Well, sort of disappointing so far this Spring. When judging whether a team improved year over year, most commentators simply look at what moves were made during the offseason, and forecast a team’s future accordingly. However, when considering the Rangers, the biggest improvements may have been put in place last July. Despite its March struggles, the Rangers bullpen should be another team strength throughout the season.
In the opening months of 2011, the Rangers bullpen featured Dave Bush, Brett Tomko, Mason Tobin, Arthur Rhodes, and Ryan Tucker. Darren Oliver was temporarily the team’s closer when Neftali Feliz hit the disabled list in May. Mid-season trades for Mike Adams and Koji Uehara improved the pen, and the postseason move of Alexi Ogando to the bullpen created a dominant force in the late innings. Scott Feldman is healthy and should be one of the better long relievers in the game.
The American League Champions’ roster is mostly intact, and now that Texas’ short flings with Conor Jackson and Brad Hawpe have met their bitter end, we can look at some of the bullpen questions in more detail.
A few question marks:
Nathan lacked velocity and struggled early in Spring Training. This week, he pitched back-to-back days for the first time this spring and reported that his arm felt stronger in his second outing. Nathan’s velocity was also up and ranged between 92-94 MPH. It seems unlikely that Nathan will return to his Mariano Rivera comps of the last decade, but should do a sufficient job closing out games.
Uehara’s dominance in Baltimore enticed Jon Daniels into trading Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis for what was supposed to be a critical piece in the postseason bullpen. In 43 games and 47 innings with the Orioles, Uehara walked only 8, struck out 62, and posted an ERA of 1.72. The team believes a few bad outings upon joining Texas shattered his confidence, and he was left off of the World Series roster. The Rangers had hoped that he would have put it behind him during the offseason, but things have only gotten worse. In 8 ⅓ innings through Thursday, Uehara has allowed 11 runs, including four homers. I’m starting to seriously doubt that Uehara will be a Ranger come October.
Is it just me, or does Lowe cough up a long-ball in each of his trips to the mound? It’s not just bad World Series memories, either. So far this Spring: 8 innings, 4 runs, and 2 homers. It’s hard not to question the $1.7 million Texas gifted Lowe this Winter.
Robbie Ross has created an interesting dilemma for the Rangers. Based on his ceiling to potentially become a middle to back-end left handed starter, MLB.com ranked Ross as Texas’ fifth best prospect, and Baseball America listed him 14th. However, if the Rangers convert him to the bullpen now, his overall value will decrease, and there may be no turning back. The reality is, Ross isn’t likely to ever penetrate the Rangers rotation. His value as a starter would be as a trade chip, and the Rangers traded similarly talented starters Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to San Diego for Mike Adams last summer. If the Rangers value a dominant reliever over two middling prospects, than Ross’ ability to stand out should answer any questions regarding his future.