2014 Season Preview: Texas Rangers
2013 Record and Finish: 90-72, second in AL West (10th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 90-72, second in AL West
The Case For
In the Rangers, Shin-Soo Choo saw not only a club that was willing to offer him a seven-year, $130 million free agent deal, but also a winner that plays in a city with a large Korean population. "L.A., New York, they're nice cities, but they have too many people, a lot of traffic," he said. "The Texas Rangers, I think, are a perfect fit for my baseball career, my future and my family." If the Rangers are a perfect fit for Choo, Choo is a perfect fit for them, as he is an on-base machine who will spark the offense from the top of the order (Choo's OBP last year, .423, was 87 points better than that of Texas' combined leadoff hitters). By also trading for Prince Fielder, the Rangers fixed an offense that uncharacteristically sputtered last season (their 4.5 runs per game were the fewest since 1995) in two fell swoops.
The Case Against
Yu Darvish will likely be terrific – he's the Cy Young favorite – but the rotation behind him is disturbingly thin. Matt Harrison's back issues and Derek Holland's torn knee cartilage, suffered while he was playing with his dog, have them out indefinitely. That means a lot of innings for the likes of Joe Saunders, converted relievers Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, and whoever else the Rangers can pick up off the scrap heap. Former playoff hero Colby Lewis is healthy for the first time since July of 2012, but a spring ERA of 18.00 suggests he won't be a savior any time soon. The Rangers could revert to their form of the early 2000s, in which they annually crushed the ball but couldn't throw it, and usually finished well out of the playoff picture.
Jon Daniels has proven himself one of the league's least reluctant general managers as far as trading his top prospects for immediate help. In 2010, he traded a package including Justin Smoak to the Mariners for Cliff Lee, and last summer, he sent Mike Olt to the Cubs for Matt Garza. The Rangers' farm remains fecund – middle infielders Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, catcher Jorge Alfaro and slugging third baseman Joey Gallo are all highly regarded – and Daniels could move a couple of them for a much-needed No. 2 starter to slot in behind Darvish.
Number To Know: 69
Without Josh Hamilton, that's how many home runs left-handed Rangers hit in 2013, ranking them tenth in the American League. Although the owners of 30 of those bombs (A.J. Pierzynski, David Murphy and Lance Berkman) are now gone, this year's club is better designed to exploit the inviting rightfield porch at Globe Life Park. Fielder alone could reach 70 percent of last year's team total, and he and Choo could combine to surpass it by themselves. The Rays' David Price and the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija are potential targets, but a return of Lee might make the most sense, if he waives his no-trade clause.
Most overrated: Neftali Feliz
"Here's a guy who was very good as a closer, they try to make him into a starter and he blows his arm out. Before he even gets back into the form he had, they anointed him the closer again. This is a guy who was getting it done at 96, 97, 98, without the secondary stuff. Right now, he's sitting at 92 to 93, with marginal secondary stuff at best. They don't know why his velocity is down. A lot of guys come back from Tommy John surgery better, but some guys don't. I wouldn't be surprised if Joakim Soria turns out to be their closer."
Most underrated: Michael Choice
"I feel that he's a guy who is going to have legitimate corner power. He has finally been moved out of centerfield, where the A's drafted him in the first round out of Texas-Arlington in 2010. He really wasn't that kind of guy. He's got some of the best bat speed of any player coming up. I don't think the A's will be as sorry they traded him as much as they are [with] Carlos Gonzalez, but they'll probably regret dealing him to Texas for Craig Gentry last December. He's a young kid. He'll put up numbers. He's not one of those Chris Carter kinds of guys, striking out all the time, but he's strong. He's swole up."
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