As I was reading through the final roster tonight, I was reminded that Josh Hamilton shares my birthday and John Rheinecker shares my wife’s birthday. It seemed to me that there have been many occasions when she’s had a Ranger share hers, but hardly any have shared mine. So, looking it up at Baseball Reference, I discovered that she had only shared with Rheinecker and Jerry Hairston, both in 2006 and 07, whereas I had previously had Ricardo Rodriguez in 04 and 05. That surprised me, because I expected either a lot more, or perhaps one longtime player, because I know we’ve talked about it regularly. Even comparing other teams (we do that when we read the program) there appear to have only been a few, and not very famous, opponents lately. Hopefully Hamilton will end up being the best of our birthday matches.
What triggered that line of thought was actually a shocking discovery: I believe that this year, for the first time ever, I will be older than anyone on the Rangers Opening Day roster. Eddie Guardado was born in 1970, and I’m a 69er. Last year both Sosa and Kenny Lofton were ahead of me. This is one of those sad moments in life. Realizing something like that makes me feel just a little bit older. I might even have to accept that I probably will never play major league baseball (unless I pull a Billy Crystal, which gives me another 20 years to try and get famous).
I thought I would take a look today at the roster, and compare it to what I projected back in October, when I did my season-ending wrapup by position. That might say something about what conventional thought was back then, and what actually happened over the winter. So, here we go:
C: I expected Laird to be traded, Saltalamacchia to get the job full-time, and one of the older guys to be backup/mentor to Salty. I got that last part right, in that they brought back Melhuse to be backup, but despite many rumours even in the last week, Laird is still here, and has the job, and Salty is going back to AAA for more seasoning.
1B: I predicted they’d make a splash at first, because of the lack of options internally (Frank Catalanotto and Jason Botts were my leading contenders). Not sure you’d call Ben Broussard a splash, more of a puddle, really. Cat and Botts are both around, Botts having done some work to try and get playing time at first. With luck, Botts will force his way into the lineup.
2B: I said Kinsler was entrenched, and they handed him a multi-year deal to verify it. He ought to be there for a while.
3B: All depended on the health of Hank Blalock, and he appears to be okay, so much so that Chris Davis is making the move across the diamond because he should be blocked at third. With Travis Metcalf injured and out for a while, Ramon Vazquez will hold down the backup infield position, which is lucky for us because his OPS+ of 77 last year clearly signalled a renaissance for a guy who hadn’t been that high since 2003 (yes, this is sarcasm). Better hope ol’ Hank doesn’t miss another chunk of the year.
SS: Michael Young starts the year here, but will he finish it? I questioned his commitment to more rebuilding, and he hasn’t demanded a trade yet, but I wouldn’t bet on him being here on Opening Day 2009. Jim Reeves had an article in the Star Telegram this week saying Young should be named captain. Guess he forgot to mention who the last Rangers captain was (and I’m not talking about the horse), and how long he lasted in the job. Boy that would be ironic.
LF: I suggested the Rangers would go for a marquee free agent CF over the winter, and have Murphy/Byrd/Botts split time in left. I was at least partially right, as they got a CF and moved Byrd to left, with Murphy going to back up every outfield position. Botts slides to first, and Catalanotto will get a few catnaps, since he’s been relegated to fifth outfielder/DH duty.
CF: With so many CF free agents, I thought the Rangers would throw a ton of money at one of them, and they tried, but missed. They actually did a pretty good job though, in trading for Josh Hamilton. How will he fare in the expansive outfield in Arlington? TBD. In the meantime, I bet they sell a bunch of t-shirts.
RF: I said we shouldn’t count on any kind of stability in right, and I was right about that, because they brought in Milton Bradley, who you could just about put in the dictionary under the definition “unstable”. Some of the other choices made themselves unpalatable, such as Nelson Cruz, who choked every time he was given the opportunity to step up. With his waiving today, he’ll almost certainly be in another uniform very soon.
DH: At least they didn’t bring back Sosa. This is going to be a patchwork position, with Bradley playing here if he’s not fully fit, and Cat and Botts getting some time in. DH really should be a good hit/no field position, and to be contemplating Frank Catalanotto as your starting DH is pretty much waving the white flag before the season begins.
Starters: Boy oh boy. I said Millwood, Padilla and McCarthy are locks, with Gabbard and Volquez filling out the rotation and Eric Hurley knocking on the door. Three of them will actually be in the Opening Day rotation – the three you wouldn’t choose. Millwood, Padilla and Gabbard will be joined by Jason Jennings (free agent filler) and Luis Mendoza (last man standing). McCarthy starts on the DL, Hurley starts in AAA, and Volquez will win 10-15 games for Cincinnati.
Relievers: I thought the Rangers would go for a proven closer, and they did, but surprisingly enough they didn’t give him the job. Eddie Guardado will slot in behind CJ Wilson. Bad for Joaquin Benoit, who pushes down a spot (at least until July, when a contender comes to trade for Eddie). I thought Aki Otsuka might be back, that didn’t work out. Then there’s the whole list of dreck filling out the line. Fukumori has looked pretty decent, but after that you’re really just filling in names. It makes me wonder how on earth the bullpen can be rated so well – and if they’re so good, can’t we get a starter for some of them? Oh, and the Rangers went out and traded for Dustin Nippert yesterday, to be last man in the bullpen. Really? Tejeda wasn’t even worth that much of a gamble, to send him out a few times in April when there’s nothing on the line? Okay, he may not be any good, but you’re talking about the 25th man on the roster, it’s not like a critical spot.
So, there you have it. A pretty reasonable set of guesses at the roster, most of them were correct. Of course, you could probably do this exercise for every team and have them mostly right. The only problem I have is the great predictability in the team. You’re sending out largely the same team as last year, and expecting them to be better? They won 75 in 2007, and the older ones got a year older, and the younger ones weren’t that good to begin with. Expect a few career years, expect a few flops, that always happens. But put your over/under at 70 wins, and try not to be too surprised if they get a few more than that.