Nolan Ryan: Rangers will be a contender

No matter what was subtracted or what was added to the Texas Rangers’ roster during the off-season, Nolan Ryan expects nothing less than what he has seen in Arlington the past three seasons.

“I think we’re going to be very competitive,” the CEO and team president said Friday, about three hours before the Rangers opened the Cactus League season against Kansas City.

“Sitting here today I think we’re going to compete for the division.”

The Rangers won the American League West in 2010 and 2011, and nearly went wire-to-wire last season before losing a five-game lead with nine to play. The 2012 team still won 93 games, and Ryan wasn’t ready to say if the 2013 club will be better.

“I won’t say that, because we have probably more questions at this time, pertaining to pitching,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of key pitchers that could be back playing an important role for us 45 to 60 days after the season starts.

“You don’t want to get too excited about that, because you don’t know how their rehab is going to go, but if everything was going to go properly or right, you feel like that could be a real plus for your ballclub. It’s kind of like having a taxi squad there that you’re pretty excited about.”

Ryan sat down with the media for nearly 30 minutes, hitting on a wide range of topics. He surprised with his reaction to the off-season (he liked it, and is excited about Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzysnki) and gave insight as to where Jurickson Profar will likely start the season (hello, Round Rock).

And, of course, Josh Hamilton also came up.

Which area of the club are you most interested to see this spring? When you look at our ballclub, the area of biggest need is pitching. You’ve got to find a fifth starter and then, obviously, fill some places in the bullpen. We well know the impact pitching has on the season, so I would say from my perspective, those are probably the areas of uncertainty that we have and who is going to step up and there are opportunities there for people.

Who do you think will take the fifth rotation spot: I don’t have a feel for saying who I think is the favorite, I really don’t. I think all of us feel that Martin Perez is a very talented kid that has three pitches and when we start talking about a spot in the rotation, really what you look for is somebody that has that.

Is there a different feel about this team than the past few springs? Our position, if you ask me, is somewhat guarded. We feel like we have a good ballclub, but we also know people are going to have to play to their abilities and they’re going to have to stay healthy. Those are the two areas, and that’s true with any team. When you start talking about what would impact our ballclub, obviously, if our pitching didn’t stay healthy again this year as it did last year, we know the impact it had. And then there’s a lot riding on Lance being the DH, and we feel if he is healthy it’s going to have a big impact on the ballclub. We feel good about our catching because we brought in somebody who is durable and has the makeup that you like in that position.

Because of who got away over the off-season, are there piles of money lying around to be spent on some remaining free agents? Piles of money? God, I don’t know where that room is. If you run into it, show it to me. Obviously, our ownership has indicated that they’re supportive if there is a need we have and the right person is out there, but I don’t think we look at the fact that we’re flush with cash.

You have to give our ownership credit that they have stepped up. Their goal is to be competitive and win, and they’re willing to do that. That’s not just lip service. If the baseball department comes with a recommendation that they think will have an impact on our ballclub, I think they know they can go to ownership and present it to them and they’ll certainly consider it.

What role did ownership have in negotiating with Hamilton and Zack Greinke? Ownership has been supportive of baseball and what they wanted to do. Ownership was willing to step up on some of the players that we were hoping to be able to sign, and it didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t because we didn’t have the support of ownership. It was just that they didn’t work out. The players chose to go somewhere else. It’s not always about money.

Hamilton got away. Is this team better without him? When you talk about Josh, it’s a complex situation. You just don’t replace a talent like that, and we all know that. But also, there’s a dimension that’s brought to the ballclub that very few players if any other player in baseball would bring. It’s so unique and unusual that you can’t put other players in that category.

Do you have any comment on Hamilton’s comments about DFW not being a baseball town? Josh is probably making an adjustment mentally and emotionally to new surroundings and being with another ballclub and with the way the season ended last year.  … I think he has to sort through things, and I think that’s what he’s doing right now is sorting through things that he’s dealing with from being with a new organization and a lot of people asking him about leaving us and the relationship.

How many at-bats do you think Jurickson Profar would need to be assured to make this team rather than start at Triple A? My thoughts are he’s played Double A. If we can’t get him the at-bats that I think are appropriate for his development, then we’d probably be doing him a disservice to have him as a utility guy and not getting the at-bats and opportunity to play every day. He’s on the verge of being an everyday ballplayer in the big leagues is the way I view him, so to continue to for that development, I would think a minimum of 350 or more. If someone doesn’t get hurt or something doesn’t happen, I’m not for sure how you get 350.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram