2015 Season Previews: Texas Rangers

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Texas Rangers

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 82-80 (4th in AL West, 15th in MLB)

Manager: Jeff Banister (1st season with Texas, no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 3B Adrian Beltre (5.2), RHP Yu Darvish (4.5, out for season after Tommy John surgery), SS Elvis Andrus (2.9)

Bounce-back Player: 1B Prince Fielder

After having surgery to fuse his neck back together last May, Fielder returns to Texas in hopes of completing his first full season in the Arlington launchpad. After playing in 42 games in 2014 and posting a .247/.360/.360, Fielder is a huge bounce-back candidate, as he enters his age-31 season and looks to get back to the .300/.400/.500 lines that we are so used to seeing from him. Some may balk at his ability to make a full return, while questioning the drop in production in Detroit and continuing to label the bulky first baseman as a horrible-bodied decliner, but you shouldn’t be that guy. Fielder missed all of 13 team games from 2006 through 2013, and his ability to stay healthy and productive shouldn’t hinge on his surgery and recovery. He is hitting the ball well thus far in spring, albeit without much power, but, once the season starts, look for Fielder to be an offensive force again in 2015.

Odor is a potential star in the making Courtesy: minorleagueball.com
Odor is a potential star in the making
Courtesy: minorleagueball.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 2B Rougned Odor

In the race to take second base in Texas, Odor has been significantly assisted by the shoulder woes of former can’t-miss middle infield prospect Jurickson Profar…so says people who don’t think that Odor is special, but that isn’t the case. Odor has been very productive throughout his career, posting a .280/.336/.425 minor league line over 1,436 plate appearances. He doesn’t walk a lot, but he isn’t a free-swinging hacker, striking out just 71 times in his 417 plate appearances in 2014. Oh, and did I mention that he was just 20 years old in 2014 during his debut? The injury to Profar forced the Rangers hands, but Odor responded with 30 extra-base hits in his rookie season. With a ceiling of 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases, Odor could be overlooked due to the gluttony of options at the keystone position, but he is certainly capable of filling that position over an entire season if you feel like you are getting “stuck” with the talented, young player.

Offseason Overview: The Rangers lost Alex Rios and Neal Cotts, but they added LHP Ross Detwiler to fill a possible swing-role in the rotation/bullpen, while gaining a full season of Prince Fielder. The addition of RHP Yovani Gallardo will help the suddenly crippled top of the rotation, as health will continue to be an issue in 2015 with the club already losing their ace, Darvish, for the entire season, while hoping for productive seasons out of Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre as they continue into their thirties. Beyond those moves and losses, the Rangers had a pretty uneventful offseason, as they lean on already present bodies and seem to be hoping that their once elite farm system can continue to replenish the system with affordable talent.

The Verdict: After losing Darvish, you could assume that the Rangers would drop to approximately 77 wins this season, so they are more likely to finish towards the bottom of the AL West than anywhere near the top. With Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, and Darvish on the shelf at the start of the season, the already tricky pitching situation (due to the offensive play of the home ballpark) will look more uninspiring with Nick Martinez, Colby Lewis, and Detwiler likely to be expected to fill major roles in the rotation. Choo will be moving back to right field with Ryan Rua expected to take over in left to provide some right-handed pop, while Leonys Martin will continue to improve and become a star-level producer in center. Mitch Moreland has gone from a potential outcast to the lead role at the DH spot, while Elvis Andrus continues to be a financial burden (but that has been the case since they signed him to the horrific deal). It isn’t all bad in Texas, but they’ll be looking to outscore their opponents on a nightly basis, which may not be possible with who is responsible for teeing up the ball when their pitchers are on the mound.

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Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

Who are Yu?

Yu Darvish is a 25-year-old Japanese pitcher that the Texas Rangers just paid $51.7 million to be able to negotiate a contract with.  Darvish had been a member of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters since 2005.  He has some pretty incredible stats, which you’ll find below.  The Rangers lost a solid starting pitcher when The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-Orange County-California-United States of America-Planet Earth-Milky Way Galaxy signed C.J. Wilson, but they could be getting a phenom like no other seen since…well, Hideo Nomo when he mattered?  Daisuke Matsuzaka before reality set in?  Hideki Matsui before the acne scaring?  I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a player with this much hype, which is why it wasn’t surprising that the bid was so high.

Darvish instantly makes the Rangers dangerous.  Texas now has a six-man rotation to choose from in Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz.  While you have to wonder how Ogando and Feliz will hold up as starting pitchers, you have to think the Rangers know what they’re doing when they are converting…it worked out so well for Wilson, right?  Well, due to this potential signing, how dangerous is Ogando as a setup man?  If Feliz falters as a starter, can he take over closer duties again from the aging Joe Nathan?  Nevermind the fact that the Rangers have some sexy pitching prospects in Martin Perez, Robert Ross, Neil Ramirez, Barret Loux and Miguel De Los Santos who are a month, year or two or injury away from taking over a spot in the rotation.

This signing is bigger than Pujols to the Angels.  This is bigger than Reyes to the Marlins.  This is a potential superstar for a team that was in the World Series and needed to get over the hump.  The Rangers have the talent to win with the lineup that they have right now.  Reyes isn’t going to solidify the Marlins holes enough to build them into contenders and Pujols isn’t enough to overcome an aging outfield and lineup featuring Torii Hunter and an overpaid Vernon Wells.  Yu Darvish will have success.  He’s had it in Japan, even more than Matsuzaka ever had.  Just look below to realize the ace that was worth the bid.

Year W L GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2005 5 5 14 2 1 94.1 97 37 37 7 48 52 3.53 1.54
2006 12 5 24 3 2 149.2 128 55 48 12 64 115 2.89 1.28
2007 15 5 26 12 3 207.2 123 48 42 9 49 210 1.82 0.83
2008 16 4 24 10 2 200.2 136 44 42 11 44 208 1.88 0.9
2009 15 5 23 8 2 182 118 36 35 9 45 167 1.73 0.9
2010 12 8 25 10 2 202 158 48 40 5 47 222 1.78 1.01
2011 18 6 28 10 6 232 156 42 37 5 36 276 1.44 0.83
Career 93 38 164 55 18 1268.1 916 310 281 58 333 1259 1.99 0.98