There has been a lot of hype around the Mariners this spring and for good reason. Their unusual approach to building through defense is the type of outside-the-box thinking that we don’t see often enough in baseball these days. The A’s have also made a splash in the off-season through some of their acquisitions. But the team I don’t think people are talking about enough is the Texas Rangers. The Rangers aren’t the favorites to win the AL West but if things go their way in 2010 they could definitely be the best team in the division. Let me throw some optimistic thinking about the Rangers at you…..
1. Josh Hamilton is one of the more talented hitters in baseball when he is healthy. In 2008 he played so well that he was a first round fantasy pick in 2009. He won’t get a lot of attention this year and that could be just what he needs to relax and settle back in as a 30 home run number three hitter.
2. Vlad Guerrero has been hitting in a fairly tough park for years in Los Angeles. He has a great career track record in Arlington. He is a full-time DH which should help to keep him healthy. He could be rejuvenated this year and have a bit of a bounceback season.
3. Chris Davis showed real improvement when he came back up to Texas after disappointing at the start of the season. If those gains can continue we could be looking at another 30 home run player in their lineup.
4. Julio Borbon is electric. He can steal bases and disrupt pitchers like crazy if he can get on base. Texas is going to let him run with the LF and leadoff hitter job.
5. David Murphy is one of the better bench players in the league. He gives them a great cushion in the OF and DH.
6. Nelson Cruz can be even better that last year if he can stay healthy. He seemed to wear down last year but he might be better prepared this time. Guerrero, Kinsler, Cruz, Hamilton and Davis can all hit 30+ home runs. Borbon and Andrus can run and Michael Young is a professional hitter. Looks like a good offense.
But the real reason I think Texas can finally compete is their pitching. Let me explain…..
1. Switching from Kevin Millwood to Rich Harden is risky but it is the kind of move you need to make to try to win your division. It might not work but Millwood is never going to be an ace again. Harden at least has a chance.
2. For once, Texas has real starting pitching depth. Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy probably won’t even make the rotation. They have enough depth that if Tommy Hunter or Derek Holland regress they can turn to other options. They haven’t had this type of pitching depth in recent years.
3. If Neftali Felix can’t make the rotation and they send him to the bullpen he could be a real difference maker. Frank Francisco showed pretty good closer skills when he was healthy in 2009 and C.J. Wilson was a really good set up man. Add in Feliz as a 6th and 7th inning pitcher in close games and the Rangers could really shut down teams in the later innings. Feliz could be a lot like Joba Chamberlain was in New York a couple years ago, when he would come in, throw gas and put out the other team’s rally before turning it over to the veterans.
A lot of things could go wrong for Texas. Players like Hamilton, Kinsler, Guerrero and Harden could get hurt. Their young pitchers could regress. But, the AL West no longer has a dominant team. The Angels have been weakened. The Mariners are trying to make their run but we don’t know if it will work out. The door is open for the Rangers to push their way through and I don’t think enough people see that possibility coming.