Public opinion of the Rangers’ offseason seems to have taken a negative tone — they lost Josh Hamilton to free agency, and were unable to lure Zack Greinke into their clutches. But despite these two misses the sky is most definitely not falling in Texas. Between its additions around the edges, its addition by subtraction and the trio of prospects that it will graduate to the majors, the team should be primed for a fourth consecutive pennant chase in 2013.
First, let’s tackle the additions. The braintrust in Arlington has added four players on major league deals this offseason, two catchers and two relievers. The catchers, if they play to their capabilities, should improve the team’s outlook at the position significantly. Signing Geovany Soto only sort of counts as a free-agent move, since they had him under control, non-tendered him and then re-signed him. But signing A.J. Pierzynski – who had spent the entirety of his 15-year career with the White Sox before joining the Rangers – was completely new.
And the two could make for a nifty little platoon. Pierzynski has historically hit righties better than lefties, and Soto just the opposite. Now, manager Ron Washington may muck up that potential arrangement — towards the end of last season, he had Soto serving as Yu Darvish’s personal catcher (because, you know, Darvish wouldn’t have been awesome without him (rolls eyes)) — but it could be quite effective if they stick with it. And while both players are seasoned, they should be better than last year. Soto will be even further removed from his knee surgery, which should help, and it shouldn’t be hard to improve upon the 46 games that Yorvit Torrealba started last season.
The team has also been proactive about fortifying the bullpen. With small outlays for Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor — who has posted a 2.84 FIP or better against right-handed hitters in three of the past four seasons — in free agency, as well as the acquisition of Cory Burns from the Padres, the team should be protected against the departures of Scott Feldman, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and the possible defections of Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross to the rotation (Ogando has already been penciled in to the rotation, but we’ve been down this road before — I’ll believe it when I see it). Plus they should get Neftali Feliz back for the stretch run. Adams departing for Philadelphia may be a tough blow if Soria doesn’t come back in top form, but overall, the team is going to come out well ahead in the “ex-Rangers in Philadelphia” department.
It’s hard to overstate just how bad Michael Young — who also now plies his trade in Philly — was last year. To find a player who racked up at least 600 plate appearances in a season and accumulated a worse WAR than Young’s -1.4 mark from 2012, you have to go back to Marquis Grissom in 2000. In fact, since the World Series era began in 1903, there have been 6,009 position-player seasons that met that same 600 PA threshold, and only 12 of them posted a worse WAR than did Young last season. Young is literally in the running for the worst position-player season of all-time. He was terrible at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Just getting rid of him was worth at least a win for the Rangers. That they’re going to replace him with functional baseball players makes it all the better.
The Rangers will essentially be replacing 1,400 PA of Hamilton, Young and the portion of Mike Napoli that he spent at first base and designated hitter with Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt and Leonys Martin, as well as Craig Gentry — who will likely take the bulk of the PAs that Hamilton got against left-handed pitching. Last season, in 1,420 PA, the departed trio combined to hit .273/.331/.468, but with some horrendous defense — Hamilton, Young and Napoli (at first base only) took 23.3 runs off the board last season. Eye-balling the Rangers’ 2013 ZiPS forecasts for Profar, Olt, Martin and Gentry, it looks like the difference in WAR will mostly come out in the wash. The quartet is not forecasted to hit as well, particularly in the power department, but their defense will close the gap significantly — all four have positive defensive forecasts.
Finally, there is the rotation. True, the team did miss out on Greinke, and it would have been fantastic to add him to the rotation, obviously. But the team is not exactly suffering here. As a unit, the Rangers’ rotation posted the third-best WAR and FIP- last season, as well as the eighth-best K%. They lost Feldman and Ryan Dempster, but if Ogando indeed finds his way back to the rotation, he should be comparable to Feldman (last year, Ogando posted an 84 FIP-, Feldman, 86). And between Martin Perez, Colby Lewis (when he returns) and potentially Ross, the team should be covered for Dempster’s departure. And that’s not even counting the potential improvement from Darvish, who ZiPS loves this season.
The Rangers no longer have Hamilton, and didn’t get to have Greinke. The players that will be coming in are a combination of less heralded and less proven. But that doesn’t mean they won’t collectively play at the same level — the moves the team has completed have been shrewd, even if they are of a peripheral nature. Texas’ marketing department may need to work a bit harder to fill the marquee, but the players on the field will keep Texas in the thick of the pennant race.