Where do the Rangers go from here with Frank Francisco now that Neftali Feliz is the closer and he is a free agent at the end of the season?
-- Paul F., Fort Worth, Texas
The Rangers are convinced that Francisco must be an integral part of their late-inning relief cadre in order for them to be competitive. Right now, he's most likely going to be used as the backup closer behind Feliz, the way C.J. Wilson was last season.
Francisco, being a free agent, could be a prime candidate to be traded before the July 31 deadline, especially if the Rangers fall out of the race. That would allow the Rangers to make room for Tanner Scheppers, Omar Beltre or Pedro Strop.
It's easy to flog Francisco, but the entire bullpen has yet to get settled down, mainly because the starting pitchers have added to their workload lately by not pitching deep into games.
I know some starters struggle in the first inning -- Roger Pavlik comes to mind -- but it seems half the Rangers' staff has trouble in the first. Any thoughts?
-- Jim S., Cypress, Texas
Through 22 games, the Rangers have outscored their opponents, 17-15, in the first inning. The real killers are the third and ninth innings. They've been outscored, 16-7, in the third and 12-7 in the ninth. Rangers relievers have a 7.71 ERA in the ninth inning. Not good.
Just wanted to throw a trade by you to see what you think. How about Justin Smoak, Blake Bleaven, and a prospect like Mitch Moreland or Engel Beltre for the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez?
-- Jeff B. Dallas
No deal. Service time is everything. The Rangers have Smoak for six more years. Gonzalez is a free agent after 2011 and will be looking for a similar contract to what the Phillies gave Ryan Howard.
Any chance Smoak is being showcased as trade bait for some bullpen or catching help while Chris Davis straightens out his swing at Triple-A?
-- Tim V., Arlington
That is not why he is here. Smoak is being given the chance to establish himself at the Major League level. Davis needs to go down and hit for an extended period at Triple-A. If he does that, he could be the one who's traded before July 31. Or he could be back with the Rangers if there is a need up here.
How are Derek Holland and Brandon McCarthy doing in Triple-A, and who's first in line to join the rotation if a need arises?
-- Derek L., Tulsa, Okla.
The Rangers sent Holland to Triple-A Oklahoma City with the request that he find a breaking ball that works for him. He had been throwing a curve and a slider. He has settled on the slider and it's getting pretty good. He is first in line and putting increasing pressure on the Major League rotation.
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What do you think has been the biggest surprise about this Rangers team?
-- James P., New York City
The excessive and inexplicable fixation on velocity of pitches, Matt Treanor emerging as the answer to a tumultuous catching situation, the stunningly quick arrival of Smoak and the nagging ill-timed breakdowns on defense.
Nothing against Clint Hurdle, but do you think the club misses Rudy Jaramillo? I see the team somewhat being more patient, but it really has not translated into more production.
-- David N., Dallas
The Rangers miss Ian Kinsler, Marlon Byrd and the 2008 version of Josh Hamilton. They also desperately need something out of first base and catcher. I still think Hamilton will get rolling if he stays healthy -- signs have been good lately -- and am a strong believer that Julio Borbon will be a force offensively. If you want someone who may be flourishing under Hurdle's watch, look at Elvis Andrus.
What is the latest with Toby Hall? Is he in the Minors, on the disabled list? Will he be making a comeback?
-- Bryce E., Placerville, Calif.
His old neighbors in the magnificent gold country should know that Hall is in extended Spring Training, playing in games and still building up arm strength after undergoing shoulder surgery over a year ago. If he gets his throwing strength back up, he could be an option for the Rangers later in the season. But he still has much work to do.
If Vladimir Guerrero does well this year for the Rangers, do you think they might re-sign him for next year or look for someone else? I think he's a good fit for the Rangers for years to come.
-- LaThomas G., Fort Worth, Texas
Guerrero signed a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2011. The 2011 salary is for $9 million. A mutual option means that either the club or the player can opt out. That doesn't bode well for Guerrero returning. If he has a big year, he'll be looking for a big contract. If he struggles, the Rangers will opt out. There's probably only a small mutual window of performance where both the Rangers and Guerrero will find $9 million acceptable for next season.
Is it just me, or does it seem like a majority of the players that the Rangers lose go to either the Cubs or the Royals?
-- Casey R., Amarillo, Texas
Definitely the Royals. That comes with the territory of sharing the same Spring Training complex with another team and playing so many "B" games and Minor League games. It tends to lend itself to an inordinate number of transactions between the two teams.
Now that the sale of the Rangers is more likely to happen and the new ownership will make many changes, what happens with the private jet the Rangers and the Dallas Stars share? Is that included in the sale? Does Tom Hicks get to keep this private jet, or how does this work out?
-- Jose R., Garland, Texas
The Rangers have a long-term contract on the private jet that will allow them to travel in spacious comfort long after the sale of the team is completed.
I get the impression that the Rangers have an inordinate number of players that have undergone procedures designed to relieve the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Does it seem that way to you? Also, I wonder how long this ailment has been around baseball.
-- James N., Austin, Texas
According to Wikipedia, they do lead the league with Kenny Rogers, John Rheinecker, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Hank Blalock and Matt Harrison. No other team seems to have many cases over the past 10 years. But over the many decades of baseball, you still don't know how many players had career-ending injuries for conditions that could easily be identified and addressed today. Sandy Koufax once told me that he was forced to retire because of an arm problem that would have required just a minor cleanup today.
I was wondering if the Rangers are going to wear the red uniform on the road. I like the red jerseys and caps.
-- Scott B., Modesto, Calif.
Major League Baseball has only approved the red outfits as alternative uniforms at home. The Rangers are only allowed to wear blue on the road. Uniforms have to be approved by Major League Baseball well in advance.
Do the Rangers regret not signing Ivan Rodriguez? They need him. Also, I am sure Wilson makes enough money to get a professional haircut. His looks like he cut it himself. He should look as nice as the rest of the Rangers -- just an old-fashioned person venting.
-- Mary H., Tyler, Texas
His ERA is nice-looking, though.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.