First things first, after reading the entirety of this article, you will want to revert back to this sentence to reassure yourself that I am, in fact, a Texas Rangers fan.
So much of a fan, in fact, that I am willing to bet the Rangers' upcoming offseason (I know they are not yet mathematically eliminated, but come on, let's be real here) will once again be unsatisfactory to lifelong fans such as myself. Let's look at this first article as positive criticism.
The Rangers' offseason checklist is the same this offseason as it has been since 1972: pitching. The Rangers have had their fair share of quality pitchers, but the organization has never been able to assemble an entire staff that was good enough to carry the team to a world championship.
In the last decade, the pitching problem for Texas has been even more troublesome. This season, the Rangers have the highest team ERA in the league and are one of only two teams with an ERA over 5.00.
Rangers pitching is like looking for a new house but never finding the one with everything you like and want; you wish there was a way to pick certain features from this house and that house and combine them into your dream home. Texas usually has a highly-capable starter or two in the rotation every year or so, but they can never seem to find their own dream home.
Coming in to the 2008 season, the Rangers had high hopes of making it to the World Series, as every team does coming out of Spring Training. They felt like the had a winning combination, both offensively and defensively, that would catapult them to the top of the standings with the AL East big boys: Yankees, Red Sox, and now, Rays.
The team had good reason to think this year was redemption time for 25 years of disappointing baseball in North Texas. Last season, the Rangers had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The bulk of the bullpen was coming back in 2008, and the starting rotation looked solid, with Millwood, Padilla, and McCarthy anchoring the top-three spots and all looking for redemption from a disappointing season in 2007. All three are capable of winning 15 games.
Every team in baseball knows that the Rangers have offensive firepower, as they have been among the highest-scoring teams in the league the last several years. The 2008 season emerged as an offensively-gifted season.
Opposing pitchers would visit the very historically hitter-friendly ballpark in Arlington and would have to face a lineup that began with four consecutive All Stars, all selected mainly for their offensive production: Kinsler, Young, Hamilton, and Bradley.
Anyone in baseball will tell you that with those four leading the lineup card, it might be a good idea to start warming up the bullpen before the first pitch is thrown.
The middle infielders, Young and Kinsler, and the young and talented outfield make up for a brilliantly-talented defense. The outfielders, primarily made up of Brandon Boggs, Hamilton, and Marlon Byrd, each have cannons and exemplify long-range throws with consistent accuracy. Combine all these qualities with the fact that the Rangers have one of the top-ranked farm systems in all of baseball, and how can you not be positive about for 2008?
Well, it comes down to that little tiny area that every professional analyst says about every sport. We've all heard: in football, defense wins championships; in basketball, defense wins championships. Well, in baseball, defense also wins championships.
Pitching is part of your defense. And the Rangers still don't have a championship-caliber defense. At least not in the pitching department. So what can be done to get the Rangers to that next level?
Again, the answer is the same as it was 25 years ago: pitching. So, how can you acquire more quality pitchers? Well, you have to give some to get some.
Hank Blalock has, for the most part, it seems, been hurt for the last two seasons. When the team finally believes he is close to coming off the disabled list, he finds a new mysteriously-generated injury like injuring a hamstring by running out a grounder in a rehab start.
The team moved him to play first base to fill the void left by the departure of Mark Teixeira and because the organization has an abundance of talent that can play first and/or third base.
We've seen a multitude of young players this season that can be moved around to fill in the remaining infield positions of third, first and catcher (we are omitting shortstop and second base due to the fact that the Rangers have an All-Star at those positions under contract through 2012).
Max Ramirez, Gerald Laird, Chris Davis, Ramon Vazquez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and German Duran can all be shuffled to take over the remaining infield positions. The only non-rookies of that bunch are Laird and Vazquez. So what purpose does Blalock serve? Why is the team holding on to him?
Sure, he might be classified as a "home-run hitter," but on a team that scores 900 runs per year in a ballpark that historically has some of the highest-scoring games in the league, is he really that beneficial to the team?
A common conversation in the Dallas area regarding the Rangers is:
"The Rangers have a great lineup his year; we're going to score a lot of runs."
"Yeah we are, and we'll lose every game, 15-14."
That says it all. A high-scoring lineup means nothing if you don't have the pitching. Trade Hank Blalock to free up some cap room and try to get a solid pitcher for him. The Rangers should also look at including currently disabled closer C.J. Wilson in a trade deal.
Other pitchers like Frank Francisco or Warner Madrigal can step up into the closer role next season. And every Rangers fan will tell you that the Rangers better have at least a four-run lead heading to the ninth inning if C.J. comes in to pitch.
But even if the Rangers were to offer a trade, would any pitchers want to come to Arlington? Would a quality pitcher like C.C. Sabathia be willing to play in the Texas summer heat? Don't forget, the Rangers don't have a climate-controlled remtractable roof stadium like the Astros due in muggy Houston.
The heat plays a toll on your body and has some experts saying that extended play in the Texas Heat could take some years off your playing time.
With all the current talent on the field, and all the upcoming talent in the farm system, the time for the Rangers to acquire and execute a well-pitched season is now. Probably more so now than ever because the Rangers have never had so many talented players on the field at one time who are in their prime.
The 2009 seasons figures to be another great offensive season for the Rangers. But the Rangers need to rid themselves of Blalock and Wilson to acquire more quality pitchers, and the pitching staff needs to execute to their full potential.
If they don't, it might be a good investment for Mr. Hicks to add a retractable roof and climate control to the hitter-friendly ballpark. Otherwise, we're looking at another 25 years of disappointing baseball in North Texas.