The Rangers and others have seen winter's best-laid plans fail to blossom in spring
In his first winter as general manager of the Rangers, John Hart spared neither effort nor cash in trying to rejuvenate a team that had finished last in the American League West two years in a row. He signed free-agent righthander Chan Ho Park to be the ace of a rotation that had had the league's worst ERA (6.00) in 2001. He spent millions on five free-agent righthanded relievers and traded for southpaws John Rocker and Rich Rodriguez to further bolster the league's worst bullpen (5.19 ERA). He invited 34 pitchers to spring training. For good measure he added slugging outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett to an already potent lineup.
Despite all the off-season tinkering, the 2002 Rangers bear a striking resemblance to last year's edition. Through Sunday, Texas had lost nine of its first 12 games and was already fading from the division race. It had the league's second-worst bullpen ERA (7.50) and the third-worst overall (5.47). Its supposed strength, that bruising offense, was averaging 4.3 runs per game, which was more than only three other teams in the league.
Texas wasn't alone when it came to seeing well-laid plans go awry, at least for the moment The Mets overhauled their roster in an attempt to beef up the National League's lowest-scoring lineup, but through Sunday they had the league's fourth-lowest batting average (.227) and had scored three or fewer runs in seven of their 12 games. The Cubs also tried to shore up a sagging offense by adding outfielder Moises Alou, among others, but Chicago had the fifth-weakest attack (3.4 runs per game) in the majors.
What happened? For starters, injuries to the newcomers. Alou hadn't played yet this season because of a sore left calf. (The Cubs activated him from the disabled list on Sunday.) Last week Mets first baseman Mo Vaughn went on the DL with a fractured hand, depriving New York of a power source; also, second baseman Roberto Alomar had struggled, batting .170 with a .235 on-base percentage, until he broke out on Sunday with two home runs and four RBIs.
A similar turnaround doesn't seem to be in the cards for the Rangers, for whom a litany of injuries has been compounded by questionable roster moves. Park left his Opening Day start in the sixth inning with an aggravated right hamstring injury and landed on the disabled list three days later. Gonzalez joined him on April 11 after tearing muscle fibers in his right hand with an awkward swing. Without its two top relievers—closer Jeff Zimmerman (elbow tendinitis) and setup man Jay Powell (finger tendinitis), both of whom have been on the DL since the season began—the Texas bullpen has been in disarray.
Rocker has filled in as closer, but that left the Rangers without a lefthanded setup man, forcing Hart to backtrack on earlier roster moves. Last week he purchased the contract of lefty Chris Michalak, whom he had out-righted to the minors to help clear roster room for a passel of righthanded journeymen ( Hideki Irabu, Dan Miceli, Rudy Seanez and Steve Woodard) he had brought in.
The roster crunch created by Hart's numerous signings also forced him to part with some key prospects in early April. Lefthanders Juan Moreno and Andy Pratt were traded to the Braves and Padres, respectively.
Hart downplays his roster headaches, saying the veteran signees have added much-needed depth. Still, a team with the Rangers' recent pitching history needs to conserve and develop all the prospects it can, not plug holes with pricey veterans. Even if Texas's offense awakens this season, a flood of runs won't make the Rangers' long-term picture any brighter.
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