When you describe the 2014 Texas Rangers, one of my favorite expressions comes to mind: the perfect storm. That best describes the Rangers of last season, a season that had high expectations after some bold moves made in the prior offseason. I admit, I had the Rangers winning the AL West last season. I loved the trade for Prince Fielder and thought the signing of Shin-Soo Choo would have worked out better last season than it did. The trade of 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit opened up 2B for top prospect Jurickson Profar. Of course, the injury bug hit the Rangers harder than any team in baseball last season, starting with Profar.
Injuries are part of the game and have to be expected to happen. Teams that get through injuries and are still able to rise through it are given extra credit for what they have done. However, there are some seasons that it is understood that a team cannot stay competitive without any of their top players. It plagued the 2009 New York Mets and it really was amazing that the 2013 Yankees won 85 games with the injuries that they sustained. The Rangers had the same problem, with Fielder playing just 41 games and Mitch Moreland just 52 games. Choo’s season was shortened as well. But the biggest hit was taken with to team’s pitching staff.
If you were told the Texas Rangers would use 40 pitchers last season, any expectations of even a .500 season would have to have been put to rest. Derek Holland returned to the rotation in September and pitched well, 2-0, 1.46, 6 games, 5 starts. Matt Harrison had his season and maybe career end after just 4 starts and Martin Perez was held to 8 starts due to Tommy John surgery with Tanner Scheppers season ending after 8 games, 4 starts. The biggest blow to the pitching staff was the loss of Yu Darvish (10-7, 3.08, 22 starts). Not having Darvish set the pitching staff back and was the major reason the team used 15 different starting pitchers, 9 of whom made 8 or more starts.
The Rangers acquired RHP Yovani Gallardo (8-11, 3.51, 32 starts) from the Brewers giving the Rangers a solid 1-3 of Darvish, Holland and Gallardo. That would be great if it wasn’t for the fact that Darvish just had TJ surgery leaving the Rangers in the spot where they left off in 2014. Colby Lewis (10-14, 5.18, 29 starts) continues his on-again/off-again big league career. He missed the 2013 season and returned to lead the AL in losses in 2014. He is likely to be the team’s 3rd starter. However, with the quality of arms battling for the 5th starter spot, Lewis’ spot may not be such a guarantee. LHP Anthony Ranaudo (4-3, 4.81, 8 starts) comes over in a deal from Boston and LHP Ross Detwiler (2-3, 4.00, 47 games, 0 starts) comes over in a deal from Washington. The two of them will compete with right handers Nick Martinez (5-12, 4.55, 24 starts) and Nick Tepesch (5-11, 4.36, 22 starts) for the number 4 and 5 spots in the rotation. I can see either Martinez or Tepesch improving a little bit from next year and can see Detwiler emerging as a solid starting pitcher.
The Rangers bullpen will be led by closer Neftali Feliz (2-1, 1.99, 13 saves, 30 games), who returns for his first full season since 2011. RHP Shawn Tolleson (3-1, 2.76, 64 games) and LHP Alex Claudio (2.92 ERA, 15 games) lead the contingent to get to Feliz, with Scheppers getting a good look to be the 8th inning pitcher. Among the other options, I like veteran Michael Kirkman (0-1, 1.59, 12 games) to emerge as a solid LHP option. RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (4.85 ERA, 15 games) comes over from the Cubs and if he is healthy, he could become a reliable option as well.
Having Fielder (.247, 3, 16), Moreland (.246, 2, 23) and Choo (.242, 13, 40) all healthy this season will mean a lot to the Rangers offense. I have the most concern with Choo, who seemed to not be the same player he was in 2013 when he was healthy. 3B Adrian Beltre (.324, 19, 77) is the team’s best all around player and in spite of a little bit of a decline, SS Elvis Andrus (.263, 2, 41) is still an above average offensive and defensive player. 21-year-old Rougned Odor (.259, 9, 48) has a huge opportunity to become the team’s second baseman of the future. Profar may have Wally Pipped his shot away, though even if he did, there is another MLB team that will give him a shot, especially at his age.
The Rangers OF will contain Choo, last year’s starting CF Leonys Martin (.274, 7, 40, 31) and LF Ryan Rua (.295, 2, 14 in 28 games). Rua has shown some power in the minors including hitting over 30 in 2013. Robinson Chirinos (.239, 13, 40) will be the starting C with Carlos Corporan (.235, 6, 19) coming over from Houston to be the backup. The Rangers best lineup looks like this: Andrus SS, Odor 2B, Fielder 1B, Beltre 3B, Moreland DH, Rua LF, Choo RF, Chirinos C, Martin CF. I can see Rua hitting for some power which makes this a fairly decent offense. Adam Rosales, Michael Choice and Ryan Ludwick should give this team some depth in case of an injury. Choice or Ludwick can take over for Martin and Rua if they are ineffective.
Maybe at some point this season, the Rangers can make room for top offensive prospect Joey Gallo. He only hit 42 HR last season. The only problem is he may not have a position. Beltre is at 3B, which is Gallo’s natural position and Fielder is at 1B. Moreland may be able to move to a corner OF position but I can’t imagine Gallo becoming a DH at age 22. I guess if he hits, they will find a place in the lineup for him. Delino DeShields was a Rule 5 draft pick from the Houston Astros and perhaps he makes the team opening day. If he does, it will simply be because the Rangers want to keep him not because they intend for him to play everyday.
The Rangers went 67-95 last year, a product of the injuries the team suffered through. New manager Jeff Banister is a very good baseball mind and will be a good manager. He will get the most out of these players. However, I do not want to get to crazy with my predictions of this team. A lot still has to go right for this team to compete for a playoff spot. I think the lineup has some depth and their starting pitching is projected to be better than last year. I don’t think an 16-game improvement from last year is too much to ask for. I just don’t see them making it to the playoffs. I think the Rangers will go 83-79, finishing in 3rd place in the AL West division. Vegas had them at 77 1/2 for the O/U, which is 10 1/2 games over where they finished in 2014.