Starting pitching has become too expensive in many cases for many teams, and there might not be a position harder to fill with quality players than catcher.
As luck would have it, those positions are the two the Texas Rangers need to address most this week at the annual winter meetings, and they wasted no time doing so Sunday night and Monday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort.
They have met with the agent for Colby Lewis and identified multiple starters on other clubs, chief among them Boston Red Sox right-hander Joe Kelly, to address one of the two vacancies the Rangers have in their rotation.
The Rangers could also find a catcher in a deal with the Red Sox, and have touched base on a handful of other players who could provide depth behind the plate in case of injury or even supplant Chris Gimenez as the primary backup or evenly split games with Robinson Chirinos.
Coming to terms with Lewis would probably be the easiest task, but he won’t come at the same bargain rate he did in 2015. A trade for the type of pitchers and catchers the Rangers are seeking won’t come on the cheap either in terms of the players they would have to ship away.
“We have looked at some of the controllable multi-year trade starters, but the price has kind of dovetailed with the free-agent dollars,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “The state of catching in the game, it’s a little bit harder than you think to find the right guy.
“Teams that have an extra one of those guys value them. You’re one foul tip away from a situation we were in last year, and teams are putting a high price on those guys because they want to avoid being in that spot.”
The Rangers have not extended an offer to Lewis, according to agent Alan Nero. He said that six other clubs have shown interest in Lewis, who would like a bump from the $4 million he made while posting team- and career-highs in wins (17) and innings (204 2/3) in 2015.
He is coming off surgery on his right knee, and though it checked out OK last week during an exam in Arlington, the Rangers see some risk with the 36-year-old. They have also seen him overcome multiple career-threatening injuries to return to a serviceable level.
“Colby’s Colby,” Daniels said. “Anybody who has surgery after the season is on some level a concern to be ready at the start of the year. You have to grade him on a curve, he usually beats the odds. I have no reason to believe he won’t do it again, but surgery’s surgery.”
One of the suitors for Lewis could be Kansas City at the urging of Andy Hawkins, the Royals’ Triple A pitching coach after spending seven seasons as the Rangers’ bullpen coach.
A deal for Lewis could be on hold until the free-agent market for starters shakes out a bit more, and signing him would end the Rangers’ pursuit for starting pitching and create a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation between pitchers already in the organization.
It would be a temporary job until Yu Darvish returns in May from Tommy John surgery.
Kelly has emerged as another rotation option for the Rangers, who like his right arm, capable of throwing in the upper 90s, and that he is entering his first year of salary arbitration.
He dealt with control issues last season, at one point was optioned to Triple A, and he went 10-6 with a 4.82 ERA. But a source said that the Rangers believe Kelly is a tweak or two away from being a rotation mainstay.
The Rangers could look to package Kelly with one of the Red Sox’s extra catchers, veteran Ryan Hanigan and or youngster Blake Swihart with Boston gaining confidence that Christian Vazquez will be healthy after Tommy John surgery late last spring camp.
That deal would possibly cost the Rangers one of their big-league bullpen pieces, and Daniels said that clubs have asked about each of their top 10 relievers. That includes closer Shawn Tolleson and ace set-up men Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Tom Wilhelmsen and Keone Kela.
The Rangers have enough depth in the bullpen to trade one reliever, but only in a deal that makes the club better. That might be difficult to do.
“Our relievers have generated a good amount of interest,” Daniels said. “We just have to decide what makes sense, to what degree to we just hold together what should be a really deep and strong unit vs. dipping into that to address other areas.”
Former TCU catcher Bryan Holaday, a backup in Detroit, and Elias Diaz, a rookie with Pittsburgh, could also be targets for the Rangers.
The Pirates have interest in first baseman Mitch Moreland, but the Rangers haven’t been motivated to trade him and wouldn’t do so simply for Diaz. Should the Rangers trade Moreland, that would open the door for Mike Napoli’s return.
The Rangers have also been contacted about shortstop Elvis Andrus, but nothing has advanced.