the hot corner is going to pay major dividends all year long. Not to mention that this move puts Young primarily in the DH role, which may be an upgrade from Vlad Guerrero, as you can expect Young to still have some gas in the tank come September and October.

New starting catcher Yorvit Torrealba isn't likely to make big waves at the plate, despite his strong spring performance, but his veteran leadership behind the plate is something the team will be counting on with the departure of last season's backstop, Bengie Molina. Of course, due to the trade of Matt Treanor to Kansas City, he'll be backed up by Napoli and Taylor Teagarden, who will start the season in Triple-A Round Rock.


Neftali Feliz

The outfield situation has not changed much since last season, but the club has decided that in order to protect Josh Hamilton, they needed to move him to left field. That means Julio Borbon will start in centerfield, while hoping that eventually he begins carrying a bat with him to the plate. All-Star Nelson Cruz will patrol right field, as he has the last couple seasons. David Murphy will be used as the utility outfielder and will likely see lots of action this year.

If the Rangers are going to make another run at the AL West title this season, they'll need to lean on their bullpen. Last season, it was a dependable unit with middle-relievers Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver setting the table for closer Neftali Feliz. While there was much speculation that Feliz would be added to the starting rotation after the club lost out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, there was no one else who took command of the closer's spot during the spring, so Feliz will come back for another year at the back of the bullpen. The Rangers have added veterans Arthur Rhodes and Dave Bush to the mix, as well as last year's late-season acquisition Mark Lowe and rookies Pedro Strop and Mason Tobin.

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.

The aforementioned unsuccessful pursuit of Cliff Lee created a couple odd situations for the franchise. First, it left a lot of money on the table that had already been ear-marked for payroll. This, of course, is where the Adrian Beltre money came from. Secondly, and more importantly, it created a huge power vacuum at the top of the rotation. By the time the club knew it would be without Lee for 2011, the free agent market for starting pitching was slim pickings. That is where Brandon Webb comes in. He'll start the season in the minors in his attempt to return following a major shoulder injury that has kept him out of baseball for nearly two full seasons. If he is able to return to his previous Cy Young form, this pick-up would be a steal.  Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to stay on track enough to even pitch in a live game yet.

Going into the season, C.J. Wilson will be the staff ace, followed by Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Derek Holland. If Wilson can emulate last year's performance, then Rangers fans can breathe a little easier, but don't count on it. Lewis was arguably the best pitcher on the staff last season and should continue the surge, hopefully with a better record to show for it. With Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman on the DL, the Rangers have turned to a mix of Harrison, Ogando, and Holland. All things being equal, Ogando will likely be the first to the bullpen when Hunter returns, but should either Holland or Harrison falter, don't be surprised to see the hard-throwing righty remain in the rotation throughout the season.

Overview

The 2011 Texas Rangers have a very good lineup of hitters, but as usual in these parts, have a suspect starting rotation. Luckily for them, a very good defensive unit coupled with a serviceable bullpen can and will offset many of the flaws of their starting staff. The rest of the AL West has gotten a little better: Oakland has a tremendous pitching staff and has added some hitters to their lineup, Los Angeles/Anaheim has swapped out some regulars and are looking a bit more formidable, and Seattle is a developing team with some potential. While I don't think the Texas Rangers have made huge improvements over last season's squad, they didn't really need to. I don't see anyone in this division beating this team up and I certainly don't see any of them putting the Rangers in their back view mirror. Oakland will give chase into September, but I see the Rangers winning the division for the second year in a row.

Prediction: 93-69 (1st in AL West)




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