Texas Rangers

Bullpen depth giving Rangers options for 2016

Shawn Tolleson will enter spring training as the Rangers’ closer, assuming he isn’t traded away for a starting pitcher.
Shawn Tolleson will enter spring training as the Rangers’ closer, assuming he isn’t traded away for a starting pitcher. Star-Telegram

The reliever who in the World Series years became every Texas Rangers fan’s bullpen punching bag, native Texan and former UT-Arlington great Mark Lowe, will make $11 million the next two seasons.

The oft-injured Ryan Madson will make $22 million the next three seasons. On-again-off-again closer John Axford got a two-year contract for $10 million. Tony Sipp, coming of the best of his seven big-league seasons, is due $18 million the next three seasons.

While spending on starting pitching has shocked many this off-season, money being given to set-up relievers is the real stunner.

The Rangers, meanwhile, will pay their closer around $2.5 million. One set-up man will get about $3 million. Another is signed for $1.5 million, and yet another is likely to get only $1 million.

Two others will make a tick more than the league minimum of $507,500.

Add in the on-field performance, and the Rangers’ bullpen could be the envy of all of baseball.

The top six relievers are young, good and really affordable, but the bullpen as it stood Tuesday at the Rangers’ annual media holiday luncheon could be different when pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 18.

The Rangers still have needs, and one of their big-league relievers could be used to address one of them. If they stand pat, their bullpen will be the team’s strength.

“If you have depth at any area on a big-league roster, you’re always going to have options,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We didn’t necessarily build the depth expecting to trade a reliever, but it’s an option we have if something presents itself.”

Daniels said last week during the winter meetings that the Rangers had been asked by other clubs about as many as 10 relievers, all of them under club control contractually for multiple seasons.

Teams covet that level of affordability, and the Rangers could unload a reliever for, say, a starting pitcher or catching help. Nothing new has developed in the Rangers’ pursuits of rotation help, either on the trade front or with free agent Colby Lewis after the most recent talks with his agent.

“We’re still evaluating our options,” Daniels said. “You guys know we think the world of Colby, and we’re still in contact.”

Going the free-agent route to secure a starter could leave manager Jeff Banister with six relievers who have closed games to choose from to protect a lead. The sixth is right-hander Tony Barnette, who signed a two-year contract worth $3.5 million with the Rangers after reinventing himself in Japan to become one of the top relievers there.

Compared to Lowe, Madson and others, Barnette could become a bargain.

“Because he hadn’t pitched here the last couple years, we felt he was potentially undervalued in the marketplace,” Daniels said. “We view him on par with some of the guys getting much larger dollars out there.”

Barnette saved 41 games in 2015, six more than Shawn Tolleson did as the Rangers’ bullpen savior. He will enter spring training as the closer despite the options and despite sharing closer duties with Sam Dyson during the American League Division Series.

The magnitude of the postseason dictated an all-hands-on-deck bullpen approach, said Banister, but Tolleson hasn’t lost his job.

“I don’t think he’s done anything in the off-season to have the title of closer stripped away from him,” Banister said. “Shawn is the closer for us.”

Tolleson said that he has watched the Rangers stockpile relief arms and likes the moves. He also said that he thinks of himself as the club’s closer, was disappointed to give way to Dyson in Game 1 of the ALDS, and wants to be in the most challenging role as possible.

The thought of being traded or losing his closer’s job isn’t weighing him.

“I’m not worried at all,” Tolleson said. “If anything, it’s nice to have a lot of really good options.”

That bullpen depth has given the Rangers options, too.

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