Rangers Hope for Aces in Hand
After a dismal 67 win season in 2014, the Rangers were listed as 100-1 long shots to win the 2015 World Series a year ago this month. Well, what a difference a year makes. The odds are out for the 2016 season and the Rangers are listed as the third best bet in the American League – only the Red Sox and Astros have shorter odds than the 15-1 that appears next to the Texas Rangers. But if the team is going to live up to the lofty expectations of Las Vegas, they must address four areas of concern, and addressing them starts this week with the beginning of spring training.
One of the areas of concern demands team-wide attention, and three concerns are specific to a position. Like every team the Rangers must stay healthy, but there’s really not much you can do to insure that. Just hope and pray for the best. The area for team-wide focus that can be addressed is defense. The Rangers flat out made too many errors last year. All Texas needs to do is look across the spring training complex at the Kansas City Royals to see how defense should be played. The Royals had 31 fewer errors than the Rangers last year and KC had three Gold Glove winners to the Rangers none. Bench coach Steve Buechele, a plus defender himself back in the day, went to camp saying that inspiring the team to play better defense was one of his priorities.
Now for the three positions of concern – starting pitching, catcher and left field. Let’s start with the starters. I’ve had the privilege of covering this team since 1990. In the entire first two decades there were a grand total of two aces. One was very much on the downside of his career, but he did throw two no hitters here, Nolan Ryan. The Rangers did not have another legitimate ace until they acquired Cliff Lee in 2010. Two aces in 20 years. Believe it or not they may have two aces this year. Cole Hamels is one, and he’s proven it over the years and even in his limited time with the Rangers so far…like when he pitched a complete game to clinch the AL West last September. Remember too that the Rangers were 12-1 in his last 13 starts. The other ace should be Yu Darvish. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, so even though he’ll be back on the mound in May, he may not look like an ace until July or August. There are some who believe he may not feel completely comfortable with his new elbow until next season. Time will tell.
Behind those two are lefties, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Both have shown flashes of brilliance on the mound. Holland will spend the year striving for consistency, Perez must trust his stuff. Colby Lewis will be in the middle of the rotation – where all he did last year was put up 17 wins and notch over 200 innings at age 36. Beyond him though is where the concern lies. Nick Martinez or Chi Chi Gonzalez could start the season as the fifth starter and provide depth. But one name to watch is A.J. Griffin. He had ace-like days for the A’s as recently as 2013, when he pitched game number 163 against the Rangers to decide the division.
Catcher is a concern too. I love both guys who are currently on the 40 man roster. Robinson Chirinos and Chris Giminez are great guys who did a great job last year but neither has a background to suggest that they can catch half the games in a season. Waiting in the wings will be Bobby Wilson who had a great September with the Rangers last year, and Michael McHenry who has worked with Jeff Banister in the Pittsburgh organization. One side note, both Hamels and Darvish would like Giminez to be their personal catcher – talk about job security.
Finally, there is left field. Josh Hamilton of 2009 or 2010 is long gone. So what will Hamilton of 2016 look like? He reported to camp a week earlier than position players are required to be there. That is a good sign. The day he reported he said that his knee was sore and he needed a cortisone shot. That is a bad sign. Still Josh said he feels like he can play 120 games in left. If he can’t, the Rangers will not need to trot someone out there who has never played the position ala Mike Napoli last September. Justin Ruggiano is a right handed batter who can play the outfield and Patrick Kivlehan was the player to be named later in the deal that sent Leonys Martin to Seattle. Patrick is raw but could be an option in left is Josh is hurt.
So there you have it. Questions and answers as the Rangers crank up spring training. I am not a betting man but I am optimistic. Much of my optimism stems from a hand that by May or June may have two aces. That is a good place to start.