THE Spring Training

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It’s hard to imagine warm weather and sultry summer days at the Ballpark in Arlington as we suffer through the recent frigid temperatures, but it will be here before we know it. As spring approaches, it appears that the Texas Rangers face mounting pressure from the fan base and ownership to get this franchise back in the playoffs and win the coveted prize.
The 2012 season ended with a disappointing one game Wild Card playoff loss to the Orioles and the 2013 season ended with the Rangers missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. After last year’s disappearance from the playoffs and the investment the ownership made this off-season, is Ron Washington facing his most important Spring Training, and consequently most important season ever as the manager of the Texas Rangers?Last season it was obvious that the Rangers ownership and front office were
rolling the dice early in the season on aging veterans, unproven starters, and hoping that the young talent in the minors could emerge and gain valuable experience. Giving the starting nods to David Murphy and Mitch Moreland (unproven everyday starters on a contending ballclub) combined with signing of A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman on one-year deals, all painted a picture to the fans that 2013 was not going to be the year they went all in on long term free agents to build this franchise around. That’s not to say they weren’t looking to contend or be competitive because you don’t trade away the players they did for Matt Garza without having intentions of winning immediately. After the disappointing finish to the season last year, the Texas Rangers ballclub has sent a much stronger message to the fans and players this season: they intend to win big and win now. Addressing their biggest weakness last season by trading for a power bat in Fielder and signing a true leadoff hitter in Choo, says all you need to know about their intentions and goals this year.
All of these reasons, and the commitment from the ownership, make me believe that this is a must win season for Washington or else he may be out the door. I do not believe this should happen and never condone putting undo pressure on managers heading into a season, but it’s just the nature of professional sports. So, what questions or issues are most pressing for Ron Washington to address or solve this spring to help put the Rangers in a position to win?1) Rotational depth, rotational depth, rotational depth!

Ron Washinton and Mike Maddux must find a way to shore up the rotation with the recent injury to Derek Holland. Yu Darvish will obviously be counted on as the team’s ace, but there are so many other questions marks and uncertainty surrounding the rest of the rotation, it will be important to have several guys competing in spring training in case they get their number called during the season. Having guys prepared “just in case” will be crucial this season unless the team goes out and signs another proven arm. The combination of a healthy Matt Harrison,
Martin Perez, Yu Darvish, Alexi Ogando, and possibly Colby Lewis or whomever wins the spring training battle, should be what we call the rotation when camp breaks, but who knows what will happen if injuries mount.

2) Paging Pudge

The Rangers are going with an interesting combination of catchers this season and it’s worth keeping an eye on during the spring or early parts of the season. How long before they have to go out and add someone else? Arencibia wakes up every morning swinging at every pitch he sees and Soto is probably better suited as a backup. The positive is that the Rangers replaced their power needs at other positions, so if they can just provide somewhat consistent production at the plate it may be enough to fill the offensive needs of this team.

3) Welcome to the Jungle

Who will be the closer in 2014? Ron Washington and Mike Maddux have several options and most managers would love to be able to choose from some of the arms that Wash has at his disposal, but which one makes this team a contender? Can Joakim Soria return to be the dominant guy he was at Kaufmann stadium when he entered to this video? Or will Feliz return to form and force Soria to the 8th? Mix in Tanner Scheppers and it reminds me of the dominant bullpen the Astros had in the early 2000’s with Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner handling the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.

As you bundle up and throw on that extra layer of clothing just find comfort in knowing we are less than 20 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting.

Jeff Johnson

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