Professional sports are a business, and fans of the Texas Rangers were reminded of that in December. Longtime face of the franchise Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia. The tip of the Rangers’ offensive spear the last five years, Josh Hamilton, left for enemy territory and signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Fan favorite Mike Napoli changed zip codes and left for Boston.
While the holes left by those defections seem ominous heading into the 2013 season, Rangers fans need not fret. While the Rangers played with a full deck the last three seasons, two of which landed them in the World Series, the Rangers still have more than enough fire power to compete for a division crown and a chance to finally win their first ever World Series.
The Rangers return their top three starters from last year’s 93-win team. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish were both All-Stars in 2012 and both held sub 4.00 ERAs through the end of the season. Jon Daniels and his staff also decided to move flame-throwing righty Alexi Ogando from the bullpen back into the rotation, where he was an All-Star and anchor through the 2011 season. Derek Holland, coming off his 175-inning campaign last season figures to have more in the tank heading into 2013, and an unnamed fifth starter out of a pool of promising prospects figures to round out what should be a rather formidable rotation. And whatever you do, don’t forget that Colby Lewis will return to the rotation at some point in the summer. He’s arguably the best pitcher in the Rangers’ recent run of dominance, and the 2012 season started going sideways almost as soon as Lewis went down with injury. His return should provide a big boost.
The bullpen lost key pieces in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and Alexi Ogando’s move to the starting rotation doesn’t help the cause. Even with all those subtractions, the bullpen still figures to be good enough to get the job done. Left-hander Robbie Ross figures to be ready for a more prominent role in the back end of the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot, and the signing of Joakim Soria will help when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan should continue to be a rock as the closer, and the free agent addition of Jason Frasor should add to the depth. The kids, including Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font and Martin Perez will also beef up the pen and add quality depth.
The pitching looks to be in good shape heading into spring training barring any injuries, but the offense is where the question marks start to seep in. The loss of Hamilton will undoubtedly sting, but Mike Napoli had a rough year at the dish and Michael Young was one of the statistically worst everyday players in all of baseball. Past nostalgic memories of those players don’t contribute to future success, and although their losses will be felt, the Rangers should be just fine. Healthy seasons from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz will go a long way, and a new hitting coach, who can hopefully get Ian Kinsler back to his productive ways, will help as well. The addition of Lance Berkman to the middle of the lineup should help to ease the loss of Hamilton and the Rangers will have a couple of the best prospects in all of baseball, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, waiting in the wings in Round Rock if the offense gets off to a rough start. While the Rangers may not lead the league in runs scored like they did in 2012, they should produce enough to keep them in competition.
Yes, change is always scary, especially when you get away from a couple of players who were such core pieces in the franchise’s first taste of real success. But looking back at the past couple of World Series winners, it’s not always the most talented team that comes out on top. The Giants, twice, and the Cardinals were both anchored by pitching and defense with just enough offense to get the job done, and that looks like what the Rangers have heading into 2013. If the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays have taught us anything, it’s that pitching and defense matter most. Don’t fret the upcoming 2013 season, Rangers fans. Barring anything catastrophic, they will be right in the thick of things come October.