2008 Outcome: 79-83, finished 2nd place in the AL West, 21 games back of the Angels.
What They've Lost: OF/DH Milton Bradley(Signed with Cubs), C Gerald Laird(Traded to Tigers).
What They've Done: Signed pitchers Derrick Turnbow and Casey Daigle to Minor League contracts.
Needs: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Oh, and they need to figure out what to do with shortstop Michael Young. Top prospect Elvis Andrus is ready for the big leagues in their mind, and they planned on moving Young over to third base. He doesn't want to play that position, and reportedly requested a trade upon hearing of this plan.
The Talk: As you can see, the Rangers haven't done much yet this offseason. However, there could be some news-worthy moves on the horizon.
Michael Young understandably is upset about the request to move to third base, as he won the AL Gold Glove this past season at shortstop and has made the All-Star Game the last five seasons playing there. However, it's seems highly unlikely he'll be traded. He has five years and $62 million remaining on his contract, and although he's still a very good player, the 32-year-old's offensive production is declining. In 2008, he hit under .300 for the first time since 2002, and his .741 OPS was below league average. Again, he's still a very good player, but there's not many teams lining up to take on that contract when Young appears to be declining, and you'd be paying him $12 million per year on average until he's 37. I'd bet we'll be seeing Young at third base for the Rangers on opening day.
They absolutely must upgrade their pitching staff significantly if they want to contend. Their offense was by far the best in the American League statistically in 2008, leading the league in batting average(.283), runs(901), slugging percentage(.462), and on-base + slugging percentage(.816). However, when your team ERA is 5.37, your record is going to be under .500 even with that spectacular offensive production. They allowed an astounding 967 runs! That's 83 more runs than any other team allowed in the majors(Pirates were 2nd with 884 runs allowed).
Names that have been thrown out there include Ben Sheets, Freddy Garcia, Kris Benson(if that happens, we might have to change that blog we did last week about him, Anna, and the Dodgers) Chad Cordero, Eddie Guardado, Eric Gagne, Jason Isringhausen, and Will Ohman. Sheets is by far the most intriguing, but he's going to want $10 million plus per season. That's difficult to hand a guy that's never won over 13 games and spent much of his career on the disabled list. Still, he'd step right in and immediately be their ace. So could you though.
Freddy Garcia and Kris Benson might be worth taking a chance on, but they're both well past their good years and odds are they won't help too much. The other guys are all relievers, and the Rangers definitely could use some help in the bullpen so it's possible they sign a couple of relievers. Frank Francisco took over the closer's role late in the 2008 seasons and was very impressive. He had a 3.13 ERA on the season, and 83 strikeouts in 63.1 innings pitches. For you fantasy baseball players, Francisco is a great sleeper pick as he's the leading candidate to be the closer.
It's likely the offense isn't quite as good as the superb one of 2008. Losing Milton Bradley and his league-leading .999 OPS will certainly hurt. Josh Hamilton had an incredible first half, but his numbers in the second half weren't nearly as impressive. Plus, it sounds like they could have a few first and second-year players starting as I'll explain later in the blog. Those players will undoubtedly have some struggles like all young hitters do when they arrive in the big leagues.
28-year-old right fielder Nelson Cruz wasn't called up until August after putting up these numbers in 383 Triple-A at bats: .342 batting average, 37 home runs, 99 RBI, and a 1.124 OPS. I don't care what level it is, that's incredible, and he didn't slow down when he got called up: .330 batting average, 7 homers, 26 RBI, and a 1.080 OPS in 115 at bats. Cruz used to be a top prospect of the Milwaukee Brewers, and was considered a bust. It appears he's finally figured it out, and if he keeps hitting anything like he did in 2008, they won't miss Milton Bradley as much as anticipated.
Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: Chad Cordero.
I like him the most out of the relievers I mentioned, and they should be going for the best of the bunch. The former Nationals closer is coming off labrum and biceps surgery, but is apparently throwing well. He'll be 29 when the season starts, so if his arm is doing as well as the reports indicate, he has plenty left in the tank. In 6 seasons, Cordero's worst ERA is 3.36. In 2005 he had 47 saves(which is incredible on the awful Nats) and a 1.82 ERA. Sign him to a cheap deal, let him challenge Francisco for the closer role.
Young Player(s) To Make 2009 Impact: Chris Davis, Elvis Andrus, and Taylor Teagarden.
We've gone with just one player for this category in our previous "Where They Stand" entries, but all three of these guys will likely make a big impact this season. As I found out in the fantasy baseball mock draft I did last week, Chris Davis is the guy everybody's expecting to have the breakout fantasy baseball season of 2009. He didn't even have 300 at bats(had 295) last year, and still hit 17 homers with 55 RBI. In Double-A and Triple-A last year, he hit 23 homers combined at the two levels in 297 at bats. The 6'4", 234 pound first baseman looks like a 40+ homer guy, especially in the homer-friendly Ballpark in Arlington.
Just 20 years old, the Rangers are already expected to give Elvis Andrus the shortstop job. They acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade. He hit .295, with 4 homers, 65 RBI, a .717 OPS, and had 54 stolen bases at Double-A in 2008. Not great numbers, but they expect his power to get a bit better as he gets stronger. He's considered a winner, a great leader, and his value to the team won't just be in statistics. The fact that he's just 20 and the team wants to move an All-Star to another position for this guy says a lot about how they feel about him. His 32 errors at Double-A are very concerning, but they think he can be a Gold Glove guy there in the future and works hard to get better.
Taylor Teagarden could be the starting catcher this year for the Rangers, it's between him and Jarrod Saltalamacchia who was a disappointment in 2008. Teagarden only had 47 at bats, but managed to hit 6 homers and drive in a whopping 17 runs. He had a .317 batting average and 1.205 OPS. Compare that to Saltalamacchia who had 198 at bats and did this: .253 batting average, 3 homers, 26 RBI, .716 OPS. Furthermore, Teagarden is considered to be excellent defensively. He's the reason they traded away catcher Gerald Laird.
2009 Outlook As Of Now: Under .500 again. They've done nothing to improve the pitching staff. Regardless, it's not something a couple good free agent pickups are going to fix. They have tremendously talented young position players and it will be interesting to see how much they do this year. Fly made a good point a couple days ago as we were talking about this team: "They remind me a lot of the Rays... without the pitching." I'll predict 75 wins. Expect a bit of an improvement pitching-wise simply because it couldn't possibly be worse, but I think they'll score at least 50 less runs for the season. Mark it down!
Hottest Thigh Association: Jennie Finch
I was hoping to go with somebody else here, but couldn't find any other hot thigh associations with the Rangers. I'm not the biggest Finch fan, she's a little manly. Anyway, she's still plenty bangable and she would strike you out in softball. She qualifies for the Rangers thigh thanks to her crappy husband Casey Daigle signing a Minor League contract with them last week.