BCB: The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton this winter (within the division) and missed out on Zack Greinke in free agency. Did they take a step backward over the offseason?
LSB: I don't know that the Rangers necessarily took a step backwards this offseason. Yes, they missed out on Zack Greinke, but they never had him in the first place, so they aren't any worse as a result. The rotation, once Colby Lewis returns in May, is Darvish-Harrison-Lewis-Holland-Ogando, which is pretty solid. On the position-player side, the Rangers lost Hamilton, Napoli and Young, but they added Pierzynski and Berkman and will plug Leonys Martin into center field, and I'd wager the Pierzynski/Berkman/Leonys trio will come close to matching what Hamilton, Napoli and Young did in 2013. To the extent they took a step backwards, it is in the bullpen, with the loss of Koji Uehara and Mike Adams.
BCB: Ian Kinsler was still an All Star a year ago but took a significant step back offensively, posting his lowest OPS (.749) as a big leaguer. Was there an explanation for his down year and is he expected to bounce back in 2013?
LSB: Kinsler had a bad ankle in 2012 that had him considering surgery in June, but he says he's been battling that ankle problem since 2010, and it isn't an excuse for how 2012 went. What he says and what is being written is that he got into some bad habits at the plate last year, and couldn't snap out of it. He's always been streaky, and after being red-hot at the start of 2012, he struggled for most of the second half. I think it is just a bad year, and he'll bounce back.
BCB: Matt Harrison turned 27 in September and has posted a sub-3.50 ERA while making 62 starts over the last two seasons (plus five appearances in the 2011 playoffs). Is he one of baseball's best-kept secrets at this point?
LSB: Harrison is an interesting case. He was someone whose stuff never matched up with his results in the minors, he was overshadowed by the other prospects in the Teixeira trade, and he had a mound demeanor that made fans get down on him when he struggled. But it is as if a light flipped on early in 2011...since about the third or fourth start of 2011, he's gotten ground balls, been efficient, and turned into a very solid starting pitcher. I don't think he's as good as his 2012 ERA indicates, but I think he's someone who can be a solid #3 starter on a playoff team for the next five years.
BCB: The Rangers have Harrison, Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland locked up long term but are entering the potential walk years for Nelson Cruz, A.J. Pierzynski, Joe Nathan and David Murphy. Are any of them likely to remain in the organization's long term plans?
LSB: The Rangers have a 2014 option on Joe Nathan, which I suspect will be exercised if he's healthy and effective. As for Pierzynski, Cruz and Murphy, I don't know that any of the three are likely to be back after this season. Cruz turns 33 this season and Murphy is 31, and neither is the type of player the Rangers have shown a willingness to go multiple years on. The Rangers might consider something like 3 years, $25 million for Murphy, but that's probably less than he'd get in the open market. Pierzynski was the Rangers' fallback option at catcher once their top choices went elsewhere, and he's in his late 30s on a one year deal. I see the Rangers continuing to try to find a long-term solution at catcher.
BCB: What's the biggest storyline in Rangers camp that I'm missing here?
LSB: The biggest storyline is that Nolan Ryan is apparently thinking about leaving the organization, after ownership decided that Jon Daniels, not Ryan, would have the final say in all baseball decisions. In terms of the on-the-field storyline, the biggest issue is probably the #5 starter spot. Colby Lewis is expected back in the rotation in May, but the Rangers need someone as their #5 starter until then. Martin Perez was considered the favorite until a line drive broke his arm, which means he won't be back until May. Justin Grimm, the #2 option, has had an awful spring. Kyle McClellan has been hurt and Randy Wells hasn't been good. Robbie Ross, who was a starter in the minors but spent 2012 pitching (very well) in the Ranger bullpen, may end up winning the job.
Thanks to Adam for taking the time, and check out Lone Star Ball for more on the Rangers!