Tom Hicks says he expects the Rangers to win the AL West. Of course, this is the same guy who overpaid Alex Rodriguez by $50 million when Scott Boras evidently enticed him into a bidding war against himself, so take it with a grain of foul line chalk. Texas is in the wrong division if they really want to progress this year, seeing as Oakland is a trendy World Series pick and the Angels remain very competitive. Also, there's the pitching.
For 5 years, $60 million, the Rangers secured the services of starter Kevin Millwood, last seen leading the AL in ERA while winning only nine games for Cleveland. Millwood has his detractors, but all of the teams out there who needed to spend money on pitching, Texas was the one in the direst of straits. Millwood will probably win more than nine games for his new club in 2006. The trouble is, when you look at the big picture for the 2006 Rangers, it's hard to see how anything short of a Cy Young kind of season from Millwood will be enough to make a difference. The 2005 Rangers pitching staff got cuffed around despite a marvelous year from Kenny Rogers (pitchingwise). Rogers was a 41.4 VORP player last year; if not for his suspension, he would have come even closer to Millwood's 50.4. I'm not saying that the Rangers should have made more of an effort to re-sign a 41-year-old Kenny Rogers. It's just that with the Millwood signing, they're paying a lot of money to stand still. That's assuming Millwood even approaches a 50 VORP again. It's much more likely that he doesn't (BP's PECOTA has him at 25.9).
After Rogers, the best pitcher on the Rangers last year was Chris Young. He's gone, traded to San Diego for Adam Eaton. The entire rotation has turned over since April '05. It was Rogers, Young, Chan Ho Park, Pedro Astacio, and Ryan Drese then, it's Millwood, Eaton, Vicente Padilla, Kameron Loe, and Juan Dominguez now. The style is new, but the pain's the same. The big change in the lineup will probably bring more fruitful results. Overrated infielder Alfonso Soriano is out, underrated outfielder Brad Wilkerson is in. When you take defense, park factors, and Soriano's mondo 'tude into account, Wilkerson might be the better player of the two already, but when you look at the overall effect on the Texas lineup -- it was Soriano and Gary Matthews Jr. last year at second and center last year, now it'll be Ian Kinsler and Wilkerson -- this deal was a no-brainer for the Range. (By the way, proposal for a reality show to be produced jointly by MLB and NBATV: Jim Bowden and Isiah Thomas try to do each other's jobs for a month and viewers vote on whether either is managing to do any worse in their new position.)
The Rangers will continue to field a bullpen in 2006 (as a service to all those Oakland Raiders fans who need some way to get their rocks off at the Coliseum during the offseason), but your mileage may vary. Francisco Cordero has enough career saves at this point that as long as his arm stays more or less attached to his body he will be able to extend his career well into his forties. Texas will hope that switching leagues will benefit Akinori Otsuka as it often does junkballing Asian relievers with gimmick deliveries. After that, you have your Brian Shouses, Jon Leicesters, and Joaquin Benoits. If relief pitchers with huge disconnects between their ERA and their peripherals amuse you, take a look at John Wasdin's line from last year: a 2.92 ERA despite giving up five homers and striking out only 28 in 49 1/3 innings. Do you think his BABIP might go up a little bit this year? If you had him as a keeper in your fantasy league, it's time to sell high, but why in the gods' names would you have John Wasdin as a keeper? (If you're a fan of justice, it may please you to know that Wasdin did get well and truly smacked around in his six starts last year, enough to raise his overall ERA to 4.28.)
Well, they really deserve better than a brief concluding paragraph, but I'm assuming you already know the returning stars of the Texas offense (Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, David Dellucci) are a great young core. It's true that some of these guys, particularly Blalock, have struggled away from the extreme offensive incubator in Arlington in much the same way that a lot of the fledgling Rockies have done on the road from Coors, but it's a far less epidemic problem for Texas. No single entry in the 2006 Baseball Register made me double-take harder than Rod Barajas's. He hit 21 homers last year! Check his splits: .707 OPS and seven homers at home, .838 and fourteen on the road. I swear that's not a misprint. Anyway, as for Texas, their third-order record was 87-75 last year. That sounds about right.