The Rangers made news this off season because of the loss of Josh Hamilton to LA, Mike Napoli to Boston and finally putting Michael Young out of his misery by trading him to Philadelphia. They brought in AJ Pierzynski from Chicago and added Lance Berkman to DH, but many expected them to do more. Berkman and Pierzynski may do fine replacing Napoli and Young, but the loss of Hamilton is going to hurt. A Rangers fan should be optimistic, but not as optimistic as in the past three years.
While they should take a hit offensively, they still return 3B Adrian Beltre (.321, 36, 102) and Nelson Cruz (.260, 24, 90). Ian Kinsler (.256, 19, 72) is in a decline and may play 1B this season with incumbent Mitch Moreland (.275, 15, 50). Elvis Andrus (.286, 3, 62) will start at SS, with the top overall prospect (according to MLB.com) Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings. In my opinion, Andrus should have been the centerpiece in their effort to land Justin Upton, who would have been an excellent move to make up for the loss of Hamilton. Especially with Profar ready. David Murphy (.304, 15, 61) will quietly put up numbers in left field. Center field may be more of an issue. Craig Gentry (.304, 1, 26, 12 SBs) is more defensive minded, with Leonys Martin (.359, 12, 42 in AAA) probably getting a shot to win the job. They also have Mike Olt (.288, 28, 82 in AAA) who can work in at 1B or DH.
The question is who they will choose to play, as Profar (.281, 14, 62 in AA) could benefit from playing in AAA. Berkman will probably serve as the DH at this stage of his career. I suggest two lineups. One without Profar, one without Berkman. Perhaps the second one will be the Rangers lineup of the future. Andrus SS, Pierzynski C, Beltre 3B, Cruz RF, Kinsler 2B, Berkman DH, Moreland/ Olt 1B, Murphy LF, Martin CF. The second one looks like this: Profar 2B, Andrus SS, Beltre 3B, Cruz RF, Kinsler 1B, Pierzynski C, Olt DH, Murphy 1B, Martin CF. The second lineup sacrifices power for all around ability. Non roster invitee Brandon Allen has showed power in the minors and could be a sleeper to make this team.
The starting rotation will be led by Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90, 221 Ks) and Matt Harrison (18-11, 3.29). Both Derek Holland (12-7, 4.67) and Colby Lewis (6-6, 3.43) had down seasons and missed some time due to injury. The fifth starter spot is going to be interesting. Alexei Ogando (2-1, 3.27 in 58 games, 1 start) returned to the bullpen after a full season in the rotation. Neftali Feliz (3-1, 3.16 in 8 games, 7 starts) was injured after joining the rotation after two seasons as the team's closer. This year, its Robbie Ross (2-0, 2.22 in 58 games, 0 starts) who may get a chance to be a starting pitcher. If they choose to go with Ross, who looked solid as a starter in the minors as well, they would have an opportunity to have a great bullpen with Feliz and Ogando in it. Whatever they choose to do, they should choose one of the three and move on with it from here forward.
Who starts will determine what the bullpen will look like. Joe Nathan (3-5, 37 saves, 2.80 in 66 games) will serve as the team's closer with Joakim Soria as the primary set up man. Soria comes over from Kansas City but is recovering from Tommy John surgery. I would leave Ogando in the bullpen and start either Feliz or Ross. Ross as a reliever, will provide a left hander that can do more than face just one lefty. Feliz gives the team a chance at a dynamic 7-8-9 combo. The team did lose Mike Adams (5-3, 3.27 in 61 games) to Philadelphia so a Soria- Feliz combo looks more enticing. Derek Lowe can become the Rangers 5th starter if they wish, or can provide depth in the bullpen. Lowe pitched much better as a reliever for the Yankees than he did as a starter for Cleveland last season.
I see the Rangers taking a step back this season, but a major one forward for the future. They cannot replace the power lost by Hamilton, but getting younger will keep them performing at a high level for years to come. Vegas puts their over/ under at 87, as I see them finishing under at 83-79, 3rd place in the AL West. If you have followed my previous posts, you will see 20-14 are al separated by a game each.