Texas Rangers off Season Report
- Updated: December 15, 2008
Season Wrap Up
Despite finishing under .500, the Rangers still finished second in the American League West, although they were about a mile behind the Angels at the top of the division. Their 79-83 record was not by any means impressive, but with the expectations that were in place for the Rangers before the season, it’s not too out of line. Texas was picked by many to finish lower in the division, although it’s unclear whether anyone thought that the second place team would come up short of 80 wins. One thing is for sure though, no one expected the Rangers to have the offense that they did. Led by former nobody Josh Hamilton, the Rangers placed first in the AL in both runs scored (901) and OPS (.816). While Hamilton no doubt led the charge with his amazing year, other bats were in the parade as well such as Milton Bradley and Hank Blalock. Knowing that they had all of this offense and still somehow managed to finish with less than 80 wins points to their main problem: pitching. During 2008, the Rangers ranked last in the AL in both runs allowed (967) and team ERA (5.37). While their pitching was not great, they did not receive a lot of help either as the Rangers also ranked last in the AL in fielding percentage at .978.
Holes to Fill
As mentioned above, the glaring hole from 2008 was the lack of pitching across the board. While their 2008 payroll of $68.2 million (21st in MLB) was probably a little less than expected, it gives them some, but probably not much, room to grow this off season while general manager Jon Daniels goes out to crack some deals for a few arms. It’s not as if there are just a few spots that need to be filled. The Rangers need pitching in the starting rotation and at every level in the bullpen. It does not seem likely that they will go after any of the big name free agents in the off season, but there should be some starters and relievers available for mid-range deals that would be perfect for the Rangers. With the offense they have, they don’t need to have a stellar staff to start to compete for a playoff spot, but they do need a staff that can at least rank somewhere in the middle of the AL in the major team categories. Texas does have a few young arms who saw some action last season that seem promising, but they are lacking any sort of veteran leadership in the form of a consistent pitcher and if manager Ron Washington wants his pitchers to continue to improve, he is going to need one in their clubhouse. Holes in their everyday line-up may be decided by what they decide to do with a few of their free agents. If Bradley does not come back, a hole in the outfield would be created, as well as a hole in the line-up with some big shoes to fill. If infielder Ramon Vazquez is not resigned, the Rangers may be looking to do some reworking of their infield, but this hole would not be nearly as significant as the one left by Bradley.
At the beginning of the off season, the Rangers had five players who could have become free agents in first baseman Hank Blalock, infielder Ramon Vazquez, outfielder Milton Bradley and pitchers Jamey Wright and Jason Jennings. Bradley is no doubt the team’s number one priority. The question is just whether owner Tom Hicks is going to be willing to put up the money to keep Bradley, who missed 30 games last year due to injury, in a Rangers’ uniform. Bradley has been listed as high as the fifth rated free agent on the market this off season and teams in need of an extra bat in their line-up are no doubt going to be intrigued by his league leading .999 OPS. This interest is just going to drive the price up on Bradley and will probably put him out of Texas’ range. The Rangers have already made their decision on Blalock as they picked up his 2009 club option which guarantees him $6.2 million next season. Along with Hamilton, Blalock was one of the more productive players on the Rangers’ roster last season. It is unclear what the team is going to do about Vazquez at this point. They are probably going to play the waiting game and see what kinds of offers other teams are willing to give him before they decide to get in on the game.
It really shouldn’t be hard for the Rangers to move up the scale in terms of winning percentage if they are just able to acquire any type of consistent pitching talent during the off season. If their offense comes close to producing the numbers it did in 2008, and the pitching improves to a middle of the road staff, it would not be unrealistic for the Rangers to win at least 85 games. Well known team president Nolan Ryan is still perhaps the last great pitcher that the Rangers have had, so it has been some time since the team has really had success in that area. With Hicks’ pockets probably going to be even more dingy than normal during the economic crisis, Daniels is going to have to work the phones throughout the off season to work some trades for his team. While the team does not have a lot of pitching, they do have a good number of pieces that would be able to be moved to be able to get some young pitching talent, or even some middle of the road veterans to fill in spots in the rotation and bullpen. With three viable catchers, it is conceivable that the Rangers will try their hardest to move one of them first as there are a good number of teams who are going to be at least looking for a catcher to fill the backup spot in their lineup. There are a few other everyday players that could be moved as well. Now that Blalock is in his definite last year of this contract, he could be a useful piece during the off season, or at the trade deadline for someone looking for an extra bat to carry them into the post season. Although this is a long way away, Daniels will probably try to swing a deal involving Blalock at the deadline if the Rangers are already out of contention by that point. The Rangers are by no means stocked with young talent ready to burst onto the scene at the big league level, but they do have a few players who may be able to contribute in the coming season. The player who may help the most to fill a need is pitcher Neftali Feliz, who was acquired from the Braves in 2007 in exchange for Mark Teixeira. With the team’s great need for pitching help though, Feliz may be pushed through the system too quickly in order to see what he really has in the bigs.
Bill Jordan is a contributing writer to BaseballReflections.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.