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Unanswered Rangers spring training questions

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Evan Grant has an article up for Monday morning, looking at where the Rangers are with the various unresolved issues they brought into the spring. Grant says that the only question that seems to be answered is the second base situation, where Ian Kinsler appears to have nailed down the job (no big surprise there).

Grant says that the fifth starter competition is down to Dominguez, Rupe, and maybe Volquez, although the more Dominguez and Rupe struggle in spring training, the more I tend to believe that the team is either going to make a deal to add a Shawn Estes-type at the end of March, or roll R.A. Dickey out there. If there's one thing we've learned about Buck Showalter, it is that things like the good face and his gut feelings carry an awful lot of weight with him and who he feels he can trust on the roster, and Buck clearly doesn't trust Juan Dominguez in his starting rotation right now. With Rupe having been up-and-down this spring as well, I really think Buck is going to push for Daniels to add a veteran starter, and barring that, may end up turning to Dickey.

The bullpen questions are another issue of Buck-trust outweighing performance...Joaquin Benoit is supposed to be the middle man/alternate setup man, but despite the fact he's been very good out of the bullpen throughout his career, Buck and his people don't trust Benoit, so Benoit's "uneven" (Grant's word) performance in his 2 outings so far this spring apparently have the Rangers wanting to keep Antonio Alfonseca around as insurance.

Alfonseca, like Jeff Brantley and Doug Brocail and others of that ilk, isn't a good reliever at this point, but he's a veteran who has pitched late in games. John Wasdin has been awful this spring, but Buck & Co. seem to love him, and so I'd guess at this point Wasdin and Alfonseca stick along with the three righty givens (Cordero, Otsuka and Benoit), with Feldman and Dickey going back to AAA.

From the left side, Grant refers to C.J. Wilson as an "expected key contributor," which seems a bit odd (and yes, I know what his numbers were out of the pen last season). Brian Shouse is a slam-dunk, but with Wilson struggling with his hamstring, and the #5 starter situation still unsettled, I'd bet that Wilson goes back to AAA to start the season and works in the rotation, with Erasmo Ramirez getting the second lefty slot.

Grant says that "any reports of the Rangers' depth are greatly exaggerated," because Laynce Nix and GMJ haven't played in the field yet, but I don't think that's much of an issue. At this point, it appears that Dellucci, Wilkerson and Mench are going to start in the outfield, with Nevin at DH, and GMJ coming off the bench and probably playing instead of Dellucci in the outfield against lefties.

The real issue is probably going to boil down to what the Rangers want from their 25th man, and as I've said before, there's no point in keeping Laynce Nix around as the 25th man when he can be in AAA playing every day, particularly because he can't spell Dellucci against lefties. Adrian Brown is a serviceable option as a 5th outfielder, or the Rangers could keep Erubiel Durazo as a hedge in case Phil Nevin's MVP campaign goes off the rails once the games start counting. Or you could have D'Angelo Jimenez around in the role Marshall McDougall had last season, the guy who hangs around to make Mark DeRosa feel good about the amount of playing time he gets.

In any case, the injuries to Nix and GMJ make a late-spring trade of GMJ or Dellucci less likely, although a solid AAA campaign by Nix for the first couple of months could lead to one of those guys (or Nix, for that matter) being dealt mid-season.

Finally, Grant speculates that Wilkerson and Nevin will hit leadoff and cleanup, respectively, resolving the open issue of how the lineup is going to shake out. I don't like the notion of Nevin hitting cleanup, of course, since I think it will take at least 6 weeks for the team to give up on him, and I don't like the idea of our cleanup hitter sucking for the first 6 weeks of the season (and yes, I know, our cleanup hitter sucked the entire second half last year).

Really, the problem stems from the fact that the Rangers don't have a great option for a #2 hitter...Dellucci would be a terrible choice to hit at the top of the lineup if he hits like he did in the second half of last year, and no one else is the type of high-OBP guy you'd want in that spot. If Blalock or Nevin can hit like they did in 2003, then they'd be fine in the #4 spot, but otherwise, the Rangers will probably be looking for a big bat at the trade deadline (assuming they are still in the race).

The other wild card is Erubiel Durazo, who would be a potent middle-of-the-lineup threat if he's back to where he was in 2003-04. But he also has problems against lefties, and hitting him cleanup would likely mean sliding Blalock down to the #6 slot to avoid late inning LOOGY problems.

Really, look at the possible permutations, I can understand where there's the wishcasting about Nevin's return to prominence. Getting the 2004 version of Nevin, rather than the 2005 version of Nevin, would solve a lot of problems for this team...