This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23 and ending on Feb. 22 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, the offseason changes since then and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the American League East, worked across to the National League, tackled the Central divisions, and now jump to the AL West, going in alphabetical order. Next up, the Texas Rangers.
2012 finish: 93-69 (2nd place, AL West -- lost to Baltimore Orioles in Wild Card play-in game)
RHP Jason Frasor, RHP Randy Wells, RHP Evan Meek, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Josh Lindblom, RHP Kyle McClellan, 1B Lance Berkman, C A.J. Pierzynski
RHP Barret Loux, RHP Mike Adams, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP Ryan Dempster, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Koji Uehara, RHP Roy Oswalt, OF Josh Hamilton, 3B Michael Young, C Mike Napoli
Why they will improve this year
Losing Hamilton and Napoli will take a chunk out of the Rangers' offensive output in 2013, but this is still a very solid team. The starting rotation should get a boost from a second year of growth out of Yu Darvish and improved seasons from Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando.
I like the bullpen a lot, and think adding Soria will turn out to be a coup in Arlington. But how can the Rangers improve from last year's 93-win club after losing their biggest bat? Well, it's still a team that was first in the league in runs scored and second in team batting average.
David Murphy should get full time action for the second straight year with that open spot in the outfield, and they did bring in Berkman to provide a little bit of pop. I still expect Texas to be in the top three or four teams in run production and home runs next season, and could even end up in the top two of batting average again.
But where the Rangers could really thrive in 2013 is in the rotation. It's still a group with a few question marks, but Darvish and Ogando should have good seasons and if Holland finally figures out how to consistently get his pitches in the right spots, they may have a studly top four. If Martin Perez does snag the fifth spot as I expect and lives up to half the hype surrounding him, the rotation improves even more.
Why they will regress this year
You can't understate how big of a loss Hamilton is. He had an up-and-down career with the Rangers and the fans seemed to have a mostly love or hate relationship with the oft-injured, streaky slugger. But the fact remains that he was good for a solid average, 30 homers and 100 RBI every season.
I do like Murphy, but he will not replace the production that Hamilton brought to the lineup. One saving grace could be a healthy season from Nelson Cruz, but with his name involved in the newest PED scandal, will he avoid a suspension? Pierzynski is a downgrade offensively from Napoli but brings a massive defensive upgrade.
The Rangers also will miss Young, who was a threat for 200 hits every year. Replacing him with the brittle Berkman and expecting any kind of significant numbers after his 2012 season is a bad bet. And looking to Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar, and any other young bat that may come up to fill offensive deficiencies right away is ambitious at best.
The bullpen looks very solid, but do the Rangers really have a bona fide ace in the rotation? Will Darvish improve upon his 2012 numbers? Will Holland finally put together a full, solid season? Can Perez live up to his Johan Santana comparisons, or will he scuffle like he has in the minors lately?
The worst-case scenario is that Berkman and Pierzynski hardly add to the offense at all, Cruz misses time, the prospects struggle, and the only pitcher doing anything positive is Harrison. It could be a bust of a season if any major injuries hit, as the Rangers are already on thin ice with certain parts of the roster.
The outlook for 2013
I'm not sure why I believe in the Rangers this year. They missed out on all the major free agents they needed and only brought in decent replacements for Napoli, Young and Hamilton. I have major questions about the middle and end of the rotation, too.
But for some reason, I believe the Rangers will be deeply involved in the playoff hunt again in 2013. I don't think they are as good as the Angels and will get a run for their money from Oakland and Seattle, but the Rangers have been here before. Ron Washington will do what he has to do to ensure that they are competitive even with the lost offense.
Murphy is a guy that I think will have a big year, and if Berkman stays healthy he could also put up some solid numbers. One reason I foresee Texas being competitive is that they still boast a talented, professional lineup, even if they did sacrifice some power.
Overall, an order with Cruz, Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Berkman will do some damage. The rotation will be middle of the pack but can ride the top two guys at least deep into the pennant race. It's the opinion of this writer that the Rangers finish second in the AL West and lose a tiebreaker to the Royals for the second Wild Card spot in 2013. Their roster really is set for the next half-decade with that deep farm system, though.
Potential changes before Opening Day
According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, the Rangers are on the lookout for a backup utility infielder to mostly spell Andrus at shortstop. With short, second and third all filled by former All-Stars, a lot of free agent infielders are reluctant to sign in Texas at risk of not having playing time.
The better option may be for the Rangers to promote from within, as they have Profar and Leury Garcia who could come off the bench and make an impact. According to Sullivan, Ryan Theriot might be an option the Rangers explore.
I've suggested this move for most teams that need another pitcher, but I'd like to see the Rangers at least inquire about Kyle Lohse. The price is high, but it would legitimize their rotation and make them a favorite in my mind to return to the playoffs in the American League.
Biggest surprise: Lance Berkman
Biggest disappointment: Nelson Cruz
Bold prediction: Yu Darvish brings his ERA down around 3.30, WHIP to 1.15
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Adrian Beltre, 3B
4. David Murphy, LF
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Lance Berkman, DH
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C
8. Mitch Moreland, 1B
9. Craig Gentry, CF
1. Matt Harrison, LHP
2. Yu Darvish, RHP
3. Derek Holland, LHP
4. Alexi Ogando, RHP
5. Martin Perez, LHP
Projected finish: 88-74, 2nd place
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