If this were a year that the Texas Rangers have come to expect, they would be playing in the American League Division Series.
Instead, the Rangers are licking their wounds after a season that started with so much promise and went so wrong.
The Rangers have plenty of questions to answer before they can try to make another playoff run in 2013. Here are six.
1. What happens with Josh Hamilton? The good news for the Rangers is that this isn’t a question they really have to answer. The answer to this one will come when another team decides to spend big money on a player with immense baseball talent and just as immense non-baseball issues. If the questions about Hamilton just centered on baseball, the Rangers may have considered trying to match whatever offer Hamilton will get. But as good as he’s been on the field for Texas in the last five years, the non-baseball issues make re-signing Hamilton too risky a move to make for the Rangers. Hamilton said it’s 50-50 whether or not he signs with the Rangers. The odds aren’t nearly that good. It’s been a good five-year run for Hamilton with Texas, but it looks like that’s all it’s going to be. Getting rid of Hamilton should free the Rangers to find another bat through free agency or a trade.
2. How do they address the starting rotation? The Rangers have lost front-line starters to free agency each of the last two years in Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson. They’ll lose another this year in Ryan Dempster but he’s someone they would have needed an upgrade over anyway. The free-agent market is thin. The Rangers could address the rotation by trade or they could try to piece things together until Colby Lewis is ready next summer. The Rangers have two All-Stars in Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison. Derek Holland had a bad year but he’s still decent for a back-end starter. Moving Alexi Ogando into the rotation makes fiscal sense, but weakens the bullpen. Martin Perez could be ready to finally make the move to the rotation after getting a taste of big-league life.
3. What happens with Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt? The good news for the Rangers is that they could dodge this question by saying that neither are major-league ready and need a year at Triple A. That might not go over so well with the fan base and it might not make sense either. What has Mitch Moreland done at first base over the last two seasons that Olt can’t do? He had a better year in 2012 (15 home runs, 50 RBIs, .789 OPS) than he did in 2011 but he’s still viewed as a platoon first baseman (only 327 plate appearances). He could be expendable if the Rangers feel Olt can handle the job. The Profar situation is stickier. He doesn’t have a position available and he needs to play every day. The club could do something drastic like move Ian Kinsler to the outfield, but that might not happen despite Kinsler having a poor defensive year. They can’t afford to have Profar be a utility player because he needs the ABs.
4. How do you rebuild the bullpen? There is going to be a lot of turnover among the relievers, especially if Alexi Ogando moves into the rotation. Mike Adams and Koji Uehara are free agents. Mark Lowe and Scott Feldman likely won’t be back. Robbie Ross could also be an answer in the rotation if the Rangers are really desperate. If not, he and closer Joe Nathan would be the two most established relievers. Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman need to step up. Re-signing Adams is a possibility as he’ll likely be coming off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery but he’s already said this is a business decision (i.e. big bucks). Uehara will also get a nice deal from someone after posting a 1.75 ERA and not allowing a run in September or October.
5. How do you handle the $16-million man? No one player this side of Nolan Ryan means more to the Texas Rangers organization that Michael Young. Young is entering the final year of his five-year, $80-million deal. The Rangers could try and move Young, but they’d have to eat the majority of his contract and they won’t get much back. The Rangers could hope Young accepts a reduced role, and he really wouldn’t have room to argue after hitting just .277 and adding his lower on-base percentage in a decade. He doesn’t have a position in the field because he’s not a good defender anymore. He also doesn’t provide enough offense to be a full-time designated hitter (eight homers, 67 RBI). Young turns 36 later this month. If he is truly the team’s captain, maybe he steps up and says he’ll handle the backup role. One person in his corner is manager Ron Washington, who made it clear this year he’d ride Young as long as he could. That time may have passed.
6. Will the offseason help provide some closure? Sure the Rangers have plenty of personnel questions, and we didn’t even get into who’s going to catch for the team. But the club also needs some time to recharge the batteries. Last offseason the Rangers had to think about what life would have been like if they got one more strike and won a World Series. This offseason it’s the September collapse that will linger and what would have happened if the Rangers had won one more game and the West division. The good news is that the Rangers will actually get some time to rest this offseason. Maybe the 32 extra postseason games the club played in 2010 and 2011 took a physical toll and that’s why the Rangers looked so tired in September. The one extra they played this October should have them fresh for 2013.