USA TODAY Sports
This is the second installment in a series of previews on the A's direct competitors, and the two other teams in the AL West.
As far as their offseason, it's not so much about who the Rangers signed as who they missed out on. Despite their television contract money, they were unable to land any of the marquee free agents that were ever linked to them. Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn... even Ryan Dempster all ended up spurning the Rangers for greener grass in Cleveland and Boston, respectively. Their money also could not compete with the Los Angeles teams, as they lost out to the
Springfield Isotopes Los Angeles Dodgers on the Zack Greinke sweepstakes. Adding insult to injury, Josh Hamilton was courted by the Angels and eventually left the deathly Texas heat for the mild breezes of Orange County, and Mike Napoli ended up in Boston (his hip, however, may still be lost over Dallas). Finally, they could not negotiate an agreement to move either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar for Justin Upton. While that ultimately may prove to be a prescient non-move for them, the bottom line is that their offseason could have been a lot better.
That said, they did acquire fan-favorite A.J. Pierzynski, setup man/second closer Joakim Soria, and Zombie Lance Berkman. In addition, they also shed the corpse of Michael Young, which is essentially an addition by subtraction. Either way, though, on paper Texas appears to have had the least impressive offseason of any team angling to be contenders for a division crown.
Let's look at all their roster moves over the offseason based on the 40-man.
C A.J. Pierzynski - Free Agent (CWS)
C Konrad Schmidt - Waivers (ARI)
C Eli Whiteside - Waivers (TOR)
1B Lance Berkman - Free Agent (STL)
RHP Lisalverto Bonilla - Trade (PHI)
RHP Jacob Brigham - Trade (CHC)
RHP Cory Burns - Trade (SD)
RHP Jason Frasor - Free Agent (TOR)
RHP Josh Lindblom - Trade (PHI)
RHP Mark Lowe - Free Agent (LAD)
RHP Joakim Soria - Free Agent (KC)
RHP Coty Woods - Rule 5 (COL)
LHP Jeff Beliveau - Waivers (CHC)
LHP Tommy Hottovy - Trade (KC)
C Luis Martinez - Waivers (BAL)
C/1B Mike Napoli - Free Agent (BOS)
1B Chris McGuiness - Rule 5 (CLE)
IF Michael Young - Trade (PHI)
OF Josh Hamilton - Free Agent (LAA)
RHP Mike Adams - Free Agent (PHI)
RHP Wilfredo Boscan - Trade (SD)
RHP Ryan Dempster - Free Agent (BOS)
RHP Scott Feldman - Free Agent (CHC)
RHP Barret Loux - Trade (CHC)
RHP Koji Uehara - Free Agent (BOS)
LHP Tommy Hottovy - Waivers (TOR)
Summary and projections
Here is their projected starting rotation, at least to begin the year:
(Remember, of course, that Colby Lewis had elbow surgery in middle of last year, and will likely return to the rotation after the All-Star Break this year. Neftali Feliz will also return midseason, but will likely return to the bullpen. I guess that experiment is over with.)
Darvish clearly has ace-level stuff, despite the high walk totals. He will obviously anchor the rotation no matter what. It's Holland and Harrison, however, who are going to make this rotation seem deep, or have Texas clamoring for rotation help before the All-Star Break. Let's compare these two over the last couple seasons:
Harrison K% / BB% / HR/FB%
Holland K% / BB% / HR/FB%
Both are indeed above-average, with Harrison quietly being a Top 25 AL-pitcher over the last two seasons. That said, it is Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and home runs can be a problem. Holland had a slight HR tendency last year, inflating his FIP- to 107, where in 2011 he was at 91. Given the park's tendency for home runs in general, it seems both pitchers could fall victim to relatively random fluctuation in HR/FB%, and move them from above-average to average or worse. Certainly, all their pitchers are subject to it, but with league-average or lower strikeout rates, those two pitchers may fall especially victim to such randomness. ZiPS projects them out to agree with me in some respects, giving Harrison and Holland an ERA-/FIP- of 96/99 and 107/107, respectively.
It's hard to project a guy like Alexi Ogando, who is a true swingman. As their rotation stands, he will be in the rotation the whole year and it would be Martin Perez who comes out when and if Lewis returns from the DL. That said, Ogando is an above-average starter as well, projecting to pull in an 88/92. In keeping with that observation, ZiPS projects Perez as well below average, posting 130/124. In other words, he's a classic fifth starter.
Bullpen-wise, the Rangers are very strong. Despite the loss of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, the Rangers are still pretty deep. Joe Nathan returns as the closer, he of a 25.7 K% and 6.3% BB%. That's really good, obviously. (Remember that league average K% is around 18.5 and BB% is around 8.5.) Moving on to the others, here are some of the candidates for the bullpen with their projected K% and BB%. Italics denote the likely end result of the bullpen race:
RHP Jason Frasor (no projection available)
LHP Robert Ross 16.3/8.8
RHP Josh Lindblom 20.7/10.2
RHP Tanner Scheppers 17.7/7.8
RHP Coty Woods 14.9/10.0
LHP Michael Kirkman 18.4/13.1
RHP Cory Burns 19.9/8.8
RHP Wilmer Font 23.3/15.7
RHP Evan Meek 16.5/13.0
RHP Yoshinori Tateyama 20.6/7.0
RHP Randy Wells 12.4/8.8
LHP Neal Cotts 15.6/13.3
Once you pull out the dreck, Lindblom, Scheppers, and Tateyama are clearly in the middle group, with Kirkman and Ross rounding out the end of the bullpen. Of course, Ogando could end up back here towards the end of the year, and this is still leaving out Joakim Soria, who is exceptional if he can even regain 90% of his form in his Royals years. So, compared to the Angels' bullpen, the Rangers' bullpen looks pretty solid, with some decent pieces remaining in AAA should they choose to keep someone like Evan Meek and Coty Woods on the 40-man.
Unlike the A's (and like the Angels), the Rangers have a relatively set lineup. Here is what one could expect them to roll out on Opening Day:
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
DH Lance Berkman
RF Nelson Cruz
LF David Murphy
C A.J. Pierzynski
CF Craig Gentry
Honestly, their biggest question is probably where Jurickson Profar plays, if he makes the team at all. This was the reasoning for the proposed Justin Upton trade: if Andrus has two arbitration years left before free agency, and Profar is as good as he is supposed to be, then why didn't they alleviate the logjam and attempt to replace (and likely exceed) Josh Hamilton's production with Upton? Who knows the answer to that question, but we can try using ZiPS to project it. It has him at .322 WOBA, which is basically league-average but really exceptional for a guy who just turned 20 yesterday. Now, is he the next Bryce Harper or Mike Trout? That seems unlikely. But how much he contributes to the Rangers, if he gets the opportunity, may be the difference maker for them.
As far as the other guys, Adrian Beltre is projected to have another excellent year with a .357 wOBA, followed by Ian Kinsler at .344, and Nelson Cruz at .340. Like the A's, no matter what the Rangers do, they'll be deep at every position, with Gentry/Martin platooning in CF, Olt available to backup 1B for Moreland, and Soto as a very good backup C. If Berkman's knees finally disintegrate into radioactive goo, then Kinsler can slot to DH and open up 2B to Profar.
The Rangers are a really solid defensive club, especially in the infield. With Beltre, Andrus, and maybe Profar at 2B, those are at least 2 elite defenders, and one potentially elite defender in Profar. Craig Gentry is excellent in CF, and David Murphy is also above-average. Their weakness is on the right side, where Nelson Cruz is, well, himself, and Mitch Moreland is just an average defender.
Make no mistake - the Rangers are still good. Obviously, they could have potentially leapt over the A's and Angels if they had indeed signed Grienke, traded for Upton, or signed Bourn or Swisher. But they didn't, and there is no going back for them now. They most resemble the A's in almost every area, and the battles will surely be epic. The A's have an edge in bullpen depth and the outfield, but Darvish is more talented than any other pitcher between the two teams, and the infield edge goes to the Rangers. After that, these are two divisional heavyweights duking it out.
In the next installment, I'll look at Seattle. Thanks to @RangersExpress for some guidance on the bullpen situation down there.