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2014 Rangers Team Preview: Heavy Artillery In Arlington

Jason Brown

Jason Brown

A Texas Ranger fan since the days of Richie Zisk, Jason has written for RotoWire since 1998. His loyalties moved on to Oddibe McDowell and Ruben Sierra, before becoming a Rangers clubhouse attendant during his college years, working far too long for far too little but enjoying every minute of it. An early interest in hockey, unusual for a Texan (thanks Dad!), was bolstered when the Stars came to town and culminated in watching Eddie Belfour outduel Patrick Roy in a pair of Game 7 Western Conference Finals wins in back-to-back years. Jason claims to be more attractive than his brother Darin.

2014 Texas Rangers Team Preview

For the second straight season, a late collapse kept Texas out of the playoffs despite a healthy lead in the division for most of the year. The offense struggled to score runs following the departures of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton in the prior offseason, and a 50-game suspension handed down to Nelson Cruz proved to be too much for Texas to overcome.

This offseason was far from quiet, as the Rangers dealt from an area of strength in shipping Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder, signed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and added Michael Choice to the outfield mix in exchange for Craig Gentry. JP Arencibia was also brought in via free agency after being non-tendered by Toronto to provide some depth at catcher behind Geovany Soto.

The pitching staff remains largely intact, though an offseason knee injury to Derek Holland that will keep him sidelined until the All-Star break creates a hole that Texas has yet to fill. Joe Nathan left via free agency but Texas has internal candidates in Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria to take over the closer's role.

All told, Texas addressed some glaring weaknesses in adding left-handed bats Fielder and Choo over the winter. While Kinsler, Nathan and Gentry will be missed, there are replacements in place already on the roster and it should be a stronger team in 2014 as a result. Barring injuries to the rotation, Texas seems poised to reclaim the AL West title that has eluded them the past two seasons.

Offseason Moves

Traded 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit for 1B Prince Fielder.

Kinsler is clearly a player in decline after a nice peak, albeit one that benefited from his home park. Texas had to do something with the logjam up the middle with the Kinsler/Elvis Andrus/Jurickson Profar trio. Profar wasnít going to get enough playing time in a utility role again, and his ďmehĒ first season in the majors likely hurt his trade value a good deal if Texas wanted to flip him for a major-league ready prospect (Oscar Tavares was long rumored). Texas is getting a much-needed power bat from the left side in Fielder, though there are questions surrounding Fielder as well. It will be a bad contract a few years from now (like most), but Texas got some money from the Tigers in the deal and have their own cash cow coming to fruition in a regional TV deal. Given Texasí depth and related needs, this was a pretty good trade for them.

Traded OF Craig Gentry and P Josh Lindblom to Oakland for OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick.

The trade for Choice occurred before the signing of Shin-Soo Choo, so for a brief period Choice was set to be the primary left fielder for Texas. Choice has seen his power dip against advanced pitching, but heíll benefit greatly from the switch of ballparks. Gentry was the ideal reserve outfielder, excellent on the basepaths and on defense, but Texas hopes to replace much of what Gentry provided with youngster Engel Beltre.

Lost Lance Berkman (retired), David Murphy (free agency), AJ Pierzynski (free agency), Jeff Baker (free agency) and Joe Nathan (free agency).

Berkman was a good risk turned bad thanks to a knee injury that would eventually end his career, as he was basically invisible from late June on. Murphy was the starting left fielder in 2013 but had his worst season to date. Pierzynski provided everything Texas could reasonably expect from him, but opted not to pursue him this winter. Baker provided some lightning-in-a-bottle production against left-handed pitchers in a limited role. Nathan is obviously the biggest lost, as his two-year run as the Rangers' closer was nothing sort of dominant. Texas has internal candidates in Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria, both with solid-but-short track records as closers before injuries limited both in the past two seasons.

Signed OF Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract.

Choo gives Texas a much-needed boost at the top of the lineup, after posting a career-high .423 OBP in 2013. His declining numbers against lefties doesnít bode well for his value toward the end of the contract, but Texasí focus right now is the next few years where Yu Darvish and the bulk of the rotation are still under club control.

Re-signed C Geovany Soto to a one-year, $3 million contract.

Soto showed good power (.466 slugging, nine homers in 54 games) in a reserve role behind AJ Pierzynski last season. He hasnít received more than 350 at-bats since the 2011 season, and the batting average in a full-time role could suffer as well.

Signed C J.P. Arencibia to a one-year deal.

Arencibiaís 2013 season was a disaster (.194/.227/.365), and it resulted in Toronto choosing to non-tender him in the offseason. Texas was quick to pounce, and a rebound of sorts would give Texas a decent backup option, albeit one similar in profile (good pop, low average) to their starter in Soto.

Signed P Tommy Hanson to a one-year, $2 million deal.

Hanson has battled injuries in recent years but figures to be the leading candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation with the injury to Derek Holland.

Signed Edwar Cabrera, Shawn Tolleson, Daniel McCutchen and Armando Galarraga to minor league contracts.

None of the four are expected to contribute much of anything at the major league level in 2014, though McCutchen and Galarraga have experience in a major league rotation and could pick up the occasional start with Texas if injuries necessitate a spot starter for a few weeks.

Signed Aaron Poreda, Nathan Adcock, Jose Contreras, Doug Mathis, Justin Germano, Rafael Perez, Daniel Bard, Brad Snyder, Bryan Petersen, Brent Lillibridge, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Josh Wilson to minor league deals with invites to spring training.

Itís the standard lot of NRIs that most teams take with them in March: a mix of rotation candidates from a pool of former starters, a few decent outfield options with moderate pop in a good year, and some utility infield candidates. Daniel Bard is the most intriguing name on the list given his past success with the Red Sox.

Projected lineup

1. Shin Soo-Choo (LF)
2. Elvis Andrus (SS)
3. Prince Fielder (1B)
4. Adrian Beltre (3B)
5. Alex Rios (RF)
6. Mitch Moreland/Michael Choice (DH)
7. Geovanny Soto (C)
8. Leonys Martin (CF)
9. Jurickson Profar (2B)

Itís lineup with a big influx of OBP at the top of the order with the Choo and Fielder additions. The bottom of the order could change depending on performance. The Rangers really need a rebound from Mitch Moreland and upticks from the young duo of Leonys Martin and Profar. Thereís upside there to be sure, but itís a group that collectively needs to be better in 2014.

Projected rotation

1. Yu Darvish
2. Matt Harrison
3. Alexi Ogando
4. Martin Perez
5. Tommy Hanson/Nich Tepesch/Colby Lewis/Robbie Ross

The injury to Derek Holland is an obvious blow, and heís expected to remain sidelined for at least half of the season after undergoing microfracture surgery to repair damage to his knee. Harrison was limited to just two starts in 2013 before undergoing a pair or surgeries for his troublesome back. He was a durable and effective starter for the two years prior, and should be high on the list of rebound candidates for 2014, as heís expected to be fully healthy at the start of spring training.

Closer: Neftali Feliz or Joakim Soria. The early indications are that Feliz will get first crack at earning the closer's role this spring, with Soria set to serve as a key setup man from the right side. However, a poor spring or a minor injury could change that. There were early-winter rumblings that Tanner Scheppers was also in the mix, but his poor control and lack of a strikeout pitch make him a poor fit for a team with two quality ninth-inning options. Itís a battle that likely wonít have an official winner until late in the spring.

Key bullpen members: The loser of the Feliz/Soria battle for closer should inherit primary right-handed setup duties, sliding Tanner Scheppers back to the seventh inning. Neal Cotts was tremendous in a relief role (57 innings, 36 hits, 18 walks, 65 Ks) after being out of the majors for four years, and will be the primary lefty out of the bullpen in 2014.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

42 steals from Alex Rios, including 16 in 47 games for Texas. Really?

Itís not that Rios is slow, as he had two prior seasons of 30+ steals, but itís hard to envision Rios approaching these totals again when you consider heíll have Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre clogging the bases ahead of him at a reasonable clip. A 15-20 steal season seems likely, but thereís nothing but downside if you value him based on 40 steals again.

What should we expect from Alexi Ogando and Martin Perez?

Ogandoís been jerked around the past three seasons, starting 29 times in 2011, making 57 relief appearances in 2012, and then making 18 starts last year. He has a clear spot in the Texas rotation with the injury to Holland. Durability has been a concern (not surprising given his usage patterns the past three years), but Texas really needs 30 starts from him this season. Heís an effective starter when healthy.

As for Perez, his 2013 emergence on the heels of a disastrous 2012 campaign at Triple-A Round Rock ranks as one of the bigger surprises of the year. Seemingly on top prospect lists for years, Perez was never able to fully put things together before he was thrown into the Texas rotation mid-year. The peripherals (37 walks, 84 Ks in 124.1 innings) remain somewhat shaky, but Texas believes in the product having inked Perez to a four-year deal this winter. Like Ogando, Texas needs 30 starts from Perez as well to solidify a shaky rotation.

Is Jurickson Profar worth the hype?

Profarís rookie season was a tough one, fanning 63 times and slashing .234/.308/.336 in 286 at-bats. Consistent playing time was the issue with the rest of the Texas infield at full strength for the second half, but the trade of Kinsler to Detroit paves the way for consistent playing time for Profar in 2014. He makes for an excellent post-hype sleeper pick given his minor league pedigree and lackluster results in his rookie season.

Strengths

Yu Darvish and the top half of the batting order.

Weaknesses

A potentially shaking rotation until Derek Holland returns.

Rising: Martin Perez, P - The aforementioned Perez posted 10 wins in 20 starts last year, and itís easy to forget that heís still just 23 years old. There are concerns, discussed above, that may limit his upside but heíll be handed the ball every fifth day as long as heís healthy.

Declining: Adrian Beltre, 3B - Itís borderline sacrilegious to suggest Beltre is on the downslope of his career to anyone that has spent any time watching Beltreís three-year run in Texas. Heís been a down ballot MVP candidate for three years running, and he remains an excellent producer at a premium position. But heíll be 35 when the season opens, and there comes a time when every great player starts to show his age. Nagging injuries have started to creep into play here, so tread carefully here if the bidding gets too high. There will come a time when the descent happens.

Sleeper: Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH - Moreland will either be one of the better rebound stories of the season or heíll be cast aside for 2015. His second half collapse (.183/.273/.366 in 191 at-bats) had Texas shopping for a first baseman this winter. He swatted 20 HRs for the first time in his career, but the .232 average took out whatever nominal value his power added to the bottom line. Thereís upside here by virtue of stepping to the plate 500 times behind Fielder, Beltre and Rios if he can hit for a higher average.

Sleeper: Matt Harrison, P - Harrisonís two-start campaign in 2013 will erase some of the memory of his two-year run prior to that (32 wins, 3.33 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and early indications are that heíll be fully healthy for the start of spring training. He lacks in Ks, but should be an effective starter at a reduced price.

Supersleeper: Colby Lewis, P - It remains to be seen if thereís anything left in Lewisí tank after forearm and hip injuries kept him off a major league mound the past 18 months. Reports during his abbreviated rehab stint last summer, prior to his hip surgery, had him topping out in the mid-80s with his fastball but heís expected to get a long look at filing the fifth spot in the rotation this spring. Highly effective when healthy since coming back from Japan, watch the spring reports and results carefully here.

Top prospects:

Jorge Alfaro, C - Alfaroís upside (25 HRs/15 SBs) from the catcher spot has fantasy stud written all over it if he can get there. He destroyed AFL pitching over the winter in his first look at advanced pitching, and heíll likely reach Double-A Frisco at some point this season. His approach at the plate could use some refining however, so there could be some initial growing pains.

Luke Jackson, P - There are some questions if Jackson will be able to remain in a major league rotation given the high effort required from his delivery, but thereís little doubting his stuff. Heís Texasí best pitching prospect and the organizational track record of converting prospects into pitchers has been pretty solid of late. Heís expected to begin the year at Double-A Frisco.

Rougned Odor, 2B - A top five prospect on name alone, Odor rocketed all the way to Double-A Frisco as a 19-year old last season, capping the season with a .306/.354/.530 slash in 30 games. The middle infield remains crowded even after the trade of Kinsler, so his eventual role with Texas remains to be determined. Heís projecting as an All-Star caliber talent at second base.