As Spring Training winds to a close there's a lot to be excited about in Rangerland. Baseball America's recent crowning of the Rangers with the best farm system in baseball has most dreaming of a Feliz/Holland/Main rotation. Not only is the talent in the system particularly top-heavy but the depth throughout the organization is stunning. The emergence of Chris Davis as a legit Major league threat should soften the blow of Milton Bradley's departure. The franchise has a glut of quality players at the catching position and I won't even try to rehash the fantastic story that is Josh Hamilton.
The future may be bright in Arlington but what exactly should be expected in 2009? The obvious loss is Bradley, who quietly put together an MVP caliber year (.321/.436/.563) as he will now be patrolling the outfield in Wrigley (until the inevitable DL trip). The injury bug is expected over the course of the season but it can be rather frustrating when the season hasn't begun and two of the arms you counting on appear to be out for the year with rotator cuff injuries (Hurley/Benoit). That's a serious blow to a pitching staff that was awful to begin with. Even with the Rangers outstanding lineup, an ERA over 5 isn't going to get you into the playoffs. New pitching coach Mike Maddux is going to have his work cut out for him.
The Angels have suffered a few losses as well with Mark Teixiera, K-Rod and Jon Garland, but it’s hard to sell the team short given their success in recent years. Oakland has also done an outstanding job this off season adding some bats to their anemic 2007 lineup. Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi should give the offense a much needed boost. Seattle is under new management and appears to be heading in a new direction.
There is no doubt that the AL West is wide open this season. I don’t think you will see anyone run away with the division like the 2008 Angels, but Rangers fans must temper their expectations. 2009 will be a big year for this franchise. It appears as though Elvis Andrus will be on the opening day roster ironing out his game sooner rather than later. Brandon McCarthy hasn’t proven he can stay healthy the past few years and the pitching staff is full of young, unproven arms. That is why 2009 isn’t so much about the final record as it is the progression of the talent.
Some optimists will cite the Rays’ incredible run of last season as a reason the Rangers can contend in 2009. While there are many comparisons between the two organizations, there just isn’t enough top end talent in this pitching staff to contend in 2009. A year from now should be very different, but I believe it’s important to go to battle with the troops we have, and evaluate the team at the trade deadline, and again at the end of the season.
I don’t have a doubt in my mind this team is poised for great things in the future. My expectations from this team is somewhere in the area of 80 wins. What I’m looking for is the staff ERA to drop significantly, our young hitters to continue upward trends, an improved defense and better in-game management from Mr. Washington. The Rays finished dead last in 2007 before making it to the World Series in 2008. Sometimes its all about the development of a young core more than it is wins and losses.
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Written by Brian Hutton