The importance of a deep stable of quality starting pitchers should have been seared into the brains of Texas Rangers brass the past two years.
In 2012, Colby Lewis was injured in July. His replacements didn’t win a start in their final 10 tries, and the Rangers lost out on a third straight American League West title by one game.
In 2013, Matt Harrison was lost for the season in April and Alexi Ogando went on the disabled list three times. The Rangers lost out on a second straight wild-card berth by one game.
Though Ogando finished strong and the reports on Harrison have been positive this off-season, there are still some internal doubts about how durable they will be in 2014.
The same goes for the depth that is in currently in place.
So, to say that he and his lieutenants haven’t been focused on starting pitching at the winter meetings is a bit of an overstatement from general manager Jon Daniels.
The Rangers don’t appear to be interested in signing a starter to a long-term deal, not with all five members of their projected rotation under contractual control for at least two more years and not with a wave of minor leaguers possibly arriving late next season.
A short-term starter, though, has been on the radar.
The Rangers have discussed adding free-agent right-hander Bartolo Colon, who is represented by the same agent as free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, to plug a rotation hole for only 2014.
The addition of Colon, or another starter on a one-year deal, would push Ogando to the bullpen and keep Robbie Ross as a reliever. They would then become part of the starting pitching depth, along with Lewis, Nick Tepesch and Jose Contreras.
As the saying goes, a team can never have enough pitching.
“There’s a difference between trying to add depth and making a significant acquisition,” Daniels said from the Rangers’ war room at the Walt Disney Dolphin Resort.
“You’re right: You can never have enough depth, but I think there are multiple ways to go about that.”
Daniels has indicated that there is little interest in re-signing Matt Garza, and the Rangers doubt they would be able to afford Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka if he is posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Both would come only on a long-term deal.
Colon would come with baggage — his physical condition at age 40 and a 50-game ban in 2012 for using performance-enhancing drugs. He also was seeking a two-year deal from Oakland before the A’s signed Scott Kazmir last week for two years, $22 million.
But Colon has been effective since rejuvenating a career that includes winning the 2005 Cy Young Award with the Angels. He finished sixth in voting this year after going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA over 30 starts/1901/3 innings.
That alone would make Colon more of a sure thing than Ogando, who is committed to starting but has been unable to handle the workload in his two seasons in the rotation. Having Colon also gives the Rangers more depth.
The group of pitchers at Double A, led by Luke Jackson and Alex Gonzalez, isn’t expected to start producing big leaguers until July or August.
Lewis is coming off a significant procedure in September on his right hip, called a “resurfacing,” and the Rangers don’t know how he will perform. Contreras has pitched well in the Dominican Winter League, but is 42 years old.
Tepesch was a rookie last season when he endured some struggles and finished 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA. Ross worked as a starter last month in the Dominican, pitching well, and will again be given a shot at transitioning from the bullpen in spring training.
That’s the Rangers’ depth if Colon, or another starter, isn’t added to the rotation on a short-term deal. And there will be more cross-those-fingers moments every time a pitcher comes up sore in 2014.
“There are a few select guys on the pitching market we’ve looked at,” Daniels said. “Otherwise, we’re looking to add depth. We have not looked to spend our assets there.”