Springtime Storylines: Will the Texas Rangers' rotation hold up?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Texas Rangers


The
big question: Will the rotation hold up?

When Nolan Ryan rode into town in 2008 and took over as Rangers’ President he vowed to make a historic weakness in Texas — pitching — into a strength. He wanted his starters to be better-conditioned physically and mentally with the aim of having them throw deeper into games.  Last season it paid off, with team ERA dropping and his starters’ innings pitched improved to seventeenth from dead last the year before. We’ll have a better idea if the improvement was a matter of personnel or philosophy after this season, because the cast, she has changed.

Kevin Millwood is gone, traded to Baltimore. In his place is a pitcher who, if healthy, can be better, but who is never ever healthy: Rich Harden. Harden has been a bit erratic this spring, but no one is too worried about it. Harden will actually be the number two starter, with Scott Feldman getting the Opening Day nod. Those two will be followed by C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Matt
Harrison. Tommy Hunter would have been there but for a strained oblique that will have him starting the year on the DL.

Feldman was something of a revelation last year. Is it sustainable? Some very smart people suggest the answer is yes because his improvement in 2009 was the result of some conscious changes in approach from the guy in the form of changing his arm angle and relying much more heavily on a cut fastball that proved to be most effective.

Colby Lewis is back from a couple of great years in Japan. If he’s more like NPB Lewis, the Rangers will have a good one on their hands. If he pitches like he did during his first major league tour of duty it will be pretty ugly. Wilson is pulling a Kyle Farnsworth and converting into a starter after years in the pen (I like Wilson’s chances better for reasons we’ll just broadly refer to as his superior mental approach). Harrison has been hit hard in two partial seasons as a starter.

I like Feldman’s chances to put up another good season, but beyond him you have an injury case, a converted reliever a kid and unknown quasi-import.  It’s possible that all of them will take nicely to Nolan Ryan’s mental approach.  But I’m a bit worried about them being able to do so physically, and I think that there’s a decent chance we’ll see the Rangers’ pitching slide back down to where we’re used to seeing them: at the bottom of the league in multiple categories.

So what else is going on?

  • Is Neftali Feliz Joba-south?  Feliz was a candidate for the rotation but will be in the pen instead. I wonder if he’s the latest in a line of promising starting pitchers who break into the majors as relievers in the interest of preserving their arms but who end up finding themselves stuck in the bullpen forever, wasting so much of their promise.
  • Vlad Guerrero in Texas made so much sense that I’m amazed it actually happened.  The big talking point over the winter was just how awesome he hits in the Ballpark at Arlington. Not as big as a related talking point was the fact that he’ll no longer be able to hit against Rangers’ pitching there.  I have no idea how he’ll do. I’d place just as much odds on him going on a tear as I would on him having one of those forgettable superstar-in-winter seasons like Harmon Killebrew with the Royals or something.
  • I’d be remiss in not mentioning the ownership situation. The deal isn’t closed yet, of course, and won’t be by Opening Day.  Last year Major League Baseball had to come in and help Hicks with payroll. The longer that sort of stuff lingers into this season the worse it will be.  If a serious roadblock presents itself that stretches the timeline out further, it could impact the ability of the team to make moves to stay in the pennant race if need be. Right now that seems unlikely — they’ll probably get it done — but it’s an issue looming out there.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is one of those previews that made me more and more pessimistic the more I thought about it.  I had it in my mind that the Rangers would be a solid second place choice behind Anaheim, but I’m not terribly comfortable with that at the moment.  The rotation scares me and the injuries scare me even more. We’ll do the Mariners next, but both of these teams have problems. It may all come down to Cliff Lee’s abdomen vs. Ian Kinsler’s high ankle sprain.  It’ll be close either way.

Prediction: Second
place, AL West, but this is not your Lock of the Week or anything.  It’s a shaky second place pick, no question about it.

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Danny Espinosa reportedly skipped Nationals Winterfest because of Adam Eaton

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Danny Espinosa #8 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after teammate Chris Heisey #14 (not pictured) hits a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.

A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.

Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.

Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.

Nick Cafardo: Red Sox should deal Pomeranz, not Buchholz

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Drew Pomeranz #31 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 18, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won 5-4. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.

The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.

Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.

Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.