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Tim and His Thoughts

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I Don’t Get It – Weighing In on the Ray Rice Firing

This is kind of how I feel right now:

No, not the building and the robot and the, “What’s fun about that?” part, although there are probably some parallels you could draw. But I don’t get it. I don’t get how a video of Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer suddenly makes this whole thing so much worse.

It’s been clear for a long time now that Rice physically assaulted his then-fiancee and knocked her out. How does a video of it happening change anything? The action remains the same.

What I see here is the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens using some convenient PR cover to address something they’ve taken a lot of flak over. (And probably rightly so.) But it’s BS, because the facts of the case have. Not. Changed.

There are two ways to look at this whole thing.

  1. Ray Rice committed an act which cannot be tolerated by the NFL and should be fired, fined, and suspended indefinitely.
  2. Ray Rice committed an act which cannot be tolerated by the NFL, but his fiancee has forgiven him, so fire him, fine him, suspend him for a certain number of games, do what you need to do punitively and then move on. He has. At least publicly, his fiancee has. The NFL has no business suspending him “indefinitely” unless they’re going to ban him from the league for life.

Whatever the answer, it should have come MONTHS ago, and no TMZ video showing what we basically already knew happened should change that. Maybe I’m missing something. I haven’t kept super close tabs on this case as it has unfolded. But to me, the person who looks worse from this video isn’t Ray Rice. It’s the NFL.

Trade Talk

Too early in the season for a little bit of wild and crazy trade speculation? Never.

With the news today that Derek Jeter’s ankle is still not mended and he’s going to be out until after the All-Star break, that makes two AL East teams (Yankees and the Blue Jays, who lost Jose Reyes last week) who are short a starting shortstop. Both of these teams have visions of contending. I’ll leave it to you to say whose visions are less fantasy and more real, but without a runaway standout the East is likely to be a war of attrition this year. With that in mind, both of these teams could use a quick fix.

Now I don’t think the Rangers line up particularly well as trade partners on the whole (everyone’s looking to this season right now, not planning for the future), but it is worth mentioning that the Rangers have three shortstops high in the organization who are excellent defenders and potential high average/OBP guys: Elvis Andrus (recently signed to a long term contract), Leury Garcia (currently the utility man for middle infield), and Jurickson Profar (considered by many the top prospect in baseball, currently in AAA). Garcia probably isn’t going to bring anything back in a trade, and the Rangers are obviously committed to Andrus, but it’s worth noting that Garcia, along with Ian Kinsler being under contract for another few years, gives the Rangers a lot of security in the middle infield.

So as many have noted since Andrus signed his new contract, Profar is on the trading block. Again, though, Toronto and New York both see themselves as contenders right now. They’re not likely to give up the top names the Rangers will want for Profar, at least not yet.

But what if one of them (more likely the Yankees, with all the injuries they’ve sustained) bomb out of contention in the next month or two. Suddenly the Marlins and the Rays, considered the Rangers’ most likely trade partners with Giancarlo Stanton and David Price, respectively, up for grabs, have some competition. What would it take to get, for example, CC Sabathia or R.A. Dickey?  Matt Harrison is under long term contract. So is Derek Holland. Would the Rangers be willing to part with one of them plus Profar to make their rotation look like this?

Yu Darvish

CC Sabathia/R.A. Dickey/David Price

Matt Harrison/Derek Holland

Alexi Ogando

Nick Tepesch/Colby Lewis/Martin Perez (depending on injury recoveries and who is pitching well)

It’s unlikely, I know. But not quite to the point of absurdity. The Rays are more likely to be in true rebuilding mode  than the Yankees or especially the Jays, but if a Profar-centered deal can land Price, it could almost certainly land one of those two targets as well. That’s what the injuries to Reyes and Jeter really give the Rangers – options. More potential trade partners mean a trade is more likely to happen.

Here’s another question. If Tepesch continues to pitch well, could you flip Profar, Perez and Tepesch for one of those pitchers and slide everyone else down a spot in the rotation?  It’s not a ridiculous question. Those are three guys to potentially build around. For the Rangers you start to look at starting pitching that’s scary good for at least two years beyond this one, and despite the player that Stanton certainly is, I don’t believe reinforcements on offense are what the Rangers really need (provided Lance Berkman doesn’t suddenly break down and Nelson Cruz doesn’t get suspended the rest of the season for his association with the ongoing PED investigation – some fairly sizeable “ifs,” I grant you). Alexi Ogando has had a very good start to the season, and he becomes your number five starter if he’s not outpitched by Colby Lewis when Lewis returns.

As I said, it’s early, and I don’t think the Rangers, much less the other teams in question, are likely to pull the trigger on a trade until everyone’s needs are more apparent. But it’s never too early for ruminations….

Rangers Roster Prediction 3.0

Injuries and early samples haven’t changed much since my last roster prediction, but I think it’s worth reflecting on where we are thus far in the spring:

Starting Pitchers

Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross

Martin Perez sure looked like a fifth starter…until he took an unfortunate liner to the forearm. He’s young, though, he’ll bounce back. The struggle for him will be finding his way back into the team when he does, especially given that Colby Lewis is expected to return not that long after Perez. Which means that Perez either goes to AAA to get starts or slides into the bullpen. I rank Robbie Ross above veterans Randy Wells and Derek Lowe to grab the last spot in the rotation.

Relief Pitchers

Joe Nathan (Closer), Jason Frasor, Derek Lowe, Michael Kirkman, Josh Lindblom, Nick Tepesch, Joe Ortiz

The bullpen may still be the hardest part of the team to predict, and there have been several changes. Wells and Tanner Scheppers still have good chances of making the team, but with the addition of Lowe I’m predicting he takes the long relief role rather than Wells or perhaps Kyle McClellan. Lindblom stays with a pretty good spring so far, and on the back of strong springs so far I’ll project Tepesch and Ortiz sliding into a bullpen that’s an interesting mix of the very old and very young.

Catchers

A.J. Pierzynski, Geovanny Soto

Barring injury, nothing’s changing this.

Infield

Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Adrian Beltre (3B)

Or this

Outfield

Nelson Cruz (RF),  Leonys Martin (CF), David Murphy (LF)

Although Craig Gentry’s no slouch, Martin’s been strong enough so far to merit a majority of the playing time. He slides in as the starter in center. We’ve heard nothing more about Cruz getting suspended yet, so for the time being we’ll assume he won’t be.

Bench

Craig Gentry (OF), Mike Olt (3B/1B/OF), Lance Berkman (DH/1B/RF), Leury Garcia (SS/2B)

Aside from Gentry sliding into a wider bench position (really not much of a change), this stays the same. Berkman, of course, will be the day-to-day DH. Garcia is still the wild card here, but it remains more likely that he’s the one who sits the bench and Jurickson Profar gets the everyday reps at AAA than the other way around. Well, so long as Garcia doesn’t tank and Profar doesn’t positively force his way onto the roster.

GO RANGERS!!!

Spring Training/Rangers Roster Prediction 2.0

IT’S SPRING TRAINING! No time of year is more filled with optimism. It’s the time when everyone is in first place and outlooks are sunny for everyone (well, except for maybe the Astros).  Most of all, it’s TIME FOR BASEBALL!!!

So with that I’ll jump straight into predicting the Texas Rangers’ 2013 Opening Day roster. A lot has changed since my first roster prediction back in October, and there’s lots of stuff to talk about.

Starting Pitchers

Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross

This list stays almost identical to my earlier one, the only change being that Robbie Ross replaces Colby Lewis, who will not be available until at least April due to injury rehab (which by all accounts is progressing well). The Rangers didn’t go out and sign a free agent starter (though not for lack of trying to land Zack Greinke) and neither did they trade for one.

Without Lewis and barring further injury the rotation is set except for the fifth spot, which is a very open competition. Candidates include last years’ call up spot-starters Martin Perez and Justin Grimm, but my bet is on Ross, who had success out of the bullpen all last year but came up as a starter. We’ll certainly get a better sense of all this as camp plays out.

Relief Pitchers

Joe Nathan (Closer), Jason Frasor, Martin Perez, Josh Lindblom, Michael Kirkman, Tanner Scheppers, Justin Miller

If any area of the team is wide open, this is it. Nathan and Frasor are the only members of the ‘pen that are guaranteed at this point. I think Perez makes it, as do Lindblom, Kirkman, and Scheppers as much by virtue of the fact that they’ve pitched in the majors before as anything else. If the Rangers don’t go out and get another bullpen piece before Joakim Soria returns from injury, they’ll need one more. For now I’ll say that’ll be Justin Miller by virtue of the fact that he closed for AA Frisco and thus theoretically has the stuff to get outs. This also means that Justin Grimm starts the season in the AAA rotation. There’s a good chance Perez starts in AAA as well, but of the two I think the Rangers are more content to let Perez go to the ‘pen and keep Grimm stretched out in the minors.

Catchers

A.J. Pierzynski, Geovanny Soto

And so we move from the most tumultuous position battle to the least. The catching situation is set: Pierzynski and his bat will catch most of the games, Soto will catch Darvish and the odd other game.

Infield

Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Adrian Beltre (3B)

The starting infield also appears to be pretty set. The Rangers are going to give Moreland every chance to lock down the everyday starting position at first and Kinsler with be the starting second baseman.

Outfield

Nelson Cruz (RF), Craig Gentry (CF), Leonys Martin (CF), David Murphy (LF)

This could change a lot. Cruz may well be suspended for at least a third of the season. Gentry and Martin are supposed to split time in center, but I won’t be surprised at all if Gentry takes over a majority of the playing time before the season starts.

Bench

Mike Olt (3B/1B/OF), Lance Berkman (DH/1B/RF), Leury Garcia (SS/2B)

Aside from Pierzynski, Berkman was the big offseason acquisition, and he figures to get most of the starts at DH. There’s a chance Olt starts the season in AAA, but Cruz’s possible suspension and Olt’s ability to play the outfield works in his favor. He can also backup both Beltre and Moreland in the infield. Likewise, Garcia can back up both middle infield spots, and as committed as the Rangers seem to giving Jurickson Profar regular playing time Garcia would seem to have the edge on the bench spot. That said, it’ll really come down to the spring both players have.

 

I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll be updating new version of the projected roster, but check back from time to time throughout the spring!

And GO RANGERS!

Too Competitive?

A willingness to compete is one of the highest virtues in our society. We make professional sports into a multi-billion dollar industry, lauding the highest achievers for what could be considered sociopathic levels of competitive spirit. We talk about schools in terms of competition and measure their quality on a scale of standardized testing. We’re constantly asking ourselves how we match up to those around us in terms of intelligence, social stature, athleticism, and more.

Let me be clear: I do not think that being competitive is a bad thing. Full disclosure, I’m a pretty competitive person who tends to do all right in most things I try. But I stand by that assertion. Competition and competitiveness, in and of themselves, are not bad things.

Competition can be life giving. In its purest form, competition is about two individuals (or teams) testing each other, pushing each other, striving to bring out the best in each other. I remember when I was in seventh or eighth grade my soccer team was near the top of our league, but there was one particular team that we always played best against. Every game against them was close and hard fought, and by the end of each one everyone was physically drained. We lost our share of those matchups, and although losing isn’t very fun I would have taken a season of those games over every game we won 3-0. They made us better players. Likewise in school, one of my closest friend always read more than me. I was challenged daily to keep improving, to read more, to think better, to be conscious about the way I engaged with the world.

Competition can be good. Where it turns bad is when the goal turns from seeking the best in yourself and your opponent to seeking your opponent’s utter destruction and humiliation. It’s the difference between respect and malice, between selflessness and selfishness. It should come as no surprise to anyone that our culture idolizes the selfish, and I think part of that idolization is driven by an overemphasis on competitiveness.

Look at how too much competitive drive has ruined our sports. Just today there was a new story about steroids in baseball. Cheating in sports isn’t about measuring yourself, it’s about winning at all costs. That’s selfishness. That’s disrespectful. Businessmen craving money above all else is competitive spirit gone awry as money is looked upon as the greatest measuring stick for the summation of one’s life. (I don’t believe that’s the case, but that’s somewhat beside the point; money is an internationally recognized status symbol. The rich get to say they’re winning at life because they have the empirical data – dollars – to back up that claim.)

But what I really want to bring up here goes beyond issues so explicit as PED use and corporate greed. I wonder how badly we’re handicapping our kids’ development  with our overemphasis on competition?

As Sir Ken Robinson, among others I’m sure, points out so eloquently our education system tends to treat all kids the same age as the same, and they’re not. Human beings develop very differently from one another in a myriad of ways and for just as many reasons. The system works on an assembly line mentality that is simply not reflective of reality, and a large part of why it does this is that it promotes competition. We want to know which schools are the best, so we make up a game through which to pit one against the other in a battle for bragging rights (standardized testing). How can you measure intelligence when it manifests itself in so many ways? You can’t, at least not sufficiently, so we draw up lines and boundaries and rules and make a game out of it. It’s not true, uplifting competition. It’s artifice.

Our schools and education system exist predominantly in an abstracted space, well removed from the real world. I’m not trying to say that every piece of education needs to have direct practical application (I’ll rail against that too, sometime), but there’s a difference between education that exists to enrich students and education that exists to compare them.

Again, competition is not all bad, even in education. Just as sports can enrich our understanding of life so too can testing, properly implemented, enrich our education. But right now the system is pretending that life exists solely within the confines of a soccer pitch. From an early age we are implicitly drilling it into the heads of our kids that achievement as compared to someone else is the highest good. We can’t afford to keep doing that. Beyond making our society a much colder place, we’re surely squandering the brilliance of millions because the current rules of our school-game make touching the ball illegal. Soccer makes you stretch and achieve new things by forcing you to use your feet. But not everybody plays soccer. Some kids just need to use their hands.

Hall For Naught

The Baseball Writers Association of America has cast their votes…and no new players shall be admitted to the Hall of Fame this year. A lot has been written about how this is a very odd year, and it is. There are a lot of accused steroid users, including Barry Bonds and Rodger Clemens for whom this was their first year on the ballot. And no one got in. In the case of both Clemens and Bonds, they didn’t get in by quite a wide margin.

I think that’s going to change in the next few years. In part, you can expect an uptick from voters who decided to deny these and other players “first ballot” honors. Ok. I get that. But in part I think you need to look at the season we’ve just come out of.

Specifically, you need to look at Melky Cabrera.

Cabrera was a passable, if unremarkable, major-leaguer for his first five full season in the majors, from 2006 through 2010. He then had a bit of an uptick in 2011 before exploding in 2012. Some of this you can reasonably account for as player development. Some guys just take a while to figure out major league pitching, and since he’s still just 28 it’s not out of the question to assume he’s a bit of a late bloomer. Nonetheless, he did get caught with steroids, so let’s assume those first five years give us a reasonable baseline for Cabrera’s stats. Of those first five seasons, his best was probably 2009 in which he hit .274 and slugged .416, both just a tick above his five year average. In contrast, 2012 saw him hit .346 and slug .516. His OPS jumped more than 150 points, and he went from being just barely a major league caliber player to an All-Star MVP.

And that, I submit, is part of why Hall of Fame voting is down this year, even with some huge names in the mix. Voters are afraid of enshrining a player who, without PEDs, might have just been good. The idea of how much better PEDs can potentially make a player are too fresh on voters’ minds.

Yes, who should get into the Hall is a moral issue, and I’m not arguing it shouldn’t be. If you want to put all the cheaters in or keep every last one out, that’s your prerogative. But the reality is that we’re going to be making judgment calls about these players’ greatness relative to their PED use in the years to come. Was Barry Bonds a Hall of Famer before he bulked up and started jacking ungodly numbers of homers? Most people would say yes, and I think that’s why he gets in eventually. But look down the line at, say, Rafael Palmeiro. Hit a ton of homers. Was an excellent player for a long time. But if he was also a long time steroid user, what might that have added to his career?

It’s a question we’ll never answer. But thanks to Melky Cabrera, it’s that much more on voters’ minds this year.

Two Crazy Playoffs Ideas

This is one of those posts that’s as much of a “what if?” mental exercise as much as it is anything else. These ideas are roughly applicable to all major American sports leagues, but I’m thinking particularly as they apply to baseball. So without further ado…

Idea 1: Don’t Have a Set Number of Playoff Teams

In baseball, five teams make it into the playoffs from each league (if you want to count that dinky wild card game). Doesn’t matter if the first place team won 110 games and the wild card is barely over .500. Theoretically, the team that won the 110 games should demolish an 85 win team. But as we all know, that doesn’t always happen. The question should be asked, though, should they even be playing? Has not the 110 win team earned the right to bypass their vastly inferior competitors?

What if the playoffs consisted of all the teams that were no more than, say, five games behind the first place team? So, for example, last year the New York Yankees finished in first place in the American League with 95 wins. The American League playoffs would consist of all teams who won at least 90 games. Basically, nothing would have changed – Tampa Bay would have made the playoffs instead of Detroit. The same is true in the National League, except that St. Louis wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

So you can argue that there’s little point to implementing such a change. Maybe Detroit played in a tougher division (thus their lower record), but they should have been rewarded for winning that division. That argument can be made and it’s legitimate.

But lets go back to 2002, a year in which three teams won at least 100 games. In the American League, New York, Oakland, and Anaheim would have still made the playoffs with Minnesota, at just 94 wins as opposed to the league leading 103, being cut out. On the National league side, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Arizona would’ve been playoff bound. The San Francisco Giants, who ended up losing the World Series in seven games, would not have made the playoffs because they won just 95 games compared to Atlanta’s 101.

So while this idea wouldn’t normally have significant influence on the number of teams in the playoffs in any given year, it would have a meaningful effect. Really what I like the most about this idea is that it means every team has to play every  game as though it matters. If you’re way out in front, you want to keep trying hard because it makes the playoff path that much easier. It makes sure that regular season record is very significant.

Idea 2: Have Separate Regular Season and Playoff Champions

In English football (soccer), there are multiple competitions that a team can win every year. The team who finishes the season with the most points (more or less the best record; three points are awarded for a win, one for a tie) is said to have won the league. There’s a trophy associated with that and the team are considered champions. There are also tournaments which teams can win, primarily the FA Cup (which is only contested within Great Britain) and the UEFA Champions League (which is contested across Europe). Teams have to finish high in the league to qualify for these tournaments, so in some ways they function similarly to playoffs.

What if baseball (or football, or basketball, or hockey, etc.) had separate but equally prestigious awards for the winner of the best record in the league and the winner of the playoffs? I mean, there sort of is something like this already with division winners, but with six total winners and three higher honors (AL, NL, and World Series champions) division titles have limited gravitas. What might be interesting is that if the AL and NL pennants were wholly divorced from the playoffs. The team with the best record in each league would win the pennant, and then the playoffs would commence to decide the world series champion.

***

Anyways, I don’t necessarily think the playoff systems we have are necessarily broken, but that doesn’t mean we can’t always be thinking of ways to improve them. This was kind of fun just to think about. If you have any other ideas, post them in the comments!

Fallen Idol

          

Of all the iconic moments, “The Look” might be my favorite. In 2001 while ascending L’Alpe d’Huez, one of the most feared perennial features of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong pulled past German rival Jan Ullrich and then looked back to see if Ullrich would match his move. Ullrich couldn’t, and Armstrong accelerated again, going on to win his third of an eventual record seven consecutive Tour de France victories. Growing up, Lance Armstrong was among the greatest of my sports heroes. You know that game where you invite five people, living or dead, to dinner? Armstrong was invariably on my list. I’ve read his autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike, multiple times. He wasn’t just the miraculous survivor of cancer and champion of research. He wasn’t just the most dominant figure sport has ever known, the rider who made cycling relevant to Americans if only for one month a year. He was like me, a kid from north Texas. I played soccer in his hometown.

Maybe that’s why, until now, I never really listened to the allegations against him. It mounted slowly. Individually, witnesses were easy to dismiss. Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis? They were just throwing dirt after they’d been caught themselves. It was self aggrandizing, as if they were saying, “Well if we couldn’t do it without cheating, he certainly couldn’t either.” Maybe it was willful ignorance on my part. I don’t know. Probably.

I wanted Armstrong to be the Texan giant, the pure athlete, the untarnished champion he claimed to be. Look at all he’d accomplished outside of cycling – cancer survivor against the odds, inspirational figure who raised millions for treatment. Certainly this was a good guy. I could ignore the divorce of his wife who in his book he’d so recently claimed was his rock. I could ignore reports of his foul mouthed, petulant nature.

But as sad as it makes me to throw off that old conception of Lance Armstrong, it’s an ignorant conception that I can no longer attempt to maintain. Let me say this clearly: I no longer have any doubt that Lance Armstrong was complicit in the use of illegal performance enhancers, and not only for himself, but for those who helped him achieve those lofty feats of athletic prowess. He doped, and he encouraged teammates to dope. I’ve read the entirety of the USADA’s Reasoned Decision against Armstrong, and the case is very clear.

Look, think what you will of Hamilton and Landis. But even if if you completely ignore their testimony in the USADA’s Reasoned Decision, in which the agency holds Armstrong guilty of systematic an conspiratorial blood doping throughout his professional career and invalidates all of his results from 1998-2010, it’s impossible to doubt that Armstrong was dirty. The Reasoned Decision was publicly released this past Wednesday and includes testimony from a number of witnesses who, to this point, had not provided testimony against Armstrong, including most importantly former teammates Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, and George Hincapie, the only teammate to have been with Armstrong for all seven of his Tour de France victories. Theirs is the testimony that does it for me.  These four riders, all of whom still ride professionally, received suspensions and had past results invalidated based on their testimony, yet they chose to testify anyways. Hincapie, in particular, has had a long relationship with Armstrong both professionally and personally. The two are close, and as the USADA points out Armstrong has never publicly attacked Hincapie’s virtue as he has Hamilton’s, Landis’s, or that of other witnesses against him.

Clearly, professional cycling was and likely still is a sport dominated by cheats, even more so than professional baseball in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Armstrong is unquestionably an athlete with extreme physical gifts, but maybe he felt he had to dope just to keep up with the field. I don’t know. That in no way excuses him. He cheated, and for that, the invalidation of his titles and lifetime ban from the sport is wholly justified.

Honestly, I don’t know how to deal with this. My faith in Armstrong has waned through the years as the evidence has mounted against him, but until now I never quite allowed myself to believe it wholesale. I nearly cried reading the USADA’s Reasoned Decision as I watched the career and accomplishments of one of my heroes crumble before my very eyes. Make no mistake: Whatever you’ve though of Armstrong in the past, this is a sad time for both cycling and sport as a whole. The last fifteen years or more are a period dominated by those who’ve forgotten the freedom of a kid’s first bicycle, or the simple satisfaction of squaring up a pitch, or the childlike joy of just running. Running for the thrill of grass under your feet and wind in your face and the exhilaration of having your own body propel you forward. Sports are child’s play that a few talented and lucky individuals get to make a living from.

I feel like I’ll start straying from the point if I go on much more, so I’ll just end with this: I’m sad. I’m sad because a man, Lance Armstrong, and many other men beside him, thought they were above fair and equitable competition. They made us to look with wonder upon their super-human feats only to have the illusion come crashing down around us as we discovered that what they did was indeed beyond any natural human capacity.

Looking Towards the 2013 Rangers

My beloved Texas Rangers bombed out of the playoffs Friday night, finishing their season on a terrifically bad stretch. For a long time it looked a relative certainty that they’d be the top seed in the American League. But then the last week of the season happened. And now the 2012 season is over for the Rangers.

But hope springs eternal, and on that note it’s not too early to begin looking at the 2013 team. Despite the flaws they do have, the Rangers were one of baseball’s best teams this year, even through their pitching staff being plagued by injuries, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. With a few notable exceptions, the core of that team is coming back and healthy for next season. So without further ado, let’s see what the team might look like for next season:

Note – players with an asterisk (*) by their names are free agents who I am assuming (for now) that the Rangers will re-sign. 

Starting Pitchers: Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando

These guys are under contract already, and collectively represent a pretty good rotation. Darvish had his ups and downs early, but was really starting to figure it out at the end of the year. Look for him to be the unquestioned ace of the staff next year and (dare I say it?) on the fringe of the Cy Young conversation. Harrison was a workhorse this year, and Lewis has been in the past. Harrison will probably put up better season numbers than Lewis, but the Rangers resigned Lewis because he has undeniable moxie. It’s also possible that Harrison, who is arbitration eligible this off season, will receive a new four or five year contract instead. Holland continues to be a bit of an enigma – great one game, struggles the next – but since about halfway through the 2011 season he’s at least been reliable, able to work through a lot of those struggles. And when the brilliance comes, he’s as unhittable as anyone in the league.

Which brings us to the fifth member of the rotation. Breaking camp this last year, that role belonged to Neftali Feliz. He did an ok job in most of his starts, but bombed out pretty quickly due to injury. I imagine he’ll get a shot to win the job back next year. Alexi Ogando, who was an All-Star in 2011 and pitched well in his only start this season before pulling a muscle trying to beat out a ground ball, leads the other candidates, who include Robbie Ross, who surprised everyone in spring training and was an important member of the bullpen, and Martin Perez, who spent most of the season in AAA but made several starts for the Rangers this year. Justin Grimm will likely be stretched out in big league camp next spring as well. He spent most of the season in AA but made a couple starts for the big club this year, and pitched very well in one of them. If I were a betting man, I’d wager Grimm starts next season in AAA, although its possible that a strong spring lands him in the bullpen. Also, I’m guessing the Rangers buy out Scott Feldman’s  contract instead of picking up the option, so he’s gone.

There’s also the possibility, of course, that the Rangers will sign a free agent or trade for a front line starter. The problem here is that the free agent class isn’t very deep. Zach Greinke is probably the best name on the list, but I don’t think the Rangers will pay him or anyone else the kind of money it would take.

My prediction is that Ogando returns to the rotation with that killer fastball/slider combo.

UPDATE: I didn’t realize at the time of original posting that Lewis is unlikely to be ready before midseason next year. This significantly increases the probability sign a free agent starting pitcher. Re-signing Ryan Dempster becomes a realistic goal, as does targeting the likes of Shaun Marcum or Anibal Sanchez. Brandon McCarthy and Hiroki Kuroda would be interesting options as well. It also becomes more likely that the Rangers target a starting pitcher through a trade. See the trade section for more on that.

Bullpen: Joe Nathan (closer), Neftali Feliz, Robbie Ross, Mike Adams*, Koji Uehara*, Robbie Ross, Martin Perez

Seeing how the bullpen fills out will be interesting. If Ogando does indeed go into the rotation, Ross and Feliz will be in the pen. If the Rangers fail to re-sign Mike Adams, Feliz likely takes over the setup role for Nathan. If they do manage to re-sign both Adams and Uehara, though, that’s a very scary back end, even better than they had this year. Uehara came on strong at the end of the year, and if you have a four man punch with Uehara, Feliz, Adams, and Nathan, not to mention Ross who with a season of high-stakes pitching under his belt looks to come back even better, the Rangers would be able to put a stranglehold on late leads while keeping pen arms fresh.

I’m penciling in Perez as the long reliever right now, although there’s a chance he breaks camp next year in AAA so he continues to get work as a starter. Ross could also fill the long relief role, although as the only lefty of the group he’s more valuable in a late inning role. Mark Lowe is a free agent, but I doubt the Rangers will re-sign him unless they can’t sign Adams and Uehara.

Catcher: Geovanny Soto, Mike Napoli*

Napoli comes with the additional asterisk that if the Rangers pony up enough money to keep Josh Hamilton around, Napoli is almost certainly gone. I think Napoli likes being a Ranger, and that a platoon catching situation between him and Soto is pretty ideal. Napoli showed flashes of 2011 this season, but I think he can be had for a reasonable price on a two to three year contract, and I think the Rangers pull the trigger on that.

As for Soto, the Rangers were happy with the way he handled the staff, and he provided just enough pop to not be a total zero at the plate. He’s arbitration eligible, so he sticks around.

If the Rangers aren’t able to re-sign Napoli, look for them to sign another free agent to platoon with Soto. No one who would be a huge addition is going to be available, but there are some serviceable options. Expect the offensive numbers to take a hit, though.

Infield: Adrian Beltre (3B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Ian Kinsler (2B), Mitch Moreland (1B), Jurickson Profar (SS/2B), Mike Olt (3B/1B), Michael Young (1B/Util.)

Napoli may see the occasional game at first, but with Moreland, Young, and Olt all able to play first it won’t be much. I think Profar definitely spends the whole season in the majors, and there’s a very good chance Olt will as well. Young’s playing time will be interesting to watch. He’s still the leader in the clubhouse, but he’s coming off a down year and he’s in the last year of his contract. He still may be the regular DH, but I’ll be very surprised if he gets as many at-bats as he did this year.

First base is the only position that hold much intrigue in this infield, though. It’s been one of the best in the league for the last couple years defensively, and represents three of the first four hitters in the lineup offensively (maybe the top of the order if Hamilton isn’t re-signed). Profar and Olt will help keep the others well rested, and shouldn’t be slouches on either side of the ball themselves.

Outfield: Nelson Cruz (RF), David Murphy (LF), Craig Gentry (CF), Leonys Martin (CF/OF)

This is where things get hairy. It’s all contingent on whether or not the Rangers re-sign Josh Hamilton, and I don’t think they do. I think the Rangers offer three or four years at about 18 million a year, which is what Hamilton’s worth all things considered, but I think someone else gives him five or six years at 25 million and he takes it. The Rangers might go up to 20 million, but I think it’s going to come down to years and I think they’re smarter than giving Hamilton a contract into his late 30’s. And that means that, if Adams, Uehara, and Napoli are all signed, the outfield is the weakest part of the Texas Rangers in 2013.

But while it’s unquestionably a tall order to replace Hamilton’s numbers in the middle of the lineup, I don’t think that’s the end of the world. If you look at the rest of the team, there’s a good chance of plus starting pitching and an excellent bullpen and infield. In the outfield, Cruz is streaky but an above average hitter. He’s an average defender, but has an excellent arm. Murphy’s an average defender, but a grinder at the plate who always seems to grow stronger as the season progresses. Center field is the biggest hole, certainly, but Gentry is a good defender, has had an above average OBP the last two seasons, and is always a threat on the base paths. We’re still waiting for Martin to really come around, but I could see him sliding into a fourth outfielder spot much like Murphy has filled the last several seasons. I’m not saying it’s a great outfield, but it’s not exactly a liability either.

As far as free agents go, I might like to see the Rangers make a run at Michael Bourn if they don’t get Hamilton. He’s not a huge upgrade over what’s there, but he would give the outfield some depth. More likely is that if help is coming, it will be through a trade, although there’s also the chance that Kinsler might play a few games in the outfield next season to make room for Profar in the infield. Moreland can also play some outfield if Olt starts clicking offensively and takes over regular first base duties.

Trades:

Cruz, Kinsler, and Andrus have all been bandied about as potential trade bait. I think it would be foolish to trade Andrus, and I don’t think a trade of Cruz makes a lot of sense because you lose one of your remaining power bats (assuming Hamilton’s departure). Kinsler is more interesting, but he’s also a little hard to move. The Rangers gave him a new contract early in the year. The only way they move him is for a power outfield bat (or maybe first base if Moreland is included in the trade) or a front line starter. I could also see a package for a number of near-majors prospects, but I think it’s unlikely that another team is going to give much for Kinsler in that regard.

I actually think Moreland is the most likely Ranger to get traded this off season. The Rangers are obviously committed to Olt, and with him, Young, and Napoli able to play first base there’s not a whole lot of room for Moreland. If the Rangers can bandy Moreland and maybe a couple prospects for a outfielder who could slide into  maybe the 5-hole in the order (yes, I know I’m forgetting cleanup right now, assuming Beltre moves forward a spot; I’m just using that as a measure for the kind of offensive player they’d need) I think they’d pull the trigger in a heartbeat.

UPDATE: As discussed above, Lewis being on the DL for half the season increases the Rangers’ need for another starting pitcher or two. Makes it pretty imperative, actually. So the chance that Kinsler or Andrus is traded becomes likely, provided they can get the right team to bite. If one of the two is going, I’d prefer it be Kinsler. Their career batting averages and on base percentages are nearly identical, and Elvis plays better defense in a more important position. Kinsler hits for more power, but he’s thirty now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andrus continue to make incremental improvements to his game next year. If, on the other hand, you could lure David Price from Tampa Bay with Andrus, I think you have to do that. I might ship Andrus for Shields, but I’d do a lot more to try to sell Kinsler first. Much like San Diego near the 2011 trade deadline, the Rangers should be (quietly) shopping Kinsler, but be ready to trade Andrus if it’s a package that’s worth it. I think the Rangers believe Profar is ready, much like Andrus himself being thrust into the lineup his rookie season.

Overall:

So there’s your possible 25 man roster. It’s not as scary a team offensively as they have been the last couple years, but I think it’s a team just as equipped to win, and maybe beat you in some different ways. It’s a speedier team, with Gentry getting more time and Profar getting some semi-regular play. It’s one that will need to hit well situationally, but will also be able to keep games very close with its pitching.

Clearly, it would be stupid not to try to re-sign Josh Hamilton. For all his faults, he’s too talented a player not to make a run at. The guys who can literally carry a team are rare, and when Josh is on he’s one of them. But the Rangers need to be ready to turn their attention elsewhere as soon as it becomes clear Josh’s price leaves their comfort zone. Napoli is going to be the best offensive catcher available, and if you don’t re-sign at least one of either Adams or Uehara the bullpen suddenly has a lot of questions. For the price Hamilton is likely to end up commanding you could nearly sign all three of them. Then the Rangers can turn their attention to giving Harrison an extension and maybe flipping Moreland for an outfielder, particularly if it looks like Martin might need more seasoning in AAA.

This off season is very important to how competitive the Rangers will be for the next few years, but it doesn’t all hinge on Josh Hamilton. If the Rangers play their cards right, they will be in fine position to compete for the division and World Series titles again next year.

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