Friday, February 5, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Texas Rangers

Some might say that the Texas Rangers made some off-season moves and Rangers fans might say that the team looks good. I say that this is the same old, same old by a miserly owner who managed to get a couple of names instead of actual talent. That said, I still think the Rangers have an interesting team, let's dive in.

2009 Record: 87-75, 10GB Los Angeles Angels (2nd place, AL West)

Key Departures:
The Rangers were not very active in the trade market in the off-season, but did lose several players to free-agency. I would not consider any of the players lost to be high-impact players, aside from Kevin Millwood perhaps.

Kevin Millwood (SP) - The Rangers traded Millwood and $3MM in cash for Chris Ray, a relief pitcher. This was purely a salary dump move for the Rangers, and Ray, if he can regain the form he had earlier in his career, could be a competent reliever.

Ivan Rodriguez (C) - lost via free-agency to the Nationals, not a big loss here. The Rangers are hoping that Jerrod Saltalamacchia can stage a comeback at catcher, and if not him, then Taylor Teagarden would be their catcher.

Omar Vizquel (SS) - lost via free-agency to the White Sox. Vizquel is solidly on the back-end of his career. He still sports some pretty good fielding skills (0 errors last year in limited playing time), but at 42, Vizquel is probably heading into his final year.

Andruw Jones (OF) - lost via free-agency to the White Sox. Remember when Jones was good? Wow, that was a long time ago. Anyway, as a Twins fan, I hope his career continues to flounder.

Eddie Guardado (RP) - lost via free-agency to the Nationals. Since his dominating days with the Twins, Guardado has fallen on harder times. The fact that the Rangers didn't want to extend him probably says as much as the Nationals signing him.

Key Additions:
Here are the names, like I said in the opening, there is nothing special about any of these players.

Vladimir Guerrero (OF/DH) - free-agent from the Angels, this could end up being a good deal for the Rangers, Guerrero still has something left in the tank, though he a HUGE injury risk.
Rich Harden (SP) - Ok, the best of the bunch. Electric when he's rollin', but injury prone.
Chris Ray (RP) - came over in the Millwood trade.
Darren Oliver (RP) - free-agent from the Angels.
Clay Rapada (SP/RP) - free-agent from the Tigers.
Khalil Greene (IF) - free-agent from the Cardinals.
Colby Lewis (SP) - free-agent from Japan.

Talent En Route:
The Rangers are well-known around baseball for the depth of talent they have in their farm-system. According to Baseball America, they have the best farm-system in all of baseball. (source) Short of going through all of their high-level prospects, here are a couple of the most exciting ones.

Neftali Feliz (SP/RP) - Feliz is about as exciting as it gets. 21 years old, 98 mph fastball, and showed that he can handle major league bats last year (31IP, 39K, 1.74ERA). However, as with any young fire-baller, the Rangers will be very hesitant with him and it is unclear whether Feliz will get a chance as a starter this year (as he was in the minors) or if he'll be in a relief role. My bet would be on a combination of the two.

Martin Perez (SP) - 18 years old, a lefty, and throws a 92-96 fastball with a + curve and change-up. Perez is more-than-likely a September call-up, but yeah, look out, we could be talking the next Johan Santana...

Justin Smoak (1B) - "where there's Smoak, there's fire." Sorry I couldn't resist, I'm sure geniuses like Jon Miller will love to use that one when it's time. Smoak is going to be challenging Chris Davis this spring for the starting 1B job in Arlington. He bats for a decent, around .300 average, has had a consistently high OBP throughout the minors, and possesses power from both sides of the plate. It won't be long before this kid is a regular.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
Besides a few one-year deals that the Rangers inked during this off-season (Guerrero, Oliver, Greene, Harden) the picture really won't change much in 2011. All of the aforementioned players will be arbitration eligible (besides Greene) as will Hamilton, though I would expect the Rangers to either sign him up for a longer-term deal or trade him. This year, the Rangers rank 19th in MLB for payroll, which is not likely to change much as most of their valuable pieces are locked up beyond this season.

The Future of the Rangers:
The AL West outta be pretty intriguing this coming year. Seattle made a ton of moves (as chronicled earlier), the Angels appeared to be somewhat weakened and the Rangers, who were right in the mix last year, appear headed in an upward direction this season. With all of the fantastic young talent that the Rangers have, plus an impending sale of the team to a group headed by HOFer Nolan Ryan, this team could be on the precipice of lasting competitiveness.

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