October 7, 2012 by falcon7204
…to switch gears a bit and talk about the Texas Rangers. I’ve been following this team since 1974, when I decided to care about baseball, and the last three years have been the most exciting, frustrating, depressing, exhilarating in my memory. Two consecutive American League championships, two appearances in the World Series (what I once thought was a sign of nearing Armageddon – and may still be), a center-fielder who hit 28 home runs just in the first round of the 2008 Home Run Derby, and a myriad of other reasons to cheer them on.
After Friday night, however, many questions linger in this fan’s mind. First and foremost, why couldn’t they hit the ball? Their average with runners in scoring position over the last two weeks of the season was anemic. They went 3-7 over their last ten games, all against the Oakland A’s and Anaheim Angels (I refuse to call them the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”), which ultimately sunk their season.
Second, starting pitching. Geez Louise, guys, you get a batter down two strikes and then you pick at the plate until you walk him? The ghosts of Rangers pitchers past must still haunt this team. Or maybe Mike Maddux, the pitching coach, is channeling Dick Bosman. Who knows? For whatever reason, that killer instinct was missing from not only the starting pitching but also from much of the relievers. You can’t lump Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara in that group, though; those guys were stellar. And, truth be told, Joe Nathan was fairly solid as the closer – although down the stretch it seemed as though he ran out of gas, too.
Third, infield defense, particularly Ian Kinsler. He used to be as solid a second baseman as any in the league, but he played this year as though he expected to make the play, and was surprised when his fundamentals failed him. He forgot the first rule a coach teaches his infielders when they first take the field for Little League – get in front of the ball. Kinsler could still make the spectacular plays, but he made some uncharacteristic mistakes at second. And his bat – don’t even get me started on his uppercut swing. Not every pitch is going to go into the left field stands, Ian. If he can flatten out his swing and get his mind back in the game, he could be the Ian Kinsler of old. After this season, though, I’m tempted to let him try with another team.
And this brings us to next year. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Rangers have seven free agents this off-season, headlined by Josh Hamilton. (They own a club option on Scott Feldman; if they buy him out he can also become a free agent.) If the boos at the Ballpark on Friday were any indication, the fans of North Texas are about ready to see Hamilton bolt for greener pastures. His remarks in Spring Training, regarding whether he felt he owed the Rangers a “home-town discount,” would seem to indicate that he is ready to test the waters. Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have some soul-searching to do, and not just because Hamilton was Jekyll and Hyde at the plate and in the field this year. He also brings the Rangers (and MLB) a ton of marketing money, not to mention the butts in the seats every game (which totaled slightly under 3.5 million, obliterating the Rangers attendance record). There are rumblings that he may be seeking a five-year, $150 million deal, but some insiders doubt he’ll fetch that much. For one thing, he’s 31, and although he’s younger than the recipient of the last big-dollar deal (Albert Pujols), his body is that of a 40 year old thanks to his years of drug abuse. I can almost guarantee that it won’t be the Rangers who come out with the first offer…if they make an offer at all.
Of the free agents on the list (Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Scott Feldman, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, Mark Lowe and Roy Oswalt), the only ones I’d consider re-signing immediately are Napoli and Uehara. Napoli has always been solid behind the plate for the Rangers, and although he’s streaky with the bat he can win a game with one swing. Uehara has been more than solid down the stretch, showing why the Rangers dealt for him from Baltimore in the first place.
Although Feldman showed glimpses of greatness at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, he began to revert back to the Feldman of old (before his knee surgery). My thought is that we saw the true Feldman, and if the Rangers keep him it should be as the long man in the bullpen. Dempster and Oswalt were a bust (although if you throw out his stats against the Angels, Dempster was actually not bad), and if either is made an offer it should be a 1-year deal with an option for a 2nd – and heavily loaded with incentives. Lowe should be allowed to walk – he never made an overall positive impact with the team. Adams was shut down by injury late, and that could have contributed to his poor showing down the stretch – it might be considered something of a risk to re-sign Adams, but there were many times during the season when he shut down the side in the 8th to set things up for Nathan. In fact, when the Rangers had a lead going into the 7th inning, you could usually count on the trio of Ogando, Adams and Nathan to shut things down. I think it might be prudent to see where Adams’ rehab takes him in the off season – and perhaps give him a minor-league invite to Spring Training before tendering an offer.
It’s going to be a long, lonely winter (with apologies to Bobby Vinton) as the Rangers try and plug the holes that sank their championship hopes in 2012. One thing you can hang your hat on, though: This will be a different 2013 Rangers team taking the field in Surprise, Arizona in February.