Just announced: The Texas Rangers have acquired Alex Rios from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Speculation is he PTBNL is Leury Garcia. who started the season as the Rangers’ utility infielder. Since Garcia is on the 40-man roster, he’d have to clear waivers first to go to the White Sox now. By waiting until season’s end, the waiver requirement is no longer necessary.
Hey, Rios isn’t the best bat around, but he’s one of the best ones available now. He’s a righthanded bat, which the Rangers sorely needed. He’s signed through next season so if David Murphy, Nelson Cruz or both Murphy and Cruz depart at season’s end due to their free agency, there’s already a reasonably productive piece already in place. Rios has a salary a bit on the high side, but for the remainder of this year it’s offset both by some cash the White Sox threw into the deal and the salary Cruz isn’t being paid due to his suspension. Best of all, if the Rangers make the post-season, Rios and Cruz will both be available for post-season play.
On the downside was this tweet from the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s Gil LeBreton, who noted “scouts say Rios moves at one speed…and it’s not all-out.” Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News was quick to retweet LeBreton’s tweet. I responded to both, “If anyone can get to him, though, it’ll be Wash.” Both scribes quickly agreed with my assessment.
Wash doesn’t work with everyone. He certainly could do nothing with Cristian Guzman in 2010. Guzman didn’t even make the post-season roster. Wash, though, has a way of getting the best out of his players. There was never a bigger example of that than 2008, two years before the Rangers’ World Series run. That year, Jon Daniels surprised just about everyone in the baseball world by signing world-class malcontent Milton Bradley. Everyone thought JD was crazy. Wash took Bradley under his wing. Throughout the 2008 season, he only had one potential incident, which Wash helped defuse before anything bad could happen. On the field, Bradley had the best season of his career, hitting .321 with 22 home runs, 77 RBI and a .999 OPS. Bradley was also named to his first and only All-Star team. As many know, Bradley signed a big free agent deal after that with the Cubs and was never the same player again. His anger ended up getting the best of him and he’s now facing prison time for a domestic violence charge.
The point is Wash got through to Bradley. On the field it’s easy to see when Wash gets through to Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland. Both respond to the “in your face” approach to motivation. The lives of every Rangers player is full of what Ron Washington terms “teaching moments.” For every player, those moments take different forms. While Wash is not the best baseball strategist on the block, what he does exceptionally well is handle the men in his charge, sizing them up, figuring out the best way to get through to them, then watching it translate on the baseball field. Not everyone will respond. Those are the ones that usually find themselves ex-Rangers. That well could happen next year to Alex Rios. On the other hand, if Wash figures out what makes him tick, this could end up being a very good acquisition for Texas for the next season and a third.
It finally happened. For the first time in 2013, the Texas Rangers have a losing streak longer than two games.
The speed bump was bound to happen. This is baseball, after all. It doesn’t help that it comes at a time when the Oakland A’s have gone on a hot streak of their own. Within days, the Rangers lead has gone from an impressive 6 games to a miniscule 2 1/2 games. The good news? Even with a recent 8-game winning streak, the Angels still find themselves nine games back of Texas at this writing.
What hurts about this losing streak is, save for two pitches, it didn’t have to happen. On Sunday, Texas was enjoying a 2-0 lead on the Mariners and appeared on their way to a sweep when suddenly, Kendrys Morales turned on the first pitch he saw from Nick Tepesch, easily clearing the fences and plating two runs to tie things up. I could say the same thing about Raul Ibanez‘ 9th inning shot off Joe Nathan that tied the game again, but Nathan was pitching for the third game in a row, so frankly it didn’t surprise me. Still, those two shots led to the Rangers burning through just about everybody in the bullpen before dropping the game in 13 innings.
This led to a problem Monday, as Texas had a doubleheader with the Arizona Diamondbacks. To his credit, Martin Perez, in his first game of the year, recovered fairly well from a rocky start to give Texas 5 1/3 decent innings. Ross Wolf went another inning and 2/3 and the Rangers, while losing 5-3, got through the first game using only two bullpen pitchers. That became the second consecutive loss. Things were looking bright for the nightcap with Yu Darvish taking the mound for Texas.
Darvish was as advertised. As usual, Yu had a bad first inning, when Arizona touched him for two runs (he has a 9.00 ERA in the first inning of games this year). Then, as usual, Darvish settled down. By the time it got to the 8th inning, Texas had a 4-2 lead and Rangers fans were envisioning the first complete game in Yu’s MLB career. Darvish entered the 8th with 13 K’s on the day and no walks. The D-Backs found themselves in the same hole so many teams before them have encountered: Once Yu settles down, good luck.
Darvish gave up a single to start the 8th, but struck out Cody Ross for K #14. Once again, though, one bad pitch changed everything. Didi Gregorius got a hold of this one, tying the game at 4. As soon as it happened, Rangers fans could be heard all the way to Phoenix heaving a collective sigh, knowing the beleaguered bullpen was going to have to come through again and pretty much resigning themselves to the fact that they wouldn’t.
Sure enough, Arizona got a walk-off win in the 9th and Texas has their first 3-game skid of the season.
Now, following an off day, the Rangers and Arizona go back at it again the next two nights, this time in Texas. The question for today for Rangers fans is now, “Is this a sign all is not well with Texas?”
To that I respond, all is NOT well, but all is NOT lost. Two key components were supposed to return from the DL in the next week in Ian Kinsler and Alexi Ogando. Ogando will help settle the starting pitching staff somewhat, which has seen starts in the last week and a half from non-household names Josh Lindblom, Ross Wolf and Martin Perez. While we’ve all enjoyed seeing a more prolonged look at top prospect Jurickson Profar the past week or so, and while Profar has played well offensively, the offense is badly in need of Kinsler’s presence at the top of the line-up. Now that will be longer than anticipated. Shortly after posting this article, the Rangers announced Kinsler will miss at least two more weeks with a stress injury to his ribs. This week or three weeks from now, the following remains true: Profar is good and could eventually be a great major leaguer. Kinsler is a plus major leaguer already and makes the line-up that much more dangerous. Get Ogando and Kinsler back, things will improve again while we wait for more reinforcements to arrive in the coming months.
While on the subject of Profar, many have wondered why he hasn’t started every game for the Rangers while Kinsler’s been disabled. It’s because, as the utility infielder, Leury Garcia will be with the Rangers all year. In that role, he’s expected to play and come through when he gets an opportunity. The only way to get those results is to keep him playing while Kinsler is out. This keeps Leury involved instead of just pining away on the bench. This becomes doubly important if Profar becomes part of a blockbuster trade at the July deadline to bring in someone like David Price or Giancarlo Stanton.
I get that. The playing time he gets today could have an effect in August, when the Rangers won’t have Profar around. It is Garcia who will contribute more to the Rangers post-season chances than Profar. In a sense, that’s a shame. When Kinsler is activated, Profar will go back down to Round Rock so he can play every day. Then, if by some chance he ISN’T part of a blockbuster trade, the Rangers will bring him up on the last possible day he can qualify for a post-season roster spot. In other words, thanks for all you’ve done to get us to the playoffs, Leury. Sorry you won’t be with the team when they happen. Tough luck, dude.
That’s looking too far into the future, though. Maybe we’d better worry about breaking the losing streak tonight first.
I’ll start this out by saying what I’ve said in these pages many a time before: I’m NOT a major proponent of WAR. I understand the concept of it, I just don’t totally agree with it because of the subjectivity of the defensive metrics. I don’t “speak” sabermetrics, but a great sabermetric argument for the way I feel was published today, as a free article, on Baseball Prospectus.
A way I can use WAR, though, would be as a comparison tool that doesn’t involve delving into a lot of different stats. I thought it would be interesting to see, at the 1/4 point of the season, how the Texas Rangers might look, record-wise, had they decided to keep everyone from last year’s Rangers team, instead of adding the pieces they added. To do that, I examined the respective WAR of the departed Rangers to their counterparts from this year’s team.
For this study, I’m using essentially the Texas Rangers team that essentially comprised the Rangers following the July 31st trading deadline.
Here’s how the former Rangers are faring so far in 2013, based on bWAR (via Baseball Reference.com):
Mike Adams (Philadelphia) 0.4
Ryan Dempster (Boston) 0.5
Scott Feldman (Chicago Cubs) 0.8
Josh Hamilton (Los Angeles Angels) -0.6
Mark Lowe (Los Angeles Angels) -0.3
Mike Napoli (Boston) 1.0
Koji Uehara (Boston) 0.5
Michael Young (Philadelphia) 0.3
Now let’s look at this year’s Texas Rangers counterparts:
Jeff Baker 0.7
Lance Berkman 0.6
Jason Frasor 0.0
Leury Garcia 0.1
Derek Lowe 0.0
Leonys Martin 0.7
Joe Ortiz 0.0
A.J. Pierzynski 0.6
Nick Tepesch 0.0
The two biggest things that jump out at me: Leonys Martin‘s defense (the subjective part) has led to a much higher WAR figure than I thought, while, of the former Rangers, Ryan Dempster and Scott Feldman have both far exceeded what I most Rangers fans would have expected of them. Overall, the former Rangers out-WAR the current Rangers, but only by .2. If you’d like to extrapolate that to an actual record, WAR suggests the Rangers would be just where they are, at 24-14 or maybe one game better at 25-13, had they just stood pat with last year’s team. Of course, they’d have that record for a significantly higher payroll than they currently have, which would be a discussion for another day.
While there are still two more slots in the bullpen to fill, the Rangers made it official that the roster beginning the regular season on March 31st will contain at least two rookies.
Leury Garcia has won the utility infield position which, outside of the long man in the bullpen, is the most thankless job on the Texas Rangers team. Garcia’s job will be to back up mostly Elvis Andrus. Jeff Baker probably will back up Ian Kinsler at second more than Garcia, since Baker is a proven vet with more pop in his bat. And, since Elvis is a 150 game per season player, Garcia’s biggest problem will be to keep himself fresh and ready for that once every other week appearance in the line-up. The odds are pretty good Garcia will see more action as a pinch-runner than he will in the field.
Meanwhile, rookie Nick Tepesch has officially been named the Rangers’ #5 starter. Tepesch, who has pitched no higher than the AA level, turned some heads this spring. Despite an underwhelming effort his last time out against the Rockies, he showed enough to get the nod over Michael Kirkman. It’s also likely Kirkman is viewed as a more valuable bullpen asset than a starter. Tepesch isn’t needed until an April 9 start against the Rays. The move is also only expected to last for the first two months of the season, unless he pitches at an All-Star caliber. Colby Lewis is expected to return by June, which would push Alexi Ogando into the 5 slot.
Having as many as 4 rookies earning spots on the team is a contradiction to the supposition that Ron Washington is biased against rookies. I’ve never believed it to be true. Almost any manager will shy away from rookies when the championship window is open, as it has been for the Rangers the past few years. In 2013, with expectations perhaps a little bit lower, Wash is more open to give inexperienced players like Garcia, Tepesch, Ortiz, Burns and Leonys Martin more of a shot. I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll respond to the opportunity.
- Rangers clear way for Nick Tepesch to be No. 5 starter (sportsblogs.star-telegram.com)
- Derek Lowe is the Rangers’ long man (sportsblogs.star-telegram.com)
Most Spring Training exhibition games are worth listening to the first four or five innings. The starters are in for a few innings, the pitchers you expect to be on the team are getting their innings in.
By the fifth inning or so, only the diehards tend to stick around, as the line-ups become more of the minor leaguers who have no chance of making the team this year. Some of them you’ve never heard of, even though you tend to glance at minor league box scores on a regular basis. So I’m sorry Johan Yan, I’m not paying much attention to you right now. Same goes for you, Juan Apodaca. I admit I didn’t even know you were a part of the Rangers organization when you came to the plate yesterday.
Today’s exhibition game with the White Sox is a little different, though. There are only two Rangers regulars in the starting offensive line-up today- Nelson Cruz and Geovany Soto. Despite that, this game has my interest and I wish I could be at the game in person to watch.
Why? Because the starting line-up has all four of the players who have a real shot at making the Opening Day roster. Mike Olt at third base, Leonys Martin in center field, Jurickson Profar at shortstop and Leury Garcia at second base. Of the four, Martin is the best bet at sticking and most expect him to platoon with Craig Gentry in centerfield in 2013. Garcia is the second best bet, whose versatility make him a strong possibility for a utility role. Profar and Olt are the two best offensive prospects overall, but unless a trade or an injury occurs (or Nelson Cruz is suspended), it’s becoming unlikely there’ll be enough at bats available to justify putting them on the major league roster. Instead, they will more than likely start 2013 in Round Rock.
Still, having all four in the starting line-up today is exciting. All but Martin have reputations as good defensive players. All but Olt have speed on the basepaths. They’re all scouted to be decent to above average bats.
The best I’ll be able to do today is listen, and my work schedule may not even allow me to do that. If you happen to be able to see this game or listen to it, please do. The first few innings could be a taste of the future of the Texas Rangers franchise.