The Rangers are unable to resign Cliff Lee as he takes a five-year deal to return to Philadelphia.  Texas overpays for up-and-down third baseman Adrian Beltre.  Rangers aren’t bringing back slugger Vladimir Guerrero.  Texas isn’t interested in starting catcher Bengie Molina.  Rangers miss out on ace pitchers Zack Greinke and Matt Garza.  Rangers captain Michael Young wants out of Texas.  Rangers are going to need to trade their Face of the Franchise before Spring Training.


Anybody else sick and tired of consistently reading these headlines…me too.  Well I purposely placed that last one because guess what?  Spring Training has begun, so all the constant chatter needs to stop and let’s play baseball.


Now, I don’t care what your opinion is on Texas signing Lee or not is.  I don’t care who thinks Beltre might be a bust.  I don’t care where Vlad is playing.  I don’t care that we still have some solid prospects and not Greinke or Garza.  And I don’t care one bit about what teams want Michael Young.  And you know why, because it doesn’t matter any more.  The off-season is officially over and the constant stories of team failures and mistakes can die with it.  The facts are incredibly simple here:  Lee is a Philly, Beltre is the Rangers starting third baseman, Vlad is an Oriole, Greinke a Brewer, and Garza a Cub.  And finally Young is still a Texas Ranger.  End of story.


Now you might be wondering why my feathers are a tad ruffled by all this negativity about the Rangers off-season and that too is a simple answer.  The 2011 Texas Rangers at Spring Training and soon the Opening Day roster are better than the 2010 version at the same time.  Catch that word…BETTER!


Am I saying that we are definitely World Series bound and even a better chance of winning?  No, not saying that at all.  We can have that conversation when it is necessary in late July.  I promise we will.


But seriously let’s break this down by position and I can show you why I know for a fact that the 2011 team is better than the 2010 Opening Day team and why I’m incredibly excited to get the season under way.



Starting Pitchers 


Scott Feldman, yeah that was the first person to take the ball in 2010 for the Rangers.  In fact the Rangers Opening Day rotation was Feldman, Rich Harden, Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson, and Matt Harrison.  Tommy Hunter started the year off on the DL and Derek Holland started at AAA Oklahoma City.  At the time the rotation wasn’t too terrible and many of us were optimistic, overly-optimistic about what Feldman and Harden could do as a 1-2 punch.  


This year Texas is going to open the season with Wilson and Lewis as the 1-2 punch.  Seriously, how much more confident are you about those two now then you were last year.  But now Texas adds in Brandon Webb.  On the positive side the guy is a former Cy Young award winner and potential 200-inning, sub-3.50 ERA, every fifth day type of pitcher.  Downside is he has pitched four total innings the past two years and might not be 100% for Opening Day.  However signs are beginning to look much better about him and Texas is taking it very slow with him right now.  On the back end of that rotation we are likely to see a combination of Hunter, Holland, Michael Kirkman, or maybe even Dave Bush compete for the 4th and 5th spot.


Is it the best rotation?  No, not at all, but the rotation does look better than the 2010 Opening Day version.  Cliff wasn’t added until mid-July and if Texas is back in the hunt again, and needs another starting pitcher to make that over-the-top push again, don’t be surprised if a trade to add depth happens again.  Maybe not on the Lee-scale, cough-Josh Johnson, but maybe.



Relief Pitchers


Last season’s closer was Frank Francisco with Neftali Feliz setting him up.  After about two weeks of disaster Feliz took over and eventually won the AL Rookie of the Year award.  Now Texas will likely start with Feliz closing, though he could become a starter, in which it’s an entirely new situation.  But aside from those two, Texas’ bullpen last year was rounded out with Doug Mathis, Dustin Nippert, Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver, and Chris Ray.  Now the Darrens are both returning so compare the other three with this year’s other three of Arthur Rhodes, Alexi Ogando, and either Mark Lowe / Yoshinori Tateyama / Mason Tobin.  The final spot in the rotation, the long reliever will likely be one of the odd man outs for the fifth starting position listed above.


This is all I really need to say about the bullpen, because it’s pointless to argue with that not being an upgrade from last year.  Rhodes and Ogando by themselves are better than Mathis, Nippert, and Ray.





Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bengie Molina fan and very appreciative of what he did for this team but remember he was a Giant to start 2010.  The Rangers starting catchers last year were Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden, and it didn’t take a week for that to become a near panic situation as Salty was hurt again and Taylor couldn’t hit anything.  This year Texas will start the season with Yorvit Torrealba, think younger-version of Molina, and Matt “CJ’s go-to-guy” Treanor.  Much better situation come Opening Day.





The 2010 Opening Day infield didn’t start with Ian Kinsler as he was on the DL with an ankle situation, but since that was unforeseen I’m still going to consider him the starting second baseman at the beginning of the season.  Therefore the infield was Chris Davis (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Michael Young (3B), with the players off the bench being Joaquin Arias (2B), Andres Blanco (SS/3B), and Ryan Garko (1B).  Aside from Blanco, who will likely be on the starting 25-man roster, the bench players were a complete waste of a uniform number and place on the team.  To start in 2011 the Rangers Opening Day infield is going to be Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Adrian Beltre (3B) with the players that could come in off the bench being Michael Young (3B/2B/1B), Mike Napoli (1B/C), and Andres Blanco (SS).  


Raise you hand if you’re more comfortable with Davis at 1B than Moreland…no one, thought not. Davis still has an opportunity to be option in the Majors, but Moreland gets first dibs with the Rangers from now on.  Moreland is going to be the Rangers starting 1B, even though he will get some rest against lefties at the expense of Young and Napoli, he is the player of the future at that position…for now.  Yes, I agree that Young is the Face of the Franchise, the current Mr. Ranger, and the Team Captain, but the fact still remains Texas is a better team with Adrian Beltre playing third base than Young.  And when speaking defensively we are leaps and bounds better.  In fact a Beltre-Andrus left side of the infield; well…I’ll say that is the BEST left-side of the infield in baseball.  Finally look at the bench options. Seriously, how much more confident will the Rangers’ fan base be having Mike Napoli, the Angels leading HR hitter in 2010, than Ryan Garko coming to the plate.  





Alright this one is basically a tie except for one reason, experience.  Last year Texas started with the same top four outfielders as this year: Josh Hamilton (LF), Julio Borbon (CF), Nelson Cruz (RF), and David Murphy (4th).  Rangers’ new hitting coach, Thad Bosley, has stated that both Hamilton and Cruz still have more to learn in regards to hitting, personally that’s one hell of a scary thought, especially to opposing pitchers.  Borbon has spent the off-season working on his defense, and once again hitting in the nine-hole is going to make him a better hitter than leading off.


The last three things the Rangers have working for them that makes the 2011 team better than the 2010 Opening Day team: 1) the fan base has returned, 2) these Rangers now have some serious October experience, and 3) the “Never Won a Playoff Series” monkey is gone.


I can’t even begin to predict what the up-coming season will hold, nobody does, “that’s just the way baseball go.”  The injuries that will occur, the players who will slump, the ones that will burst out of their shell, the minor leaguers who will step-up and make a difference, and finally the trades that may or may not come in July.


The baseball season is 162 games, it’s a marathon and with the team Texas has they also have a better starting position than they did last year.   And the fact remains that the final 25-man roster that the Rangers decide on and take the field on Friday, April 1st to face the Boston Red Sox will be a better 25-player roster than took the field a year ago. 


So once again, it’s time to shut up and play ball.