Best team in baseball? The Texas Rangers may be that club.
First impressions can be misleading. Managers constantly remind us that almost every team is going to have stretches when it looks like the best—or worst—team on earth. We’re constantly reminded that September performances are fool’s gold. April’s can be the same way.
Still, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the Rangers. So much was made of their offseason losses—Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara—that it was easy to overlook how good they still were. Their offense is as good and as deep as any in the game thanks to the additions of Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler has rediscovered his opposite-field swing and seems poised for a tremendous year. The left side of the infield—third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus—is the best in the game. Manager Ron Washington’s early challenge may be figuring out which of his young center fielders—Craig Gentry or Leonys Martin—to play.
The bullpen was hit so hard by the losses of Adams and Uehara that Daniels signed veteran Derek Lowe with two weeks remaining in Spring Training. But Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers all have big-time arms and seem capable of taking care of the innings in front of closer Joe Nathan.
If there’s a worry, it’s the rotation, and if it ends up being a problem, then the Rangers are going nowhere. Even that potential problems seems likely to work itself out. Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando are off to nice starts, and rookie Nick Tepesch was tremendous in his Major League debut on Tuesday in holding the Rays to one run in 7 1/3 innings.
He was a 14th-round draft pick out of the University of Missouri who has climbed steadily through the system. In his debut, he showed off a 92-mph fastball and a nice curveball. He had the Rays off-balance the entire night in throwing 104 pitches.
He suddenly becomes a more important piece to the puzzle with today’s word that Opening Day starter Matt Harrison has been placed on the Disabled List with a back issue. To replace him, the Rangers are going back to their farm system for 24-year-old right-hander Justin Grimm, who made five appearances last season. He won his Major League debut against the Astros on June 16 and had a couple of appearances in the September pennant race.
There could be help on the way. Harrison isn’t expected to be sidelined long-term, and staff ace Colby Lewis could be back from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the season. That’s just a guess since he’s just beginning to throw, and any timetable for his return is in the future. Right-hander Neftali Feliz is also recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the plan is to put him back in the bullpen when he returns.
Daniels has leverage. He constructed the 2013 Rangers without surrendering his top two prospects, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. There has been speculation in the media they could be part of a package to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins. Or they could be used to get a rotation piece.
To sum up: the Rangers are in a good spot. They’re smartly constructed. They have a manager who has the trust of his players. They have a good, solid core of veteran leaderships. And in Beltre, Andrus, Kinsler, etc., they have guys good enough to carry a franchise.
The A’s have better starting pitching at the moment, and in a close division race, it’s smart to pick the team with the best rotation. But it would be a huge mistake to overlook the Rangers. No executive in the game has done better work than Daniels.