Upgrading the offense, general manager Jon Daniels has said repeatedly, rates the No.1 priority for the Texas Rangers this offseason.
A team that saw its plate woes hit depths not reached in decades needs some power, and more than one bat will be needed to reverse course.
As such, the most potent available hitters have been linked to the Rangers. Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo and Kendrys Morales, among others, have been mentioned frequently as Rangers targets.
Pushed to the side, it seems, are Matt Garza, Masahiro Tanaka and, to an extent, David Price. They don’t swing bats for a living, not well at least, but earn their keep as starting pitchers.
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The Rangers have a rotation in place, a good one on paper. But three of the projected starting five had medical issues in 2013, when the Rangers were caught short-handed on the mound.
When the difference between winning a division title or claiming a wild-card berth is one game, as it has been the past two seasons, the Rangers know the importance of having as many dependable, effective starters as possible.
But, as Daniels reiterated Tuesday during the second day of the general managers meetings, pitching isn’t a priority and will be added only if a can’t-miss deal presents itself.
“We’re not right now looking to give out a big multiyear deal for a starter,” Daniels said. “That’s not what our need is. We’ve got guys we really like that are signed. I’m more focused on the position player side of the club.”
Garza, despite his lackluster performance after the July trade that brought him to Texas, is an impact pitcher. The Rangers, who held him in high regard long before acquiring him, still like him.
The 28-year-old Price, a left-hander, is a former Cy Young award winner who is getting too expensive for Tampa Bay and could be had in a trade for his final two seasons before free agency.
Tanaka, a 25-year-old right-hander who went 24-0 this year in Japan, is viewed as a legitimate big-league pitcher with a wipeout split-finger pitch, but he’s not considered as good as Yu Darvish.
Tanaka, an offseason workout partner of Darvish, will be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Bidding is expect to exceed the $51.7 million the Rangers posted to win the right to negotiate with Darvish.
To sign one would take away from the Rangers’ budget for a big bat. They also have Nick Tepesch and Robbie Ross as possible depth in case of injury, and a wave of highly regarded pitchers at Double A isn’t far behind.
“Depth is huge,” Daniels said. “We’ve got to keep that in mind. You’ve got to find that balance.”
The biggest health concerns are with Alexi Ogando, who hit the disabled list three times, and Matt Harrison, the Opening Day starter in 2013 who lasted only two outings before undergoing season-ending back surgery and later required an operation to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome on his non-throwing shoulder.
Daniels has minor concerns about Darvish, who finished the season with a nerve issue in his back. All three, though, are expected to be significant contributors in 2014.
Harrison, reached Tuesday in North Carolina, said that he is in the fourth week of his normal offseason workout program and has had no issues. He plans to begin throwing Dec. 1, and expects to be in the rotation.
“If everything keeps going the way it is, I feel good about starting the season as one of those five guys,” Harrison said. “I don’t know why not. I’ve had more time to rest it and get it right completely, and I’m not rushing into anything. I’ll be 100 percent by spring training and the season.”
He needs to be. Barring a change in direction this off-season, the Rangers don’t plan to address their rotation unless the right deal comes along.
“Health permitting, we’re in a good spot,” Daniels said. “Our focus point this winter is our offense, but, that said, we’re always looking for impact players. We’re open to everything.”