Widely considered the best free agent pitcher on the market this off season, C.J. Wilson will likely find himself pitching in a uniform other than the Texas Rangers’ for the first time in his career.
Wilson, unquestionably, has been the team’s number one starter for the past two seasons. Sure, Cliff Lee carried that torch for the last few months of 2010, but he ended up being little more than a rental—albeit an excellent one.
Personally, I don’t consider Wilson a true “ace.” An ace finds a way to win games in the postseason as well; rising to the occasion on the grandest stages.
Wilson is a top-of-the-rotation starter and a number one, which is not quite the same as an ace. Regardless, if Wilson walks, the Rangers will find themselves without their best starting pitcher; a man who has earned 31 wins over the last two seasons.
The Rangers have publicly announced that since they have signed former Twins closer Joe Nathan, this means that Neftali Feliz is now a lock for the rotation.
Despite Alexi Ogando’s successful transition from bullpen to rotation last season, and Wilson’s rise from middle-relief to starter the year before that, it’s difficult to project Feliz contributing 13 wins (as Ogando did in ’11) in his first stint as a big league starter.
It’s easy for us all to remember C.J.’s playoff disappointments. After all, they are our most recent memories of the quirky left-hander. However, it’s important to realize that if Wilson leaves via free agency, the Rangers find themselves looking to replace a key rotation component with a reliever that has little to no experience starting.
For the Texas Rangers to not only defend their second-straight American League Championship but to win the AL West for a third-straight time, Wilson’s 16 wins are going to have to be replaced by someone.
Here’s a look at some potential roadblocks to the Rangers’ postseason success should Wilson jump ship.
Yeah, this one is pretty obvious. It’s not just what the Rangers have to replace with the loss of Wilson, it’s also what Wilson can do to the Rangers.
In an off-season that has multiple potential suitors for Wilson, the Anaheim Angels are certainly in on that front.
Wilson pitching in the “Big A”, a great pitcher’s park, with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana would definitely present some problems for the Rangers.
The aforementioned Angels rotation would certainly be the cream of the AL West’s crop, if not the premiere rotation in the American League.
Wilson to the Angels could have the biggest negative impact on the Rangers. However, Wilson can’t hit, the Angels are pulling tight on their purse strings, and their rotation is already very solid.
Here’s hoping the Angels don’t sign Wilson. Don’t be shocked if they do though.
Lewis is the logical opening day starter for the Texas Rangers in 2012. Lewis has put together two quality seasons as the Rangers number two starter. Certainly not a “true ace” by any stretch, Lewis’ postseason successes alone qualify him to pitch opening day.
His win total rose from 12 to 14 in 2011, but his home run rate escalated as well.
Overall, his innings pitched, and walk to strikeout ratios stayed about the same in 2010 and 2011. Lewis struck out fewer in ’11 than he did in ’10, but he also walked fewer as well. His home run rate skyrocketed from 21 allowed to 35 last season.
That propensity to the long ball is a clear reason Lewis’ ERA jumped up 68 points from 2010’s respectable 3.72 to 2011’s 4.40. Lewis battled a hip ailment for much of the 2011 regular season.
If Lewis can reduce his home run totals and continue to have success on the road, he should be an apt replacement for Wilson.
Even if that final pitch to the Cardinals’ David Freese in Game 6 of the World Series had missed Freese’s bat rather than Cruz’s glove, the chances are good that C.J. Wilson still wouldn’t be a lock to return to Texas.
And of course, many in Ranger Nation are already speculating on if the recently acquired Joe Nathan could have sealed the deal on the Rangers’ first-ever WS title.
Well no matter what, the chances that Feliz will be thrust into the role of closer again anytime soon have become quite remote. But anything is possible.
All speculation from this point on should be on whether or not Feliz can succeed as a starter. Feliz has had quite a good deal of starts as a minor leaguer. It was always assumed too that his future would be as an elite, top-of-the-rotation presence rather than a closer.
Even if the Rangers sign a Yu Darvish, or a Mark Buehrle, Feliz will still remain somewhere in that rotation. Most say that Alexi Ogando would be the first man bumped from the projected starting rotation of: Lewis, Holland, Harrison, Ogando and Feliz.
Assuming that rest of the rotation put up similar numbers to their 2011 production, and Feliz has a first half similar to last year’s All-Star earning berth by Ogando, everything will be just fine in Arlington, TX.
Should Ogando falter, or Holland regress, there might be trouble if Feliz is as shaky at times starting games as he was on occasion closing them.
However, for those that feel no starter can be effective with just two pitches, Ogando proved you can be, if those two pitches are good enough.
And regardless of the fact that Feliz utterly fell in love with his fastball as a closer, he has more developed secondary pitches than Ogando. You’d better believe he’ll be using them all as a starter.
Should Ogando be forced out of the rotation and placed in the bullpen—due to need or ineffectiveness—Feldman is definitely the best option for a rotation spot.
It seems longer ago than two-and-a-half years since Feldman was a 17-game winner, but he was the team’s number one for the second half of ’09, got a nice contract, and was the opening day starter in 2009.
Feldman was a largely unheralded hero during the Rangers’ postseason run last year. He was arguably the best option out of the bullpen until the St. Louis Cardinals found a way to touch him up in the World Series.
Feldman is a great piece to have in the bullpen due to the flexibility and security he adds to the Rangers in terms of depth should a starter falter.
Feldman is a key “security net” to keep the Rangers in good shape for a playoff run should he be needed in the rotation.
Ogando’s 2011 season—despite his success as a starter—polarizes Rangers fans due to his poor second half in the rotation, mixed with his excellent postseason efforts in the Rangers’ bullpen.
Obviously, you have to a strong bullpen to sustain success during the regular season. The first-half Rangers ‘pen of 2011 can attest to that. However, if you have a guy who can contribute in a rotation you’ve got to put him in there.
Ogando’s first half numbers—10-4 2.79 ERA through July 24—deserve to give him a shot in the rotation to start the 2012 campaign. Yet Ogando’s poor second half, added to his success in relief in the ’11 postseason—especially in the ALCS versus Detroit—divide the room on whether or not his future is as a starter or as a reliever.
He’s had success in both roles, which presents a pleasant problem to have. For my money, the Rangers are going to be at their best with Ogando in the rotation. In order for him to have continued success however, he’ll have to develop his change up and use it enough to prevent batters from sitting dead red.
Like Feldman, Ogando is extremely valuable as either a starter or a reliever, but since the early word is that he is in the rotation for sure next season, his continued success and the ability to be solid in both the first and second half of the season are absolutely crucial to the Rangers’ 2012 success.
Like many Rangers fans I’m still slightly reeling from the bipolar nature of the Rangers’ 2011 postseason—especially the up and down affair forever etched in our minds as “Game 6.”
Everyone knows the Rangers can hit. But it was the consistency and success of their starting rotation that enabled them to earn 96 wins, and a second-consecutive playoff appearance.
Then the postseason rolled along, and the rotation—aside from Colby Lewis and the Game 4 gem by Holland—largely got rocked.
The offense certainly was good enough to get the job done, but it was the bullpen that arguably saved the day.
You can never expect your team, no matter how solid they are offensively, to put up the numbers the 2011 Rangers did.
Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz most likely will miss some time due to an injury at some point next season. Ian Kinsler dodged the “often injured” tag, as he stayed healthy all season long. To ditch that moniker all together though, he’ll need to stay on the field consistently for seasons to come.
Regardless, the Texas Rangers have so much depth offensively, that even if a few key players are saddled with injuries, they should be able to hit enough to clinch another AL West crown.
General Manager Jon Daniels made all the right moves last year during the MLB Trade Deadline. He shored up the team’s biggest weakness—the bullpen—and turned it into a strength as the Rangers blazed down the stretch.
Save for left-handed specialist Mike Gonzalez, those mid season acquisitions will return for 2012. Mike Adams will be the eighth inning setup man for Joe Nathan, and Koji Uehara certainly has the makings of a solid seventh-inning guy.
Should Nathan falter, Adams could close. Should Nathan falter and Uehara continues to give up home runs at his shocking postseason pace, Feldman could move into a seventh or eighth inning role.
Depth—the x-factor that pushes the Rangers even higher above their closest AL West competitor—is quite present in their relief corps.
With Gonzalez departing and Darren Oliver likely gone, the Rangers should look to pick up a key left-hander to bring out of the pen. If they can acquire one via free agency or through an in-house promotion from the minors, they should be good to go.
Texas Rangers’ 2012 Outlook sans C.J. Wilson
In a best case scenario—one where everyone produces well and remains injury free—the Texas Rangers are a slam dunk to return to the postseason for a third-consecutive season.
To be honest, in a worst-case scenario—Feliz and Ogando falter in the rotation with Holland and Harrison regressing—they’ll find themselves in a tight race with the Angels for AL West supremacy. Yet they’re still easily good enough to taste October once again.
More likely than not, the median will occur for the ’12 Rangers. I look for Feliz to have moderate success, somewhere in the line of 10 wins as a starter. Alexi Ogando will, in my opinion, end up back in the bullpen at some point…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
To my mind, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison have turned the corner in their careers and will be solid producers—albeit as number three or four starters—for years to come.
Colby Lewis, who will earn $3.25 million dollars in 2012 is perhaps the best starter for the money, and will do a fine job filling in for Wilson. “Colbyashi” will do what he does—win big games, give up too many long balls—and will be just fine in the number one spot of the rotation.
Look for Josh Hamilton to have yet another solid season—closer to ’10 than last season—and I also think that Julio Borbon will either crack the starting lineup (again) or be shipped off as trade bait to make room for future star Leonys Martin.
Maybe Arizona Fall League sensation Mike Olt will make the team out of Spring Training as a first baseman…Who knows? Will much hyped Martin Perez finally get a taste of the big leagues? Will Jurickson Profar continue his unbelievable ascension?
It’s all speculation at this point.
The only thing certain is uncertainty. And I’m not so sure that makes sense at all whatsoever. But who would have thought that the 2011 Texas Rangers would have made it to the World Series again in 2011 without Cliff Lee?!
And if for no other reason than the fact that C.J. Wilson is certainly no Cliff Lee, I feel the Texas Rangers can do just fine without him, and roar back to another postseason in 2012…poised yet again for a chance to take the ultimate prize.
Here’s hoping I’m right.