Buster Olney: Texas Rangers

MLB win totals worth a look 

February, 14, 2015
Feb 14
Chase HeadleyJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite limited offseason moves, expect the Yankees to come back stronger in 2015.
To understand how adept casinos are in their business, all you have to do is look around as you walk the Las Vegas Strip. Those massive buildings, with all f their glitter and lights, are there because the folks who run them know what it takes to win. When betting lines are established, well, you’d be crazy not to take them seriously.

But there are times when the lines raise an eyebrow -- like when they set their over/under victory projections for each of the 30 teams in baseball. On Friday, the Atlantis sports book in Reno posted their numbers. As usual, some are surprising -- and heck, they might even look like an opportunity, if I ever bet on baseball (and I don’t).

Here are five, in particular.

1. New York Yankees, 80 wins

The Yankees’ fan base is really concerned because unlike in past offseasons, New York wasn’t chasing the biggest stars.

Top 10 third basemen in MLB 

November, 23, 2014
Josh DonaldsonBob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsJosh Donaldson leads a stacked ranking of baseball's top third basemen.

In keeping with our recent theme of ranking the top 10 players at each position in baseball, today we tackle third basemen.

Unlike second base and shortstop, two other positions we've recently rated, third base is stacked. (We've also gone through first basemen and catchers thus far.)

The top 10 third basemen in MLB:

1. Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics

It’s not clear yet whether Oakland can contend in 2015, or whether the Athletics will soon go through another round of rebuilding. But they have told other teams that Donaldson is not being traded this winter -- and who could blame them, based on his performance the past two seasons?

Donaldson shocked rival evaluators with his adept defensive transition from catcher to third, and during the past two seasons, Donaldson has 53 homers, 152 walks and 191 RBIs. He turns 29 in December, and if the Athletics ever decide to move him, they could get a whole lot of value in return

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Examining Trout's baserunning 'issue' 

June, 22, 2014
Mike TroutJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMike Trout's ferocity on the basepaths is both a sight and a sound to behold.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A small smile developed on the face of Los Angeles Angels bench coach Dino Ebel when he was asked about Mike Trout's tendency to make his turn on the bases at something close to a right angle, an indication that this imperfection has been discussed with the game’s best player.

“He’s aware of it,” said Ebel, still smiling. “He has gotten better.”

The path of baserunners moving at full speed through a base will typically follow something of an arc. But Trout tends to get to a base and turn, cutting off the arc; he reaches the bag then moves left. While it’s not a style that Tom Emanski would recommend in instructional videos, it’s much more of a curiosity than a problem, because there’s no evidence that this actually slows him.

“He’s got special talent,” said Ebel, “and he can do it that way.”

Trout said that as a youngster he used to run the bases differently, but when he reached the minors, he worked on reducing the angle of his turn.

No matter what route he takes, opponents and base coaches will hear Trout as he nears a bag, a loud sound that is a combination of Trout breathing like a sprinter and his feet hitting the ground at a high rate of speed beneath his 235 pounds. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez mentioned last weekend that he could hear Trout running from the home dugout in Atlanta, and Angels first-base coach Alfredo Griffin said that when Trout is halfway up the first-base line, his run is at full volume.

“He sounds like somebody’s chasing him,” Griffin said, chuckling.

Ebel said that when he was the Angels’ third-base coach, opposing infielders would glance at him after hearing Trout run for the first time, “with wide eyes. You get a lot of ‘wows’ from shortstops and third basemen.

“It’s a weird noise, a powerful run. This place packs 42,000 [fans] and they are loud, but I can still hear it when he gets closer.”

Trout and the Angels face Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN). Howie Kendrick got a walk-off hit for the Angels against the Rangers on Saturday. Albert Pujols was out of the starting lineup.

Darvish continues to improve

If Darvish stays on schedule, he would likely start the final Sunday before the All-Star break. Otherwise, he would be an excellent candidate to start for the American League, because he is off to the best start in his three seasons in the majors, with a 2.39 ERA in his first 13 outings. He has 109 strikeouts and just 32 walks in 90 1/3 innings, while his approach to getting hitters out has shifted this season.

Darvish has used his fastball much more and relied on his cut fastball and slider less, according to FanGraphs. Last year, he threw his fastball on 38.2 percent of his pitches, and this year, that percentage has rocketed to 57.8 percent.

Chris Gimenez, who has been working as Darvish’s catcher, said the thought is that if the right-hander can get ahead in the count or get outs early in the count, this will enable him to stay in games longer.

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Rangers a contender despite injuries 

June, 7, 2014
Alex RiosAP Photo/Carlos OsorioRangers outfielder Alex Rios is batting .321 with 23 extra-base hits this season.
The 2014 Texas Rangers are illogical, from the inordinate number of injuries that have hit them, all the way through Friday's victory over the Indians. The Rangers have lost their first baseman (Prince Fielder), second baseman (Jurickson Profar), catcher (Geovany Soto), three of their four best starting pitchers (Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Derek Holland), the third baseman (Kevin Kouzmanoff) who filled in for the then-injured third baseman (Adrian Beltre), and one of their primary bullpen pieces (Alexi Ogando).

In fairness, that's a partial list.

And yet as of Saturday morning, Texas is above .500 at 31-30, a distant seven games behind the Athletics but right in the mix of wild-card contenders.

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The storms of the obvious must first be weathered by the Texas Rangers. Yes, the Prince Fielder injury hurts their chances to compete (although he wasn't playing that well, and whoever replaces him could be better). Yes, Texas would be well-served to give complete physicals to any player it has acquired (and its knowledge of what to test for just increased). Sure, the Ian Kinsler trade looks bad (and nobody has any idea how effective Fielder will be when he comes back next season).

But the more important question the Rangers must address is: What's next?

Seriously, now that Fielder, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar and others are out, what is next?

One answer would be to open the shop for business and retool for 2015. This organization, which has been in win-now mode for the past six seasons, twice made it to the World Series and came within one strike of winning a championship, could use this time to have a makeover, to gain more payroll flexibility, to add some young talent. The Rangers can find an opportunity in their misfortune, because they're in a position to send out a mass email to the other major league teams and inform them that they are open for trade offers.

It could be a seller's market, because there are very few teams willing to market players at this time of the season; most clubs will cling to the hope that they'll contend for a playoff spot. But the rash of injuries gives the Rangers a "get out of jail free" card. It's a logical course of action for them to trade some of their veterans in what looks to be a lost season.

They certainly have some players who could be attractive to other teams, such as:

Adrian Beltre, 3B: He's a future Hall of Famer who is closing in on 400 homers and 2,500 hits for his career, and while he's off to a slow start and some scouts say his defensive skills have regressed, he still brings a lot to the table. He's hitting .270 this season -- after batting .315 last season -- and he's nearing the end of his contract. Beltre is making $17 million this year, will make $18 million next year, and has a reachable vesting option for 2016 for $16 million. Texas could move him now while he still has value and before his decline -- a team like the Dodgers could be a fit -- and get a prospect or two in return.

Alex Rios, OF: He's making $12.5 million this season, and the Rangers hold a $13.5 million team option with a $1 million buyout for 2015. He's hitting .304 with 17 extra-base hits in 181 at-bats and a respectable .790 OPS. He'd be a great fit for the Kansas City Royals, given their current needs.

Elvis Andrus, SS: He's signed through 2022, and identifying his true value in trade talks could prove too difficult, but the Rangers' front office might as well have the conversations. The Tigers and the Yankees will be looking for shortstops.

Mitch Moreland, 1B: He's making $2.65 million, and he'll be more expensive next year as he gathers service time. At some point this season, another major league team will no doubt need to plug a hole at first base.

Joakim Soria, RP: He has been really good this season, with 21 strikeouts and two walks in 16 innings and a 2.25 ERA. The Rangers hold a $7 million option on him for 2015. As we get closer to the trade deadline, Soria will have more value to another team as a proven closer than to the Rangers.

The Rangers' preparation for 2015 can begin today, given all the injuries incurred by the team.

Here's this tidbit from ESPN Stats & Information: "It has been a rough year injury-wise for the Rangers. This month alone Martin Perez's season ended with Tommy John surgery. Fellow starter Matt Harrison hit the DL with lower back inflammation. Prized prospect Jurickson Profar has been shut down after re-straining his injured shoulder … and Prince Fielder's herniated disk in his neck may require season-ending surgery."

Most times using disabled list (2014)
Rangers 17*
Reds 13
Nationals 12
Dodgers 10
White Sox 10
Yankees 10
*Including Prince Fielder

And just when it seemed things couldn't worse, Jurickson Profar re-strained a muscle in his shoulder and has been shut down.

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DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Jurickson ProfarJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsJurickson Profar is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks due to a muscle tear in his right shoulder.
The New York Yankees’ camp opened in 2013 with Derek Jeter still hobbling, despite a doctor’s projection that he would be ready to go at the start of the season, and Alex Rodriguez was sidelined, as well. Day by day, the team’s casualty list grew: Curtis Granderson got hurt, and so did Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis.

The Yankees’ front office scrambled to fill the spots in the last days of spring training, adding Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and others. Joe Girardi handled the adversity well, setting a strong tone for his players, who spent all summer maxing out in preparation and effort.

But in the end, the Yankees were overwhelmed by the impact of their injuries. There was nothing they could do to change the reality that losing their first baseman, shortstop, third baseman and left fielder -- as well as catcher Russell Martin, who had signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates -- crushed their production. The Yankees hadn’t finished out of the top 10 in runs scored since 1991, and last summer 15 teams scored more runs than they did. The club won 85 games, surprisingly, but failed to make the playoffs.

It’s as if a curse that hung over the Yankees’ camp last spring has now been attached to the Texas Rangers, given everything that has gone wrong in Surprise, Ariz., where the team trains. The day after the Rangers announced that second baseman Jurickson Profar will miss 10 to 12 weeks, they revealed that catcher Geovany Soto will also be gone 10 to 12 weeks -- following a wave of other injuries.

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The plight of 'The Draft Pick Five' 

February, 14, 2014
Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo JimenezGetty ImagesErvin Santana, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez -- members of "The Draft Pick Five" -- still wait.
TAMPA, Fla. -- An AL executive drew an analogy the other day between the situation facing "The Draft Pick Five" free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- and the sale of a house.

“If the price on the house is set and it just sits there and nobody's buying at that price,” the executive said, “isn’t there a time when the reality of the market sets in and the price comes down?”

Players are reporting to spring training all over the baseball landscape, and those five players -- five veterans tied to draft-pick compensation -- remain unsigned, fueling the most-asked question in the industry these days: Where will those players land

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Top 10 teams in the majors 

December, 31, 2013
Miguel CabreraMark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesWith Miguel Cabrera no longer out of position, the Tigers should be even better in 2014.
As 2013 becomes 2014, here's a look at the top 10 teams in MLB.

1. Detroit Tigers

Some of the teams that employ advanced metrics determined at the end of the last regular season that the Tigers were the best team in the American League -- by far. This, in spite of a bullpen that repeatedly went through changes at closer, and in spite of what was widely regarded as the worst defense in the majors. The Tigers won the AL Central for the third straight year, and again they couldn't win the World Series, losing to Boston in the ALCS. And since the end of the season, Detroit GM David Dombrowski has gone about the business of plugging the holes.

He allowed Jhonny Peralta to depart, cementing Jose Iglesias' spot at shortstop.

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Top 10 defenses in the majors 

December, 29, 2013
Manny MachadoMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesBaltimore's Manny Machado earned the American League Platinum Glove Award last season.
There probably has been more focus on evaluating and maximizing defensive efficiency than any other part of baseball in the last five years. If we're looking for explanations about why offensive production has been declining, increased defensive production might be responsible.

In Part IV of our series, we look at the top 10 defenses in Major League Baseball.

1. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles posted pictures of their Gold Glove winners in their spring training facility, and with good reason: Buck Showalter’s club has continued the organizational tradition -- fostered by the likes of Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken Jr. and others -- of strong defense. The best of the group is third baseman Manny Machado (“The best at his position, and it’s not close,” said one evaluator), although we don’t know what condition he'll be in during his first months back on the field since having knee surgery.

They have Gold Glove defenders at shortstop (J.J. Hardy), center field (Adam Jones) and at catcher (Matt Wieters). Right fielder Nick Markakis and first baseman Chris Davis are solid defenders, and newcomer David Lough posted one of the best UZR/150 ratings among outfielders with at least 650 innings last season.

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Top 10 lineups in the majors 

December, 26, 2013
Adrian BeltreJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAdrian Beltre will be joined by a couple of All-Stars in the Texas lineup.
Kendrys Morales is still looking for work, and so is Nelson Cruz. But with almost all of the best hitters in place, we present the first in a series of our annual top-10 team rankings: the best lineups.

As one executive noted: "When you start looking at the projected lineups for 2014, there are not many dominant lineups. Most clubs have a couple of spots that have young players, or players returning from injuries. So almost all have a couple of questions."

Absolutely true. Here is how I rank the top 10 lineups.

1. Texas Rangers

The Rangers’ front office saw the flaws in the team's batting order, the lack of left-handed power, and have aggressively reached for repairs. But it’s not as if the Texas offense was a black hole in 2013: The Rangers finished eighth out of 30 teams in runs, and now they’ve added two left-handed hitters who ranked among the top 30 in the majors in on-base percentage, in Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.

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Major financial shift in American League 

December, 23, 2013
Robinson CanoAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Mariners' deal with Robinson Cano was another sign of the AL's money shift.
It's hard to say when the first real sign of escalation in the American League West appeared. Maybe it was the Mariners' trade for Cliff Lee in December 2009, a swift and aggressive deal made before any of the AL East powers knew that Lee was actually available. Or maybe it was the Rangers' deal for Lee the next summer, when Texas outmaneuvered the Yankees to get a left-hander who propelled them to the World Series for the first time.

Or perhaps it was the Angels' signing of Albert Pujols at the winter meetings in 2011, the first ripple felt in baseball from the new wave of lucrative local television deals that were being signed by some clubs.

Regardless of how it started, what we have continued to see is something of a shift in the American League, like weight being moved from one side of the scale to the other.

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Yanks most affected if Tanaka not posted 

December, 19, 2013
Masahiro TanakaThe Yomiuri Shimbun/AP ImagesIf Masahiro Tanaka is not posted, it will screw up the offseason plans for a number of clubs.
Reports out of Japan this morning (per The New York Times) are that Rakuten won't let Masahiro Tanaka come to the U.S. It's hard to say whether that's a final decision or part of negotiations as the team's ownership looks to extract more dollars out of the situation.

But in the eyes of some rival evaluators, it would be a body blow to the Yankees if Tanaka doesn't become available because of what they have and what they need.

As one National League official noted, the Yankees have improved their lineup even in a winter in which they lost Robinson Cano because of the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Their pitching, however ...

"That's not pitching you can win with," said the official, noting the current state of the Yankees staff.

As it stands, the New York rotation would look like this:

CC Sabathia, the 33-year-old left-hander who posted a 4.78 ERA in 32 starts in 2013, easily the worst statistical season of his career.

Hiroki Kuroda, who turns 39 in February; he was excellent in the first four months of last season before running out of gas in August and September.

Ivan Nova. He figured some stuff out during the season, posting a 3.10 ERA in 23 games.

David Phelps. He was limited by injury to 22 games, and in those, he had a 4.98 ERA.

Michael Pineda. He is a complete wild card at this point for the Yankees in an offseason he will turn 25.

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Cano's 3 likeliest non-Yankee suitors 

November, 27, 2013
As the Robinson Cano stalemate continues, it's a good time to play the same game that folks in the Yankees' organization are playing.

It's called: If Not Us, Then Who?

Meaning: Who could possibly afford to sign Cano in the same sort of range that Albert Pujols got two winters ago, $240 million over 10 years? The Yankees offered around $160 million in May, the Cano camp asked for a record-setting deal of more than $300 million, and despite recent talks, a massive gap of about $100 million between the two sides probably still exists.

The Yankees ask: If Not Us, Then Who?

In order to go through this exercise, you must suspend any thoughts of team-building logic, because they really don't apply. It's been demonstrated time and again -- through the Yankees' A-Rod deal, through Pujols' contract, and others -- that giving a player in his prime a deal of eight or more years is probably not going to pay off.

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How the Prince Fielder trade went down 

November, 26, 2013
Prince Fielder was introduced as the Rangers' No. 84, less than a week after Texas and the Tigers aggressively worked through the details of their blockbuster trade of a 29-year-old slugger who will probably mash his 300th career homer sometime next summer.

Rival executives find that making deals with Rangers GM Jon Daniels is usually a drawn out, sometimes excruciating process, and it was striking to some of his peers to hear that the negotiations took about 29 hours. Last Tuesday, Dave Dombrowski called Daniels to ask if he'd be interested in a trade for Fielder, and by Wednesday evening, the deal was done, with Ian Kinsler landing in Detroit.

But really, Daniels and the other Rangers evaluators had been preparing for that trade since early in the 2013 season, as they watched the games play out and Texas' need for power -- especially left-handed power -- became more and more apparent, in the wake of the departure of Josh Hamilton.

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