There was a lot of smoke coming out of Dallas at the Winter Meetings, but only a small percentage from the hometown team. Jon Daniels and the Rangers met with numerous agents and were rumored on many deals, but none have come to fruition yet. They have had one significant addition and one significant defection.
Joe Nathan signed a two year contract to be the new Rangers closer. The move facilitates Neftali Feliz's move to the rotation. Nathan struggled some last year in Minnesota, but it was his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Most experts agree that pitchers do a lot better the second season after the surgery. The Rangers certainly hope that is the case.
The Rangers dialed it up a notch in the postseason when they elevated Mike Napoli to the first catcher's spot. Before that, he had played a potpourri of positions to get into the everyday lineup. The move allowed them to play around with first base depending on the team's needs.
Mitch Moreland is the so-called regular first baseman, but they substituted Michael Young in there during the World Series and on some nights.
However, first base is now a spot where the Rangers can upgrade comfortably. There is some reason to believe that they may join the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. Most of the good pitchers are off the board and you know they will want to answer the Angels major offensive. They are virtually set everywhere else on the diamond.
Both Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler are among the best all-around players at their position. When you count their collective offense and defense together, they rank in the top three at their respective positions.
Ian Kinsler had an abnormally low BABIP this last season, so look for him to produce even more this next season. Beltre missed six weeks and still had 100 RBIs.
Elvis Andrus is not a gifted offensive player, but he is slightly above-average when you add in his baserunning. Of course, he is there for his defense and his defense is among the best in the American League.
Nelson Cruz became a household name for those outside of Arlington during the playoffs. For those inside the Metroplex, his coming out party came at just the right time. In point of fact, his brilliant 2010 season was obscured by Josh Hamilton.
In some ways, he may actually be the superior player. He will need to stay healthy to take his game to the next level. He won't be as good as he was in the playoffs, but he could be a consistent power threat.
Hamilton may play in left or center depending on how the other outfielders perform. There are a few center field candidates that may emerge this season. Leonys Martin came up late last season and many are excited about what he can do. Craig Gentry seemed to do the best job last season. Julio Borbon was the guy coming into the season, so he might get another crack at the starting job.
The club would prefer for Hamilton to play in left because it will help preserve his legs and it will give them better defense overall. David Murphy is penciled in as the everyday left fielder because he is far more productive than the center field candidates. If any one of them steps up he will relegated to the bench.
Elevating pitchers from the bullpen to the rotation is always risky business. The Rangers may have been spoiled by how well C.J. Wilson took to the move. Neftali Feliz has electric stuff, but he will need another secondary pitch to make the move.
Plus, you never know how his arm will handle the additional innings. If the move is successful then allowing Wilson to go will be heralded as a smart move.
The Rangers have a very balanced rotation. There are no legitimate aces according to TPR, but they have five above-average starters. With the offense they will have, that is likely good enough. The key will be for Feliz and Ogando (another former reliever) to stay healthy throughout the whole season.
Signing Joe Nathan was important, but he isn't the best reliever in this pen. Mike Adams and Koji Uehara give the Rangers quite a one-two punch in the setup role. After that, the bullpen starts to look a lot thinner. Signing Darren Oliver or another veteran pitcher would make the bullpen just a little deeper. It might be the last to a puzzle that could result in a third consecutive divisional championship.
Rest of the Offseason
Pundits will point to another starting pitcher or a first baseman as the key to the rest of the offseason. When you look at the TPR breakdown, the needs are really quite clear.
The Rangers are in more of a need of an additional relief pitcher than they are a first baseman. Of course, seeing Prince Fielder in a Rangers uniform would be quite a sight, but seeing someone like Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson would be even better (and cheaper).