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November 4, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Texas Rangers

by Christina Kahrl, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Texas Rangers—losers of the World Series, four games to one—goodbye.

The overview

After reaching the World Series for the first time in Rangers history, they were shut down by the extraordinary pitching of the San Francisco Giants; the 3-4-5 spots in the Texas lineup batted a combined .130, and the Rangers mustered only as many hits (29) in the five-game series as the Giants scored runs. Cliff Lee, who had been so spectacular in the first two rounds of the playoffs, lost both of his starts.

In the midst of a season in which the ownership of the club was debated in bankruptcy court, the excellent player development work of general manager Jon Daniels and his staff manifested itself during the regular season. Elvis Andrus, the Rangers' shortstop, was acquired in the Mark Teixeira trade, as was Neftali Feliz, who set a record for most saves by a rookie. Josh Hamilton, who was acquired for young pitcher Edinson Volquez, became the best player in the American League. The Rangers were able to out-bid the Yankees for Lee because they had drafted and developed first baseman Justin Smoak. And for the first time in its history, Texas had real pitching depth; even when Scott Feldman struggled, the likes of C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter stepped up.

With the team's ownership question now settled, the Rangers should be able to increase their payroll—and they'll need to if they are to follow through and sign Lee, as they would like to do. If they are unable to outbid the Yankees for Lee, they will have a major hole in their rotation. If they don't choose to retain slugger Vladimir Guerrero, they will need to identify another consistent hitter to bat behind Hamilton in the batting order. And Texas does have one major organizational hole, at catcher. But even with all that said, the Rangers should go into next year as the favorite to repeat as AL West champions.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: A pair of big off-season risks in the rotation came up aces, as Daniels' decision to re-import Colby Lewis from the Japanese leagues and to convert Wilson, a sometime closer, into a starting pitcher gave Texas its top two starters. It was those risks that provided the platform for subsequently going for it and grabbing Lee, a concert of decisions gone good that won the franchise's first two post-season series and propelled it into the World Series. Fitting neatly with that was the continuing development of the Rangers' defense (see below). And the decision to throw a one-year deal at Guerrero provided the Rangers' lineup with a cleanup hitter who helped keep Hamilton, a MVP candidate, from receiving intentional passes at a Pujolsian clip. Hamilton led the AL in True Average with a .346 mark, and both finished among the top 10 in OBI percentage in the majors, with Hamilton plating 19.4 percent of his baserunners to Vladi's 18.8 percent.

What went wrong: For a team that just won a pennant, quite a bit. So while the Giants are doing a victory lap and getting credit for their ability to adapt and overcome, spread some of that love the Rangers' way, because they had plenty of obstacles to overcome. Remember when Rich Harden was supposed to be part of the answer in the rotation, or how Feldman was one of the Rangers' starting stalwarts? Well, not so much. You probably can't overstate the damage losing Frank Francisco did to that bullpen, because whatever it achieved in the aggregate on the season didn't add up to much when they were short their best right-handed set-up man. Remember that when talking about all those late-game meltdowns in the postseason that Ron Washington presided over, because one of his best weapons was on the shelf, and it showed. Oh, and remember when the Rangers had all the young catchers everybody wanted? Well, for everyone wondering why Bengie Molina was squatting on the national stage, let's just say that didn't quite turn out the way people expected, as Taylor Teagarden's weak bat and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's fragility and receiving skills just didn't add up to an answer.

The key number: 2.16. That's the Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of the Rangers in 2010, good enough to make them the best collection of defenders in the major leagues. That represented an improvement from their fifth-place finish in 2009—when they had installed Elvis Andrus at shortstop—and makes for a vast improvement from their 29th-place finish with the leather in 2008. With middle infielders Andrus and Ian Kinsler and with Julio Borbon and Hamilton to choose from in center field, the club's strength up the middle is especially noteworthy—and should remain a factor for their ongoing success, however their 2011 rotation shakes out.

What won't happen again: Tommy Hunter starting a World Series game. Until he develops a reliable off-speed pitch that big-league hitters will chase, it seems hard to expect the big man to be part of the rotation's long-term picture, and with a full run's worth of difference between his actual ERA and his Skill-Interactive ERA, you can understand where the doubters are coming from. Even with that Rangers defense to thank for a .259 batting average on balls in play, his 12.7 percent strikeout rate suggests he's fooling very few people most of the time. With those sorts of factors counting against him, it's going to be extremely hard for him to sustain that record on balls in play, not to mention his 2011 pitching lines.—Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

All about Lee: With the Rangers competing with the Yankees for Lee's services this winter, Daniels and team president Nolan Ryan must have a contingency plan, because, after all, if the Steinbrenners want to grossly outbid the Rangers, they can and will. But Texas' rotation will need a significant makeover without Lee as its anchor; one potential alternative could be Kansas City right-hander Zack Greinke. The Rangers have tons of young talent that could entice the Royals to trade the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, including left-hander Derek Holland and a number of prospects. Even if the Rangers retain Lee, Daniels could seek improvements to the middle of the rotation and may find the likes of Jorge De La Rosa a fit behind Lewis and Wilson, but adding a pitcher of that caliber could depend on how much payroll flexibility the club possesses, and whether Lee—who will undoubtedly receive a gigantic contract—returns next season. Other free-agent pitchers that may intrigue the Rangers include Carl Pavano and Brad Penny, but don't expect them to show interest in Chris Young, whom the club dealt to San Diego before the 2006 season; they reportedly weren't impressed with his approach or work ethic.

Roster tweaks: The Rangers' offense struggled as a unit during the World Series, which could mean a bit of a makeover may be in order. Mitch Moreland could return as the regular at first base after showing well in the postseason, however with Guerrero's $9 million option declined, the Rangers may lean toward veteran DH Jim Thome—or at least a cheaper option. Molina may retire, which brings the Rangers back to square one at catcher, and could mean Daniels seeks another veteran such as free agent A.J. Pierzynski. If the Rangers think about a trade, the Los Angeles Dodgers may be persuaded to part with Russell Martin, who is due a significant raise via arbitration this offseason. Lance Berkman and Derrek Lee could be targets for the first-base gig, and the lack of bullpen depth is sure to be addressed over the winter.—Jason A. Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

One is forced to wonder whether Tanner Scheppers could have been another power arm out of the bullpen this year. A supplemental first-round pick in 2009, Scheppers was a dominant force in short stints early in the year, striking out 46 batters in 30 relief innings while allowing just 16 hits, but then the Rangers decided to move him to the rotation, and the results were disastrous. Not only did he fail as a starter; he continued to scuffle after returning to relief work. Still in possession of an upper-90s fastball and plus power curve, Scheppers has the stuff to get back on track, and while he might even close on most teams, for now he'll likely end up setting up Feliz.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Texas Rangers,  Rangers,  The Who

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