The Sky Is Not Falling In Arlington

Public opinion of the Rangers’ offseason seems to have taken a negative tone — they lost Josh Hamilton to free agency, and were unable to lure Zack Greinke into their clutches. But despite these two misses the sky is most definitely not falling in Texas. Between its additions around the edges, its addition by subtraction and the trio of prospects that it will graduate to the majors, the team should be primed for a fourth consecutive pennant chase in 2013.

First, let’s tackle the additions. The braintrust in Arlington has added four players on major league deals this offseason, two catchers and two relievers. The catchers, if they play to their capabilities, should improve the team’s outlook at the position significantly. Signing Geovany Soto only sort of counts as a free-agent move, since they had him under control, non-tendered him and then re-signed him. But signing A.J. Pierzynski – who had spent the entirety of his 15-year career with the White Sox before joining the Rangers – was completely new.

And the two could make for a nifty little platoon. Pierzynski has historically hit righties better than lefties, and Soto just the opposite. Now, manager Ron Washington may muck up that potential arrangement — towards the end of last season, he had Soto serving as Yu Darvish’s personal catcher (because, you know, Darvish wouldn’t have been awesome without him (rolls eyes)) — but it could be quite effective if they stick with it. And while both players are seasoned, they should be better than last year. Soto will be even further removed from his knee surgery, which should help, and it shouldn’t be hard to improve upon the 46 games that Yorvit Torrealba started last season.

The team has also been proactive about fortifying the bullpen. With small outlays for Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor — who has posted a 2.84 FIP or better against right-handed hitters in three of the past four seasons — in free agency, as well as the acquisition of Cory Burns from the Padres, the team should be protected against the departures of Scott Feldman, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and the possible defections of Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross to the rotation (Ogando has already been penciled in to the rotation, but we’ve been down this road before — I’ll believe it when I see it). Plus they should get Neftali Feliz back for the stretch run. Adams departing for Philadelphia may be a tough blow if Soria doesn’t come back in top form, but overall, the team is going to come out well ahead in the “ex-Rangers in Philadelphia” department.

It’s hard to overstate just how bad Michael Young — who also now plies his trade in Philly — was last year. To find a player who racked up at least 600 plate appearances in a season and accumulated a worse WAR than Young’s -1.4 mark from 2012, you have to go back to Marquis Grissom in 2000. In fact, since the World Series era began in 1903, there have been 6,009 position-player seasons that met that same 600 PA threshold, and only 12 of them posted a worse WAR than did Young last season. Young is literally in the running for the worst position-player season of all-time. He was terrible at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Just getting rid of him was worth at least a win for the Rangers. That they’re going to replace him with functional baseball players makes it all the better.

The Rangers will essentially be replacing 1,400 PA of Hamilton, Young and the portion of Mike Napoli that he spent at first base and designated hitter with Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt and Leonys Martin, as well as Craig Gentry — who will likely take the bulk of the PAs that Hamilton got against left-handed pitching. Last season, in 1,420 PA, the departed trio combined to hit .273/.331/.468, but with some horrendous defense — Hamilton, Young and Napoli (at first base only) took 23.3 runs off the board last season. Eye-balling the Rangers’ 2013 ZiPS forecasts for Profar, Olt, Martin and Gentry, it looks like the difference in WAR will mostly come out in the wash. The quartet is not forecasted to hit as well, particularly in the power department, but their defense will close the gap significantly — all four have positive defensive forecasts.

Finally, there is the rotation. True, the team did miss out on Greinke, and it would have been fantastic to add him to the rotation, obviously. But the team is not exactly suffering here. As a unit, the Rangers’ rotation posted the third-best WAR and FIP- last season, as well as the eighth-best K%. They lost Feldman and Ryan Dempster, but if Ogando indeed finds his way back to the rotation, he should be comparable to Feldman (last year, Ogando posted an 84 FIP-, Feldman, 86). And between Martin Perez, Colby Lewis (when he returns) and potentially Ross, the team should be covered for Dempster’s departure. And that’s not even counting the potential improvement from Darvish, who ZiPS loves this season.

The Rangers no longer have Hamilton, and didn’t get to have Greinke. The players that will be coming in are a combination of less heralded and less proven. But that doesn’t mean they won’t collectively play at the same level — the moves the team has completed have been shrewd, even if they are of a peripheral nature. Texas’ marketing department may need to work a bit harder to fill the marquee, but the players on the field will keep Texas in the thick of the pennant race.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


59 Responses to “The Sky Is Not Falling In Arlington”

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  1. Dan Out West says:

    “But signing A.J. Pierzynski — who had spent the entirety of his 15-year career with the White Sox before joining the Rangers — was completely new.”

    AJP spent 6 years with the Twins and 1 year with the Giants prior to going to the South Side.

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  2. Don Draper says:

    Pierzynski has not played his entire career with the White Sox. He’s played with the Giants and Twins, off the top of my head.

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  3. Will says:

    Where are Olt and Profar going to play? Seems to me Profar and Olt will start the season at triple a if they’re not traded.

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  4. Cody says:

    I thought we were going to lose Fangraphs Headquarters in Arlington, VA. Phew!

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  5. BalkingHeads says:

    “And while both players are seasoned, they should be better than last year.” Do you really believe that AJP will improve on 2012?

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  6. lexomatic says:

    Pierzinski didn’t spend his entire 15 year career with the White Sox.
    That’s a pretty basic error.

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  7. Whale says:

    This team has a number of interesting platoon options 1b, DH, CF, C and LF if you don’t buy into David Murphy against lefties. I wonder if we see Washington use a number of different platoons?

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  8. Caveman Jones says:

    Good write-up Paul. I agree with you that the general narrative has been that the Rangers “lost” the off-season because they saw Hamilton go and didn’t get Greinke. Clearly a bunch of malarky. I don’t think they were ever serious about signing Greinke or Hamilton to the kind of contracts they were expected to get. It doesn’t fit with their methodology. They have some money, but they haven’t become successful by spending big on free-agents. It has always been about depth and letting the market come to them.

    They got Feliz, Andrus, Harrison, and Salty in a trade when the Braves decided to overpay for Teixeira. They originally acquired Hamilton in a trade. Adrian Beltre was signed for a pretty reasonable deal after it became clear the market for him didn’t develop the way Boras hoped. The Darvish signing was smart because much of the money doesn’t count against them for luxury tax purposes.

    This is a team that was built with a strong farm system, smart trades, and smart FA signings. I’m glad to see that they’re sticking with their principles and not overpaying for guys passed their prime.

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    • LK says:

      Will the Rangers be anywhere close to paying the luxury tax? I know this was a big benefit to Darvish for some teams but it doesn’t seem like the Rangers will get close enough to $178M this year or $189M thereafter for it to make a difference.

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      • Caveman Jones says:

        That’s a good point. I don’t think they will be close (maybe $120M?), but I admit I don’t follow the Rangers that closely. However, I think the idea of paying more now and less in the future appeals to a franchise that likes to be flexible.

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      • l1ay says:

        The Rangers are no where close to that. Their payroll will be nearly identical to last years’ ($120M) after all the arb cases are settled.

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    • Paul says:

      Sure, if you overlook that they stubbornly signed a bad player without a position to a huge contract, held onto him for at least two years too long (while he cost them a win or two each year – as the above spells out pretty clearly), and are now going to replace him in part with a platoon that includes a vastly overhyped platoon only player who they could have traded for Greinke.

      Yep, that’s prize winning front office if you completely overlook all of that.

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    • RMD says:

      The Rangers will have egg all over their face this season because of their decisions this offseason. The Angels got better while the Rangers got OBJECTIVELY worse. By making the rigid, stupid decision to never “overpay” for anyone, they come into the season lagging behind. They’ll be lucky to get into the one game playoff.

      They should overpay for Bourn the way the Tigers overpaid for Fielder. It worked out really well for them because they knew they were one player away. Bourn putting up 4 WAR next year will go a long way toward winning the division back.

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      • elijah says:

        How exactly did the Angels get better? They replaced a 5.3 fWAR player (Hunter) with a 4.4 fWAR player (Hamilton). The 148 games played by Hamilton last year, btw, was the second most in his career. The last three seasons before that? He played 89, 133, 121 games each. I’m not sold on their starting pitching either. Hanson, Vargas, and Blanton in the same rotation? Meh. And as much of a transcendent talent Trout is, you can’t reasonably count on him to have another 10 WAR season (and yes, I’m fully aware that he didn’t play for almost a full month last year).

        All things considered, I struggle to see how the Angels got better.

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      • elijah says:

        How exactly did the Angels get better? They replaced a 5.3 fWAR player (Hunter) with a 4.4 fWAR player (Hamilton). The 148 games played by Hamilton last year, btw, was the second most in his career. The last three seasons before that? He played 89, 133, 121 games each. I’m not sold on their starting pitching either. Hanson, Vargas, and Blanton in the same rotation? Not exactly sexy. And as much of a transcendent talent Trout is, you can’t reasonably count on him to have another 10 WAR season (and yes, I’m fully aware that he didn’t play for almost a full month last year).

        All things considered, I struggle to see how the Angels got better.

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      • Paul says:

        @elijah: Since you brought up WAR regression (twice), do you really expect for Torii Hunter to replicate his career high WAR, or should we expect for that to knock off by a run and a half to get him to his career avg? If we’re being rigorous, we should go ahead and knock off another half a run from there since he’s really old. FYI, this is where the projections have him.

        We can reasonably expect Hamilton to repeat his 2012 WAR. So there you go, they improve by at least 1.5 WAR. You’re welcome.

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      • Rick says:

        @Paul: when elijah says how did the Angels get better, he means how did they get better compared to last year; not how did they get better compared to what they would have otherwise been projected to do be in the future.
        They had Hunter who produced 5.3 fWAR last year, and he’s been replaced by Hamilton, who you are guessing to produce ~1 fWAR worse than Hunter did. Therefore, the Angels from that trade off will be one win worse next year compared to last year.

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      • DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

        The Tiggers still came up short…

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  9. Spike says:

    unless they’re intent on going young, wouldn’t you think Olt for Upton is very doable? They could move Nelson Cruz (who would be a nice fit for several teams) to open up RF.

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    • Samuel Deduno says:

      If by Olt, you mean Olt, Perez, and Buckel. Then yes, it could work. Not sure how many people want a 32 year old outfielder whose defense and base running have fallen and provides good if unspectacular offense. He’s also coming off his worst season posting only 105 wRC+ and although playing in a career high 159 games last year, averaged only 120 games the prior three years from injuries. I’d guess he could fetch a mid-level prospect and a low level prospect.

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      • Stinky says:

        I think you’re prob overstating Cruz’s ineffectiveness. Just the prior October he was more or less the toast of the sport. Anywho, I’m not claiming they’re going to get a king’s ransom for him but there are prob 3 teams in the NL East alone that could very much use a RHed hitting corner OFer.

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      • jim says:

        i doubt you are the real sam deduno

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  10. PJB says:

    Not to mention that a few games against the astros will keep the w’s coming

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    • ac1212 says:

      That helps for a wildcard spot but not for winning the division, since every other team in the AL West plays the Astros too.

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    • Rick says:

      They will play fewer games against the Astros this year. Last year they played the Astros six times while the rest of the division didn’t play the Astros at all. This year, the Rangers play the Astros just as many times as the rest of the division; ergo the Rangers really have 6 fewer games against the Astros this year.

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  11. pft says:

    Taking away a couple of impact bats like Hamilton and Napoli makes the entire lineup weaker. Easier to pitch around guys like Beltre and Cruz.

    Also, the starting rotation had issues last year so they had to go out and get Dempster. not that he did much. The rotation needs to be better than last year to cover the weaker offense.

    With the improvements the Angels made, the Rangers will be looking for a WC spot. The addition of the Astros should spot them 3 or 4 wins, making it a slam dunk that at least 1 WC spot comes out of the AL West. I guess it will be a battle between the Rangers and A’s.

    Not the end of the world, but I would write off their chances of winning the division.

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    • l1ay says:

      The Angels had the AL West locked up last off-season too, how’d that work out?

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      • The Angels WAR last year was good for 92 wins (+45). They under-performed by 3 wins. This is likely because they got so much better when Trout came up, but they were so bad before him. Trout game them diminishing returns (which is good because they had the best record for that period anyway). Next year, they will stay about even with their lineup and defense combined. They tremendously improved their bullpen, and their rotation is highly likely to be better considering how bad it was last year.

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    • Nick says:

      “Lineup protection” is a joke

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      • DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

        Yup, it’s supposed to be really easy now for guys to pitch to Beltre and Cruz i guess……or maybe they will walk them every time up? Is that what that means?

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  12. chuckb says:

    Could you now write something about how the Cardinals don’t have to be worried about their middle infield situation since Descalso and Kozma have it locked down? I’ll feel much better.

    Just kidding…sort of. The Rangers have the depth to sub in for those they’ve lost. The Cards, though they have a tremendous farm system, don’t have a SS like Profar waiting in the wings.

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  13. Brian says:

    I give the Rangers a 35% chance of making the playoffs with the roster they have right now. Not impossible but not likely. You just can’t depend on many prospects to carry your team.

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  14. ralph says:

    Looks like the Rangers are adding Berkman to DH, which seems like a very worthwhile gamble at this point.

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  15. Miguel says:

    I think you’re putting to much faith in the rookies. There is going to be an adjustment period for all of them. And you know, the enigma that is Hamilton could out WAR all of them combine.

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    • Ajax says:

      RE: And you know, the enigma that is Hamilton could out WAR all of them combine.

      Or he could miss 2-3 months of the season like he has before.

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  16. jdbolick says:

    It’s interesting to me that no one seems to want Mike Olt, as if that’s true it’s one time where all parties are making the smart move instead of buying inflated minor league numbers. The Rangers appear very motivated to move him and yet the Braves didn’t want to acquire him for Simmons and the Diamondbacks don’t want him as the main piece for Upton.

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    • Ajax says:

      No, they may or may not have been willing to move him (the rumors that they offered him for Dickey may not have been true, according to one source I’ve read), but they have repeated refused to include him in deals.

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    • byron says:

      Or, you know, the Braves and the Diamondbacks share pretty much everyone’s opinion that Simmons and Upton are more valuable than Olt. It could be that too.

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    • Bip says:

      With third base looking like it is across baseball I don’t believe no one wants Mike Olt.

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  17. Matt says:

    Would FG management please delete that crap from “the good shopping place”. In fact, delete the account entirely.

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  18. Hurtlockertwo says:

    “To find a player who racked up at least 600 plate appearances in a season and accumulated a worse WAR than Young’s -1.4 mark from 2012, you have to go back to Marquis Grissom in 2000.” Jeff Francoeur last year?

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  19. robwinnfield says:

    The fact that you think of Ogando and Feldman as about equal shows to me you’re simply looking at their 2012 FIP and saying that’s that.

    How anyone could say Feldman is anywhere close to being in the same league as Ogando boggles my mind.

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  20. PillsburyFlowboy says:

    Click in, dammit, click in!

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