This topic recently came up on our radio show -- the "Ben and Skin Show" on ESPN 103.3 FM -- and sparked significant internal debate in my Rangerbrain. My first thought was that bionic super slugger Josh Hamilton was the most indispensable player on the Rangers. Then I recalled that even though he wore out the clubhouse ice machine most of last year, the Rangers still flirted with the hope of playoff baseball deep into the season.
Now with Vladimir Guerrero swinging telephone poles in the order, I feel even less worried about Hamilton missing a few games here and there. Don’t get me wrong. This team obviously needs Hamilton. But I think there are more valuable/less replaceable guys to consider.
3. Ian Kinsler
I wrestled with putting Michael Young here. In fact, on our show I called it a tie between Kinsler and Young. But in the meantime I’ve summoned some coconuts and have actually made a tough decision. Kinsler cracks my top three.
Young gets the nod for leadership and consistency, but Kinsler gets the slight overall advantage because second basemen who produce like stud outfielders aren’t exactly lining up in Frisco. If Young misses significant time, you take another run at sending Max Ramirez to Boston for Mike Lowell, and you hope the band-aid holds. If Kinsler misses significant time, you’re cooked. No plan B comes remotely close to a 30-30 guy with range at the two bag.
The Rangers rotation is full of uncertainty. Can Rich Harden stay healthy? Can Colby Lewis strike out Americans? Can youngsters be counted on? Without question, the front office has addressed that uncertainty with quality depth. The one thing they need to be certain about is Feldman.
You might consider him a question mark as well, seeing that he didn’t start the season in the rotation last year and his win total exploded from six in ’08 to 17 in ’09. A spreadsheet might give you concern. The eyeball test will make you comfortable again. Feldman was rock-solid consistent last season. To that end, I never felt like I was watching a fluke as he pitched extremely well almost every time he took the ball.
Feldman’s unpredictable success of ’09 now gives way to great responsibility in 2010. With swirling uncertainty surrounding him, Feldman must be the rock of the rotation. If they lose their rock, their troubles are instantly massive.
1. Elvis Andrus
He’s barely old enough to have cocktails, but he’s the single most important player on the Rangers roster. He’s an absolute hit robber who makes his pitchers look better than they really are with O-face enducing defense up the middle.
He can turn a dangerous rally into a frustrated batting helmet throw and contemplative walk out to play defense quicker than your brain can process your happiness level.
Yes, the pitching staff has improved greatly since Mike Maddux’s arrival as pitching coach. He’s an unbelievable asset to say the least. Yes, the great Nolan Ryan has had an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like impact as well. But the key to this defense is the spectacular Andrus.
Watching his artistry at shortstop should give you a warm feeling in your heart whenever you catch the price of your game ticket out of the corner of your eye. He’s worth every penny.
Without him, this team isn’t nearly as special as it is with him. It ain’t even close.