Texas made a return trip to the World Series in 2011, coming within a single strike twice in Game 6 of capturing the title, only to lose not only that game but a followup Game 7 that left the franchise still in search of its first world title. The big move of the offseason was effectively trading out C.J. Wilson for Yu Darvish. While an Angels squad infused with the aforementioned Wilson and Albert Pujols will provide plenty of competition in a top-heavy AL West, Texas is once again expected to contend for the American League crown and would be a solid pick to represent the circuit in a third straight World Series.
Signed P Yu Darvish to a six-year, $6o million contract.
The total cash outlay is north of $110 million once you consider the $51.7 million posting fee required, but no team in baseball scouted Darvish like Texas has for the past several seasons. The front office is obviously supremely confident in Darvish's ability to translate his success to the majors, as they essentially let C.J Wilson leave via free agency with virtually no resistance and nothing more than a token contract offer. Darvish is expected to head the Texas rotation, though the Opening Day assignment will likely fall to Colby Lewis.
Lost Darren O'Day on waivers; Lost C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver via free agency; Lost C Taylor Teagarden via trade.
The big loss is obviously Wilson to the division-rival Angels, though Oliver provided Texas with solid late inning relief that has left Texas scrambling to find a left-handed late relief option as of early February.
Signed free agent RHP Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million deal.
The news on Nathan was quickly followed by the announcement that Neftali Feliz would be moving to the rotation after two full years as Texas' closer. Texas is obviously confident in the health reports on Nathan's elbow, and his second-half numbers (28:5 K:BB, 3.38 ERA in 29.1 innings) would play well over the course of a full season. He's being paid too much to not close when healthy, though Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando would be capable backups in the event of a Nathan injury.
Acquired C Luis Martinez from San Diego, P Greg Reynolds from Colorado, OF Brad Snyder from Baltimore.
There's nothing more than organizational depth here, with the trio expected to spend the vast majority of the season at Triple-A Round Rock.
Signed free agent 1B Brad Hawpe.
Hawpe has struggled in his two years spent away from Colorado, though 2011's .231/.301/.344 slash in 231 plate appearances hit a new low. Signed to a minor league deal on the heels of Tommy John surgery in August, Hawpe will enter spring training as a contingency plan at first base in the event that Mitch Moreland's recovery from offseason wrist surgery is slower than expected.
Signed P Doug Salimas, C Chris Robinson, P Derek Hanks, P Kyle Fernandes, 2B Luis Hernandez, 2B Alberto Gonzalez, P Sean Green, 1B Brad Nelson, P Mitch Stetter, OF Kyle Hudson, P Yangervis Solarte to minor-league contracts.
Of the lot, Hernandez and Gonzalez are expected to compete this spring for the utility infielder job that opened up with the departure of both Esteban German and Andres Blanco.
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Josh Hamilton, LF
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Michael Young, DH
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. Mitch Moreland, 1B
9. Yet-to-be-named, CF
Mike Napoli is horribly underused in the No. 7 spot, but that's the likely scenario given the preferences of Ron Washington. It's possible that he switches places with Nelson Cruz, or bumps Michael Young down a spot. It's a lineup that will generally remain unchanged against lefties and righties alike, with the occasional inclusion of Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate (and some possible time at first base for Michael Young against tougher lefties to give Moreland a rest). A late spring decision to keep Hamilton in center field and use David Murphy in left also remains a distinct possibility.
1. Yu Darvish
2. Colby Lewis
3. Derek Holland
4. Neftali Feliz
5. Matt Harrison
6. Alexi Ogando*
Ogando appears to be the odd-man out if the rotation remains healthy through the spring despite a solid showing as a starter in 2011 before being moved back to the bullpen for the postseason.
Closer: Joe Nathan
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
Who wins the center field job?
The job, for now, remains an open three-way competition between Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. It's expected that the trio will spend all spring in a competition, with the looming possibility of Josh Hamilton sticking in center field and David Murphy serving as the primary left fielder if none of the three emerges with a good spring.
Borbon has had multiple chances, anointed as the starter each of the past two seasons, only to disappoint, whereas Martin struggled upon his initial exposure to Triple-A pitching during a 40-game stint at Round Rock. Gentry doesn't offer much at the plate, but has a good reputation with the glove and would be an immediate 30-40 stolen-base source with 400 at-bats.
What happens to Alexi Ogando?
Texas enters the spring with six healthy starters following the signing of Yu Darvish and the shift of Neftali Feliz to the rotation, with Ogando now the likely odd-man out given his past success out of the bullpen. Unfortunately for Ogando owners, he's expected to be behind both Joe Nathan and Mike Adams in the pecking order from the right side, likely being tasked with a few multiple-inning outings a week. It's a role that suited him well in the postseason before he ran out of gas, and his success in this role before makes him a far more likely candidate to return in such capacity over someone like Matt Harrison despite peripherals that suggest he could handle 33 starts and 180 innings a year.
What can one expect from Neftali Feliz?
Feliz's migration back to the rotation was put into motion early in the offseason, a stark contrast from last spring when Feliz's exact role was unknown until late March. One can expect Texas to limit his innings a fair amount, particularly with spot starts from Scott Feldman and the aforementioned Ogando a viable option should Feliz need extra rest. His success as a starter will come from how well he's able to control his secondary pitches, as he was already starting to lose a few ticks off his 100-mph heat as the season waned. Texas has the luxury of being able to slot Feliz back at the end of the rotation, lessening the need for him to emerge as a 200-inning workhorse right out of the gates. Expect them to be cautious.
Rising: Derek Holland - Holland finally turned the corner in the second half last season, posting a 9-1 record, 1.211 WHIP, 3.06 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 88 innings following a first half where his knack for mixing in poor starts amongst a string of solid ones continued. He's always possessed the ability to miss bats even during his struggles, so there's still some nice upside here given the strength of the Texas lineup behind him.
Falling: Nelson Cruz - Cruz missed more time with recurring leg troubles, putting an end to any sort of 20-steal upside he might have once possessed. He's a near lock for 30 homers despite the injury risk, but he's also fit the profile of an injury-riddled outfielder that hits .260 and doesn't eclipse 90 RBI in two of the past three seasons as well. His historic postseason power display figures to add a few bucks here as well.
Sleeper: Craig Gentry - Depending on the timing of your auction and drafts, Gentry could end up being a huge bargain. As mentioned above, he's one of three candidates for the center field job and offers a ton of upside in stolen bases should he emerge with the job. He managed nearly 20 steals as a glorified pinch-runner last year, so there's some nice associated floor even if he's nothing more than a fifth outfielder when the season starts.
Supersleeper: Alexi Ogando - For all the talk that Ogando won't have a roto-friendly role once the season begins (and the concerns are certainly valid), he can't be dismissed entirely. He could just as easily wind up being a rotation regular by mid-May if an injury takes down an existing starter, and there's a decent chance he'd get the call to close out games if Joe Nathan went down with additional elbow problems. Failing either of those scenarios, Ogando could rack up 90 strikeouts as an 80-inning reliever with more than a handful of wins.
Jurickson Profar, SS - Profar entered the 2011 season already high on many prospect lists, but he'll rocket up the charts on the heels for 2011' season where he swatted 37 doubles, eight triples and 12 homers in 420 at-bats at Low-A Hickory as an 18-year old, posting a solid 65:63 BB:K rate for good measure. Some scouts had questioned if there was another level to his game entering 2011, and Profar did plenty to answer those questions with the power outbreak. He's a few years away still, but another solid season will have Texas trying to figure out how to accommodate Profar, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler (should he sign a long-term deal as expected) in the same infield.
Martin Perez, LHP - Perez's prospect stock has dipped a bit the past two years due to some inconsistencies. His composite line for 2011 wasn't great: 152 hits and 56 walks in 137.1 innings to go along with 120 Ks, and included in there was 72 hits allowed in 49 innings at Triple-A. He's still way too young to dismiss entirely as he'll just turn 21 as the season opens, and his continued ability to miss bats remains a point in his favor. Derek Holland took several years to blossom with a similar skill set coming up through the system, though a solid year at Triple-A Round Rock in 2012 would go a long way in getting Perez back on track.
Mike Olt, 3B - Olt's first full season was interrupted by a broken collarbone, but he showed good power (14 homers) and patience (48 walks) in 240 at-bats at High-A Myrtle Beach. His strong showing (.349/.433/.764) in the AFL over the winter earned him league-wide prospect honors, and included 13 homers in 106 at-bats. He struggles at time making contact, which could be an issue over a full season against advanced pitching at Double-A Frisco. He's expected to see time at first base in the spring, which would help clear his eventual path to the majors if he continues to progress at the plate.
Jorge Alfaro, C - Alfaro made several short-season All-Star lists on the heels of a .300/.345/.481 season as a 17-year old (he turned 18 during the season). There's a decided lack of disciplined plate approach however, drawing just four walks and fanning 54 times in 160 at-bats (he posted a similar 5:48 rate in 172 at-bats in the Dominican Summer league back in 2010). Early scouting reports are glowing, but he's going to need a much better approach at the plate to succeed at the higher levels.
Leonys Martin, OF - Discussed above, Martin made his professional debut at Double-A Frisco with good results: .348/.435/.571 in 29 games with 15 walks and just eight Ks. Martin was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock after a brief absence due to back problems, but failed to build upon his earlier success by hitting just .263/.316/.314 with 24 Ks in 40 games. He'll enter spring training with a chance to win the center field job, but it's far more likely that he'll begin the year at Triple-A Round Rock. He's easily surpassed Julio Borbon as Texas' center fielder of the future however.