Five Questions for the 2009 Texas Rangers

Joel GreenContributor IFebruary 11, 2009

A quick check of the 2008 American League standings show that the Texas Rangers were almost a .500 team, winning 79 games against 83 losses.  Often times a .500 club is mediocre—not so the ’08 Rangers.  The Ranger batters were the best in league, scoring over five runs per game both at home and on the road, while the Ranger pitchers were the worst, allowing almost six runs every game (5.97 R/G).  

Can the best and worst be melded into a force to vanquish the Angels and stay ahead of the A’s and M’s? To Answer the big question, start with these five smaller ones:

Can the Rangers find starting pitching?

Although 14 Ranger pitchers were on the Disabled List last year, team president Nolan Ryan has promised a new emphasis on strength and conditioning.  New pitching coach Mike Maddux, pictured above, will have his hands full.

Starters Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla were both featured in winter trade rumors, but although each has only one year remaining on his contract, both are still with Rangers.  Converted reliever Scott Feldman, NRI Starter Jason Jennings, and Brandon McCarthy hope to round out the rotation as do Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, Kason Gabbard, and Luis Mendoza. 

2004 first round draft pick, Eric Hurley is already out for the season with rotator-cuff surgery on his pitching shoulder, while only Feldman and Harrison avoided serious injury in 2008.  

Unless Millwood or Padilla are traded it looks as if the Rangers will be without a reliable, durable, quality starter to lead the rotation.

Can the Rangers bullpen stay healthy?

Relievers Frank Francisco, the closer at the end of 2008, Eddie Guardado, the closer during August, and C.J. Wilson, the closer of the first half of 2008 will all compete for the closer’s role in spring.  Whoever is elevated to the closer’s role will be “setup” by the other two and the best of the rest. 

Whether the “setup” is for success or failure will depend largely on the health of the bullpen.   Francisco (operated on in 2006), Guardado (2006), and Wilson (2008) are all “Tommy John” survivors.  

No matter how tempting, you can never say, “Things can’t get any worse.” When talking about Rangers pitching.  Their injury histories do not bode well.  Significantly the Rangers failed to add pitchers with a history quality innings and health.

Can the Rangers replace Milton Bradley’s bat?

The 2008 Rangers’ offense was led by Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley.  Although Hamilton returns at Center Field, Bradley’s bat has gone to Chicago.  

In the outfield, Nelson Cruz hopes to join Hamilton, and David Murphy in the outfield.  Non-Roster Invitee Andruw Jones and veteran Marlon Byrd and switch-hitter Brandon Boggs should provide an adequate reserve if Jones can improve on his shockingly bad 2008 with the Dodgers. 

Hank Blalock and Frank Catalanotto seem set to platoon at DH.    Ordinarily this might seem like a respectable part of the lineup, but there is no way Jones and Cruz can replace Bradley.

Will Mike Young Produce at Third Base?

Ramon Vazquez signed with the Pirates, Chris Davis has moved to First Base, and Hank Blalock’s shoulder keeps him from throwing across the infield.  Ron Washington’s solution is to move fading offensive threat Mike Young from Shortstop to Third Base.  Replacing Young at Short will be the job of Elvis Andrus. 

Andrus impressed at AA Frisco, but the Rangers have brought in free agent Omar Vizquel to mentor the young Venezuelan.  Ian Kinsler returns at Second Base, while Davis should take over full time at First. 

Any chance at all?

Gerald Laird is gone, and although rumors of wholesale departures abounded, both Taylor Teargarden and Jarrod Saltamacchia seem set to return to share the catching duties.  Additionally Max Ramirez is highly regarded and could push Saltamacchia to occasional duty at First or DH.  

Frankly that isn’t going to get the Rangers to the playoffs.  Although the Angels may falter, and the M’s may not improve much, the A’s figure to be better than last year.  Meanwhile the Rangers head to camp with the same injury prone corps of arms that land them in hot water every summer and without the amazing bat of Milton Bradley. 

Even should the pitching improve, the loss of punch on the offensive side should doom the Rangers to an under .500 season and restful October.