Look, I don't want to see the Texas Rangers win. Ever. I'm an A's fan, and we play in a four-team division. Being able to count out one of the other three teams as a contender is a huge plus.
But hey, I don't dislike them as much as the Yankees. If they offered me a job today, I'd take it.
Let's hypothetically say they did, and asked me to give them a team that would win 80 games this year.
So, much in the same vein as my earlier piece on the San Francisco Giants, here is what I would do to improve the Rangers (while making them cheaper):
Step One: Break down the roster
The first thing to do is to identify who stays and who goes on the team.
Obviously, the Rangers have an inverse problem to the Giants; they can't pitch and never have. There are fewer market inefficiencies in pitching than in hitting, and thus, the Rangers' problem is much more difficult to fix than the Giants'.
On the plus side, plenty of people can hit in Arlington, so perhaps the best strategy is to trade hitting for pitching, and then pick up some scrap-heap hitters later.
OF Josh Hamilton
2B Ian Kinsler
OF/1B Jason Botts
OF David Murphy
RHP Franklyn German
RHP Joaquin Benoit
LHP Kason Gabbard (currently on DL)
RHP Dustin Nippert (currently on DL)
That's right, four hitters and four pitchers. That's it. Although, that's not everyone currently in the organization who will wear a Texas uniform.
RHP Jason Jennings
RHP Kevin Millwood
RHP Vicente Padilla
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Jamey Wright
C Gerald Laird
C Adam Melhuse
3B Hank Blalock
1B Ben Broussard
SS Michael Young
INF Ramon Vazquez
OF Milton Bradley
OF Frank Catalanotto
OF Marlon Byrd
LHP Eddie Guardado
RHP Brandon McCarthy
We'll get to all these in a second...
RHP Frank Francisco
RHP Wes Littleton
RHP Luis Mendoza
RHP Josh Rupe
INF German Duran
RHP Tom Diamond
LHP John Rheinecker
3B Travis Metcalf
All of these guys are fairly decent insurance, but if you're gonna build a .500 team, you don't start off with them in the majors.
1B Nate Gold
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2B Ryan Roberts
1B/C Chris Shelton
So we replace the catching tandem of Laird and Melhuse with Saltalamacchia and Shelton. Yes, either one is a defensive downgrade on Laird, but both are better than Laird at the plate, and it's not like Adam Melhuse can defend well either. Roberts is a 27-year-old utility player who brings some solid pop at the plate, sort of like Marco Scutaro with a bit more pop and a bit less defense. He's an upgrade over Vazquez already.
So here's what we got:
That's eight position players and two righty flamethrowing relievers.
Standard roster construction is something like this:
- Two C
- Three corner INF
- Three middle INF
- Five OFs, two that can handle CF:
- Five SPs
- One other pitcher who can start
- Six other pitchers, at least one should be a lefty
Saltalamacchia and Shelton take care of catching, Gold takes a corner infield spot, Kinsler and Roberts fill two of the middle infield spots, Hamilton and Murphy take care of the two CF spots, and Botts adds another outfielder. German and Benoit take two of the bullpen spots, and neither are lefties. Therefore, we need this:
- Two corner INF (since Gold just plays 1B, preferably both can play third)
- One middle INF (Roberts is going to likely be the utility guy, so we need a starting SS)
- Two OFs
- Five SPs (gulp)
- One other pitcher who can start
- Four other pitchers, at least one should be a lefty
Step Two: Trades
Obviously, the biggest need here, before or after my placing the entire rotation on the block, is starting pitching, so that needs to be addressed first.
The only really glaring needs offensively are shortstop and third base, as Kinsler is an excellent 2B, Gold and Botts could both hit 30 HRs given their home park, Saltalamacchia provides good offense for a backstop, Hamilton is a stud, and Murphy is good enough to start.
Pencil in a decent SS and 3B and the lineup won't struggle to score runs, especially at home.
Where do we look for pitching?
One big problem with seemingly every Texas starting pitcher in the last decade is that they all have okay velocity and not too much sink. They also haven't found many lefties. Loading up on flyballing righties with average velocity is the kiss of death to a team playing in a park that has a virtual wind tunnel in right-center field. It's a tough problem to address, but we'll start with a nice, small move to fill the fifth starter spot.
- Trade 3B Johnny Wittleman to OAK for LHP Lenny DiNardo.
It might seem strange that I'm suggesting DiNardo for this rotation, considering I don't want him in the rotation for the A's.
First of all, DiNardo is easy to get—you could send pretty much anyone thought of as a prospect for him—because he's about to be crowded out by the slew of young lefties with more stuff: Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Dan Meyer, etc.
Why do I advocate DiNardo?
He's a lefty who has a career MLB ground ball percentage of about 60. He's a soft-tosser, but he's the rare pitcher whose skill set actually makes Texas' ballpark pitcher-friendly.
As a fifth man in the rotation, that's a good thing to have.
Also, if a prospect such as Eric Hurley was to come up to the majors later in the year, DiNardo could slide into that "utility pitcher" role, or even be the bullpen lefty.
Looking further, it's obvious that the biggest trade chip on the Rangers (of the players I've outlined) is Michael Young. Now, I know he's got some money on his contract, but this is the team that once gave A-Rod $252 million, so eating some of Young's contract shouldn't be an issue.
If we package Young and C.J. Wilson in a deal to a team with pitching depth and in need of a shortstop upgrade, maybe we can land a good pitcher. Of course, Young would need to be traded to a contender, so moving him to a small-market, rebuilding club like Minnesota or Kansas City likely wouldn't work, no matter how bad their shortstops are.
The few teams that stick out are the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Reds, and Cubs. What would I do?
- Trade SS Michael Young and LHP C.J. Wilson to CHC for LHP Rich Hill, RHP Michael Wuertz, and OF Matt Murton.
I'm not saying that Hill, Wuertz, and Murton combine to be better than Young and Wilson.
What I am saying is that if the Rangers are ever going to put a half-decent pitching staff together, they have to do this. The Rangers need lefty pitching so they can neutralize lefty power, and Hill allowed lefties to slug only .359 off of him last year and will only get better.
He's more of a number two right now than an ace, but the Millwood-Padilla-Jennings types the Rangers seem to always throw out there are number fours.
Remember that the ballpark is actually pitcher-friendly when it comes to righty power (which is why the park factor is typically near-average), so Hill's homer problems against them are likely to be diminished.
Wuertz is easy to get because Wood, Marmol, and Howry all rank ahead of him, and with the Cubs getting Wilson in this deal, Wuertz is expendable. Murton was already expendable, and is a nice platoon partner for Murphy, probably in right field with the switch-hitting Botts in left and Hamilton in center. The Cubs desperately need a shortstop upgrade, and Hill has recently fallen out of favor with Lou Piniella.
So with a nominal ace, a fifth starter, and now with Wuertz and his 10 K/9 joining German and Benoit in the bullpen, the staff is slightly more filled.
We still badly need two other above-average starters. One fairly valuable commodity left is Milton Bradley.
Once again, we have to think: Who really needs an outfielder with a good bat?
Also, given Bradley's injury history, an AL team is preferable, because they could DH him at times if absolutely necessary.
- Trade OF Milton Bradley to CLE for LHP Aaron Laffey, RHP Tom Mastny, and LHP Rich Rundles.
Mastny and Rundles will slide into the bullpen with Wuertz, German, and Benoit, with Rundles being the lefty. Laffey will fill the third or fourth slot in the rotation. If you took Lenny DiNardo and added five mph of velocity, you'd get Laffey, and the 23-year-old's groundball tendencies are even stronger than DiNardo's. He's a very underrated performer who would thrive in Texas.
Rundles is another power groundballer who nobody knows about in AAA. He fits nicely as a situational guy. Mastny is a big fella with pretty good stuff and excellent command. He's not the extreme groundballer that a lot of these guys are, but you can't just fill a staff with twelve guys with heavy sinkers and that's it. You have to have variety to throw hitters off from inning-to-inning, game-to-game, and series-to-series.
We still need two rotation members, and with three lefties already in the rotation, we probably should look to righties to fill the last two spots. Between those, it would be nice to have one sinkerball pitcher and one strikeout pitcher to go with Hill.
That way, you have three groundball pitchers (DiNardo, Laffey, and one righty) and two strikeout pitchers (Hill and the other righty), giving good variety. Since groundballers aren't particularly expensive, we should focus on the power pitcher first. Third baseman Hank Blalock holds substantial value.
Who needs a third baseman and has an expendable power righty?
- Trade 3B Hank Blalock to PHI for RHP J.D. Durbin and LHP Brian Mazone.
Durbin has a great curve and good fastball, and he doesn't allow many homers, so it's not like he's driving up one side of his peripherals at the expense of another. Mazone winds up slotting in as the swingman, and the fact that he serves as a second lefty is a bonus. He's already very old for a minor leaguer, but he is certainly useful.
We still need a groundball righty and one other reliever.
- Trade OF Marlon Byrd and RHPs Brandon McCarthy and Kevin Millwood to LAD for RHP Derek Lowe.
First of all, I should probably explain why in hell the Dodgers would do this.
First, Colletti is a bad GM. Second, Lowe is in a contract year. Third, with Andruw Jones in tatters, Byrd is certainly a good guy to have around. Fourth, it's not like McCarthy and especially Millwood couldn't pitch decently at Dodger Stadium as well, so the rotation wouldn't be taking a huge hit, especially since they just lose Lowe for five months. As for Lowe, he and Hill combine to form a good front of the rotation, with Laffey, Durbin, and DiNardo backing them up. That's easily the best rotation Texas has had since Rick Helling's heyday, if not before.
Before addressing the four missing position players, I'll quickly snap up one last reliever in a small deal.
- Trade C Adam Melhuse to ARZ for LHP Mark Rosen.
Why am I filling my last spot with a fat lefty who's currently in Double-A. How's this for a stat: Rosen had a 3.12 ERA in AA last year in 66 1/3 innings pitched. Okay, that's nice, but what's so interesting?
Umm...his BABIP was .411.
The league average is about .290. So basically, he had pretty much the worst luck imaginable last year, and still put up a very low ERA. Add in a solid GB percentage and excellent strikeout rate, and this lefty looks like a perfect fit, at least as a low-leverage guy.
In conclusion, the pitching looks something like this:
RHP Derek Lowe
LHP Rich Hill
LHP Aaron Laffey
RHP J.D. Durbin
LHP Lenny DiNardo
LHP Brian Mazone
LHP Mark Rosen
LHP Rich Rundles
RHP Tom Mastny
RHP Joaquin Benoit
RHP Franklyn German
RHP Michael Wuertz
With Mazone handling long relief duties, Wuertz closing, and the rest being middle/setup guys, this has a good shot at shaping up to be a decent bullpen.
Remember that Francisco, Rupe, Rheinecker, Mendoza, and Littleton stay in Oklahoma, so reinforcements are only a state away. It may not be a championship pitching staff, but considering how well-matched to Arlington it is, you could break .500 with these guys.
We still need a third baseman, a backup third baseman, a shortstop, and an outfielder. The starting third baseman is easy enough:
- Trade C Gerald Laird to DET for 3B Brandon Inge.
Laird gives the Tigers a catcher for the post-Pudge era, and also insurance if Rodriguez breaks down. Inge is obviously expendable, and he's obviously a major-league-caliber starting 3B, maybe even better than Blalock.
The shortstop question is harder. Obviously with hitting there is a ton of freely available talent, but given that this is Texas, we would want a lefty-hitting shortstop, which narrows the options a bit. Why do we need a lefty-hitting SS? The rest of the infield hits righty, so you'd like a lefty hitter somewhere in there.
- Acquire SS Chase Lambin from FLA for cash.
Lambin switch-hits and plays good defense, and he's a very scrappy, fundamentally sound ballplayer. Think of him as a sort of Eckstein-type except with a LOT more power. No one has really ever noticed him after he was a very late-round draft pick, and he's easy to get as a minor league journeyman at age 29. He can do the job for two years until Elvis Andrus is ready.
So all we need is a backup third baseman and an outfielder. Nice and easy.
- Acquire 3B Mike Hessman from DET and OF John-Ford Griffin from LAD for cash.
Hessman has 40-homer power, but to get 40 HR from him in the majors, you'd have to deal with 200 strikeouts and a .220 average. His skill set makes him useful as a backup. Griffin is slightly less extreme with the HRs and Ks, but is the same type of hitter. However, he's a lefty, and any lefty with true over-the-fence power is dangerous. His acquisition allows Murphy to slide into more of a fourth outfielder-type role.
So we get this:
RF: Griffin vs. R/Murton vs. L
Inge, Roberts and Lambin can both play pretty much anywhere in time of need.
It can be arranged into a lineup like this:
Shelton, Hessman, Roberts, and the other half of the LF platoon are all valuable bench bats. And really, this is very similar to the current team, with a SS downgrade and 3B upgrade. It's worth it for the pitching upgrades.
Also note that several of the players listed in "who goes" were not dealt. They can be dealt for cash to compensate for the cash given up in these deals, or to improve an already excellent minor league system.
Failing that, they just get DFAed, and sent to the minors for depth.
Step Three: Watch The Team Win