Previewing the 2012 Rangers | Interview Series
Over the course of the next month or two, we will be previewing the Yankees’ competition in the American League. To do this, I will interview one blog for each team in the league.
So far in the AL West we have taken a look at the Oakland Athletics. Now we head southeast all the way to the Texas Rangers. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jean-Luc Tilly of Nolan Writin’….
1) For the second year in a row, the Rangers made it to the World Series, but lost. How degrading is such a turn of events for the Rangers?
I would argue that this turn of events is, if anything, demoralizing rather than degrading. The Rangers still won a championship both years, just not THE championship. There is still a fair amount of pride there, although mixed with a certain feeling of frustration, especially for those involved in some of the more crucial plays. The Rangers have attempted to address that by basically overhauling the less successful portion of their postseason bullpen, by moving Feliz to the rotation, not resigning Darren Oliver, acquiring Darvish to add Ogando or possibly Harrison to the bullpen which moves Mark Lowe out of high-leverage situations, and trading Koji Uehara to the Athletics or some other interested party. I think the fact that they failed to reach the ultimate goal will serve as a source of motivation rather than despondency, especially for some of the younger players who are eager to make their mark on a championship team.
2) What are your thoughts of the Rangers’ offseason, which has mainly included the signing of Yu Darvish? Have the team’s needs appropriately been addressed?
Going into the offseason, I identified 3 areas of need for the Rangers: frontline SP and revamped bullpen, and, where fiscally responsible, a 1B or CF upgrade. I’ve discussed the revamped bullpen in question 1, so I won’t go into that much, save to say that I think acquiring Joe Nathan (2 yr/$14 mil) was a terrific move when you look at the preposterous Heath Bell (3/30) and Papelbon (4/50) contracts, and an underwhelming move when compared to the Madson (1/8.5) contract. The problem there was that the Rangers had identified Nathan early on as “their guy” and went ahead and got him rather than risk losing him (he was receiving several other offers, some reported to be higher). Unfortunately, that prevented them from playing the waiting game with Madson and his agent Scott Boras. A “proven closer” (Nathan has several seasons of closing experience, Madson has half a season) is something manager Ron Washington has consistently identified as crucial to a team’s success, so I understand the impulse to secure your candidate of choice, but a better deal could probably have been had.
Acquiring a frontline SP was also critical, either by re-aquiring C.J. Wilson or going a different route. Re-acquiring C.J. Wilson was basically impossible, because several teams, including the Marlins and the Angels, valued him at $70 million or so, and the Rangers seemed like they were uncomfortable with a deal larger than $40-45 million. You’ll recall the Yankees didn’t even consider it worthwhile to meet with him. So, my evaluation of the decision to not pursue C.J. comes down to which front offices I trust more, the Rangers and the Yankees, or the Angels and the Marlins. I think the choice is clear. Pursuing Darvish is something I have the least to say about, because frankly the Rangers scouted him thoroughly for over 3 years, and the top three bids for his services came from what I consider to be the top three front offices in the Majors (apart from TB, who didn’t have the resources to bid). If its good enough for them, its good enough for me. I don’t have any real knowledge of how Japanese performance translates to the majors, other than reading other people’s projection work.
1B and CF are the two positions the Rangers are weakest in, and 1B in particular had some real opportunities for improvement this offseason. Ultimately, I don’t think the kinds of prices paid out to Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols were financially sensible, and I am happy the Rangers elected not to go there. I’ll add that although 1B was weak for the Rangers last season, Mitch Moreland played through for part of the season, and up to that point he had been performing quite well. CF will be an open competition between Leonys Martin, a promising prospect, and Craig Gentry, who is an excellent defender and probably only slight below average on offense.
3) How does the Josh Hamilton relapse affect the Rangers in the short term and the long term? Do you think it makes the Rangers less likely to re-sign him after this 2012 season?
I’m not sure the Hamilton relapse has any effect at all, short term or even long term. Several Dallas-area and national writers have speculated that Hamilton has lost “leverage” in his forthcoming contract negotiations, but I disagree. The fact that the Rangers have worked hard to help him through his addiction during his tenure with the team by providing an “accountability partner” and serving non-alcoholic drinks during celebrations shows that Hamilton was always at a risk of relapse, so this incident was unexpected. Also, recovering from addiction is a very difficult process, and many addicts relapse 7-10 times before escaping from the yoke of addiction, and even thereafter refer to themselves as an addict. The Rangers likelihood of resigning Hamilton is basically zero anyway, given that there are suggestions he is after a Jayson Werth/Carl Crawford type deal. That sort of contract isn’t advisable and isn’t really in the budget, considering Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, and a variety of other players are all going to be needing long-term deals soon.
4) It’s no secret that the AL West competition has become a whole lot stronger this offseason. With the Angels’ signing of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, what is the general confidence level of the Rangers fans and organization heading into this upcoming season?
Although the level of competition has indeed risen significantly in the A.L. West, I feel that Rangers fans and the organization are very confident. For one thing, this isn’t the same team as 2011. If you believe the ZiPS projections, Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish will post ERA+ of 130 and 125, respectively (to illustrate, both are near Sabathia’s projected 126 ERA+). The revamped bullpen also could win a few extra games. Between those two developments, the entire lineup making a reappearance, I’m very confident the Rangers will improve over 2011.
Also, the Angels upgrades, while impressive in a vacuum, may ultimately not contribute that significantly to improvement in the standings. Last season, the Angels got 1.3 fWAR out of their fourth starter, Joel Piniero, who has since departed. While C.J. Wilson represents a significant improvement, I very much doubt that net improvement exceeds 3.5 fWAR, else the Yankees and Rangers made a big mistake. I also doubt the Albert Pujols upgrade is the “game-changer” it is made out to be. He replaces Mark Trumbo, who put up a solid 2.3 fWAR last season, whereas Pujols only put up 5.1 fWAR. Assuming he picks it back up to 6 fWAR, that’s still only a 4 fWAR increase. Together, both signings contribute something on the order of 7 to 8 wins increase over last season, which is very impressive, but doesn’t put them “over the top” of the Rangers, who won the division by 10 games last season.
5) What is the current status of the Rangers’ farm system and minor leagues? Building off that question, are there any notable prospects who could have a significant impact on the MLB team this year?
The Rangers farm system is very well-regarded by national writers. John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranks it third and Keith Law of ESPN ranks it 7th. Neither of them are counting Yu Darvish. However, the Rangers system has few prospects who are ready to make an immediate impact on the big-league club. Leonys Martin, who spent last season in Triple-A, is 23, with great speed and defense and a decent bat. He will have the opportunity to compete for the CF job in Spring Training, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he secured it. Other than him, there are a few pitching prospects who could make their way to the Majors through the bullpen, such as Tanner Scheppers and Mark Hamburger, and Michael Kirkman.
6) Lastly, how do you project the team will do in 2012?
I expect the Rangers will exceed last season’s heights, and make it to 98 wins.