Adrian Beltre gracefully walked through a back door and into a media swarm Friday night at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, and he did so without his all-too-familiar limp.
“It’s the off-season,” he said, adding later that his legs are “good enough” for the start of spring training.
It’s been a busy off-season for a Texas Rangers team that prays each game that those legs don’t give out. They traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, then signed Shin-Soo Choo to be their leadoff hitter.
The star hitters arrived only a few months after one of the worst offensive seasons since moving into their new stadium in 1994. No Rangers team has scored fewer runs in a full season at Rangers Ballpark than the 2013 Rangers.
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In light of the upgrades, and despite the knee injury to left-hander Derek Holland, Beltre had no complaints as the 2014 season comes into view.
He likes Fielder’s chances of winning the MVP. Beltre likes that Choo, an on-base machine, will be atop the lineup, and also likes the idea of Jurickson Profar having only one position to play and a year of experience to buoy him.
Beltre likes this team more than the one that missed out on the 2013 postseason by one game.
“On paper it looks better,” said Beltre, who was honored as the Rangers’ Player of the Year at Friday’s Awards Banquet. “We all have to, as a team, get out there and do our job and try to win ballgames.
“I think that bringing Prince and having Choo in front of lineup is going to be really great for us, especially giving us more balance. It’s a big loss in Ian, but in time I think the bats we added are going to be really good for us. Hopefully we can stay healthy and help us do what we want to do this year.”
The offense — not Yu Darvish coughing up late leads or Matt Harrison’s back injury — was the main culprit for the near-miss at the postseason. The Rangers scored only 682 runs, their fewest since 1992.
Profar wasn’t even born yet.
The Rangers also had the worst slugging percentage (.410) since 1992 and the third-worst on-base percentage (.323) in the past 25 years.
Enter Fielder, one of the game’s top power hitters, and Choo, who had a .423 on-base percentage last season in Cincinnati.
Fielder will bat third, one spot ahead of Beltre. After three consecutive seasons of protecting league MVPs (Ryan Braun in 2011, Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013), Fielder will have a feared bat behind him.
“I think it’s going to be outstanding,” he said. “I’m definitely not upset about it. He’s a great hitter. He has power. He can hit for average and drive in runs. Any time you can hit in front of a guy like that, it’s not going to hurt.”
Said Beltre: “He’s going to win the MVP. It’s his turn, right? It’s my job to protect him.”
That duo will be driving in Choo, whose career on-base percentage of .389 is 45 points higher than Kinsler’s. Choo was walked 112 times and was plunked 26 times, a part of the game he embraces without the fear of being injured.
“If I get scared about hit by pitch, I might change my approach and I can’t do anything,” he said. “Pitchers can throw inside. I can hit it or I get hit.”
The additions of Choo and Fielder left Beltre feeling good about the Rangers’ offense in 2014.
“We added two great hitters,” he said. “One big producing guy that we know in Fielder. And Choo ... is going to get on base however he can, plus he’s got some pop too and some defense.”
RBI World Series
Ron Washington has been an avid supporter of Major League Baseball’s movement to encourage children in the inner cities to play the game. He helped establish a Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in his hometown of New Orleans.
So, Washington was pleased Friday to see that the Rangers will host the 2014 and 2015 RBI World Series. He knows the importance of drawing inner-city children into the game he loves.
“If they have athletic ability and it’s profound in basketball or football, they can get where they’re going quicker,” Washington said. “In baseball, you have to be very special to sign out of high school or college and go right to the big leagues. In those other sports, you sign and go right into the big leagues.”
MLB and its teams spend more than $30 million annually on the program, which serves more than 220,000 children worldwide.
The 2014 tournament will take place Aug. 6-17 with games in Grapevine, Southlake and Colleyville. The baseball championship games will take place at Rangers Ballpark, and the softball championship game will be held at Northwood University in Cedar Hill.
Staff writer Drew Davison contributed to this report.