July 26, 2012

As trade deadline nears, Texas Rangers in search of top pitcher

Only one team is in a more comfortable July position than the Texas Rangers, who are five games up in the American League West with a mere 65 to play.

Only one team is in a more comfortable July position than the Texas Rangers, who are five games up in the American League West with a mere 65 to play.

Yet, it's been an unsettling week because of concerns for the starting rotation.

Colby Lewis is done for the season, and Roy Oswalt was forced to miss a start because of a recurring back injury.

Neftali Feliz hasn't inspired much confidence after three rehab starts, though at least he appears to be healthy.

Scott Feldman and Martin Perez pitched well Monday and Tuesday, but they aren't seen as the pieces the Rangers need to fortify the rotation for the stretch run.

"There's no doubt we might need a starting pitcher right now with the news that Colby is out for the season," third baseman Adrian Beltre said.

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline arrives at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The Rangers don't want just any arm, but a difference-making one.

General manager Jon Daniels has the track record for pulling off the deals the Rangers need for the playoff hunt, and he also has the prospects to do it.

The Rangers' top trade target, though, is no longer available. Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million extension with Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Here's a look at the other arms the Rangers could pursue, and also at potential bench help Daniels could consider:

RHP Zack Greinke

Brewers: He rates as the best available arm now that Hamels is off the trade market. Greinke knows the American League, having started his career in Kansas City. He won the Cy Young award in 2009, and the Rangers like his passion for the game. Greinke is a free agent after the season, but Daniels isn’t overly concerned about changes in the collective bargaining agreement that has nixed compensation picks if a top free agent acquired during the season signs elsewhere.

LHP Cliff Lee

Phillies: The left-hander who was acquired in July 2010 and led the Rangers to their first World Series is back on the radar. His former teammates would welcome him back with open arms, but they don't have to pay the bills. The Rangers would have to pay the rest of his 2011 salary, plus $87.5 million over the next three seasons. That doesn't sit well with some in the front office.

RHP Josh Johnson

Marlins: The Rangers have long coveted this big right-hander, and he could be had as part of the Miami fire sale after its failed off-season bonanza. Johnson, though, had a shoulder injury last season, and his velocity hasn't returned. That's one reason why opponents are hitting .275 against him in a league that makes pitchers bat.

RHP Matt Garza

Cubs: While Johnson has a lingering injury that is a cause for concern, Garza had to leave his last start with a triceps injury. He might not pitch again before the deadline, which would make acquiring him quite risky. Garza has pluses. As a former Tampa Bay pitcher, he knows AL hitters and has performed well in the postseason. The Rangers have been informed that another Chicago pitcher, Ryan Dempster, wants to pitch only on the West Coast.

RHP James Shields

Rays: A team that made a miracle appearance in the 2011 postseason entered Friday only 2 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot. If anyone knows that anything can happen, it's the Rays. Yet, Shields is said to be available for the right offer. Though he isn't as good as last year, Shields eats innings and also has done well in big games. Hence, the "Big Game" nickname.

OF Josh Willingham

Twins: The Rangers would like to add a right-handed bat, and Willingham has swung one of the biggest in the league this season in a tough park to do so. He's a butcher in left field, so he would have to be replaced late in games. But a team that sometimes struggles against left-handers could use Willingham.

INF/OF Ben Zobrist

Rays: Another player whom Tampa Bay could make available is a switch hitter who can play multiple positions. His average is down to .248, but he's a far better hitter on the road than at Tropicana Field. Zobrist also went to Dallas Baptist. A change to familiar scenery could serve him well.

OF Cody Ross

Red Sox: The Rangers just received a three-game look at this former MVP of the National League Championship Series as part of the 2010 Giants team that beat the Rangers in the World Series. Boston, like Tampa Bay, can sniff the final playoff spot, so the right-handed-hitting Ross could be tough to get.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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