There is nothing harder in baseball than putting together a good bullpen. No matter what team you’re a fan of, you’re sure to remember the year the lights-out bullpen that ended up being one of the league’s worse. Conversely, many a team has gone to the playoffs when a little-regarded bullpen suddenly became dominant.
Unless your name is Rivera, closers can go from 45 saves one year to 15 the next with said closer replaced by another 100-mph fireballing phenom in mid-season.
Look at the Texas Rangers. In their World Series years of 2010-2011, the bullpen was one of the team’s strengths. Neftali Feliz replaced Frank Francisco just a week into the 2010 campaign as closer and rode that train for two years. Darren O’Day was a waiver claim who had an incredible 2010. On the other hand, Koji Uehara should have been the final bullpen piece when the Rangers acquired him at the deadline in 2011. He pitched so poorly for Texas he was left off the World Series roster. A year later he was dominant again and now he’s the closer for the Red Sox.
Year to year consistency in the bullpen is the toughest thing to acquire. Among the many ills for the Rangers in 2014, the bullpen was one of them.
Under the circumstances, one could make a case that the Rangers relief corps kept the team from finishing worse than 67-95. While not as formidable as earlier years, they were overall middle of the pack in the American League in contributing a 4.0 WAR. Much of that came early in the season, when the pen consisted of veterans like Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria, both of whom got sent packing at the trade deadline to pennant contenders. And, while the WAR was decent, the Rangers were a piddling 13th in Saves and 11th in Holds.
General Manager Jon Daniels has a philosophy when it comes to bullpens. The main mantra is “Save your money”. Outside of closer, you’ll seldom see Texas spend any substantial dollars on relievers. The aforementioned Frasor pitched two years in Texas, both times on 1-year contracts. Same with recently departed Neal Cotts. Occasionally Daniels will spring for a 2-year deal. Outside of O’Day, those get reserved for proven closers (Joe Nathan, Soria).
Daniels does like to gamble a little with the bullpen. He’s constantly acquiring relievers with big league experience but got released by other clubs due to injury. Success stories include Cotts and Soria, but there have also been busts, such as Nate Adcock and Kyle McLellan. But what the heck, they didn’t cost much money so do real harm there. Daniels mixes these low risk, high reward veterans with young bucks from the farm system whose contracts are under club control for the foreseeable future. It’s worked pretty well during the Daniels regime and it’s what the Rangers once again looking at in 2015.
What is certain for the Rangers is the closer will be Neftali Feliz, back in the role of his greatest success during the World Series years. Feliz missed most of 2013 to Tommy John surgery and moved back to closer in 2014 after Soria got traded to the Tigers. His velocity isn’t what it once was but he says he finally has most of the zip back.
Texas hopes the 8th inning set-up man will be last year’s Opening Day starter, Tanner Scheppers. Feliz, Scheppers and the departed Robbie Ross were the final nails in the coffin that was Texas trying to convert relievers into starters. It worked once with CJ Wilson but failed miserably with the other three. Scheppers and Feliz are now okay with their roles. Scheppers was the best set-up man in the AL in 2013 and the Rangers are hoping he’ll return to form.
Shawn Tolleson was one of Daniels’ low risk, high reward signings a year ago. Coming back from Tommy John, Tolleson was a respectable 2.76 ERA in 64 appearances and 71.2 innings pitched with 69 K’s. He was a little homer prone, giving up 10 dingers. Tolleson will be the 7th inning reliever. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux is already saying Tolleson looks better in the early going of camp than he did all of last season.
Four more spots are open in the bullpen and be assured whoever starts the season is in no way guaranteed of being there in September. Among the farmhands, the hopefuls include Alex Claudio, Phil Klein, Spencer Patton and Jon Edwards, who all got a taste of the bigs with the Rangers in the last month of the 2014 season.
A young heat thrower who hasn’t reached the major league level yet is Keone Kela, but he isn’t considered a factor in Arlington until later in the season at the earliest.
Joining the competition are those LRHR players Daniels loves, including Kyuji Fujikawa, Japan’s all-time saves leader whose move to America and the Cubs resulted in yet another Tommy John surgery; Juan Carlos Oviedo who, when pitching as Leo Nunez, saved 113 games from 2009-2011 with the Florida Marlins; and ageless veteran Jamey Wright, back with the Rangers for the second time in a career that has spanned 19 years and 10 different teams.
The most thankless job in the bullpen is long reliever. A pitcher in that role might go two weeks between appearances, then be asked to make a spot start two days after throwing 2 1/3 innings in a game. Veteran Scott Baker admirably filled that role for the Rangers last year and it’s a darn shame nobody has signed him for 2015.
For the Rangers, the likely long man is whoever the last man out is in the competition for the #5 starter. At this writing, the prediction would be for either Ross Detwiler, Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez to fill that role.
Bullpens are more works in progress than any other part of a ball club. No matter the predictions here, out of the seven member relief corps that starts the season, odds are good three of them will be gone by season’s end. If Texas can improve on last year’s 4.0 WAR pen, they’ll be a playoff contender.
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.
Two years ago, Scott Feldman had to be on top of the world. With a devastating cutter, Scooter was the Alexi Ogando of 2009, slated as a bullpen piece but pushed into the starting rotation due to injury. If I’m not mistaken, I believe he replaced Matt Harrison at the time. He never relinquished control of the rotation and ended up leading the Rangers with 17 wins, procuring for himself a hefty raise in the process.
To mark the achievement, Scooter was given the honor of being the Rangers’ Opening Day starter. He began the season much as 2009, with a number of workmanlike performances. Nothing outstanding, but nothing horrible. After just a few starts, however, horrible started rearing its ugly head. Feldman’s cutter stopped cutting. Instead of weak ground balls, he was giving up solid line drives. The ERA continued to balloon.
By the time the magical season of 2010 was over, Feldman (along with #2 starter Rich Harden) were but a memory for Rangers fans. Feldman ended up on the DL, never came close to sniffing a post-season roster position and underwent microfracture surgery on one of his knees in November.
Going into 2011, Feldman was being counted on for…nothing. At best he was a longshot to be the Rangers’ long man in the bullpen out of Spring Training. Even that was doubtful due to his recovery from the surgery. Scooter began 2011 on the DL. When he finally began rehab starts in AAA Round Rock, it was doubtful he would even see Rangers Ballpark in Arlington during the season, unless he decided to watch a game in the stands.
When his rehab time had run out and the Rangers had to make a decision, they asked Scooter to allow himself to be removed from the 40-man roster and remain in Round Rock. Having the right to refuse, Feldman exercised his right. As a result, Darren O’Day was sent to Round Rock and Feldman returned to the Rangers, strictly as the long man in the bullpen.
Feldman didn’t even appear in a game for the Rangers for almost two weeks after his return. What few appearances he did make, however, were fairly solid, certainly a lot better than most of the performances of his predecessor, Dave Bush.
When Matt Harrison began to falter his last couple times out and complained of tired legs, Feldman was awarded a one time only spot start (only the 3rd needed by the Rangers all season long), replacing Harrison last night to face the Tampa Bay Rays.
Feldman had arguably one of the best pitching performances of his career, going six shutout innings, allowing no runs on a measly two hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Rangers fans saw that devastating cutter cutting once again. Scooter’s groundout to fly out ratio was 13-0! Neftali Feliz had a rough 9th inning, loading the bases before getting the last out to preserve the shutout.
The first game featuring no Nelson Cruz or Adrian Beltre in the line-up was not good for the rangers offense, but a Josh Hamilton solo homer turned out to be all the offense that was needed for Texas to maintain their 3 1/2 game lead over the Angels.
Last night was supposed to be a one time only start for Scott Feldman. I predict six days from now, when the Rangers visit the Rays in Tampa, Feldman will again get a start, this time in place of Alexi Ogando.
What the hell is going on?
First I read that Jerry Leiber died- the writer behind such songs as “Hound Dog”, “Kansas City”, “Yakety Yak” and “Love Potion #9”, a veritable treasure trove of 50’s and 60’s hits.
The same day came word that Nick Ashford had passed away, one of the prolific songwriters from the mid-60’s to the 80’s, whose hits included “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, “I’m Every Woman” and “Solid”.
Two days later comes word of the apparently self-inflicted death of former Baltimore Orioles left-hander Mike Flanagan, a pitcher I saw many a time at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium during my college years. Flanagan was a worthy successor to the Orioles pitching-rich history of the late 60’s and 70’s, picking up the mantel from the likes of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar. Flanagan had one of the best breaking balls in baseball during his prime.
All of these bits of bad news sandwiched around the worst run the Texas Rangers have been on all season as they’ve now lost successive games to the Boston Red Sox by counts of 11-5 and 13-2. One week ago today, the Rangers were within three outs of a 4-game sweep and an 8 game lead on the Angels. A walk-off homer by LA made it a 6-game lead instead and now, a mere seven days later, Texas finds themselves only 2 1/2 games up on the Halos, who have won another five games in a row since their dramatic comeback in the series finale with the Rangers.
Tuesday’s loss hurt, as the Rangers were facing John Lackey, who has pitched worse against the Rangers than any team he’s faced in his career and even worse when it’s been in Arlington. I saw Lackey in person in the 2nd game of the season, one which saw Texas whack five home runs en route to a 12-5 win. This time, again Lackey wasn’t great, but Colby Lewis was terrible. Lewis is starting to resemble Derek Holland. They both have had great versions and horrible versions with very few average performances in between. The Bosox scored two runs in each of the first three innings and never looked back.
Wednesday was more of the same. This time Boston jumped on Matt Harrison for a 4 spot in the first and Josh Beckett was well on his way to his 11th win. Darren O’Day was called up from AAA Round Rock to help spell the bullpen and had a truly odd line score: 2 innings, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts and 2 home runs resulting in four runs.
Now it’s up to Alexi Ogando to stop the bleeding in the series finale. He won’t be opposed by Tim Wakefield looking for career win #200. Why? Because as bad as Lackey has performed in his career against the Rangers, Wakefield has been even worse. Nelson Cruz, in particular, has a great line against Wakefield: 6 for 6 with two doubles and two home runs.
The Angels have tonight off so the lead at the end of the night will be either two games or three with the Angels coming to town for a three-game set starting tomorrow.
Much as we’d love to, we can’t bring back Jerry Leiber, Nick Ashford or Mike Flanagan. It would be nice, though, to see the Rangers pitching come back to life. Preferably tonight against the Red Sox.
Some games just defy description.
In what has been a rare occurrence in 2011, the Texas Rangers truly pulled one out of the hat, picking up a win that should easily have been a loss and keeping the red-hot Angels a game back in the standings.
Derek Holland stunk up the joint, Elvis Andrus had another one of his errors on an easy play which added to Holland’s misery, the long man, Scott Feldman, had to leave early because of a blister problem and Texas was down to their last out in the 9th trailing by two.
Enter Michael Young. After Josh Hamilton got a single off Indians closer Chris Perez to keep the game alive, Young drove a 2-0 pitch over the wall in center to tie the game up at 7 apiece. This after the Rangers trailed 6-1 in the second inning, thanks to another of Holland’s black and white performances. Dutch is either brilliant or terrible. There are seldom any in-between starts with him. Holland leads the AL with four shutouts, including three in his previous five starts entering play Friday. One other start was a six inning one run performance. The other two? A seven run in 5 1/3 inning game and last night’s 6 runs, 4 earned in only an inning and 2/3. If there’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in baseball, it’s Derek Holland.
The Rangers kept chipping away. They scored single runs in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd off Ubaldo Jiminez, making his Indians debut, to keep it reasonable at 7-3 after three. Feldman kept the game close, giving up just a solo home run in his 3 1/3 innings of relief before leaving the game with a blister on his thumb. While the rest of the Rangers pen kept throwing zeros the rest of the way, Texas scored two in the 6th to chase Jiminez, including a solo shot by Mike Napoli, who now has five homers in his last seven games.
It stayed 7-5 until Young’s 9th inning, two-out heroics sent the game into extra frames. In the 11th, that old Rangers magic of 2010 returned.
It started with two quick outs, bring Elvis Andrus to the plate, just trying to keep the inning going for one more batter. Andrus succeeded with a perfectly placed bunt single, atoning for his error in the 2nd inning. He immediately went to second on a wild pitch. Josh Hamilton then hit a slow roller to short that certainly looked like out #3. Except Hamilton’s head first slide into first beat the throw. With two outs already, Andrus never stopped running. By the time Tribe first baseman Matt LaPorta realized what was happening, the throw to the plate didn’t stand a chance of getting the speedy Andrus. Run scores, Rangers win on an infield single that scored the runner from second.
The 5-run deficit is the largest the Rangers have overcome to win a game in 2011. It also gives Texas a two game winning streak for the first time since the 12-game winning streak ended two weeks ago.
This last time through the rotation has been tough. Only Alexi Ogando had a quality start amongst the starting 5. Tonight’s starter, CJ Wilson, has had two bad outings in a row and admitted to having terrible mechanics after his last start. Good thing the bullpen was reinforced at the trade deadline. Even with 9 1/3 innings of 1-run relief Friday, Texas still has two bullpen pieces who didn’t pitch last night, and rumor has it another reliever, probably Darren O’Day, will come up from Round Rock for Saturday’s game, replacing Ogando, who has been granted a short paternity leave.
Regardless of the outcome tonight, I don’t see how it could possibly top last night in the thrills department.
As the trade deadline fast approaches, I’ve read all kinds of speculation of who the Rangers are going after. Among the prominent names are Mike Adams and Heath Bell of the Padres, Tyler Clippard of the Nationals, maybe even a starter along the lines of Matt Garza of the Cubs. Carlos Beltran of the Mets has been mentioned as an offensive possibility, but it appears doubtful the Rangers have any interest in changing up their offensive line-up.
A lot has also been written about the minor league players the Rangers are likely to give up in making any trade. Among those names listed as “untouchable” among Rangers prospects are Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Martin Perez.
What’s been mentioned less and what may bear looking into is this: are there any players on the current Rangers 25-man roster who could be leaving in the next two weeks in a trade?
Minor leaguers are sure to be changing hands, but chances are at least one major league player will be leaving Arlington. It happened a year ago when Justin Smoak was the player that ended up bringing Cliff Lee to Texas instead of sending him to the Yankees.
The idea of losing a member of the major league roster was less likely a couple weeks ago, when Julio Borbon was being talked about as a major bargaining chip while he was rehabbing in Round Rock. Unfortunately, Borbon has just had ankle surgery and is unlikely to be anything but a minor piece of any trade, if at all. Chris Davis is also down on the farm in Round Rock and the odds are pretty good he’ll be included in a trade, with San Diego a definite possibility as a destination.
On the current major league roster, though, there also exists a possibility of 4th/5th outfielder David Murphy being moved. Murphy was a valuable part of the 2010 team and remains valuable today, although the performances of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry has meant less need for Josh Hamilton to play center and that has lowered Murphy’s playing time.
Yorvit Torrealba‘s name could come up in a trade. He’s a proven starting catcher and, while he’s performed fairly well for Texas in his first year here, Mike Napoli has performed much better than expected behind the plate, he has more power and a much higher on-base percentage than Torrealba. Thus, the R’s might be willing to let him go and, instead of the current 60-40 playing arrangement, make Napoli the regular catcher with Taylor Teagarden as strictly a back-up.
It would be a surprise, but I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised to see Nelson Cruz become part of a deal. Cruz has 21 HR and 58 RBI this year, yet most regular watchers would agree Cruz just hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate most of the year and is striking out much more frequently.
On the pitching side, Derek Holland‘s name has come up in trade talks. Holland has great potential, as judged by his two consecutive shutouts recently. He’s also been inconsistent with his command all year, making it possible the Rangers would be willing to part with him if they got the right starter in return. I’d hate to see it, but would understand the reason if it were to happen.
Other than those four, I don’t see any other Rangers being part of a trade package. Texas is looking to upgrade the bullpen especially, so it’s doubtful another team would want any of the Texas relievers not named Feliz, although maybe Scott Feldman or Tommy Hunter, both bullpen parts who have had some success starting could be of possible interest. Darren O’Day, currently at Round Rock, is another pitcher with previous major league success that could go elsewhere. Feldman and O’Day in particular have higher priced contracts, thus lowering their trade potential.
Those are the players on the current roster who could go elsewhere in a trade. The next question would be, who are the most likely players to get dropped from the roster to make room for new players coming in? That’s a subject for another day.
Another weekend, another lackluster Texas Rangers performance. This time, those world-beating New York Mets came into Arlington and whipped the boys in red, white and blue two out of three, pretty much putting to rest the notion that home runs win ball games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. With nary a dinger to their name compared to seven by the home crew, the Amazins were the better team, even when you throw out the bad umpiring.
I can’t attest to the bad calls on Sunday, though there were plenty of takers in the Twitterverse, but the one that really hurt was the one on Saturday that NO ONE on the field saw, but everybody else did. With Michael Young on first to lead off the 2nd inning, Nelson Cruz took ball four on a 3-2 pitch. Except nobody noticed it was ball four. Not Cruz. Not the home plate umpire. Not the Rangers dugout. Instead of two on and nobody out, the at bat went two pitches more than it should have and Cruz ended up striking out. One could argue it wouldn’t have made any difference in the 14-5 final but, at the time, it was only 3-0. The game was still within reach. Instead, Texas mildly went down in the second, the Mets added three more in the 3rd and the route was on.
I didn’t see Sunday’s game, but apparently there were two or three other bad umpire’s calls that went the New Yorkers’ way, but there was enough offense by the Mets that even good calls wouldn’t have mattered.
Meanwhile, Elvis Andrus hurt his wrist and is out of the line-up until at least Tuesday. Josh Hamilton tried red contact lenses on Saturday to see if it improved his abysmal average in day games. He struck out four times. For some reason, Ron Washington saw fit to give Josh a day off in the day game on Sunday. Any theories?
The weekend edned the same way it began, with the Texas Rangers laying claim to being the worst team in first place in baseball. I’m willing to bet the makeup of this team will have changed by this time next week. The first one is easy: as long as he performs well tonight, Darren O’Day will be activated and back on the roster Wednesday. I’m still pretty certain Scott Feldman will be activated sooner rather than later. And I can’t help but feel there’s a trade coming soon. There’s a rumor the Giants are talking to Texas about Yorvit Torrealba, but I can’t see anything happening there at least until Mike Napoli comes back from the DL. Meanwhile, Torrealba is actually one of the hottest hitters on the team right now.
The Rangers are in desparate need of relief help. They’re also in desparate need of a swift kick in the pants to get their heads into the game. The number of mental lapses this team has had in 2011 before the All-Star break I’m sure exceeds the mental errors committed by the 2010 team thorughout the entire season.
I often give Ron Washington a pass from some of his curious in-game managing decisions. Washington is not a brilliant on-field strategist, but he is a great leader and motivator. Now is the time to give him some grief. Washington is finding out once a team has come close to the pinnacle (or passes it), they need a new motivation. Before, the chase was the motivation. It’s becoming clear to this fan that this team, or the non-pitching part of the team in particular, is playing like they deserve to be in first place instead of going out there to earn it. The only exceptions, in my mind, are Michael Young and Mitch Moreland, who have been consistent performers since Game 1.
No teams with winning records are on the Texas schedule from now through the All-Star break. It’s time to put some distance on the rest of the West. And if accomplishing that means changes have to be made, let’s start making them now.