For the second season in a row, the Texas Rangers made it to the World Series. For the second season in a row, they were the ones who watched another team celebrate.
It wasn’t a great feeling in 2010, and it was an even worse feeling in 2011, especially being one strike away — twice — the night before losing game seven of the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Players will return to Rangers Ballpark this week to pack up their lockers and say their goodbyes to teammates for a three-month offseason. Some may return next season, and some may be seeing the Rangers clubhouse for the last time. We don’t yet know what decisions will be made by the Rangers’ front office, but that’s why speculation can be so much fun.
We know at least one player may not be back with the Texas Rangers next season, and one other might be in line for a contract extension. There are changes that need to be made in a few places with this team if they are going to improve for the 2012 season and not have to watch yet another team celebrate when it should have been them.
C.J. Wilson: Do you or don’t you?
The debate is going to wage in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex because C.J. Wilson is the one name everyone is going to be talking about. Some want to bring him back while others will want to run him out of town.
And for good reason.
From everything that’s been said about his impending free agency, most think Wilson is going to ask for somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and upwards of $70-$80 million. Some might have been willing to pay that until they saw him pitch in the playoffs. Now, those teams might be backing off a little bit, and Wilson’s total worth might have taken a huge hit because of his performance.
But then there are other teams who look at what he did during the regular season and will see the kind of pitcher they will be getting. They figure his lackluster performance in the playoffs was just a fluke and it will be different with their team, especially a team desperate for a No. 1 starter in their rotation.
As for the Texas Rangers, there’s doubt amongst the fans that Texas is willing to bring him back. They don’t believe he is the guy they want for the long term and especially for what he’s going to be asking.
So, if you get rid of Wilson, who replaces him? There are more than a few options in free agency to look at and options that are going to cost a lot less than the possible $80 million they may have to invest.
First base: An upgrade the Texas Rangers desperately need
If you watched the Texas Rangers during the playoffs, or even during the season, you saw how desperate the Rangers are for a true first baseman.
Because they wanted his bat in the lineup, the Rangers were forced to play Michael Young at first base and paid the price for it. Two different times during the World Series, Young couldn’t decide where to go with the ball and ended up missing outs both times.
Mitch Moreland is a serviceable first baseman defensively, but is less than average with the bat. His regular-season numbers weren’t really that bad, hitting .259 with 16 home runs and driving in 51 runs in 464 at bats. It was during the playoffs that Moreland struggled, hitting .103 with just two home runs and striking out eight times in 29 at bats.
So, going into the 2012 season, the Rangers should look at options at first base to upgrade them not only defensively but also on the offensive side.
Mike Napoli looking long term?
There was no one better during the 2011 playoffs than catcher Mike Napoli, who enjoyed his first season as a member of the Texas Rangers. Not only did he deliver timely hits, but he also delivered some timely outs with his arm from behind the plate. Unfortunately for the Rangers, his heroics didn’t end up with a championship celebration to cap off an amazing season for the former Los Angeles Angel.
With the offseason officially getting underway and players filing for free agency as of the end of November, Napoli will enter into a very different conversation with the Texas Rangers. One that might land him a long-term contract to keep him in a Rangers’ uniform for the forseeable future.
He is eligible for arbitration for the fourth time in his career and, according to MLB Trade Rumors, could find his salary jump from $5.8 million in 2011 up to $8.5 million next season. The Rangers could take the arbitration process away altogether by working out a long-term deal to keep Napoli from exercising free agency after the 2012 season.
Neftali Feliz: Starter or closer?
This could very well be the biggest conversation outside Wilson’s free agency. The Texas Rangers attempted to turn Neftali Feliz into a starter during spring training and will undoutedly try again when players report to spring training in February.
There will be fans who don’t want to see him as a starter and will use his struggles as a closer, and for good reason, to point at some of his faults. Others will look at the fact he has only two pitches, a fastball and slider, that won’t do him well at all as a starting pitcher.
If Mike Maddux, the Rangers’ pitching coach, can teach Feliz another breaking ball and perhaps a changeup to go with high-90s fastball, it might serve him well.
Mike Adams, a reliever the Rangers aquired from the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline this past July, has the stuff and the mentality to become the new closer for this team. But what do you do with Feliz if he struggles as a starter during spring training? Do you put him into that position anyway or do you put him back in the bullpen but behind Adams at least for the first month or so of the season?
This will be a debate that will have fans on both sides of the aisle right up until Opening Day 2012.