Much thanks to whomever you hold holy, the regular season is only a couple weeks away. As I’ve mentioned, there isn’t a lot of drama this year in the spring, mostly because the team has been (for the most part) so damn complete in recent seasons. There’s little left to go figure. Think of it like economics, of which there are two types: Macro and micro.
On a macro-scale — that being a glance at the team from the outside — there aren’t a whole lot of holes to be found. The Rangers are arguably the most ostensibly sound team in Major League Baseball. They are above average at four infield spots (discounting 1B), both corner outfield positions, and carry 5 starting pitchers who have proven to be effective in recent years. That number does not hold into account either Yu Darvish or Neftali Feliz, who are each penciled in as members of the rotation on Opening Day. Also, this is without mentioning the bullpen (until now), which holds former all-world closer Joe Nathan, and three elite right-hand options in Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, and Koji Uehara. I’ll get back to Koji, later.
All that is well and good. As Rangers’ fans, we’re used to knowing the superstars in our own backyard inasmuch a way as seeing them not get nearly enough recognition on a national level for just how good they are. I think that’s why Michael Young has been the symbol of the franchise since his inception to the league about 10 years ago, because his quiet demeanor and low-key attitude towards success represents how the Rangers want to be seen. (I won’t get into MY’s not so quiet melodrama in recent years about wanting to be traded; I’ll just keep that tucked away.)
And it’s only when you take a a fairly fine comb that you see what kinds of problems this team can experience is 2012, because there just aren’t that many from an outsider’s perspective. Basically, if I’m a fan of team X_ I’m not going to look forward to facing the Rangers. Still, the team isn’t flawless. There are a few questions worth considering when trying to think of ways to make this team its most optimal for the start of the regular season.
Among them are:
1. What’s the deal with Koji Uehara? As a Rangers’ fan, I’m right up there as far as defense for this guy goes. There have been reports that he’s vetoed a trade as many as twice this offseason, which I’m happy for, but I wonder what the rush is to get rid of him. I’ve outlined just how great he’s been in the three years he’s pitched in the Major Leagues, but that’s evident enough if you take a look at his player profile. Currently in the spring, his ERA is over 16. I’m not yet panicked about this, because the games don’t mean anything. But if his trends from the end of last year (which may or may not be bleeding into his overall preseason performance) continue into the regular season, then I’ll be less inclined to show my support.
2. Is Neftali Feliz’s shoulder injury going to be a problem? You can look at this in two ways (which is really saying I see this in two ways): (1) It can’t be a good thing, because he’s being depended on to carry one of the five rotation spots throughout what most of us expect to be between 25 and 30 starts (with Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman compensating for the remainder); (2) the other might be a little more of a jaded perspective, but what are we really expecting from Feliz this season? I think I’d be happy with a record right around .500 — maybe 12-10 — with an ERA somewhere around 4.00 or a little above. At best case scenario, it’s probably fair to say if Feliz is league-average the Rangers will be happy with their decision to move him to the starting rotation. Also, this is the reason Texas has so much depth. Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando are each more than capable of shouldering [I had to do it] Neftali’s load if he’s pitching in AAA for something of an extended period of time. The exit plan for this potential debacle is already in place.
3. Take your pick. What’s most important to you:
(a) Can the Rangers win the World Series with one of Craig Gentry or Julio Borbon playing center field? Would you rather just go with the best overall lineup and have Josh Hamilton as the everyday center fielder, with David Murphy in left?
(b) Are we missing out on something without having a left-handed bullpen option to go to? Mike Gonzalez was excellent last year, but was only offered a measly minor league deal from the Rangers. It’s pretty clear that the best bullpen options for Texas are right-handed. The best lefty in camp has been Robbie Ross, and he’ll start the season in AA Frisco. I just don’t think it’s realistic that we’ll see a Neil Cotts or Joey Beimel-type guy on the roster. Is there a trade out there at this point? This might be a topic worth revisiting when the July trade winds start blowing.
Oh, and Yu Darvish has been walking a ton of guys lately. It’s probably time to just give up on him.