Texas Rangers

Rangers interested in Morton for rotation. Who else might fit for 2019 (and maybe beyond)?

Houston Astros starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke) AP

As the Texas Rangers contemplate future seasons, they must also contemplate the now.

The now, in baseball-ese, is the upcoming season, and the Rangers plan to field a team for each of the 162 games on their 2019 schedule. The plan for that team to be as competitive as possible, relative to the restraints a rebuild puts on winning.

To that end, the Rangers need to sign starting pitchers to go with the three they have penciled into the rotation – left-handers Mike Minor and Drew Smyly, and right-hander Edinson Volquez.

Minor made it through last season and wanted to pitch more than the Rangers allowed him in his first season as a starter since 2014. He should be unshackled in 2019 and could very well start on Opening Day, assuming he isn’t traded between these MLB winter meetings and the start of spring training.

Smyly and Volquez are said to be on a normal off-season schedule after completing their rehab from Tommy John surgery. While they won’t be on as strict a limit as Minor was in 2018, their workloads will be monitored.

So, the Rangers might need more than two starters. They could use a proven workhorse, which in this day and age has an entirely new meaning. The almost certainly will use The Opener or a piggyback system for anywhere from some to many games.

The ideal deal, general manager Jon Daniels said, is a one-year free-agent signing. The Rangers would go multiple years for the right fit, Daniels said.

Perhaps right-hander Charlie Morton falls into that group.

The Rangers have strong interest in the hard-throwing veteran, who spent the past two seasons with the Houston Astros. His 2018 season was the best of his career (15-3, 3.13 ERA, 201 strikeouts in 30 starts/167 innings), and at age 35 he appears to have a few good seasons left in him.

The Tampa Bay Rays are also interested in Morton, so it could take a second or third year to win Morton over.

So, put Morton at the Rangers’ top of the list. At the very least he’s on it.

Here are some other free agents who might be on the list, whether on multi-year deals or one-year pacts:

Yusei Kikuchi

The left-hander from Japan was posted last week by the Seibu Lions, and Daniels has said that the Rangers are doing their homework on him. They’ve done lots of homework already, dating back nine years when Kikuchi was an 18-year-old amateur the Rangers tried to woo.

They sent Derek Holland to Japan in 2009, along with a large cutout out of Kikuchi in a Rangers uniform. It would take more than just sweet talk this time around, as Kikuchi is represented by Scott Boras. Though Kikuchi is likely no better than a No. 3 starter, his price tag, which includes paying a posting fee, will be high.

James Shields

The Rangers have history with this veteran right-hander as well, spending time with him before the 2014 winter meetings even though they flat-out told him they would be unable to sign him. They met for future opportunities, and one exists now.

Shields is about to turn 37, but he made 33 starts and worked 204 2/3 innings in 2018 for the Chicago White Sox. His 4.53 ERA was an improvement from 2017 (5.23) and wildly better than his 2016 number (6.77). If he’s healthy, he could take pressure off a bullpen that figures to have a heavy workload.

Clay Buchholz

The native Texan (Nederland) made only 16 starts in 2018, but, boy, they were really good. He went 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who shut him down in mid-September with a strained flexor tendon.

Buchholz, though, told reporters then that it wasn’t as severe as the injury that cost him most of the 2017 season and that he was determined to win a spot in a major-league rotation in 2019 at age 34. Injury history? Low-risk deal? That’s right up the Rangers’ alley.

Ervin Santana

Injury history? Low-risk deal? Santana also fits the buy-low option after missing most of the 2018 season because of a finger injury. In the five seasons prior, though, Santana went 53-44 with a 3.52 ERA in 143 starts.

He’s a veteran who turns 36 on Wednesday, he knows the American League West after eight season with the Los Angeles Angels, and he knows Surprise, Ariz., after a season with the Kansas City Royals. But he has been terrible (6.56 ERA) in his career at Globe Life Park.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.