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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Diamondbacks, A.J. Pollock avoid arbitration with two-year contract

Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock drives in two runs against the Cincinnati Reds during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
AP Photo/Gary Landers
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Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that the Diamondbacks and outfielder A.J. Pollock have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year extension. The deal is worth $10.25 million, per ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Pollock was arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. The 28-year-old requested $3.9 million and was offered $3.65 million by the Diamondbacks when figures were exchanged on January 15. It wasn’t much of a gap, but the two sides were ultimately able to find common ground on a multi-year deal. Pollock will still be under team control for one more year after this new deal expires.

Pollock is coming off a breakout 2015 where he batted .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, and 39 stolen bases over 157 games. He ranked sixth among position players with 7.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), according to Baseball Reference.

Report: Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson agree to two-year, $29 million extension

Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson celebrates his two run home run against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning in Game 3 of baseball's American League Championship Series on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, in Toronto. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Blue Jays and 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $29 million contract, reports Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.

Donaldson was arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter. He filed for $11.8 million and was offered $11.35 million by the Blue Jays when figures were exchanged last month. It wasn’t a big gap, but since the Blue Jays are a “file and trial” team, they bring these cases to an arbitration hearing unless a multi-year deal can be worked out. As opposed to last winter, they were able to avoid a hearing this time around. Donaldson was originally a Super Two player, so he’ll still have one year of arbitration-eligibility once this two-year deal is completed.

The 30-year-old Donaldson is coming off a monster first season in Toronto where he batted .297/.371/.568 with 41 homers while leading the American League with 123 RBI.

Giants and Brandon Belt have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday

San Francisco Giants'  Brandon Belt reacts after being called out on strikes by home plate umpire Jim Joyce to end the top of the first inning against the Colorado Rockies in a baseball game Friday, Sept.. 4, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Brandon Belt filed for $7.5 million and was offered $5.3 million by the Giants when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. That’s a pretty sizable gap. While there’s still a chance that an agreement will be worked out at the last minute, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that an arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Giants haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since 2004, when they lost to catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Schulman hears from one person involved that because of the gap between Belt and the Giants, there’s a real chance this will break that string and require a hearing.

Belt batted .280/.356/.478 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI over 137 games in 2015, but he dealt with concussion symptoms for the second straight season. An arbitration hearing could bring some unpleasant conversation to the surface.

Padres sign veteran utility player Skip Schumaker

Cincinnati Reds' Skip Schumaker is tagged out at home plate by San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The Padres have inked veteran utility player Skip Schumaker to a minor league contract, per FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Schumaker, who turned 36 last week, has spent the last two seasons with the Reds. He batted .242/.306/.336 with one home run and 21 RBI over 131 games last season while making starts between all three outfield spots and second base. Cincinnati cut ties with him in November after declining a $2.5 million club option for 2016.

While Schumaker had to settle for a non-guaranteed deal here, it would be no surprise to see him land a bench job with the Padres come Opening Day.