Yes, the Rangers’ pitching was terrible last season and yes, offensively they put together the fewest runs by a Rangers’ team in a decade. But despite that, Manager Ron Washington now believes the main priority for spring training is defense.
I obviously understand why Washington is concerned with the fielding because the statistics show how horrendous they were: ranked last in the AL in fielding percentage (.980) and errors (124) and allowed the most unearned runs (89). Without a doubt they need to do something to improve those numbers because they are god right awful, but I still think if they want to win, pitching should be the main concern.
The Rangers also have their own method, using a zone rating as an index, that measures a player’s efficiency at balls hit into their typical fielding zone. The Rangers ranked below the major league average in five of the seven positions (not including pitcher and catcher) in which a zone rating is calculated. Although there is no official team statistic, this is another indicator of how bad their defense really is.
Yet again, another injury occurs for the beleaguered Texas Rangers pitching staff. According to the Dallas News, John Rheinecker will undergo shoulder surgery that will be to alleviate symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, in which a rib bone is pinching a nerve and creates swelling and pain. Although last season the 28 year old lefty had more wins then losses (4-3), he had an awful 5.36 ERA that definitely didn’t help one of the worst pitching staffs in the MLB. Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock had the same surgery last year and was out from May 16 until September, but was not up to par to play third base when he recovered, limiting him to being the designated hitter. The Rangers’ pitchers were plagued with injuries all of last season (as I stated in my post on February 9th) and losing a left-hander in the bullpen is definitely not helping the cause, leaving the team shorthanded once again.
The Texas Rangers finally got Ian Kinsler the deal he wanted. On Tuesday, they locked up the promising second baseman to a five-year, $22 million contract extension. The deal also includes a sixth-year club option worth $10 million. If the Rangers decline the option, Kinsler would get a $500,000 buyout. The 25 year old noted that regardless how much money he gets, he’s going to play hard each and every game and his play would be the same. Kinsler, who made $390,708 in 2007, said he is “not really too worried about” the pressures that arrive with a big salary. A year after signing all-star shortstop Michael Young to a five-year extension worth $80-million, the Rangers now have secured the shortstop and second base position for many years to come.
Two-year vet. Gerald Laird and the upcoming Jarrod Saltalamacchia are currently battling for the starting catcher spot. Laird started most of last season and was strong defensively, although he hit just .224 letting Saltalamacchia, one of Atlanta’s top prospects (before he was traded to the Rangers), have a chance to take the spot. The loser could end up at Triple-A Oklahoma, although that’s more likely with the younger Saltalamacchia.
Ranger’s Manager Ron Washington said the catching competition is “open” and both men arrived to camp looking “trimmer and fitter” then a year ago. If I had to decide now, my guess would be that opening day the starting catcher is going to be Saltalamacchia. He’s young, he has a fresh arm, and is only going to get better with time. Both catchers arrived at Surprise, Arizona, where spring training is taking place, last Friday and the other players are reported to be at camp on the 20th. The job is up in the air as of now, but come March 31st, one of those two will be the starting catcher against the Mariners.
Outfielder Josh Hamilton, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and second baseman Ian Kinsler, were three of the 14 Texas Ranger players that signed for the 2008 season, according to The Sports Network.
Hamilton, the first overall pick of the 1999 draft, played his rookie season last year for the Cincinnati Reds, although his season was interrupted by an inflamed digestive track and a sprained wrist. The center fielder hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBI in 298 at-bats for Cincinnati, which traded him because of an excess amount of outfielders. Hamilton was out of baseball from 2003-06, and went through eight rehab programs for addictions to alcohol and cocaine. We’ll see if this year he can keep himself in check and healthy, and become one of the more promising acquisitions for the Rangers.
The 22 year old Saltalamacchia, was acquired late last season from the Atlanta Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal. The talented kid, played catcher and first base in 48 games for the Rangers, getting seven of his 11 home runs and 21 of his 33 RBIs after the trade. He hit .266 for Atlanta and Texas.
Kinsler agreed to a one-year deal worth $407,570 on Friday, although a five-year deal could be in reach. If the deal is finalized, Kinsler would join Hank Blalock and Michael Young as Rangers to sign multi-year deals before going to an arbitration hearing. The 25 year old, hit .263 with 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases last season.
The other players that were signed included pitchers Kason Gabbard, Kameron Loe, Scott Feldman, Luis Mendoza, Joshua Rupe, Matt Harrison and John Rheinecker, outfielders Brandon Boggs and Nelson Cruz, infielder Joaquin Arias, and catcher Max Ramirez.
One of the greatest pitchers of all time has once again made his stomping grounds in Arlington, Texas. Except this time he isn’t at Rangers Ballpark looking to pitch. Nolan Ryan played a major league record 27 seasons from 1966 to 1933, playing for the NY Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and finished his career off with the Texas Rangers. The eight time all-star who owns records for most career strikeouts (5,714) and no-hitters (7), became the first hall of fame player to become a team president in the MLB since 1925.
Obviously the Rangers’ organization is looking for a way to get back on track (after parting ways with ex-president Jeff Cogen when he was named President of the Dallas Stars on November 14, 2007) and hoping that hiring Ryan as the 10th team president of the club will be part of the answer. He currently owns two minor league teams: the Corpus Christi Hooks, which play in the Class AA Texas League, and the Round Rock Express, a Class AAA team in the Pacific Coast League. Both teams are affiliates of the Houston Astros, for whom Ryan also serves as a Special Assistant to the General Manager.
I understand why Rangers Owner Tom Hicks believes Ryan would be a good fit for the club because of his experience and his success as a businessman and entrepreneur. Though, you would have to think, with all these other jobs- would there be a conflict of interest? Could Ryan exist as being the president of one club, and an owner of two minor league franchises for another? I’m not exactly sure how Selig will handle the situation (if he has not already) but I can’t see the MLB allowing a team president to also own minor league teams for another franchise.
The Rangers’ main concern in this off-season is to improve their pitching staff significantly. In 2007, the starting pitchers put together a terrible season as they finished last in the American League in wins (42), innings (838), and ERA (5.50).
The top three starters from last year- Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla, and Jason Jennings are each coming off the worst years of their career. Besides for Jennings (who I still am not convinced can get back to his form in 2002 when he had his only winning season, winning rookie of the year with a 16-12 record), it is yet to be determined if Millwood and Padilla can get back to their winning ways. The back end of the rotation is still questionable. With righty Brandon McCarthy and left-hander Kason Gabbard, both in their mid 20′s and showing much potential to be good pitchers, they still somehow haven’t been able to put together a full season.
A main reason for the poor pitching last season was the injuries that plagued the pitchers. If they want to have a successful season they must stay healthy and consequently will have a “possibility” to get some wins, and for the first time since the 2004 season have a winning record. Maybe even get a playoff spot… though this may be wishful thinking.
So far the rotation seems set with Millwood, Padilla, Jennings, McCarthy, and Gabbard, but with the Rangers anything can happen once the season commences.
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