By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"You can have a guy who can sometimes get you three outs," Washington says. "Or you can have a guy you trust to slam the door like Neftali. If we move him, I trust Jon (Daniels) to go out and get us a closer."
Making matters worse, Hunter strained a groin the last week in Surprise and opened a spot for Kirkman, who also had an underwhelming spring. Privately—perhaps even desperately—the Rangers are counting on a reclamation project to help soothe of the loss of Lee.
Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux says it's only a matter of time until former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb joins the rotation. With a salary of only $3 million—or about $21 million less than Lee—Webb is a low-risk, high-reward arm who hasn't pitched in a game since opening day 2009 because of shoulder injuries.
"I'm about four weeks behind, but I'm getting there," says Webb, whose dominating sinkerball led him to be the NL's best pitcher in '06 before he suffered arm trouble and eventually underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in August '09. "The Rangers are being patient with me. I've just got to be patient with myself."
Turns out the Rangers need some assets to not suddenly fade away and others to slowly come back better than ever.
Your Texas Rangers?
In Arlington this season there will be a new look, courtesy of $13 million in upgrades to Rangers Ballpark including a 40-yard high-definition scoreboard atop the right field seats. On television there will be a new sound, with nine-year veteran play-by-play voice Lewin replaced by conservative newbie John Rhadigan. In the lineup the Rangers will trot out many familiar faces in their accustomed places, but even at the plate Texas will be a different club, as Hurdle left to become manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, replaced by Thad Bosley.
"This was a very productive offense last season," Bosley says. "This team is coming off the World Series. The last thing I'm going to do is come in here and make radical changes. Let's just keep these guys doing what they've been doing and we should be all right."
Smith had a similar game plan to retain status quo or even improve organically, but the Washington Redskins' rookie running back followed up his record 204 rushing yards in Super Bowl XXII with only 602 more in a disappointing three-season, 22-game NFL career that officially petered out with the Cowboys. Dave Hostetler was seemingly in line to be the Rangers' next slugger when he mashed 22 homers in only 113 games and finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Cal Ripken Jr. in 1982. But during his next four seasons, he managed only another 15 dingers. The English pop band Right Said Fred had designs on building upon its 1991 No. 1 hit "I'm Too Sexy" but, alas, went down the same one-way street as Smith, Hostetler and, perhaps, Justin Bieber who, for all his fame, fortune and female fawning, has exactly one Billboard Top 10 hit—"Baby"—on his flimsy discography. Not that anyone (wink) is trying to rush him off the stage.
Unlike their pitching, the Rangers' everyday lineup should be among the best in the American League. More often than not Ian Kinsler will lead off and play second base, followed by Andrus (shortstop), Hamilton (left field), Beltre (third base), Cruz (right field), Young (designated hitter), Mitch Moreland (first base), Yorvit Torrealba (catcher) and Borbon (center field). Off the bench the Rangers will have David Murphy, who kept the team afloat with clutch hitting last year during Hamilton's prolonged rib injury; Napoli; and Andres Blanco.
"I like this team and our lineup a lot," Washington says. "I like Kinsler batting first because he can lay down a bunt, steal a base, hit one to the gap or make it 1-0 with one swing. I've got speed at both ends and lots of power in the middle. No reason to think that group won't put up a lot of runs night in and night out."
There are, of course, concerns.
Along with Kinsler's pop in the leadoff spot comes his propensity for popping up. Torrealba, while younger and faster, isn't the leader Molina was. And Borbon struggled in spring training, misplaying fly balls, losing pop ups in the sun and even throwing to the wrong base.
"He's my center fielder," Washington assures. "He can go get 'em out there, and he keeps Josh from playing like a wild man and crashing into walls out there."
After his MVP season in which he missed the final month, Hamilton had a remarkable ALCS (four homers, eight walks) against the Yankees sandwiched between forgettable series against the Rays (2 for 18, one RBI) and Giants (2 for 20, one homer). In January he spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia and had a sluggish spring training low-lighted by only one homer and a .250 average in his first 50 Cactus League at-bats. Last month the Rangers avoided arbitration with Hamilton, signing him to a two-year, $24 million contract extension.
"He's the least of my worries," Bosley says.