Versatile Choo will set the tone
Shin-Soo Choo will fill it nicely. For seven years and $130 million, he should.
But he's worth it. After all, he's been the best in the game the last two seasons at getting on base at a rate of .415. The more he's on base, the more RBI opportunities he'll provide for Fielder and Adrian Beltre. More important, Choo will establish a tone for a notoriously free-swinging lineup that has been poor at situational hitting.
Understand, these Rangers had a lockdown bullpen last year, and they'll have another devastating bullpen again this year with Neftali Feliz, Joaquin Soria, Tanner Scheppers, Jason Frasor, Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts handling the end of games. When the Rangers get a lead, they are hard to beat. They just need to get the lead early more often.
The Rangers were 59-17 when the scored first last season, which is good but not nearly good enough. Kinsler regressed as a hitter and he took a lot of the offense with him last season. Choo will help the Rangers generate more first-inning runs, which will in turn apply instant pressure on opponents.
Early runs take pressure off the rest of the lineup and off the starters. Every pitcher wants an early lead.
Choo isn't a rah-rah guy, but he can have tremendous influence on guys like Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin by showing them the importance of controlling an at-bat. Choo does it by swinging at pitches he's looking for in a particular zone. He's not afraid to go deep in the count or take two strikes because he wants his pitch -- not the pitcher's pitch.
Choo hit .285 with 34 doubles, 21 homers and 20 stolen bases last season. He also walked 107 times and was hit by a pitch 26 times. See, he'll do anything to get on base. And his ability to create runs means he can score with a walk, a stolen base, a groundout and a sacrifice fly (or a couple of groundouts).
He's a multifaceted offensive weapon, and he's going to help the Rangers generate offense in a variety of ways. And when the season ends, he'll have an even bigger impact on the Rangers' offense than Fielder.
Fielder will be a run producer
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There's a reason the Texas Rangers' top priority this offseason was a left-handed power hitter. There's a reason they were willing to trade an All-Star second baseman to acquire one.
Texas didn't have a big bat in the middle of the lineup who could consistently drive in runs. So when Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski called, it didn't take long for a deal to come together.
No doubt, Shin-Soo Choo is going to help this lineup. But it's Prince Fielder who is going to make the biggest impact. Put another way: It needs to be Fielder who makes the bigger impact if this team is to score more runs and perform better in the clutch.
Choo's job is to have solid, patient at-bats and get on base. It's Fielder's job to drive him home.
The problem for the Rangers' offense in 2013 wasn't generating opportunities to score. It was cashing the chances in.
Fielder's job is to do just that. He gives the Rangers a powerful first baseman with a track record of generating runs for the first time since the club traded Mark Teixeira at the deadline in 2007.
Fielder had 106 RBIs in 2013 and has had at least 100 RBIs in six of his last seven seasons. But the thing about Fielder that gets lost in his power numbers -- he has at least 25 homers in every one of his full seasons and has 30 or more in six of his eight campaigns in the big leagues -- is his patience.
Choo isn't the only player in this lineup who sees a bunch of pitches. Fielder does, too. He grabs his share of walks as he works a pitcher and waits for his pitch.
Fielder has already commented on the Rangers' short right-field porch and how he hopes to give fans there plenty of souvenirs. But besides the ballpark setting up well for Fielder, there's the lineup. Manager Ron Washington has already penciled in Fielder at the 3-hole, with Adrian Beltre behind him.
Washington said it was time for the ultimate protector -- Fielder has hit behind three consecutive MVPs -- to be the protectee. So with Beltre waiting in the on-deck circle, pitchers are going to have to decide if they really want to pitch around Fielder.
Choo and Elvis Andrus should get on base. It's Fielder's job to drive them home. That's why he'll have the most impact.
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