Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Texas Rangers 2008 Preview: Another Long, Hot, Losing Summer

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

There's not a lot of good that one can say about a 75-87 team, so I won't waste much time here trying. The Rangers offense was mediocre, their best hitter was traded at the deadline, and the rotation was a complete disaster. Over the winter the Rangers traded a pitching prospect for a high upside/high risk center fielder, signed a talented but fragile and troublesome rightfielder, and a high upside/high risk starter. Well, it beats signing a high risk/low upside problem like Sammy Sosa again.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Usually the AL version of Coors Field, the Ballpark in Urban Sprawl played as a pitchers park in 2007. However, the Rangers still scored more runs at home than on the road. They actually were sixth in the AL both at home and on the road. After trading Mark Teixeira to Atlanta the Rangers lacked a power core in the lineup, with only Sosa (21), Brad Wilkerson (20) and Ian Kinsler (20) reaching 20 homers. Niether Sosa nor Wilkerson is returning in 2008. Michael Young racked up his customary 200 hits and Hank Blalock had his best season since 2004, albeit one that was limited to 58 games by injuries.

LF Marlon Byrd/Frank Catalanotto
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Hank Blalock
RF Milton Bradley
1B Ben Broussard/Chris Shelton
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Gerald Laird
DH Jason Botts

If your DH is batting ninth, you either have an awesome lineup or don't understand the concept of the DH. You make the call here. To be fair, the DH spot will probably be a group effort and probably will move around the order. A DH named Bonds, on the other hand, could just stay in the third spot all year, but the Rangers don't seem interested in that. It is a bit scary to think of what a healthy Hamilton might do if the Ballpark returns to its usually Coors Lite ways. It's also scary to realize that Hamilton will be battling serious addiction problems for the rest of his life.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Rangers pitchers took full advantage of the suddenly helpful Ballpark in 2007, allowing half a run fewer at home than on the road. That didn't make them good, just slightly less lousy. No one who started more than two games for the Rangers last year had an ERA under 4.50; seven of them were over 5.00. The bullpen was much better; how could it be worse?

SP Kevin Millwood
SP Vincente Padilla
SP Jason Jennings
SP Brandon McCarthy
SP Kason Gabbard

CL C.J. Wilson
RP Eddie Guardado
RP Joaquin Benoit

This isn't a championship quality rotation. No one in this group has the ability to step forward and pitch at the level of a Beckett, a Lackey, a Sabbathia, or a Verlander. It's hard to see any of these guys as even a number two on the better AL teams. Wilson does not project as anything other than a temporary closer. Guardado is 37 and coming back from two years of injuries. Benoit is the best pitcher in the bullpen and could be closing by mid season, although he doesn't project as a new Mariano Rivera, either.

Witnesses for the defense

The Rangers made the most errors of any AL club in 2007 and were middle of the road in defensive efficiency. Hamilton brings a great arm to centerfield. Bradley and Byrd in the corners are defensive improvements over what Texas fans have been watching there lately. Young is a Jeter-esque shortstop, and by that I don't mean a guy who should be mistakenly given Gold Glove awards.

Farm aid

The Rangers have been upgrading their farm system. The bad news is that most of the better prospects are not anywhere near major league ready. Righthander Eric Hurley and lefthander Matt Harrison are likely to join the rotation sometime later this year. Neither looks like a number one starter but both would be upgrades over the likes of Kason Gabbard.

Watch out for that tree!

Millwood, 33 this year, allowed a boatload of hits in 2007. If the Rangers aren't contending by July (which seems likely) they should try to find a taker for him before his declining strikeout rate sinks further. Of more concern is a 27 year old outfielder. Josh Hamilton, as you all probably know, missed several years of his career due to drug addiction problems about as serious as you can have. While we'd all love to believe that he showed in 2007 that his problems are behind him, problems like that never are. Every day of the rest of his life will be a struggle, and if he misses a step, his career could end just like that.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

With some luck this could be a .500 team, but the odds are against it. The starting pitching is just not good enough, and the offense, while potentially good, isn't strong enough to carry the pitching. GM Jon Daniels needs to remain focussed on the farm system and should explore any offers for Michael Young, his most valuable veteran trade chit. Daniels didn't hesitate to send Teixeira, a better player than Young, to Atlanta a year ago for a good package of prospects. It would be best for the franchise to do the same with Young.

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