The Rangers of last season did a great job winning the American League West division with 95 wins but for the second consecutive season, they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Division Series. Sadly, the lost power hitting Prince Fielder after doctors declared him unable to play. Center fielder Ian Desmond left to join the Colorado Rockies as a free agent as did first baseman Mitch Moreland, who now plays for the Boston Red Sox. 2016 trading deadline acquisition Carlos Beltran is gone as well, staying in division and in state by joining the rival Houston Astros. Returning to the club are free agent Carlos Gomez, who seemed to perform like the player of old after the Rangers signed him in August of last season, as well as Mike Napoli, who returns to the club for the third time after a 34 home run season for the American League Champion Cleveland Indians. Napoli has also now played in three World Series, the first of whom was with Texas in 2011, the middle made him a World Series Champion with the Red Sox in 2013.
I thought the Rangers did a pretty good job addressing their starting rotation depth this off season. They signed Andrew Cashner to a one year contract and did the same with right hander Tyson Ross, who was unexpectedly non-tendered by the San Diego Padres. Having veteran Cole Hamels, with a 15-5 record last season, 200 plus innings pitched and 200 plus strikeouts and Yu Darvish (132 strikeouts in just over 100 IP) as your top two starting pitchers put them in a great position to grow by taking a chance on an inconsistent talent (Cashner) and a proven pitcher coming off a major injury (Ross). Unfortunately, losing Cashner to start the season while already knowing Ross will not be ready puts a dagger in the Rangers starting rotation depth. Left hander Martin Perez made 33 starts and pitched relatively well and will be joined by AJ Griffin and Dillon Gee at the back of the rotation. While Griffin and Gee are good candidates to enjoy bounce back 2017 seasons, it may be a good idea for the Rangers to bring in another proven starter. Free agent Colby Lewis has pitched his last six MLB seasons with the Rangers and nine of his 11 in Texas. Doug Fister is still out there as well as well as former Rangers left hander CJ Wilson and right hander Henderson Alvarez.
The Rangers bullpen is led by Sam Dyson, who bursted out with 38 saves in 2016. Right handed hard throwers Matt Bush and Tony Barnette are joined by Jeremy Jeffress, who came over in last season's Brewers trade with Jonathan Lucroy. Losing left handed specialist Jake Diekman leaves them without a reliable LOOGY to start the season, although Alex Claudio did well last season in 24 games. The Rangers also have a lot of faith in Keone Kela and Tanner Scheppers, both of who under-performed last season.
In spite of the couple of defections, the Rangers are equipped with an offensive team that should once again score a lot of runs. Veteran Catcher Lucroy (.292 batting average, 24 home runs, 81 runs batted in) and star third baseman Adrian Beltre (.300, 32, 104) lead the way with second baseman Rougned Odor (.271, 33, 88) and Nomar Mazara (.266, 20, 64) providing the youth in a balanced lineup. Prized top prospect Jurickson Profar is looking to do something he has not done since debuting as a 19 year-old in 2012... play a full season. Profar is also trying out a new position, left field. Shortstop Elvis Andrus hit .300 and OPSed .800, a great job considering he is coming off a couple down seasons. Veteran Shin Soo Choo still has four seasons left on his seven year contract and is looking to settle in as the team's designated hitter. The lineup I would start the season with is Gomez CF, Mazara RF, Beltre 3B, Lucroy C, Odor 2B, Napoli 1B, Choo DH, Andrus SS, Profar LF. Outfielder/ first baseman Ryan Rua, outfielder Delino DeShields and maybe infielder Joey Gallo join backup catcher Robinson Chirinos to form the Rangers bench this season.
Gallo has fallen out of the Rangers top 30 prospects (he technically does not qualify as a rookie anymore), but hit 28 home runs last season, giving him 139 over the past four professional seasons. The Rangers top overall prospect is outfielder Leody Tavaras, who is at least another two or three seasons from being ready to play in the major leagues. Left handed pitcher Yohander Mendez could be ready this season to help out as a starting pitcher. Shortstop Anderson Tejeda is very intriguing as well, as he could become yet another solid middle infielder to come through the Rangers minor league system. Left hand pitcher Joe Palumbo could be throwing darts in the Texas bullpen this season, especially with the injury to Diekman.
Similar to the Houston Astros, the Rangers will have to fight off the stiff competition within their own division. The Athletics are improved and I see the Angels finishing the season with a winning record. The Rangers and Astros will knock each other around this season and because of that, both will fall short of winning the AL West title and consequently, the 2017 postseason altogether. Las Vegas had the Rangers right on point with their over/ under number of 86.5. I have the Rangers finishing the season at 86-76, second place in the American League West division.