There is no doubt that 2011 could be one of the most anticipated years in Rangers history, as their fans eagerly await to see how they will build upon what they accomplished this past season.
They are also eager to get some answers to questions that are already hanging over the team, so the beginning of the calendar year is as good of time as any to start hazarding a guess as to what those answers might be.
1. Will Neftali Feliz be switched to the rotation?
That doesn't appear to be a likely possibility, as manager Ron Washington appears adamant about keeping Feliz in the bullpen as the Rangers closer. Washington has repeated that stance often this winter. Things may change, once the Rangers get to Spring Training and Feliz gets stretched out, but right now, it looks like he will be at the back end of the bullpen again next season.
2. What is in store for Scott Feldman after winning 17 games in 2009 and then slipping so far in 2010?
Feldman is coming off knee surgery and will be behind the other pitchers when Spring Training opens. He could catch up quickly or be brought along slowly. One plausible scenario is that he starts the season on the disabled list and goes on a medical rehabilitation assignment to get some needed work in the Minor Leagues. Feldman's primary mission is to recapture the cut fastball and the sinker that made him such an effective pitcher in 2009. He could be an in-season reinforcement for the rotation, or he could end up as a middle/long reliever in the bullpen.
3. What does the future hold for Michael Young?
He will be the Rangers' Opening Day third baseman, No. 2 hitter and undisputed clubhouse leader. That is the obvious scenario and the one that club officials are maintaining, despite the wildfire of trade rumors that broke out at the Winter Meetings. Though his defense could be better, he made a point of working hard on it at the end of the season, and there was steady, tangible improvement, despite a costly error in the World Series. He was a significant reason why the Rangers were there in the first place, and they don't appear to be positioning themselves to change that going into next season.
4. Which Rangers player is poised to have a breakout season?
Colby Lewis. Bank on it. He had a full season to reacclimate himself to the Major Leagues after two years in Japan, and though he had some tough luck last season, he was terrific in the playoffs. This is going to be a big year for Lewis.
5. Which Rangers player will be on the spot when Spring Training opens up in February?
Derek Holland. He has terrific talent. He's suffered some setbacks with injuries, but there were some bright spots as well. Now he is 24, and it's time for him to claim a spot in the rotation and establish himself as a front-line starting pitcher. The Rangers need him in the rotation, and not in middle relief. He needs to get it done.
6. Which rookie is likely to have an impact on the Rangers this season?
Omar Beltre, the right-handed pitcher who returned to the United States a year ago after his five-year banishment because of his role in the visa fraud scandal. He was 3-9 at Triple-A Oklahoma City this past season, but with a 2.65 ERA. Opponents hit .229 off him, and he struck out 85 in 85 innings. He's the 2011 pick to click from the Minor Leagues.
7. What shape is the Rangers' farm system in, after having made so many trades this past season?
The Rangers took some hits, especially in losing first-round Draft-pick pitchers Blake Beavan and Michael Main. The guy to watch remains left-hander Martin Perez, 19, who was 5-8 with a 5.96 ERA in 24 games at Double-A Frisco. The Rangers system would look much better if he has a breakout season. Pitching remains the No. 1 strength in the farm system, with left-hander Michael Kirkman and right-hander Tanner Scheppers in the vanguard, but some of the best arms are still one or two years away, as they are only now starting to emerge from the morass of Class A.
8. Will the Rangers sign C.J. Wilson to a long-term contract that keeps him from becoming a free agent after the season?
No, I don't see it happening. Wilson knows that if he just repeats the kind of season he had in 2010, he will be one of the top free-agent starting pitchers on the market next season. If the Rangers want to keep that from happening, they would have to pay top dollar for a pitcher who has seen just one season in the rotation. But Wilson knows quite well what could be out there beyond 2011, and it's difficult to see him being motivated to agree to a long-term contract now.
9. Will Josh Hamilton get a long-term contract?
The discussions could get serious late in January, early February and well into Spring Training. But he still has two years of arbitration in front of him, so the sense of urgency may not be in place just yet. But there still might be more motivation on both sides in this case -- as opposed to Wilson -- as the Rangers know what Hamilton means to the franchise, while he knows his value might be at a peak right now after winning Most Valuable Player honors.
10. What can be expected from the new ownership group, since they will be in place at the start of the season?
A new scoreboard, a deluge of new promotions and creative ideas, an all-out assault on every possible revenue stream and, hopefully, a well-considered, well-planned but carefully implemented series of improvements on the Ballpark in Arlington. Hopefully, they also have a long-term vision for the franchise and a meticulously crafted plan on how to get there. As far as the product on the field, the Rangers need to stay focused on winning through scouting and player development, and remember there are no short cuts. Free agency is a supplementary way to add talent, but should never be viewed as the primary method. The new ownership has money to spend, but former owner Tom Hicks once did as well and it didn't bring the desired results.