Today's issue: Replacing Josh Hamilton's production at the plate.
Obviously, replacing Hamilton is not an easy job. And it's certainly not a job for one person in the Rangers lineup. You don't just plug someone into the No. 3 spot and expect 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. That's why Hamilton got $125 million over five years from the Los Angeles Angels, a price the Rangers weren't willing to pay.
But replacing most of that production is key to the club's offensive success in 2013. Hamilton provided power and production in a key spot in the lineup. As spring training gets set to begin, that spot belongs to Lance Berkman, who was signed this offseason.
"It’s an interesting spot in the lineup because it’s the spot that makes the world go around in the lineup," Berkman said earlier this offseason. "You need contributions up and down the lineup, I’m just saying that of all the lineup spots it’s the most critical. You’ve got to have someone hitting third that can get on base, drive guys in."
Berkman, who missed most of 2012 with a knee injury, had 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 145 games in 2011. That's the Berkman that Rangers need to help fill some of the production hole left by Hamilton's departure. Berkman has more at-bats in the 3-hole than any other spot in the lineup, so it won't bother him to be there. He's a career .286 hitter batting third.
"I’m not sitting here with my chest out saying I’m a 3-hole hitter. I think I can do the job, and certainly if I’m healthy and things are going well I think I have a skill set that is suited for that spot," Berkman said. "But by the same token, there are other guys on this team that could easily hit there and if they’re doing a better job, then that’s where they need to be."
It will take more than Berkman, even if he repeats his 2011 season. Another newcomer could help him. A.J. Pierzynski is the club's starting catcher on a one-year deal. He's coming off a season in which he had 27 homers and 77 RBIs. With Mike Napoli out of Texas -- and despite not hitting well for most of the season, he still had 24 homers -- Pierzynski could make up for that production. So it will take others to help collect Hamilton's numbers. Nelson Cruz, in need of a bounce-back season, would be on that list. But after the report by the Miami New Times, we'll see if MLB's investigation results in some sort of punishment for Cruz.
This lineup remains deep. Adrian Beltre, the club's MVP last season, returns and has put together two strong seasons in Texas already. Perhaps Mike Olt gets more time and helps that production. Maybe Mitch Moreland increases his homer and RBI totals, as well.
But making up for Hamilton's production at the plate can't rest with one player alone. It must be a group effort. Maybe spring training will give us a sense of which of those players look primed to do that.