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Q&A with Lone Star Ball on the Rangers

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In his fifth season after leaving the Mets in 2006, Darren Oliver is still getting it done out of the bullpen. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
In his fifth season after leaving the Mets in 2006, Darren Oliver is still getting it done out of the bullpen. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The amazing Adam J. Morris provided excellent answers to several questions about the Rangers for us. Thanks very much, Adam! Be sure to check out his work at Lone Star Ball.

Chris McShane: Mets fans are dealing with an uncertain future thanks to the current situation with the team's owners, but the Rangers managed to succeed last year while their ownership situation was in flux. Did you expect the team to make it through that change as well as they did, and what might the Mets be able to do to emulate the Rangers to give Mets fans some hope for the future?

Adam J. Morris: The Rangers' situation going into 2010 was pretty unique.  The team's financial issues really became a problem in 2009, manifesting with MLB refusing to authorize the Rangers' giving first round pick Matt Purke the $6 million bonus the team had planned on paying.  My main concern going into the '09-'10 offseason was that payroll would have to be slashed by MLB directive.  I feared players making significant money, but whose contracts were still team-friendly, such as Ian Kinsler and Frank Francisco, would have to be moved.

Instead, MLB simply required Texas to keep payroll at around the same level it was in 2009.  Texas had to be creative in the offseason, moving Kevin Millwood and his contract to free up payroll room to add other players like Rich Harden.

Texas was able to succeed despite the financial handicaps because they had a lot of young, cheap talent that produced at high levels, and because they were in a relatively weak division.  Also, the Rangers had enough minor league depth that they could part with more prospects in exchange for other teams picking up the salary of players like Bengie Molina and Cliff Lee, while not stripping the farm system bare. This allowed them to stay within Selig's financial guidelines while adding veteran talent at the deadline.

The main thing Mets fans need to remember is that the ownership situation will eventually be resolved, and the Rangers showed last year that a team can succeed despite ownership chaos if it has a solid front office.  And with Sandy Alderson in place, the Mets have one of the best in the game in place.

Chris: Much was written about Nolan Ryan's approach to pitch counts over the past couple of years. How much have the Rangers eschewed pitch counts, and has Ryan's philosophy had an effect on the organization?

Adam: Ryan's pitch count edict has been misunderstood by most of the national media -- writers claim Nolan eliminated pitch counts system wide, which simply isn't true.  Ryan himself has acknowledged that the
Rangers use pitch count limits in their system, particularly in the lower levels and with younger pitchers.  Martin Perez, one of the Rangers' top prospects, generally doesn't go above 90-95 pitches, for example.

What Ryan has encouraged is being more flexible in terms of pitch counts, with limits being tailored for each individual pitcher based on the workload he can handle.  Ryan doesn't expect every pitcher to throw 140+ pitches per game, but does want pitchers to get out of the mindset that they are done at 100 pitches, while the development folks identify those pitchers who can handle heavier workloads.

It is more about mindset than anything else -- try to give the team one more inning than you normally think you would.

Chris: Prior to the season, the Rangers considered putting Neftali Feliz in the starting rotation but opted to keep him in the bullpen. Did they make the right move?

Adam: I was disappointed that Feliz didn't end up in the rotation, not because I necessarily disagreed with the team's belief that he shouldn't be moved this year, but because I was hoping he would seize the opportunity and give the Rangers no choice but to make him a starter.  And of course, if he had been put in the rotation, Alexi Ogando would still be in the pen, so it is hard to say that was a mistake.  Plus, as bad as the pen has been this year, it would be even worse without Feliz out there.

There are some who thought Feliz's future would be in the pen all along, that his offspeed pitches would never be good enough for him to be in the rotation, and thus, efforts to move him to the rotation are a waste of time anyway. That being said, at the end of spring training this year, the team said that the plan is for Feliz to move to the rotation in 2012.  I'm excited to see what he can do there.

Chris: Although he's on the disabled list at the moment, what does Mike Napoli have to do to get more playing time? It seems he hits a home run nearly every time he plays.

Adam: Mike Napoli is an interesting case -- he was expected to be primarily a 1B/DH against LHPs this season, but when Matt Treanor was dealt late in the spring, he ended up also backing up Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate.  He's not a great defensive catcher, but I think Texas has been pleasantly surprised with his work behind the plate thus far.

Still, he's probably best suited for a part-time role, getting 400 ABs or so.  He mashes lefties and won't kill you against righties, so with the Rangers, you figure he should play 1B against LHPs while also spelling Torrealba behind the plate often enough that Yorvit won't wear down over the course of the season.  He's definitely been a very solid pickup thus far, though.

Chris: What's your take on former Mets Endy Chavez, Darren Oliver, and Darren O'Day?

Adam: Endy Chavez is Endy Chavez.  Ranger fans got fired up about him because he got off to a hot start (and they were tired of Julio Borbon), but he's been terrible with the bat the past three weeks, and is really more of a 5th outfielder.  With Craig Gentry being the better CF defender, I wouldn't be surprised if Chavez is gone when Napoli returns.

Darren Oliver has been a lightning rod for criticism among some fans, because of some failures in close games, but he's been arguably the team's best reliever this year.  He's a stabilizing force out there in a bad pen, and is particularly valuable given how Arthur Rhodes has struggled.

Darren O'Day has been a fan favorite since his Ranger debut, when he arrived at the stadium mid-game (having just been claimed on waivers that day), and ended up pitching while wearing a Kason Gabbard jersey (since he didn't have his own Ranger uniform yet).  He's been a solid middleman until his injury-related struggles this year, and after his hip surgery, O'Day is now on a rehab assignment.  I think Ranger fans are looking forward to him being back, and the Ballpark in Arlington echoing with the "O'Day O'Day O'Day O'Day O'Day" chants again when he's brought into the game.

CM: It looks like any team in the AL West could win the division. With an elite offense, will the Rangeres make a trade to upgrade their rotation or bullpen? If so, what pieces might they offer to other teams to make a deal?

AM: While the Rangers could possibly look at a CF or starting pitcher, I expect the Rangers' primary focus at the trade deadline to be bullpen help.  The Rangers will probably dangle Chris Davis, who is mashing at AAA but blocked by Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre. I also think Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre will be available, with Leonys Martin now being seen as the team's CF of the future. The Rangers are also deep in young arms, and while a Martin Perez or Neil Ramirez are probably off-limits, Texas has attractive pitchers like Joe Weiland, Robbie Ross, and Cody Buckel at the lower levels who could key a deal for a reliever.

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Thanks again to Adam. I learned plenty about the Rangers in reading his answers, which is a big help heading into an interleague series against a team the Mets rarely play. If you didn't already do it, head over to Lone Star Ball to check out more of Adam's work.