Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency and couldn't replace those bats with a big signing or trade. General manager Jon Daniels also failed to land a top free agent starting pitcher like Zack Greinke. With the A's on the rise after winning the AL West last season and the Angels signing Hamilton, Texas faced a third-place finish in their division. The Angels collapsing for the second consecutive season, along with a logjam of AL East teams fighting for wild-card bids, helped the Rangers stay in contention. Though Daniels did make midseason moves to add talent to the roster, Texas never did seem to recover from their offseason losses. The constant uphill climb finally wore the team out by the end of the season.
Preseason 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.
What Went Right: Going into the season, the Rangers arguably didn't have a No. 1 starter. But Yu Darvish seized that role in the rotation, giving Texas the ace it sorely needed. Darvish will probably finish second to the Tigers' Max Scherzer in AL Cy Young Award voting, but a strong case could be made for him. He led MLB with 277 strikeouts, the highest season total since Randy Johnson punched out 334 batters in 2002. Darvish also finished among the top four AL starters with a 2.83 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, while his .194 opponents' batting average was the best in the league. Darvish also surpassed 200 innings, the sort of workload a top-of-the-rotation starter needs to log.
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan was one of the best closers in the AL, racking up 43 saves while compiling a 1.39 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He also struck out 73 batters in 64.2 innings, a rate of 10.2 strikeouts per nine frames. Nathan has a $9 million option for 2014, an expensive salary for a closer. At 38 years old, Nathan looks like he has plenty left. Yet with Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Joakim Soria all in-house as cheaper options, the Rangers will probably buy him out.
On the offensive side of the ball, Adrian Beltre once again hit like a MVP candidate. He led Texas with a .316 average, .880 OPS, 30 home runs and 92 RBI. Hamstring injuries throughout the year may have affected his defense at third base and definitely seemed to sap him of power late in the season. In September, he hit only two home runs with a .687 OPS.
What Went Wrong: The Rangers came into the season looking like a lesser team with Daniels unable to sufficiently replace Hamilton and Napoli in the lineup. As could have been expected, the offense was less potent than in recent seasons. Texas scored 730 runs, placing them seventh in the AL. Compare that to a league-leading 808 runs in 2012. However, allowing 636 runs — the league's fourth-best total — helped cover for those offensive shortcomings.
A.J. Pierzynski provided some left-handed power at catcher, but taking a chance on what was left of Lance Berkman didn't work out as hoped. Daniels also didn't handle Nelson Cruz's pending PED suspension particularly well, failing to acquire an insurance player as Detroit did with Jose Iglesias for Jhonny Peralta. That left the lineup short-handed until the Rangers were able to swing a waiver deadline deal for Alex Rios.
Ultimately, however, it was the month of September that did in the Rangers. At one point, Texas was 5-15 for the month — falling 8.5 games behind the A's in the AL West — before winning seven straight to end the season. That at least extended the Rangers to a Game 163, in which they had an opportunity to win a tiebreaker for the AL's final wild-card spot. But for the second straight year, Ron Washington's team played poorly down the stretch. That could very well be a factor in his future job status as Rangers manager.
Most Surprising Player: Center field was a concern with Hamilton's departure. The Rangers knew they wouldn't be able to replace his power, but could upgrade the position defensively and take the opportunity to add some speed to the lineup. Leonys Martin began the season in a platoon with Craig Gentry. But by June, the 25-year-old had claimed the position for himself.
Martin provided another threat on the basepaths to go with Elvis Andrus (and later, Rios), allowing the Rangers to use the running game that Washington favored. He finished the season with 36 stolen bases, the fourth-highest total in the AL. Martin also played excellent defense in center. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he saved 10 more runs than the average player at that position. Center field is no longer a concern for the Rangers, at least for the next two years that Martin is under contract.
Most Disappointing Player: Matt Garza only started 13 games for the Rangers after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs. But the expectation was that he could be that No. 1 or 2 starter that the team coveted. Daniels reportedly had concerns about Garza being able to be an ace-level starter, but ownership leaned on him to make the move.
Unfortunately for Texas, Daniels' concerns about Garza turned out to be astute. He went 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in those 13 starts, including five starts in September during which Garza compiled a 5.02 ERA and allowed 38 hits in 28.2 innings. That's hardly the sort of performance the Rangers were hoping for, especially considering they gave up pitching prospects C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez, both of whom the front office was high on. Texas won't even get a draft pick for Garza when he signs elsewhere, since he was a midseason acquisition.
The Future: The Rangers should still be competitive in the AL West for the next couple of seasons, but Daniels will have to do a better job of finding veterans to fill in the roster gaps and mix with an increasingly young core of talent. Yet after Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez, what was once a deep farm system has been depleted. The Garza trade in particular tapped out what minor league depth the Rangers had.
Profar should be a major league regular next year, but will Texas move Ian Kinsler to another position or trade him to open up second base? Or could Profar play left field in the near future? That's a position the Rangers need to address this offseason, whether it's by re-signing Cruz or pursuing a free agent like Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo. Between outfield help, another starting pitcher and a catcher (Brian McCann?), Daniels will have a similar offseason shopping list to the one he had last winter.