Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series. I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball. This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication. Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today! But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.
91-72, second in the AL West
It’s been one sucker punch after another for Ranger fans the last few years. There was losing the 2010 World Series, followed by 2011 that we all remember so vividly (and with much less rocking and weeping than those in Texas do). The next season, the Rangers lose the last three games of the season to the A’s, losing the division and forcing them into the inaugural Wild Card Game, which they promptly lost. Then, in 2013, they win 91 games but can’t even get into the playoffs. Something has to give, right?
To find out, we’ve got a few Rangers bloggers to talk to. Then again, you should be expecting this after 26 of these so far! Today we have:
- Micah writes at Baseball Is My Boyfriend and can be found on Twitter @BaseballismyBF.
- Adam from the SBN Nation site Lone Star Ball. You’ll find him on Twitter @lonestarball.
- Jamey, who puts together The Newberg Report as part of the BBA. His Twitter handle is @NewbergReport.
- David at Nolan Writin’, part of the FanSided network. He does his Tweetin’ @dwcash159.
- Steve, who does the blog entitled One Strike Away…Twice! He’s a BBA member, on Twitter @RangersBlogger and you can also find the blog over on Google+.
- Javier from The Texas Rangers Blog. His Twitter name is @TTRBTweets.
- And finally Rob from Texas Rangers Cards, another member of the BBA. No Twitter handle for him, however.
Let’s jump right in and see if this is the year the Curse of David Freese is lifted!
C70: How would you grade the offseason?
BBF: This is a really tough question. I like a few of the aggressive moves Jon Daniels made — acquiring Fielder and Choo — but I still wish we’d gotten another arm. We did pick up Saunders during spring training, so we’ll see how that pans out. I’m just a little worried about the pitching since Matt Harrison continues to have back issues and Derek Holland found a way to injure himself as well. I guess I’ll go with a B-.
LSB: I’d say a B. The Rangers got some solid, cheap production in landing Geovany Soto, J.P. Arencibia and Jason Frasor on one year deals, as well as taking an interesting flyer on Daniel Bard on a minor league contract, but the offseason ultimately hinges on what the two big bats — Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder — do. The Rangers still need to address the RH bench bat/DH spot, and the rotation depth is worrisome, but overall, it was a very solid offseason.
NR: I’ll say A-. Texas will admit it was a bat short in 2013 — and that’s before Lance Berkman tanked. The offense was in need of a serious boost, and the Rangers committed a ton of cash toward that effort by trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo, and in doing so cleared a spot for Jurickson Profar (by moving Ian Kinsler to Detroit). The trade of Craig Gentry for Michael Choice will end up paying offensive dividends as well — and maybe right away. The one ding on the ledger was the inability to add a reliable starting pitcher in the off-season, given the health issues in the rotation — and that’s before Derek Holland’s winter knee injury.
NW: This offseason I would give Jon Daniels a B+. In my opinion he gets very high marks for the signing of the two big names with Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Both are great acquisitions that should help the team immediately. Also, the departure of Ian Kinsler and moving over Jurickson Profar is another good move that came from that deal. The downside to both of those signings, are the contracts. Both Fielder and Choo will be with the club for several years and will owe them both a lot of money over that time. The long term impact could great, or we could see one or both of them suffer injuries or decline in talent. Also, Jon Daniels has done a good job at finding some potential quality starters with Tommy Hanson and Colby Lewis to add to the rotation. Both are coming in cheap and trying to recover from injuries. It’s a gamble, but each one could pay off big. One thing that hurts his great is the starting rotation, but no one knew a dog name Wrigley would shake things up.
OSAT: It’s funny. When the Christmas season arrived, I did a tongue-in-cheek post on my blog where I was telling Santa Claus what I wanted the Rangers to get for Christmas. The last thing I said was “And I want one of those trades that nobody saw coming”. Can’t remember if it was the day after I posted it or two days later, but shortly thereafter, Prince Fielder was a Ranger and Ian Kinsler wasn’t. It was the start to a relatively productive off-season, though one that doesn’t look as good when looked at through the prism of the Rangers’ current injury woes. Adding Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo immeasurably helps the offense, which struggled a year ago to be the feared line-up it once was. We fans might have wanted more, like a front-line pitcher following the freak injury to Derek Holland, but come on, Texas had already committed large sums of money to Fielder and Choo. There just wasn’t enough left over to bid on Tanaka in Japan or even Ervin Santana. Instead, Texas settled for Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson to give some back-end innings until Matt Harrison and Holland are ready to go. JP Arencibia was also added to be the back-up catcher to Geovany Soto. If hitting coach Dave Magadan can get some improvement from Arencibia, the off-season could look like an A-. As it stands now, I’ll grade it a B.
TRB: C-. And that’s being nice. Profar is out, Soto is out. Holland is out. Kins is gone. Sure Fielder and Choo were added but pitching is a huge question mark and little was done to address it.
TRC: Tough question. I’m going to say B+. Jon Daniels upgraded the offense like he needed to but the pitching looks like it regressed. That’s due in large part to the injury to Derek Holland and that’s a hard thing for a GM to overcome.
C70: Will Prince Fielder be just what this team needs?
BBF: I have a hard time subscribing to the theory that one player will make a big difference. I am anxious to see what Prince brings to the team — on the field and in the clubhouse. Certainly, I am hoping he will provide some much-needed offensive production at 1B.
LSB: It depends on which Prince Fielder shows up. If it is the Prince Fielder from 2013, the Rangers are going to be very disappointed, and the financial obligation they owe to Fielder over the next six years will look that much more onerous. The pre-2013 version of Prince, though, would be a huge boost to a lineup that struggled to replace Josh Hamilton last year.
NR: He should be. If he hadn’t had an off-year in 2013 (which would have been a standout year for most players), he’d have never been available. His power speaks for itself, but his durability should be huge for this club and his ability to grind out at-bats (same with Choo) will be a manifestation of what Dave Magadan preaches and what some of the younger players in this lineup could stand to learn from.
NW: Yes, he’s at least one part of it. Fielder comes to Texas looking for a fresh start and I expect him to do just that. He had a down year for him, which would be a good year for almost any other player. He’s bringing the power in the lineup they lost when Josh Hamilton left. And he’s seems a guy that will be a clubhouse leader.
OSAT: If there’s anything I’m worried about offensively, it’s that Fielder will put up closer to Nelson Cruz numbers than Ryan Braun ones (no Biogenesis tie-in intended). Cruz had good numbers before his suspension, but Fielder needs to put up better than that. The Rangers are gambling that last year’s “down” year for Prince isn’t indicative of a career decline phase. Certainly Fielder’s numbers should be better just by playing 81 games at Globe Life Park (formerly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington) vs. the vast expanses of Comerica Park, especially considering the cozy right field porch in Arlington. Even if he doesn’t put up numbers comparable to when Josh Hamilton was here, he does bring a big presence to the middle of the line-up that should improve the offensive output. Adding Choo to the mix at the top of the order, with his high career OBP, should mean Fielder has plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. No one player is just what a team needs, unless the one player is named Trout or Cabrera. But I’m banking on Prince bouncing back and being a force for the offense.
TRB: Does Prince play second? How many different pitches does he have? In other words no, he’s not just what the team needs because there are too many holes for one player to fill.
TRC: No. This team needs pitching. He should help up the offense though and that’s what last year’s team needed.
C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?
BBF: The catcher position is the most interesting one to me right now. Geovany Soto returns as the veteran (at least of this team), but I expect J.P. Arencibia to make some noise as well. I don’t know if there will be room for Robinson Chirinos this year, but I’d love to see more of what he can do.
LSB: The back end of the rotation fight is the one to watch. With Derek Holland hurt, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez have rotation spots locked down, and you’d think Alexi Ogando is likely safe, but with Colby Lewis, Tommy Hanson, Nick Tepesch, and a dark horse like Robbie Ross vying rotation jobs, the Rangers could have some hard decisions come the end of spring training. I think the Rangers’ dream scenario is for Lewis and Hanson to both be healthy and have the sort of stuff that would allow them both to join the rotation, with Ogando going back to the bullpen.
NR: Texas wants Neftali Feliz to reclaim the closer’s job, but his velocity hasn’t come all the way back and Joakim Soria has had an outstanding camp in what should be his true bounceback year after Tommy John surgery. That competition could play out all the way until the end of camp.
NW: There might be a tie with the most intriguing roster battle. When Geovany Soto was named the primary catcher, no one knew that later on J.P. Arencibia would be signed. Going into spring training both are about tied as far as batting average and their defense behind the plate. But, in my opinion, Soto edges out Arencibia. One reason, he’ll be catching for Yu more than likely all year. And he is able to call a good game. But at this point it is anyone’s race. Also, the close role is up for grabs. This one probably isn’t as close as the catcher position. I think Neftali Feliz will easily get the job over Tanner Scheppers and Joakim Soria.
OSAT: Just a few weeks ago, I would have said it was just going to be who would be the closer: Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria or Tanner Scheppers. Now there are any number of interesting storylines at play. The closer is still a battle that is yet to be won. Thanks to the injury to Holland and the longer than thought rehabilitation progress of Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison, the back end of the Rangers rotation has become an interesting battle. One would think the signing of Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson would make it an easy decision, but neither has been lights out in the spring, while Scheppers and Robbie Ross have both done well being stretched out as starters. Wash is going to have a difficult decision to make here. The last battle is also due to injuries. Mitch Moreland has a strained oblique, Adrian Beltre has been slowed by strained quads, Jurickson Profar had shoulder tendinitis then dental issues and Elvis Andrus a sore throwing arm. That’s led to an interesting battle between veterans Adam Rosales, Brent Lillibridge and Kevin Kouzmanoff for utility infield roles. The Rangers may go with two extra infielders to start the season. Right now, Rosales might be the odd man out.
TRB: At this point the roster battles are who will play 2B with Profar out for a while. Next would be the battle for the last few spots in the starting rotation.
TRC: Starting rotation. After Darvish and Martin it’s pretty much a shootout. Tepesch just got cut but Harrison, Ogando, Saunders, Hanson, and Scheppers are still in the hunt. The battle will continue into the regular season to determine who loses their job when Derek Holland returns.
C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?
BBF: I honestly don’t have an answer for this one. I’ve had a hard enough time keeping up with our major league roster this winter that I’m not even sure what possible rookie debuts we could see. I know they aren’t rookies anymore, but I’m really excited to see more from Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin.
LSB: If a rookie has an impact in 2014, it will likely be Michael Choice, the former 1st round pick acquired for Craig Gentry in the offseason. Choice is likely going to be in AAA to start the season, but will be the first player the team looks to if an outfielder goes down or if DH Mitch Moreland struggles. Among pitchers, there are numerous rookie pitchers — Wilmer Font, Ben Rowen, Roman Mendez — who could contribute out of the pen, but keep an eye on Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, the Rangers’ 2013 first round pick who is an advanced college pitcher that could be up in a hurry.
NR: If his camp performance is a sign of things to come, Choice has a real chance not only to avoid a return to AAA but also to be a difference-maker right away, seeing time at DH as well as all three outfield spots.
NW: Michael Choice will probably make the most impact. He’s one of their top prospects and I expect him to play sometime this year. You’ll probably see him a time or two when Shin-Soo Choo is getting time off. Also, Choice is able to play anywhere in the outfield.
OSAT: That’s an easy one: Michael Choice. The Rangers picked him up from Oakland in the Craig Gentry trade. Everyone expected him to start the year at AAA Round Rock, but he has simply been the best offensive player in the Rangers line-up this spring, forcing his way onto the roster. Moreland’s oblique injury and Choo’s tender elbow in the throwing arm could mean a lot of quality at bats for Choice early in the season. By season’s end, there could be a rookie pitcher that helps out in the bullpen, but Choice’s ceiling is such that if he performs well enough to force more than 300 at bats, it could trigger the trade of a regular like Moreland at the trade deadline.
TRB: Maybe Rougned Odor at 2B if Josh Wilson doesn’t work out replacing Profar at 2B.
TRC: Michael Choice. Whether the impact is positive or negative remains to be seen. What Jon Daniels is trying to do with him worked with Elvis Andrus but it’s risky. Anytime you go with an unproven player as an every day starter it’s a coin toss. Hopefully he can handle it and develops into the full-time outfielder Texas is banking on.
C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
BBF: I’m going to be a total (and unapologetic) homer and say my boys will win the division with a record of 94-68.
LSB: First place, 95-67.
NR: So much depends on Matt Harrison and Holland’s effectiveness when they return to action, but this is a team that seems poised once again to finish in the 90-win tier. I’ll say 93-69 and a first-place finish in the West.
NW: I’m always the ever optimist. I think this year the Rangers will win the division. But it will come down to the last week of the season. They’ll finish with a record of 94-68.
OSAT: This is a real tough one for me. Texas has compiled four straight 90 win seasons. They have the talent to make it five in a row. The question is, do they have the healthy bodies to do it? Offensively, I think the Rangers will be better. The bullpen should be solid, even if Scheppers moves to the rotation. The bullpen WILL be asked to throw a lot of innings, at least early, while Harrison, Lewis and Holland try to get themselves back in shape, but even when they return, will they be as effective as they’ve been in the past? I really hate to do this with “my” team, but I’m going to pick against making it to 90 wins this year, ending at 88-74. I sure hope I’m wrong about that. As to where they’ll finish in the division, I’m actually going to shoot for first place. The Mariners are improved but I don’t think they have enough offense to win it. I think the Angels will be better, too, although an offensive improvement might be off-set by a bad pitching staff. The A’s are still the team to beat, even with Jarrod Parker‘s injury. Improvement in Seattle and Anaheim will translate into a tighter AL West, so even with 88 wins, I’ll say that’s enough for Texas to squeeze out the division title.
TRB: Just a guess of course with so many question marks. 87-75, they somehow finish second in an evenly matched division.
TRC: 92-70. Second. Hoping they can surprise me, do better than that, and get past the A’s.
C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?
BBF: I have to pick just one? Really? I guess I’ll say Adrian Beltre then. I love watching what he can do with his glove and his bat. Plus, his on-field chemistry with Elvis Andrus is adorable.
LSB: Elvis Andrus. And its not even close.
NR: I’ll be surprised if there’s ever a player I dig watching play the game more than Adrian Beltre. Ever.
NW: I’ll answer this in two parts. I love watching Yu Darvish pitch. His ability to throw a ball in the high 90s then turn around and strike a batter out on a 60 MPH ball is unbelievable. As far as a position player, Adrian Beltre is my favorite to watch. The plays he’s made at third are amazing and fun to watch. Then you have the drop to one knee home runs, it’s hard to beat that.
OSAT: I only get one??? That’s not right Daniel!!! On defense alone, there are three Rangers worth watching: Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Leonys Martin, who has a cannon out in center field. But if I HAVE to limit it to one, right now it would be every fifth day when Yu Darvish takes the mound. When Darvish is on, there is no filthier stuff to watch. He’s still working on harnessing it all but on any given night, Darvish can make some of the world’s best hitters look downright foolish at the plate. He finished in the top 5 in the Cy Young race in 2013 and that was in a year that I thought he was pretty inconsistent. There are actually debates in Rangers country as to whether he’s truly an “Ace” yet. He has ace stuff, but I’m in the category of he’s not quite there yet. He doesn’t pitch into the 8th often enough and sometimes nibbles too much when he gets a batter to two strikes. Still, like a certain former Rangers player named Ryan, Yu Darvish is the type of pitcher that has the stuff to have a magical night just about any time out, so those are appointment games for me.
TRB: By far Adrian Beltre. From his weird phobia of him getting his head touched by his teammates in the dugout after he belts a homer to him keeping things light in the infield and joking around with Elvis, any base runner on 3B, or an ump, you can tell he enjoys playing the game. And I think this year he’s going to firmly take over as a/the leader of the ball club.
TRC: I really don’t watch a lot of games, radio is my preferred medium when I can’t get to the ballpark. When I watch I like seeing Adrian Beltre. He’s always a stop and watch guy at the plate but his defense is incredible. Elvis Andrus comes in a close second. Speed on the bases, agile defense, and always upbeat. Defense is underrated in today’s game and seeing it played well is worth the price of admission.
My gratitude to everyone who took some time to answer these questions. It seems like it’ll be another fun summer in Arlington with those Athletics squarely in the Rangers’ sights!