At the top of the off-season to-do list for general manager Jon Daniels is to secure a starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers’ defense of their American League West crown, and maybe two starters.
Yu Darvish won’t be back until mid-May, and Yovani Gallardo is seeking a free-agency payday that the Rangers don’t want to give him. Beyond Cole Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez, the Rangers have Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez and Anthony Ranaudo.
That’s why pitching is a priority only days before the annual winter meetings, where the Rangers won’t be players for the top remaining free agents.
Instead, they’re looking at a free agent they know so well and watched win 17 games for them last season.
Colby Lewis could very well be the Rangers’ No. 5 starter in 2016. The right-hander is also coming off surgery on his right knee, a procedure that has given the Rangers hesitancy to engage in negotiations until a follow-up exam.
The exam was Thursday. The knee is healing nicely. By spring training, there won’t be any issues.
Sounds like a slam dunk. Right?
“The ball’s in their court,” Lewis said after visiting team physician Dr. Keith Meister. “We haven’t had any conversations with the Rangers. Maybe that will change after today.
“There are quite a few other teams that have called and have gotten all the medicals. We’ll see. This is my first choice. This is where I want to be. If I don’t fit in, then I don’t fit it. That’s just how baseball operates these days.”
Lewis, whose knee was injured in May, was the first topic addressed by Daniels during a winter-meetings preview news conference at Globe Life Park about an hour before Lewis check-up, and Daniels’ tune hasn’t changed.
All along, including as recently as the division series, Daniels has said that no one with the Rangers wants to see Lewis in another uniform.
“We’re still interested in him returning,” Daniels said. “The feelings certainly haven’t changed on our end.”
Daniels might have to dig into the Rangers’ wallet a bit deeper than last off-season, though.
Lewis made a flat $4 million in 2015. He did not have any incentive clauses for innings pitched or starts made or games won, so the Rangers got 204 2/3 innings, 33 starts and 17 wins — all career-highs — at a bargain price.
Not every start or every stat was a gem, but even the elite pitchers have a stinker or two. Lewis, though, knows that the clock is ticking on his career as a 36-year-old essentially with a fake hip and a history of arm issues.
But with his knee already healthy enough for him to be doing cardio work and leg-strengthening exercises, he might be looking at his healthiest season since returning from Japan in 2010.
“I think if I had a full healthy year, I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Lewis, who is not holding offers from any other clubs. “I’m just rolling along and letting teams get interested. I don’t want to be low-balled staying at home.”
Daniels, manager Jeff Banister and members of the front office and ownership group will head to the winter meetings in Nashville on Sunday. Aside from starting pitching, the Rangers are also in the market for catching help, a right-handed-hitting left fielder to pair with Josh Hamilton and a center fielder to back up Delino DeShields.
Starting pitching, though, is the top priority. Lewis is healthy and ready, but Daniels might have to dig a little deeper into the Rangers’ wallet this off-season.