2013 Preview: Texas Rangers

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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 2013 season. Up next: The Texas Rangers.

The Big Question: Can the Rangers overcome the loss of Josh Hamilton to free agency?

Hamilton was, by most accounts, the Rangers’ best hitter last season as the lefty finished the 2012 campaign with 43 home runs and 128 RBI, threatening to derail Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown campaign to the very end. The Rangers weren’t willing to commit to Hamilton long-term, which allowed him to sign with the L.A. Angels.

Hamilton spent most of his time in center field last season and will be replaced by Craig Gentry, a 29-year-old with 476 career plate appearances in the big leagues. He is matched by few defensively, but leaves a lot to be desired with the bat as he has no power and is heavily reliant on posting a high batting average (it was .304 last year in 269 PA).

The other big change the Rangers made was handing the everyday job at first base to Mitch Moreland after trading Michael Young to the Phillies. Young had started 40 games at first base while also taking on DH responsibilities. Moreland, 27 years old, hit 15 home runs in 327 plate appearances last year. Their hope is that Moreland is able to consistently hit for power (around 30 home runs in a full season) while continuing to improve his pitch selection, which would help his on-base percentage.

Otherwise, the Rangers are opening up 2013 with more or less the same crew that won 93 games last year.

What else is going on?  

  • Third baseman Adrian Beltre will attempt to defy the aging process once again in 2013. 34 years old in April, has posted an aggregate .912 OPS over the last three seasons. Only  Miguel Cabrera (1.025) beats that mark, but only if you count him despite playing exclusively at first base in 2010-11. Beltre finished third in AL MVP voting last year.
  • The Rangers have been linked to starter Kyle Lohse (yep, still a free agent) for a while, but nothing has happened yet. Colby Lewis (elbow) and prospect Martin Perez (forearm) are both on the disabled list, opening up the door for Robbie Ross, Justin Grimm, Randy Wells, or Nick Tepesch to win the #5 spot in the rotation.
  • A.J. Pierzynski, coming off of the best offensive season of his career at the age of 35, is moving from one hitter-friendly park in the south side of Chicago to another one in Arlington. Pierzynski hit 27 home runs last year, joining Carlton Fisk (1983, ’85) as the only two catchers in baseball history to hit at least 25 home runs as a catcher at the age of 35 or older.
  • Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar are two of the more highly-anticipated prospects in baseball, but both are road-blocked at the moment. Olt is waiting patiently behind Beltre at third base, while Profar is behind shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. This has led to their inclusion in many trade rumors, but the Rangers have steadfastly chosen to hold onto their prized prospects. 

Prediction: Second place, American League West.

Rougned Odor didn’t technically steal home, but he basically did

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Just saw this from last night’s Tigers-Rangers game. It was pretty wild.

Rougned Odor walked in the seventh inning. He broke for second on a steal and was safe due to the throw going wild, allowing him to reach third base. The Tigers called on reliever Daniel Stumpf and he was effective in retiring the next two batters, leaving Odor on third with two out.

Stumpf, a lefty, was paying no attention whatsoever to Odor, so Odor just took off for home, attempting a straight steal. Stumpf was so surprised that he tried to throw home to nail Odor, and in so doing, he balked. That technically means that Odor scored on the balk, but I think it’s safe to say he would’ve scored on the strait steal regardless. Watch:

 

He definitely gets points for style.

 

Aroldis Chapman is pitching himself out of a job

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Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman looked shaky again last night, coming in to the game with a three-run lead before allowing a two-run homer to the Mets’ Amed Rosario. He would nail down the save eventually, giving Sonny Gray his first win as a Yankee, but Chapman’s struggles were the talk of the game afterward.

It was the third appearance in a row in which Chapman has given up at least one run, allowing five runs on three hits — two of them homers — and walking four in his last three and a third innings pitched. He’s also hit a batter. That’s just the most acute portion of a long slide, however. He posted a 0.79 ERA in his first 12 appearances this year, before getting shelled twice and then going on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, missing over a month. Since returning he’s allowed 12 runs — ten earned — in 23 appearances, breaking out to a 4.09 ERA. He’s also walked ten batters in that time. At present, his strikeout rate is the worst he’s featured since 2010. His walk rate is up and he’s allowing more hits per nine innings than he ever has.

It’s possible that he’s still suffering from shoulder problems. Whether or not that’s an issue, he looks to have a new health concern as he appeared to tweak his hamstring on the game’s final play last night when he ran over to cover first base. Chapman told reporters after the game that “it’s nothing to worry about,” and Joe Girardi said that Chapman would not undergo an MRI or anything, but he was clearly grimacing as he came off the mound and it’s something worth watching.

Also worth watching: Dellin Betances and David Robertson, Chapman’s setup men who have each shined as Yankees closers in the past and who may very soon find themselves closing once again if Chapman can’t figure it out. And Chapman seems to know it. He was asked if he still deserves to be the closer after the game. His answer:

“My job is to be ready to pitch everyday. As far as where I pitch, that’s not up to me. If at some point they need to remove me from the closer’s position, I’m always going to be ready to pitch.”

That’s a team-first answer, and for that Chapman should be lauded. But it’s also one that suggests Chapman himself knows he’s going to be out of a closer’s job soon if he doesn’t turn things around.