The second part of the Two-for-One MLB Previews covers the two teams that made the most even trade of the past offseason, Texas and Cincinnati.
Past Previews: TB/SD
ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, 4, 5
ALC: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
ALW: 1, 2, 3, 4
NLE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
NLC: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
NLW: 1, 2, 3, 4, San Diego
* Wild Card
Texas Rangers—AL West
Last Year: Finished Second in AL West
Notable Additions: SS Omar Vizquel, OF Andruw Jones, RP Derrick Turnbow, RP Eddie Guardado, RP Brendan Donnelly
Notable Subtractions: C Gerald Laird, IF Ramon Vazquez, OF Milton Bradley, RP Wes Littleton, RP Kameron Loe
Underrated addition: Omar Vizquel
He’ll be missed: Ramon Vazquez
Vizquel is going to tutor the youngster Elvis Andrus and help mold him as an all-around player. Vazquez was a nice option off the bench when injuries sprouted up. Let’s hope Hank Blalock or Michael Young don’t go down.
Biggest Key to Success: Slug Away
I’m not going to sugarcoat it or even talk long about it.
Texas scores runs. They don’t hit, they don’t win; make no bones about it.
It’s the reason they can afford to push a young shortstop that might not have his bat up to speed with his defense. They can put a hole at the bottom of their lineup because the top and middle are that dangerous.
As long as the offense hits, the Rangers stand a chance, pitching or no pitching.
Biggest Concern: Can you spare some rotation parts?
I think Texas has finally realized what’s going on.
Their ballpark makes it nearly impossible to bring along good pitching.
Or maybe they’d just rather bring along great hitting.
They don’t need great pitching, just good pitching, because of that great hitting.
But they don’t have it, and when it’s all said and done, that will be the reason they’ll never progress as a ball club. Pitching cannot be found in Texas, even if pitchers try to find themselves there.
There are pitchers there. Kevin Millwood is passable, certainly not as an ace at his declining age, and Vicente Padilla is at least a major league arm.
But can guys like Matt Harrison come through for this team? Can Brandon McCarthy or Kason Gabbard stay healthy or just maintain themselves enough to be respectable?
None of these names really shock fear into the opposition, and why would they, especially in a park like Arlington? They've yet to prove to be consistent.
This rotation needs to at least be able to keep their team in the game, because the offense isn’t out-slugging everyone all the time.
Biggest Change: Michael Young on the Move
The Rangers are thankful he’s just on the move within the team and not to another one. After the Rangers made the play to move Young to third, he got a little angry and wanted out.
But things are good now, and Young is making the slide over to the hot corner to make way for youngster Elvis Andrus.
You have to think the Rangers have a ton of faith in one Andrus to move their gold glove All-Star shortstop to third base.
Or they just have a really good backup plan.
Andrus is supposed to be good with the glove, and with the Rangers' ability to score at will, they are probably willing to take a hit with the youngster learning at the major league level.
But if things go awry, they brought in a wizard to back things up. Omar Vizquel, a Gold Glove shortstop in his own right—11 times to be precise—should back up Andrus and be option No. 1 if things become unbearable.
Michael Young is a stellar shortstop and he’s played second, so third shouldn’t be too much a problem once he gets his feet under him. So while Michael Young did all the changing, he’ll be the least of the Rangers’ concerns.
Team MVP: Ian Kinsler, 2B
With no disrespect to Josh Hamilton and his 130 RBI, Ian Kinsler is the spark that ignites the Rangers' team.
With Kinsler last year, the Rangers were a .500 or above team. When he got hurt mid-August and missed the rest of the season, they finished with a below .500 record and even Josh Hamilton started to taper off.
There wasn’t anyone to knock in, of course. After having months with 19-plus RBI with Kinsler in the lineup, Hamilton was only knocking in 13 runs. While the drop-off in production for him and the Rangers' win total didn’t take a serious hit, it still hurt.
What does Kinsler do that is so special?
Not only does he manage to hit for a good average, he also manages to get on base, move, and not kill opportunities.
He’s been caught just eight times in his career compared to 60 successful stolen bases. He knows how to and when to steal bases. It isn’t often you get a guy who can get on base, move around, and remain on base a majority of the time.
They aren’t Willy Taveras or Jose Reyes steal numbers, but they are numbers that help make that Ranger offense even more dangerous.
Kinsler also provides muscle at the top of the lineup, not just scoring 100 runs, but knocking them in too. Aside from Grady Sizemore, he may be one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in the game. Josh Hamilton is a fantastic hitter, but Ian Kinsler is the MVP of this Rangers squad.
On The Rise: Chris Davis, 1B
What’s not to love about a slugging first baseman who hit 17 home runs in just 80 games last year?
With Hank Blalock relegated to DH duty, Mark Teixeira gone, and Michael Young switching to third, Davis is going to slide into the first base spot.
He can hit, plain and simple. Just like every other Texas player, he puts on his hitting shoes and goes to work.
You should definitely be concerned about the 88 strikeouts, which is eight more than the number of games he played in. But he still hit 17 home runs.
17 home runs! Chicks dig the long ball, especially in half of a season. Mathematics tell you he’ll probably end up with just as many strikeouts as games played, if not more, especially if he’s bound to “come down to earth.” But they also tell you he’s bound to hit double the home runs, especially playing his home games in Arlington.
Did I mention he had more home runs on the road?
The power is real, the park makes it better, and Davis can hit.
Give him a full season, hope he makes his adjustments, and look out.
What isn’t to love about the Rangers and their offense? Something has to work out of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, or Max Ramirez. If Elvis Andrus struggles, Omar Vizquel has been brought in to back him up, or if need be, Young could always shift back to short.
Those are really the two weak links for the Rangers, so they could afford to let Andrus improve the defense, even if that means his bat won’t be up to par.
They’ll always score a lot of runs, but with the offensive talent they have in their lineup, the Rangers will score even more.
But as always, with the Rangers, it comes down to the pitching, and that’s the part that sours me in regards to Texas.
Pitching isn’t a total wasteland in Texas though. Their rotation doesn’t exactly strike the fear of God into anyone, but their bullpen always has some pieces.
The rotation could hold up, but that’s not really anything to count on, especially when things are destined to get shuffled around.
Hopefully they can get their catching position sorted out, maybe trading one of their three talented catchers for some starting pitching, or at least find some lightning in a bottle.
Still, I find it hard to put my faith in a team that relies on offense most of the time and has a shaky cast of characters in the rotation, even if their bullpen can help out.
For that, I’ll be taking the Rangers to end up third in the American League West.
Prediction: Finish Third in the AL West
Cincinnati Reds—NL Central
Last Year: Finished Fifth in NL Central
Notable Additions: C Ramon Hernandez, IF Daryle Ward, OF Jacque Jones, OF Willy Taveras, SP Micah Owings, RP Arthur Rhodes
Notable Subtractions: OF Ryan Freel, SP Josh Fogg, RP Jeremy Affeldt
Underrated addition: Ramon Hernandez
He’ll be missed: Ryan Freel
Hernandez is going to hit some bombs in the Great American Ballpark. Freel was a run-through-walls type of player with high energy that any team needs.
Biggest Key to Success: Rotation Success
Let’s be honest, this is one of the most talented rotations that Cincinnati has had in some time.
Aaron Harang is coming off a year he’d rather forget, but he’s a prime candidate to bounce back.
He’s now got a few arms alongside him to help pick up the slack. Johnny Cueto came into the season with the most noise, but it was Edinson Volquez who turned things up for Cincinnati. Coming over from Texas in the Josh Hamilton trade, Volquez found himself on the All-Star team and quickly established himself as the team’s ace.
Cueto did have his ups and downs, but he showed flashes of brilliance with his filthy stuff. Bronson Arroyo’s ability to pitch at a hitter’s park like Great American Ballpark is an added plus for the Reds.
The final piece to the rotation has to be Micah Owings, who came over later in the Adam Dunn deal after falling off the face of the earth with Arizona.
Owings sure can hit, but the Reds resisted the idea of moving him to the outfield. Owings needs to prove he can pitch, which we've seen at times, but he needs to remain healthy.
If Owings can pull it together, the Reds have a steady one through five. They’ve also got depth options in Homer Bailey, a once top prospect who’s looking to prove he’s not a bust, and Nick Masset, who came over in the Ken Griffey Jr. deal.
If they still can’t find a fifth guy, the top four are still pretty good and will probably be a driving force for their success.
Biggest Concern: Left Field
When you think you are set in a position, things seem to happen, and before you know it, you are in a pinch.
The names that used to man the left side of the outfield are all gone. Willy Taveras should fill center and young Jay Bruce has right field locked down.
But left field could end up becoming an enigma for this team all year.
There is no clear-cut answer to this question, and when you got guys like Jacque Jones in camp, you know you are really searching for some answers.
Biggest Change: The Outfield Depth is Gone
A team that once had so many outfielders that they didn’t know what to do with them all now has just one dependable player that they’ve brought up, Jay Bruce.
The days of Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Adam Dunn are gone. Ken Griffey Jr. has also moved on, and this is a team that had Josh Hamilton for a year.
Willy Taveras was brought in to man center field, which should be an upgrade over the likes of Corey Patterson. Ryan Freel, who did some outfield work, is no longer around, but Jerry Hairston could fill that void, provided he isn’t filling the left field one.
They’ve also got other options like Chris Dickerson, Jonny Gomes, Norris Hopper, and Jacque Jones, but the days of what they used to have are long gone.
Team MVP: Brandon Phillips, 2B
Say what you want about his strikeouts, Adam Dunn also brought 100 RBI to the table.
Someone needs to replace that, or at least some people.
Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto now make up the middle of the lineup, and being the more experienced player, the Reds need to lean on Phillips.
Votto is going to continue to grow and muscle the ball out of the park, but when you place someone in the three hole, you are practically telling them, “You are our best hitter, we need you to carry us.”
There are times, especially with a young group of hitters, that you need someone to carry the team when the team isn’t hitting.
Brandon Phillips has the talent to be that guy, and more importantly, he needs to be.
On the Rise: Edinson Volquez, SP
Second-half Edinson Volquez is probably the Volquez we’ll see more of for this full 2009 season, and that is completely fine.
But Volquez still has the stuff to show us that first-half Volquez more enough to be the ace.
When all was said and done, he had some respectable numbers. I think you can expect him to finish the year out like he finished the year out last year. The difference is he’ll be more consistent. Instead of getting off to a rocket start and fading, I think you’ll see him become more of a steady pitcher.
In the end, that's all you want out of the top of your rotation—do your part to win the ball game.
There is something I really like about Cincinnati.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that they’ve got pitchers in a hitter’s park or what.
Perhaps the GAB, as they call it, could help that young lineup produce at a faster rate then expected.
I’m not saying they are going to crack the top three in their division—they’ve got a little more work to do to polish off their club—but maybe I will say that.
Cincinnati is going somewhere, and I’d hate to be the last one to notice it. I think their pitching is going to be solid and win them more games than it will lose them.
The key will be seeing major progress from their young hitters like Jay Bruce and instant impact from additions like Willy Taveras.
I also really like Joey Votto. I think his rookie year was just the beginning of something special.
Add in a bullpen that is very underrated but very reliable, and this team has a lot of stuff to like, but the opposing talent might be a little too much. I feel like the reason I haven't said much about the Reds is due to the fact that I can't find much to be concerned about.
Even though the talent around them in the division might say otherwise, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they take a giant leap, but not a monumental one. They bump themselves all the way up to third place, which is good in a six-team division.
Prediction: Third in the NL Central
On deck for Wednesday, Mar. 11: Minnesota and Pittsburgh