Five keys.

It’s far too soon to try and make too much of anything that’s happened in Arizona so far – though hearing that Joakim Soria threw without incident is far preferable to the news the Angels shared yesterday on Ryan Madson’s elbow setback – but I need to write about something, if for no other reason than to distract my brain from the early side effects of this purification/cleanse thing I’m putting my body through.

(Yeah, I think it’s weird that news came out yesterday, about 36 hours into my own cleanse, that the Angels’ new outfielder put himself through one this winter and reported to camp 20 pounds lighter than usual.  Still, don’t care.)

Not wanting to write too many words about the possibility of Ryan Theriot or about the fact that Michael Kirkman is just as out-of-options as Julio Borbon, or to speculate on whether Texas was the mystery team in until the end on Michael Bourn, I’m going to start a Newberg Report tradition this morning, hours before Rangers’ pitchers’ and catchers’ first official workout of spring, a tradition that I’m very liable to ditch (or forget) before the First Workout a year from now.

Five keys to the 2013 season.

Five Keys!

schlüsselbund

Obviously, things are likely to happen in camp that will jump past a couple of these before too long.  Expect that.

And I’m not going to include “stay healthy,” even though that’s basically number one, every year.

Really, going through this exercise now is exceedingly premature.

But it’s baseball season now, and I gotta write something.

So, rather than comment on the King Felix extension (pretty much a slam dunk to have happened) or to roll out a COFFEY dump just to let you know that Mark Lowe (Dodgers) and Kam Loe (Mariners) have each signed minor league contracts or to draw parallels between Vladimir Guerrero and Jaromir Jagr that go beyond the suffix, here we go – the five keys to the Texas Rangers season, in my very temporary (and very protein-deprived) opinion.

5.  Leonys Martin.  As Jon Daniels said a couple weeks ago, if the club isn’t going to give the center fielder a serious look now, then when?

He’ll be 25 in three weeks.  He hit .359/.422/.610 in 260 plate appearances for Round Rock last summer, fanning only 39 times.  Texas doesn’t have a clear picture in center field – for that matter, the situation is less than rock-solid in the outfield as a whole.  Martin hits from the left side, allowing Texas to deploy Craig Gentry ideally.  It adds up.

The AAA slash line isn’t meant to serve as an indicator that Martin’s about to go all McCutchen on big league pitching, but it does suggest he doesn’t really have anything left to prove on the farm (at least offensively), unless he proves in camp he’s just not ready for regular big league work on a team that expects to win.  Martin will exhaust his third option in 2013 if he spends 20 days in the minor leagues, but that’s not so much of an issue since he’d be entitled procedurally to a fourth option.

It’s just time to see if Martin is ready.  If he can do a reasonable amount of damage at the plate and take a step forward with his recognition and judgment defensively, he and Gentry could combine to give the club a solid year in center field and at the bottom of the order, at less than $3 million combined.

4.  July.  I could write 3,000 words on this subject (and like it or not, I probably will more than once before we get there), but for now let’s just say that there are all kinds of reasons Texas should be able to make an impact at the trade deadline this year, from payroll allocations that weren’t made in the winter to a ripe farm system to the likelihood of a tight race that will justify a July splash.

The big unknown, as usual, will be who will be out there to be acquired.  King Felix is no longer a possibility, and Clayton Kershaw isn’t going to be shopped, either.  David Price’s availability will probably depend on Tampa Bay’s ability to survive in the East this year, while Giancarlo Stanton’s may depend on Jeffrey Loria’s mood.

Forget Andrew McCutchen.

But Miguel Cabrera?  Hmm.  Tuck that one away.

Matt Garza.  Carlos Gonzalez.  James Shields.  Yovani Gallardo.  Cliff Lee.

Maybe a second-tier player like Bud Norris or Billy Butler or Ricky Nolasco or Josh Willingham.

We don’t know now what impact names will be available at the trade deadline, and probably won’t until close to the deadline in this era of multiple Wild Card slots.  But we know that Texas (barring a really strange and miserable first half, which would put Elvis Andrus on the list himself) will be in on all of them to some extent.  The burden will be on Daniels and his crew to come through as the season embarks on its final third.

3. Wash.  Speaking of the final third, the manager has acknowledged, both in the aftermath of the dreadful conclusion to 2012 and in the weeks leading up to Pitchers & Catchers, that he needs to do a better job this year of getting his bench involved.  He’ll admit that it’s because his veterans were gassed in September, an obvious problem as his club limped to the finish and got bounced in such ugly fashion.

What he won’t admit publicly, because it’s not his style, is that he might also be armed with a couple young players on his bench who can impact a game from time to time.  Daniels has said he expects the 2013 club to play with more energy than last year’s roster, and that’s easier to envision if there’s an infusion of youth folded in.

The makeup of the bench – and whether it will include Jurickson Profar or Leury Garcia, and possibly Mike Olt – is going to be a fascinating story line this spring.  It’s become common around here to talk about how veteran infielders with alternatives are unlikely to sign on for bench roles with Texas since starting Rangers infielders rarely rest.  So if the choice is between going with a 4-A infielder that the manager doesn’t trust, or a phenom whose development would arguably be stunted by irregular action off the big league bench, one way to feel better about the roster makeup would be an expectation that Wash is going to get those guys involved, and not just once a week.

If he did that last year, it sure feels like there wouldn’t have been a one-and-done game in Arlington on October 5.

2.  Derek Holland.  Sure, you want to see Yu Darvish take the next step.  And Matt Harrison repeat.  And Alexi Ogando prove that he’s a starter.  And someone hold things down at number five until Colby Lewis is ready.

But no Rangers starting pitcher has a beta as volatile as Holland, who may be just as likely to lose his rotation spot to Lewis in May as he is to lead the club in 2013 wins.

Ninety big league starts and 569 innings is enough of a trial period, and that doesn’t even count his 35.2 playoff frames which included the greatest start in franchise history.

I always believed more in Holland than I did in Neftali Feliz, as the two shot through the system together.  Lots of folks have a ton of faith in Holland.

It’s time for him to validate.

1.  Ian Kinsler.  I almost want to just stop right there, without explanation.

The dude just needs to be better.

His second half was brutal, his overall season was his worst, his decline was not what you expect from a supreme athlete who’s still only 30.

He’s still one of baseball’s best second basemen.  I firmly believe that.  I don’t know whether the added responsibility as a team leader is going to be good for Kins or bad, or if it matters at all.  I don’t know whether having Dave Magadan around will reignite his offensive game, but I sure like to think those two could be a fantastic fit.  I’m hoping a rejuvenated ankle means rejuvenated defense.

Right now this feels like Adrian Beltre’s team, or maybe Andrus’s, but if we get to the summer and the Texas Rangers appear to be Ian Kinsler’s team, then I’m going to say right now that 2013 will be damn special.

If most of those five things work out, I like this team’s chances.  Yeah, Lance Berkman needs to be in the lineup, and it sure would help for the bullpen to hold things together until Soria and Feliz get back.  I’m never going to predict how many games Texas will win this season, a silly exercise on March 31, let alone February 13, but if Martin and Holland and Kinsler are better in 2013 than they were in 2012, and if Wash gets everyone on his roster playing time – and days off, and if JD strikes in July, that new “Hello Win Column” ad campaign is bound to get some heavy play, and we could be in for another year of 162+.

I realize there’s not much in here that’s particularly enlightening.  Call it the Newberg Report equivalent of “Rogelio showed up in camp in the best shape of his life,” an exercise in throwing a few words together that have little meaning but serve as a land marker to help move us from the cold of the off-season to the images that “Cactus” and “Grapefruit” are designed to summon up.

Then again, it’s apparently 36 degrees in Surprise right now, and although I expect to feel like I’m in the best shape of my life myself after finishing this cleanse, I’m not feeling that way right now, so apparently nothing makes sense and maybe this was all a bad idea, and I’ll get right to work on a piece breaking down Ryan Garko’s non-roster deal with the Rockies, Bengie Molina’s new gig as the Cardinals’ assistant hitting coach, and the mind-blowing possibilities of what would happen if Josh Hamilton, evidently inspired to juice this winter by a TV pitchwoman in the middle of the night, were to wake up one night instead to C.J. Wilson pitching Head & Shoulders.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers

%d bloggers like this: