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Despite Lackluster Offseason, Texas Rangers Poised to Reclaim AL West Crown

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | There's really no way to sugarcoat it. Texas Rangers fans just experienced the most frustrating offseason in franchise history.

Led by 35-year-old president and general manager Jon Daniels, the club's front office reportedly pursued free agents Zack Greinke, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse and were involved in trade discussions to acquire James Shields, Justin Upton and Shin-Soo Choo.

Of course, all six players landed elsewhere.

Daniels and his staff also seemingly put forth little effort to retain Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and those players found new teams, too.

Instead, Michael Young was dealt for right-hander Josh Lindblom and contracts were inked with 39-year-old Derek Lowe, 37-year-old Lance Berkman, 36-year-old catcher A.J. Pierzynski and injured reliever Joakim Soria.

Given the events of the last few months, it's easy to understand why most baseball prognosticators are picking the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or Oakland Athletics to win the American League West this year. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that Texas could be better than last year's team, which finished one win shy of capturing the West for a third straight season.

Yu Darvish will be in the AL Cy Young conversation all year.

It didn't take long for observers to see what convinced ownership to write a $57.1 million check for the opportunity to sign Darvish: He has the talent and repertoire to become a bona fide ace and be considered among the game's best hurlers.

But Darvish struggled with control, posting a 10.9-percent walk rate -- fourth worst among starting pitchers last year. And he looked nervous on the mound at times, understandably so since he was adjusting to a new league and culture.

If September was any indication, those problems are behind the 26-year-old, as he walked just seven batters in 36 2/3 innings while posting a 2.21 ERA with 39 strikeouts and a .160 opponents' batting average.

I think he'll finish the season with 20 wins, an ERA around 3.00 and 250 strikeouts, which will put him in contention for the AL Cy Young Award with recent winners Justin Verlander and David Price.

Mitch Moreland is finally ready to fulfill his potential.

After battling a wrist injury in 2011 and hamstring strain last year, I expect Moreland to stay out of the trainer's room this season and slug 32 home runs. And questions about the Rangers' long-term plans at first base will slowly disappear.

The center field combo of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry will outperform Josh Hamilton.

While I don't view wins above replacement (WAR) as the ultimate evaluation tool, it's certainly a good stat to look at in terms of comparing players' overall impact on the game. Even though Hamilton's other stats from last year look hard to replace (43 homers, 128 RBIs), replacing his overall impact won't be nearly as difficult.

Hamilton posted a 3.3 WAR last season, good for 54th among all position players and tied with the likes of Brendan Ryan and John Jaso.

Although spring training doesn't always mean something, Martin and Gentry have arguably been the Rangers' best two performers in Arizona, and that's following really good seasons last year for both players.

The duo's stellar defense and blinding speed will help them combine for a higher WAR than Hamilton in his first season in LA. (And for about $24 million cheaper than Hamilton's paycheck this year.)

Reinforcements are on the way.

Starters Colby Lewis and Martin Perez and the aforementioned Soria are expected back at the end of May; Neftali Feliz could be in the bullpen sometime in August; and top prospects like Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt are a phone call away.

That gives Texas plenty of options should the team face injuries or need ammo to make a midseason trade.

Sam Merten is a Dallas resident, lifelong Texas Rangers follower and former award-winning staff writer at the Dallas Observer, where he wrote about local politics and baseball.

Follow him on Twitter @SamMerten.

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