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Friday, January 10, 2014

A New Year, a Prince, and lots more to 'Choo' on...

Happy New Year, Rangers fans!


Well, it's been almost 4 months since we've waxed poetic/intellectual about America's pastime (is it still actually?) and specifically your Texas Rangers. I apologize for not having the will to give you a 'post'mortem (get it? haha), but plenty has happened since that last month of the season and luckily 162+ is here to catch you up *and* gear you up for the upcoming 2014 campaign...



Well after a strong showing in the final week of the 2013 season the Rangers were able to force a tie breaker with the Tampa Bay Rays in game 163 for the right to be the second Wild Card team. Unfortunately we lost that game 5-2 behind another lackluster, anemic, and erratic offensive showing (more on that later). The youngster Martin Perez had to grow up quick under the big lights and this time he didn't quite rise to the occasion. Not to fear. His future is bright. He'll brush the dirt off his shoulders...





Side note on those aforementioned Tampa Bay Rays. If I were a fan of that suddenly highly competitive franchise which, incidentally, has experienced its own 'Ranger-like' rise to prominence in the last 6 years or so...I would actually have a healthy distaste for the Texas Rangers. After losing the World Series in 2008 the Rays were eliminated by the Cinderella Rangers of 2010 in the ALDS and once again in the ALDS in 2011. 






So, there had to have been some measure of a satisfaction/revenge element to their elimination of the Rangers in 2013. It's an oddly familiar feeling actually. Lest we forget how the 90's Yankees manhandled the 90's Rangers year after year...




Worthless.


Speaking of those Cinderella Rangers of 2010...allow me to juxtapose that legendary (at least to us haha) squad with the current Rangers. Now, by no means am I suggesting that the 2014 Rangers are a finished product. Any fan of this team during the Jon Daniels era knows his work is never done. He's constantly trying to figure out how to make our team better. In a way you can almost call any Rangers team in his tenure a 'work in progress'.


W.W.J.D.D.



You might be asking yourself, then, how much can really change in a mere 4 short years? Lets examine...



If we arbitrarily choose game 3 of the 2010 World Series (the only game we won in the series, mind you) you'll find this lineup...




Elvis was your, then, lead-off hitter. He's a current filthy rich cornerstone of our franchise. No complaints there...





As you may have heard, Josh Hamilton left via free agency in 2012 to purported greener pastures (yawn). Jeff Francoeur was mainly a defensive sub and occasional clutch hitter for the 2010 Rangers. Mitch Moreland appears to have lost his job at 1B (more on that later) and perhaps his status as a Ranger period, despite having every chance in the world to earn and keep the job.


Fan favorite Bengie Molina eventually retired in 2011.



I will search the internet endlessly for every iteration of this moment! Haha...


Fan favorite #2 Vladimir Guerrero has bounced in and out of the league since his 1 great year in Texas.


It is still odd looking back that he became a Ranger...



The 3 remaining players of this lineup won't be a part of the team in 2014, an almost unfathomable thought in 2010. We had to say goodbye to this guy in 2012....


:/

Then this guy in 2013 (leaving females all over the DFW area distraught haha)...

It's just wrong...so wrong. Haha...



Which meant I had to say goodbye to these...


Aww boooo


Now I won't sit here and tell you that I saw the greater good right away with those 2 moves. I won't tell you I wasn't a little upset either...






Haha but in all seriousness...Micheal Young, Ian Kinsler, along with Nelson Cruz (Josh as well, I suppose) were about as close to irreplaceable as you could get.





So how does one go about replacing such crucial pieces? On a pennant winning team no less!? The Rangers recognized 3rd base as a weakness (not MY's natural position after all!) and went on to upgrade at the position via free agency in 2011. They settled on a little player you might know...






MY, the face of the franchise, the captain, the lifelong Ranger was then traded in 2012. That's not a move that was popular, but it was a move that was necessary. Although I believe he could have contributed in the years that followed and I would, of course, welcome him back with open arms...I'm beginning to see what Jon Daniels saw. Like Neo understanding the Matrix finally...







The 2013 Rangers made the biggest splash of the offseason with a blockbuster trade of Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder. Blind fan syndrome aside, on the surface you could see that the writing was on the wall for Ian. There were suddenly one too many great athletes in the infield with the arrival of the switch hitting electric youngster, Jurickson Profar. To say that the 20 year old has a crazy upside would be putting it lightly. Ian was not your prototypical lead-off hitter by any means though we treated him as such. He was getting up there in age and you're hard pressed to get an entire healthy season out of him at this point. In the final analysis he really did lift right out...





Nelson Cruz, meanwhile, after the BioGenesis scandal served his 50 game suspension at the end of the 2013 season. The Rangers were a shaky 29-21 in his absence. He returned for game 163, but was not much of a factor. The consensus after Nelly was to become a free agent in 2013 was that he would not return and would command big money after the dominoes began to fall in free agency. The Yankees, of course, would set the market rate with their signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the former being an outrageous 7 year 153 million dollar deal. Now given Nelson Cruz's injury history and well documented streakiness at the plate I couldn't justify giving him that much money for that many years. Only time will tell if a team is willing to take a chance on him with a deal similar to Ellsbury's, which I'm assuming is what he's demanding.



The Rangers eventually settled on Shin-Soo Choo for 7 years and 130 million. High risk/high reward deal if I've ever seen one. Now, I haven't looked at the numbers (for once), but he always struck me as a Ranger killer. His signing all but closed the door on the return of Nelson Cruz. Least of all being that Choo will wear Nelly's #17 going forward. That about says it all...


They're both clearly trying to ignore the obvious...


So all of that being said, you might NOW be asking yourself...what does all this mean? Lets begin by reiterating a point that was made ad nauseam on this very blog before the 2013 season: the eventual much maligned 2013 Rangers offense. It was something we could all see coming. They just never quite replaced the bats of Josh, MY, Nap, and eventually Nelly for those final 50 games. The acquisition of Alex Rios did end up being fruitful and I'm actually pretty excited to see what he'll bring to the table for the 2014 Rangers, but by and large the additions of Lance Berkman and AJP were largely busts (like we predicted they would be). The Rangers were a middle of the pack team in the American League in major categories like runs scored, slugging percentage and the almighty RBI and HR categories. A Ron Washington led team should have the makeup of discipline at the plate and they showed this by being near the bottom of the league in strikeouts yet defied it by also being near the bottom in bases on balls. A Ron Washington led team should also get on base and steal bases once they do (evidenced by their 149 SBs in 2013).



Enter Choo as your new leadoff hitter with his .424 OBP and 20 stolen bases. He should theoretically set the table just fine for Elvis and company at the top of the lineup. His 21 HRs won't hurt either. This move firmly ushers in our new look outfield of Rios, Leo, and Choo. Not to mention one of the more underrated acquisitions in the person of outfielder Michael Choice, a hometown guy, via trade from Oakland. Keep an eye on him, Rangers fans. He's a young buck and will replace an all around good guy in Craig Gentry...



Can't say we won't miss ole Kitten Face*. Haha...
*Further reading about the Kitten Face phenomenon can be found here by way of a bewildered Oakland market haha...

http://fieldofteams.csnbayarea.com/2013/12/03/new-as-player-craig-gentry-has-a-very-strange-nickname/


The Prince will look for a fresh start after a mediocre season (by his standards) from him in 2013 and settle into the 3 hole, giving Beltre protection at cleanup. I don't know about you, but I've since had glorious visions of Prince taking full advantage of the short porch in right therein adding that much needed power we lacked in 2013. Here's a player that hit 50 HRs in 2007 and although he's hit 40+ only once since then; with speed in front and power behind him he'll see PLENTY of pitches to hit. What simply cannot be overstated about Fielder is the fact that he's missed ONE game of playing time since 2009. That level of durability will be a welcome sight in Arlington.


Boom! Outta here...


It also finally shores up 1st base for the Rangers which is a position they've tried almost everyone you can think of to figure out in recent history. From MY and Napoli to Mitch Mo and Justin Smoak, it should really prove to be the most stable the position will be since the departure of Mark Teixeira, but of course without his trade there would be no Elvis, Matty, or Feliz. Quid pro quo...


So, having ignored the pitching for this entire post which for the first time, I believe, in my history as a Rangers fan is a <gasp> minimal concern. After all, we're talking about a staff that had a top 5 ERA and BAA AND were 6th in wins in the American League. Not to mention a now perennial Cy Young candidate it appears...





Show me a bullpen that can lose their closer and his 40+ saves and not be phased while you're at it!



Nathan was/is scary for a variety of reasons...


So, all I really need to say is that all this sound and fury signifying SOMETHING should have you Rangers fans excited for the upcoming season. Very, very excited...






It's safe to say optimism is high for 2014 compared to 2013 given the pieces we've added and the pieces we have yet to add before the season or even during the season for that matter! We're talking about a 91-win team that was maybe one or two bats from being a serious contender, by the way!!



So crack a beer...







Tell the Angels/A's/M's/'Stros to...







...and dance yourself a jig of glee because Spring Training is right around the corner!






33 days to go...

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