Well, after a freaking month of hammering away at it, we’re just about finished the American League portion of our annual Free Agency Report. If you’ve missed the first sections of this now-legendary tome, check them out: Part I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII.
In 2008, the Rangers appeared to be making plenty of progress after a disappointing 2007 season saw them win just 75 games, but a second-half slump left the team with just 79 wins for a fourth straight losing campaign.
Even with that less than inspiring record, Texas managed to finish second in the AL West, for its highest placing since last winning the division in 1999.
Rarely will you see a club in which its strengths and weaknesses are so clearly defined as was the case with the 2008 Texas Rangers. This team led the American League in batting average, runs, slugging and OPS, but was dead last in ERA, batting average against, OPS against, WHIP and quality starts.
The O shined, led by the probably soon-to-be-departed Milton Bradley, and holdovers like Ian Kinsler, who took another big step forward, Chris Davis, who emerged as a serious power threat in a half season, and Josh Hamilton, who enjoyed a major breakthrough.
The pitching staff, however, was stuck together by snot and tape, and far too many innings were sucked up by mediocre and undeserving arms. Swingman Luis Mendoza took a major step backward this season after showing such promise in 2007; Dustin Nippert, also used in a swingman role, pitched well at Triple-A, but apparently still can’t get big leaguers out; closer C.J. Wilson had horribly shaky command before an injury ended his season and cost him his job for 2009; Kason Gabbard was hurt for a good chunk of the season, but was too hittable when he did pitch; and youngster Matt Harrison showed promise, but given his hit rates, might have been better served spending more time at Triple-A before getting thrown to the wolves.
Gee, I wonder where they’ll concentrate their efforts this offseason?
It’s actually already started, as Texas helped alleviate its crowded catching situation by dispatching Gerald Laird to the Tigers for a couple of young pitching prospects. This adds to an already impressive arsenal of young arms in the system who will soon arrive in Arlington to turn the Rangers’ fortunes around.
And it can’t happen soon enough.
In the short-term, however, the pitching staff isn’t likely to be vastly better in 2009; also of concern is the fact that the Rangers have four free agents to deal with – three of which were important parts of the 2008 club.
That’s the bad news; the good news is that with even a slight improvement in pitching, this team should erase its streak of losing seasons in 2009.
Milton Bradley, DH: Bradley stayed healthier than usual (which isn’t saying much), but he enjoyed a career year, setting a personal best in walks along the way. He was offered arbitration by the Rangers, who would like to keep him, but Bradley rejected it, opting to test the market instead. Plenty of teams are biting. KC is showing interest, Tampa Bay is looking at him, the Cubs could use a corner outfielder and may kick his tires, and the Jays are hell bent on adding Bradley because things are apparently too boring in Canada and they’re hoping he’ll spice things up, which he is wont to do from time to time.
Jason Jennings, RHP: Jennings just keeps getting shelled harder and harder and the fact that he can’t stay healthy either doesn’t exactly make him attractive from any perspective. Regardless, Texas is talking about bringing him back, but at least just on a minor league deal this time around. Boy, how happy do you think the Rockies were to deal him to Houston a couple of years ago? Jennings has been simply rancid since leaving the mountains.
Ramon Vazquez, 3B: Vazquez has played a key role off the Ranger bench the past two seasons, and after a very productive campaign in which he put up a career-best line of .290/.362/.430, could he vie for a full-time gig? Uh, maybe not. He hit .310 against righties, but just .188 against lefties. Arizona needs to replace Orlando Hudson at second base and would love to have Vazquez as the strong part of a platoon. The D-Backs have already offered him a one-year deal with a club option for a second season, but that was a while ago, and Vazquez is holding out for a two-year offer. Arizona has made an offer to Mark Loretta to be the right-handed hitting side of that platoon, and is also considering Damion Easley or perhaps Adam Kennedy, who would need to be pried out of St. Louis via trade.
Jamey Wright, RHP: Pitching out of the bullpen exclusively for the first time in his career, Wright was actually rather effective – far more so than his bloated ERA would indicate. He did a good job of limiting the long ball, improved his control and upped his strikeout rate. He won eight games and earned 17 holds, to boot. Considering his peripherals were much better than in 2007, when his ERA was a run and a half lower, I think we’re talking about some bad luck here. Texas, however, doesn’t want him back, failing to offer Wright arbitration, so it looks like we’ll find out if this workhorse reliever can bounce back elsewhere.
Next: We head north of the border (home of the good bacon…speaking of bacon, check this recipe out! Disgusting, eh? Tell me you don’t want one immediately, though) and wrap up the American League free agency outlook with a visit to Toronto.