The Texas Rangers won consecutive American League pennants in 2010 & 2011. In 2012, they were probably the best team in the league right up until a fateful final weekend in Oakland that knocked the Rangers from the top overall seed to a one-game Wild Card scenario; a game they lost to Baltimore.
This is a team that isn’t far away from being the World Champs (in fact, they are a Nelson Cruz misplay from having won it all two seasons ago) and a team whose window has no business closing this soon. Yet, early in the off-season, it feels like the team president Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels think the Rangers are in need of a serious makeover. I’m just not sure why.
Heading into the Winter, Texas looks pretty well set in their pitching staff. They’ll need to replace Mike Adams as the set-up man, as he is almost a given to leave via free agency, and they could use one starter, if only so they have insurance against Derek Holland‘s late-season regression. Despite the relative lack of need, Texas seems intent on bolstering their staff, which is fine; you can never have too much pitching, especially in Arlington.
Baseball’s most vaunted lineup has played at Rangers Ballpark for at least the past few years, but unless Daniels and company do something significant, that may change in 2013. The Rangers don’t anticipate re-signing either Josh Hamilton or Mike Napoli, which takes away a former AL MVP (who will finish in the top-5 again this year) and a guy who is one season removed from a .320/.414/.631 line primarily as a catcher. These types of offensive talents don’t just grow on trees, yet here are the Rangers willingly watching as not one, but both hitters depart for greener pastures.
While you can almost understand the willingness to wave goodbye to Hamilton — his contract demands don’t match what the Rangers know of his health — allowing Napoli to walk seems misguided. Even if the Rangers don’t view Napoli as a full-time catcher anymore, or even a part-time option there, his bat still plays at first base or DH and Texas isn’t flush with production at those positions.
In 2012, the Rangers first basemen combined for a .701 OPS. Their designated hitters fared only slightly better at .758. Napoli, even as he regressed from his monster 2011, posted an OPS of .821 and slugged 24 home runs. Now, Michael Young‘s putrid season is the cause of much of those bad numbers listed at first and DH, but Young isn’t getting any, uh, younger and we may have seen his last best seasons at the plate.
Earlier in the off-season, Daniels was said to be courting Red Sox DH David Ortiz, before Ortiz re-upped with Boston, so clearly he cognizant of his club’s need for offense going forward. If he knows going in that there is virtually no shot of keeping Hamilton, why is he being so cavalier about allowing Napoli to leave as well?
The Rangers have Geovany Soto and now Buster Olney says they’re interested in Russell Martin. If this were the National League and it were 2008, those two all-stars would make one helluva tandem behind the plate. Unfortunately, neither Soto nor Martin has been much of a hitter in the past few years and even in a hitter’s paradise like Texas, I don’t see that changing soon.
Guys like Young, Mitch Moreland, and Soto are decent at best hitters and Texas is in serious danger of losing a pair of elite bats. Without Hamilton, does Adrian Beltre get the same opportunities? Does Cruz? Probably not. The Rangers simply must make a play to bolster their lineup going forward. If that means trading away Elvis Andrus to gain a bat like Justin Upton, they should be open to the idea.
Otherwise, that pitching staff is going to have to be better than ever to get the Rangers back to the playoffs in 2013.