Regular Season Record: 80-82, 3rd in AL West – thirteen games behind the Oakland Athletics
Home Park: Ameriquest Field
New on the force:
Frank Catalanatto (OF) – Free Agency (Toronto Blue Jays)
Marlon Byrd (OF) – Free Agency (Washington Nationals)
Kenny Lofton (CF) – Free Agency (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Eric Gagner (CL) – Free Agency (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Brandon McCarthy (SP) – Trade (Chicago White Sox)
Chris Stewart (C) – Trade (Chicago White Sox)
Guillermo Quiroz (C) – Free Agency (Seattle Mariners)
Mike Wood (RP) – Free Agency (Kansas City Royals)
Willie Eyre (RP) – Free Agency (Minnesota Twins)
Jamey Wright (SP) – Free Agency (San Francisco Giants)
Bruce Chen (SP) – Free Agency (Baltimore Orioles)
Francisco Cruceta (SP/RP) – Waiver Claim (Seattle Mariners)
Sammy Sosa (OF) – Free Agency (Did not play in 2006)
Desi Relaford (UT) – Free Agency (Did not play in 2006)
Returned their badges:
Carlos Lee (OF) – Free Agency (Houston Astros)
Gary Matthews Jr. (CF) – Free Agency (Los Angeles Angels)
Mark DeRosa (2B) – Free Agency (Chicago Cubs)
Adam Eaton (SP) – Free Agency (Philadelphia Phillies)
Rod Barajas (C) – Free Agency (Philadelphia Phillies)
Kip Wells (SP) – Free Agency (St. Louis Cardinals)
John Danks (SP) – Trade (Chicago White Sox)
Nick Masset (RP) – Trade (Chicago White Sox)
The Skinny: As every year, the Rangers tried to find some pitching during the off-season and while Barry Zito rejected their 6-year-$102-million-offer to pitch for the Giants, they did get a potential ace in Brandon McCarthy and a potential lights-out closer in Eric Gagne. The key word here is potential as McCarthy is talented but mostly unproven while Gagne is a season ending injury waiting to happen. Besides those two, the Rangers also brought in a variety of other arms, most notably Willie Eyre and Bruce Chen. While pitching has been the front office’s priority, the most noise was made with the signing of Sammy Sosa to a minor league contract. Even though it isn’t a given that he’ll make the team, most people have already penciled him in as the Rangers’ DH.
Strengths: The Rangers have been one of the better offensive teams in the AL for years now, ranking in the Top 5 in each of the last five years (although that might have something to do with their ballpark, too). Carried by SS Michael Young and 1B Mark Teixeira, they won’t have much trouble scoring runs again, even though the defection of Carlos Lee to cross-state rival Houston will hurt them a bit. Good seasons from Hank Blalock and (make your choice) Sammy Sosa / Brad Wilkerson / Nelson Cruz / Frank Catalanotto could off-set that.
In Kevin Millwood (16-12), Vicente Padilla (15-10) and Brandon McCarthy, the Rangers have a pretty good threesome at the top of their rotation, and the rest of the arms is young and talented. If Eric Gagne stays healthy, the Rangers even have a pretty good bullpen with Akinori Otsuka (2.11 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in 06) as the set-up-man and Wes Littleton (1.73 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in 36.1 IP) probably the first man coming out of the pen.
Weaknesses: Did I just list the Rangers’ pitching under strength? I did and on paper, that group probably looks better than anything the Rangers have sent out the last few years. But not even Millwood nor Padilla were able to keep their ERAs under 4.50 last year and sending out inexperienced pitchers in Arlington can do harm to their confidence. Because of the high scoring environment, starter will often be pulled early and that requires a deep bullpen. While the Rangers have assembled a large collection of young arms for their pen, who knows how long it will take them to find a group that gets the job done.
Another flaw that catches the eye is that for a good offensive team, the Rangers get surprisingly little production from the corner outfield spots. Frank Catalanatto (projections from .763 to .812 OPS) and Nelson Cruz (projections from .738 to .837 OPS) are not really big time sluggers.
1. CF: Kenny Lofton
2. LF: Frank Catalanotto
3. SS: Michael Young
4. 1B: Mark Teixeira
5. 3B: Hank Blalock
6. DH: Sammy Sosa
7. RF: Nelson Cruz
8. C: Gerald Laird
9. 2B: Ian Kinsler
Keys to Success: Eric Gagne’s health will decide whether the Rangers’ bullpen is a liability or an asset and that might determine whether Texas has enough pitching to stay in race for the division title or not. Another key player is Hank Blalock, who has the talent but seems to lack the drive to work hard and improve himself. With manager Buck Showalter gone, who didn’t get along with players too well, Blalock may thrive though and if he’s really fine after off-season shoulder surgery, the third baseman could bounce back to give the Rangers an even stronger middle of the lineup.
Prediction: As usual, the Rangers will start strong and stay near or at the top of the AL West early on, but then falter in the summer months. Interestingly, it’s not that the Rangers are playing worse as the season goes on, but the A’s and Angels are always able to change into second gear after the All-Star break. But this year might be different. If Gagne is really healthy and the pitching staff keeps things together, the Rangers could be the dark horse in the West, especially if opponents’ key contributors like Rich Harden (A’s) or Vladimir Guerrero (Angels) go down with injuries. For the Rangers to win the division, everything has to fall the Rangers may, which is unlikely. So I predict another third place finish, this time barely above .500 (82-80).
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