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TEXAS RANGERS '08: FIGURING OUT WHO FITS IN 2009
One year ago yesterday, in the 2007 Texas Rangers preview (entitled Anything Can Happen), we presented an interview with "the Rangers fan," Jamey Newberg, who we called (and rightfully so) "the man who has probably written and published more words about that team than anyone else in the Internet age."

Okay, enough of the pleasant reminiscing. In that preview, Newberg laid out a prediction of 86 wins for those 2007 Rangers; they actually won just 75. (But don't worry, Jamey -- in the very next paragraph, I projected 92 wins and a Wild Card playoff berth.) When Newberg projected an "impact trade in July" last season, he probably wasn't anticipating Kenny Lofton to the Indians and Eric Gagne to the Red Sox, much less Mark Teixeira, the most productive hitter in the Ranger lineup, to Atlanta. (The Projected Ranger Win Total numbers from both of us are likely to be, erm, lower this year.)

But as Blue Jays fans Of a Certain Age can assure you, hope springs eternal every -- um, well, every spring for baseball fans of all teams, so let's check back in with our old pal Jamey (yes, he does have a member's account here at Batter's Box). So once again, this'll be like the Internet equivalent of talking baseball with a buddy over a beer or two Ė a Molson in the one hand and a Dos Equis in the other. Let's get to it ...

As with last year's preview, Batter's Box's original questions are in bold, Newberg's (pictured, left) responses are in plain text, and when relevant, Batter's Box additional comments are in italics.

Lots of places seem to project the AL West as a two-team (LAA, SEA) or even three-team (OAK) race. What needs to happen to make the Rangers a contender? (Translation: Lay out your best-case scenario for TEX in '08).
First, the Angels need to have starting pitching issues. This is their division to lose. If LA comes back to the pack enough that they hover around the mid-80s in wins, Texas can compete if several things happen. [Josh] Hamilton and [Milton] Bradley staying healthy all year. [Kevin] Millwood and [Vicente] Padilla, too. Either [Brandon] McCarthy or [Kason] Gabbard stepping forward to win 10-12 games. [Hank] Blalock hitting like he did at the end of [last] summer. [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia starting to put it together offensively. Chris Davis arriving in June or July to give the lineup a boost. Not all of those things need to happen, but without most of them falling into place, 2008 will be about figuring out who fits in 2009.

Coming from the other direction, only twice in their 35 seasons in TEX have the Rangers lost 100 games -- and that goes back to their inaugural two seasons, 1972-73 when they strung up 205 losses for Ted Williams, Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog and Del Wilber. What is the worst-case scenario for the Rangers in 2008?
Unanswerable without knowing who gets hurt. If two of the top three in the rotation miss more than a dozen starts Ö if closer becomes an issue due to injury Ö if someone like Hamilton or Kinsler gets hurt Ö then yeah, we could be looking at 100 losses. I think 87 wins, while a longshot, is a more likely outcome than 100 losses.

The Brandon McCarthy injury -- how much will it affect the Rangers in the first part of the season? The rotation -- Millwood, Padilla, Jennings, Gabbard and (who?) actually raises huge question marks over the heads of casual fans all over the nation. Will this be another year of throw-it-and-duck baseball in Arlington? (Addendum: Sidney Ponson? Really?)
Luis Mendoza is the frontrunner to step in while McCarthy is sidelined. If he pitches well, he might bump Gabbard from the rotation when McCarthy returns. Guys like Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison are coming, even if theyíre not quite ready. Same with A.J. Murray, who is being converted back from relief to rotation. Darkhorse to be this spring what Mendoza was last summer: Doug Mathis. Key to Ponson: stopgap to make sure the club doesnít capitulate to an urge to rush one of the kids.
Note: stopgap or more than that? Last week, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Rangers manager Ron Washington, among others, was "very impressed" with Ponson's initial Spring appearance. Comeback Player of the Year?

The bullpen, often a strength in Texas (where have you gone John Wetteland?) features C.J. Wilson as the likely closer, with aging and/or injury plagued guys like Eddie Guardado, Frankie Francisco and Joaquin Benoit, plus the "will-he-adjust?" Kaz Fukumori all in the mix. How do you see that playing out?
If healthy, itís a solid, versatile, dependable pen, just as it was in 2007.
Maybe we can attribute the briefness of Newber'g's answer here to a little silent "knock on wood" for a 'pen that, even if healthy, is a candidate to be very overworked.

The Rangers of recent history have always seemed to have one or two signature "big name" superstars -- Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Pudge Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Sammy Sosa -- who fills that role now, or does it even need to be filled? Michael Young is a great player, but doesn't really have the A-Rod/Pudge/Sammy "there goes a Hall-of-Famer" recognition (though he may well get a plaque there someday); Hank Blalock has, due to injury issues, fallen off the stardom radar; who does, or at least can fill that role?
Josh Hamilton.
Another short answer, but as you will see below, Hamilton is potentially the kind of guy that Fantasy Baseball League owners are going to win a championship with by stealing him in an early-mid round. Hamilton is reportedly becomig friends with Milton Bradley and it is conceivable -- or so the Rangers presumably hope -- that they will be good influences on each other. Oh, and though we all know that Spring Training numbers are rubbish, Hamilton IS hitting about .600 (with power) in March!

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: catching ahead of (or shared with) Gerald Laird, or at 1B ahead of (or shared with) Ben Broussard? Is this guy going to develop into the perennial All-Star everyone thought he might become after the Teixeira trade, and if so, playing where and by when? (Talk about your impossible questions to answer!)
Heís apparently behind in the two-man race to start behind the plate when the season starts, but ultimately itís his job . . . at least until Taylor Teagarden is ready, but thatís another issue.
Laird is also better defensively and showing some power this Spring Training. "Salty" could end up at 1B until Chris Davis is ready (see below) or even at DH when Bradley is finally ready to play the field.

If the Rangers were to somehow produce winners in any "big award" categories, who can we look out for to be the surprise winner? In all fairness, I have my picks below ... the most likely and the dark horse in that order where applicable:
  • MVP: Michael Young; Josh Hamilton
  • Cy Young: No chance, that I see.
  • Rookie of the Year: Metcalf and Botts not eligible any more? Hurley, Davis (if Salty catches), who else? Fukumori?
  • Comeback Player of the Year: Jason Jennings or Milton Bradley (though both are darkhorses there!)
I donít see any of those panning out, but Hamilton is an MVP candidate . . . some day. Probably not in '08, though. Davis as ROY would be a possibility if he werenít going to be on the farm for a couple months. I do like the idea of Bradley as a Comeback Player, but he probably played too much in '07 to be a true candidate.
In fairness, I don't see any of those panning out either, although I do believe Hamilton could be an MVP candidate as early as this year. But these are some of the "most likely" candidates on this team -- which tells you something about the team itself. The proliferation of serious potential award candidates in 2009-10 will be a sign of whether or not the Jon Daniels era is working out..

Do you (or in the past, did you) ever play fantasy ball? Either way, any hot tips for guys in the BBFL (Batter's Box Fantasy League) mostly composed of Canadians who might want to take a late-round flier on somebody they don't know about in an area of the continent, North Texas, that seems even more far away than it is?
I was [closer] C.J. Wilsonís biggest proponent last year at this time (including in this very space,) even when he was anonymous. I donít have quite as much confidence in Josh Rupe but I do think he could surprise a lot of people in a 7th or 8th-inning role.

Ian Kinsler: the better BA/OBP of 2006, the more power of 2007, or legitimately better in both areas?
This is Kinslerís breakout year, in every phase. Including defense.

Tom Hicks seems to have become quite the soccer -- sorry, European football -- fan (and owner). Should this pose any concern to the Rangers?
I donít think so. The best move Hicks made as far as management is concerned was to bring Nolan Ryan in on the business side, particularly given Ryanís commitment not to mess with the work Jon Daniels has done on the baseball side. In fact, Ryan was clear that the opportunity to work alongside JD was one of the main reasons he decided to take this job.

What are your impressions of the Ron Washingtom era after one season?
Like many young players, Wash got better as the season wore on, shaking off some rookie (manager) mistakes. The jury is still out, but we all saw progress last summer.

What are your projections for the Nolan Ryan era?
This team will compete in two years. Might even surprise some people in 2009.

Happy, more or less, with the Jon Daniels era?
Very happy. Heís doing this the right way, with the blessing of ownership, and heís doing it well. Heís got a tremendous team of front office grinders.

We've been through worst-case and best-case scenarios and a bunch of other stuff ... so, Jamey Newberg's official projection for the 2008 Texas Rangers is ...

78-84. Third place in the West.
Jamey and I are on the same page (or in this publication's case, the same screen) ... the latter part of the above question to him (not shown) read thus: ... to be fair, I see them winning 77-80 games and finishing third in the division ahead of (gasp) a flailing A's team but well back of the M's and Halos.

A few final thoughts ...
Jamey knows more about the Rangers than just about anyone not named "Daniels," so most anything I could add here would be secondary at best. That said, here goes ... the Rangers aren't going to be very good this year, but should be a lot of fun to watch.

If Milton Bradley, Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis gel in 2008, this could be a very good club come 2009 -- but honestly, the likelihood of that happening rests more with guys like Eric Hurley and Kea Kometani becoming legitimate big league pitchers of the sort the Rangers haven't seemed to have since Bert Blyleven left town a quarter-century ago.

Above you read projections from a couple of North Texans putting the '08 Rangers at about 78 wins, with a maximum hoped-for of 87 or so. The 2008 Rangers winning the AL West? Well, it wouldn't
quite be on the scale of The Miracle Mets of 1969, but don't bet your lunch money on it. Again, though, this will be a very fun team to watch.

Hey Bauxites -- want to know more about the Rangers? Access the Newberg Report and its peripherals!

The Web site: http://www.NewbergReport.com

The Mailing List: Free (and very entertaining) near-daily missives written intelligently and focusing on both minor league (Ranger system) and major league players. Find out how to sign up here.

The Book (pictured, left): Jamey's "ninth annual book on the Texas Rangers. It's more than 300 pages commemorating the 2007 season, beginning with the search for a new manager and moving into a season that got off to a disappointing start before things got interesting." Learn more about the book and how to order it (or any of the previous eight editions) here.
Rangers '08: Anything Can Happen? Really? | 4 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
S P - Monday, March 17 2008 @ 12:14 PM EDT (#181107) #
Once again, Texas simply doesn't have the starting pitching to compete with the AL West, let alone the AL. They probably have the worst rotation in the AL. Last year, they had one starter with a sub-5 ERA and that was McCarthy with 4.87. Sure, the A's have their own pitching woes but not nearly as bad as the Rangers. Texas' offense might just be good enough for 3rd in the division instead of 4th, but it's just the same ol' same ol' again. Of course, this won't stop Texas from owning the Jays head-to-head again.
Magpie - Monday, March 17 2008 @ 12:57 PM EDT (#181108) #
Newberg laid out a prediction of 86 wins for those 2007 Rangers...in the very next paragraph, I projected 92 wins

Whereas I shrewdly identified them as my choice to win the 2007 World Series. So... relax.

I may have put a just little too much faith in the Showalter Effect last year, but I am not discouraged. Pythagoras says they were just as good as Seattle anyway, W-L record notwithstanding. And after their awful start, the Rangers were basically even with the Angels over the last three plus months of 2007 (Texas finished 52-45; the Angels were 54-43 over the same period.)

If they win 83-85 games and finish second, no one should be remotely surprised. They may do better than that.
robertdudek - Wednesday, March 19 2008 @ 09:23 PM EDT (#181176) #
A little off-topic, but an open question ...

With a league average pitching staff, how many games would the Angels "B" team win?

So, excluding the starting 9:

1b- Kendry Morales
2b - Sean Rodriguez
ss- Maicer Izturis
3b - Brandon Wood
cf - Reggie Willits
rf- Juan Rivera
lf- Nathan Haynes
c- Jeff Mathis
c2- Ryan Budde
util - Robb Quinlan

I think this team could finish ahead of the Rangers.

Alex Obal - Wednesday, March 19 2008 @ 10:08 PM EDT (#181179) #
Interesting. I think the #1 reason that team would finish ahead of the Rangers is the league-average pitching staff.
Rangers '08: Anything Can Happen? Really? | 4 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.