The original goal of my “GM for a Day” series was to focus on teams that are on the cusp of the playoffs and what moves could push them over the top. I started this with my first two, the Cubs and the Braves, but veered another direction when I attempted to start rebuilding the Pirates back towards respectability. This edition brings us back to a team who just needs a bit of a boost to make themselves a contender and we will revisit teams who need to rebuild later down the road.
The Texas Rangers exhibited a very strong offense in 2008 with very little pitching help. This wasn’t a real big surprise as that has been the story in Texas for pretty much their entire existence. When you scratch the surface and look at the breakdown, the Rangers scored 5.6 runs per game last season (the best in the AL West) and let up 6.0 runs per game (the worst in the AL West). But if you look closer, here’s win contributions breakdown:
+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+ | | OFFENSE | STARTERS | BULLPEN | DEFENSE | +------+---------+----------+---------+---------+ | WPA | 0.6 | -4.8 | 2.2 | -4.0 | +------+---------+----------+---------+---------+
As the table above shows, the Rangers defense was almost as big of a liability as the starting pitchers were. These are two big areas the Rangers need to attack heading into 2009. With a huge crop of great young players being cultivated in the minors, the Rangers need to start making strides to have a solid club behind them. They are in a very winnable American League West division with a now weakened Angels club, an improved Athletics team and a still floundering Mariners group. Here’s what I would do if given the reigns for a day:
1.) Sign Ben Sheets to a multi-year contract laced with incentives surrounding his durability.
Look, I know that Ben Sheets has an injury filled past with the Brewers. I get it. But if you look closely at his stat lines, he’s improved in the amount of games and innings pitched over the past three seasons including just a hair under 200 last season.
+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+ | YEAR | AGE | TEAM | IP | W-L | ERA | SO | WHIP | GS | +------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+ | 2006 | 27 | Brewers | 106.0 | 6-7 | 3.82 | 116 | 1.09 | 17 | | 2007 | 28 | Brewers | 141.3 | 12-5 | 3.82 | 106 | 1.24 | 24 | | 2008 | 29 | Brewers | 198.3 | 13-9 | 3.09 | 158 | 1.15 | 31 | +------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
When Sheets is healthy and in the rotation, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the game (for a scouting report I wrote on him, click here). The Rangers desperately need a true ace to head up their very questionable rotation and Sheets is just the guy to do it.
In recent years, the Rangers have tried filling their rotation by throwing their money at players that really didn’t have much chance of filling the void. Just look at the two best examples in recent memory. First there was the large contract they threw at Chan Ho Park to be their ace when he was never really any better than a number four starter with the Dodgers and ended up being horrific in Texas. Then they tried to fit Kevin Millwood into that role when he came from Atlanta where he was a number three. So Sheets is really the closest thing to a true ace as they have had in my memory. Throwing him in front of Millwood and Vicente Padilla will go a long way in helping solidify the Rangers’ staff. It won’t make them great, but it will sure help.
2.) Sign Omar Vizquel to a one-year deal and slowly introduce Elvis Andrus into the everyday role.
Yes I know the Rangers already signed Omar Vizquel to a contract, but in all honesty I suggested this a while ago (believe it or not). This makes sense on so many levels. First, Elvis Andrus is a huge piece of your future as a star at the top of your order and you want to slowly get him acclimated to the big leagues without throwing him to the wolves (after all he is currently the ripe old age of 19). Secondly, what better way than with a mentor as highly regarded as Omar Vizquel? He can teach him the ins and outs of the position which is so important for Andrus considering his defensive woes he experienced last season in AA committing a woeful 32 errors. Hopefully Vizquel can help Andrus work through these difficulties as the Rangers can’t afford to weaken their already rough defense.
If Andrus can begin to tighten up on his defense, he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star for years to come as his offensive abilities have been well established. Take a look at his stats from the past couple of seasons.
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+ | YEAR | AGE | LEVEL | AB | AVG/OBP | HR | RBI | R | SB | +------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+ | 2005 | 16 | Rookie | 184 | .293/.380 | 3 | 21 | 29 | 8 | | 2006 | 17 | Single A | 437 | .265/.324 | 3 | 50 | 67 | 23 | | 2007 | 18 | A - Plus | 495 | .257/.338 | 5 | 49 | 78 | 40 | | 2008 | 19 | Double A | 482 | .295/.350 | 4 | 65 | 82 | 54 | +------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+
As you can see Andrus has made significant strides towards becoming a more well rounded hitter. His improvement in batting average and on-base percentage is the most notable as these are such important categories for a top of the order hitter. His increase in OBP translated to more stolen bases attempts for the speedster which the Rangers will really love in front of their sluggers. Andrus is just the tip of the iceberg for the fantastic group of prospects the Rangers have coming up through their system.
3.) Trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia (and prospect) to the Boston Red Sox for Clay Buchholz.
Sure having an excess of talented young catchers that you project to be solid offensive weapons is nice, but the Rangers have a log jam of them with Taylor Teagarden, Max Ramiez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Despite being the shiny piece that came back in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves back in the 2006 season, I think Salty is the best of the group to move on. And the best fit is definitely the Boston Red Sox. This is especially the case if they don’t come to terms with Jason Varitek before the season starts. You don’t expect the Red Sox to start the season with Josh Bard as their starting catcher, do you?
I know some of you are questioning the Clay Buchholz portion of the trade as they have been so adamant about not trading him in the past. But with a slew of starting pitchers on the Sox roster heading into next year (Buchholz projects as a number 7 or 8 starter at this point) and a solid group of young pitchers who will be left out in the cold, the Sox need to make a move. Plus they were willing to ship him off to Florida last month in a package for their former prospect Hanley Ramirez (which was shot down after 10 seconds). So at least he isn’t marked “untouchable.” Buchholz would make a nice number four or five starter for the Rangers and would help bridge the gap until their super pitching prospects Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland are ready. We’d be looking at a solid, young staff heading into the next decade.
4.) Sign free agent Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $2 million contract.
If the Rangers are going to be serious about winning the AL West, they are going to need a deep bench and a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse. Cliff Floyd provided both of those things for the young Rays team that took the world by storm last season and he could be a key ingredient for the Rangers in 2009. He can also serve as a reliable back-up for DH Hank Blalock who has been limited to only 123 games combined over the past two seasons. It is these types of seemingly insignificant acquisitions that can make all the difference in a tight race over 162 games.
So with these additions to the bench and rotation, here is how the Rangers team would look heading into next season:
1.) Elvis Andrus, SS
2.) Michael Young, 3B
3.) Ian Kinsler, 2B
4.) Josh Hamilton, CF
5.) Chris Davis, 1B
6.) David Murphy, LF
7.) Hank Blalock/Cliff Floyd, DH
8.) Nelson Cruz, RF
9.) Taylor Teagarden, C
Ben Sheets, RHP
Kevin Millwood, RHP
Vicente Padilla, RHP
Matt Harrison, LHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP
Looking at that lineup and that starting rotation, it makes me feel a lot better about the Rangers chances to take the AL West. We all knew the Rangers had the offense to hang with anyone in the league so there wasn’t much reason to fix what wasn’t broken. Other than adding Floyd to deepen the bench (which is already fairly strong), the only thing that needed fixing was the rotation. Signing Sheets gives them an ace and trading for Buchholz gives them depth and a solid young arm for years to come at the expense of a position they are already extremely deep at.
While I’d like to add another pitcher from somewhere (via trade or free agency – Andy Pettitte if you really want to throw some money around) I think this is enough to start with. Hopefully they will be in position to be buyers at the trade deadline and can add an extra arm (Paul Byrd?) if needed.
The time is now to strike in the American League West as the former kings of the division have some major weaknesses that can be taken advantage of. And the Rangers are just the team to do it if they can just correct some issues that have plagued them for decades.