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AL West Preview: Texas Rangers

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The defending division champions had a lot go right for them last year. The same will need to be true this year to stay on top of the AL West.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

At a glance:

Rangers (2015)

Batting (wRC+)

96 (12th in AL)

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

20.8 (4th)

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (10th)

Bullpen (FIP-)

103 (9th)

Despite getting below average results in four of the categories above, the Rangers somehow managed to win the American League West in dramatic fashion last year. They were below .500 at the end of July and their deadline acquisition of Cole Hamels looked like it was an investment for 2016. Then they won almost two out of every three games they played in the last two months of the season and barely squeaked by the stumbling Astros and Angels. Yes, they certainly outplayed their meager +18 run differential, but like the Royals in 2014, they simply got hot at exactly the right time.

Key Additions:

Key Losses:

OF/SS Ian Desmond

OF Leonys Martin

OF Justin Ruggiano

1B Mike Napoli

RHP Tom Wilhelmsen

RHP Yovani Gallardo

Faced with just a few holes on their roster, the Rangers made a few moves to bolster their existing core. The emergence of Delino Deshields made Martin expendable, allowing them to add to their already dangerous bullpen. Their biggest acquisition was a surprise to many. After rejecting the Nationals' qualifying offer and seeing his market dry up, Ian Desmond signed a one-year contract to play left field for the Rangers. He’s never played outfield in his professional career and the reports out of spring training have been mixed. He’s athletic enough to thrive in the outfield, it’s just a matter of getting the feel for the position and adjusting to the different sight lines.

Projected Lineup

C Robinson Chirinos
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Ian Desmond
CF Delino Deshields
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Prince Fielder

The Rangers scored the third-most runs in baseball last year with major contributions from their most expensive players, Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. That’s important because those two players are owed $222 million between them over the next five years. Adrian Beltre will be 37-years-old come opening day and he took a step back offensively last year, but he should continue to add to his Hall of Fame résumé.

The scariest thing about the Rangers is their farm system that is stacked with prospects who are close to contributing at the major league level. Delino Deshields had a great year in the majors after making the jump from Double-A, but he isn’t an elite defender in center and will have to prove that the offensive growth he saw last year is sustainable. If Deshields or Desmond falter, the Rangers have not one but two outfielders in Baseball Prospectus’s top 15 prospects, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson. Did you notice the third Ranger in the top 15? The Rangers don’t have a home for Joey Gallo either but his 80-grade power is knocking on the door too. Oh yeah, do you remember Jurickson Profar, the consensus top prospect whose career was derailed by injuries? He’s finally recovered from shoulder surgery and is looking to crack the roster in spring training.

Projected Rotation

LHP Cole Hamels
LHP Martin Perez
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Colby Lewis
RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez

The addition of Cole Hamels may have been the sharpest move made at the trade deadline. Not only did he help the Rangers push themselves into contention, he’s signed for another three years. He solidifies a rotation that has been wracked by injuries the last few years. Both Derek Holland and Martin Perez are finally healthy and both should be above average starters if they stay that way. The back end of the rotation isn’t much to look at however. The Rangers re-signed Colby Lewis to fill out the rotation while they wait for Yu Darvish to return from Tommy John surgery. Once Darvish returns, the Rangers’ rotation will be formidable, but questions of health and very little depth loom if any of their starters fall apart.

Should their rotation need assistance, the Rangers have assembled a bullpen that looks like one of the best in the American League. Shawn Tolleson will start out as their closer but he may be just the third best reliever in the bullpen. Sam Dyson and Keone Kela both have devastating arsenals and either is ready to step into the ninth inning if need be. Wilhelmsen and Jake Diekman are also around to rack up the strikeouts and provide a bridge to the late inning specialists.

* * *

FanGraphs is projecting just 80 wins for the Rangers—a game behind the Angels and tied with the Athletics for last in the West. That projection is a bit surprising for the defending division champions but the projection systems see some healthy regression for many of their veterans. Two of their starting outfielders have major questions entering the season and they aren’t getting much production out of first base or catcher either. But reinforcements are on their way. The Rangers will be paying millions to a small group of aging veterans but their stacked farm system should ensure they’ll be contenders for years to come.