Saturday, January 21, 2006

New Beginnings, Part II

Having looked at the transmogrification of the Mariners into…Spam Surprise…we might profitably ask ourselves how the competition has changed over the winter.

What about the only team we really have a hope of struggling past this season, the Texas Rangers? They have had a busy offseason, christening a new GM and setting him loose on the FA and trade markets. The resulting changes, at least at this point in time, look mostly as follows:

Second base will switch from Alfonso Soriano to a spring competition between veterans D’Angelo Jimenez and Mark DeRosa, and rookie Ian Kinsler. This leaves the atrocious defense of Michael Young at short, but removes Soriano’s bad defense from second, so even with a hitting downgrade, defense might mean that this ends up being not as catastrophic a move as it could have been. Moreover, this move is of a piece with…

Adding Brad Wilkerson into the outfield mix. Now David Dellucci, Sarge Jr., Kevin Mench, and Laynce Nix will make way for a pretty solid addition to the outfield, both offensively and defensively. Wilkerson had a down season in 2005, to be sure, but he may replace Soriano’s bat just fine.

1b/DH hopeful Adrian Gonzalez was shipped to San Diego in a trade for pitching. Given the state of the Rangers’ pitching staff, this was a good idea, but GM Daniels also sent off a young, cheap, effective starting pitcher in the deal, so the trade has been widely questioned by Rangers fans. Therefore, we cheer it. Texas added starter Adam Eaton (last year of arbitration) and aging Japanese reliever Akinori Otsuka (and a low-level catching prospect) at the expense of Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young, along with young outfielder Terrmel Sledge.

A second new starting pitcher was added by means of swapping Ricardo Rodriguez to the Phillies for Vicente Padilla. Now, if you look at Padilla’s numbers for the entire 2005 season, he looks pretty bad, but I would suggest that the latter half of the season saw his performance (ERA, wins, etc.) more closely matching his above-average peripheral numbers, so there is some reason to think that this is an upgrade of sorts. This was mostly a money-oriented deal, it seems, for Philly GM Pat “got to sign Ryan Franklin to a multimillion dollar deal” Gillick…as Padilla was eligible for arbitration. Just think about that…the Phillies essentially swapped Padilla out for Franklin. Yikes.

A third member of the 2006 rotation was signed to a monster FA deal. Kevin Millwood will now earn $12M a year for at least the next four, and quite possibly the next five years at ages 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35. He had a great 2005, but an up-and-down career beforehand, including some injury issues. This signing is just as bad as the Washburn deal for our M’s. Partially it reflects the weird market this offseason, but partially it smells of desperation on Daniels’s part. Mostly it smells of money.

The weak bullpen is of course bolstered by the arrival of Otsuka, giving the Rangers pitchers to count on in the 8th and 9th innings, but not really much before.

This is a great deal of change, and the results might be projected in this fashion:

Best case (for the Rangers): 875-900 runs scored (as the offense stays solid), and the new pitching staff limits runs allowed to the neighborhood of 820, which would require at LEAST two of the starting pitchers to experience breakthrough seasons in which they established previously unsuspected levels of performance. This would result in something around an 88-89 win season, which would shoot Texas well past the Mariners and into the division hunt.

Worst case (and frankly, a lot more likely): They still score in bunches, and put about 850 runs on the scoreboard themselves. But their pitchers conform pretty much to their historical trends, and surrender more like 900 runs. Twenty different pitchers record major league service time for the club in 2006, with none of them particularly effective outside of Francisco Cordero. This team still wins about 76 games.

Catastrophe: Mark Teixeira gets hurt seriously, Hank Blalock continues his mysterious decline without rebounding, and the offense can’t maintain its usual high level of production. This is the only scenario in which the M’s can reasonably expect to pass the Rangers for third place in 2006.

26 days to pitchers and catchers…


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