The Texas Rangers have been contenders for the past five years, making it to the World Series twice in that span and winning 90 or more games in all but one of those seasons. Yet, after missing the playoffs last year, it seemed like the franchise wanted to shake things up a bit.
Here are their Opening Day starters from 2013:
C: A.J. Pierzynski
1B: Mitch Moreland
2B: Ian Kinsler
3B: Adrian Beltre
SS: Elvis Andrus
LF: David Murphy
CF: Leonys Martin
RF: Nelson Cruz
P: Matt Harrison
DH: Lance Berkman
As they approach the start of this season, they will be without five of those ten players: Pierzynski, Kinsler, Murphy, Cruz, and Berkman. That's quite a significant change for a roster that has been winning for quite some time now. Still, change isn't necessarily a bad thing, and some of the new guys that they brought in—Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, just to name a couple—should certainly help bolster an offense that was already strong.
Despite the drastic changes, Texas kept their two most valuable players from last season: Yu Darvish (5.0 fWAR), who might have the most ridiculous array of pitches on the planet (seriously, check out this GIF of all of his pitches at once), and Adrian Beltre (5.2 fWAR).
2013 Season In Review
Normally, a season in which a team wins over 90 games is considered a success. For the Rangers last year, however, 90 wasn't good enough—and 91 wasn't good enough, either. After the 162nd game of the 2013 season, the Rangers were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays at 91-71, forcing a sudden death, winner-goes-to-the-playoffs Game 163.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, that game ended in a 5-2 loss, and their offseason began several weeks before they had hoped. Luckily, however, they were active during the offseason and made several key moves that should help them in the coming season.
Key Offseason Moves
1) Traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder
This move, which certainly headlined this past offseason as the biggest—and possibly most surprising—trade, was a great one for the Rangers. With Jurickson Profar ready to take the reigns at second base, and considering his 2014 projections are not too far off from Kinsler's 2013 season, the Rangers were able to move their longtime second baseman for another bat. Fielder gives the Rangers options in the lineup and the infield, allowing for a platoon with Moreland at either first base or DH not that Lance Berkman is gone. In any case, adding a player with a career .388 wOBA and 140 wRC+ who has only missed 13 games since 2006—and none in the last three years—can't hurt.
2) Signed Shin-Soo Choo
Choo, another high-wOBA, high-wRC+ player (career averages of .374 and 135, respectively), will be a valuable addition in the outfield after the Rangers parted ways with both Nelson Cruz and David Murphy. While Choo's weaknesses are well documented - mediocre defense and horrible splits against lefties - his superb knack for getting on base, specifically through walks, will be especially helpful for a team that ranked near the bottom in walk rate. With Choo at the top of the lineup, don't be surprised to see them scoring early and often.
3) Signed Tommy Hanson
While it seems like ages since we saw an effective Tommy Hanson (he threw over 200 innings of 4.2 fWAR in 2010), he's still young, and is, at the very least, a serviceable insurance policy. With Derek Holland likely out until at least June, Hanson will serve a vital role to round out the Rangers' rotation. If he can return even close to what he once was, he could keep the Rangers cruising through the first half of the season without one of their best starting pitchers.
One to Watch: Adrian Beltre
Recently, Howard Megdal of Sports on Earth discussed Beltre's greatness and compared him with some of the great third basemen in the history of the game. Beltre, a model of consistency, often gets overlooked when discussing the reasons why the Rangers have been so great over the past several years. In his three years with Texas, Beltre has posted fWAR totals of 5.4, 6.3, and 5.2, smashing more than 30 home runs each season and providing excellent defense at the hot corner.
Good things don't last forever, though. He's entering his age-34 season and has been playing in the big leagues since he was 19 years old, battling numerous injuries along the way. Still, he likely has a couple more great years in him, so make sure to watch him shine while you can. Beltre may not do anything especially eye-opening this season, but keep your eyes on him: he will undoubtedly be a pleasure to watch.
Rangers By The Numbers: Stolen Bases Galore!
Last season, the Rangers ranked second in all of baseball in stolen bases with an astonishing total of 149 and third in weighted stolen base runs (wSB) with 6.9. With returning speedsters, like Elvis Andrus (42) and Leonys Martin (36), the Rangers will likely be near the top of the league again. And, although they lost Craig Gentry (24 stolen bases in 2013), they didn't add Alex Rios until late last season, who stole 16 bases in just 47 games with the club (he had 26 in Chicago before the trade).
Add newly-signed Choo into the mix, who has stolen 20 or more bags in four of the last five seasons, and this team will be especially dangerous on the basepaths.
2014 Team Outlook
With many new additions and a mostly revamped roster, the Rangers will be interesting to watch this season. How well the new players mesh with the returning roster, how efficiently this Frankenstein-like lineup produces runs, and how they overcome any injury setbacks—playing without Derek Holland for nearly half the season won't be easy—will likely determine how successful they are in 2014.
Currently, FanGraphs projects the Rangers to win 85.4 games and lose 76.6, finishing right behind both the Angels (86.4-75.6) and Athletics (86.0-76.0). While I think all three of those totals may be a tad low, the sentiment of the projection—a neck-and-neck-and-neck race between these three division rivals—seems to be exactly right.
What we know for certain, is that it'll be another crazy year in the (wild, wild) AL West, with three, maybe even four teams (sorry, Houston, it's probably not your time yet) competing for the division crown.
. . .