“65 Mustangs” The Texas Rangers – the “Most Interesting Team in the West”; Five Big Questions for 2016.
I was surprised and sad this week to see that “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, Jonathan Goldsmith, is being retired by Dos XX Equis. For nine years I have enjoyed those commercials and Heineken, the parent company of Dos did too, as Dos tripled their annual sales during that period, posting the largest gains of all their brands. But, of course they outdid themselves and gave TMIMITW a grand sendoff sending him on a one way trip to Mars in what will be the final ad. At the end of this article I’ll post a link to the as yet unreleased commercial, thanks to USA Today and You Tube, if you’d like to see it.
What does this have to do with the Rangers? Only that I think the Rangers are the most interesting of all the AL West teams. On August 1, 2015 Texas was three games under .500 and eight games out of 1st behind the upstart Astros and the Angels. They were not even in the post season conversation. Led by big 2nd halfs from Adrian Beltre, Sin Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and others, including Cole Hamels going 7-1 after the trade, the cream rose and they won the West Division with the 3rd best record in the AL The Astros were not quite ready to play with the big boys just yet.
I like them to repeat in 2016 if things break right. Like every other MLB team they have questions going into Spring games. I want to talk about a few of those interesting questions whose answers may impact the 2016 standings and even beyond. From a Fantasy perspective these issues could impact your draft day strategies as well. I’ll give my opinions, but I certainly don’t know the answers to these questions.
- Will 3B man Adrian Beltre carry the momentum from the 2nd half of 2015 into 2016? Will this be his last season in Texas? Beltre has always been one of my favorite players and a cornerstone on many of my fantasy teams. He looked old in the 1st half, then had a great 2nd half, hitting 12 HR, 62 RBI and a .316 BA in the last 81 games. After the season he had surgery on the thumb ligament that had dogged him most of season. Those 2nd half numbers project out to the area of 2012/2013 Beltre, but I’d even settle for 2014 production, where he went 19, 74, .329. He is the key to the Rangers repeating, in my opinion. Which direction is the soon to be 37 Beltre going this season now that the thumb should not be a hindrance. This is a contract year for him, but there has also been talk of a three year extension as a possibility. With Scott Boras as his agent I would not hold my breath on that. To me Beltre is not the kind of guy who will play differently based on his contract status. I predict he has one more vintage Beltre seasons left in the tank and it will be this season.
- When will we see Yu Darvish and will he be the same guy he was 2 years ago? I would have placed Yu at the top of this list, except the Rangers managed to win the Division last season without their best pitcher. But, seriously, getting him back in May or so will be like making a trade without giving anyone up. The question is what kind of pitcher will he be this season and going forward? Many think he will have to abandon his awkward delivery to preserve his arm, and that could lead to a loss of velocity. But it also may lead to less walks, one of the few warts on Darvish resume. It is natural to expect a period of adjustment, but recent history with the likes of Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey and others shows it may not have to be a long period. No one can predict with certainty what his numbers will look like come September, but I’m optimistic we’ll have the Darvish of old by the All Star break, possibly without the 12 K/9 ratio. He’ll be 29 on opening day. He’ll be drafted in every type of fantasy league but drafting him too early could be a mistake. I’ll look to see if he is still there after the 10th round. On a side note, has anyone else noticed that the Japanese pitchers that have been posted in recent years seem to be coming with some arm issues? Darvish was only 25 when he came to the US, but already had five straight years of 200 IP in Japan, and another 250 IP before he was even 20 years old. That is a lot of miles.
- Can Ian Desmond: A.Return to 2014 levels to be a 20/20 player again & B. Can he handle LF full time? I’m not sure which question is tougher to answer. I have no idea if he can play LF. Boston moved Hanley Ramirez there in 2015 and it didn’t work, but I’ll be optimistic the more athletic Desmond can make the switch. I’m more worried about his hitting. He is trending upward in strikeout rates and also hitting more ground balls. I don’t think his speed or power dropped off much in 2015, but when a player is struggling to make contact, Homers and SB become less important and the counting stats tend to go down. I can see him getting back to 20/20, but I’m not sure his average is coming back to the modest levels it was at two years ago. If I had to choose between him and Choo, I’d take Choo, but there is not much behind Desmond unless Joey Gallo or Lewis Brinson is ready. He’ll be the ultimate risk/reward play in fantasy drafts. We know what his upside is, but the floor could be low. I hope not.
- Of Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus, Delino Deshields and Joey Gallo, who is ready to take the next step and where will they all play? What about Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazzara? This is the part of the Ranger’s team that is most exciting to me. Start with what we know. Odor, 2B, Andrus, SS and Deshields, CF seem to be penciled into the opening day lineup. They have earned that right, but the group behind them look like future stars themselves. Joey Gallo is the enigma. Tremendous power and poor plate discipline draw him comparisons to Chris Davis of the O’s. He’s a third baseman by trade, but the team MVP plays there. I’m sure that is part of the dilemma with Belte’s three year extension request, especially with Prince entrenched in the DH spot. Gallo will surely start in the minors in 2015 barring injury. He needs plate discipline and a place to play. When he gets those watch out. Profar is a bit of an enigma himself, missing two seasons with a shoulder injury after being named the #1 prospect in baseball 2 years ago. So far, in Spring Training he has been throwing well enough from SS to give hope he can play that position again. He also can play 2b and has learned LF. He’ll likely start the season in AAA, and should, but don’t forget about this guy. He is only 23, and has drawn hitting comparisons to a young Ben Zobrist. I envision a keystone combo of Odor and Profar at some point, with Andrus likely trade bait when that happens. Here is a video of Profar (courtesy of Lone Star Ball) when he was 19 and joined the list of players who hit a HR in their first MLB at bat. I think Brinson and Mazzara could use a year at AAA, but if Deshields can’t handle Center, Brinson may be coming, and the same in Left with Mazzara. Both could be stars soon in the MLB. I read today that Desmond could move to CF if Mazzara was ready first. Don’t we need to see if he can play LF first? Either way, the future is as bright as the present in Texas.
- Are Prince Fielder & Sin-Soo Choo all the way back from injury? Both players are an extra year removed from injuries that cost each of them a good year of baseball, but Choo will be 34 in July and Fielder 32 in May. One could argue they were already in decline when they were injured, but each had a very good half season in 2015. Choo came on and played like the old Choo (minus the SB) and helped the playoff push. Fielder, the subject of many Ranger fan’s debates and conversations seems to be the one most people worry about. Part of that is the Rangers are paying him a ton of money for a lot of years to play here, and the fans have yet to see a healthy Fielder for any length of time. Fielder had a nice 1st half, but regressed in the 2nd half. Perhaps he was worn out, where the more athletic Choo only got better. The bulk of the Rangers power is tied up Fielder, Choo and Beltre right now, and I think they need all three healthy and productive to repeat. I’ll say the same thing I said about Beltre. I think there is at least one more vintage season for each of these guys, and if they all get that in 2016 it will be easier for Texas go deep into October. These are all-star caliber players. I seriously don’t think we’ve seen the last of their big seasons.
I was only going to do five questions, but during the past few days I heard a lot of people talking about these last two issues.
6. Should Dyson close over Tolleson? I’ve heard quite a few people say that Dyson should be the closer. I don’t know their respective personality traits, and we all know personality can be a skill set when it comes to closing ball games. I just don’t see what Tolleson did, aside from some misplaced gopher balls late in the season, not to deserve having a chance to defend his role. Maybe that is just the nature of the closer position these days. They are all looking over their shoulders and we are all straining to be the first to see who it is they are bringing in to replace him. The closer position is lunacy anyway, ask Drew Storen. Except for HR’s allowed, Tolleson’s numbers are better than Dyson’s across the board. Please tell me what I am missing?
7. Is there enough SP after Hamels? Most starting staffs have this question as well, but it is even more important in Texas because we don’t know what Darvish is going to give us, or when he’ll be back. Right now the depth chart shows Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Perez will be 25 on opening day and has the potential to take another step. His walk rate has been declining from a high of 4.7 per 9 in the minors to 2.7 per 9 in 2015. I don’t think he’ll ever be an ace but if he can give you 30 starts and 20 are Quality Starts, that is not a bad 5th SP. In 2014, Holland was a 27 year old SP poised for a breakout. Instead he lost most of the next two seasons to injury. I would not even look at his numbers until he has 20 healthy starts to pass any judgement. Lewis will be 37 soon, and entering his 3rd year back from his Asian tour. He does not get a lot of strikeouts, walks a few too many, is fairly hittable, giving up 25 HR each of the last two years and got his ERA down from 5.18 in 2014 to an uninspiring 4.66 last season. However, he was the lone Ranger SP (no pun intended) to go 200 innings, and due to some very generous run support, paced a playoff team with 17 Wins. Ace, no. Useful SP, yes. There is also Chi Chi Gonzalez on hand, but something will have to happen to one of these five before he’ll get another chance. A Walks to Strikeouts rate of more than than 1.0 will not cut it in the MLB, and his numbers in the minors were not a lot better. This rotation has plenty to win the West if the top five do what they can do. In my opinion, any serious injuries or skills drop off and the Rangers will be looking for a SP again this season at the deadline.
Ok, so that was seven, not five. I hope some people out there have the answers. I managed somehow to write this with no mention of a certain left fielder with off field issues. Anything he does should be considered a bonus or surprise at this point.
As promised, here is the newest and final commercial for The Most Interesting Man in the World.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday March 13th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We begin the division by division break downs with everything fantasy and MLB relevant in the A.L. East.
Our guests this week are Zak Sauer and Hernan Batista. Zak is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. Hernan is a key owner in our leagues and will be a regular guest on our shows this year.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly Show: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 10th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #4 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss the short stop and 2nd base players to target or avoid in 2016.
This week’s guests are Marc Foster and Nick DeSisto. Marc was a writer with us in 2012 and 2013. He is one the original 8 core members who has been playing in our leagues since 2008 and he will be a frequent guest on our shows this year. Nick is going into his 3rd year as an MLFB owner and he will also be a frequent radio guest this year.
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