BY AXEL BOADA
2013 Record: 91-72 (2nd Place AL West, 5.5 GB)
Winning 90-plus games just isn’t enough to outright get your team into the playoffs in the American League these days.
Just ask the Texas Rangers. They’ve learned the hard way.
After two consecutive trips to the World Series (and a Buckner-esque moment from Nelson Cruz that cost them the title in 2011) the Rangers have struggled to get into the postseason the past two seasons. They were eliminated in 2012 in the first-ever ALWC. In 2013, they lost to Tampa Bay in an AL wild-card tiebreaker.
The Rangers received quite the makeover this season by adding some big names and parting with one long-time stalwart in the infield. But change is necessary, especially for a team who wishes to return to being one of Major League Baseball’s best franchises.
1B Prince Fielder (9 yrs/ $214M)
LF Shin-Soo Choo (7 yrs/ $130M)
Fielder had an October to forget last year, slugging just .227 in the ALCS. Just two years into a nine-year deal, the Detroit Tigers shipped the first baseman to Texas—not that they’re complaining. The Rangers are getting a huge bat from the left side, and Fielder figures to thrive in Arlington, where right field is a short wall. Despite coming off a mediocre season, Fielder is the youngest active player with at least 285 career home runs. His presence will also greatly benefit the No. 4 and 5 hitters, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios.
Choo simply knows how to get on base. The right-fielder had a career-best .423 OBP and his 112 walks trailed just former teammate Joey Votto for most in the MLB. His 107 runs were also third in the league. Choo will be hitting leadoff for the Rangers this season, and based off the .266/.336/.386 line the team’s leadoff hitters posted last season, Choo will make this already-potent offense that much more lethal.
2B Ian Kinsler: It’s sad to see Kinsler be traded from the only team he’s ever played for, but I guess he doesn’t feel the same way. The three-time all-star burned bridges in the front office but there is no denying the impact he had during the team’s most successful run ever. He averaged 24 home runs and 82 RBIs a season during his eight-year tenure with the Rangers. Though he hit just 13 home runs in 2013, two years after hitting 32 out of the park, Kinsler had a season on par with his averages. Pretty impressive for a player who grudgingly bared the title of team leader after his two best friends were traded and he was asked to move to first base. Despite the war-of-words with Texas’ front office, Detroit gained a true team player.
RP Joe Nathan: It’s a shame the closer wasn’t on the Rangers in 2011 when all that separated them from a championship was one more strike—twice. Nathan pitched incredibly for Texas during his two-year stint with the team, compiling 80 saves and a combined ERA of 2.10. Despite missing the entire 2010 season because of Tommy John surgery, the 39-year-old remains one of the league’s best closers. Nathan joins Kinsler in Detroit, and one can assume Nathan will continue defying his age by racking up save after save.
PLAYER TO WATCH
There are many interesting storylines coming out of Arlington but none bigger than Jurickson Profar. The Rangers essentially pushed Kinsler out of the way for this guy. Though Profar has a lot of potential, this will be his first season as an every-day player. He struggled finding his rhythm last year, splitting time at five different positions, he should settle in at second base. Time will tell if Profar can develop the same chemistry Kinsler shared with shortstop Elvis Andrus. The two started 578 games together. Profar and Andrus have just started 31.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
This isn’t the boldest prediction ever, but expect the Rangers to win the AL West. That is no knock against the Oakland Athletics. Texas’ offense this year strongly resembles that of 2011’s, which should mean great things for the team. There are plenty of questions in regards to pitching, especially since Derek Holland was recently played on the 60-day DL. But Yu Darvish returns to terrorize opposing batters yet again, which should ease at least some concerns. A 94-97-win season is not out of the question for the Rangers.