The Texas Rangers were supposed to be a World Series contender after trading Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and signing top free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Add those two into an established core that included Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios, and Elvis Andrus, and you’re looking at one of the best teams in baseball, right?
Well…nope. And that’s why you’re seeing the Rangers post-mortem about a month before we ever expected to write it.
Preseason Prediction: Texas won 91 games last year and should surpass that total this season. Unlike last season, the Rangers aren’t a clearly inferior team to the A’s and will compete for a division title. The lineup should score 800 runs and demolish opposing pitching staffs on a regular basis, which could provide some relief to an uncertain pitching staff. This looks like one of the best teams in the AL, if not all of baseball, provided its pitching stays healthy and deep. A return to the World Series appears entirely plausible here. (Ian Casselberry, February 20th)
What Went Right: Not a whole lot. Yu Darvish was his usual incredible self when he was on the mound, pitching to a 3.06 ERA in 144 1/3 innings while striking out 182 hitters. Closer Joakim Soria hd a magnifcent half season in Texas, saving 17 games while striking out 42 and walking just two in 33 1/3 innings. After starting the year off in the minors, Neftali Feliz regained his closer role after Soria was traded and pitched to a 2.66 ERA. Adrian Beltre had another MVP caliber year with the bat and the glove.
What Went Wrong: Pretty much everything else. Choo hit .242/.340/.374 in 123 games, and his season was over before August was finished. Fielder was an absolute disaster, hitting .247/.360/.360 with only three home runs in just 42 games before his season came to a close thanks to neck surgery. Alex Rios hit just four home runs, depreciating his stock so much that the team wasn’t able to receive an enticing enough offer to deal him at the trade deadline. Mitch Moreland continued to stink offensively, and his season ended in June.
But wait, there’s more. Darvish packed in his season after just two August starts thanks to an inflamed elbow. Jurickson Profar didn’t log one at bat because of numerous injuries. Martin Perez blew out his elbow, a disappointing end to a season that started so well with 26 straight scoreless innings over three starts in April. Matt Harrison made only four starts, and his future is a question mark because of back surgery. Derek Holland made his first start of the season in September Even Beltre, one of the most durable players in the league, spent time on the DL.
Look at this last of players currently on the DL for the Rangers. It’s depressing.
Most Surprising Player: Can I take a pass on this? No? Ugh…well, how about Robinson Chirinos? He hit a ton in the minors, but could never put it together in the majors, spending brief stints with the Rays in 2011 and Rangers last year. This year, he got some more sustained playing time thanks to Geovany Soto’s injury issues, and smashed 11 homers while hitting .232/.282/.408. Yeah, that’s not an All-Star line, but it’s good for the third-best fWAR among all of the team’s hitters.
Most Disappointing Player: Take your pick. I think Shin-Soo Choo has to be the obvious answer here, simply because he received a lot of playing time and was still a below average player. While Choo still did hit 13 homers, his ISO fell to .132 (barely better than his .131 career-worst mark). He stole only three bases, and was caught four times. He walked in 11.0% of his plate appearances, but struck out in nearly a quarter of them as well. He also graded out poorly on defense despite moving from center field to left. All in all, everything about Choo’s season was a disaster – and the Rangers still owe him $116 million over the next six seasons.
The Future: This is going to be an interesting winter for the Rangers because they’re locked into near the same roster for 2015 – the club’s only free agents are Neal Cotts, Colby Lewis, Scott Baker, and Kevin Kouzmanoff, while Rios has a club option for $13.5 million that I imagine Texas will decline. It’s certainly reasonable to expect the Rangers to be better in 2015, but their success hinges on the health of Fielder, Choo, Profar, and their starting rotation. If Darvish’s elbow injury is more serious than expected, the Rangers’ season next year could be wiped out before it even begins, and we could be looking at another long summer in Arlington. But if Darvish is fine, Choo plays like he did in Cincinnati, and Fielder resembles his Milwaukee self once again, maybe the Rangers could make another playoff run. However, the AL West is a meat grinder, and they’re not going to be able to coast their way to a division title like in years past.