Sunday November 6, 2011
Sam Evans: The last two years have been like a roller coaster for the Texas Rangers and their fans. The Rangers have been extremely successful, winning two straight American League championships. But both years they have fallen short in the world series. 2012 is sure to be a critical season for the Rangers organization.
Rotation: I think that C.J. Wilson is making it pretty obvious that he wants to return to the Rangers next year. If we assume that he does, then he will be the Rangers #1 starter. Barring a trade or a signing, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando will follow him. An interesting decision that Rangers have to make is whether they move Neftali Feliz to the rotation. Feliz is a very intriguing pitcher, who in my opinion, at least deserves one spring training to show what he can do as a starter.
If the Rangers decide not to bring back Wilson, there are not many other top of the rotation starters. Jon Daniels has scouted Yu Darvish, so the Rangers might be in the mix to sign Darvish. However, the Rangers payroll including arbitration player and existing contracts is expected to be over 100M. The consensus opinion is that Darvish will cost over 100M. I’d be surprised if the Rangers could afford a contract like that and if they would prefer Darvish over Wilson at similar money. Other options in free agency include Mark Buehrle and Erik Bedard.
The rotation is going to be immensely important for the Rangers in 2012. You could make the argument that with Cliff Lee, the Rangers would have won the World Series last year. If the Rangers could move Feliz and keep Wilson, they would have one of the stronger rotations in the American League.
Catcher, Third Base, Shortstop, and Second Base: These four positions are written in stone for the Rangers. Adrian Beltre might be the best third basemen in baseball and he is signed through 2015. Mike Napoli had a breakout year last year, and despite playing in only 113 games, Napoli was the Rangers most valuable offensive weapon. 2012 is Napoli’s contract year, so if everything goes wrong for the Rangers, Napoli might be traded for prospects.
As for shortstop, Elvis Andrus has improved ever since he first got to Texas. I think that in 2012, Andrus has the chance to take a big step forward. If he could steal 40 bases (just three more than he did in 2011), and hit over .300, he would become one of the best shortstops in the American League. At second base, the Rangers have Ian Kinsler who is their best player. If he continues at his current pace, he is a dark horse MVP candidate. In 2011, he posted a wRC+ of 128, he played defense better than any other second basemen in baseball, and he hit 30 homers and stole 30 bases. One of the reasons why I don’t think that the Rangers should make a big splash in free agency is that they already have Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler, Colby Lewis, and Josh Hamilton. Kinsler has a $10M option, which I’d be surprised if the Rangers didn’t accept. No matter what happens, it is sure to be an expensive offseason.
First Base, Designated Hitter, and Outfield: The Rangers first base situation is a much bigger deal than most people think. Mitch Moreland is far from a sure thing, and with reports now emerging that he battled wrist soreness in the second half of the season, more uncertainty arises from the situation. Moreland batted .241 in the second half of 2011, with a OBP of .300, and only five home runs. That’s simply not good enough for an American League team. Do you think the Rangers are glad they didn’t trade Michael Young? Young hit .338 in 2011 with 213 hits. Young did have a BABIP of .368, so he is probably due for some regression in 2012.
The Rangers have the best duo of corner outfielders in baseball. Josh Hamilton can be penciled in for 2012 as the Rangers cleanup hitter. Nelson Cruz is another middle of the order bat who is an amazing talent. Both of these hitters are capable of hitting .300 with thirty home runs a piece. The biggest question for these guys is whether they can stay healthy. Both have had serious injury concerns throughout their career, but if they could both stay healthy they could help propel the Rangers toward another 2012 AL West championship. As for center field, the Rangers can either test their luck with Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, and Leonys Martin, or they could turn to free agency. If they were to shop for a center fielder, I think that the underrated Coco Crisp might be a good fit. With the strength of their lineup, center field is really not the biggest of the Rangers worries.
Prospects: Thanks to one of the most extensive scouting departments in Major League Baseball, the Rangers have a very strong minor league collection of prospects. 16-year-old international signings Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman are very intriguing prospect, but both are at the least four years away from making a MLB impact. Jurickson Profar is the best shortstop prospect in all of baseball, and a top-5 prospect overall. Profar isn’t quite ready for the Majors, but if he continues to rake in the minors, he could be a September call up. Martin Perez is the Rangers top pitching prospect but he struggled in AAA last year. In the long-term, if just some of these prospects develop, then the Rangers will continue to have a really good baseball team for years to come. Unfortunately, this system is what scouts call, “bottom heavy”, meaning that most of the highly touted prospects are in the lower ranks of the minors.
Bullpen: The status of the Rangers bullpen all depends on what the Rangers decide to do with Feliz. Texas has Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, and Yoshinori Tateyama all returning for 2012. Darren Oliver is a type A free agent, but at 41 years of age, I expect him to return to Texas. Bullpens are the easiest position to assemble in baseball, so don’t expect the Rangers to have much trouble finding the right pieces to fill out their ‘pen.
In 2012, the Rangers have a chance to be a very special team. If they are not currently the best team in baseball, they are definitely in the top five. It’s highly improbable these days that a team reaches the World Series three times in a row. But I think that the Rangers have a legitimate chance in 2012. The Rangers just need the right mix of players to get over the hump and win the big one. Otherwise, another World Series loss could turn them into the modern day Atlanta Braves (minus the championship).
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback. You can follow us onTwitter and become a fan on Facebook . To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.
Follow @mlbreportsFriday October 21, 2011
MLB reports – Rob Bland: Expanding the playoffs has been a hot topic for many years now. While the move will not be as drastic as when the MLB added the first wild card team in each league, it has drawn the ire from a lot of critics. In 1994, MLB was to use the postseason system currently in place; however the season was cut short due to a player strike. It was then that the MLB went to three divisions in each league (East, Central, and West) as well as a wild card team (the best non-divisional winner record in the league). The American league Divisional winners would have been the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox in the Central and Texas Rangers in the West (with a record of 52-61). Conversely, the Cleveland Indians would have been the wild card winners at 66-47. In the National League, the East would have been won by the Montreal Expos, who had the MLB’s best record of 74-40. The Central and West would have been won by the Cincinnati Reds and LA Dodgers, respectively, while the wild card winner would have been the Atlanta Braves.
However, due to the strike, which also shortened the following season, 1995 was the first year this system actually came into play. This season saw a shortened 144 game schedule. The NL East winners, Atlanta Braves had to go through the slugging Colorado Rockies; the first NL wild card team. They then faced the Reds, and the eventual World Series Champions Cleveland Indians. The Indians took a very peculiar path to the World Series. After leading the MLB with a 100-44 record, the Indians faced the Boston Red Sox, winners of the AL East, who had the 2nd best record in the American League. The Yankees were the wild card winners, who were defeated by the Seattle Mariners in the AL Division Series.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the commissioner, Bud Selig, with the MLB and its players’ union expires in December of this year, and an extension of five years is expected to be reached any day. One of the main hold-ups to a deal is the addition of another wild card team. The 2nd best non-divisonal winner would get into the playoffs. This may not seem like much, where every other major sports league in North America has at least 3 “wild card” teams, but in baseball, tradition is always at the top of people’s minds. Adding a team to each league’s postseason picture could lengthen the MLB season, which is something that is a major concern to most people involved in the process.
One option that was bandied around was to have the two wild card teams face off in a best 2 out of 3 series. The advantage of this short series is that both teams that didn’t win their division would have to play extra games while the winners get a short break to recuperate their injured players. Also, the extra games give opportunities to more teams to earn extra postseason revenue, which benefits the league. However, the extra 2-4 days off that the other teams would have to endure could also cause a team to lose its momentum gained at the end of the season.
However, it is believed that the MLB will go to a one game sudden death playoff between the two wild card teams. In my opinion, the biggest advantage to this is that it gives the winner of the game a monumental disadvantage going into the second round. The wild card teams would be forced to pitch their ace in the playoff, and therefore would not be able to pitch until at least game 3 of the next round. This means the team’s best starter would only get one start in a best of 5 series. Not only would the team with the best record in the league have home-field advantage, but they would see their opponent’s best pitcher in only one game.
In the current state of the MLB postseason, ten wild card teams have made it to the World Series, out of a possible 34 teams going back to 1995, including 2011. Roughly 29% of wild card teams make it into the World Series. If you figure that 1 out of 4 teams in each league make it to the World Series, or 25%, then you have a better chance of making it as a wild card than as a divisional winner. Four World Series have been won by wild card teams. 25% of World Series have been won by a team that should have a distinct disadvantage, but obviously do not. It is due to this that MLB must make it a bigger hindrance for not winning your division. Playing an extra game, extra travel and burning your ace are ways to weaken a wild card team’s chance of making it to the World Series.
With the union and MLB reps meeting every day trying to hammer out the extension for the CBA, you should see the added teams in the playoffs in 2012 or 2013. It is widely expected that the deal will be reached in the middle of the World Series to take advantage or the added publicity it would gain. I am fairly certain that the new playoff format will come into effect for the 2012 season, and there will be a lot of teams looking to push the envelope and make an appearance.
World Series: Game 2 Recap
Game 2 was a bit of a surprise, as Jaime Garcia, whom many picked to implode in this guy, had a great start. Through 7 solid innings, he gave up only 3 hits and 1 walk to 7 strike outs. Colby Lewis was equally as impressive until the 7th inning, where he was able to strike Matt Holliday out to lead off the inning. David Freese then singled and Yadier Molina flew out. Nick Punto then hit a ground ball towards first base that went off of Michael Young’s glove and into right field, moving Freese to third. With runners on the corners and one out in the 7th, Alexi Ogando came in to face the hitter in the pitcher’s spot. That hitter: Allen Craig. The same hero of game 1 that hit a single to right field that scored the go ahead and eventual winning run. Craig promptly lined a ball to right field to score David Freese, breaking the dead lock.
What would a playoff game be without drama? Jason Motte came in the 9th to close out the 1-0 game. So far in the postseason, he had given up 1 hit in 29 plate appearances. Ian Kinsler led off the inning with a bloop single off the end of the bat. Elvis Andrus came up to the plate and looked to get a sac bunt on the ground, but Kinsler decided to take matters in his own hands, and stole second base by the smallest of margins. Andrus then lifted a 2-2 pitch to center field for a single. While Kinsler was held at 3rd, Cardinals CF Jon Jay threw the ball wide of the cutoff man, which allowed Andrus to slide safely into 2nd base.
Manager Tony La Russa then yanked Motte for lefty Arthur Rhodes to face Josh Hamilton. On the first pitch, he hit a fly ball to right that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus to third. Even more like La Russa, he brought in Lance Lynn to face Michael Young, who hit a 3-2 curveball deep enough to center to scored Andrus, and the Rangers lead the game 2-1.
Rangers closer Neftali Feliz took the mound in the bottom of the 9th and walked Yadier Molina on 5 pitches 97 mph or faster, hitting 100 on the radar gun with the first pitch. Nick Punto came to the plate, bunted two balls foul up around his eyes, then swung feebly to strike out. Feliz then struck out Skip Schumaker and induced a fly ball off the bat of Rafael Furcal to seal the victory.
With the series tied at one game apiece, an off day tomorrow and game 3 slated for Saturday night in Texas, this series is only going to get better. Keep checking MLB reports for your daily fix of updates on the World Series.
Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Rob on Twitter.
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback. You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook . To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.