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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Offseason report card: Rangers

By David Schoenfield

2012 in review
Record: 93-69 (91-71 Pythagorean)
808 runs scored (1st in AL)
707 runs allowed (9th in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Lost free agents Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Scott Feldman, Ryan Dempster, Roy Oswalt and Koji Uehara. Signed free agents A.J. Pierzynski, Lance Berkman and Joakim Soria. Traded Michael Young to the Phillies for Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla. Signed Matt Harrison to a five-year, $55 million extension.

Of course, it's the two moves -- or one move -- the Rangers failed to make that defined their offseason: the failure to sign Zack Greinke, combined with the seemingly half-hearted attempt to bring back Hamilton.

This is what happens when you build a good team: It starts getting expensive. When the Rangers reached the World Series in 2010, their payroll was about $65 million. Last year, it had climbed to about $120 million; this year, it should be around that figure again, maybe a million or two higher. There was certainly room to go higher -- for the right guy. Instead, the Rangers had to go to backup plans: Berkman, coming off a season in which he played just 32 games, and Soria, the former Kansas City closer coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Berkman is an interesting gamble in that the Rangers need him to assume a prominent role in the lineup. Two years ago, he finished seventh in the NL MVP voting for St. Louis, hitting .301/.412/.547, although that was his best OPS since 2008.

In the end, though, the Rangers didn't get the pitcher they wanted, they lost a 43-homer guy, they lost a productive player in Napoli, and they lost depth on their pitching staff.

Position Players

Fun fact No. 1: Tampa Bay and Seattle scored more runs on the road than Texas.

Fun fact No. 2: In his two seasons with the Rangers, Adrian Beltre has hit 43 home runs at home, 25 on the road.

Fun fact No. 3: For all the talk about playing rookie Jurickson Profar at second base and moving Ian Kinsler to first, Mitch Moreland had a higher wOBA than Kinsler in 2012.

Fun fact No. 4: Maybe there's a reason Nelson Cruz's name was in the Biogenesis case. His OPS has gone from .950 to .821 to .779. On the bright side, he did play 159 games last year after missing 38 and 54 the previous two seasons, respectively.

Fun fact No. 5: Pierzysnki hit a career-high 27 home runs for the White Sox, after hitting just 17 the previous two seasons combined.

OK, what do we have here? A team with terrific infield defense in Elvis Andrus, Kinsler and Beltre, plus the center field platoon of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. But it's also a lineup relying on aging hitters pegged for the middle of the order: Berkman (37), Cruz (32), Beltre (34) and Pierzynski (36). On the other hand, the team has purged itself of Young, who was awful in 2012 in eating up 651 plate appearances, and youngsters Profar and Mike Olt are ready to step in when and if needed.

I think the lineup is overrated, as it benefits from playing at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark. The Rangers will miss Hamilton's presence and production, I don't know what to expect from Berkman and Pierzynski, and Beltre and David Murphy might regress some from 2012. I'm giving this group a B-plus, in part because of the defense, but that could be a half-grade too high.

Pitching Staff

Just like the lineup is maybe a bit overrated, I think the Rangers' pitching staffs have been underrated during their three-year playoff run. Yu Darvish and Harrison are an excellent 1-2, and I expect Darvish to be even better in his second year in the States. Alexi Ogando returns to the rotation, where he went 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA in 2011. There are some concerns that year was a BABIP-driven fluke (.267 BABIP) and his ERA was 4.48 in the second half, but remember that was his first season starting. I think he'll be fine.

The key to the rotation in my mind is Derek Holland. His dominant run in the second half of 2011 and a couple of strong playoff starts led to high expectations last year, but he went 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA. His biggest problem was the long ball: 32 home runs allowed in 27 starts. Thirty of those came against right-handed batters, so he needs to improve the consistency of his curve or changeup to go with his fastball/slider combo.

The fifth spot is wide open between Martin Perez (whom some still believe in), Justin Grimm and Robbie Ross, although the team hopes Colby Lewis can return sometime after the All-Star break after Tommy John surgery.

The bullpen loses its top two setup guys in Ogando and Adams, and Soria isn't expected to be ready until May. If Soria isn't the same guy he was with the Royals, there could be some issues here behind closer Joe Nathan unless one of the one guys such as Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font or Michael Kirkman steps up. As with Lewis, the Rangers also hope former closer Neftali Feliz returns in July or August from his Tommy John surgery.

Heat Map to Watch
At times, Darvish was spectacular; at times, he was frustrating when he nibbled and failed to command his fastball. But there was no doubt his stuff met expectations, as he fanned 221 batters in 191.1 innings and opponents hit just .220 off him. His big wipeout pitch was his slider: Opponents hit .148 off it and fanned 71 times in 157 plate appearances.

Darvish
Yu Darvish went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in his first season in the U.S.
Overall Grade

Two years ago, the Rangers outscored their opponents by 178 runs; last year, it was down to 101. Now, maybe that run differential increases slightly thanks to 19 games against the Astros, but I'm having trouble figuring out how the Rangers will be better than last year.

Their strength is a lack of weaknesses, and I'd be projecting fewer wins if not for the Astros joining the division. The Rangers also have flexibility to make some in-season moves thanks to the depth of their farm system, and Profar and Olt provide injury insurance at multiple positions. As much as Rangers fans soured on Hamilton by the end of last season, this was still a guy who hit 43 home runs, slugged .577 and drove in 130 runs. I think they're a 90-win club, but that might be good enough for only third in the AL West.