Texas Rangers: A Sleeper in 2008?

Bo ReedCorrespondent IMarch 25, 2008

No, I haven't lost a sense of reality and frankly I don't expect this team to be in the race in August. However, listening to a certain politician crossing the country with a "Yes We Can" message has me wondering if the same cannot be said about the '08 Rangers.

Without question, for this team to contend everything has to go absolutely right. That means Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla have to pitch 200 innings and win 16-18 games. The young guys in the rotation have to follow with at least 12 wins each. The bullpen looks to be a strength for this club so they have to live up to that potential and be near the top in ERA, Holds and Saves. CJ Wilson has to hit that magic number in saves, which to most observers is at least 40.

Offensively, the Rangers look much better than they did at the end of last season. Josh Hamilton has to play 150 games and mash 40 home runs, otherwise the middle of the order looks to be short a bat. Kinsler is a very intriguing option at the top of the order and penciling in Michael Young at number 2 shows that Ron Washington learned some things last season. Sure, the best hitter on the team usually hits in the third spot, however, the emergence of Josh Hamilton this spring gives Washington some flexibility. If they hold true to their history then the odds of either Kinsler or Young getting on base in the first inning are pretty good. Not to mention, the power behind them could be much better than advertised.

This brings us to a few more things that must happen for the Rangers to contend this season. Milton Bradley must stay healthy and out of the commissioner's doghouse the entire season. Hank Blalock must be the 30 homer guy he was a few years ago and Marlon Byrd must prove that last season wasn't a fluke. The same could be said for David Murphy, acquired for Eric Gagne last season.

This brings us to the catching situation, which has become a complete mess at the big league level. The Rangers have a tough decision to make, one that could be a win/win either way. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the potential, Gerald Laird has the experience. I firmly believe the Rangers know that Laird is not the future at catcher. However, Saltalamacchia has not shown as much progress behind the plate this spring as they would like.

By all accounts, the Rangers appear to be resolved to the fact that they cannot trade Laird when his value is at a low point. So, they plan to send Saltalamacchia to Oklahoma City to work on his defense. If they are out of contention, I would expect them to trade Laird in a deadline deal and call up Saltalamacchia to be the full-time catcher.

That is a lot of question marks for a team to deal with, especially when you consider the Rangers haven't been the luckiest baseball club in recent memory. Maybe someone should check and see if the Cubs parked their goat somewhere in the Homerun Porch. Will all of these things go right is the ultimate question for any Rangers fan to ask themselves.

The answer: it could happen, but it isn't likely. The Rangers are getting better and could be contenders in a couple of years, but some veterans don't have that much time. They may not be around when Kasey Kiker is the opening day starter so they rightfully must believe they can win. Otherwise, what is the point?

"Yes We Can," a message so simple on the surface, but very difficult to believe with these Rangers.