Throughout January and February (and probably March), we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite like Hot Stove Daily. The focus here is limited. We're only looking at ownable fantasy players who've found new employers.
Don't get all sentimental on us now, but this is the final piece of our Hot Stove Helper series. We've saved the Rangers for last because
no one wanted to do them they didn't really have much of an offseason, but if we loosen the rules a bit and address the team in more general terms, we'll get through it, podner.
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is one of the most bankable fantasy commodities out there, an undertow of offense. Scoring gets a major kick here, it's absolute heaven for left-handed power hitters, and the generous alleys lead to a lot of triples. Even errors get a float, a 10 percent kick forward over the last three years. They make things big in Texas, and if you're looking for a lot of crooked numbers, this is the place to be. Get in line early if you want a shot at Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, give a good audit to Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz, and make sure you know all of your Texas starters, inside and out.
The flip side, of course, is that the Rangers pitchers have to toil in this place for 81 games, and the results haven't been pretty. The franchise's ERA for the decade is over 5, and Texas hasn't posted an ERA under 4.50 since moving to the new stadium in 1994.
Let's take a cursory look at the notable Texas transactions of the last few months, then we'll catch up on Ranger rumblings at the bottom of the column.
Signed OF Andruw Jones to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training
It's hard to have a lot of faith in Jones after his total crash-and-burn in Los Angeles last year (on the heels of a terrible 2007, at that), but at least the price was right for the Rangers. They brought Jones in for a $500,000 minor-league deal, with another $1 million in bonuses available if he passes 620 plate appearances. It's been a mixed bag for Jones so far in Cactus League play – while he's 8-for-26 at the plate with a homer and two doubles, he's also struck out 11 times.
Signed RP Eddie Guardado to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training
Guardado was surprisingly effective (albeit very lucky) in Texas last year, skating by with spotty control and extremely-hittable stuff, and he even got a chance to close briefly. But the Rangers did the right thing at the trade deadline, shipping the journeyman lefty to Minnesota (where his luck promptly expired). Guardado returned to Texas in the offseason and has a decent chance to make the club as a lefty specialist, but he's no longer effective enough against right-handed pitching to legitimately deserve a high-leverage role. Even if the planets align perfectly for him the rest of the spring, Guardado won't be anything more than the No. 3 man in this bullpen behind closer Frank Francisco (fully endorsed by Ron Washington) and former closer C.J. Wilson.
Signed SS Omar Vizquel to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training
Vizquel turns 42 in April and while he's expected to make the club, the Rangers aren't looking at him as more than a caddy for hotshot rookie Elvis Andrus. Is Texas rushing the 20-year-old to the majors? Probably, but he'll probably bat at the bottom of the order all season and given regular time off as he gets his feet wet. Eventually Andrus projects as a leadoff man and someone who will score 100 runs and swipe 40-50 bases a year.
Declined to re-sign OF Milton Bradley
Give the Rangers some credit here, they realized that Bradley is a short-term investment all the way, and not the type of guy you pay big bucks to after a career season. We'll miss watching Bradley rake in Arlington (.358/.466/.679), but this was the wrong place to bet on a repeat. The emergence of Davis and Cruz and the cautious optimism on Hank Blalock made it easier for Texas to let Bradley walk.
Texas Two-Step: Free agent Ben Sheets was all set to sign a deal with the Rangers when it was discovered that the oft-injured righty needed to have elbow surgery. Sheets still might be in the Texas plan down the road; he's from the Dallas area and he's been doing some rehab work at a facility owned by a team doctor, though the Rangers insist that doesn't mean there's some sort of future agreement in place . . . David Murphy is off to a .345 start this spring with a couple of homers, a key push off for him as he's battling Marlon Byrd for the left-field work. If a platoon emerges here Murphy figures to get the better chunk of it, as a left-handed hitter . . . Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the early jump in the catcher battle (.381 over 21 at-bats), while Taylor Teagarden is struggling to make contact (3-for-13, six strikeouts, no walks) . . . The Rangers have a couple of sizzling pitching prospects in Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, and Brad Evans would love to tell you all about them. You can read all about Feliz here, and a public love letter to Holland is expected soon . . . I've seen Kinsler on overrated and underrated (!) lists this spring, as curious as that might seem. When the Yahoo! Friends and Family draft goes down Thursday evening, he'll be one of my possible targets in the No. 10 slot, along with Hamilton . . . Michael Young slides over to third base this year, making room for Andrus. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Young still hits like a middle infielder; his OPS has taken a hit for three consecutive years, and he slugged a mere .402 last season, downright puny for a No. 3 hitter who plays half of his games deep in Arlington. Yes, part of the 2008 dip was brought on by a finger injury that Young played through, but I don't like the direction of this trend . . . What a difference a year makes: Cruz was designed for assignment in March of 2008, and now he's one of the trendiest outfielders on the market . . . "Friendship" is the official state motto of Texas, if you wanted to know. Alright, alright, alright . . . I'm endorsing Francisco as a closer on the cheap (ADP: 252), but there's no way I'm talking myself into anyone else on this rotation. Think I'm slighting someone? Meet me in the comments, state your case.