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?
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: