It’s been a long time since I went into a season feeling as unoptimistic about the Rangers as I am this year. I’m not alone. Season ticket sales are down dramatically, as are individual game tickets.
Their record this spring was 9-19, not having won a game in what seems like two weeks. Their individual ERAs were higher than a Rasta on Bob Marley Day. The bullpen is messier than a teenager’s room. The rotation is a wing and a prayer. The lineup is Fielder and Beltre and Choo and who. There are two Rule 5 draft picks on this team, which is like shopping from the discount bin at a flea market. I mean, how many Yugos can you own?
It’s a long way from 2011, thanks to the systematic deforestation of this team’s talent.
Two Rule 5 players. What next, replacement players? That is embarrassing, and a slap in the face to fans. That is the front office equivalent of just giving up and wearing sweat pants from now on.
But, there are a few things I am looking forward to.
I’m looking forward to watching Prince Fielder get introduced to the Ballpark’s right field porch. Fielder was always a player I loved watching when he was with the Brewers and the Tigers. The disappointment of last season will be washed away as soon as he starts knocking the ball around like he did in spring.
I’m looking forward to seeing Adrian Beltre continue his march to Cooperstown. His last at bat of last year says everything about him you need to know. In a lost game in a lost season, he came up with two outs in the ninth, one out away from punching the clock and going home for the winter, and he didn’t phone it in. He fought off pitch after pitch and doubled.
I’m looking forward to Derek Holland assuming the role as the number one starter. Holland might be the most under-rated player in major league baseball. There is no reason to think this year he won’t take it up a notch or two from his short but brilliant run last year.
I am looking forward to seeing Jeff Banister in action. He will no doubt fall prey to the common tactic of counting to a hundred, then pulling the starter. He will no doubt follow the familiar practice of pulling a dominating starter just so a closer can pick up an easy save. Those are, unfortunately, givens. I am anxious to see how he handles the duct-tape-and-paper-clip bullpen he has. How he addresses matchups. How he makes out a lineup. How he guides a team through tough stretches. How he leads. How willing he is to make the changes that need to be made.
I am looking forward to watching the maturation of Rougned Odor, one of the two bright spots to rise out of the ashes of last season’s disaster. The kid just turned 21 and has turned himself into a crowd favorite already. He got into 114 games last year. He seems to bring the grit and fire and passion of a Dustin Pedroia. It’s unfair to expect him to perform at a Pedroia level. Let’s see if he can take a few step that way.
I am looking forward to watching the other bright spot from last year, Ryan Rua, the guy the front office resisted bringing up so adamantly that they tried pretty much every able-bodied man between the ages of 16 and 55 instead of him at first base. He is now in left field. He hits the ball hard. Perhaps he has an outside chance at a run for Rookie of the Year.
I am looking forward to seeing if Jake Smolinski was a fluke. He batted .349 last season and .359 in the spring. He feasts off fastballs. He drives the ball with authority. And every time it looks like he might be coming back down to Earth, the afterburners kick in. I am looking forward to seeing how long it takes him to take over the Designated Hitter role. I suspect he will earn it by the end of April, but it won’t be pried from the current DH’s cold, dead hands until June or July, longer depending how stubborn the front office is.
I am looking forward to seeing if Shin-Soo Choo can be the on-base machine he was two seasons ago in Cincinnati when he had a .423 OBP with 21 home runs. He started out last season looking like he was out to prove 2013 was no fluke, but slowly deflated.
I am looking forward to seeing if Martin Perez is able to come back from Tommy John surgery and resume where he left off. Because where he left off was remarkable. He started the season 4-0 with three straight shutouts: 1-0 against the Astros, then 12-0 against the White Sox, then 3-0 against the Athletics. Then his ligament gave out, and the Rangers season gave out.
I am looking forward to seeing which Rule 5 player does better in centerfield. The one we got from the Astros, who is going to be a back up role player. Or the one the Phillies got from us, who is going to start. At least we could have dug around in our own cesspool first.
The sum of the parts for the Texas Rangers is not very pretty. But some of the parts are worth a look.
So, now we start Major League Season One AJ (after Jeter).
It’s a clean slate. As Joe Nuxhall would say every Cincinnati Reds opening day radio broadcast for as long as I could remember, “You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one.” I am looking forward to seeing how many of the 162 this team wins.