The Texas Rangers have been a force in the American League for the past few years after finally finding the formula for a winning baseball club. The 2010 and 2011 Rangers squads hit a tonne as has been the case for Texas since the early 90’s. It’s important to note that they also had a stellar starting rotation with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and the rented Cliff Lee, to go with a good defense. Their bullpen tightened with the mid-season additions in 2011 of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara along with Neftali Feliz holding strong as their closer. What the Rangers also had was new ownership and management that actually knew how to spend money properly. All one has to do is look at the infamous $252 million dollar Alex Rodriguez signing to see a shining example of the way money had been spent before.
In 2012 however, I was reminded of the ridiculous A-Rod signing with the pursuit of Yu Darvish, over $50 million for the opportunity to sign him followed by another $60 million for his contract over six years. Couple that with losing reliever Darren O’Day and ace C.J. Wilson while knocking Feliz out of the closer role for Joe Nathan and the Rangers lost a step. They collapsed at the end of the year and were forced into a one-game wildcard playoff, started by Darvish, which they lost. So now that the winter free-agent frenzy is upon us, the question is: What are the Rangers going to do?
On Sunday, part of that question was answered as Texas sent their leader for the better part of the last decade, Michael Young, to the Phillies. Reliever Josh Lindblom and pitching prospect Lisalverto Bonilla were sent in return. Despite the fact that Young had a weak year in 2012, it is the exception rather than the rule and his leadership will be greatly missed in 2013. Unfortunately, Ron Washington will have to seek another “go-to guy”. Young will be a free-agent after next year so getting something for him now isn’t the worst idea, but replacing him will require a lot of work this off-season.
At catcher, the Rangers may be in a bit of trouble. Geovany Soto was just locked up but the Red Sox scooped up Mike Napoli. Soto didn’t start his Rangers career off very well and it is questionable whether he is the guy to start behind the plate. There was talk about the Rangers pursuing a trade with the Jays to shoot for J.P. Arencibia or John Buck but a more realistic option may be to sign A.J Pierzynski. A.J is 36 however, and age is a factor at catcher more than anywhere else on the field.
Josh Hamilton remains the biggest question. Now that Zack Grienke has opened the flood gates by signing with the Dodgers, it’ll be a short wait for Hamilton to make up his mind. The Rangers are competing with Seattle and everyone’s favorite money store, the Yankees, among others for Hamilton’s services going forward. When he isn’t hurt or dealing with other demons, Hamilton is arguably the best hitter in the game but he gets hurt a lot and when his head isn’t in the game he is a strikeout machine. Ideally the Rangers would like to keep him but he is not absolutely necessary to keep their starting lineup strong. They still have Adrian Beltre at clean-up and are in hot pursuit of Justin Upton by way of trade, which could involve Nelson Cruz. At 25, Upton could be a franchise player for many years to come. Michael Bourn would be another fine addition to the outfield but Seattle is also courting him along with Hamilton. Any way it shakes out, I find it very difficult to imagine the Rangers falling behind when it comes to offensive talent this off-season.
On the pitching side, the aforementioned Darvish along with Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and a hopefully recovered Colby Lewis may see R.A. Dickey or Kyle Lohse as teammates as it doesn’t look too good for Ryan Dempster to return after being a rent-a-player for Texas last season and Neftali Feliz is in Tommy John land. Things have already started moving in the bullpen department as Joakim Soria is on his way to Arlington for 2 years. Uehara was a casualty as he will join Napoli in Boston and, in my opinion, the best reliever Texas has, Mike Adams is still on the market. It would be good to see him locked down. As for who will close, Soria is likely to fit into a set-up role if Adams isn’t resigned otherwise he will fit in alongside Alexi Ogando to form a strong middle relief platoon. Joe Nathan is a Ranger for one more year so he should close, however if he stumbles look for Soria to possibly jump in.
All-in-all the Rangers, despite losing their clubhouse leader, still lay in good shape as they have a strong core group and a big bank account. I expect at least one major signing/re-signing/trade and more than likely two or three. As a Rangers fan, I would gladly lose Hamilton or Cruz to see Upton come to the Ball Park. The offense will shake out fine but the pitching is where my eyes will be. The heat of Arlington is a fine place for a knuckleballer to go, so I believe Dickey is the best fit for a starter. Texas will face a tougher division this year as Seattle is looking to spend, the Angles shouldn’t underachieve like they did last year and the always dangerous Billy Beane can never be underestimated. So good shape may not be enough and John Daniels needs to get on his horse if he wants to take the AL West crown back.