The 2010 and 2011 American League champions suffered through a rough final week that saw them let the AL West title slip through their fingers (or bounce off of Josh Hamilton's glove, depending on how you look at it), forcing them to settle for the one-game wild card playoff that they lost to Baltimore. Then, over the winter, Hamilton left for Orange County, weakening their team and strengthening their division rivals. The composition of this team will be different, with three or four new faces in the lineup, but the Rangers should still be a dangerous team in 2012.
SS Elvis Andrus (R): .289/.341/.363, 4 HR, 29 SB, 4.8 WAR
RF Ian Kinsler (R): .264/.345/.445, 23 HR, 22 SB, 4.7 WAR
1B Lance Berkman (S): .273/.389/.485, 21 HR, 2.2 WAR
3B Adrian Beltre (R): .291/.338/.504, 29 HR, 6.2 WAR
DH Nelson Cruz (R): .269/.333/.489, 29 HR, 11 SB, 2.5 WAR
LF David Murphy (L): .281/.350/.437, 13 HR, 3.2 WAR
C A.J. Pierzynski (L): .269/.310/.422, 17 HR, 2.7 WAR
2B Jurickson Profar (S): .264/.341/.425, 16 HR, 20 SB, 3.5 WAR
CF Leonys Martin (L): .286/.340/.451, 7 HR, 16 SB, 2.4 WAR
Andrus is an excellent young shortstop who gets on base at a comfortable rate and has speed, although he was caught stealing ten times in thirty-one attempts. He should continue to improve in his age-24 season, his fifth in Arlington. You may notice that I have penciled Kinsler into right field; he has publicly stated his willingness to change positions should the team need to better accommodate super-prospect Jurickson Profar, and with an outfield hole to fill, that makes the most logical sense. Berkman returns to his native state after an injury-shortened 2012; the Puma is still an excellent switch-hitter with power, although he can no longer play the outfield on a regular basis. Beltre had perhaps his second-best season last year at age 33; he hit .321/.359/.561 with 36 home runs, and by WAR was the fourth-most valuable position player in the league last year, trailing Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, and Miguel Cabrera. He must eventually decline, but I like him to exceed projections and keep building a quietly compelling Hall of Fame case.
Cruz played more than 128 games for the first time at age 31 last year, and some time as a designated hitter should help keep his monster power in the lineup. Murphy topped 500 plate appearances for the first time after a few years of heavy part-time duty and was quietly brilliant, hitting .304/.380/.479. He should keep the full-time job this year. Pierzynski is new this year, and is still an effective catcher at age 36; right-handed Geovany Soto will back him up. Even if Profar is not in the Opening Day lineup, it says here that Texas will be a better team with him as a regular; otherwise the team will play Kinsler at second, Berkman/Cruz in right, and Mitch Moreland at first, a downgrade on both defense and offense. The twenty-year-old Profar is the top-rated prospect in the game, a switch-hitter with power and speed who should eventually push Andrus to second. Martin will likely split time with Craig Gentry in center.
The defensive outlook of this team depends largely on how much playing time Profar gets. With him, the Texas infield would boast three of the very best at their respective positions in him, Andrus, and Beltre. The latter two are quite possibly the best in baseball at short and third, with Brendan Ryan and Evan Longoria providing their only real competition, respectively. Berkman is adequate at first, although Moreland is better, and Kinsler is still a very good second baseman if he winds up staying there. The outfield is solid, particularly in left and center, but right field is more of a question mark depending on who winds up logging most of the time there. Pierzynski is still a good catcher and game-caller, and Soto is a very experienced backup.
RHP Yu Darvish: 214.0 IP, 247 K, 88 BB, 3.45 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 4.9 WAR
LHP Matt Harrison: 203.0 IP, 128 K, 60 BB, 3.90 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 2.8 WAR
RHP Alexi Ogando: 160.0 IP, 138 K, 43 BB, 3.50 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 2.8 WAR
LHP Derek Holland: 187.0 IP, 155 K, 58 BB, 3.99 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 2.2 WAR
RHP Colby Lewis: 126.0 IP, 106 K, 28 BB, 3.83 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 1.7 WAR
Darvish came over from Japan and was outstanding in his first season, prevented from winning the Rookie of the Year award only by a historic season from Trout. He walks plenty of batters but strikes out a ton of them, minimizing the chances for damage. Harrison doesn't have the same swing-and-miss stuff as Darvish or the two guys who follow him, but he's an effective pitcher who avoids bad innings. Ogando has bounced between the bullpen and the rotation over the past couple of years, and is effective in either role. Holland improved his control in 2012, and Texas will be counting on him to continue getting better in his age-26 season. Lewis is a crafty lefty. There are a lot of innings to make up, and the Rangers hope that some of them will be taken in August and September by flame-thrower Neftali Feliz, currently still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. If he comes back healthy he could provide a dynamite weapon down the stretch.
Joe Nathan returned to his effective closing ways last year at age 37 in his first year in Arlington, and he should be joined in late April or May by former Royals closer Joakim Soria, himself coming back from TJ surgery. Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, and Jason Frasor will be the other primary relievers. The Rangers lost their superstar in Hamilton, but this is a team that still has a good chance to make the postseason and have an impact there. Profar should get a chance this season, and the Rangers have more depth in the system as well. Their biggest concern is probably manager Ron Washington, who although being an excellent handler of personalities is a liability as a game manager; his fumbles arguably cost the Rangers the 2011 World Series, and he gave 651 plate appearances to a decomposing Michael Young a year ago. Still, the Rangers, while no longer definitely the best team in their division, should at least challenge for, if not win, a second consecutive wild card spot.