Welcome to the first of many editions of Daniel's Minions, a weekly roundtable of writers who follow the Texas Rangers. This is a special edition for multiple reasons; it's the first edition and it debuts with the Rangers in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Things are certainly looking up in Arlington these days and our writers this week dive head first into the questions surrounding the team heading into the playoffs as well as a look ahead to options the Rangers may explore this offseason to reduce Josh Hamilton's injury risk moving forward.
Our writers this week are myself, Bo Reed, Let's Talk Rangers contributor Matthew Irby and fellow blogger Stephen Rhodes. Let's dive right into some playoff talk.
The Rangers have announced a three man rotation for the Division Series of Cliff Lee, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis opting to bring back Lee on three days rest if game four is needed. Tommy Hunter is a lock for the playoff bullpen so the question now is what to do with Derek Holland. He hasn't pitched poorly as of late, but hasn't been lights out either. Should Holland make the postseason bullpen?
Bo Reed: This one is a tough call for me because both Holland and Matt Harrison deserve to be in the postseason bullpen and have pitched well enough to be effective in the playoffs, but one has far superior stuff and that's Holland. Nothing against Harrison, but in crunch time in the playoffs the Rangers need a hard throwing lefty in strikeout situations.
Holland has been inconsistent this season and will have a short leash in the playoffs for sure, but when the kid is on he's unhittable. Harrison meanwhile relies on pitching to contact and getting ground balls. Like greens at the US Open, infields in the playoffs are slick and a pitcher like Harrison is much more likely to run into issues than a power pitcher like Holland.
Matthew Irby: Before the game on the 29th, I would have said and made the argument that Holland would have been the 26th man, the 13th pitcher, or in other words the odd man out. But then came his three inning performance after another typical, forgettable Harden outing.
Holland went three innings on Wednesday, not to mention his first inning (5th) he inherited a runner at third with no outs. That runner would be stranded and turn out to be huge with Texas winning in the ninth. Holland allowed one earned run on three hits and one walk, he also struck out five M’s and threw an economical 53 pitches.
I agree that Holland has been very shaky at times during the season, but after yesterday’s performance I want him in my bullpen for the Divisional Series. It’s likely to come down to either Holland or Matt Harrison as another left-handed option in the bullpen, if this is true my call is still Holland. Even if he doesn’t pitch in the postseason, being apart of the playoff roster, experiencing October baseball could be huge for Holland’s development.
Stephen Rhodes: I liked Holland for this even before today's game, but I think today's game proved that he deserves a spot and Harden definitely does NOT.
Granted he was pitching against the Mariners, but I liked what he did. He pitched three solid innings with only one run, one walk and five strikeouts. If you would have asked me earlier in the year I'm not sure I would have said yes, but with what I've seen with him since he's moved back up, I see more good than bad. I'd definitely take him in the bullpen.
There's no question the toughest call Wash and Co. have to make is who to carry as the left-handed first baseman. Washington has said Cantu is guaranteed a spot on the playoff roster leaving Chris Davis and Mitch Moreland battling for the roster spot. Which one should the Rangers go with?
Bo Reed: The only thing that makes this a tough call is the defense of Chris Davis, but I'm not sure his defense alone should give him a spot on the playoff roster. Granted Jorge Cantu will get most of the starts because of the lefties the Rangers will face in the Division Series, making defense a large part of the equation, but Davis simply hasn't done enough to make the roster.
Not to mention, Moreland hasn't exactly been Bill Buckner at first base either. The kid can play defense well enough to be trusted in late inning situations and his bat is much better than Davis.
Matthew Irby: Another really tough decision here as neither player has really run away with earning the starting job. Since returning from Triple-A Chris Davis has had some improvement, but still not enough to warrant a starting position. Here’s a quick rundown of his season with the Rangers: April – batted .188, May – demoted to Triple-A, June – Triple-A, July – promoted to Majors, bats .189, August – demoted to Triple-A, September – called-up with roster expansion, hitting .211 in the month.
I know that he has the better glove and that is not something that needs to be overlooked, especially with as close as the postseason games are; and with the number of lefty starters for the Rays, if Texas goes to Tampa it wouldn’t surprise me to see Cantu start at 1B and Davis a late inning option, specifically for his defense.
So my vote then is for Moreland, I really like what the rookie has done since his promotion following the trading of Justin Smoak and second demotion of Davis. Moreland is a solid glove at first base, not as good as Davis, but at the same time not a liability and he brings the versatility of being able to play in the outfield as well, especially now with the potential of Hamilton and/or Murphy not being 100%. Moreland’s .243 average isn’t ideal, but his .344 OBP is not bad for a seven or eight hole hitter.
Stephen Rhodes: Mitch Moreland hands down. He hasn't been perfect but he's better than Chris Davis. Honestly I'd rather have Davis and Moreland, but that isn't an option, and so I will definitely pick Mitch.
The Rangers are a young team and it showed with their struggles on the road trying to wrap of the division against the fading Angels and lost Mariners; showing signs the team was pressing. Should there be a concern about the same thing happening in the playoffs when every pitch matters or will veterans like Vladimir Guerrero be able to keep the young guys on track?
Bo Reed: There is some concern with any young team going into the playoffs, especially one with so many players who have never been to the playoffs before. I'm not overly encouraged because they did struggle the closer the magic number got to zero, however, the team was hurt and the young guys could have been pressing because they felt responsible for picking up the slack.
The first couple of games are probably more crucial for teams like the Rangers and Reds this year simply because the mountain they have to climb seems so large to them right now. Get a couple of wins under their belts and that mountain starts to shrink to nothing.
Matthew Irby: All season long this has been a team of ups and downs, so it’s almost a comfort to see the offense struggling a tad leading up to the postseason. There is a valid concern that if this team finds itself in an early hole, down a game or two or just down a few runs that they struggle to restart the offense and get back in the game.
There’s also the concern that at times this season the Rangers have struggled against good pitching, since the first series is going to see David Price-Matt Garza or CC Sabathia-Phil Hughes / Andy Pettitte. Now with that said, I do believe that playoff tested players like Guerrero, Jorge Cantu, Bengie Molina, and even Jeff Francoeur are going to be valuable pieces to calm the young hitters on the field, in the dugout, and in the clubhouse.
Wednesday’s come-from-behind win over Seattle was a great example of how postseason games sometimes are won. In October it doesn’t matter if it’s a pretty win or not, it’s just a win. Like I have always said, a win is a win is a win.
Stephen Rhodes: I'm not worried at all.
Josh Hamilton continues to fight his way back from his latest wall incident but a larger question remains. What do the Rangers do with Hamilton moving forward since he clearly will continue to bang into walls and hurt himself? The one idea gaining momentum is moving Hamilton to first base. It does fill a huge hole at first but creates one in the outfield as the Rangers are unlikely to make David Murphy a full time player. Should the Rangers move Hamilton over to first and if so, what should they do in the outfield?
Bo Reed: I love the idea of moving Hamilton over to first base and reaching out into free agency to replace him in the outfield. With the Rangers new TV money coming in, and the added payroll thanks to the Rangers sale, the Rangers can afford to re-sign Cliff Lee and go after a guy like Carl Crawford to replace Hamilton in the outfield.
That being said, no one knows if Hamilton can play first base well enough to make the switch even plausible, but Washington is one of the best in the game at teaching players how to be good infielders. Of course Hamilton will still have to avoid walls at first base, but at least it's only about waist high.
Matthew Irby: The first part of this argument is to remember what the plan with Josh at the beginning of this season was, Hamilton in left field and Julio Borbon in center field. I still believe that as of right now that would be the plan moving forward in 2011, it was side tracked this season with Borbon’s struggles at the plate.
Borbon has had success the second half of the season and if he continues to improve like he is projected to, then I can see the plan that started this season going back into affect. Giving Texas an outfield from left to right of Hamilton-Borbon-Nelson Cruz and Murphy as the first option off the bench. Left field served Josh well at the beginning of the season, he wasn’t having to run as much, but still being in the outfield could lead to more wall incidents which leads to the first base idea.
Initially when you think about moving an All-Star and potential MVP outfield to the infield, the first reaction is laughter and crazy talk. But this move could prove to be a very smart one if Texas wants to begin to talk about Hamilton’s durability for years to come. Assuming guys like Cantu and Francouer are not back with the Rangers for 2011, which is more than likely; a Hamilton move to first base would mean currently the outfield options would be Cruz, Borbon, Murphy, Moreland, Gentry and Boggs.
Not bad, but not exactly the lineup a defending AL West Champion team is going to feel comfortable about. Best case scenario there is the front office is able to sign a player like Carl Crawford in the offseason, and then left to right your outfield is Borbon-Crawford-Cruz and Hamilton at first base. Another option is going after first base free agents like Cantu, Adam Dunn, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Pena, or making a trade. I had the trade idea of putting together a package for Prince Fielder about a month ago and that seriously is a possibility.
My idea would be to work Hamilton out at first base in the offseason and Spring Training, if he picks up the position then platoon him during the regular season. Moreland and Davis will compete for a role, with the latter going to Triple-A. Hamilton can then be the first baseman against ALL left-handed pitchers, with some time spent in the outfield against right-handers.
There are multiple options here that all might be addressed in the offseason, it’s nice to have an ownership in which the Rangers now will look into all options and actually get something done, because the simple fact remains that for the Rangers to compete not only in the playoffs but for a World Series going forward they NEED an upgrade at first base.
Stephen Rhodes: Well, I think Josh would be okay staying in the outfield, for a while, but for longevity I think moving him to first would be smart. If that is the plan, I'd like to see them make the move next season and just do it.
Let him start learning the position. I personally would be okay with David Murphy starting at outfield, but why not spend some of that new TV money and bring in someone? I don't want to copy Bo, but I like his Carl Crawford idea.