The Rangers showed that 2010 was no fluke, as they made a return trip to the World Series in 2011. However, the team has some key questions to address during this offseason, and Lone Star Ball's Adam J. Morris was kind enough to sit down and answer some of our questions about the team.
ON FREE AGENT C.J. WILSON:
MLBDD: One of the top free agent pitchers this offseason is the Rangers' own C.J. Wilson. Do you think he will be back in Texas for 2012, and how large do you think the contract will be, regardless of where he signs?
AJM: My guess is that C.J. is not back in 2012. The C.J. Wilson situation is fascinating…he was the best pitcher on the team in 2011, was one of the best pitchers on the team in 2010, and yet many fans act like he’s part of the problem with the Rangers. He’s a very polarizing player with the fans, and has been dating back to when he was a reliever. A lot of fans love him, but there’s a not insubstantial number of Ranger fans who view him as a "douche" and a choker, and claim to be happy he won’t be back with the team next year.
The front office appears prepared to let him walk. Their top offseason priority is Japanese starter Yu Darvish, and the indications seem to be that they’ll let C.J. explore the market, and talk to him about coming back only if they aren’t able to land Darvish. In addition, Nolan Ryan has talked about being averse to five year deals for pitchers, and was supposedly reluctant to even go to five years on Cliff Lee last offseason. With the conventional wisdom being that C.J. will get at least a five year deal, the Rangers appear okay with the idea that they’ll make a token offer, and that he’ll sign with another team this offseason.
Predicting a contract for C.J. is difficult…he’s only been a major league starter for two years, which means that he has much less of a track record than other pitchers do, but the flip side of that coin is that he has less mileage on his arm than most pitchers his age. I always end up being surprised at how much more top free agents get than I expect them to, so I’ll predict he’s going to get an amount well more than I think is reasonable – say, 6 years, $105 million.
My Thoughts: I can't say I was all that aware of the hatred amongst some of the fans, but for some reason I'm also not super surprised. I actually like C.J. Wilson, and like how engaged he tends to be on Twitter, but I can see how some may not enjoy it that much. As for the contract offer Adam predicted, that would be a crazy offer, and the first thought in my mind was that it is way too high. However, based on what we've already seen, and just how light the high-level starting pitching market is, we could see him get around that much money.
Read about Adam's thoughts about the Rangers' ability to convert relievers to starters, the deep farm system, and what moves he'd like to see the team make after the jump...
ON THE MICHAEL YOUNG NON-TRADE, 1 YEAR LATER:
MLBDD: We spent most of the previous offseason hearing rumors about a trade of Michael Young, but it never came to fruition. How valuable do you think Young was to this year's club, and do you believe the rumors will start up again this offseason?
AJM: Michael Young is an interesting case, the guy who seems to have replaced Derek Jeter as the national lightning rod for the discussion and split between statheads and traditionalists, and in particular, the split between the way sabermetric-type writers and traditional beat writers view the baseball world.
Young was a very valuable member of the 2011 Rangers team. I don’t think he should be "in the discussion" for league MVP, nor do I think he’s the team MVP – that would be Ian Kinsler – but he was one of the four to six guys on the team who contributed the most on the field. And of course, on top of that, he is considered a tremendous team leader and clubhouse guy.
Might there be rumors about Young being traded this offseason? Sure. I suspect there will be rumors about just about everyone at some point this offseason. But Young has 10/5 rights now, which means that he can veto any trade, and that makes it much harder to deal him. Moreover, the Rangers don’t seem to have the same level of motivation right now to move him as they did early in the previous offseason.
My Thoughts: The team really benefitted from the flexibility that Young provided during the 2011 season, and given his 10/5 rights, he seems extremely unlikely to be moved, regardless of what rumors may come.
ON CONVERTING RELIEVERS TO STARTERS:
MLBDD: The organization appears to have figured out a viable way to convert relievers into starting pitchers. (Wilson, Alexi Ogando as examples). It has been rumored that the team is contemplating taking this route with Neftali Feliz again this offseason as well. Do you think they will be able to convert him to a valuable starting pitcher, and do you think this is the right route for Feliz?
AJM: Wilson, Ogando and Feliz represent three situations which have significant differences. Wilson was a starter coming up through the minor leagues, who ended up pitching out of the bullpen in the majors (after a couple of terrible starts when he first came up). Wilson was still working his way back from injury when he first made the majors, and thus couldn’t handle 6-7 innings every five days as a starter, but then-pitching coach Orel Hershiser loved his stuff and wanted to utilize him in the majors, so he got slotted in the pen. Nevertheless, Wilson had a starter’s repertoire even as a reliever, and was consistently vocal about wanting a chance to start, resulting in him getting a shot in 2010.
Alexi Ogando is a much more unconventional success story. He is a converted outfielder who was moved to the mound because he couldn’t hit much but could throw hard, and he has primarily been a two-pitch pitcher. Per FanGraphs, 95.1% of his pitches in both 2010 and 2011 were fastballs or sliders, and you generally don’t expect to have success as a starter with just two pitches. In addition, his mechanics are such that some folks don’t believe his body can handle a starter’s workload. That said, Ogando transitioned to the rotation successfully in 2011 (albeit only because Tommy Hunter, who had won a spot in the rotation, got hurt late in spring training and had to be replaced), although he faded late in the season…his future as a starter is, I think, still up in the air.
Neftali Feliz, on the other hand, is a guy who started coming up through the minor leagues, but was still getting the feel for his third pitch when he made his major league debut. The Rangers moved him to the bullpen while he was still in the minors in 2009, not because they gave up on him as a starter, because the team was in contention and the front office felt that he could contribute immediately as a reliever. Feliz has excelled as a reliever, and unlikely Wilson, he’s been lukewarm about the idea of moving back to the rotation. In addition, there’s still some question as to whether his offspeed stuff will develop to the point he can get guys out the third time through the order. All that being said, I’d like the Rangers to put Feliz in the rotation in 2012, and leave him as a starter until he proves he can’t handle it.
My Thoughts: I was honestly not aware that Wilson had been a starter in the minors, so maybe some of that credit is a bit overdone for his conversion. I honestly could see the team converting Feliz this offseason, as they have both Koji Uehara and Mike Adams under team control for 2012. Both of those pitchers could potentially fill the closer's role, or they could go out and get one via free agency or trade as well.
ON THE FARM SYSTEM:
MLBDD: In addition to success at the Major League level, the Rangers also have a very deep farm system. Are there any specific prospects you think could really be special Major Leaguers? And is there one player who was a bit under-the-rader for the National audience that you feel could really emerge in 2012?
AJM: The Rangers under Jon Daniels have made a significant organizational commitment to international scouting and development, and that is borne out by the number of high-ceiling players they have on the farm who hail from Latin America. Jurickson Profar thrust himself into the spotlight this season by having a terrific year with both the glove and the bat in A ball as an 18 year old. Profar is a shortstop right now, and while he gets great reviews for his acumen and instincts at that position, there’s some thought he could end up at second base as he climbs the ladder. Martin Perez has gotten raves for a while now, with some comparing him to Johan Santana, although that sort of hype has died down of late, with his ceiling now being seen as more of a #2 starter. Jorge Alfaro is a raw but exciting catching prospect who profiles as having two potential 70 grade tools (power and arm)…in the Northwest League, mostly populated by recent college draftees, Alfaro held his own this summer, and if he hits his ceiling, he’d likely be a perennial All Star. Then there are Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman, the big dollar signees from this past summer…the Rangers committed almost $10 million combined for these two 16 year old power hitting prospects. They are a long ways away, but have huge potential.
As far as under-the-radar prospects go, Mike Olt is worth noting…he was a supplemental first round pick in the 2010 draft, a third baseman who is viewed as a plus defender who got off to a great start in the high-A Carolina League this year before fracturing his collarbone in a home plate collision and missing a couple of months. He’s currently tearing up the AFL, though, and has won Player of the Week honors two weeks in a row, so he may not be "under the radar" anymore. Another guy to keep an eye on is reliever Matt West. West was the Rangers’ 2nd round pick in the 2007 draft out of Bellaire High School in Texas. He was picked as a shortstop, converted to third base, but, like Alexi Ogando, never really hit. He converted to pitching this year and has taken to it like a fish to water, showing an upper-90s fastball and a nasty slider. West pitched primarily in the Northwest League, but as a reliever with two impressive pitches, he could move quickly, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw him in the majors this year.
My Thoughts: The Rangers just keep reloading the farm system every year it seems like, as another player emerges from the system. This year it was Profar, who climbed into many top-10 and top-20 overall prospect lists. Mike Olt was playing very well in the Arizona Fall League as well this month, and could force an issue sooner rather than later.
ON OFFSEASON MOVES:
MLBDD: The team fell just short of a championship again in 2012, losing in Game 7 of the World Series. What move(s) would you like to see the team make for 2012 to help achieve that goal?
AJM: I don’t know that there’s any one definitive, obvious move. Darvish is a wild card. Wilson is likely gone. There’s no other legit #1 starter in the free agent market, although the Rangers have been aggressive in trade discussions the past couple of years. First base and center field are issues, although the Rangers seem willing to give Mitch Moreland another shot at first base and are looking at short-term solutions in center, with Leonys Martin expected to be ready to take over in 2013, if not before.
The bench needs a righthanded bat. The bullpen needs a lefty. Really, though, this is a good, deep, balanced team. It needs to make whatever move would be necessary for them to get that one last strike.
My Thoughts: Another starting pitcher would be a very good piece for them to acquire, and they definitely have the pieces to move to allow them to do that. The key is going to be finding a trade partner who is looking for solid prospects, as many of the ones that might be available are not ready to contribute in 2012.
Thanks again to Adam J. Morris for taking the time to answer our questions!