The winning pitcher Monday night for the Texas Rangers could very well be their Opening Day starter next season.
Some of that is by default, as left-hander Mike Minor is the only starting pitcher who has a contract for 2019. With 12 wins and an ERA trending nicely toward 4.00, he has earned consideration.
Other pitchers on the lineup card Wednesday night at Angel Stadium technically are under contract, as they are under club control, but have only a relative handful of MLB starts.
One of them, Adrian Sampson, suddenly seems to be a candidate for the 2019 rotation after allowing one run and two hits in five innings Tuesday in a tough-luck 1-0 loss. He was making his second career start and first since 2016.
But he looked good enough to put himself into what will be a wide-open competition when spring training rolls around in five months. The Rangers will spend a significant portion of their time and available resources this off-season trying to put a rotation together.
They might not even have five true starters next season.
“We’re going to have to be active this off-season on the acquisition front,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We’ll consider a couple different options there, and I think we’ll look at other ways of constructing the pitching staff. A little less traditional where we can get the most out of the group and put guys into position to succeed.”
The void in starting pitching is part of the reason why the Rangers are experimenting with The Opener concept, which they might use Friday and Saturday at San Diego ahead of Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado.
Daniels said on Monday that the Rangers are likely to use The Opener in the minor leagues next season to prepare relievers and starters in case called upon by the big-league club and thrust into a game that uses an opener.
The Rangers’ most advanced pitching prospects — Taylor Hearn, Jonathan Hernandez and Joe Palumbo — and Chi Chi Gonzalez and Edinson Volquez, both recovering from Tommy John surgery, likely won’t be rotation candidates on Opening Day but will be at some point during the season.
The pickings are slim.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us this winter,” Daniels said. “We’ve got a group of guys at the upper levels that we believe in and will pitch in the big leagues, but the guys we truly believe can start won’t be ready by Opening Day.”
Daniels dismissed the notion that the Rangers have no interest in Martin Perez as a starting pitcher after ousting him from the rotation last month and putting him in the bullpen. They also told him that they are not likely to pick up a club option worth $7.5 million.
If Perez is willing to sign for less, as Tony Barnette did last off-season after the Rangers declined his option, the Rangers would be open to having him on their staff and letting him try to win a rotation spot.
The Rangers believe that Eddie Butler’s best role is as a starter, but he hasn’t wowed them as a reliever after being acquired in the Cole Hamels trade with the Chicago Cubs. Wednesday starter Yovani Gallardo wants to pitch for the Rangers in 2019 and likely would do so on a club-friendly deal.
There would be a bevy of pitchers in camp on similar deals.
“One of the things we’ll have going for us this off-season is we’ll have a clear opportunity,” Daniels said. “We’re not going to be an attractive destination for a left-handed hitter looking to compete for left-field at-bats. But somebody that is willing to compete for innings in spring training, I think we’ll be a pretty attractive destination.”
The Rangers haven’t ruled out shopping in the more expensive tiers of the ballyhooed free-agent class, especially if they believe they aren’t too far away from contending again. They might not try to woo righty Charlie Morton or lefties Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ and Patrick Corbin, but they might find a nice pickup as they did last off-season with Minor.
“The concept of layering in a quality free-agent addition, that’s appealing,” Daniels said.
After Tuesday, so is Sampson, who blew out his elbow while warming up for a start in 2016 with the Seattle Mariners and had only started in the minors since the flexor-tendon injury.
Manager Jeff Banister said that Sampson wasn’t at his best, compared to the data they gathered from his starts at Triple A Round Rock. There’s more there, and the Rangers are going to get to see it again this month.
“The next couple outings will tell us a little more about him,” Banister said. “Last night, as good as it was, I don’t think we saw exactly who he is. The comparables tell you there’s still a little more in there to be better. The next time we’re going to see a little sharper stuff.”
And maybe even next year in the Rangers’ wide-open rotation.