Deep in the heart of Texas, beyond the rodeo arenas and high school football fields, they play a sport with a stick and a ball. Two teams’ worth, as a matter of fact. One of them might even be pretty good. But today we are talking about the Rangers.
Were they even good last year?
OK, to be fair, they did win the AL West. Actually, they led the AL in wins with 95, despite a run differential that suggested their win total should have be closer to 82. For the second season in a row, they sold off farm pieces at the deadline to complement a mediocre roster, holding off the competition in the AL West. Also for the second year in a row, they went quietly in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.
What’d they do this offseason?
Well, they brought back Mike Napoli to play first base and torture the Angels. He had a very Napoli-esque season with the Indians last year, hitting a career-best 34 HR, while also punching out a career high 194 times. This will be his third stint in Texas, where he has always enjoyed the friendly confines of their beer league softball field. He will be backed up by James Loney, filling the all-glove, no-stick void at first base left by Mitch Moreland.
To fill out the rotation, they swooped in and signed two damaged former Padres. Tyson Ross had a few great seasons in San Diego before he was limited to a single start last year thanks to thoracic outlet syndrome. Not sure what it is, but apparently it affects the shoulder. Nah, doesn’t sound too serious.
Andrew Cashner has had his own bouts with injuries the last few years and has generally been terrible despite electric stuff. But he has a scraggly beard that will fit right in, so Texas gave him $10 million, anyway. They also signed Dillon Gee away from the Royals for rotation depth. Maybe you’ve never heard of Dillon Gee, but I looked him up and he’s been an actual major league pitcher for the last six years. He also had a 5.55 ERA as a starter last year, with an ERA+ of 91 in his career.
What is their strength?
The Rangers are turning back the clock to their 90’s heyday of all-offense, no-pitching playoff disappointments. Besides Napoli, they will now boast Jonathan Lucroy for a full season, possibly the best offensive catcher in baseball. Adrian Beltre just keeps on hitting. Rougned Odor came from out of nowhere to hit 33 HR, though watch for his awful plate discipline to get exploited now that the league will see him coming. Nomar Mazara looks like a monster and hit 20 HR as a 21 year-old rookie, with solid peripherals. Look for him to compensate for any regression we see from Odor.
Carlos Gomez turned around his season and possibly his career after an adjustment made by hitting coach Anthony Iapoche. While I wouldn’t bet on him replicating his .284/.362/.543 line with the Rangers last season, expect him to provide enough offense along with his usual strong glove work in center.
What is their weakness?
It feels weird to say a rotation led by Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels is a weakness, but when they are followed up by 2016 holdovers Martin Perez (4.39 ERA and 4.7 SO/9) and A.J. Griffin (5.07 ERA, 2.1 HR/9), there should be reason for concern. With newcomers Ross and Cashner still recovering from injuries, their competition for fifth starter is still wide open.
Yohander Mendez is an interesting prospect, but with only 111 IP in the minors last year, expect them to take things slow with him. Nick Martinez entered camp as a viable candidate, despite mediocre numbers in AAA. He is having an awful spring and no longer appears to be in the running. You’d be forgiven if you confused their other pitching prospect with a lovable 70’s golf sensation, but unfortunately Chi Chi Gonzalez tore his right UCL and received a PRP injection, so we will have to save our To Wong Foo... cracks for now.
As things stand today, the fifth spot looks like a race between Gee, Rule V selection Mike Hauschild, and knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who was designated for assignment by the Rays in February.
So, what can we expect?
Last year I was cocky and predicted the Rangers’ mediocre run differential from the previous year would translate into some heavy regression for our boys in Baseball Town. As many of our buds over at Lone Star Ball were happy to remind me throughout the year, that didn’t work out so well.
So this time around I will take a different approach. I don’t care that literally hundreds of baseball writers concluded that Texas has had fortunate stretch of luck the last two years. Nor does it matter that Fangraphs projects them to have the same number of wins (83) as the Angels and Mariners.
Clearly, they have discovered a magic elixir that prevents them from wilting in the Texas summer heat. Now they have Mike Napoli and his playoff juju to get them over the hump of the division series. Tyson Ross, he who no other team was willing to give more than $6 million to after a much-publicized showcase, will return in May and form a three-headed monster with Darvish and Hamels. Jurickson Profar will finally live up to the hype while simultaneously meeting the offensive standard that comes with playing left field.
What’s the most accurate representation of this team, in GIF form?