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
again are the "strength" of the rotation. This has disaster written all over it,
right? Maybe..... or maybe not.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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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