Rangers 2012 Season Preview
First off, a quick comment about why this post is on my personal blog. I run a Rangers fan site/blog at rangerfans.com – and I’ve been prepping a new version of the site for the last two months or so. I completed it earlier in the week, and had it ready to go. On Wed the 29th, I launched it – or tried to. You see, the server I have it on is a bit old, and underpowered. I’m putting too many things on it, and it’s time for a change. I’ve ordered a new server, but any of my attempts to get the new site up and going on the old server crashes that server, so I have to put my plans to launch the new Rangers site on hold until the new server is in place, which should be around Mar 20 or so. I was really disappointed by that, because I wanted it in place before Spring Training games start on Sunday, but given I apparently can’t, I didn’t want to NOT write about baseball either, and since this blog DOES work right (it’s on a different server), I thought I’d write here for the time being. Once the proper site is working again, I’ll copy any posts from here over there. With that out of the way…
When we last spoke
This won’t be a professional article like you might see on Dallas Morning News, or mlb.com, or espn or something like that. This is just a Rangers fan blogger getting out some thoughts that have been built up since the World Series ended.
When the 2011 season ended, I was pissed off. As were a lot of Rangers fans. I don’t want to revisit the way Game 6 ended, as for me, that clip of Nelson Cruz in right is as grating to me as the clip of Joe Carter’s home run off Mitch Williams in the 1993 World Series is. It’s just a dagger in the heart video clip that I never really want to see again. I was mad, I basically shut down from all baseball activities for awhile. It took me some time to get over that. While I kept up with news somewhat, I mostly tuned out – I didn’t seek things out at all. I even went so far as to sell off my copy of MLB 2K11 for the Xbox 360 early. I usually sell it off somewhere before the start of Spring Training in prep for the new version in March, but this year I got rid of it much earlier than usual. I think it was somewhere around the turn of the year where I started saying things like “You know, a Rangers game would be good tonight”. So as hard as I turned off baseball after the World Series, it just came back on. For some reason, I found myself a bit more eager for the 2012 season to get started. Not because of the possibility of “Three Times a Charm”, but more because of the fact that I just missed baseball more.
A Few Mini Rants
I’m still without cable TV, and I have to say the lack of MLB Network is BLOODY WELL KILLING ME! I mean, I didn’t realize how much of a lifeline that MLBN was in the last few offseasons. Perhaps that has something to do with my increased desire for this season to get started, because I wasn’t still in baseball mode due to MLBN being available all the time. I wrote a letter to the Commissioner’s office (even though I know it will do NOTHING) asking that MLB Network be turned into an actual network. Right now it’s just one channel. Make it a REAL network, and send it out on some over the air channels around the country. If they want to grow it even further, make it available to cord cutters. Or, get 100% of the content (except the games, I’d understand that) to be streamed online live. It seems odd, I can’t just pick up and watch MLB Network on mlb.com. Or get ’em to add those cool video apps to Xbox 360, iPad, or Playstation 3. There’s gotta be a way to get MLB Network without paying an addtl $70 to Time Warner Cable just to have that. Even if I had the desire to hook up Cable TV or Satellite again, I’m not sure if I’d want to go through all the hassle and extra cost just for that and about half a dozen other channels I’d actually care about. We’re doing mostly well with just an antenna (far better than I thought), but I really do miss MLBN a lot.
To that, I do wish MLB would get it’s head out of it’s ass and deal with the blackout rules. The thing that bugs me the most is the fact you can’t watch local games with something like MLB.tv. The reason that’s always stated is they want you to watch the local programming on your channels. OK, fine. I understand that. The solution to me is easy. Broadcast the commercials. MLB.tv goes to this blank screen during commercials that says “MLB.tv Commercial Break” or something like that, and you look at a static screen for like 2.5 minutes during the break. I never understood that. Show the commercials from the local market, and let locals watch the shows on MLB.tv. That way the TV stations that are the purported reason for the blackout still have their advertising protected. I know a lot of cable cutters like myself would RUN SCREAMING WITH WALLETS OUT if the local restriction were removed. I can’t tell you how fast I’d buy it if that were the case, because I can’t measure in time increments that small!
OK, I think I’ve channeled my rage at losing the off season into those first few paragraphs. However, I didn’t intend my first post of the 2012 season to be an all out rage-fest, so I’ll get to baseball, and offer my thoughts on various events of this past offseason.
The majority of the 2012 squad is mostly the same. Not all the same, mind you – but for the most part, it’s the same crew that went to the series last year. The biggest changes are at the top of the rotation and closer. The rest of the major pieces are the same. That’s a pretty nice consistency, but whether it can translate into a third trip to the World Series in as many tries obviously remains to be seen. I’ve seen many references to “Third Time’s a Charm” during the off season, and I really hope so. I’d rather not go there at all, then go there and lose again, coming dangerously close to becoming the Buffalo Bills. :(
The biggest departure is obviously C.J. Wilson. Wilson bolted for his native Southern California after not being given the contract he wanted from Texas. Texas offered him a contract, but it struck me as the kind of offer that makes it look like we tried, even though we really didn’t. I initially thought the attempt to make him a starter wouldn’t work, but it did – quite well. I ate some crow on that, but I also kind of figured that if he got to free agency, he’d be gone, that he’d either end up with the Yankees or the Angels. I didn’t see the Angels getting Wilson AND Pujols, but that’s another story. He’ll probably be more comfortable in Anaheim than Arlington. I also am pretty convinced his post season utter failure in 2011 probably contributed to his not being here now. I doubt it was solely responsible, but it had to have SOMETHING to do with it. I’m a little unclear whether he’ll do really well out there, or end up out there like Gary Matthews Jr did.
The other departure that isn’t as talked about, but is also important I think, is that of Darren Oliver (to the Blue Jays). Given Oliver developed into a quite good lefty reliever later on in his career (as opposed to the “eh” starter he was earlier in his career), I’m a bit surprised the Rangers didn’t try harder to keep him. There was stated interest on both sides about him staying. As I write this on March 2nd, I can’t recall if we actually made him a formal offer. The biggest surprise to me was that it mostly left us shorthanded on the left side of the bullpen. As of today, Mike Gonzalez is still out there, and there’s been stated interest from both sides, but the Rangers appear to be holding firm on the “we can’t add any more salary”. It was talked that we were moving Koji Uehara to make room for Gonzalez, but Uehara is still here after vetoing a trade. All this non movement opens up a possibilty for Michael Kirkman, I suppose. I think lefty bullpen might be an issue, I guess I’ll have to revise this thought once we break with the 25 man roster.
The other off season departures are less of an issue, really. Taylor Teagarden had unproduced himself out of a viable roster spot here, Andres Blanco was kind of “there”; and is probably easily replaced, Endy Chavez seemed servicable, but given the OF logjam, he probably didn’t have a shot. Matt Treanor was a guy I really liked, but he too was behind the eight ball with Napoli’s breakout season, and Torrealba under contract too.
The biggest new fish for the 2012 season is obvious. I’ll talk about him last. There’s more than just a guy who shows up wearing what looks like a marijuana T-Shirt in an airport. There’s a few other things.
Joe Nathan as the new closer is probably the biggest change other than the obvious one Yu know about (See what I did there? Har). Nathan’s a bit of a gamble to me. His injury has been well chronicled – it cost him the clear closer job with the Twins. He did return last year, and was pretty decent in the second half of the season. While that’s a strong leadin, I do have to wonder if it will hold up over here. It’s not a question of whether he will be the closer, he was anointed the closer from the moment he signed, so it’ll probably be sink or swim with him out there. Not unless he totally “Mark Clark’s” the thing, and needs to be replaced, like Frank Francisco did a few years ago. BTW, I can’t stand “You/Yu” jokes. That’s probably the last one I’ll make here. I had to do ONE. :)
Brad Hawpe is a 1B/Outfield minor league invite that hold some interest to me. He was a guy who had some success when he was with Colorado, but isn’t quite the big name he used to be. I followed him for awhile, because he helped me out with home run totals on fantasy teams a few years back. I like the name, but I can’t see him making a huge impact, unless we have to bring guys up from the minors due to injury. Or trade. He’s probably here to be a AAA insurance policy type of player. Still, I’d like to see him up in the big show somehow.
The other guys who are inbound are all guys I don’t expect to make any kind of impact. There’s always a bunch of those signed who are in spring only and then never heard of again, or released. This year’s crop is Brandon Snyder, Joe Beimel & Conor Jackson. There’s others that are smaller names, but these are the more notables from that group.
Then there’s Yu Darvish. Impossible to talk about the 2012 edition of the Texas Rangers without mentioning him. I say the hoopla surrounding the inbound player who hasn’t yet played an official game with Darvish is greater than the other two that I can recall in my own time (those being Chan Ho Park & Alex Rodriguez). I imagine the hoopla when we originally signed Nolan Ryan back in 89 was a big deal too, but that was before my time. Even with these guys being recalled, I cannot imagine that anything has been more impactful than the arrival of Yu Darvish, and all the throng that comes with him (one of which isn’t his now ex-wife, who would have been up there on the hot baseball wives list). The video of press conferences, and seas of Japanese photographers are insane. Once we get to Arlington, I’ll be curious to see how they handle all that extra throng. The photo wells at Rangers Ballpark aren’t exactly gigantic. There’s no way even a fraction of the people we’re seeing in Surprise will fit in the four photo wells in Arlington. Mostly the photo wells aren’t 100% used anyway, so I suspect they will be now. It’s definitely a circus.
But that will end once the season starts, and he actually pitches. Whether Darvish can break the mold of previous experiments that ranged from “eh” to “awful” with names such as Hideki Irabu, Chan Ho Park, Akinori Otsuka, Yoshinori Tateyama, Koji Uehara, & Kazuo Fukumori remains to be seen. However, given how large of a truck of money they drove up to this guy’s house, combined with the amount of scouting I’ve read the Rangers did on him – one expects the Rangers don’t think he’ll end up on that list. There’ also Daisuke Matsuzaka to consider. He was expected to come over here and dominate, and he didn’t. Darvish has a different feel to me. Perhaps it’s a homer feeling, given I really WANT him to succeed based on the amount of money put into this. I don’t THINK so, but I am a Rangers fan. It might be more accurate to say that I seriously hope he does well, and makes it worth it. I’m leaning towards saying that he will, but given the past (mostly) failures in this department, I do also reserve judgement. I’ll be curious to see how he’s drafted in Fantasy Baseball drafts.
There’s plenty of other issues in play here besides the biggies like Yu Darvish in play. I’ll try and hit some of them. As I write this sentence, I’m 2,330 words into this article, and I haven’t even touched on things like Josh Hamilton, Center Field, Neftali Feliz as a starter, and all that other stuff. Not too bad, I think. :)
He’s had an interesting offseason. Was caught drinking in public again. As any alcoholic will tell you, you never “get over” that, you deal with it for the rest of your life. Unlike the last time, there aren’t incriminating photos of him with women who weren’t his wife. He came out and admitted to it, and given my belief in his beliefs, I suspect his remorse was quite genuine. Nothing from that event will appear to affect him directly on the field, this is an off the field thing. Those can be separated. I’d wager given Josh’s past, it probably won’t be the last time either. Thing is, will the Rangers have him around long enough to find out if there will be a next time?
That brings us to the other issue. In the press conference in Surprise to talk about the relapse, came the famous “I don’t owe the Rangers anything” remark. Probably not the most well chosen words, but this being the age of information where every single letter is dissected, room for interpretation isn’t usually allowed. People glom onto that. An attempt was made to backpedal shortly after that where Josh explained what that meant. All the pro commentators did seem to latch onto that comment in the spirit in which it probably was intended. But the casual “Why don’t we get some pitching in here” kind of fan won’t. They’ll just see that as Josh slamming the Rangers. I don’t – but I also have a feeling that Josh won’t be here next year. I’d really like for him to be. I like the guy’s putting of his faith out front a lot. You don’t see that with many players, but with Josh, it’s always out there. I like that. He’s a great player, too. But he does have a drug, alcohol, & injury bitten body. As healthy as he appears to be, one wonders how many more years he will have. He’s 30, which isn’t ancient, but given how many years he didn’t play, he should have more years under his belt. He doesn’t. If he stays, it will probably be because they decided to go with a shorter contract, say 2 years, maybe 3, as opposed to the 5 or 6 he probably wants. I think this is all dependent on how the 2012 season goes. I don’t think it’s an automatic that he’s gone after this year, but I’d say there’s a fair chance he’s not here in 2013.
2012 will be the 14th season played since I started this site. In all that time, center field has been pretty unsettled. While Borbon has gotten the nod the last few seasons, I think it’s more a case of “well, someone’s out there” vs “He really earned that”. Josh Hamilton also had it for two seasons in a row, but I don’t think most people consider him a true center fielder. That too was more of a “Well, someone’s got to be there”. The way I feel, Julio Borbon is gonna get his last shot here to get the job. He was doing pretty decently last year until injury, and then lost the job. If he goes out there and is decent, he’ll probably get the nod, but if he falters, there’s plenty of other options available (Craig Gentry for one), including one that’s somewhat expensive for a mostly-rookie (Leonys Martin). If Borbon does get the Game 1 nod to start in center field, it will be the first time in bloody ages someone has had that assignment for three seasons in a row. A quick check of the records shows these names going backwards from 2011: Julio Borbon, Julio Borbon, Josh Hamilton, Josh Hamilton, Kenny Lofton, Laynce Nix, Gary Matthews Jr, Laynce Nix, Doug Glanville, Carl Everett, Bo Porter, Ruben Mateo, Tom Goodwin, Tom Goodwin, Damon Buford, Darryl Hamilton, Otis Nixon, David Hulse, David Hulse, Juan Gonzalez, Gary Pettis, Gary Pettis, Cecil Espy, Oddibe McDowell, Oddibe McDowell, Oddibe McDowell. You have to go all the way back to 1986/87/88 to find someone who has had the starting center field job on opening day three years in a row. It’s been QUITE unstable to say the least. Some of the possibilities we have could farm out long term, but my gut feeling says that unless Julio Borbon dominates during the spring, the streak will continue. I personally would like to see Craig Gentry step up and earn that job. I have always liked him. He reminds me somewhat of Rusty Greer. What I think will happen will be Borbon will open, and probably get supplanted during the season at some point by Craig Gentry or Leonys Martin. The flip side is that if Borbon does play well, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him traded and have one of the other options step in out there.
We try again for the third year in a row to move one of the relievers into the starting rotation. It’s worked so far. Feliz will be following CJ Wilson & Alexi Ogando into that path. I’d be lying if I said was confident in either of those two stepping up and getting it done. But Feliz is more of a question mark. Sure, he can gas it up, but that’s not the kind of thing that works for a starter unless you’re Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson or someone like that. I’m hopeful he can put it together, because we’re taking Alexi Ogando OUT of the rotation, and putting him back in the pen. I’m a bit surprised by that, to be honest. I figured Ogando did well enough to stay in, but that’s not what’s happening. I really don’t have a handle on how Feliz might do as a starter long term. Need to see him actually go out there and pitch – and something more meaningful than the first 2-3 starts of the spring too when you’re only expected to go an inning or two at most. Which wouldn’t be a stretch for a former closer. This is too up in the air to call, I think.
In 2010, Mitch Moreland seemed the heir apparent at first base. A young kid with great power, a lefty that was a decent defender. Then in 2011, he almost fell off the map. Felt like Chris Davis Part II. Great prospect, didn’t put it together. Then during the off season, we found out Moreland was playing hurt, and caused problems trying to overcompensate for the injury, pretty much making him next to ineffective as a hitter. When that wasn’t known, most fans I know of (including myself) had written him off. But if he can bounce back, that will work out nicely. I do like the kid, I hope he works out, because I don’t believe there’s a future stud at 1B in our system that’s anywhere near ready to take over if he fails when healthy. There was talk of Prince Fielder, and I have to say I liked that talk a little, but once it came out what the Tigers paid for him, there was no bloody way. This one is more of a “I hope he gets it together, because I want to like him” thing. Yes, we have immediate short term options at 1B if he doesn’t come through, but nothing internal for a long term solution at that high a level.
Mike became a fan favorite in 2011, acquiring instant rock star status in Arlington. I don’t think most fans were expecting much of him when he arrived, so that’s probably why it happened so fast. I’m a bit surprised we couldn’t come together on a long term contract. He’s only signed through 2012, and then he’s eligible for free agency after 2013, so there’s still time. I suppose if he repeats anything close to the second half of 2011 in 2012, he’ll be in line for a bigger payday than the $9.4M he’ll make this year. I’d like to keep him, because catcher has been pretty unstable since Pudge departed almost a decade ago. Sure, there’s been “supposed to be great” prospects that weren’t (Salty, Teagarden), some guys that were pretty good for a short period of time (Yorbit Torrealba, Gerald Laird, Rod Barajas, Matt Treanor, ), other kind of “just there” guys (Einar Diaz, Max Ramirez, Adam Melhuse, Sandy Alomar, Todd Greene), and then the forgettables (Guillermo Quiroz, Chris Stewart, Miguel Ojeda, Ken Huckaby, Danny Ardoin, Chad Kreuter), but nothing that actually materialized at the major league level for any long term length. I was really thinking Mike Napoli would be the long term option. If we get another season like 2011, I say we make a real effort to get it done. Give him what he wants, he’s popular, and he’s pretty decent. We could use some stability behind the plate.
Read a few cool stats about the Rangers starters in 2011. They tied for the lead in the AL with 99 quality starts. The starting staff had a total of 994.1 innings pitched, fifth in the AL. That’s quite an accomplishment given the horrendous pitching the franchise has been associated with in the past. Of the starters from last year, all but one are back for 2012, that being CJ Wilson. If you look at CJ’s numbers for 2011 in the chart below, they’re pretty good numbers. They’re not impossible to replace, but that’s directly where Yu Darvish steps. I suspect at a minimum most people will expect him to match CJ’s numbers for 2011. It’s a huge unknown, given how well, unknown Darvish is in MLB in terms of how he’ll actually pitch in real games. Beyond that, here’s the numbers for the whole rotation for last year.
That’s 73 wins for the starting five, a pretty respectable number for sure. There were also five other games started by guys who weren’t these five. They were Dave Bush (3) & Scott Feldman (2). Bush didn’t win any of his games (as he ended up with an 0-1 record), and I’m not sure about Feldman at the moment. Either way, the starting rotation had some nice numbers. A few thoughts.. Way too many home runs allowed by Colby Lewis.
The other thing is that Ogando’s going back to the bullpen and Feliz is coming into the rotation. I talked about that above, but if you apply the same comparison with him as I made with Darvish, can we expect Feliz to match Ogando’s 13-8 record? I doubt Feliz will have that super torrid streak in the first half that Ogando did, but who knows? It’s not impossible, obviously, but I can’t see it happening, to be honest. :)
Overall, I have no reason to believe that Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Colby Lewis will do anything else than what they did in 2011, so I’m gonna bank on them repeating. The variables are Darvish & Feliz. If they just MATCH the numbers of Wilson & Ogando for last year, we’re in great shape. If they do better, then hey – it’ll be amazing. I’m feeling mostly confident in the rotation, if not completely confident.
Our bullpen has some potential to be awesome, but for now, it’s all mostly potential. If you look at the possible candidates for the bullpen based on what I’m thinking before any spring games are played, we have this lineup:
- Joe Nathan – The new closer. If he pitches like he did in the second half of 2011, things will be fine. If he doesn’t, well, then we don’t have much in the way of backup in house except moving Feliz back there, and that kind of stuff destroyed Joba Chamberlin, I think. I would hope the Rangers wouldn’t do that. Unknown, but with a big upside.
- Mike Adams – When he came here last season, he was lauded as a total shutdown guy. Initially, he was bad when he FIRST got here, but turned it around. If he comes into the season with a proper head of steam, we have a good one here.
- Koji Uehara – Came over here from Baltimore mid season with a reputation much like Adams. However, he wasn’t that good. Not atrocious, but not that great. Word was that he was tired at the end of the season, and should fare better in 2012. We tried to trade in him the offseason, but he vetoed that.
- Scott Feldman – Was our opening day starter just a couple of seasons ago, got hurt, and when he came back, there was no slot for him in the rotation. He’s a rather well paid long man. He’s probably also second in line for a starting gig or a spot start if we need it behind Ogando. No problems here.
- Yoshinori Tateyama – According to what I’ve read since we signed Darvish, he was signed partially in prep for a possible signing of Darvish to have a countryman here. Not that he wasn’t without merit – but he tailed out at the end of the season, and was left off the World Series roster. Not sure what to make of him. Definitely not confident in him, much like a friend of mine (hi Jeff) was never confident with Darren O’Day.
- Michael Kirkman – While his numbers have never been spectacular at all, he probably has a pretty easy path to a bullpen slot, merely because he is the only left hander in the pen at the moment. Had we traded Uehara, we probably would have resigned Mike Gonzalez (who is still a free agent as of today), but unless Kirkman stinks it up in spring training will be in the bullpen.
- Mark Lowe – Acquired while on the DL with Cliff Lee, he’s been a serviceable, if not spectacular bullpen guy. No problems here.
- Mark Hamburger – Might make the pen, pitched a bit in 2011. Doesn’t bother me, but I don’t have a ton of track record to base an opinion on here. Probably not a lock, has to earn it, might end up in AAA as well. Will depend on how the spring goes here, I’m sure. This is a guy that makes me wish Josh Lewin were still here; he’d have fun with the name for sure.
If everything works right, Ogando, Adams, & Nathan will be a great back end of the bullpen. We have a pretty good long guy, and decent rest of the guys. Why we let Darren Oliver go is still beyond me, and I’m hoping the lack of lefty (for now, anyway) doesn’t come back to bite us in the backside.
Saved this until later in the report, because well, we know what’s gonna happen here. We have an offense that can hit the ball. Assuming everyone stays healthy (mostly Hamilton & Cruz), we should pound some runs again. While they’re not all power guys like Napoli, Cruz, Hamilton, & Beltre, we have a lot of guys who can just hit the ball all over the place, led by Michael Young, who shows no sign of slowing down hitting wise. Michael Young goes into 2012 at age 35 with 2,061 career hits. If he stays around his usual average of 200, he’d need to play to age 40 to get to 3,000. Not unrealistic at all – would love to see that, but that’s not a chat for the 2012 season.
My guess at a starting lineup based on the current possibilities are:
- Ian Kinsler – 2B
- Elvis Andrus – SS
- Josh Hamilton – LF
- Michael Young – DH
- Adrian Beltre – 3B
- Nelson Cruz – RF
- Mike Napoli – C
- Mitch Moreland – 1B
- Craig Gentry – CF
Gentry is the only real guy I don’t expect a ton of offense out of. But overall, it’s a solid and balanced lineup, assuming everyone does what they’re supposed to, and stays on the field. David Murphy is still here too, and will be the fourth outfielder, and roving OF guy. No idea who the 2012 version of the utility/25th man will be, as all the usual suspects for the last few years are out of the system, I believe. That will probably come from one of the gaggle of NRI’s. Mike Olt, maybe? Brad Hawpe is an interesting idea, too. Hard to tell, it’s way up in the air.
I’m very much looking forward to the 2012 season. I wish we’d have a different TV broadcast team. I wouldn’t mind Josh Lewin coming back, but he took a job with the Mets radio, so that’s not an option.
Overall, I expect the Rangers to win the division, although it will be a bit closer this year, I think. I don’t want to predict the playoffs before we have even played an official spring training game, but I have a feeling the Rangers will three-peat as AL West Champs. Let’s hope it’s a three peat in the Fall Classic as well. The only thing that will stink about getting back to the World Series again is that we’ll have to bloody well see the Cruz Game 6 thing again. I don’t want to see that!
I didn’t set out to write a book here (I’m now over 5,000 words), but it just kept flowing, so I went with it. Baseball season is back, and I can’t wait for it to get going for real.