Quick now, see if you can name the projected three, four, and five hitters for the 2013 Texas Rangers. It’s not so easy, is it? For much of 2012, those spots were filled by Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Michael Young. Now Hamilton and Young are gone, and Beltre is returning from a season in which an abdominal injury plagued him all year.
Give Beltre all the credit in the world for gutting out 156 games last year while in obvious pain. Now at 33 years old, the slugger will be expected to pick up the slack caused by the loss of Hamilton and Young—and perhaps Nelson Cruz as well.
Cruz is one of the players at the center of the Biogenesis PED scandal, and MLB is investigating his alleged involvement. If the Rangers lose Cruz to a suspension, then that will be another big bat missing from the lineup. Now add in the fact that Mike Napoli was also lost to free agency, and Texas could find themselves down 99 home runs and 341 RBI in total.
So, what about those three, four, and five spots in the order? Without Cruz, the likely candidates to join Beltre are 37-year-old Lance Berkman and outfielder David Murphy—neither of which will provide much power. That isn’t exactly a recipe to score runs in MLB. Outside of the Cruz situation, the Rangers have no one to blame but themselves here.
Texas did virtually nothing in the off-season to help the lineup. They signed two catchers, A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto, for a combined $10.25 million. If someone can figure out the reasoning there, I’m all ears. Other than that, they picked up the aging, broken-down Berkman, who served five stints on the disabled list last season, for another $11 million.
Clearly, the thinking in Texas is that the team will win the old fashioned way—with pitching. It’s a novel idea in today’s game, but it’s something that the Rangers can actually pull off. With a rotation that includes Matt Harrison (18 wins in 2012), Yu Darvish (16), and Derek Holland (12), the Rangers have a top-tier front three. They also plan on adding Alexi Ogando to the rotation as well. Ogando will be coming off of a great year in the bullpen where he averaged one strikeout per inning. The fifth spot is a toss up between Colby Lewis and rookie Martin Perez, either of which should be a solid choice to eat up innings.
The Rangers will have their hands full in the NL West this year. The Los Angeles Angels are the favorite at this point, and the Oakland Athletics made the playoffs last season. Even the Seattle Mariners have made off-season improvements. If Texas hopes to contend, they better pray that the old adage of “good pitching beats good hitting” holds up because it looks as though they won’t be able to rely on their offense.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)