Two weeks into the season, the Texas Rangers stand at 5-8, in last place in the AL West, albeit just a game and a half out of first. The season is still early but it’s not too early to give a State of the Team address. Here are the takeaways from the season’s first 8% of the schedule:
Thank God For Nick Martinez
It could change rapidly but the big league sophomore has been the Rangers’ best pitcher, starter or reliever. Martinez has gone seven innings in each of his first two starts and has yet to surrender an earned run in getting off to a 2-0 start. Without Martinez, the Rangers pitching staff would be lowly indeed. Colby Lewis has been OK, Yovani Gallardo slightly below average and Ross Detwiler abysmal to the point you’d be hard-pressed to find a single Rangers fan in favor of letting him make another start ever. On top of that, no sooner had fans resigned themselves to being without Yu Darvish for the year then the new expected ace, Derek Holland went down for two months with a shoulder issue. Anthony Renaudo wasn’t the answer in one start. The chorus of fans singing for promoting Chi Chi Gonzalez is growing.
The Bullpen Is A Mess
Despite bright spots like Anthony Bass in long relief and Shawn Tolleson in the 7th inning, nobody else in the pen is rising to the challenge. Nowhere was that more evident than Sunday’s gut-wrenching 11-10 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Tanner Scheppers, in his second game back from the DL, couldn’t find the strike zone in the 8th, walking the bases full. Rookie Keone Kela, seen by many as the heir apparent for the closer’s role, showed he’s not ready for prime time, walking in one of the runs after relieving Scheppers. Closer Neftali Feliz was forced to try to get a 5-out save and couldn’t get the job done, giving up a 2-run single in the 8th, then two more runs in the 9th to blow the save and get the loss. The Rangers firemen have acted more like arsonists.
Thank God For Prince Fielder
The big guy doesn’t have a single home run and leads the AL in singles of all things. He’s also been the Rangers’ steadiest hitter. He’s beating the shift by going the opposite way, which is why he’s getting a lot of singles. He’ll eventually get the power stroke going but it’s going to require Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo to start hitting the way they can. Fielder won’t see better pitches until the guys hitting behind him start giving pitchers something else to think about.
New Year, Same Problems
2014 was a record-setting injury year for the Rangers and 2015 isn’t starting much better. Derek Holland is out for two months, left fielder Ryan Rua sprained his ankle, then discovered he has a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out for a while. Choo and Mitch Moreland have missed games already with minor ailments, Scheppers just returned from the DL. Texas is a slightly deeper team than they were a year ago but can still ill-afford many more injuries.
Is Elvis In The Building?
What’s happened to Elvis Andrus? Never a scary offensive presence, now his defense seems to have regressed. Elvis makes his living being a brilliant defender first, a decent running threat second. Thus far, he’s not hitting, he’s not running and he’s not fielding. As of yesterday, he was the lowest rated position player by WAR in baseball. This HAS to improve.
The season is not off to a good start. Texas is once again resembling a last place team. They will hit better. There are too many pieces with good track records who have started out slowly. Pitching is another issue altogether. The Rangers need more innings from their starters and a couple more bullpen pitchers to step up. Otherwise it’ll be another long year in Arlington.
I figure on average, fans think their baseball teams are about ten wins better than the number of wins they end the season with. Even fans who know their teams will be terrible figure they can’t suck as badly as they eventually show us they do. On the other end of the spectrum, one only has to look at teams that win 100 games a year routinely, as the Yankees did in the early 2000’s, to know that their fans thought they should have won 110 games every year, if not more. This is really the “Backseat Manager” effect, that strange affliction that tells us we could do a better job managing our team than the current man in the position.
All this as preface to this Rangers fan still thinking, even without Yu Darvish, his team still is capable of being an 85 win team. The odds are great that they won’t get to 85. The bullpen beginning the season is nothing to brag about. The offense has the core back from injury but not enough depth to deal with any injuries to that core again. The starting rotation is actually the strong point despite the loss of their ace. It’s certainly a stronger rotation front to back than the one the Rangers rolled out most nights in 2014. Yeah, 85 wins seems a tad optimistic, but dang it, that’s the potential this team has.
Even if I’m ten wins off, 75 wins is a darn sight better than Bruce Bukiet thinks Texas will do. I should say what Bukiet’s mathematical model says they will do. Bukiet has the skins. He’s a mathematician who also runs a gambling analysis website. His winner’s picks have been pretty accurate. Here’s what CBS News wrote about Bukiet’s predictions last year and the chart of this year’s picks:
“Before the start of the 2014 season, Bukiet correctly predicted that Detroit would go on to win the American League Central, the Dodgers would win the National League West, St. Louis would win the Central and Washington would win the NL East.”
What I quibble with is not the top but the bottom of the standings. Bukiet’s mathematical model says the Rangers will finish 64-98 in 2015. Let that sink in. 64 wins. The Rangers of a year ago won 67 games, most of them without Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland. Darvish missed about the last quarter of the season and Jurickson Profar, the expected second baseman, played zero games. Zero.
Fielder is back this year, as is Choo and Moreland. Holland is here for the whole season. Colby Lewis has a year’s experience on his new hip and was visibly better in the second half of 2014 than the first half. Nick Martinez and Rougned Odor are two sophomores with a year of experience under their belts.
In other words, barring injury (and every pre-season prediction doesn’t consider injury), the Rangers offense is better than it was a year ago, the starting rotation is better than it was a year ago. The bullpen begins the year sketchy but the reinforcements on the DL are not expected out for long.
Maybe my 85 win hopes are ten games better than they’ll probably finish, but Bukiet’s 64 win prediction? No way.
Texas-Oakland kicks off the season Monday night. Time to forget last year and make this year count.
Several stories have appeared nationally suggesting it’s time for Jon Daniels to bite the bullet and tear down the Texas Rangers in order to build them up again. Nobody is more forthright and insistent on this than MLB Network’s Jim Bowden, himself a former GM.
Overall, the mantra of these national scribes is: the Rangers are going nowhere this year, so why not get what you can for the pieces you can get a return on. This is often brought up at the same time as speculation that the Rangers are after Cole Hamels to provide them with an ace while Yu Darvish is out for the season.
Not a single game has been played in the 2015 regular season, yet already the Rangers are given up for dead.
I’m here to tell you, now is NOT the time to tear down the Texas Rangers. In fact, now is a great time for Daniels to stand pat and play the hand he’s been dealt for 2015. Here’s three reasons why.
Joey Gallo Isn’t Ready Yet
Along with his insistence that now is the time to trade Adrian Beltre, Bowden ties it together with the call for Rangers uber-prospect Joey Gallo to start his major league career as the new Rangers third baseman. Why someone who’s worked at the top of the MLB food chain would suggest this is puzzling. For all his prodigious power potential, Gallo isn’t ready for the majors yet. He’s only had about 250 at bats at the AA level and he struck out almost 120 times in those at bats. A K% like that does not spell “Big League Ready” in anybody’s book but Bowden’s. So, if the Rangers traded Beltre, who plays third base? Nobody of any consequence. And if you’re using Beltre as a chip to acquire Hamels, the Phillies aren’t going to throw in a big league third baseman as well.
The Biggest Contracts Have The Least Return
Outside of Beltre, the three biggest Rangers contracts belong to Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus. Fielder and Choo are coming off injury-plagued years and Andrus had arguably the worst season of his career in 2014. In other words, their trade value is at the lowest it could possibly be. The Rangers would get very little return in players. Maybe a little salary relief, but not much in players. Derek Holland might fetch a decent return but Texas isn’t about to part with one of their best pitchers when putting together a decent rotation is the key towards reaching the post-season.
Two Years From Today
Joey Gallo isn’t ready this year, but he probably will next year. Also ready in the next year or so will be catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez, who nearly made the club THIS year. Martin Perez is coming back from Tommy John surgery this year, Darvish will be back next year. Heck, we might even put Jurickson Profar back in the mix, who could be back next year as well. The point here is, while this year’s Rangers may not make the playoffs (and I think they’ll be better than a last place team), the 2016 Rangers could feature Gallo and Alfaro as rookies. If they become the big leaguers scouts think they will, the 2017 Rangers will have one of the most potent offenses in the AL with Gallo, Alfaro and Rougned Odor, even if Fielder has aged into a 20 HR hitting DH. Meanwhile, the starting rotation will feature Darvish, Holland, Perez and Gonzalez.
Not every prospect pans out but there’s every reason to believe the ones who are just a year away from Arlington are going to be special.
Break up the Rangers? Even if this season is a rough one, there’s enough on the horizon to stand pat. The window may be opening again soon.
One week from Opening Day and the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Texas Rangers.
Gone are non-roster veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Shierholtz. Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo will not appear in the starting rotation. At this point, only the utility infield position is available on the offensive side and three bullpen slots are open.
Here’s what the Rangers are looking like so far:
1B Prince Fielder
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
C Robinson Chirinos
C Carlos Corporan
DH Mitch Moreland
LF Ryan Rua
LF Jake Smolinski
CF Leonys Martin
RF Shin-Soo Choo
OF Delino DeShields, Jr.
The only minor surprise here is DeShields making the team as the 5th outfielder. A Rule 5 pick who’s never played above Double A, DeShields’ speed ended up being the deciding factor that sent the more powerful Ludwick and Shierholtz to pondering what to do next with their careers.
The only remaining offensive position open is utility infielder. Adam Rosales is still the favorite to get that slot. He’s had a good camp and was a good complementary piece a year ago. Yet there are still 4 utility infield candidates still in camp: Rosales, Ed Lucas, Elliot Johnson and Tommy Field. Field has been a slight surprise. The former Texas State athlete has played in just about every game in spring training and shown some pop with two home runs. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the LA Angels, but got released by both the Angels and the Pirates last year. I still don’t think Field makes the club but will instead be the starting second baseman at AAA Round Rock. I do think if Rougned Odor has a sophomore slump that Field would become a consideration as a starting replacement instead of Rosales, who would stay in a utility role. Lucas and Johnson? They’ll probably be released and signed just before Opening Day by another club.
Over to the pitchers. Here’s your Rangers rotation:
Martinez won the 5th starter slot on the basis of a strong spring 0.84 ERA, capped off by six scoreless innings in his last start. He ended 2014 strong and came out firing bullets in ’15. Tepesch, who also spent most of last season in Texas, showed the same tendencies that have dogged him in his career thus far. Great the first time through the order, considerably more hittable the second and third times through. He still has a shot at making the team in long relief, where he’d only need to face a line-up one time through.
The bullpen is more problematic. There are seven openings and thus far, these are the only sure bets:
Neftali Feliz (closer)
Tanner Scheppers (8th inning)
Shawn Tolleson (7th inning)
Freeman is a southpaw just picked up from the Cardinals. Before his acquisition, rookie Alex Claudio was the only lefty remaining in camp and he was starting to have troubles against left-handed batters in games. Freeman has a few years in the bigs under his belt and has a bullpen slot even though he just joined the team.
As for the other three slots? It’s anyone’s guess. A good case can be made for rookie Keone Kela, who has yet to give up a run in 8.1 innings this spring. He’s allowed only two hits and struck out 10. Other candidates are Tepesch (10.38) ERA, Jon Edwards (1.69, 17 K’s in 10.2 IP), Phil Klein (9.00 ERA), Kyuji Fujikawa (1.35 ERA), Lisalverto Bonilla (9.00 ERA) and Anthony Bass (9.00 ERA). Ross Ohlendorf (0.00 ERA, 1 hit and 11 K’s in 5.1 IP) will have a role with the Rangers, but minor injuries will keep him off the active roster Opening Day. Rangers brass hope he’ll be ready by May.
The bullpen doesn’t sound very impressive, but most teams don’t know how good their bullpen truly is for at least the first third of the season. You can also bet at least one waiver claim will bring someone new to the roster and at least one other slot becomes interchangeable with a shuttle going back and forth from Arlington to Round Rock.
Seven days left to Opening Day. It can’t get here soon enough.
Once you get past a certain age (I like to think it’s no later than 30), you learn not to sweat the Spring Training records. By then, you’ve followed the game long enough to know that the rookie who hits close to .400 in the spring suddenly becomes a .195 hitter when the games count and finds himself back in the minors by May 1st. Likewise, the team that went 25-7 over the long exhibition campaign could very well be the team that finishes 38 games out of first place when October rolls around.
How can anyone put stock in spring training records? After all, the players who start the game are usually gone by the 5th inning. In the early games, they only get one at bat before calling it a day. Most of the scoring comes from minor league guys, some of whom you didn’t even realize were playing in your team’s system. Heck, you didn’t know they played in ANYONE’s system.
So why does anyone look at what goes on in Spring Training as a harbinger of what is to come in the regular season? Because occasionally that .400 Spring Training hitter becomes the Rookie of the Year. And every so often, that 100 win team favored to win the World Series was the same one that went 25-7 in the exhibition games. It usually isn’t the case, but sometimes it does happen.
Still, your humble scribe is of the age that he knows exhibition records and stats mean absolutely nothing. I know that. I REALLY KNOW THAT! Yet here I sit, looking at the results of the last six exhibition games of the Texas Rangers: 11-11, 6-11, 4-4, 3-11, 2-12 and 0-8. The tentative Rangers Opening Day starter, Yovani Gallardo, gave up 8 runs in 4.2 innings in his most recent outing and now has an ERA of 11.32 on the spring. Also getting shelled this week were potential Rangers rotation members Anthony Renaudo (4 runs & 3 home runs in 4 innings), Lisalverto Bonilla (6 earned runs in 4 innings), Anthony Bass (8 runs in 2/3 of an inning) and Nick Tepesch (3 runs in 4 innings).
Jamey Wright and Joe Beimel, two major league veterans looking to help the Rangers this year, have spring ERA’s of 11.57 and 33.00 respectively.
I repeat: It’s just Spring Training. Some veteran pitchers get ready by working on just certain pitches in a game. Some hitters just focus on hitting to the opposite field one game and working walks in another. Exhibition games are just that: exhibitions that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Plus, four of the aforementioned six games were “split squad” games, with only half a major league team at best.
Still, I saw the second of the two game set the Rangers played against the Dodgers in the Alamodome, an 11-3 loss. The Dodgers hit 5 home runs in the first game, an 11-6 pasting. It took them just one pitch to have a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 2. It was a pitiful performance all around for Texas. Renaudo and Bonilla weren’t fooling the Dodgers hitters at all. Meanwhile, the Texas offense could manage only three hits in the first 7 innings against Los Angeles pitching. Two Rangers tried to steal, two got caught stealing. A 3-run 8th inning home run by one of those “Who?” players, David Lyon, kept the game from being a shutout. Then the Rangers followed it up by bringing the full team to play the Mariners on Sunday, where they managed only 6 singles and one extra base hit, a double, in the first 7 innings.
The mantra of the new Rangers skipper, Jeff Bannister, is “Never, ever give up!” Over the last six exhibition games, they may not have ever given up but it sure didn’t look like they were trying very hard either. But it’s the exhibition season. It isn’t about the wins and losses, it’s about the process. It means NOTHING…doesn’t it?
Die-hard Texas Rangers fans will go see their team whenever the opportunity presents itself. One need only see the crowds at Globe Life Park in the middle of the summer when game time temperatures hover in the triple digits.
But of course, baseball owners also want the casual fan to show up. That’s where they make their money.
During the “good” years from 2010-2013, the product the Rangers put on the field was such that casual fans still showed up in droves in the heat of the summer. In 2014, when the wheels came off the bus, not so much.
It was with this in mind that my ears perked up when I heard the news that Dan Flynn (R-Canton) had introduced a bill in the Texas legislature to eliminate Daylight Savings Time in the Lone Star State.
Naturally my first thought was “Why mess with a tradition?” But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Daylight Savings Time has been presented to the consumer as a way to save energy. More daylight, less lights on in the house, lower energy usage. The problem here in Texas is, that savings is more than offset by the heavier use of air conditioning DST causes families.
Let’s expand the case now to the Texas Rangers. Most Rangers games start at 7:05 Central Daylight Time in the summer months of June, July and August, the hottest months of the year. My friend Tim Smith, chief meteorologist at KRGV-TV in the Rio Grande Valley tells me the high temperature of the day in Texas typically occurs between 3 and 8 pm during the summer. That means a Rangers game could start at 7:05 in 98 degree heat and, an hour later, it could be 101 with the sun still out.
So, let’s imagine a mid-July night. It’s 98 degrees at game time. The sun is right in the eyes of the fans in the left field seats (the left fielders too). An hour later, 3 degrees warmer and that sun is still there and will be for about another half hour. By the time the sun sets, the game is almost half over and it’s still 100 degrees.
Now let’s take the same game, except now there’s no Daylight Savings Time. Now the 7:05 start is what the conditions are like at 8:05 CDT. It might be 100 at game time, but sunset is only 30 minutes away and you know hot temperatures are easier to tolerate when the sun isn’t beating down on you. And the slow cool off starts in the second or third inning instead of the 5th or 6th.
That’s a recipe that should bring more casual fans to the park, even if the team isn’t contending.
This isn’t just an Arlington thing. The same would be true in minor league parks in Frisco, San Antonio, Round Rock, Midland, Corpus Christi and numerous independent league towns in Texas.
As a baseball fan, I say Daylight Savings Time in Texas is past its prime and should be retired. If you’re with me, call your state representative and tell them to support Representative Flynn’s bill!
I was pleased to take part in last night’s edition of BBA Live, the podcast of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Life after Yu, Roogie Odor and Derek Holland were among the topics. Give it a listen when you have a chance!
By now, even the average baseball fan is aware that Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish is, at minimum, out for at least half the season with a strained ulnar collateral ligament and more likely gone for the season and headed for Tommy John surgery.
The response was immediate and expected from the Rangers faithful: already the 2015 season is gone. Kaput. Doomed. A 67-95 team already down its best pitcher? How could the response be any different?
How about this for a response: Losing Darvish most certainly DOES hurt but it doesn’t mean the Rangers should automatically be picked to occupy the AL West cellar for the second consecutive year.
All one has to do is compare this year’s Rangers pitching staff to the one that began the 2014 season to feel just a little bit better about things. Remember, a year, the Rangers already knew Derek Holland was already out until after the All-Star break at the earliest. Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison weren’t penciled into the rotation until the end of April at the earliest. Then Darvish himself came down with a stiff neck and got scratched from the Opening Day start as a precaution. Thus, we had a Rangers starting rotation of Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez. Perez was beginning just his second major league season, Ross and Scheppers were transitioning from the bullpen and Martinez had never pitched above the AA level before. The rotation member with the most major league service was Saunders and everyone knew he was a #5 starter at best.
Compare that to the expected rotation without Darvish to start 2015- Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler and one of Martinez, Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo, obtained from the Red Sox for Robbie Ross. Or none of those three could be #5, replaced by Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, the Rangers’ #3 prospect behind Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro. Gonzalez threw three shutout innings against the A’s just today (3/9) in an exhibition game.
When the news on Darvish came down, a lot of doom and gloom came down from fans, particularly on Twitter. Sure, it was understandable but those fans didn’t expect this: Derek Holland replied to some of them. Dutch basically said, “Oh, so the other 24 members of the team don’t matter?” “You think the rest of us should just give up?” It was a great response, especially from Holland.
Dutch has always had a label: good stuff, inconsistent and he’s a goof. Anyone who’s paid attention to Holland since he came back from knee microsurgery in September last year should note the difference in the public Derek Holland. He still likes to have fun but he’s also let everyone know how he isn’t satisfied how his career has gone so far (51-38 with a 4.38 ERA). Dutch was often scolded by former manager Ron Washington when he let his focus slide. Now you hear him talking about stepping up and being the ace if he has to, how he’s striving for more consistency. If Holland’s performance changes and matches the new intensity he’s showing, Rangers fans could be in for a very big surprise this season.
Add to Dutch the newly acquired Yovani Gallardo. He’s an innings eater, a former ace and someone whose new focus on getting groundouts instead of strikeouts plays right into Globe Life Park. Colby Lewis showed in the season’s second half he’ll be the same reliable starter he was in 2010 and 2011. Detwiler was a decent 9-8, 3.58 as a starter for the Nationals in 2012.
Without Darvish, the Rangers rotation will never be confused as one of the best in the American League. It won’t even be the best in the AL West. It is, however, still better than the rotation the Rangers threw out there most of the 2014 season.
In 2011, Andres Blanco was Mr. Irrelevant. Blanco, signed at the end of Spring Training in 2010, was just what the Rangers needed in their first World Series run. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was on the disabled list on two separate occasions and, especially the second time, Blanco played steady defense and contributed some key hits as the Rangers steamrolled their way to an AL West title, their first since 1999.
In 2011, Blanco was still around, but Kinsler stayed healthy, as did shortstop Elvis Andrus. Blanco was with the club the entire season but played in only 36 games, only half of which were starts, getting only 76 at bats the entire season and, in one stretch, went 25 says between game appearances. The Rangers sported a potent 11-player line-up that year. Michael Young acted as a “Super Utility” player and Blanco’s services were seldom needed. He was not even placed on the post-season roster, though he did get a share of the post-season money.
Fast forward now to 2015. Our last spotlight looks at the Rangers bench. Like most teams, Texas will have four men on the bench to start every game. Once upon a time, teams carried 15 offensive players and 10 pitchers on the 25-man roster. This was back in the day of the 4-man rotation and before the era of the Designated Hitter. Now most teams have 12 man pitching staffs, leaving room for only 13 hitters.
For most teams, the bench consists of a second catcher, a utility infielder and two outfielders. The only position definitely filled on the Rangers bench is Carlos Corporan as the second catcher. His acquisition from Houston was for the express purpose of being Robinson Chirinos’ back-up. Beyond Corporan, the picture is murky. Here are some of the contenders:
If there’s such a thing as a utility incumbent, it would be Adam Rosales. He provided some pop with the bat and can play just about any position on the infield. Last year, he offered up a .262/.328/.378 slash line with 4 home runs in 56 games. Rosales won’t just be given the job, though. There are several other contenders out there looking to grab the pine for more than 50% of the Rangers’ games. There’s Kyle Blanks, a corner infielder/outfielder who showed promising power for the Padres but injuries have slowed him down the last few years. He’s already behind the other players in camp as he’s still getting over issues with both feet. Elliot Johnson has played with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Atlanta and Cleveland in five major league seasons. He offers more speed on the basepaths than Rosales. In 2013 he was successful on 22 of 24 steal attempts and twice swiped 43 in the minors. Ed Lucas is another candidate. Just two years ago he played in 94 games with the Miami Marlins, and in both of his seasons there played all four infield positions as well as a few games in the outfield. His versatility gives him a shot. In fact, all three candidates here have played both the infield and the outfield in their major league careers, but it’s likely they won’t play much in the outfield. A very longshot candidate would be Tommy Field, a minor league free agent pick-up who played college ball for Texas State in San Marcos. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels but doesn’t offer the versatility, having never played first base. His signing was more for minor league depth than a serious look at helping the big league club.
This got covered a lot in the look at the left field battle. As mentioned in that post, there are no less than ten candidates vying for the left field starter position and there’s no doubt the 4th and 5th outfielders will come from that group. You can read that post here. Since the Rangers were so injury-prone a year ago, I’m guessing the Rangers brass would really like to see the positions filled by the home-grown talent that hasn’t had injury issues, such as Michael Choice and Ryan Rua, both of whom could outright win the left field battle. Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. is in the mix as his Rule 5 status requires him to be with the club all year or be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. Ryan Ludwick’s recovery from shoulder issues also will play a factor. Again, the club wants reasonable assurances of health so Ludwick has to show he is a productive and healthy player again. Jake Smolinski is also in the mix.
The question is, what is Jeff Bannister looking for in his club? If he thinks the Rangers’ best chances to win include speed, Elliot Johnson and Delino DeShields both have great opportunities to earn roster spots. If Banny wants for bang from the bats, the likes of Rosales, Choice and Ludwick become the favorites. And don’t count out another player getting signed at the end of Spring Training to put all of them out of a job. It’s how Blanco and Matt Treanor became Rangers in 2010 and it could happen again in 2015.
One nice thing to add to the Rangers bench without costing an offensive roster spot? Yovani Gallardo, the #3 starter acquired from the Brewers, is a good hitting pitcher, with 12 home runs in an 8-year career. He loves to hit and Bannister will almost certainly use him as a pinch hitter on occasion. Not many American League teams have that luxury.
There is nothing harder in baseball than putting together a good bullpen. No matter what team you’re a fan of, you’re sure to remember the year the lights-out bullpen that ended up being one of the league’s worse. Conversely, many a team has gone to the playoffs when a little-regarded bullpen suddenly became dominant.
Unless your name is Rivera, closers can go from 45 saves one year to 15 the next with said closer replaced by another 100-mph fireballing phenom in mid-season.
Look at the Texas Rangers. In their World Series years of 2010-2011, the bullpen was one of the team’s strengths. Neftali Feliz replaced Frank Francisco just a week into the 2010 campaign as closer and rode that train for two years. Darren O’Day was a waiver claim who had an incredible 2010. On the other hand, Koji Uehara should have been the final bullpen piece when the Rangers acquired him at the deadline in 2011. He pitched so poorly for Texas he was left off the World Series roster. A year later he was dominant again and now he’s the closer for the Red Sox.
Year to year consistency in the bullpen is the toughest thing to acquire. Among the many ills for the Rangers in 2014, the bullpen was one of them.
Under the circumstances, one could make a case that the Rangers relief corps kept the team from finishing worse than 67-95. While not as formidable as earlier years, they were overall middle of the pack in the American League in contributing a 4.0 WAR. Much of that came early in the season, when the pen consisted of veterans like Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria, both of whom got sent packing at the trade deadline to pennant contenders. And, while the WAR was decent, the Rangers were a piddling 13th in Saves and 11th in Holds.
General Manager Jon Daniels has a philosophy when it comes to bullpens. The main mantra is “Save your money”. Outside of closer, you’ll seldom see Texas spend any substantial dollars on relievers. The aforementioned Frasor pitched two years in Texas, both times on 1-year contracts. Same with recently departed Neal Cotts. Occasionally Daniels will spring for a 2-year deal. Outside of O’Day, those get reserved for proven closers (Joe Nathan, Soria).
Daniels does like to gamble a little with the bullpen. He’s constantly acquiring relievers with big league experience but got released by other clubs due to injury. Success stories include Cotts and Soria, but there have also been busts, such as Nate Adcock and Kyle McLellan. But what the heck, they didn’t cost much money so do real harm there. Daniels mixes these low risk, high reward veterans with young bucks from the farm system whose contracts are under club control for the foreseeable future. It’s worked pretty well during the Daniels regime and it’s what the Rangers once again looking at in 2015.
What is certain for the Rangers is the closer will be Neftali Feliz, back in the role of his greatest success during the World Series years. Feliz missed most of 2013 to Tommy John surgery and moved back to closer in 2014 after Soria got traded to the Tigers. His velocity isn’t what it once was but he says he finally has most of the zip back.
Texas hopes the 8th inning set-up man will be last year’s Opening Day starter, Tanner Scheppers. Feliz, Scheppers and the departed Robbie Ross were the final nails in the coffin that was Texas trying to convert relievers into starters. It worked once with CJ Wilson but failed miserably with the other three. Scheppers and Feliz are now okay with their roles. Scheppers was the best set-up man in the AL in 2013 and the Rangers are hoping he’ll return to form.
Shawn Tolleson was one of Daniels’ low risk, high reward signings a year ago. Coming back from Tommy John, Tolleson was a respectable 2.76 ERA in 64 appearances and 71.2 innings pitched with 69 K’s. He was a little homer prone, giving up 10 dingers. Tolleson will be the 7th inning reliever. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux is already saying Tolleson looks better in the early going of camp than he did all of last season.
Four more spots are open in the bullpen and be assured whoever starts the season is in no way guaranteed of being there in September. Among the farmhands, the hopefuls include Alex Claudio, Phil Klein, Spencer Patton and Jon Edwards, who all got a taste of the bigs with the Rangers in the last month of the 2014 season.
A young heat thrower who hasn’t reached the major league level yet is Keone Kela, but he isn’t considered a factor in Arlington until later in the season at the earliest.
Joining the competition are those LRHR players Daniels loves, including Kyuji Fujikawa, Japan’s all-time saves leader whose move to America and the Cubs resulted in yet another Tommy John surgery; Juan Carlos Oviedo who, when pitching as Leo Nunez, saved 113 games from 2009-2011 with the Florida Marlins; and ageless veteran Jamey Wright, back with the Rangers for the second time in a career that has spanned 19 years and 10 different teams.
The most thankless job in the bullpen is long reliever. A pitcher in that role might go two weeks between appearances, then be asked to make a spot start two days after throwing 2 1/3 innings in a game. Veteran Scott Baker admirably filled that role for the Rangers last year and it’s a darn shame nobody has signed him for 2015.
For the Rangers, the likely long man is whoever the last man out is in the competition for the #5 starter. At this writing, the prediction would be for either Ross Detwiler, Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez to fill that role.
Bullpens are more works in progress than any other part of a ball club. No matter the predictions here, out of the seven member relief corps that starts the season, odds are good three of them will be gone by season’s end. If Texas can improve on last year’s 4.0 WAR pen, they’ll be a playoff contender.