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3 Texas Rangers The playoff-pitiful Rangers traded power for pitching. But did they get enough?

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

3 Texas Rangers The playoff-pitiful Rangers traded power for pitching. But did they get enough?

Johnny Oates had been through the drill a million times. So too
had Royce Clayton and Mike Simms, two of the Rangers' players
who joined their skipper for a promotional tour that visited a
San Antonio YMCA in early February. You show up, chat up some
kids, sign some autographs then peace out, stage left. You do
not break a sweat. Not ordinarily. "That afternoon," says Oates,
smiling at the memory, "was my first real look at Gabe Kapler."

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

Oh, yeah, the Rangers' new rightfielder, one of six players
acquired from Detroit for Juan Gonzalez and two others in a
blockbuster November trade, was also along for the trip. As
Oates, Clayton and Simms looked on with both awe and panic,
Kapler changed from his slacks and dress shirt into a pair of
shorts and played a couple of intense games of two-on-two
basketball with three of the kids in attendance. "I was
petrified he would turn an ankle or break a bone or something
even worse," recalls Oates. "But I didn't stop him. He'll never
know the impact he had on those kids' lives. Right then, I knew
we'd found a good one."

Kapler, 24, is a baseball misfit, an undeniably talented athlete
who does not conform to the conventional ballplayer mold. He is
a devoutly religious Jew, a bodybuilding magazine cover boy and
an inveterate bookworm. During one week in the off-season he was
in the middle of the following books: Tough Jews by Rich Cohen,
The Three Minute Meditator by David Harp and The Science of
Hitting by Ted Williams.

Kapler is also one of several youngsters who will play a
critical every-day role for the Rangers in 2000. He does not,
however, have any illusions that he can replace the titanic run
production of his rightfield predecessor, Gonzalez (43 home
runs, 140 RBIs per year over the last four seasons). "I've been
asked a million times about the pressure of taking over for Juan
Gonzalez," says Kapler. "That's stupid. My manager doesn't
expect me to replace Gonzalez. My teammates don't expect me to
replace Gonzalez. I don't think the media does, either." He
snickers. "They just like having something to ask. Everyone
knows Gonzalez's shoes can't be filled."

True, and so the Rangers' front office focused on other
priorities during the off-season. After watching the Yankees
hold the vaunted Texas offense to less than a run a game (and
Gonzalez to a .130 average and one RBI) in consecutive playoff
sweeps of the Rangers in 1998 and '99, Oates and general manager
Doug Melvin have adopted a youth-oriented, pitching-first
approach. In addition to Kapler, the Rangers acquired Justin
Thompson and Francisco Cordero--both of them live, young
arms--in the Gonzalez deal. Future closer Cordero, 22, improves
an already deep bullpen that includes John Wetteland (43 saves)
and Jeff Zimmerman (only 50 hits allowed in 87 2/3 innings). The
27-year-old Thompson (who will miss at least the first month as
he recovers from shoulder surgery) will join free-agent pickups
Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver to give the club three quality
lefthanded starters and bolster a rotation whose inability to
pitch deep into games in '99 eventually took its toll on the
relief corps (3.51 ERA before the All-Star break, 5.45 ERA
after). Also, Melvin points out, the Rangers now match up much
better with New York's chock-full-o'-lefties lineup.

"Ever since I got here [in 1994], other G.M.'s have called me
about acquiring offense," says Melvin. "This is the first time
they've asked about our pitchers. Last year I had an opposing
player tell me how facing our staff was easy, because all the
pitchers were the same. Not anymore."

There is, Melvin concedes, a risk in the franchise's new
philosophy. In addition to Gonzalez, the Rangers lost third
baseman Todd Zeile (24 homers, 98 RBIs) and centerfielder Tom
Goodwin (39 stolen bases) to free agency. Oates still has some
hefty hackers--MVP catcher Pudge Rodriguez and first baseman
Rafael Palmeiro are coming off the most productive seasons of
their careers, and leftfielder Rusty Greer drove in 100 runs for
a second straight season. Still, runs will be harder to come by
this year. There is no true leadoff hitter, and while kids like
five-tool rookie centerfielder Ruben Mateo, third baseman Tom
Evans (who beat out highly-touted prospect Mike Lamb with a
strong spring) and Kapler have plenty of potential, only Kapler
is proven at the big league level.

Of course, three American League West titles in four years is
plenty of reason for optimism. "As soon as I arrived here, I
knew I was in a winning environment," says Kapler. "In Detroit
it was no fun. We wanted to win, but there was no optimism.
Here, winning is expected. There's no question."

Not exactly. This year there are quite a few questions.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO BIG HIT Kapler made a favorable impression on his new community, and showed signs this spring of making a meaningful mark on the Texas lineup. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

around the HORN

OFFENSE
[3 1/2 stars]
DEFENSE
[4 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[3 stars]
BULLPEN
[5 stars]
MANAGER
[4 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

Batting average .293 (1)
Runs scored 945 (2)
Home runs 230 (3)

1999 record: 95-67 (first in AL West)
Opponents' batting average .286 (12)
ERA 5.07 (11)
Fielding percentage .981 (9)

next up...

This is not what the Rangers expected. In December it appeared
that free-agent third baseman Todd Zeile would re-sign with
Texas, but he suddenly decided he wanted to play for the Mets.
Manager Johnny Oates then tabbed hard-hitting Mike Lamb, the
franchise's minor league player of the year in 1999, to man the
hot corner. Now, after Lamb struggled in the spring, the position
belongs to Tom Evans. Not long ago the 25-year-old Evans was
considered a top prospect in the Blue Jays' organization, but
then his career was derailed by an assortment of injuries.
Finally healthy, Evans--whom the Rangers claimed off waivers last
spring--has impressed the Texas brass with his power and improved
ability to hit off-speed pitches. "There's a reason we got Tom
Evans," Oates says. "He's very confident about his hitting, and
he's opening some eyes."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Johnny Oates (sixth season with Texas)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

SS Royce Clayton R 112 .288 14 52 8
LF Rusty Greer L 72 .300 20 101 2
C Ivan Rodriguez R 9 .332 35 113 25
1B Rafael Palmeiro L 12 .324 47 148 2
DH David Segui[1] S-L 136 .298 14 52 1
CF Ruben Mateo (R) R 163 .238 5 18 3
RF Gabe Kapler[1] R 141 .245 18 49 11
3B Tom Evans* R 244 .280 12 68 5
2B Luis Alicea S-R 287 .201 3 17 2

BENCH

OF Chad Curtis[1] R 204 .262 5 24 8
IF Frank Catalanotto[1] L-R 225 .276 11 35 3
OF Jason McDonald[1] R 282 .209 3 8 6
C Bill Haselman[1] R 370 .273 4 14 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Kenny Rogers[1][2] 53 10 4 6.3 1.41 4.19
RH Rick Helling 67 13 11 6.3 1.43 4.84
LH Justin Thompson[1][3] 140 9 11 5.9 1.48 5.11
LH Darren Oliver[1] 135 9 9 6.5 1.38 4.26
RH Esteban Loaiza 114 9 5 6.1 1.40 4.56

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH John Wetteland 7 4 4 43 1.30 3.68
RH Jeff Zimmerman 92 9 3 3 0.83 2.36
LH Mike Venafro[3] 222 3 2 0 1.24 3.29
RH Tim Crabtree 233 5 1 0 1.37 3.46
RH Francisco Cordero(R)[1] 267 2 2 0 1.95 3.32
LH Mike Munoz 275 2 1 1 1.33 3.93

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats
[3]Will begin year on DL

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Rangers

"The Rangers lost a lot of offense in Juan Gonzalez, but their
pitching is better so maybe they don't need as many runs.
Everyone said they needed lefthanders to beat the Yankees, and
they got them. When Justin Thompson comes back from his shoulder
injury, they'll have three in the rotation and three more in the
bullpen. Can they win the division with this staff? I think
so.... I think Rogers will benefit from getting out of New York
and will be a stabilizing influence on the rotation.... They
picked up Francisco Cordero in the Gonzalez trade--remember his
name. He throws 97-98 and has a good slider. He could be the
closer in a couple years.... Jeff Zimmerman was an All-Star, but
the jury's still out on him. There has to be a reason no team
picked him up all those years.... With rookies in center and at
third, and a second-year guy in right, they're putting a lot of
eggs in the youth basket. One or two of those lefty pitchers
could be traded to fill a hole.... I'm impressed by Gabe Kapler;
he has a very strong arm, plays hard and runs everything out,
which you don't always see from big leaguers."