The Texas Rangers sent out a news release and tweet explaining that they would announce the signing of a free agent at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The first thought for many was Shohei Ohtani, who met with Rangers officials Tuesday in Los Angeles, according to sources. The great unveil was actually left-hander Mike Minor, who worked as a reliever in 2017, but will be a starting pitcher for the Rangers.
That leaves the Rangers with four starters and in need of a fifth, or a sixth. Offers are on the table, general manager Jon Daniels said, and the Rangers would happy if they were accepted.
Ohtani is a free agent, and the Rangers have the most money to offer him under the international signing rules for players under age 25. They would be thrilled, possibly to the point of tears, to have him.
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Just don’t ask them about him.
Ohtani questions were off limits to the media during news conferences at Globe Life Park for Minor and, afterward, to preview the winter meetings. It’s not unusual for Daniels to not discuss specific free agents, but Ohtani isn’t the usual free agent.
He’s so unusual, so rare, that the Rangers are considering altering the landscape of pitching to accommodate him.
A six-man rotation is in play for the Rangers in 2018, Daniels and manager Jeff Banister said. What wasn’t said is that going there would allow Ohtani to pitch on a similar schedule to the one he worked in Japan while also giving him a few games a week as a hitter.
All of that for a 23-year-old rookie who will be leaving home for the first time and will have to adjust from Nippon Professional Baseball to the highest level of baseball unlike anyone before him — as a pitcher and a hitter.
(That won’t sit well with some veterans, no matter which team gets Ohtani. It just won’t.)
Yu Darvish had difficulty adjusting in 2012 with the Rangers, with his ERA climbing as high as 4.57 before finding a groove late in the season that lowered it to 3.90. Darvish had a career-worst 1.280 WHIP in his transitional season.
Of course, the six-man plan could be all but scuttled in a matter of days. Ohtani reportedly wrapped up meetings with the seven finalists Tuesday and could make his decision well in advance of the Dec. 22 deadline.
Should the Rangers miss out, they would have enough available funds to go after a top-of-the-market starter and add proven bullpen help. So far, they have committed only $14.5 million to the 2018 payroll:
▪ $1.5 million for righty reliever Tony Barnette.
▪ $9 million for Minor, who will receive $9.5 million in 2019 and 2020 to complete a three-year, $28 million deal that includes a $1 million signing bonus and $8 million bonus for 2018.
Minor said that he is prepared to handle a starter’s normal innings load, though he hasn’t started a game since 2014 because of injury. He missed 2015 and 2016, and logged only 77 2/3 innings last season as a reliever.
Many of those innings came during multi-inning appearances for the Kansas City Royals.
“I told JD from the beginning I’m comfortable with either role,” Minor said. “I think a lot of that will depend on spring training and how the team shakes out. ... I did go multiple innings multiple times last year, and I felt great every time. I feel like I can [start].”
His innings will be monitored, Banister said, and so, too, will the innings of Fister, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. Daniels said that Matt Bush could still end up in the rotation, giving the Rangers a starter who has never carried that kind of workload.
A six-man rotation would help ease Minor and Bush in. Ohtani, too, in theory.
That appears to be one of the things the Rangers are willing to do to convince Ohtani to sign with them.
Just don’t ask them about him.