Around the Diamond: Rangers 2011 Infield Outlook
What a difference a month makes to a team's roster.
Going into the Christmas season the Rangers, fresh off being rejected by Cliff Lee, had the same infield alignment that played in the World Series.
By the end of January the club had signed free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, moved the face of the franchise to everyday DH/super utility infielder and traded Frank Francisco for C/1B Mike Napoli.
Now that the dust has settled and Spring Training is approaching the Rangers infield has come into focus, sort of.
Let's begin with what we know about the 2011 Texas Rangers infield.
Early in the off-season the Rangers replaced Bengie Molina with free agent Yorvit Torrealba who caught 95 games for the Padres last season.
The Rangers are certainly going to ask Torrealba to catch more than that this season, but his career high was 113 games for the Rockies in 2007 and he's only caught more than 80 games in a season twice.
He does provide an offensive upgrade from the catcher position hitting .271 with 7 home runs last season playing half his games in a pitcher friendly ballpark.
Even the best case scenario for Torrealba will leave roughly 60 games left for the Rangers other options to start behind the dish. Luckily the Rangers have more depth there than at any point last season.
Backup catcher Matt Treanor has been brought back and will look to have another impact season for the Rangers.
Treanor was one of the many pleasant surprises for the Rangers last season, stepping in when Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden were either injured or ineffective.
Treanor was signed late in the spring as insurance but found himself holding down the position until the Rangers were able to trade for Molina, but his playing time remained steady down the stretch and into the playoffs.
For further insurance the Rangers quickly pounced on Mike Napoli after the Angels traded him to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells.
Napoli, a target of the Rangers for a while now and never an option while he played for the rival Angels, was quickly flipped to Texas by Toronto giving the Rangers and emergency catcher off the bench.
I must stress emergency here as Napoli isn't viewed as an adequate defensive catcher, which might be a slight understatement.
While Napoli will mostly play 1st base when in the field, he does give manager Ron Washington more flexibility to pinch hit for the catchers late in a ballgame.
Rookie outfielder turned first baseman Mitch Moreland seized the job at first base last season surpassing expectations down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Moreland has been the subject of some trade talk but when Texas refused to put him in a deal for Tampa Bay's Matt Garza the Rangers sent a message to both Moreland and the fans he would be given the shot to solidify his spot on the roster.
Despite the additions of Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre, Moreland will be the Rangers primary 1st baseman going into 2011 unless he has a horrible Spring like Chris Davis a couple of years ago.
Michael Young will spend some time at first base in Surprise but will get most of his at bats as the designated hitter.
When the club is facing a tough lefthander or when Moreland needs a day off the Rangers will likely use Napoli over Young at first, but don't expect significant playing time for anyone but Moreland unless he struggles in his sophomore season.
The Rangers are way too high on Moreland to not make him the everyday first baseman, at bats for Napoli and Young will have to come from somewhere else.
This is where the Rangers will take full advantage of a roving Michael Young this season.
Ian Kinsler has played more than 130 games in a season only once in his career and injuries limited him to just 103 games last season.
With Young available on any given night to play the middle of the infield, Washington can keep Kinsler fresh throughout the season and hopefully keep him off the disabled list in 2011.
In addition to the cut in games played last season, Kinsler's power numbers took a big dive which considering he's likely to hit sixth in the order again this season needs to be fixed to make the Rangers offense as efficient as possible.
In 2009 Kinsler hit 31 home runs and 32 doubles with 86 RBI, but in 2010 he only hit 9 home runs and 20 doubles and 45 RBI.
The Rangers need Kinsler to return to his 2009 form in both power numbers and games played which becomes a lot easier with Young available to give Kinsler the rest he needs during the Texas summer.
It became painfully obvious to even the casual fans last season that Michael Young didn't have the same range and started to have uncharacteristic throwing issues when he did reach the ball.
For the record I think Young could still play third base for a championship team, but his defense has certainly started to nosedive.
Considering the lack of options over the next few free agent markets at third base the Rangers decided now was the time to move Young to DH.
It didn't hurt having one of the best fielding third baseman available in Adrian Beltre who also fortifies the middle of the Rangers batting order with the departure of Vladimir Guerrero.
Last season with Boston, Beltre was an All-Star playing in 154 games and hitting .321 with 28 home runs and 102 RBI.
He is also a Gold Glove caliber third baseman taking home the awards in the 2007 and 2008 seasons with a unique ability to reach balls others cannot.
Don't let his error totals fool you either as most of them are throwing errors on balls most players wouldn't even reach, he does very well on the routine plays.
Young will likely see a handful of games at third base throughout the season but they will be few and far in between unless Beltre lands on the disabled list.
Is it just me or is the jury still out on Elvis Andrus??
Hopefully you picked up on the sarcasm there as Andrus has established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game with sparkling defense, the knack for making the impossible play and effectively leading off for the most balanced lineup in the history of a franchise known for its offense.
If there is one thing the young shortstop needs to improve on it's his performance down the stretch.
Andrus faded offensively last season and the Rangers need him on base creating all kinds of problems for opposing pitchers on the basepaths.
The general consensus about his fade last season was due to very little rest in the second half of the season, another area where Michael Young comes in handy.
As in the case of second and third, the Rangers versatility thanks to moving Young off of third base is keeping Andrus fresh with a few days off.
Andrus has the potential to be a force at the top of the Rangers batting order with a more consistent bat this season and perhaps mixing in a home run or two.
Much has been made of the Rangers designated hitter spot since the addition of Beltre and especially since the club traded for Napoli, but the position couldn't be more clear.
Michael Young will continue to play everyday like he has his entire career, but he'll do so as the designated hitter and spot starter in the field.
In a perfect world Young will start 150 games as the DH, but rarely does everything go that well for any club, especially the Rangers.
Young's defense may be in decline, but his bat is still lethal and capable of carrying an offense at any point in a season.
His bat did slow down in the stretch last season and his World Series performance was far below Young standards, but not playing the field all through the summer should fix those issues.
He hasn't reached the age where his bat slows down for anything more than simple wear and tear through a long season in the Texas heat.
With few options at third base last season Young played far more games on the rock hard Texas infield than he should have, something that won't be an issue in 2011.
All in all the Rangers infield is heads and shoulders above what it was in 2010 with Beltre and Andrus teaming up on the left side of the infield, a hopefully healthy and fresh Kinsler and Moreland on the right side and Michael Young able to step in to cover any injuries.
For a pitching staff that likes to pitch to contact and gives up their share of groundballs, the Rangers defense could prove to be a difference maker in the AL West where the Angels still have good pitching and the A's have added much needed offense to go with what could be the best pitching staff top to bottom in the American League.
Next up in our 2011 outlook series: LTR contributor Matthew Irby takes a look at the Rangers outfield.