2013 season preview: Texas Rangers

While the Rangers led the AL West from nearly wire to wire, they never dominated the division like many expected. On September 1st, their lead over the A's was just three games. On September 27th, with just six games remaining in the regular series, Texas was four up on Oakland. Then…they collapsed. The Rangers went 1-5 in the last two series of the year, including a three game, season-ending sweep at the hands of the A's that pushed the Rangers into the wild card game with the Orioles. Baltimore won the game 5-1, and Texas' season ended with a whimper. This winter, the Rangers suffered more meaningful losses than perhaps any other team in the league, and 2013 could be a trying year.

Rangers on TOC
End of Season Postmortem
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I’m a Dreamer (11:30 AM)
2013 Burning Question (12:45 PM)
This Is My Nightmare (2:00 PM)
X-Factor (3:15 PM)
Top Ten Prospects (4:30 PM)

Depth Chart (as of 2/14)
C: AJ Pierzynski/Geovany Soto
1B: Mitch Moreland
2B: Ian Kinsler
SS: Elvis Andrus
3B: Adrian Beltre
LF: David Murphy
CF: Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry
RF: Nelson Cruz
DH: Lance Berkman
SP: Yu Darvish
SP: Derek Holland
SP: Matt Harrison
SP: Alexi Ogando
SP: Martin Perez
CL: Joe Nathan

New Faces
Pierzynski and Berkman are the two new guys that will play the most significant roles with the Rangers, and both will have to replace the production that Mike Napoli gave the Rangers over the last two years. Pierzynski will be playing in a platoon with Geovany Soto, acquired at the trade deadling last season from the Cubs, while Berkman is expected to get most of the playing time at DH and potentially first base if Mitch Moreland struggles. Texas also brought in former Royals closer Joakim Soria, recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he won't be ready until the end of May. Other, lesser acquisitions by the Rangers this winter include bench bat Jeff Baker and a trio of relievers, Josh Lindblom, Jason Frasor, and Rule 5 pick Coty Woods.

As mentioned in the last section, Napoli left the team as a free agent, signing a one year deal with the Red Sox after the initial three-year deal he had agreed to with them was voided due to concerns about his hip. Superstar outfielder Josh Hamilton also departed Arlington, signing a five-year deal with the division rival Angels. Texas dealt long-time third baseman Michael Young to the Phillies for Lindblom (and salary relief), and also saw relievers Koji Uehara and Mike Adams head east (to Boston and Philadelphia respectively). The Rangers declined options on Scott Feldman and Yoshinori Tateyama, and watched Mark Lowe sign with the Dodgers and Roy Oswalt sign…nowhere, yet. There's also the matter of starter Ryan Dempster, who followed Uehara and Napoli to Boston on a two-year deal.

Impact Rookies
The Rangers have a solid duo of rookies to keep an eye on in Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, though there isn't room in the majors for either quite yet. Profar, the top prospect in all of baseball, is a guy who the Rangers refused to trade this winter and will look to shoehorn into their lineup sooner rather than later. Olt might end up being trade bait due to Beltre's contract, but he could probably start at third base for many teams in the league right now. The Rangers will also give Cuban signee Leonys Martin a shot in center field this spring after the departure of Hamilton, and they're hoping he'll play well enough to earn the every day job. On the pitching staff, Martin Perez is currently penciled into the rotation and Tanner Scheppers into the bullpen, despite both players struggling at times in the majors in 2012. 

Position Battles
Pierzynski and Soto isn't much of a battle as opposed to a platoon, but if Pierzynski hits well enough against lefties, I wouldn't be shocked to see him steal at bats from Soto. The battle for the center field job between Martin and fourth outfielder Craig Gentry will be an interesting one, because while Gentry doesn't have nearly as much upside as Martin, he's a solid hitter with great defense, which makes you a league average center fielder in this day and age. Perez might not have a rotation spot locked up yet, but the Rangers don't have much better options as of right now aside from Justin Grimm, who could probably use a full season in AAA this year.

Injury Concerns
The Rangers will be without two starting pitchers, Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis, to start the year. Feliz is likely out for the entire season after August Tommy John surgery, while Lewis could be back in late April or May after flexor tendon surgery last summer. Soria is also going to miss the start of the season while recovering from Tommy John. Aside from those pitchers, Berkman played in just 32 games in 2012 due to endless knee problems, and Cruz has had problems with his hamstring for years (though he didn't miss any significant time in 2012). Oh, and Holland also missed a month of action last season with shoulder fatigue. Is that all? Texas is team walking on eggshells with all of the injury concerns about significant players on the team.

Burning Question
Are the Rangers going to be able to adequately replace the offense that Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli provided to the team in 2012?

Best Case
Everyone stays healhy, Feliz and Lewis come back ahead of schedule to shore up the rotation, Holland pitches like he did in 2011 that got him a contract extension, and the Rangers smash their way through the AL West. Another 30/30 season from Kinsler and another under the radar MVP caliber season from Beltre would help matters too. If Darvish is also able to build on his solid second half, this team could be one of the best in baseball.

Worst Case
Quite frankly, the Rangers' season depends a lot on health. If Berkman isn't able to get 500 plate appearances, the house of cards in Arlington could begin to crumble. There's also disaster potential with a young rotation, where Ogando is the elder statesman at 29 (with under 300 career major league innings on his resume). I could honestly see the Rangers finishing as low as third or fourth in the division, depending on what happens in Seattle.

Realistic Prediction
I'm not ready to write the Rangers off after their 2012 collapse quite yet, but there are signs that this team is going in the wrong direction. If the team puts too much faith in Lewis and Soria returning to their old forms and immediately rescuing the team when they return, it could be a really bad sign for their season. I could see the Rangers winning anywhere between 80 and 100 games, but I'd probably end up on the lower side of the spectrum. They're in the upper half of the teams in the American League, but their status as a playoff team rests a lot on what happens with the rest of the league.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.