The following will come as a shock to no one: A team that has three vacancies in its starting rotation and no veterans in its bullpen is planning to concentrate its off-season efforts on pitching.
The Texas Rangers, the pitching-starved team in question, will look at some positions players as they tinker with their 2018 lineup, but they will be among the most active teams this winter in the pitching market.
No matter how slick general manager Jon Daniels believes he can talk teams into trades, he can’t build a competitive roster without wading into the deep end of free agency.
Free agents can begin to talk with all 30 clubs after the five-day window teams have to negotiate with their own free agents expires at 4 p.m. Monday.
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Heading the list of available pitchers is, despite what just happened to him in the World Series, former Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish. Really.
But is he topping the Rangers’ list of off-season targets? No. Fellow Japanese star Shohei Otani is, but Otani isn’t a free agent.
Here’s a look at five free-agent pitchers the Rangers could potentially chase this off-season.
1. Alex Cobb
The Rangers saw enough value in Cobb last off-season that they were linked to him via a trade with Tampa Bay, despite facing his first full season after Tommy John surgery. After a successful season, he hits the open market still coveted by the Rangers.
There will be value there, too. The right-hander just turned 30 and is coming off a season in which he made only $4.2 million. He will get a steep raise, but not steep enough to be out of the Rangers’ tighter budget range.
Cobb throws a sinker, which the Rangers like, has a funky delivery that can throw off hitters’ timing, and finished strong over the final two months. He figures to have better command — fewer walks and more strikeouts — going forward.
2. Lance Lynn
MLB Trade Rumors’ best guess is that this former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher ends up with the Rangers on a four-year, $56 million deal.
Lynn, like Cobb, is also coming off his first full season after Tommy John surgery and is also 30. Aside from the elbow reconstruction, Lynn has been a durable starter who eats innings.
He’s also coming off a season in which he walked more hitters than he normally has while fanning fewer and surrendering more homers. Who didn’t in the season of the home run?
He should be better in Year 2 after Tommy John, but those improvements could be countered by a switch in leagues.
3. Yu Darvish
Some team out there, a contending team with a big budget, is going to make the first-time free agent an offer he can’t refuse. The Rangers will be in contact with agent Joel Wolfe, but the Darvish price tag will have to tumble.
It probably did after Games 3 and 7 of the World Series, when Darvish recorded 10 outs and allowed nine runs. Reasons for his demise have run the gamut — he’s not a true ace (that was established), he had stage fright (too easy), he was fatigued after his heaviest workload since 2013 (possible), the World Series balls were a bad match for his slider (excuse).
But he can help a team get to the postseason, which he’s done three times now in five seasons. His stuff can be ace-worthy. The Rangers know him well, and he knows them.
It’s not out of the question.
4. Andrew Cashner
Cashner gambled on himself in 2017 to get a second crack at free agency, and he posted one of the best seasons of his career.
Health will always be the main concern with Cashner, who made two trips to the disabled list in 2017 in his first season with the Rangers. He made $10 million, so he could push upwards of $14 million-$18 million per season in his new deal.
Other questions, like his higher walk rate and lower strikeout rate, could also dog him. After converting to a sinker, the lower number of strikeouts are by design. The walks were not by design, and the Rangers want to see their pitchers strike out more and walk fewer.
Nevertheless, the Rangers should at least see what it will take to keep the native Texan and former TCU star. Speaking of former TCU stars, Jake Arrieta is a free agent, but might be out of the Rangers’ price range.
5. Addison Reed
As closers go, Reed really isn’t one. He has closed games in the past, but he has been at his best the past two seasons as a set-up man.
But the Rangers can’t ignore that he will come cheaper than Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the top free-agent closers, and they also can’t ignore that Reed has impeccable control and hardly walks hitters.
Experienced in both leagues, he finished last season in Boston setting up Craig Kimbrel. If Daniels is going to make a splash on a reliever, which he seldom does, Reed could be more in his comfort zone.