The Rangers have enjoyed a nice run with three straight playoff appearances and a pair of American League titles, but with the departure of Josh Hamilton this offseason, is the party over?
Hamilton's exit might symbolize the end of an era, but it's far from the only loss that the Rangers have suffered in recent months. Michael Young's trade to the Phillies ended his 13-year tenure with the team and a flock of free agent departures punctured holes in the roster. In particular, catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, starting pitchers Ryan Dempster (acquired last July from the Cubs) and Scott Feldman, and relievers Mike Adams, Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara all left voids that had to be filled.
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The Rangers have been busy reconstructing their roster, bringing in catcher A.J. Pierzynski, designated hitter Lance Berkman and relievers Josh Lindblom, Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria (who is expected to return from Tommy John surgery by late May or early June). The organization is also looking to some internal options to fill the gaps, as Leonys Martin is expected to be the starting center fielder in place of Hamilton, while Alexi Ogando will return from last year's bullpen experiment to fill a rotation spot.
The Rangers did not acquire a hitter who can truly replace Hamilton, but there is enough power remaining in their lineup to ensure that they can put runs on the board. Adrian Beltre has smacked 96 home runs over the last three seasons and has driven in more than 100 runs in each of those campaigns. Nelson Cruz is also a potential 30-homer threat, Ian Kinsler has a pair of 30-30 seasons under his belt and Berkman, who had two knee surgeries last year, could surprise us yet again with a comeback season. Kinsler and Elvis Andrus provide speed at the top of the order, and Mitch Moreland and Martin should hold down the No. 8 and 9 spots, showing the depth of offensive talent that the Rangers still possess. Both hitters would probably bat much higher in the order with many other teams.
Even though the rotation hasn't had to contend with a major loss as a result of a trade or free agency, it enters the coming season with its fair share of concerns. Yu Darvish is the clear staff ace, but can he command the strike zone like he did over the final quarter of last season? Can Matt Harrison continue to pitch like the Rangers second- or third-best option, and can Derek Holland step up to that level? If Harrison and Holland falter, Ogando could ratchet his way up the rotation, but after a year in the bullpen, it may be too much to assume that he will repeat his 2011 success as a starter. The fifth spot will eventually go to Colby Lewis, once he returns from elbow surgery, possibly in midseason. Until then, young lefties Martin Perez and Robbie Ross are the leading candidates to round out the rotation.
Joe Nathan, following up on a strong comeback season, returns to serve as the closer, while Lindblom and Frasor should ably fill the setup roles no longer held by Adams, Uehara and Ogando.
Unless the Rangers' new additions exceed expectations, they should have a tougher challenge reaching the postseason this year. That will have as much to do with the advances made by the Athletics, Angels and Mariners as it does with the personnel changes in Arlington. Whether the Rangers can make the playoffs for a fourth straight year or not, they still offer Fantasy owners plenty of players to consider in the early and middle rounds of this spring's drafts, especially when it comes to hitters.
Rotisserie gem ... Leonys Martin, outfield
Shortly after signing with the Rangers in the spring of 2011, Martin was quick to impress with a combination of power and speed during a brief stop in Double-A, but his production wilted upon a promotion to Triple-A. Last year, Martin mastered Triple-A but didn't do much with 52 big league plate appearances. Martin should get the bulk of the starts in center field with Texas this year, so he will get a more extended chance to show Rangers fans -- and Fantasy owners -- what he can do. The 24-year-old appeared to take a developmental leap last season, as he hit flyballs at a much higher rate, helping him to produce 12 home runs in 231 at-bats. A 20-20 season isn't likely, but it's not a stretch to expect Martin to get 15 home runs and 15 steals with regular playing time, and maybe a .300 average to boot. Despite his speed, Martin hasn't shown much of a penchant for hitting doubles and triples in the minors, but his potential to hit for a high average while providing homers and steals makes him especially valuable in Rotisserie formats, where he is worth a few dollars or a late-round pick.
Late-round flyer ... Derek Holland, starting pitcher
Through the middle of last May, Holland's season was cruising along well enough, as he owned a 3.78 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. That's when the lefty's season started to turn south, though a fatigued shoulder and a stomach virus could have contributed to his problems. Holland also struggled upon his July return from the disabled list, and over a series of 10 starts that sandwiched his time on the DL, he yielded 18 of the 32 home runs he allowed last year and registered a 6.30 ERA. His last 10 starts went much better, getting his ERA back down to 3.88 over that stretch. The promise of a sub-4.00 ERA may not sound exciting, but with the improvements that Holland has been making to his walk rate, he could be a good source of WHIP, and the Rangers should provide enough offense to support a high win total as well. That makes Holland more attractive than many of the other potential pitching options in the later rounds of standard mixed league drafts.
Bust ... David Murphy, outfield
In 2012, Murphy had his best season, not only because he made a career-high 521 plate appearances, but also because he posted his highest batting average since his first season with the Rangers, when he went to bat only 110 times. Murphy's .304 mark gave off the appearance of a breakout. It's a little unusual for a 30-year-old to take an unexpected leap in his performance, but there is an even stronger reason to be skeptical than merely his age. While Murphy isn't exactly a slow-poke, his .292 batting average on grounders is something you would expect from one of the game's top speedsters. It's especially hard to expect a repeat given that Murphy achieved that average in spite of a sharp decrease in his infield hit rate. With a strong chance of even greater playing time in 2013, owners might look to Murphy as a middle-to-late round option, but he isn't likely to return adequate value. He doesn't possess enough speed or power to take advantage of the increased playing time or compensate for a probable drop in his batting average.
The Rangers have a few prospects who could be ready to make a Fantasy impact, but even with the holes left from free agency, there may not be much room for them on this year's roster. Even Jurickson Profar, who is one of the top overall prospects in baseball, would probably need an injury to Kinsler or Andrus for him to see significant playing time. ... Mike Olt is similarly blocked by Adrian Beltre, though an injury to Berkman could offer him a chance to DH. As with Profar, just the possibility to contribute makes him worth a flyer in AL-only leagues. ... Martin Perez, Cody Buckel and Justin Grimm will all get a chance to compete to be the fifth starter coming out of spring training. While Perez and Grimm have some major league experience, it's the 20-year-old Buckel who has had the most impressive minor league résumé to date. ... The organization isn't bereft of talent at the lower levels, and starting pitcher Luke Jackson, second baseman Rougned Odor and shortstop Luis Sardinas are all worthy pickups in long-term keeper leagues. The hard-throwing Jackson has been piling up Ks in the lower minors, while the latter two could emerge as stolen base threats.
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