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Texas Rangers: After C.J. Wilson, Who Should Make Postseason Starting Rotation?

Should the Texas Rangers hold off the Los Angeles Angels in the heated AL West race, they will secure back-to-back postseason berths for only the second time in franchise history. The other time that happened was in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, in which they were swept by the New York Yankees both times.

A possible postseason berth should be credited in large part to the job the starting rotation has done this entire year.

The combination of C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando have helped compile the most shutouts in franchise history with 18. They also all have at least 11 wins and are all over 150 innings pitched for the year.

In a year when the bullpen has been up and down, the starting rotation has been the most consistent part of the Rangers ball club. When was the last time you heard that?

However, heading into possible postseason play, the Rangers are faced with the tough decision of whom to start in a potential five-game series.

Go ahead and pencil in C.J. Wilson for the Game 1 start, as he has been the unquestioned ace on this ball club. After earning his first career shutout, Wilson has now become the first Rangers left-handed pitcher to post back-to-back 15 win seasons. He leads the team in ERA, wins and strikeouts and should a Game 5 arise, Wilson would be your guy.

After that, it gets interesting.

Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are doing the most to make sure they are penciled in as the No. 2 and 3 starters.

Holland has dominating stuff, but has struggled with consistency throughout his career. Holland has turned in a few gems that would make you think he is the real deal, but would follow those up with some horrendous outings.

Lucky for the Rangers, Holland is pitching as good as he has all year.

Before the All-Star break, Holland had two complete-game shutouts but still had an ERA of 4.68 and a WHIP of 1.46. Since the break, Holland has two more complete-game shutouts, but his ERA is down to a very good 3.25.

And while his complete game gems were against the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners, he has stepped up against some of the best teams in the American League. In that stretch, he has blanked the Boston Red Sox, given up one run over eight innings to the Los Angeles Angels and arguably out-pitched David Price in a game earlier this week.

With Harrison, you get the Rangers most consistent pitcher not named C.J. Over the course of the season, Harrison has compiled 14 quality starts while inducing the most double plays in the majors. Harrison also has only given up 12 home runs all season, which bodes well for him against the AL East sluggers.

In a series against Boston, the Rangers top three starters will be Wilson, Holland and Harrison, in that order, due to the matchup problems they create. The Red Sox lineup is very left-handed heavy and the trio of southpaws the Rangers possess have already proven the ability to shut them down.

Now here is where the battle gets a little more complicated.

On the one hand, you have Colby Lewis, who was probably the best pitcher for the Rangers last postseason. The problem is Lewis has been, for the lack of a better word, inconsistent. He has pitched five games in which he did not allow a run but has also given up at least five runs in a game nine times.

In Lewis, you have the experience factor, but you also have probably the worst-performing Rangers starter over the course of the year. One stat that figures to work against him is that he has given up the most home runs in the entire American League with 33.

With the Rangers facing one of the top two home run-hitting teams in the majors, Lewis must have a drastic change in performance to instill confidence in him in a postseason matchup.

Then you have Alexi Ogando, the converted reliever turned All-Star starter. Ogando was arguably the Rangers best pitcher in the first half, going 9-3 while posting an ERA of 2.92, but things have since gone downhill. Ogando is just 3-4 since the break with an ERA of 5.19 and a WHIP nearing 1.50.

Ogando has some of the most electric stuff of any pitcher on the staff and can be dominating at times, but the fatigue he appears to be suffering from could keep him out of the starting rotation all together.

Where Ogando has the advantage over Lewis, besides overall better stuff, is he has given up half the amount of home runs that Lewis has allowed.

So who should be in the starting rotation?

If I were making out the rotation, it would look something like this:

Home field advantage against Yankees:

Wilson, Harrison, Holland and Lewis.

On the road against Yankees:

Wilson, Holland, Harrison and Lewis.

Home field advantage against Red Sox:

Wilson, Harrison, Holland and Lewis.

On the road against Red Sox:

Wilson, Holland, Harrison and Lewis.

This all came down to whether Ogando can hold up in the postseason with the amount of stress his arm has been put under this season. He has pitched three times more innings this year than any other time in his career. Unless he can show some signs of the pitcher from the first half, I’ll take the experience of Lewis and have Ogando come out of the bullpen once again in October.

As far as flipping Harrison and Holland depending on home-field or not, I would rather have Harrison pitching at home because of his ability to keep the ball in the park at the launching pad that is Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Holland has given up 18 home runs as opposed to Harrison’s 12.

That’s my playoff rotation. What’s yours?

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Rangers Prospect Joe Wieland Throws No-Hitter Amidst Trade Rumors

With all the pressure on his shoulders, Rangers Double-A prospect Joe Wieland went out and threw a no-hitter Friday night against the San Antonio Missions. He allowed one walk and faced the minimum 27 batters as the sole baserunner was eliminated trying to steal second base.

Wieland’s timing could not have been better as Major League scouts have been in attendance the last few weeks evaluating pieces for a potential deadline deal. The latest rumors have been with San Diego in the Heath Bell discussions as teammates Wieland, Robbie Erlin and Tanner Scheppers have been the hottest names in the possible swap.

Wieland has to hear the rumors. How can he not in a world obsessed with Twitter and reporters trying to be the first to break a story.

In an interview with ESPN’s Richard Durrett, Wieland said about the rumors, “Whatever happens, happens. I try not to think about it too much, but it’s out there.”

Wieland needed only 109 pitches to retire the 27 Missions’ batters with seven coming via the strikeout. What makes this no-no even more impressive is that it came against the team with the most runs scored in the Texas League this year.

Wieland is having one of the best pitching seasons in the entire Rangers organization. Since making the jump to Double-A in June, Wieland has an ERA of 1.23. While in Myrtle Beach, Wieland had a similarly small ERA at 2.10 while also striking out 96 batters in 85 innings. He also owned a mind-boggling 24 strikeout-to-walk ratio before getting the call-up.

In the same Durrett article, Wieland credits the Rangers system for his progress as a pitcher. “I love the Rangers. I feel like I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I wasn’t in this system. As a pitcher, I feel like this is the best system to be in for developmental reasons. We have the best coaching staff, on top of that, there’s Nolan Ryan running the show.”

Wieland has vaulted himself into the discussion of top Rangers pitching prospects which is already loaded with names like Martin Perez, Erlin, Scheppers, Robbie Ross and Barrett Loux. With the abundance of prospects, it’s likely that one or two of these names will be moved for Padres closer Heath Bell.

There is no secret that the Rangers bullpen has been awful this season. It’s also one of the few holes on a team loaded with offense and a solid pitching staff. Bell has been the subject of trade rumors ever since last season but with the Padres doubtful to re-sign the hefty hurler after the season, a deal seems more imminent than ever before.

The Rangers have been pushing hard for Bell and are rumored to be the favorites for his services. If the Rangers do land the big guy, Wieland’s outstanding pitching this season could be the reason why.

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Texas Rangers Are Big Winners on International Signing Day

The Texas Rangers farm system got the power outfield bats it had lacked in the form of Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman. The Dominican outfielders signed with the Rangers Saturday on the opening day of the international signing period.

Mazara, 16, set the record for largest signing bonus by an international free agent at $5 million trumping the $4.25 million that Oakland gave Michael Ynoa in 2008. He is said to be the best power prospect out of Latin America since Miguel Cabrera…pretty high praise.

Jason Parks, a writer for Baseball Prospectus, said Mazara has “gargantuan power potential.”

Guzman, also 16, throws and bats left handed and projects to left field due to his below-average speed and arm. But what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for with his bat.

Parks also said, “Just spoke to a scout who said Ronald Guzman was the top positional talent available in LA (Latin America), with plus hit/power potential. No brainer.”

Guzman was also said to be the Boston Red Sox top target on the market. As a Rangers fan, it feels pretty nice being able to outbid teams like the Red Sox, and it just goes to show that this organization will do whatever is needed to acquire top talent.

When the Rangers passed on Dallas-area prep star Josh Bell, many wondered why the Rangers were shying away from the best talent on the board. If anyone had a chance to lure him away from college, it would have been the hometown Rangers, many thought.

Apparently Jon Daniels knew what he was doing. The money that would’ve been allotted to one 18-year-old was instead given to two 16-year-olds.

With just two signings the Rangers farm system has finally restocked legitimate power bats that have been absent since the departure of Justin Smoak last July.

Add Engel Beltre, Leonys Martin and Zach Cone, the supplemental-round pick out of the University of Georgia, and the Rangers have essentially turned a weakness into a strength in a relatively short time.

A farm system already loaded with talent got much better Saturday, but only time will tell what the future holds for Mazara, Guzman and the entire Rangers organization.

One last quote from Jason Parks:

“The system is getting stupid with talent.”

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Texas Rangers: How to Fix the Bullpen Without Trades

It’s that time of year again. With the draft firmly in the rear view mirror, the Texas Rangers now turn their attention to players that can help them win now via trades. Last year it was Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina who were acquired before the deadline and helped the Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Who will it be this year?

The general consensus is that they will look to acquire some bullpen help and have been linked to names like Heath Bell, Mike Adams and Joakim Soria. If they could acquire one of these three there is no doubt that it would greatly improve the pen—but what if they can’t?

Do they acquire another old, journeyman reliever to add to their growing stable of old, journeyman relievers?

Or what about a reliever with a good history who is just having an off year?

Or what about staying put?

Not the most popular choice, but staying put could be the best alternative to not landing the big names. Look at these credentials of players currently in the minor league system:

  • Cy Young winner
  • Former 17-game winner and opening day starter
  • .647 winning percentage
  • No. 2 prospect in Rangers system with 97 mph fastball

The Cy Young winner of course is Brandon Webb who signed with the Rangers in the offseason to help make up for the loss of Cliff Lee. He has not pitched since 2009 because of injuries and is more suited for the bullpen to help relieve stress on his arm. His velocity is down but Yoshinori Tateyama has proved you don’t need to hit 95 on the radar gun to be effective.

The 17-game winner is Scott Feldman who had microfracture surgery on his right knee after the end of the last season. He has the stuff to be a reliable bullpen guy and actually has the experience of being a closer early in his career. He is fresh off of a 5-inning, no-hit game at Triple-A Round Rock.

The .647 winning percentage is property of Tommy Hunter. The team’s No. 4 starter in the playoffs last year has been recovering from a groin strain that propelled Alexi Ogando in the starting rotation. Hunter has probably lost his starting job and is a proven arm that could be a long reliever for the stretch run.

The prospect is Tanner Scheppers. The oft-injured Scheppers has just been activated off of the DL and has the power arm that you want shutting down batters in the eighth inning. The Rangers’ organization can’t make up its mind if Scheppers will start or pitch in relief in the future, but he could be this year’s Alexi Ogando in the pen.

There’s also Darren O’Day who has been injured the majority of the season and Neil Ramirez who is pitching well at Triple-A.

If the Rangers have an opportunity to land a Bell, Soria or Adams they should jump on it. But if not, they have proven arms in their systems that can help them regain their playoff form once they become healthy.

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Jon Daniels’ Trade History: How the 2010 Texas Rangers Became AL Champions

On October 4, 2005, the 2010 Texas Rangers took steps to becoming the first team in franchise history to win a playoff series.

Tack onto that another playoff series win, advancing to the World Series for the first time in franchise history and instilling a long-lost hope for baseball in North Texas.

This is the day that general manager John Hart stepped down from his position, leaving 28-year old Jon Daniels in charge of a team that had not reached the playoffs since 1999.

Daniels was given a team with arguably the most talented young infield in the game in  Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and Hank Blalock.

However, only one of these promising players was on the Rangers World Series roster in 2010.

Let’s take a look at how Jon Daniels’ trade success (and failure) led to a team that came out of nowhere to capture the imaginations of fans across the country.


The Alfonso Soriano Trade

Days after being handed the team, Daniels made his first big trade as GM. It was also one of his worst. Daniels shipped off Soriano to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Brad Wilkerson, outfielder Termell Sledge and pitcher Armando Galarraga.

Wilkerson’s time in Texas was incredibly unfulfilling, leaving Texas after two years with a batting average for the Rangers of .228 while playing in only 214 games out of a possible 324.

Sledge is most remembered in Texas as being involved in another bad Daniels trade, one we’ll discuss later.

Armando Galarraga, unlike Sledge, did find success in the majors, throwing a near perfect game in the summer of 2010—for the Detroit Tigers. Galarraga finished his career in Texas with a 6.23 ERA and was traded to Detroit in 2008 for Michael Hernandez.

All Soriano did for the Nationals was hit 46 home runs while also stealing 41 bases, finishing third in the MVP balloting.

He then went onto a good career as a Chicago Cub being of the select few that can combine plus power and plus speed.

Strike out.


The Adrian Gonzalez Trade

Texas Rangers fans have played the “what if” scenarios over and over again in their heads over this one. A month after the Soriano trade, Daniels got the itch again and dealt the incredibly talented first base prospect Adrian Gonzalez to San Diego along with starting pitcher Chris Young and the aforementioned Termell Sledge. Texas received in return (get ready to cringe) starting pitcher Adam Eaton, relief pitcher Akinori Otsuka and Billy Killian.

Adam Eaton had a career ERA of 4.34 with the Padres, never winning more than 11 games in a season before being sent to Texas. As a Ranger he made 13 starts with a 5.12 ERA, leaving after the season.

Billy Killian has been a career minor leaguer for the Rangers, White Sox and Orioles.

The one success from this trade for the Rangers was Otsuka. Otsuka pitched for the Rangers for two seasons, recording 36 saves and owning a miniscule 2.25 ERA. He has not pitched in the majors since 2007.

On the other hand, San Diego found success in Young, who won 33 games over five years, owning an ERA of 3.60.

What happened to Gonzalez? He is now considered one of the best all-around first basemen in the game. He mans first for the Boston Red Sox and has hit over 32 homeruns four of the past five seasons while also hitting for a high average.

Swing and Miss.


The Nelson Cruz Trade

The trade that started to turn things around for the Daniels administration occurred in July of 2006. The Rangers acquired Nelson Cruz, the starting right fielder for their World Series run. Yet Cruz was not the acquisition ranger fans were most excited about.

On July 28, and in the thick of a playoff push, Daniels pulled the trigger on a deal that would send Francisco Cordero, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench and Julian Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cruz and highly sought-after Carlos Lee.

Lee was expected to come in and lead the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

It was not to be, and Lee bolted south after the season to the Houston Astros. The trade appeared to be destined for disaster early.

After a few years of struggling between AAA Oklahoma City and the big league club, however, Nelson Cruz finally put together all the pieces to his enormous potential at the end of the 2008 season.

He then became an All-Star in 2009 and carried that over into the rangers’ memorable 2010 run. Cruz batted in the heart of a potent Rangers offense and delivered time and time again, with the numbers to back him up.

Although not apparent at first, the Cruz trade contributed overall to the Rangers’ incredible run about as much—if not more—than the next few (higher profile) trades.


The Mark Teixeira Trade

This trade, at the end of Daniels’ career, will be the one he is most remembered for. On July 31, 2007, amidst high speculation, Daniels traded superstar Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay to the Atlanta Braves for a group headlined by Jarrod Saltalamacchia signaling to Ranger fans that the team was in full-on rebuilding mode.

Teixeira’s career, before and after the trade, has been one that makes you wonder whether the trade was a success or an epic failure. Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, All-Star appearances, and a bevy of other awards are those owned by Teixeira.

Why trade arguably the best young hitter and defender in baseball at his position for any amount of prospects. The stats show that many high profile prospects fizzle out in the pros and never amount to anything.

Daniels knew that the entire organization needed an overhaul, and the chance to acquire five top prospects for Teixeira was a risk that needed to be taken. If just two of the prospects flourish in the majors, you can count the trade a success. So who was it going to be to succeed and make Daniels look like a genius?

Saltalamacchia? The centerpiece of the deal? If you had to put your money on someone to be the superstar, it would probably be the one that gets the most recognition at the time of the trade.

Well, Salty’s career has been nothing short of disappointing; he has failed to live up to the hype. As a Ranger, he owned a .243 batting average with 19 homers over four seasons. He is now currently residing on the Boston Red Sox roster.

Beau Jones hasn’t seen the majors since the trade and is currently playing for the Rangers AAA affiliate in Round Rock.

Matt Harrison was a highly touted Braves’ prospect at the time of the trade and has had an up-and-down career. He is the Rangers’ No. 3 starter and started the 2011 season 3-0 while going at least seven innings and not allowing more than one run a game.

Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus were both just 18 at the time of the trade—Feliz, a rookie-level right handed fireballer, and Andrus, a shortstop in High-A ball. These names, just prospects at the time, have turned into the crown jewels of the trade.

Andrus was ranked by Baseball America as being the Braves No. 2 overall prospect before the trade and was heralded as a possible Gold Glove defender. Jamey Newberg, noted blogger for the Rangers, made this comparison between Andrus and floundering Rangers prospect at the time Joaquin Arias:

“Andrus shows the plus range, plus arm, and fluid hands that Arias has always shown, not to mention the athleticism and promise of offensive productivity as his body matures. He exhibits an advanced ability to use the entire field with the bat, his walk rates are unusually good, and he’s an instinctive player in all phases.”

While Arias, who was chosen over Robinson Cano by the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade, has failed, Andrus has fulfilled much of the promise at a very young age.

Andrus has developed into one of the more exciting players in the game with his incredible range and arm at shortstop. He gets to balls up the middle that have never been gotten to before from other Ranger shortstops. He is a Gold Glove winner waiting in the wings for the baseball community to stop their obsession with Derek Jeter.

Feliz, the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year, has fulfilled all the promise—and then some—for the Rangers. Newberg also wrote this about Feliz at the time of the trade:

“In 29 innings last year, Feliz used a mid-90s fastball that reportedly touches 98 with late life, plus a still-immature slider and change, to hold hitters to a .192 average — and no home runs — issuing 14 walks and punching out 42 hapless opponents. He was at his best down the stretch, logging 11 scoreless innings in four August appearances, scattering four hits and one walk while fanning 15 hitters. At the conclusion of the season, Baseball America judged his fastball to be the best in the entire Braves system, despite just 39 innings of work in his two pro seasons combined.”

Taken from the same article by Newberg, Baseball Prospectus said, “”This is a teenager with a lightning arm who could turn into a frontline starter or a dominant closer, but right now, he’s a teenager with a lightning arm.”

Nail on the head. Feliz has been a lights-out, shutdown closer and set-up man for Texas since his call up in 2009. He owns a .232 ERA and 47 saves while striking out over a batter an inning.

The future is bright for young Feliz, whether as a shutdown closer or future ace of the staff.


The Cliff Lee Trade

The 2010 season was unlike any other in Rangers history. Coming into the season, the Mariners were the talk of the American League West by boasting two of the best pitchers in baseball in Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, and the best defense on paper. The A’s were young and talented but still seemed a year away, and the Angels were the incumbent west champions and favorites to repeat.

The Rangers, full of young talent in Andrus and then-setup-reliever Neftali Feliz, were ready to take the next step in their rebuilding process—which began with the Teixeira trade three years prior.

Coming off a scorching hot June, The Rangers found themselves in first place in the west with a growing fan base. All of a sudden, the Rangers had gone from a cellar-dwelling franchise to a playoff contending team—seemingly over night to the rest of the baseball community.

Jon Daniels, however, was not happy with just a playoff contending team, and neither would the emerging fan base. Enter Cliff Lee.

Approaching July 9, it was all but assured that the Yankees would trade top prospect Jesus Montero—along with others—to the Mariners in exchange for Lee. But with the Mariners coveting Rangers first-base prospect Justin Smoak, Daniels and the Rangers come out of nowhere to land Lee and immediately turning the Rangers into serious World Series contenders.

Daniels sent Smoak along with pitchers Blake Beaven and Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson to the Mariners in exchange for Lee and Mark Lowe. Newberg responded to the trade with:

“That Texas landed baseball’s best left-handed pitcher, a proven big game warrior on a short list of the league’s best pitchers, period, without giving up Perez or Scheppers or Holland or Hunter or Ogando is sort of stunning. I understand that Seattle was targeting a young hitter. But I’m still having trouble getting my head wrapped around a deal for a pitcher like this where you part with a young blue-chip position player but don’t have to dip into what is a very deep top tier of your pitching prospect stable – and that’s without even considering that you had to have the Mariners put cash into the deal, something other teams wouldn’t have insisted on.”

In the future, Justin Smoak will be an All-Star for a long time as a Mariner. Everyone in the Rangers organization knew this. But when you feel you’re one piece away from competing for a title, these are the risks you take. There will be many-a-game when Rangers fans will watch Smoak trot around the bases and think about what could have been. But the goal was to reach the playoffs and win a series for the first time in franchise history.

Mission accomplished.  

Jon Daniels has overcome ugly trades early-on in his career to become one of the most talented general managers in all of baseball. Through these trades, Daniels landed Andrus, Cruz, Lee and Feliz while also making room on the roster for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

This is not a concise list of all of Daniels’ successes and failures though. 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton was not even mentioned. Nor was the inability of Daniels to pull the trigger on a trade that would have sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Rangers instead of the Red Sox.

Whether he remains in Texas or moves on to other opportunities, Daniels has engraved a winning attitude on this team and this community and will forever be remembered as the architect of the first American League champions in franchise history.

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