Fielder, Choo add to Rangers' powerful lineup

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There was a sense among the Texas Rangers' brain trust at the end of last season that things had gotten stale as Texas had gotten further away from the franchise's elusive first World Series title.

The Rangers technically failed to qualify for the postseason last year when they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in a tiebreaker for the second AL wild card. That came a year after losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the inaugural wild card, which came after losing to the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals in consecutive World Series in 2010 and 2011.

So the Rangers decided to shake things up in a major way in the offseason by adding two premier hitters to the lineup, giving Texas quite a new look during spring training in Surprise, Ariz.

They acquired slugging first baseman Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers in a trade for longtime second baseman Ian Kinsler and signed free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130-million contract as a free agent.

Fielder has batted behind the league MVP in each of the last three seasons -- Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun in 2011 and the Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013.

Choo has reached base 556 times over the last two seasons and Fielder has been on 542 times. They trail only two other major-leaguers during that span: Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout (564) and Cabrera (562).

Choo will bat leadoff and Fielder will hit third in what should be an explosive top of the order that also includes shortstop Elvis Andrus hitting second and third baseman Adrian Beltre in the cleanup spot.

While Fielder and Choo figure to provide plenty of buzz around sleepy Surprise, the biggest question mark this spring is figuring out how the Rangers will fill out their starting rotation beyond ace right-hander Yu Darvish. He finished second in the AL Cy Young balloting last season, going 13-9 with a 2.93 ERA in 32 starts while leading the major leagues with 277 strikeouts.

Left-hander Martin Perez was 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts last season, impressing the Rangers enough that they signed the 22-year-old to a four-year, $12.5-million contract extension. He is the only other starting candidate who is not a question mark.

Lefty Matt Harrison was an 18-game winner in 2012 but made just two starts last year before missing the rest of season while undergoing two back surgeries. Right-hander Alexi Ogando was 7-4 with a 3.11 ERA a year ago but was limited to 18 starts and five relief appearances while spending three stints on the disabled list.

Right-hander Tommy Hanson will try to get his career back on track after rough season in which he went 4-3 with a 5.42 ERA in 15 games and missed time while on the restricted list following the death of his stepbrother. Right-hander Colby Lewis did not pitch at all in 2013 as he injured a hip and needed surgery while he was recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

Nick Tepesch, a righty who was 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 19 games as a rookie last season, will also get a look while left-handers Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman will be stretched out as starters after pitching in relief in 2013.

One starter the Rangers will not see until at least midseason is left-hander Derek Holland, who underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in January after being injured in a fall at his home in Newark, Ohio. Holland was 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts last season.

Another spring storyline will be the closer situation after the Rangers decided not to try to re-sign Joe Nathan, even though he had 43 saves and a 1.39 ERA in 67 games.

Neftali Feliz will regain the job if he proves healthy and effective in Cactus League games. Feliz made six scoreless appearances, covering 4 2/3 innings, late last season after having Tommy John surgery in 2012. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2010 when he had 40 saves, then added 32 the next season.

The Rangers' backup plan at closer is Joakim Soria, who was a 1-0 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 games last year while also coming back from Tommy John surgery. He has 160 saves in his six-year career.

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