By Mark Miller
Yes, the manager and most of his coaching staff are the same and some key players from three straight trips to the playoffs return but the 2013 edition of the Texas Rangers still will be vastly different.
Outfielder Josh Hamilton now makes his home in Southern California. Infielder Michael Young and relief pitcher Mike Adams are Philadelphia Phillies. Catcher Mike Napoli and relief pitcher Koji Uehara are in Boston, and Scott Feldman is with the Chicago Cubs.
There’s a new hitting coach as Dave Magadan replaces Scott Coolbaugh. And there’s even a new arch-rival since the Houston Astros have left the National League to join the Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners in the American League West division.
This year’s edition of the Rangers is not just about losing three key batters and some major pieces of the bullpen. It’s the leadership, drive and fan popularity the departed leave behind and that guarantees this season will be one of change. Whether those differences make a difference will not be known for six months. But they guarantee to keep things interesting at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and points beyond.
Here’s our look at what lies ahead for your 2013 Texas Rangers.
At the Plate
When you lose players who combined for 75 home runs and 251 runs batted in as Hamilton, Napoli and Young did in 2012, they can be tough to replace. While those taking their place may not match such numbers, they do bring a different dimension.
Instead of the crowd chanting NAPO-LI, sounds of PIER-ZYN-SKI could rain over the stadium and that will not be a bad thing. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski not only knows how to hit (career-best 27 homers, career-tying 77 RBI and a .278 average in 2012), he handles pitchers well. Plus as a left-handed hitter, he’ll play more than right-hander Geovany Soto.
The infield pretty much remains the same with Mitch Moreland at first base, Ian Kinsler at second, Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Adrian Beltre at third. The only change will be Lance Berkman at designated hitter instead of Young, whose infield versatility will be missed. But if healthy, the switch-hitting Berkman offers more options at the plate.
The outfield corners, David Murphy in left and Nelson Cruz in right (assuming he’s not suspended), remain from last year. Murphy played in a career-best 147 games and his statistics (.304 average, 15 HR, 61 RBI) followed accordingly. Cruz enjoyed his first season without a trip to the disabled list, hitting .260 with 24 HRs and 90 RBI in 159 games. The big change in the outfield will be the platoon of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry in center field to replace Hamilton. While they can’t match Hamilton’s overall numbers, they can use their speed to try.
After having virtually no bench in 2012, there’s hope this season as Jeff Baker will supply a needed experienced right-handed bat. Plus he can play most infield positions and right and left fields. That’s the kind of versatility the Rangers have lacked in recent years. The rest of the bench will consist of whoever isn’t starting between Martin and Gentry, which catcher isn’t playing and either infielder Leury Garcia or outfielders Julio Borbon or Jim Adducci.
On the Mound
Between Adams, Uejara and Feldman leaving for free agency and injuries, the pitching staff will feature only about half of its 2012 members. Two players who began 2012 as starters – Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz – will begin 2013 on the disabled list. So too will reliever Joakim Soria, the former Kansas City Royals closer, and rookie left-hander Martin Perez, who went 1-4, 5.45 in 12 games last year.
That means the starting rotation will be anchored by left-hander Matt Harrison, who is coming off his career-best season with 18 wins and a 3.29 earned run average. Right-hander Yu Darvish finished 2012 strong for a 16-9 overall record and 3.90 ERA to earn the No. 2 spot. Left-hander Derek Holland (12-7, 4.67) likely will follow Darvish. Behind them will be Alexi Ogando, who returns to the rotation after being used primarily in the seventh inning last year. Nick Tepesch will more than likely be named the fifth starter. He certainly hasn’t blown anyone away with his stuff. He does possess four quality pitches and he isn’t afraid to use them.
While the departures of Adams, Uejara and Feldman guarantee three new faces in the bullpen, there actually will be another with Ogando switching roles. Joe Nathan (3-5, 2.80, 37 saves in 40 attempts) returns as closer but who comes before him may be a committee at first. Only two players with the Rangers at the close of 2012 – right-hander Tanner Scheppers and left-hander Michael Kirkman – will be among them. The rest will be a combination of free agents and non-roster players that could include right-handers Josh Lindblom and Derek Lowe and left-handers Nate Robinson and Joe Ortiz.
Once Lewis, Feliz, Soria and Perez return, figure at least some of the healthy newcomers will be gone and the Rangers will resemble their old selves a bit more.