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Springtime Storylines: Will the Rangers be able to survive the departure of Cliff Lee?

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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 2011 season. Next up: The defending AL Champs, the Texas Rangers

The Big Question: Will the Rangers survive the departure of Cliff Lee?

Well, sure, why wouldn’t they be able to? They only had him for 15 starts last year, and they were five and a half games up in the West on the day they traded for him.  Indeed, my asking this question isn’t because I’m truly concerned about the rotation sans Lee, but because I really wanted an excuse to note that Lee, while a wonderful addition, didn’t make the Rangers 2010 season as much as lot of people think he did. At least they think he did if the questions I’m asked about the Rangers prospects this year by readers and radio hosts and stuff is any indication.

The fact is that the Rangers rotation heading into 2011 looks to be just fine even without Lee.  C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis were major surprises last season, but I don’t believe they were flukes. Neither seemed to be the recipients of uncommon luck, and their peripheral stats looked strong.  I’m likewise high on Derrek Holland who, assuming he stays healthy, seems poised to come into his own as a starter.  And all of the Rangers’ pitchers will benefit by having Adrian Beltre take over at third base.

The key, though, is Neftali Feliz. Last year’s closer is being groomed to return to his roots as a starting pitcher, a role at which he excelled in the minor leagues (a final decision on whether he starts could come as soon as today).  Yes, there will be questions about his durability — he has never pitched more than 127 innings in a season, and that was three years ago — but if he is given ample rest and a sensible ramp-up, he could emerge as a front-end starter. Maybe even one that apes Cliff Lee’s half-season production in Texas.

The upshot: I think the rotation, while not the strongest in baseball, will be quite capable and won’t be a drag on the Rangers’ drive to repeat.

So what else is going on?

  • If the Rangers do put Feliz in the rotation, who closes? Ron Washington has said he wants an “experienced closer.” Which is kind of silly considering that he won a pennant with Feliz as his closer and he had never done it before.  Still, it wouldn’t shock me if Washington begins the year with some sort of closer-by-committee thing, shuffling in old hands Arthur Rhodes, Darren Oliver and God knows who else through the ninth inning role. The best bet, though, is that Alexi Ogando will move into the role eventually.  He went 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 39/16 K/BB ratio in 42 innings last season and throws fire. Looks like a closer to me.
  • Michael Young’s dissatisfaction with being pushed into a 1B/DH/super utility role has taken up a lot of column inches this spring, but he’s apparently not going anywhere, trade demand notwithstanding. This may make life uncomfortable for everyone, but there are a lot of contending teams who would like to have the kind of depth the Rangers have on offense.  They’ll shuttle Young, Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland and — if a space opens up due to injury or whatever — Chris Davis between DH first base, pinch hitting duties and wherever else a bat with some upside is needed.
  • And while offense is a clear strength for the Rangers, there is a big question when it comes to health. The big guns — Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler — have all had injury trouble in recent years. Not a lot that can be done about it — hamstrings are hamstrings — but it does make the Rangers vulnerable. A bad day or two for these fragile stars and the balance of power in the division could shift toward Oakland.
  • Of course, that’s where Adrian Beltre comes in.  He’s missed some time this spring with an owie or two, but aside from that freak injury in Seattle in 2009 of which we will say no more lest we cringe, he has been outrageously durable for most of the past decade. Fenway Park treated him well last year. The Ballpark in Arlington figures to do the same. One of the more underrated pickups of the offseason.

So how are they going to do?

Quite well, thanks.  Health is always a factor in division races so it goes without saying that the Rangers need to stay healthy (drat, I just said it).  But if they do, I don’t see anyone seriously challenging them for the AL West crown.  If they win it, then it will be time to talk more seriously about the loss of Cliff Lee who did make quite a difference in the playoffs last year.  But that’s a long time from now.  As we sit here on the eve of the 2011 season, the Rangers seem to be just fine.

Chris Bassitt will undergo Tommy John surgery on Friday

Oakland Athletics pitcher Chris Bassitt sits in the dugout after being relieved against the Detroit Tigers in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Thursday, April 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Athletics pitcher Chris Bassitt will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery on Friday, MLB.com’s Jane Lee reports. He was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament over the weekend, so this news doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Bassitt, 27, is certainly out for the remainder of the 2016 season and will likely miss a sizable portion of the 2017 season as well. The right-hander made five starts for the A’s to begin the season, but put up an ugly 6.11 ERA with a 23/14 K/BB ratio in 28 innings.

Jesse Hahn took Bassitt’s spot in the Athletics’ starting rotation. Hahn is expected to start next on Saturday versus the Orioles.

Report: Twins place Tommy Milone and Casey Fien on waivers

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Tommy Milone throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
AP Photo/Morry Gash
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Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer press is reporting that the Twins have placed pitchers Tommy Milone and Casey Fien on waivers. Berardino adds that Fien would be able to reject a demotion to the minors if he passes through waivers, but Milone could not. Milone and Fien are only a part of what’s been ailing the 8-20 Twins.

Milone, 29, was solid out of the rotation for the Twins last season, but the same can’t be said of his start to the 2016 season. The lefty has a 5.79 ERA with a 19/7 K/BB ratio over four starts and one relief appearance. He was taken out of the Twins’ rotation following his final start in April.

Fien, 32, was also dependable for the Twins in previous years, but has had a rocky 2016 thus far. The right-hander has yielded 12 runs on 21 hits and three walks with 12 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.

Milone will be eligible for his third and final year of arbitration after the season after earning $4.5 million this season. Fien has two more years of arbitration eligibility left — his third and fourth — and is earning $2.275 million this year.

Kyle Lohse is throwing for interested teams today

Kyle Lohse
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Free agent starter Kyle Lohse is throwing for interested teams at the University of California, Irvine, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports.

Lohse, 37, remains unsigned into baseball’s second month on the heels of last season’s 5.85 ERA and 108/43 K/BB ratio over 152 1/3 innings. Although Lohse was quite good in the four seasons prior, teams are understandably reluctant to bank on pitchers in their late-30’s.

The Orioles, Tigers, and Reds have had reported interest in Lohse in recent months.

Majestic Athletic employees will protest at Coca-Cola Park on Friday

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Kris Bryant (L) of the Chicago Cubs and Anthony Rizzo #44 pose for a photo with their All Star jersey's before the game against the Chicago White Sox on July 10, 2015 at  Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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Anthony Salamone of the Morning Call reports that Majestic Athletic employees plan to protest at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA on Friday night. The employees are protesting Majestic’s owner VF Corporation’s attempt to undercut wages and medical benefits. VF Corporation acquired Majestic in February 2007.

Coca-Cola Park is home to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. Majestic has manufacturing facilities in Easton, PA, which is less than a half-hour from Coca-Cola Park. The IronPigs, as well as all 30 Major League Baseball teams, wear uniforms manufactured by Majestic.

Corporations affiliated with Major League Baseball taking advantage of employees isn’t anything new. Last year, when protests over police violence disrupted the Orioles’ schedule, some employees with the Orioles and Aramark almost lost out on multiple days of pay.