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Following a disappointing 2013 campaign, Texas Rangers fans are likely hopeful going into 2014. The offseason has been unusually busy, with Jon Daniels bringing in several high profile free agents. Some of the more casual fans may only know about the Rangers’ losses as we approach the 2014 season. I met a fan today whose take on the offseason was that, “They [The Rangers] sure lost a lot of players.” They were referring to Ian Kinsler, Matt Garza, Joe Nathan, A.J. Pierzynski, David Murphy, and Nelson Cruz. Those of you reading this site know that this offseason has been as much about additions as it has about subtractions, but our under-informed friend may be on to something.
The Joe Nathan loss is probably going to be mostly inconsequential because of Texas’s depth in the bullpen. Replacing Joe Nathan will only be a matter of which pitcher steps up the most. Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are set to come back in a big way this season and either would make a fine closer if they could even approach their former success. This neglects Tanner Scheppers who has proven himself to be reliable back end pitcher even though his strikeouts are disappointing given his stuff. None the less, the bullpen should be at least as good as last year, particularly if Alexi Ogando makes his way back to the pen.
The lineup is likely to have improved even with four notable losses. Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder are star caliber players. Choo will more than replace Cruz’s production and the Fielder/Jurickson Profar combination should out-perform the Kinsler/Mitch Moreland tandem. Murphy struggled horribly last year such that even young player like Michael Choice might out do Murphy’s production in 2014. Pierzynski’s at bats will now be taken by Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia about which I am surprisingly optimistic. Soto’s production was underrated last year and Pierzynski was basically average. The lineup may not be leaps and bounds better in 2014 but it certainly should be an improvement over 2013.
It is hard to over state the Derek Holland loss. Now that Garza is off the market and Texas is unlikely to add an impact pitcher to their rotation, the rotation may turn out to be a definite weakness in 2014. Although Garza was pretty underwhelming in blue bonnet blue he is certainly a serviceable pitcher. I would like to have seen Texas bring him back for no more than Milwaukee is paying him. Last year’s rotation featured a Cy Young caliber pitcher (Yu Darvish), a top ten pitcher in the AL (Holland), and a stable third option (Martin Perez). This year’s rotation will be hard pressed to replicate anything near last year’s results. Darvish can likely be counted on to once again be a true ace but Holland is out half the season and asking Perez to have another season with a low three ERA is probably asking for too much from the sophomore. Perez is going to face some growing pains. The rest of the 2014 rotation will be made up of injury concerns, and unproven players.
Looking for Ogando, Matt Harrison and/or Colby Lewis to make big contributions in 2014 is not going to bode well for the season. Ogando is superb when healthy but he seems unable to give Texas a full season as starter. Harrison is a solid middle of the rotation type pitcher when both healthy and at full strength but neither of those things are certain or even likely in 2014. Perhaps Harrison can reach peak performance at some point in 2014 but when that will be is unknown. It should be expected that Harrison takes more than a few starts to be back into full form. The same can be said of Lewis. It seems reasonable that Harrison will eventually reach a reasonable level of performance such as a mid three ERA, but the same is not true of Lewis. Even at his best Lewis is a back end of the rotation pitcher (playoffs excluded). Lewis has always produced mid four ERA numbers and he will be fortunate to get back to those standards in 2014.
Texas’s other rotation options are unproven commodities such as Robbie Ross or Nick Tepesch. Tepesch was not remotely good in 2014, as was to be expected for a low upside prospect getting his first cup of coffee. Tepesch will likely be better in a second, extended, effort but Tepesch is a back end starter at best. Robbie Ross may have more upside but if he lands a starting spot he will effectively be a rookie. Neither of these players are going to replace Holland.
In the end, the Rangers rotation may take a significant step backwards and more than undo the progress gained in the lineup. It is far too early to be this pessimistic but the Rangers are likely to need several pitchers to beat the odds in a big way to have the kind of season for which we are all hoping.