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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Zito is Neato


The Rangers season hinges on signing Barry Zito.

If he walks away from the millions that Hicks undoubtedly will offer, the Rangers will only continue their playoff drought.

Too pessimistic? Without Zito, the Rangers have two solid starters in Millwood and Padilla, a promising rookie in Robinson Tejeda, and then two open spots. That is all.

Pitching, pitching, pitching - the refrain has tormented Rangers fans for years. With Zito, Texas has three top starters and can fill the last spot with a battle royale in spring training. Without him, it will be another season of a 5.00 ERA flirtation.

Imagine this possible opening day Rangers rotation:
Barry Zito
2006: 16-10, 3.83 ERA, 221 innings pitched
Kevin Millwood
16-12, 4.52 ERA, 215 innings pitched
Vicente Padilla
15-10, 4.50 ERA, 200 innings pitched
Robinson Tejeda
5-5, 4.28 ERA, 73 innings pitched

Fill out this rotation with Josh Rupe or Mark Mulder at midseason, and it is easily the best Rangers starting staff ever fielded. (Eat your heart out, Bobby Witt and Kevin Brown!) All of these guys would be under contract to the Rangers for at least the next three seasons. That, my friends, is a playoff rotation.

For the past three years, the Rangers have had only two dependable starters, and have struggled with the last three spots. Last season, with the injury in spring training to Adam Eaton, Daniels pulled off some GM wizardry and traded for John Koronka and John Rheinecker. These two guys each had initial success before hitters deciphered their repertoire and began to knock their pitches out of Ameriquest. (Hopefully the Kronkster can resurface with a third pitch in the bullpen.) The Rangers must avoid this scenario again this year, even if it means trading for another established pitcher like Jon Garland or Jason Jennings.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has seen many of his players walk this offseason, but no loss has been a body blow so far. Gary Matthews' defense in center field will be sorely missed, but I am skeptical he can maintain his breakout hitting season in Anaheim. Adam Eaton's brief stay with the team was utterly forgettable, and Rod Barajas, though a fine defensive catcher, had to give way for a much cheaper (and more capable hitter) Gerald Laird.

If chatter among the media is true that Daniels is interested in former ace closer Eric Gagne, this could prove to be one more piece of the puzzle. The Rangers already have a surplus of good relief pitching, so throwing one more player on the people might seem counterproductive. If Daniels is able to then flip some of his extra relievers for starting help, including young guys that are teams are interested in (such as Scott Feldman or C.J. Wilson) then this winter will portend good things for the Rangers.

If not, then it will be another LONG, frustrating season. Mark Teixeira and Michael Young are only under contract for two more years. The Rangers winning window with these franchise cornerstones is fast closing.

(Speaking of Rangers reliever C.J. Wilson, there is something not right about his myspace page. I can't quite put my finger on it, though.)


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