Normally when you trade a large chunk of your better prospects for a star-level player at baseball's July 31 trade deadline, it's just with the current season in mind. That's why no one really understood why the Texas Rangers sent five prospects (and pitcher Matt Harrison's contract) to the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels at last year's deadline. Nothing wrong with getting Hamels as he was on a long-term deal, but why not wait until the offseason when the price might be a bit lower? After all, Texas was 50-52 last July 31 and seven games out of the AL West lead. Remember, too, that ace pitcher Yu Darvish was out for the season.
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Clearly GM Jon Daniels knows what he's doing. Thanks in part to that Hamels deal, the Rangers exploded in the second half of the 2015 season and won the division with an 88-74 mark. Texas took a 2-0 lead in the ALDS against the heavily favored Blue Jays, winning those two in Toronto. However, the Rangers dropped both at home and Game 5 back in Toronto thanks in part to one of the wildest innings in baseball history (the seventh).
Still, it was a hugely-successful season when not a whole lot was expected after Darvish went down in the spring with an elbow injury. First-year manager Jeff Banister was named the AL Manger of the Year and rewarded with a contract extension. And now that Hamels is in place, Texas could have a killer top of the rotation once Darvish is back.
Texas opens the season April 4 at home vs. Seattle.
Rangers 2016 Projected Lineup
The team was very quiet this offseason in terms of adding a potential every-day piece until the Rangers signed former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond to a one-year, $8 million deal on Monday. That's a terrific low-risk, high-reward deal for Texas. Desmond was languishing on the market because he was tied to draft pick compensation. He was offered about a $110 million extension by Washington entering last season. He hit 24 homers and knocked in 91 in 2014 and won three Silver Slugger Awards at shortstop overall. True, Desmond struggled for much of 2015, batting .233 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs. He also made a National League-high 27 errors. Desmond won't play short in Texas but will move to left field because the projected starter there, Josh Hamilton, is hurt again. He might be back in May, but it's pretty clear at this point Hamilton's days as a full-time player are over. The Rangers can't hide him at DH because they have Prince Fielder there.
Center fielder Delino DeShields (.261, 25 steals) is the leadoff hitter. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (.276, 22 HRs, 82 RBIs), who had a nice bounce-back season in 2015, bats second. Then comes Fielder, who was last year's AL Comeback Player of the Year. After playing just 42 games in 2014 and having neck surgery, Fielder played 158 games in 2015 and hit.305 with 23 homers and 98 RBIs. Fielder finished in the Top 10 in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, games played and RBIs.
Fielder is followed in the lineup by third baseman Adrian Beltre (.287, 18 HRs, 83 RBIs), who shows little sign of slowing down even though he will be 37 early next month. Desmond is potential injury insurance at third as well. Underrated Mitch Moreland (.278, 18 HRs, 83 RBIs) bats fifth, followed by Desmond or perhaps Hamilton if they platoon at some point, shortstop Elvis Andrus (.258 62 RBIs), one of the most overpaid players in the majors, rising star Rougned Odor (.261, 16 HRs, 61RBIs) at second and Robinson Chirinos behind the plate.
If Beltre or a corner outfielder gets hurt, the Rangers can call up top slugging prospect Joey Gallo. He got a cup of coffee in the majors last season and showed his prodigious power but also the fact he strikes out a ton. Texas finished third in MLB in runs last season and should be a Top 5 team again -- especially with 81 games in that jetstream that is Globe Life Park in Arlington in the dog days of summer.
Rangers 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
The big loss from the rotation is righty Yovani Gallardo, who was very solid with a 13-11 record and 3.42 ERA 184 1/3 innings en route to 4.1 Wins Above Replacement in 2015. He recently signed with Baltimore.
The Rangers' success largely hinges on Darvish's return from Tommy John surgery. He's simply a true ace and was an All-Star his first three seasons. Darvish has been throwing without pain in spring camp but not at full bore yet. After all, the guy hasn't pitched in a major-league game since Aug. 9, 2014. Don't look for Darvish before mid-May at the earliest.
Hamels was 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA after coming over from Philadelphia, and he has proven as durable and consistent as any pitcher in baseball. You know what you will get from him: around 15 wins, a mid-3.00 ERA (in the better-hitting AL), 200-some strikeouts and 200-some innings. Fellow lefty Derek Holland has made just 15 starts the past two seasons because of major surgery of his own but appears 100 percent now. He's terrific when healthy. Colby Lewis (17-9, 4.66), clearly a beneficiary of some good run support last year, Martin Perez (3-6, 4.46) and Nick Martinez (7-7, 3.96) round out the rotation.
Closer Shawn Tolleson had 35 saves in 37 chances last season with a 2.99 ERA.
That's not a pitching staff I believe makes the playoffs unless Darvish is back healthy and to previous form come summer.
Rangers Futures Odds & 2015 Trends
At BetOnline , Texas is +2000 to win its first World Series, +900 to win the AL pennant, +400 to repeat in the AL West and has an "over/under" wins total of 83.5, with both options at -115. Fielder is +8000 to lead the majors in homers. Hamels is +2000 to win the Cy Young. The Rangers were 96-66 against the spread last season and 72-80-10 O/U.
Rangers 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Texas to finish 80-82 and fourth in the AL West, seven games behind first-place Houston. I tend to agree for the most part. You see every year one team get hot after the All-Star break to reach the playoffs then fall back to expected levels the next season. Texas does have the budget to make a big trade if necessary. But go under those wins as the AL West will be very tough.
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