2011 Texas Rangers: The more things change...
BaseballEvolution.com 2011 Spring Preview
by Karl Wright, BaseballEvolution.com
March 31, 2011
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.
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.
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.
| 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|
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.
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
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.
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
Prediction: 93-69 (1st in AL West)
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