For the second straight Texas Rangers offseason, a key player was lured westward by the free spending Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Superstar Josh Hamilton followed the defection of pitcher C.J. Wilson last year. Making matters worse, slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz has been featured in the BioGenesis PED reports. Faced with two strong divisional foes, the Angels and the improving Oakland A’s, GM Jon Daniels had a relatively quiet offseason.
One addition to the lineup via free agency is D.H. Lance Berkman. The Big Puma suffered through an injury riddled 2012 appearing in only 32 games. He has a career .953 OPS and a .544 slugging percentage and could have a bounceback year returning to his home state. This will be Berkman’s first chance to see significant time as a D.H. Daniels signed Berkman to a one year $10 million dollar contract with a team option for 2014.
The Rangers lost slugging catcher/1B Mike Napoli to free agency, but brought in veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who had a monster 27 home run season in 2012 for the White Sox. The Rangers should not expect that sort of power again, but he is capable of hitting 15-20 homers.
The Rangers lost the versatile Michael Young, trading him to the Phillies for Josh Lindblom. Lindblom appeared in 74 games in 2012, pitching to a 3.55 ERA. Young was considered expendable with super prospect Jurickson Profar ready to emerge.
The biggest addition to the lineup from within could be slugging outfielder/cornerman Mike Olt. He was a Baseball America first team minor league All-Star and is among the best power prospects in baseball, with a .579 slugging/28 home runs/82 RBI stat line in Double A. Hamilton’s departure and Cruz’s trouble may give Olt significant at bats in the middle of the order.
Daniels made some moves to shore up his pitching staff. Matt Harrison, who has had two consecutive solid seasons for the Rangers, was signed to a five year $55 million deal. Over the last two years he has gone 32-19 with a 3.30 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in the difficult AL West. Harrison is not a strikeout artist, having fanned 259 in 399 IP since the start of 2011.
Joakim Soria was acquired to be the primary setup man for closer Joe Nathan. Soria missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery. Pre-injury, Soria was one of the top closers in baseball with the Kansas City Royals. He saved 71 games between 2010 and 2011, averaging over a strikeout per inning.
Soria will be counted on to shoulder the load of losing two quality setup men from the Rangers bullpen. Mike Adams signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Alexi Ogando who pitched to a 1.00 WHIP in 2012 is transitioning back to a starting role after spending last year in the bullpen.
With the loss of Hamilton, and possibly Cruz, the once slugging Rangers seem to have taken a step back offensively. Mike Olt should be thrown in the mix, he is 24 years old, Daniels and Ron Washington should see what they have in their young slugger. Daniels may trade another asset to open up time for Profar.
The makeup of the pitching staff entering 2013 is troubling. Daniels gave the dependable Harrison front end of the rotation money though he has never profiled as a top end starter. As the Yankees found out with Joba Chamberlain, moving a pitcher like Alexi Ogando in and out of the rotation can have negative effects on his development.
The Rangers still have enough talent to compete in the AL West, but a lot needs to go right. Harrison needs to pitch like a number two starter, Ogando needs to pitch like its 2011, Nelson Cruz needs a good lawyer, Berkman needs to stay healthy and Olt needs to transfer from prospect to player. Unfortunately, it seems like the championship window closed when David Freese’s tenth inning shot went over Hamilton’s head and the centerfield fence in the 2011 World Series.