10 Rangers questions for '10
Hunter, Murphy, Hurdle among key cogs in AL West chase
ARLINGTON -- A new year dawns with new questions. Big questions.
Like what animal will the Chinese be honoring this year? The answer is the Tiger. The Rangers wonder if he can pitch.There are other things to ponder in new calendar. Here are just a few surrounding the Rangers... 1. What will happen with the catching situation? The Rangers will bring in at least one and possibly two veteran catchers to push Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. The Rangers clearly have concerns about Saltalamacchia's right shoulder and they clearly have doubts that Teagarden is ready for everyday duty. The Rangers have talked about Rod Barajas and Yorvit Torrealba, but both are looking for the customary two-year deals. The Rangers aren't interested there. Among the best of the rest are Jose Molina and Miguel Olivo. Josh Bard is also still out there, as well as veterans Michael Barrett and Mike Redmond. If Saltalamacchia is not ready, the new guy will likely start and Teagarden will be his backup. If Saltalamacchia is ready, he and the new guy will share the duties and Teagarden will likely be back at Triple-A Oklahoma, where he should have been last year. 2. Why is Tommy Hunter the most important pitcher on the Rangers staff? What the Rangers do with Hunter will be indicative of their pitching philosophy overall. The Rangers have shown in the past they value veterans and they like big arms. Hunter was 9-6 with a 4.10 ERA as a rookie last year. He doesn't have overwhelming stuff or a big arm but he has four pitches that he throws for strikes. He had 2.65 walks per nine innings last year, third best on the staff of the 23 pitchers used. He was also fifth with 11.89 baserunners per nine innings. But he was 15th with 5.14 strikeouts per nine innings. It will be interesting to see how the Rangers view Hunter this spring in the starting rotation competition. 3. What will happen with David Murphy? Right now he is the designated hitter and fourth outfielder but could be pushed down on the depth chart if the Rangers are able to acquire a big bat such as Vladimir Guerrero or Jermaine Dye. Murphy is not a big tools guy. But he was the Rangers' most patient hitter last year. He had the lowest percentage among regulars of swinging at the first pitch and the highest percentage of pitches taken. Only Andruw Jones had a better ratio of plate appearances per walk. The negative was he hit .228 with runners in scoring position and .217 with RISP and two outs. That has to get better. 4. Did the Rangers push Derek Holland too quickly through the system? Probably, but you can divide Holland's rookie season into three sections. He was 1-5 with a 6.20 ERA in his first six starts and nine relief appearances through the beginning of July as he tried to adjust to the Major Leagues, the ambivalent role of bouncing between rotation and bullpen and the excessive expectations and demands created by his early arrival into the big leagues. From July 4 through Aug. 23, Holland was 6-2 with a 3.35 ERA in eight starts and three relief appearances. Clearly he belonged in the Majors. In his last seven starts, he was 1-6 with a 10.19 ERA. Clearly he was either out of gas in his first big league season or opponents had caught up to him. But there is no doubt there were times he clearly showed he belonged. 5. How much of a difference can hitting coach Clint Hurdle make on the Rangers offense? He will be a big hit if he can keep Josh Hamilton in the lineup. There is no doubt that Hurdle has a sound approach to hitting and he loves the job just as much as Rudy Jaramillo did. Some hitters may take to him immediately, others may have difficulty losing the security blanket they felt when Jaramillo was here. The Rangers' ability to score runs will depend largely on Hamilton staying healthy, Julio Borbon taking to the leadoff spot and Nelson Cruz taking his terrific talent up one more level to the 100-RBI mark. A breakthrough season from Chris Davis will also be huge. 6. What is the rotation going to look like? Right now? Scott Feldman, Rich Harden, Holland, Hunter and either Brandon McCarthy or Matt Harrison. But the Rangers have made it clear they are looking for one more veteran starter and feel they have a decent chance of getting one. 7. What is the bullpen going to look like? Frank Francisco is the closer, Darren Oliver and C.J. Wilson are the left-handed setup relievers and Chris Ray and Neftali Feliz are the right-handed relievers. Darren O'Day, who had a 1.94 ERA last season, should have a spot, but he doesn't have that big power arm that the Rangers covet. Dustin Nippert does. He should be the leading candidate for the long relief job. 8. What is manager Ron Washington's situation? He enters his fourth season as manager with just one year left on his contract unless the Rangers elect to do an extension before Opening Day. If not, it will be the second year in a row the Rangers have let him go into the season in the final year of his contract. The Rangers have gone from 75 wins, to 79 and now to 87 wins in three seasons under Washington's guidance. 9. How much will new ownership help? The new ownership, assuming a deal is struck and approval comes before Opening Day, should bring some financial payroll flexibility that was absent last season. If nothing else, the Rangers should be in better position to deal with two first-round and two supplemental-round Drafts picks in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. 10. Can the Rangers win the division? They need 65-75 wins from their rotation. They had 68 in 2009. Their bullpen needs to be closer to the 13 blown saves in 2009 rather than the 28 blown saves in 2008. Their defense needs to be closer to the 42 unearned runs in 2009 rather than the 107 allowed in 2008. Their offense needs to score about 850 runs.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.