Trigger-happy Rangers must take better aim

Steve Henson
Yahoo! SportsFebruary 12, 2011
Trigger-happy Rangers must take better aim
C.J. Wilson will be counted upon even more heavily now that Cliff Lee is gone

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports examined the offseason of every MLB team before the start of spring training. Our series continues with the Texas Rangers.

2010 record: 90-72
Finish: First place, AL West
Final 2010 payroll: $74.3 million
Estimated payroll on opening day: $95 million

Offseason action

Itchy trigger fingers have caused untold misery in the great state of Texas for, what, a couple hundred years now. Going off half-cocked was never part of Rangers president Nolan Ryan’s game when he pitched, and it hasn’t been a tendency of brilliant general manager Jon Daniels, either. But tenderfoot CEO Chuck Greenberg has changed the equation. Bullets are flying, and before long somebody might get hurt.

Actually, count longtime franchise icon Michael Young(notes) as the first of the walking wounded. Until he is traded, a topic other than the joyous momentum from the Rangers’ first World Series will dominate spring camp in Surprise, Ariz. How did Ryan and Daniels put the team in his unsettling position? It circles back to Greenberg and his assertion after buying the team in August that, “The original (payroll) model we had has been discarded. Our payroll projections are much more aggressive.”

Good news on its face. No more $70-something million caps. Enough money for an honest attempt at retaining ace Cliff Lee(notes). And enough money to bring in another solid bat.

But we all know what happened with Lee, and that left Greenberg with disappointment and pile of unspent money. Daniels’ moves to add veteran catcher Yorvit Torrealba(notes) (two years, $6.25 million), left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes(notes) (one year, $3.9 million) and on-the-mend starter Brandon Webb(notes) (one year, $3 million) couldn’t cure the itch. The Rangers needed a splash.

By this point in the offseason, third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) was the best player available. No matter that the Rangers had a perfectly adequate third baseman in Young, who also happens to be the team’s highest paid player at $16 million a year. Greenberg signed off on a five-year, $80 million deal with Beltre that includes a sixth year at another $16 million if Beltre is still playing every day at that point.

Beltre will be paid $14 million in 2011, meaning the Rangers have $30 million tied into two third basemen. Then they acquired Mike Napoli(notes), robbing Young of at-bats as a DH. All this took a few weeks to sink in with Young, the franchise’s all-time hits leader, and once it did, he didn’t like it one bit. He’s demanded to be traded, and why wouldn’t he?

In any trade, the Rangers will have to eat a substantial portion of the $48 million owed Young the next three years. Yes, they got younger and better defensively with Beltre. But chances are Beltre and Napoli won’t duplicate the 50 home runs and 206 RBIs produced last year by Young and departed DH Vladimir Guerrero(notes).

Reality check

Losing out on Lee will be felt gradually, as the summer slogs on, the Rangers unable to lean on a veteran No. 1 starter to help fend off the Athletics and Angels. C.J. Wilson(notes) and Colby Lewis(notes) may well be two of the league’s better pitchers, but rotation depth is a concern. A comeback by Webb would really help. And that itchy trigger finger of Greenberg’s might be welcomed at the trading deadline, with Daniels getting the green light to spend on an available starter.

It’s interesting to note that none of the AL teams that traded starters during the offseason sent one to Texas, despite Daniels’ concerted efforts. Zack Greinke(notes), Matt Garza(notes) and Shaun Marcum(notes) switched leagues. Maybe the feeling around the AL is that the Rangers are tough enough, and ought not be bolstered easily.

The Rangers were the only AL West team to finish above .500 last year, and they won going away, by nine games. No guarantee the division will be as soft again. But as the Angels well know, winning the West isn’t the barometer. Getting to – or in the Rangers’ case, returning to – the World Series is all about matching up against the beasts of the East, the Yankees and Red Sox and, recently, the Rays.

Texas survived the gauntlet last year, beating the Rays and Yankees in the playoffs. This offseason shuffled the deck. The Red Sox appear to have the strongest roster. The Yankees have a vulnerable starting rotation. The Rays are indisputably weaker. The Angels are slightly better but still have issues. The Twins, Tigers, White Sox and Athletics might be in the conversation.

Let the bullets fly.

Rangers in haiku
Country and western
Doesn’t reign in Texas with
Elvis in the house

Next: Tampa Bay Rays.