Ron Washington

Springtime Storylines: Can the Rangers win the AL once again?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

The Big Question: Can the Rangers win the AL again?

Why not? It’s oh so fashionable to pick the Angels at the moment thanks to their twin pickups in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson — the latter of which was a double blow to the Rangers as he leaves Texas — but it’s not like the Rangers are some team in decline. They were a better team than the Angels were to begin with and then they went and replaced Wilson with Yu Darvish (more on him below). Neftali Feliz is likely slated for the rotation and Alexi Ogando for the pen, but it remains a very deep staff. What the Rangers have in 2012 is a lot like what they had in 2011: a top five pitching staff, a top three lineup a lot of team depth and a lot of games against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s. That’s a recipe for a very respectable win total and, I suspect, another playoff birth.

But how deep can that run go? With the caveat that luck plays a big role in the postseason, I wonder if this will be a more tired Rangers club when October rolls around. While I give a slight edge to the Rangers in the division, the Angels are a better team than they were before and thus the Rangers may be in a race much longer this season than they were last. That added pressure, along with two straight years of long playoff runs, could mean a lot of tired arms and legs in Arlington. Nothing is guaranteed when you reach the playoffs, but it’s possible for the Rangers’ unmatched recent playoff experience to be offset by some fatigue.

That’s several months from now, of course. In the meantime, it’s worth watching the Rangers’ health. Because, really, that’s the biggest threat I see to this club.

What else is going on?

  • Yu Darvish is going on. Tons of hype to be sure — and a lot of money when you combine that posting fee with that contract — but Darvish seems like the real deal. Depending on who you believe, he is poised to be just as valuable as C.J. Wilson was and could be more valuable if things break right.
  • More broadly, the Rangers’ rotation is still pretty spiffy. In addition to Darvish, you have Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis, Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando. Two of them — Feldman and Ogando for now — will be in the pen, but Ron Washington has a lot of good starting pitching at his disposal. I mentioned the injury bug when talking about the Angels rotation yesterday. If it bites the Rangers, there’s a much bigger margin for error here.
  • The offense is basically the same and it was excellent last year. Figure some regression for Mike Napoli and Michael Young, both of whom are coming off fantastic seasons, but overall it remains extremely strong.
  • I believe in Joe Nathan. I know some people look at his age (37 this season) and his overall numbers from 2011 (bad) and wonder if he can handle the closer’s role, but he was better in the second half last year. It’s possible that he needed a few months to shake off the rust following a year off from Tommy John surgery. Even if he’s not as good as Neftali Feliz has been in the role, he’s not the only horse in that bullpen.
  • Apropos of nothing, but it’s worth mentioning that the Rangers have improved every single year since Ron Washington has been on the job. Texas won 75 games in 2007. Since then they’ve won 79, 87, 90 and then 96 games. Players come and go. Washington — and the front office who restocks the roster — keeps on keepin’ on.

How are they gonna do?

It’s going to be a close race with Anaheim. But I don’t think the Rangers got any worse since they were one strike away from winning the World Series. And they may be better.

Video: Undercover David Ortiz drives a Lyft in Boston

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David Ortiz did one of those “Undercover Lyft” spots for, well, Lyft, in which famous people disguise themselves while driving passengers around. Yes, they’re ads, but they’re still pretty funny. At least this one was.

Best parts: (1) the woman who says she has two David Ortiz shirts to which Undercover Ortiz responds, “actually, all my shirts are his shirts”; and (2) when Ortiz agrees with someone that baseball games are “so loooong.” Oh, and at one point he tells a woman who said she was going to the Red Sox game that night that he was too. After he unmasked himself, she explains his own joke to him. Which, ooohhkay.

In other news, people who take Lyfts in Boston either don’t watch much baseball, because Ortiz’s costume is NOT very concealing, or else they simply don’t look at their Lyft driver while in the car, at all.

Scouting in Venezuela: “Someone is going to get killed. It’s just a matter of time”

MIAMI - MARCH 14:  Venezuela fans cheer with a country flag while taking on the Netherlands during round 2 of the World Baseball Classic at Dolphin Stadium on March 14, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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Ben Badler of Baseball America has a story about how major league scouts who cover Venezuela are unhappy with the rules imposed upon them by the league. Rules, they say, which unreasonably prohibit them from scouting Venezuelan players in centralized, team-controlled locations or, alternatively, flying them to team facilities in the Dominican Republic or elsewhere.

The result: international scouts are forced to travel all over Venezuela to evaluate prospect. And, given how destabilized and dangerous Venezuela has become, they believe their safety is at risk:

“MLB’s rules that limit our ability to travel a Venezuelan guy to the Dominican Republic, that limit our ability to get them in a complex at different ages, all these rules are solely contributing to the risks that all of us are taking traveling from complex to complex, facility to facility in the streets,” said one international director. “Someone is going to get killed. It’s just a matter of time, and it’s on MLB when it happens, because they’re the ones who created these rules.”

As Badler notes, Major League Baseball itself has moved its annual national showcase out of the country due to safety concerns. It will not, however, relax scouting rules — which seem arbitrary on their surface in the first place — in order to make the job of international scouts safer.

It seems that Rob Manfred and the league owe their employees better than this. Or at the very least owe them an explanation why they don’t think they do.