Does the win-loss total at the end of a season really tell the full story of a team? Last season, the Texas Rangers wound up with 88 wins; good enough for first in the AL West.
In April, the Rangers started off with a 7-14 record. When the calendar turned over, they were dead last in the division and 8.5 games back of the first-place Houston Astros.
By the end of May, the Rangers had put together some wins and sat above .500 and in third-place with a 26-25 record. Two months later, at the end of July, the team had basically stagnated, and sat at 50-52, four games up on the Seattle Mariners for third-place.
The Rangers then made a trade for a player that would play every fifth day -- and in only 12 total games down the stretch. From then on, the team was red-hot and went 38-22 and clinched the division. When the Rangers acquired Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman from the Philadelphia Phillies, most reaction was that Hamels was a controllable asset that would help the Rangers for future contention. Not many people expected the Rangers to improve so drastically down the stretch.
There's a lot to parse in the Rangers 88-win season. They were terrible for one month, pretty average for three months, and the second-best team in baseball for the last two. Who were the real Rangers? And did they have a good enough offseason to repeat on the successes and overlook the failures?
The Rangers made only one trade of any notoriety, by shipping Leonys Martin to the division-rival Mariners. If there's one spot the Rangers seem shallow, it might be in the outfield, however, with Delino DeShields patrolling centerfield, Martin was somewhat expendable.
By packaging Martin up with Anthony Bass, the Rangers acquired reliever Tom Wilhemsen and fourth- or perhaps fifth-outfielder James Jones.
With a bullpen that includes Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson, and Diekman, the Rangers added to depth and strength by acquiring Wilhemsen. The off-again-on-again closer had a resurgent year in 2015, posting his best FIP since 2012.
Jones on the other hand was a once-touted outfield prospect who converted from pitching. While he has shown some good acumen at the dish in the minors, he's struggled in his 359 major league plate appearances.
The Free Agents
The Rangers stayed pretty quiet in the free agent market as well, adding only two players of note to major-league deals.
Justin Ruggiano will likely end up being the fourth- or fifth-outfielder that the Rangers call upon the most. A very low-risk opportunity at one-year, $1.65 million, Ruggiano would have been a nice bench addition for any team looking for a lefty-masher. In very limited work last year, Ruggiano was abysmal against right-handed pitching though. And even though he hits well against left-handed pitching, he still strikes out quite a bit.
By waiting out the offseason though, the Rangers made on of the savvier moves of the winter. The shortstop Ian Desmond will be patrolling left field for them next season.
On a one-year, $8 million deal, Desmond was the final casualty of the qualifying offer system. While hindsight is 20/20 and he maybe should have taken his $15.8 million offer from the Washington Nationals, the Rangers could certainly benefit.
While converting a shortstop to a left fielder has a bit of a stigma around it due to Hanley Ramirez last season, that's mostly just recency bias. Perhaps moving Desmond away from shortstop will neglect some of his defensive value. However, if he can return to his 2012-14 form at the plate, it won't make much difference. Furthermore, Desmond will likely only stay in the outfield so long as there isn't an injury in the infield.
With the oft-injured Josh Hamilton already slated to miss Opening Day, it seems both of these free agent signings were tailored to deal with this eventuality. The Rangers seem aware that keeping Hamilton off the field is the key to maximizing his time in the lineup.
Reasons to worry
The Rangers seem adequately stocked at every position except for catcher. The tandem of Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez appears to be one of the worst in baseball. In fact, Chirinos is providing negative defensive value by Baseball Prospectus' metric that factors in framing.
Eleven months ago, this team was really bad. The pessimist doesn't have to look that hard for reasons the 2016 season could go awry.
Reason for hope
Most notably, Yu Darvish is expected to return from Tommy John surgery. Despite not being expected to return until mid-May, Darvish could still represent a three-win addition.
Furthermore, the well of prospects is still very nicely stocked if the Rangers feel the need to make yet another trade deadline blockbuster. And, if they don't, Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara may be called upon for spots on the major league roster regardless.
The batting lineup appears to be one of the best at scoring runs in the league. Projected to fall behind only the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Astros, the Rangers offense is formidable. With a great showing from Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo last season, the offense shouldn't be on anyone's worries. If the key pieces stay on the field, it could more than make up for a somewhat dubious-looking back-end of the rotation.
While a winning percentage of .633 to end the season shouldn't be expected in 2016, it should certainly give Rangers fans hope for continued success.