Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.
Did anyone see the 2015 Rangers coming? Even themselves? They lost 95 games the year before and then lost their ace to Tommy John surgery. After that and then a slow start, you have to wonder what they truly thought their chances were last April and May, even if they wouldn’t admit it publicly. But . . . that’s why they play the games.
Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo had nice bounceback years. Adrian Beltre may beginning his decline years, but he’s still a potent force. Mitch Moreland and Rougned Odor were solid contributors and a lineup without any significant holes ended up scoring the third most runs in the American League. That lineup, for the most part, is back for 2016. The biggest change is the addition of Ian Desmond. He’ll be playing left field which should be somewhat interesting. Given the late and relatively low-money deal he ended up having to accept you have to figure he’s motivated, however. Given Odor’s strong second half and his age -- he just turned 22 -- suggest that a breakout season is not out of the question.
The rotation will look a bit different this year. For one obvious thing, the Rangers will have Cole Hamels around all season, not just for a dozen starts. Yu Darvish is expected back in May sometime. Before Darvish comes back last season’s first-half surprise, Nick Martinez, should fill in and will be making a push to stay in the rotation. Old hands Derek Holland, who was limited to ten starts in 2015, and Colby Lewis, who improved somewhat from a disastrous 2014, are back as well. It’s hard to say what the Ranges will get from those two, but more Hamels, any amount of Darvish and a full season from the young Martin Perez give the Rangers a strong rotation by usual Texas Rangers standards.
There’s a lot to like about this Rangers team but the extent of its upside is sort of hard to see given then uncertainties involved in Darvish’s return and another year on the odometer of Prince Fielder and Beltre. At the same time, Texas could get some significant boosts from some of its prospects like Nomar Mazara or Joey Gallo, each of whom could see some time in Arlington this year. And heck, Jurickson Profar is still hanging around. The once top prospect is still only 23.
A solid base, not a ton of downside but some uncertainty at the top end is not idea, but it can play in the AL West. As I expect the Rangers to play. In the the thick of it all year long.
Prediction: Second place, AL West.