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RotoWire 2012 Rangers Preview

RotoWire.com Jason Brown
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Texas made a return trip to the World Series in 2011, twice coming within a single strike in Game 6 of capturing the title, only to lose not only that game but Game 7, leaving the franchise still in search of its first world title. The big move of the offseason was effectively trading out C.J. Wilson for Yu Darvish. While an Angels squad infused with the aforementioned Wilson and Albert Pujols will provide plenty of competition in a top-heavy AL West, Texas is once again expected to contend for the American League crown and is solid pick to represent the circuit in a third straight World Series.

Offseason Moves

Signed pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year contract.

The total cash outlay is north of $110 million once you consider the $51.7 million posting fee required, but no team in baseball scouted Darvish like Texas has for the past several seasons. The front office is obviously supremely confident in Darvish's ability to translate his success to the majors, as the Rangers essentially let C.J. Wilson leave via free agency with virtually no resistance and nothing more than a token contract offer. Darvish is expected to head the Texas rotation, though the Opening Day assignment likely will fall to Colby Lewis.

Lost Darren O'Day on waivers; lost C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver via free agency; lost C Taylor Teagarden via trade.

The big loss is obviously Wilson to the division-rival Angels, though Oliver provided Texas with quality late-inning relief that has left Texas scrambling to find a left-handed late relief option.

Signed pitcher Joe Nathan to a two-year contract.

The news on Nathan was quickly followed by the announcement that Neftali Feliz would be moving to the rotation after two full years as Texas' closer. Texas is obviously confident in the health reports on Nathan's elbow, and his second-half numbers (28:5 K:BB, 3.38 ERA in 29.1 innings) would play well over the course of a full season. He's being paid too much to not close when healthy, though Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando would be capable backups in the event of a Nathan injury.

Acquired catcher Luis Martinez from San Diego, pitcher Greg Reynolds from Colorado, outfielder Brad Snyder from Baltimore.

There's nothing more than organizational depth here, with the trio expected to spend the vast majority of the season at Triple-A Round Rock.

Signed first baseman Brad Hawpe to a minor-league contract.

Hawpe struggled in his two years away from Colorado, though 2011's .231/.301/.344 slash in 231 plate appearances hit a new low. Signed to a minor-league deal on the heels of Tommy John surgery in August, Hawpe enters spring training as a contingency plan at first base in the event that Mitch Moreland's recovery from offseason wrist surgery is slower than expected.

Signed pitchers Doug Salimas, Derek Hanks, Kyle Fernandes, Mitch Stetter, Sean Green and Yangervis Solarte, second basemen Luis Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez, first baseman Brad Nelson, outfielder Kyle Hudson and catcher Chris Robinson to minor-league contracts.

Of the lot, Hernandez and Gonzalez are expected to compete this spring for the utility infielder job that opened up with the departure of both Esteban German and Andres Blanco.

Top 80 outfielders

Will Matt Kemp make a run at the Triple Crown? The FOXSports.com fantasy department shares their Top 80 outfielders.

Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Josh Hamilton, LF
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Michael Young, DH
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. Mitch Moreland, 1B
9. Julio Borbon/Craig Gentry/Leonys Martin, CF

Mike Napoli is horribly underused in the No. 7 spot, but that's the likely scenario given the preferences of manager Ron Washington. It's possible he switches places with Nelson Cruz or bumps Michael Young down a spot. It's a lineup that will generally remain unchanged against lefties and righties alike, with the occasional inclusion of Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate (and some possible time at first base for Michael Young against tougher lefties to give Moreland a rest). A late spring decision to keep Hamilton in center field and use David Murphy in left also remains a distinct possibility.

Projected Rotation

1. Yu Darvish
2. Colby Lewis
3. Derek Holland
4. Neftali Feliz
5. Matt Harrison/Alexi Ogando

Ogando appears to be the odd-man out if the rotation remains healthy through spring despite a solid showing as a starter in 2011 before being moved back to the bullpen for the postseason.

Closer: Joe Nathan

Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise

Who wins the center-field job?

The job, for now, remains a three-way competition between Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. It's expected that the trio will spend all spring in competition, with the looming possibility of Josh Hamilton sticking in center field and David Murphy serving as the primary left fielder if none emerges with a good spring.

Borbon has had multiple chances, anointed as the starter each of the past two seasons, only to disappoint, whereas Martin struggled upon his initial exposure to Triple-A pitching during a 40-game stint at Round Rock. Gentry doesn't offer much at the plate, but has a good reputation with the glove and would be an immediate 30-40 stolen-base source with 400 at-bats.

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What happens to Alexi Ogando?

Texas enters spring with six healthy starters following the signing of Yu Darvish and the shift of Neftali Feliz to the rotation, with Ogando now the likely odd-man out given his past success out of the bullpen. Unfortunately for Ogando owners, he's expected to be behind both Joe Nathan and Mike Adams in the pecking order from the right side, likely being tasked with a few multiple-inning outings a week. It's a role that suited him well in the postseason before he ran out of gas, and his success in this role before makes him a far more likely candidate to return in such capacity over someone like Matt Harrison despite peripherals that suggest he could handle 33 starts and 180 innings a year.

What can one expect from Neftali Feliz?

Feliz's migration back to the rotation was put into motion early in the offseason, a stark contrast from last spring when Feliz's exact role was unknown until late March. One can expect Texas to limit his innings a fair amount, particularly with spot starts from Scott Feldman and the aforementioned Ogando a viable option should Feliz need extra rest. His success as a starter will come from how well he controls his secondary pitches, as he was already starting to lose a few ticks off his 100-mph heat as the season waned. Texas has the luxury of slotting Feliz back at the end of the rotation, lessening the need for him to emerge as a 200-inning workhorse right out of the gate. Expect the Rangers to be cautious.

Strengths

Offense. The Rangers boast one of best lineups in baseball with speed, power and on-base ability. Hitting in Arlington only helps.

Weaknesses

The Rangers enter the season with seemingly stacked roster, yet they also face more than a few questions: Will Yu Darvis pan out? Will the Neftali Feliz conversion work? Will a quality center fielder emerge? Will 37-year-old Joe Nathan stay healthy? Will Josh Hamilton stay sober?

Rising: Derek Holland - Holland finally turned the corner in the second half last season, posting a 9-1 record, 1.211 WHIP, 3.06 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 88 innings following a first half where his knack for mixing in poor starts amongst a string of solid ones continued. He's always possessed the ability to miss bats even during his struggles, so there's still some nice upside here given the strength of the Texas lineup behind him.

Falling: Nelson Cruz - Cruz missed more time with recurring leg troubles, putting an end to any sort of 20-steal upside he might have once possessed. He's a near lock for 30 homers despite the injury risk, but he's also fit the profile of an injury-riddled outfielder that hits .260 and doesn't eclipse 90 RBI in two of the past three seasons as well. His historic postseason power display figures to add a few bucks here as well.

Sleeper: Craig Gentry - Depending on the timing of your auction and drafts, Gentry could end up being a huge bargain. As mentioned above, he's one of three candidates for the center-field job and offers a ton of upside in stolen bases should he emerge with the job. He managed nearly 20 steals as a glorified pinch-runner last year, so there's some nice associated floor even if he's nothing more than a fifth outfielder when the season starts.

Top 40 third basemen

Will Jose Bautista lead MLB in home runs for a third consecutive season? The FOXSports.com fantasy department shares their Top 40 third basemen with stat projections.

Supersleeper: Alexi Ogando - For all the talk that Ogando won't have a roto-friendly role once the season begins (and the concerns are certainly valid), he can't be dismissed entirely. He could just as easily wind up being a rotation regular by mid-May if an injury takes down an existing starter, and there's a decent chance he'd get the call to close out games if Joe Nathan went down with additional elbow problems. Failing either of those scenarios, Ogando could rack up 90 strikeouts as an 80-inning reliever with more than a handful of wins.

>>>> Fantasy Baseball 2012 Team Previews Index

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