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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 19, 2010
For the Rangers, a year of questions.
If anyone can solve the problem of how to turn the Texas Rangers into a playoff team for the first time in more than a decade maybe it's former pitcher Nolan Ryan.¬†¬† Ryan, a Hall of Fame player, was one of the great pitchers of his day, and certainly wouldn't have been intimidated in the least by the hard baked earth and heat that turns Rangers Stadium at Arlington into a hitter's paradise as summer rolls around.
That seems to be Ryan's approach with the 2010 Rangers.¬† No doubt part of that is due to budgetary constraints within the organization, but a lot more had to do with the fact that there were more cheap quality bats who could be hired, than quality pitchers who'd cost quite a bit more.
Still the Rangers spent a bit of money on pitching: $7.5 million on Rich Harden who the team hopes can match last year's high of 26 games before his inevitable stint on the DL.¬† Actually the Rangers brass would probably prefer to see Harden throw 12 games, miss the brutally hot pitcher unfriendly months of June and July and then return in August to throw 14 more gems during their playoff push.¬† But wishing is one thing, and the reality is another.
After that ace, the Rangers new pitching acquisitions included Darren Oliver, a steady reliever, and former Ranger Colby Lewis who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2007 when he posted a 6.45 ERA for Oakland.¬† That's hardly an inspiring way to start turning the pitching around in Texas.
Where the Rangers truly look to have improved over last year is offensively where a new hitting coach, a new philosophy and a few new bats have the potential to make the offense more formidable than it was last year.¬† And while the addition of Vladimir Guerrero, a lifetime .396 hitter in Arlington, should add some offensive juice to the mix, the key to the new Rangers dynasty lies in the hands of guys like Julio Borbon, Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis.
Each of those three players will play big roles for the Rangers if they succeed and not a single one of them is a lock.
Of the three Davis is perhaps the most replaceable.¬† Blessed with 40 home run power and the ability to hit for average, Davis struggled badly last season, so badly in fact that he managed fewer than 400 ABs and ended up being sent down in July when his average hovered right around .200.¬† He finished with a .238 average and 21 home runs - with most of the improvement coming in the last month of the season where he hit over .300.¬†¬† Provided he can cut down on his strikeout the Rangers would be happy with even a .250-.260 average and would be able to count on him to pick up some slack should Vlad or Josh Hamilton struggle during the season.
Julio Borbon is another creature altogether. The Rangers hope that the fleet footed Borbon can take over as the team's leadoff hitter based on his two month long audition at the end of last season.¬† If he can handle that it will allow them to drop Michael Young back a slot or four into a position where his bat can serve to drive in more runs.¬† Borbon does have the minor league pedigree for success especially when it comes to average and OBP.
But the big question for the Rangers is just what they can expect from Josh Hamilton.¬† Hamilton dazzled in 2008 going .304-32-130 to go with 98 runs scored and 9 steals, but had a rough 2009 when he struggled both with injuries and a fall off the wagon and back into substance abuse issues.¬† That demon still haunts him and could be a major factor in his career for years to come.¬† It also makes him next to impossible to predict in terms of on the field performance.
As Hamilton is both supremely talented and in the prime of his career both Ryan and the Rangers hope that 2009 was a fluke and that Hamilton can once again be one of the top hitters in the game.¬† It's a fragile hope, but one which could bear huge benefits for the team in their quest to win a division title and a playoff berth.
While it is possible that Ryan and the Rangers could make another move or two before the season starts, the roster more or less seems set despite the fragile nature of the starting staff and the glaring question marks in the lineup itself.¬† Whatever happens, the Rangers sure won't be boring - and in baseball that counts for a lot.