In our continuing effort to get you as ready as possible for Opening Day in Arlington, we asked around the Interwebs for some of our favorite Rangers writers to share their thoughts on the coming season with us. Six questions were asked of each of them, and you can read their answers below.
No bloggers were harmed in the making of this story.
Brad: Author for Lone Star Ball, Brad provides the charts and graphs that make the place extra pretty. And informative, of course. He is known only as Brad, and you can rightly deal.
Christopher Fittz: Contributor to SB Nation Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Editor of Lone Star Ball. Humorist and series preview extraordinaire.
Prashanth Francis: Author for Baseball Time in Arlington. Wielder of stats, master of the conservative outlook, knower of beers. A graduate of Baylor University, Prashanth is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Texas A&M University.
Robbie Griffin: Columnist for SB nation Dallas-Ft. Worth, and former Contributor to Beyond the Boxscore. He's the guy who is putting this together, so this is in the third person.
Adam J. Morris: Manager of Lone Star Ball. Man, myth, legend, and creator of the greatest Texas Rangers community on the Internet.
Or Moyal: TV Sports Producer and Web Sports Editor for WFAA-TV and WFAA.com. He likes baseball, dinosaurs, Carl Everett and the piano. Check out WFAA.com for as much content from Or and his team of sports bloggers as he has time to edit! Or knows what Dale Hansen smells like.
JP Starkey: Associate Editor for SB Nation Dallas-Ft. Worth. JP had the difficult task of covering the Rangers while they attempted to deny his Cardinals a title, but was a good sport all the way. Karma rewarded him.
1) Is there anything to be learned from how last year's World Series ended or do we just chalk that up to how baseball go?
Brad: I think last year's World Series showed us more examples of a very long list of tactical decisions by Ron Washington that don't maximize situational probabilities... the ever present "deny the odds and go with the gut." One example that stands out in my mind was leaving Derek Holland in for the 8th inning of Game 6 of the World Series with Mike Adams ready to go and letting him pitch to Allen Craig, noted lefty masher. You have one the absolute best RH relievers on the planet at the ready and stick with a guy who had already thrown 2? innings at that point. He ended up giving up a HR to cut a 3 run lead to 2. Though I don't know that we really "learned" anything in that I don't expect Ron Washington to ever change his approach and you take the good with the bad considering how well he handles the people and getting them to play every day.
Fittz: I learned that baseball does just go the way it's going to go and there's nothing I can do about it. Baseball is very much a game of luck. Baseball-luck can lead to devastation as it did on that October night. Personally, I learned that I probably care too much about something that even the professionals don't have complete control of all of the time. I've also learned, with an assist from mental distance, that I'll probably still care too much because I can't help it. Baseball is still awesome for a Texas Rangers fan who survived Game 6.
Francis: The true horror of last year's World Series result is that it feels that the expectations have been raised from 2010 and 2011 when, in fact, it's very realistic that the 2012 Texas Rangers could be a better team who don't even make it past the first round of the 2012 playoffs (or perhaps not even making the playoffs at all). Even starting to think about this scenario makes me cringe to the point that anything but immediate cessation results in me in the fetal position in a dark corner.
Since that is such a depressing thought, here are two happier thoughts to try to counteract that. First, Ron Washington's major strength is in building the type of clubhouse that uses comradery and short memories to overcome tough losses. For all of his other faults, I expect him to have the sort of people skills/EQ necessary to pull this off. Second, even if the Rangers aren't able to make a deep playoff run this year, they have the type of young, high ceiling rotation talent on paper right now that not only are good bets to be good in the subsequent years, but hopefully form the type of pitching staff that could be ridden to a World Series from a 2nd Wild Car spot. Exciting times, indeed.
Griffin: Both. Baseball is tremendously affected by luck. The Rangers were lucky to be one strike from winning the World Series, and then unlucky to lose it. That event should have no bearing on how the franchise operates, but we can learn a lot from it as fans. We can learn to appreciate the good moments instead of always looking forward to what happens next, because what happens next can be bad. We can learn to accept luck and enjoy a great team whether they win a championship or not, and be braced for the potential heart break. We can also learn that umpires are not great at calling close plays or balls and strikes, and never stop mentioning that at every opportunity until baseball does something about it.
Morris: What I've learned from last year's World Series is that its never over until its over, and that I don't think I'll ever be able to take as much pleasure in an opponent's failure as I was before Game Six. From the standpoint of the strength of the team, roster construction, etc., though, I don't think so. Anything can happen over 7 games.
Moyal: As easy and comfortable as it is to draw some narrative for the Tragedy at Busch, there isn't any. The Rangers didn't ignore any glaring issues which turned around and bit them. The front office did everything possible to shore up whatever plausible weakness.There's no culprit here. The Rangers were the better team, and if game 6 once again came down to the wire as it did, they'd win an overwhelming percentage of the time. But baseball is a random game. It's easy to spin something as 'fate' or define a player as 'clutch'. It's not as easy to say "Well, that happened. Mathematically, it was unlikely, as we were better. But no worries! Back to square one! Come at us, 29 other teams!" Will games six and seven haunt a large portion of the Rangers' roster? Absolutely. I'm expecting many sudden wake-ups in cold sweat, lots of '#$%^*@ Chris Carpenter!' But I think the team's leaders are doing everything possible to make sure the Rangers move on. And if they once again have a win probability over 95% in a championship-clinching game, I don't think voodoo or deja vu will pull them back to the edges of baseball purgatory.
Starkey: I don't really think there's much to learn from it. For the Rangers and their fans, it was agonizing, there's really no other way to put it. But it's over, and even though the Rangers were on the wrong side of the outcome, they were involved in one of the best World Series' ever. The 2011 season will go down as one of the best seasons in baseball history, with how Game 162 went down, and how the playoffs ended. It's also going to go down as one of the best seasons in Rangers history, and there's no shame in that at all.
2) How many wins do the Rangers get this year? Any chance they can crack 100?
Brad: The 2011 team won 96 games and I think this team is clearly better than the one that started 2011. I'm predicting 97 wins for the Ranger but I would not be surprised at all with 100+ wins. This is an exceptionally talented team that has the potential to be a top five run producer along with a top five rotation, top five bullpen and top five defense. They may not actually achieve all of those marks, but the talent is there. There is no more balanced team in all of baseball.
Fittz: I've always believed that it is very irresponsible to ever predict 100 wins for any team. It's just not a likely outcome, ever. However, I think this Texas Rangers team is better than last year's Texas Rangers team and that team won 96 games. I'll say 99 wins just to avoid being a hypocrite.
Francis: I hadn't put much thought into figuring out my gestalt for the Rangers until a few weeks ago and until I did, I didn't understand why some around Rangers blog land were so high on the Rangers. After really thinking about it, I realize that my opinion was being too influenced by mainstream media types who probably were (more) interested in picking something different from last year. If you just look at the starting lineups for the Angels and Rangers, I could see how it would be tempting to see these teams as even and then decide to pick the Angels. However, the Rangers have significantly more depth. They arguably have a hole at CF and maybe 1B, but they have relatively obvious ways to cover them already on the roster. Their bullpen may not be great past the best 4, but how many bullpens are? The Rangers are a complete team with few holes that uses depth/redundancy to raise their floor and a collection of high-ceiling, injury-prone players to raise their potential ceiling. I have them at 95 wins this year, enough to win the division. It would not surprise me if their win total is boosted by midsummer additions. I wouldn't feel comfortable projecting any team to win 100 games, but was shocked at seeing how few things had to go right or very well for the Rangers to be able to get there. It's exciting to me that the Rangers feel just a (half)step below the Yankees for AL supremacy on paper at the start of the year.
Griffin: I'm going with 95, since you should always expect some regression from top teams. However, the roster looks just about as good as a year ago -- if not better -- and with so much youth in the rotation, and several players with MVP potential if they can "simply" have good fortune with injuries, I think their ceiling is very high. As in possibly historically-great.
Morris: I'll put the Rangers at 94 wins this year. I think they could crack 100, particularly if Oakland and Seattle are as bad as they look like they might be, but the Angels are going to be strong, and the 100 win mark is really tough to break. Anything from 90-96 would be in the realm of the expected.
Moyal: I'm going with 94. I think 2012's squad is better than 2011's, but a lot of things went very right last year. Combine that with the Angels' massive team-wide upgrades, and it all comes together to this conclusion for me: The Rangers should expect a serious tussle. There's a lot of variation in what they're capable of, though. The biggest questions for me: What will Neftali Feliz do in the rotation, and how will Josh Hamilton's final year in Texas (barring a Bob Simpson edict to 'GET IT DONE') go? There's a huge variation in the outcomes, and I don't see much of a middle ground for either situation. Personally, I see Feliz struggling mightily with command, especially that of his secondary pitches. I see Hamilton having a big year (.320/370/.550) but straining himself too hard and missing 60 games. If Feliz's curve and change take leaps forward and/or JHam stays healthy, they absolutely could crack 100. The overall talent level on this Texas squad is tremendous.
Starkey: It's tough to predict 100 wins for anybody. Is there a chance they can crack 100? Sure, there's always a chance. But with the Angels being retooled, and with uncertainty surrounding the pitching staff, there's no reason to predict 100 wins for Texas. I'll go with 93 for the Rangers in 2012 -- good enough for at least one of the five playoff spots.
3) How will the addition of the second wild card affect the AL playoff race this year?
Brad: The second wildcard (and the new FA draft pick compensation rules) will definitely have an impact on mid-season acquisitions. The point where teams decide they are sellers will last longer as they stay within striking distance of the second wildcard spot. Additionally, relievers will not be the easy Type A and B draft picks they used to be (and you are now required to have the player on your roster the entire season to get ANY draft compensation) so their acquisition cost should go down for teams out of contention. That may be extra beneficial to a top heavy team like the Angels. It will be very interesting to watch how teams either press harder on the gas pedal to win their division or ease up down the stretch if they have one of the wild card spots in hand in order to make sure they are in their best alignment for the one game playoff.
Fittz: I guess I should focus on some positives here but I should note that I really dislike the new playoff format. I dislike the idea of a one-game play-in after 162 games. I dislike the idea of a scenario where the second best team in a league could end up out of the playoffs because a weaker team wins a coinflip game. That said, there is the benefit of the excitement of a "163" game every season. This will get the likes of Toronto and Kansas City in the mix this season and that's probably a nice thing for those cities. For the Rangers, this is another opportunity to reach the postseason in a era where they should be in the postseason. As a franchise that has had very limited opportunities to reach the postseason, I suppose I should be grateful for any chance given to them. More than likely, though, this means the Angels make the playoffs regardless now. I dislike that as well.
Francis: I can see how this should result in less trading -- as fewer teams will be out of contention by the trade deadline -- but I think there will be enough really bad teams this year that the second wild card shouldn't affect things too much. The Astros seem like a potential trade partner for the Rangers already.
Griffin: We are unlikely to have a final day as great as last year as long as this system is in place, but there is a good trade off. Many more teams have good reason to play 162 games. Good teams have extra incentive to win their division, and fringe teams have more reason to believe they can play in October. That is great for most baseball fans, just not the fans of the first Wild Card team. In 2012, with the Angels possibly having improved to AL East levels, that could still also mean a great race for the 5th spot.
Morris: The additional wild card is going to make trading for veterans at the deadline harder, since there will be more teams that think they are in it, and it will also make it harder for teams to try to set up their rotations for the postseason, since if you're in first place and have a narrow lead in the divisional race, but you're guaranteed to have the best record of the non-divisional-winner teams either way, you can no longer coast the rest of the way...you have to fight to avoid the potential one game playoff. I don't know that it will make a huge difference with Texas, but it certainly could.
Moyal: I'm really fascinated by this, actually. I didn't think the traditionalists running MLB would ever go for additional playoff expansion, but this rule sailed through with little trouble. Personally, I'm not a fan -- one-game series(es?) can create more questions than they answer. An inferior team with one great starter, for instance, can knock a great squad out of the playoffs on the strength of one performance. As a fan of the best teams going at it for as long as possible, I'm not a fan of this possibility. Though, in the short term, I think it helps the Rangers more than it hurts them. The Angels are a strong enough opponent that I'd project them with at least a 25-30% chance of winning the division. I'm also comfortable saying the Rangers look better than any AL team but the Yankees; so if the Angels win, the two spots likely come down to Texas, Tampa, and Boston. I'd take 2/3 with a 50% chance of a subsequent knockout over 1/2. Any day. Though maybe it's just the TV producer in me who longs for the incredible drama of a one-game sudden-death playoff series.
Starkey: It just means that the Rangers don't have to beat both the Red Sox and Yankees to earn a wild card spot. Texas just has to beat one of Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, New York and Boston -- and I think that's definitely doable. I do like that it'll place more emphasis on winning the division, so I think we'll see more competitive September games, which is a good thing.
4) Should this be Josh Hamilton's last year as a Texas Ranger?
Brad: When Josh Hamilton is in the groove he is one of the best baseball players in the league. His ability to put his bat on a ball and just smack the hell out of it is rather amazing. But he is fragile physically and often has games and at bats where he doesn't seem into it and just flails away at pitches. He shows no patience or discipline at the plate and once behind in the count, he turns into a well below average player. I think Josh Hamilton has a place on the Texas Rangers, but his risks keep the amount of money that I would feel comfortable paying him well below the superstar price range his reputation is seeking. If Josh Hamilton would accept a contract similar to Adrian Beltre's or Michael Young's (and hopefully Ian Kinsler's extension today?) I could live with that. But once you start talking about $100M+ contracts, I would rather find a cheaper and less risky alternative with a lower upside. I think it is about 90% that Josh Hamilton will not be a Ranger in 2013.
Fittz: Josh Hamilton's groin winced as I typed this sentence. Frankly, Josh Hamilton is such a presence and talent that it is difficult to imagine a Rangers team that wins a lot of games without him. I believe that in 20 years we'll look back on the World Series years as, "The Josh Hamilton Years." However, it takes so much to maintain Josh Hamilton that it seems unwise to pay him a lot of money for a lot years. There's a better than decent chance that the best Josh Hamilton will ever be is already behind him and we could be entering those years where he breaks down even more than he already is prone to do. It's going to be difficult to replace Josh Hamilton but, if Hamilton's contract demands remain the same, I believe the Rangers would be better off using their resources trying to do so.
Francis: In a word? Yes. For more than one word, check this out.
Griffin: Unless something completely unexpected happens, like Josh Hamilton deciding he wants to play for peanuts, yes. Some team out there is going to think 2010 is his mean, and pay him exorbant ammounts of money to try and capture that again. He is aging, he is constantly injured, and he is at least somewhat higher of an off-field risk than your average player; the Rangers will be wise to let him pursue his pay day elsewhere. He has been a fabulous story and an amazing Texas Ranger, but Rangers fans should probably treat this as a farewell tour.
Morris: It shouldn't be, in the sense that it would be right and just for him to stay here for several more years, but it probably will be, because the Rangers (very reasonably, I believe) don't want to commit to more than 3-4 years on a long-term deal for him, and he can probably get 7-8 years, at close to $20 million per year, on the open market.
Moyal: I believe so. Hamilton will retain his status as a Rangers legend for many years to come, but his time with the laundry will likely come to an end in 2012. It's not that the Rangers can't use him; it's that Jon Daniels and Co. are too smart to trust him with the six-eight year commitment he'll almost certainly command. Hamilton is not the kind of player who typically ages well. He has put his body through a lot, isn't disciplined, and is extremely injury-prone. He's not going to tone down his violent style of play, and his body seems to find ways to strain itself regardless of what he's doing. Of course, there's a flip side. He may be the world's most talented baseball player. He works incredibly hard -- Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks says he's never seen a player so committed to the batting cage. Fans absolutely adore him. (If you don't believe me, ask about the reaction I got from station Facebook commenters after updating a story about his February indiscretions). Put it all together and look at the contracts stars get these days, and it seems almost inevitable: The man is going to get PAID. He's going to get nine-figure paid, and if this year is anything like his 2010, he's going to make Jayson Werth's $126 Million contract look like a happy hour special. For the same price, the Rangers could likely extend Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Matt Harrison while fronting the first six years of baseball's first 13-year contract for upcoming phenom Jurickson Profar. Josh Hamilton is a fantastic player, but I don't think he makes sense for the 2013 Rangers.
Starkey: It depends. Realistically, yes. If he's not going to give the Rangers a hometown discount, and if he wants a long term deal (read: five+ years), then the Rangers would be wise to let him walk. Let's use Jayson Werth and his contract as a barometer. Seven years, $126 million dollars. Hamilton will be in his age 32 season next year, so you'd be paying him through his age 38 or 39 year. There's no reason to think that his body will hold up or be worth big money even around his age 36 or 37 season, let alone 38 or 39.
5) What's a best case/worst case for Yu Darvish?
Brad: I think the best case scenario for Yu Darvish is a top of the rotation pitcher and work horse that gives you 220+ innings at an elite level... something akin to Felix Hernandez level quality. I think the worst case scenario (assuming health) is a pitcher that struggles with pitch counts and walks giving you 180 innings with 4+ walks per nine innings. In the Rangers ballpark, that's probably a 4.50-5.00 ERA guy unless he's particularly lucky. I think strikeouts will be there even in the worst case scenario because the movement of his pitches and sheer quality of his stuff. Worst case is probably a step below Gio Gonzalez but without the benefit of the Athletics park.
Fittz: The very best case would be an international phenomenon in the mold of Fernando Valenzuela-mania where Darvish pitches like the ace the Rangers haven't had for a full season since Nolan Ryan in 1989. The more realistic best case would be 200 innings of top-of-the-rotation production where Darvish shows no ill signs from transitioning to America and the Major Leagues. The very worst case scenario would obviously be an injury. But, we'll ignore that and go with: 150 middling innings where Darvish has difficultly pitching in Arlington and spends the entire season explaining that the transition has been more difficult than he imagined.
Francis: As much as I'd love to buy into Keith Law's tremendous optimism in picking Darvish for Cy this year, I just can't. I would be impressed if Darvish is able to put up a 5.5-6.5 WAR season that establishes him as an elite pitcher and potential future Cy candidate. Worst case (that doesn't involve career or season ending injury) would be ineffectiveness, especially in adjusting to the MLB strikezone (and the umpires calling them) and in pitching to players with more power in a park that gives up lots of home runs.
Griffin: Worst case is an injury, because he is a pitcher. After that, worst case is probably something in the realm of mediocre. That would still not be horrible from a rookie just entering his prime. The best case is nothing short of being the best pitcher in baseball. He has the stuff and the command to do it.
Morris: Best case is that he's the best pitcher in the A.L. Worst case is that he gets hurt and misses the season.
Moyal: Best case: A poor man's Randy Johnson. I'm serious. The stuff is unbelievable. He's going to get strikeouts in bulk, and elicit enough ground balls to keep Beltre, Andrus and Kinsler on constant alert. I think command will be something of an issue, but his combination of power and breaking stuff is straight-up unbelievable. A more reasonable comp looks like Tim Lincecum... and while their physical similarities are nonexistent, I think the results could be pretty similar. Worst case? #3 starter. In this scenario, he'd have trouble figuring out the tendencies of stateside hitters, start nibbling everywhere and put up a lot of disappointing 5-inning, 100-pitch outings. The stuff will tide him over well enough; I can't see him being any worse than Jonathan Sanchez, for instance. But I think there's a strong possibility Darvish's results won't match his stuff for the first year or so, as he adjusts to the MLB game. Eventually, though, I think he's an ace. You can't scout spring training results, but you can scout what you see. And it only takes one outing to see the stuff is BEYOND legit.
Starkey: Best case? Honestly, I believe he can be one of the best pitchers in baseball. It's just the spring, but his stuff was incredibly nasty. I'd put Darvish's stuff up against any pitchers in baseball. If he keeps his fastball command, I think he'll be in the Cy Young discussion. Worst case? He doesn't command his fastball, struggles with the Texas heat, and ends up having a really inconsistent year. He's too good to have a total failure of a season, but if he struggles with his command throughout the year, he's going to probably disappoint a lot of fans. Still, even at his absolute worst, I'd still see him having a WHIP around 1.30-1.35, and an ERA near 4.30-4.50. I really think his stuff is too good to completely fall flat on his face.
6) What do you think the Rangers will end up doing with centerfield this season, and is that what you hope they do?
Brad: I think the Rangers will play Hamilton around 100 games there and Gentry around 60. By mid-season that could change if Leonys Martin makes significant progress in AAA or if they trade for a CF... but my expectation is they will primarily roll with Hamilton / Gentry in CF and Murphy in LF when Hamilton is in CF. My preference would be a Borbon / Gentry platoon. I think platooning those two players would provide slightly worse offense than the Murphy/Gentry style platoon but with an upgrade defensively. It's also less chances for Hamilton and less ground for him to cover... he will run far more (putting stress on his knees and body) as a CF than a LF.
Fittz: The want scenario: Leonys Martin makes strides at Round Rock to polish his game and comes up in late May to lock down the position for the next five years. The likely scenario: Craig Gentry/Julio Borbon/Josh Hamilton all split time in center which leads to Hamilton going on the DL a couple of times and several articles are written about Borbon being baseball-stupid after he doesn't do something correctly from Ron Washington's School of Fundamentals.
Francis: It sounds like they're going to go with Hamilton in center until Gentry gets healthy enough to rotate in (somewhat) liberally. I think that they will add an OF through trade at some point, I'm just not sure that it will be for a starter type unless Hamilton or Cruz go down for a significant amount of time early. I think they have the advantage of not being forced to make a move, though, so I don't think they'll end up overpaying. I would really like to see Gentry healthy long enough for a Gentry/Hamilton/Borbon grouping, at least for it to last long enough for Leonys Martin to gain enough experience and development to be a contributor at the big league level.
Griffin: Clearly, the Rangers have lost just about all faith in Julio Borbon, and I'm not sure how much confidence I have in that choice. He is nothing special, but I think if he only faced righties, his offense would be worth keeping Josh Hamilton out of center. I'm not sure if he will ever be a Ranger again at the moment, and it seems centerfield will consist of a Hamilton/Gentry platoon until/if the Rangers find a centerfield option. I do still believe in Leonys Martin, though, and think he could make a strong push to compliment Gentry by mid-season.
Morris: I think centerfield will be a revolving door, much like it was last season. No player will end up getting more than half the starts out there, and there will probably be at least three players who start 20 games apiece in centerfield. It would be nice if someone would just claim the job once and for all, but that's not likely to occur before 2013.
Moyal: I think they're using every possible silver bullet left in the Josh Hamilton tank. They realize he likely won't be back (sweetheart deal excepted) and will go all-out to get himself the greatest possible free-agent deal. He's comfortable in center field, and they'll give him every chance to spend the majority of his time there. Long-term health questions aren't part of the question right now. They'll get as much as possible out of that tremendous skillset, and in this case that includes playing him in Center Field, where nobody appears ready to seize the regular starting job. I imagine Craig Gentry will start against left-handed pitching (when he's not nursing a groin, wrist, shoulder, etc) and the team will keep looking for a right-handed outfield bat. But for now, Josh Hamilton is the answer. Leonys Martin could force a question by toying with AAA, but I think the Rangers are committed to giving him significant minor-league seasoning in 2012.
Starkey: Well, it looks like they're rolling with Hamilton for now. I don't think that will last too long, though. He's not that good of a defensive center fielder anymore, and the club would probably be best off with Borbon out there. My hope for the Rangers is that Borbon gets off to a really hot start in AAA, and he's Texas' starting center fielder by June. Hamilton in left, Borbon in center and Cruz in right is Texas' best outfield, in my opinion.