Topping the Texas Rangers’ off-season to-do list is upgrading their starting rotation, though not necessarily because it didn’t give them much of a chance during the AL Division Series.
But that was their freshest baseball memory as they convened Monday at their spring training home for their annual pro-scouting meetings, where the winter game plan begins to take shape.
The group, headed by general manager Jon Daniels, evaluates the roster, potential free agents and players on other clubs who might be had in trades. The meetings will wrap up Friday.
When they conclude, the Rangers hope to have a firm idea on which direction they will go on the mound, beginning with deciding what to do with Colby Lewis and Derek Holland against the backdrop of a dearth of available starting pitchers.
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“We’re going to need to acquire starting pitching,” Daniels said. “That’s going to be our focus. There are a lot of moving pieces. We’ve just got to figure out what we’re going to do.”
The top available free-agent arms are left-hander Rich Hill and right-handers Andrew Cashner, Ivan Nova and Jeremy Hellickson. Edinson Volquez, also a righty, would hit the market if Kansas City were to decline a club option.
Derek Holland was 7-0 with a 4.95 ERA in 2016. He has an $11 million club option for 2017.
That group isn’t exactly Zack Greinke, David Price and Jordan Zimmermann, who scored mega-deals last winter. The 2017 class largely doesn’t seem to be much of an upgrade, if any, over Lewis and Holland.
Lewis, 36, is headed to free agency again after a signing a one-year, $6 million deal last off-season. He had a remarkable first half in which he nearly threw a no-hitter and was a candidate for the AL All-Star team.
But he was injured in late June and missed more than two months, and went 0-4 in four September starts after returning from the disabled list and didn’t make it out of the third inning in Game 3 of the ALDS.
6.38 Colby Lewis’ ERA in September-October.
Holland, 30, missed a significant stretch because of injury for a third consecutive season and second straight because of a shoulder issue. He once again ran hot and cold, and was left off the ALDS roster.
Nevertheless, an $11 million club option for 2017 seems reasonable. The Rangers also hold a 2018 option for $11.5 million. With two controllable years remaining, other teams have inquired about a potential trade.
Trades are another avenue the Rangers will consider to acquire starters, but Daniels said that they want to avoid dealing away too many more prospects after seeing the system take a hit at the past two trade deadlines.
There continues to be a surplus of big-league bullpen arms and infielders who draw interest from other teams.
The Rangers, though, need more than just two starters to go with Yu Darvish and lefties Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. A.J. Griffin will be back and is an option for 2017, but he and the top arms in the farm system (Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez) didn’t instill a great deal of confidence that they can blossom in 2017.
So, look for the Rangers to try to add quality depth behind whoever fills out the rotation.
“A big part of us advancing the ball on the pitching side is not giving up on the guys who struggled this year,” Daniels said. “We’ve got to do what we can to put them in better positions to succeed.”
Daniels said the Rangers’ payroll will remain the same in 2017 as it was in 2016, somewhere between $150 million and $160 million. Not all available funds will go to the rotation, not with holes at center field, first base and designated hitter.
Ian Desmond, who will be a free agent once the World Series ends, could command $15 million to $17 million a season after making only $8 million while becoming an All-Star in 2016.
The Rangers have interest in re-signing Carlos Beltran, also headed toward free agency, but are unlikely to commit money to a DH until their pitching situation is resolved.
Ryan Rua or Joey Gallo, who is expected to debut in the Venezuelan winter league this week, could unseat free-agent-to-be Mitch Moreland at first base. They would be far more affordable options, freeing up money to sign starting pitchers.