In 2011, Andres Blanco was Mr. Irrelevant. Blanco, signed at the end of Spring Training in 2010, was just what the Rangers needed in their first World Series run. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was on the disabled list on two separate occasions and, especially the second time, Blanco played steady defense and contributed some key hits as the Rangers steamrolled their way to an AL West title, their first since 1999.
In 2011, Blanco was still around, but Kinsler stayed healthy, as did shortstop Elvis Andrus. Blanco was with the club the entire season but played in only 36 games, only half of which were starts, getting only 76 at bats the entire season and, in one stretch, went 25 says between game appearances. The Rangers sported a potent 11-player line-up that year. Michael Young acted as a “Super Utility” player and Blanco’s services were seldom needed. He was not even placed on the post-season roster, though he did get a share of the post-season money.
Fast forward now to 2015. Our last spotlight looks at the Rangers bench. Like most teams, Texas will have four men on the bench to start every game. Once upon a time, teams carried 15 offensive players and 10 pitchers on the 25-man roster. This was back in the day of the 4-man rotation and before the era of the Designated Hitter. Now most teams have 12 man pitching staffs, leaving room for only 13 hitters.
For most teams, the bench consists of a second catcher, a utility infielder and two outfielders. The only position definitely filled on the Rangers bench is Carlos Corporan as the second catcher. His acquisition from Houston was for the express purpose of being Robinson Chirinos’ back-up. Beyond Corporan, the picture is murky. Here are some of the contenders:
If there’s such a thing as a utility incumbent, it would be Adam Rosales. He provided some pop with the bat and can play just about any position on the infield. Last year, he offered up a .262/.328/.378 slash line with 4 home runs in 56 games. Rosales won’t just be given the job, though. There are several other contenders out there looking to grab the pine for more than 50% of the Rangers’ games. There’s Kyle Blanks, a corner infielder/outfielder who showed promising power for the Padres but injuries have slowed him down the last few years. He’s already behind the other players in camp as he’s still getting over issues with both feet. Elliot Johnson has played with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Atlanta and Cleveland in five major league seasons. He offers more speed on the basepaths than Rosales. In 2013 he was successful on 22 of 24 steal attempts and twice swiped 43 in the minors. Ed Lucas is another candidate. Just two years ago he played in 94 games with the Miami Marlins, and in both of his seasons there played all four infield positions as well as a few games in the outfield. His versatility gives him a shot. In fact, all three candidates here have played both the infield and the outfield in their major league careers, but it’s likely they won’t play much in the outfield. A very longshot candidate would be Tommy Field, a minor league free agent pick-up who played college ball for Texas State in San Marcos. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels but doesn’t offer the versatility, having never played first base. His signing was more for minor league depth than a serious look at helping the big league club.
This got covered a lot in the look at the left field battle. As mentioned in that post, there are no less than ten candidates vying for the left field starter position and there’s no doubt the 4th and 5th outfielders will come from that group. You can read that post here. Since the Rangers were so injury-prone a year ago, I’m guessing the Rangers brass would really like to see the positions filled by the home-grown talent that hasn’t had injury issues, such as Michael Choice and Ryan Rua, both of whom could outright win the left field battle. Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. is in the mix as his Rule 5 status requires him to be with the club all year or be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. Ryan Ludwick’s recovery from shoulder issues also will play a factor. Again, the club wants reasonable assurances of health so Ludwick has to show he is a productive and healthy player again. Jake Smolinski is also in the mix.
The question is, what is Jeff Bannister looking for in his club? If he thinks the Rangers’ best chances to win include speed, Elliot Johnson and Delino DeShields both have great opportunities to earn roster spots. If Banny wants for bang from the bats, the likes of Rosales, Choice and Ludwick become the favorites. And don’t count out another player getting signed at the end of Spring Training to put all of them out of a job. It’s how Blanco and Matt Treanor became Rangers in 2010 and it could happen again in 2015.
One nice thing to add to the Rangers bench without costing an offensive roster spot? Yovani Gallardo, the #3 starter acquired from the Brewers, is a good hitting pitcher, with 12 home runs in an 8-year career. He loves to hit and Bannister will almost certainly use him as a pinch hitter on occasion. Not many American League teams have that luxury.
When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.
Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.
The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.
Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.
The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.
The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.
The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.
Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.
Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.
Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.
By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.
All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!
The only recent news to report is the Rangers say they’ve reached their payroll budget limit and are “unlikely” to make any more changes headed into Spring Training a week hence.
If this is indeed the case, it means the Rangers will stay within the system to fill out the team. As constructed now, the only real issue is who will be the designated “Forgotten Man” of the offense, otherwise known as the Utility Infielder. For the last two seasons, Andres Blanco has been the Rangers’ Mr. Irrelevant and actually performed pretty well in the role, particularly in 2010 when he had to play on a regular basis towards the end of the season with Ian Kinsler on the DL. In 2010, though, Blanco’s role was a little more important.
In 2011, the role of the Utility Infielder was essentially one of filling in for Elvis Andrus on occasion, as Michael Young was expected to act as Kinsler’s back-up at 2nd, Adrian Beltre’s back-up at 3rd and Mitch Moreland’s back-up at first. This isn’t expected to change in 2012.
With no outside help on the immediate horizon, the odds right now are for Mr. Irrelevant to be Alberto Gonzalez (Career .242/.281/.317), signed to a minor league free agent contract in December. Gonzalez played all four infield positions for the Padres in 2011.
The only other offensive question is in center field, where Craig Gentry (.271/.347/.346 in 2011) apparently has been told he has a chance of getting the gig fulltime, instead of just as a platoon. I don’t see it. Gentry is a great defender and awesome base-stealer (a perfect 19 for 19 in 2011), but he doesn’t hit well against right-handers. If, however, the Rangers think Gentry can handle the load fulltime, it would allow minor league free agent signee Conor Jackson (career .271/.351/.407) to be the 5th outfielder, providing more potential power than someone like Julio Borbon could provide. I still think Borbon will stay as a platoon, unless he’s beaten out by Kyle Hudson, signed out of the Orioles system in January.
Either way, it’s only a temporary situation, for a year at best, until Leonys Martin is deemed ready for the majors. The Cuban defector signed a 5-year deal with Texas in 2011 and there’s no way the Rangers allow more than two years of that contract to be earned playing in the minors. Some folks in the know peg Martin as being with the Rangers no later than May or June of this season.
Those are the only two offensive openings on this entire team at this time. Next time, a look at the available openings on the pitching staff.
Five days later…
As a fan, the sting of losing Game 7 is gone. Sure, it’s disappointing. I told a Cardinals fan I know that Game 6 made me feel like Charlie Brown, with Lucy pulling the football back at the last second. Twice. I still can’t quite find the desire to turn on a lot of Sports Talk radio, for fear of hearing pundits lay into my Rangers for the way they let this one get away, but I still have a wife who loves me (most of the time), children and grandchildren who love me (most of the time) and two dogs that love me all of the time (as long as I walk them and feed them), so life is good.
The off-season has begun and with it, the makeover of the Texas Rangers to put them in the best position possible to make yet another assault on a World Series Championship. Honestly, this may be as boring an off-season for Rangers fans as there will be.
Here’s the big drama: Will CJ Wilson be back and will the Rangers succeed in signing Japanese phenom pitcher Yu Darvish? Other than that, anything else that would happen to this Rangers team will qualify as a surprise.
Wilson is the only free agent of note for Texas. According to an ESPN.com report, CJ says there’s a “great chance” he’ll return to the Texas fold in 2012. Other reports have said the Rangers plan to cut ties with the lefty and proceed heavily towards getting Darvish in the fold. In this case, I’ll trust CJ’s actual words for now. Who knows, maybe both Wilson and Darvish will be part of the 2012 rotation. The Rangers are also said to be one of the favorites to get Darvish, a 25-year-old who compiled a 1.44 ERA in the Orient this past season.
I read something interesting today concerning Darvish and Japanese pitchers in general. Over in Japan, apparently, they still stick with a 4-man rotation instead of the stateside five. Darvish is said to have as many as ten different pitches at his disposal. The interesting point made was comparing Darvish to Daisuke Matsusaka. The article (in Baseball Prospectus) said when the Red Sox got Daisuke, they made him whittle his repertoire down to five pitches. It went on to speculate the combination of this and giving him four days rest between starts instead of the three he was used to could help explain Matsusaka’s underwhelming Red Sox career. If so, it will be interesting to see if the Rangers treat Darvish differently than the Red Sox did Daisuke (assuming the Rangers get Darvish, of course).
Texas exercised the option in Colby Lewis’ contract, as well as reliever Yoshi Tateyama. The latter signing could mean the end of the road in Texas for Darren O’Day, who is a sidearming righty like Tateyama (albeit with much more zip on the ball).
There will be some arbitration battles coming up. Obviously, Mike Napoli is going to garner a huge payday whether it goes to an arbitrator or not. There could be speculation the Rangers will cut ties with Yorvit Torrealba thanks to Napoli’s strong season. Torrealba is only going to be making a little over $3 million in 2012, so I have a feeling they’ll keep him.
Other than that, this team is pretty set. Most players are under contract already. There could be some second tier players released, like Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco, but those won’t change the makeup of this team very much.
Speculation has been raised about the rangers going after Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols to fill the one weak spot on the field, first base. I just don’t think Texas is going to get involved in those high dollars, preferring to use them on pitchers like Wilson and Darvish.
There are other items I could throw out there, but all in all, this shouldn’t be as dramatic an off-season as last year was.
With a mere 27 games remaining on the 2011 schedule, anything that gets the Texas Rangers one step closer to clinching a playoff berth is welcome. Certainly, fans would prefer the Rangers take the drama out of it and just clinch a return trip to the playoffs by winning, winning again and winning some more.
Nice as it would be, it is not realistic. So on those days when the Rangers don’t win, a well-placed assist is always welcome. Such was what occurred Wednesday night, when the Mariners helped the Rangers out with a 2-1 come from behind victory over the Angels. It helped take the sting out of the Rangers 4-1 defeat by Tampa Bay and maintained the Rangers’ 3 1/2 game lead in the AL West.
Outside of the first inning, when they loaded the bases with one out, Texas never had much of a chance against James Shields. Some games you just lose because an outstanding pitcher throws an outstanding game and this was one of them. Shields was magnificent, throwing eight shutout innings and getting out of the aforementioned first inning by inducing an inning ending double play grounder from Mike Napoli.
Of more concern was the horrific performance of Alexi Ogando and the continued struggles of newly acquired Koji Uehara. Ogando lasted less than three innings, giving up only three runs but looking just awful out on the mound. Last night only confirmed my suspicion that Scott Feldman will replace Ogando in his next scheduled start Monday at the Trop. Uehara, meanwhile, came on to pitch the 8th and again gave up a home run, his 4th since joining the Rangers and in only 10 2/3 innings.
On the positive side of the ledger, rookie Mark Hamburger came on in the 9th, making his major league debut and tossing a scoreless inning. By the way, I will not make any Hamburger puns, as I’ve seen enough of them over the past two days to realize it’s already become trite. Matt Harrison, who took a rotation turn off, tossed two hitless innings and appears ready for his next start Sunday against the Red Sox.
Series finale tonight with Adrian Beltre back in the Rangers line-up. Also activated is utility infielder Andres Blanco. The Rangers have also called up two players, now that rosters have expanded: infielder Esteban German and pitcher Merkin Valdez. Mike Gonzalez and Matt Treanor also join the team tonight, while the Rangers have sent AAA reliever Pedro Strop to the Orioles to complete the trade for Gonzalez. More players will join the Rangers later, but will wait until Round Rock and Frisco complete their respective playoff series.
It’s a good thing the Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs last year. If they had, the Rangers probably wouldn’t have even sniffed the World Series.
Every good team has one- the opponent that overall is inferior to them but just seems to own your team anyway. For the Rangers, that team is the Toronto Blue Jays.
For the last two years, the Rangers have had one of the better pitching staffs in the American League. Except when they play the Blue Jays.
Offensively, many of the Rangers players are among the elite in all of baseball. Except against the Blue Jays.
The first two games of this week’s four game set is the perfect microcosm of the Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry.
Michael Young’s hitting streak? Ended. Matt Harrison’s string of excellent outings? Ended with a resounding thud (3 IP, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 K). Defensive whiz Elvis Andrus? E-6. Colby Lewis? Three HR’s given up in one inning. I’m actually glad Neftali Feliz is on the DL. In a close game, I’m pretty sure he’d blow the save against the Jays, who are now 9-3 against the Rangers since the start of the 2010 season.
Arguably, the best Texas performances the past two days have come from the castoffs and the players many Texas fans want to cast off. Last man on the bench Andres Blanco hit a home run Monday night. Chris Davis was 2-4 Tuesday night, both doubles. Even Julio Borbon, the scorn of most of the home fans, knocked in two of the three Rangers runs Tuesday AND made not only a great play in deep center field, he also managed an outfield assist throwing out a runner trying to go first to third on a single. Naturally, his throw was a three bouncer. But it still worked!!!
I have an idea. For Wednesday’s game, the Rangers should put all the back-ups in the line-up. Davis at 3rd base. Blanco at short. Taylor Teagarden can catch. Keep Borbon in. If need be, bring up some more scrubs from Round Rock to fill out the line-up. Derek Holland is the scheduled pitcher tonight. Maybe we should bring Michael Kirkman back. He’s sucked all year both in the bigs and at AAA. It just seems like only the opposite will work when it comes to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Nah, that probably won’t work either. For whatever reasons, these guys seem to have our number.
I’ll say it. At this point of the season, the Angels deserve to be in first place. They’re hitting better, they’re pitching better, they’re playing better defense.
That being said, I still believe the 2011 Rangers are a better team than the Angels and that they’ll prevail once the season ends (barring more injuries). Even in dropping their first two home games of the year, Texas had some positives in the set.
CJ Wilson got some of his mojo back, striking out nine and walking only one in giving up just a single run in the Rangers win in Game 1.
Michael Young is thriving in the 3 hole in place of the injured Josh Hamilton.
Matt Harrison, even in defeat in Game 3, pitched his 4th consecutive quality start. He just had the misfortune of facing the best pitcher in the American League right now in Jered Weaver.
Mitch Moreland continues his steady hitting and Elvis Andrus appears to be coming out of his slump.
What’s Not Working
Unfortunately, too much and just about all of it was shown in the Game 2 15-4 beatdown the Angels inflicted on the Rangers.
On the pitching side, new father Colby Lewis hasn’t looked like the 2010 Colby Lewis all year, Michael Kirkman got shelled and earned a trip back to Round Rock, and Mason Tobin got hurt and may be gone for the season.
For a team that is supposed to play good defense, there’s been some shoddy play out there. Even defensive utility man Andres Blanco dropped an easy pop-up. Mental laziness.
Offensively, Texas is showing no consistency. Nelson Cruz’ boomstick has stopped booming, Ian Kinsler is still struggling, and, outside of Michael Young, nobody seems to be hitting the ball with much authority. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been abysmal lately. To top it off, when runners get on, they’ve been getting picked off. Putrid.
After an off day, the surprising Kansas City Royals come to Arlington. Hopefully the day off will bring some semblance of the defending AL champions back. As it stands right now, this is a team trying to find its identity again.