Philadelphia, PA – The Texas Rangers begin a new era, as they try to turn the page on a disappointing 2012 season.
The Rangers seemingly had everything going there way and held a 5 1/2-game lead in the American League West as late as Sept. 6. However, the wheels fell off for manager Ron Washington and the Rangers ended the season losing seven of nine, including the final three to the Oakland Athletics in a series to decide the division.
To make matters worse, the Rangers then lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the one-game playoff, effectively ending their season.
Now the Rangers enter a season with even more uncertainty as free agent Josh Hamilton bolted to the division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, slugger Mike Napoli left for Boston and team leader Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia.
General manager Jon Daniels, who is reportedly in a power struggle with team owner Nolan Ryan, re-armed his offense with aging veterans like Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynksi, but they will be hard pressed to find someone to match the near Triple Crown production of Hamilton.
It may be a young player, Jurickson Profar, who ultimately decides the Rangers' fates - be it on the field or off it in a trade.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Rangers, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2012 FINISH (93-69) - Second Place (AL West)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Lance Berkman (DH), A.J. Pierzynski (C), Jeff Baker (3B), Jason Frasor (RHP), Joakim Soria (RHP).
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Josh Hamilton (OF), Mike Napoli (C), Michael Young (3B),
PROJECTED LINEUP: Ian Kinsler (2B); Elvis Andrus (SS); Lance Berkman (DH); Adrian Beltre (3B); Nelson Cruz (RF); David Murphy (LF); A.J. Pierzynski (C); Mitch Moreland (1B); Leonys Martin (CF)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Matt Harrison (LHP); Yu Darvish (RHP); Derek Holland (LHP); Alexi Ogando (RHP); Nicholas Tepesch
PROJECTED CLOSER: Joe Nathan (RHP)
MANAGER: Ron Washington
IS THERE ENOUGH STARTING PITCHING?
The Texas Rangers can tell you that they have enough starting pitching until they are blue in the face, but the fact remains that they were all in on righty Zack Greinke this winter and had been monitoring Kyle Lohse up until he signed with Milwaukee.
Matt Harrison emerged last season for the Rangers, going 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA in 213 1/3 innings (32 starts) in 2012. It was the lefty's second consecutive season with an ERA of less than 3.40 and at least 185 innings pitched. His reward was a 5-year, $55 million contract extension in the offseason.
Yu Darvish, acquired last offseason through the posting system for Japanese pitchers, was 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 191 1/3 innings (29 starts). He finished the season with a 5-1 record and a 2.35 ERA in his last eight outings -- all quality starts.
But after those two, question marks abound.
While Harrison will go in Texas' season opener in Houston, Derek Holland will start the Rangers' first home game. Holland was inconsistent last season and ended the year just 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA, He had won 16 games in 2011.
With the concerns in the rotation, Alexi Ogando figures to return to it after pitching in the bullpen last season. After an impressive year as a starter in 2011, Ogando pitched in relief a year ago and was 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA.
The hope had been for prospect Martin Perez to land one of the final rotation spots, but a broken arm early in spring training altered those plans. Instead righty Nicholas Tepesch is expected to start the year as the team's fifth starter.
WHO'S REPLACING JOSH HAMILTON?
This is going to be the million dollar question for the Texas Rangers this season.
Sure, Leonys Martin will take Josh Hamilton's center field spot, but how are the Rangers going to replace his production. Unless there's some tree that grows .300 hitters who can hit 40 home runs and knock in 140 RBI that we are unaware of that's an awful big hole to fill in the middle of the lineup.
The Rangers are hoping Lance Berkman can be that guy. Of course, they are not expecting the type of numbers Hamilton put up, but if he can come close to his 2011 season with the St. Louis Cardinals that saw him hit .301 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI the Rangers would be more than pleased. Last year, though, the 37-year-old Berkman battled injuries and only batted .259 and drove in seven runs in 32 games.
Berkman is supposedly healthy and should bounce back in a lineup that will see him bat third behind Elvis Andrus in front of the Rangers' power bats in Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.
WHAT ABOUT JURICKSON PROFAR?
Jurickson Profar is the best prospect in all of baseball. Yet the Texas Rangers can't find a spot for him in their lineup.
Of course, Profar's biggest stumbling block may be that he his literally blocked. Ian Kinsler is Texas' everyday second baseman and Elvis Andrus is the everyday shortstop. That is not going to change, despite rumblings that the second baseman may consider a move to first.
Profar's likely headed towards Triple-A Round Rock. By the way, that's not a bad thing either. He won't turn 21 until after this coming season. There is no rush. In fact he'd probably benefit from another year of minor league seasoning.
He spent part of last season in Double-A Frisco, where he posted a .281 average with 14 home runs and 16 steals. The Rangers promoted him to the majors late last season, where he played just nine games with a home run and two RBI.
Even if he was lights-out in spring training, which he wasn't by the way, it would have been hard for Washington to find a spot for him.
Profar may get his 500 at-bats this season, but there is a very good chance it does not come with the Rangers. Profar is always the first name out of other general managers mouths when they call about a trade.
With a need in the rotation and a possible giant void in the lineup it's not crazy to think Daniels dangles him at some point.
X-FACTOR: LEONYS MARTIN: Hamilton had been the Rangers' center fielder for the past five seasons, but instead of filling that enormous void in free agency or via trade, the Rangers looked from within, giving the job to 25-year-old Leonys Martin. Now Martin may split time early on with Craig Gentry, but the hope has always been that Martin would take the job. The Cuban product hit .359 with a .610 slugging percentage last season at Triple-A Round Rock and has followed that up with a terrific spring. Many in the Rangers' organization, though, weren't concerned with his bat, but some felt he'd be hamstrung by his defense. That, though, hasn't been a problem this spring. At his best, Martin could be a five-tool star. And if that starts to develop this year fans in Arlington may not miss Hamilton all that much. But, even if he doesn't become a superstar this season, at worst he's still better than many other bottom-of-the-order hitters around the league.
The Texas Rangers are no longer the favorites in the American League West. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are poised for a bounce back season with the Rangers best player from last season no less. The Oakland Athletics also return essentially the same team as the one that won an AL West crown a year ago. Add in an improving Seattle Mariners club and the Rangers really have their backs up against the wall. Offensively, the team is hoping that Berkman finds the fountain of youth, while the pitching staff is littered with questions. The Rangers may not have enough to contend for a division title, but they still may find a way to be in the mix for one of the two wild card spots.