The Texas Rangers will be looking to new and old faces to lead this club back to the playoffs in 2014.
Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will need to make a difference from the get-go, as well as Yu Darvish and Derek Holland’s replacement. This year’s closer has some big shoes to fill with the departure of Joe Nathan.
But just how important is each player to the club? That is what we are going to do here. We are going to rank their importance for the upcoming season.
The criteria for the rankings will be based on last season’s numbers and career numbers. Contracts will also have a part in some of the players' ranks.
Here are the five most important players for the Rangers’ 2014 season.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
You can follow Trey on Twitter @treydwarren.
We all know Yu Darvish is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is the ace of the Rangers staff.
He led the big leagues in strikeouts (277) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.890). The 27-year-old also led the American League in hits per nine innings (6.224) and dropped his ERA from 3.90 in 2012 to 2.83 last season.
Darvish is set to make $9.5 million this season—the most of any pitcher on the staff. With a more potent lineup and his bag of pitches, Darvish has a solid chance of taking home the 2014 Cy Young Award.
Neal Cotts had the best year of his career after a three-year hiatus from the big leagues.
He posted a 1.11 ERA, giving up just seven earned runs and 36 hits in 57 innings. The 33-year-old was easily the best bullpen option for manager Ron Washington last season and put up numbers worthy of a setup man.
He may not be able to duplicate the same numbers in 2014, but even a slight drop in production would make him a viable option.
Cotts signed a one-year deal to stay in Texas. If he can put up similar numbers, he will earn a permanent home somewhere for the remainder of his career.
Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin
Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin were put together in this list for two reasons: stealing bases and bunting.
They combined for 76 stolen bases in 2013. Andrus was second in the AL (42) and Martin was fifth (36) in the category. Their speed will create many scoring opportunities. It will also create headaches for opposing pitchers who have to pitch to guys like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre with them on base.
Bunting is another skill these guys share. Andrus has led the AL in sacrifice bunts in three of the past four seasons, including the previous two years. Martin was second on that list last season with 12 and both are threats to bunt for hits.
Their speed and defense will make them X-factors in the 2014 season.
The New Closer
Whether it is Neftali Feliz or Tanner Scheppers, the next closer has to adequately replace Joe Nathan.
Nathan earned 43 saves last year in 46 tries. Feliz used to be the closer for the Rangers before moving to the rotation in 2012. Scheppers was the setup man last season and finished the year with a 1.88 ERA. Both pitchers are capable of shutting the door in the ninth for Texas in 2014.
Whoever it is, the replacement missed the top five due to the improved lineup. This team is going to score a lot of runs. And because the club has multiple options in the ninth, it isn’t a burning issue for the Rangers.
Derek Holland won’t be making an appearance for the Rangers until at least midseason.
Martin Perez will most likely take over the No. 2 spot in the rotation, taking some pressure off the replacement.
However, whoever takes over for Holland has to replace 213 innings and a 3.42 ERA from 2013. Holland made the most starts for the club last season (33) and was the only starter who didn’t make a trip to the disabled list.
The rotation was plagued with injuries in 2013. Even the pitchers who were called up to fill the voids found themselves on the DL. The guy who replaces Holland will have added pressure to stay healthy, especially with Alexi Ogando’s frequent DL visits and Matt Harrison making his first big league start since last April.
Spring training will be a battle for the final rotation spot caused by a dog named Wrigley. Nick Tepesch has the most big league experience and may be the frontrunner.
Adrian Beltre is the second-highest paid player on the team, but he has earned it since signing the $80 million deal in 2011.
Last year and 2012 were two of the best campaigns of his career. He had at least a .315 batting average and slugged at least 30 home runs. He tied St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter last season for the most hits in baseball (199) and played in a team-high 161 games.
The 16-year veteran may see a boost to his already impressive numbers. He now has the luxury of hitting behind Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot where he hit in 152 games last season. The career OBPs of the three guys batting in front of him will also provide Beltre many opportunities of driving in runs, considering he hit .290 last season with men on base.
Beltre will need to continue to produce even with the addition of Prince Fielder. He was the main source of run production even before Nelson Cruz was suspended for 50 games.
Martin Perez signed an extension with the Rangers on Nov. 7 last year, guaranteeing him $12.5 million through 2017.
He was set to be third in the rotation for the club. Now that Holland is out, he will presumably be taking over the second spot. That’s a quick jump from his battle last year for the fifth rotation spot in spring training. That ended when he broke his forearm just 11 days into the spring season.
But Perez should be fit to handle the job. He went 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts—it was his longest stint in the big leagues. The 22-year-old got the ball when they played the Tampa Bay Rays for the final AL wildcard spot.
Perez is getting his first chance at a full-length season this year. Although young, he has already been in a couple of big games. He could be the X-factor of the rotation in 2014.
The Rangers traded Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder and $30 million.
Although the club received money in return, Fielder’s contract is still a big investment. He will make $24 million in each of the next two seasons before his salary drops to $19 million per year. He was brought in to add left-handed power to the Texas lineup.
Last season marked the first time since 2008 that the Rangers finished a season with less than four players hitting at least 20 homers. Fielder has hit at least 25 home runs in every year of his career. His home-run total has declined since signing with the Tigers in 2011, but he should benefit from 81 games in Arlington.
Fielder gets a fresh start with a new team. He will be expected to hit lots of homers and drive in lots of runs. And he will be expected to do it early and often.
Shin-Soo Choo may have the most important role for the Rangers in 2014.
Jon Daniels signed him to a 7-year, $130 million dollar deal on Dec. 27. He is expected to come in and take over the leadoff role and left field position. He brings a career .288 batting average and .389 OBP. In 2013 with the Cincinnati Reds, he had career highs in runs (107), plate appearances (712) and OBP (.423).
Had Texas not have gone out and gotten Choo, Leonys Martin was projected to be the leadoff hitter. He hit first in 31 games last season and wasn’t impressive, yielding a .238 batting average.
The only knock on Choo is that he struggles against southpaws. He has a career .243 batting average against lefties, as opposed to a .309 career average against righties. But the rest of his resume was enough to bring him to Arlington.
Choo is going to be the table-setter for the Rangers in 2014. He has a enough of everything to start things off for the Rangers.