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Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Hot Stove Talk: Starting pitching

By Richard Durrett

Note: As part of our "Hot Stove Talk" series, which looks at issues, players and trades the Texas Rangers could consider this offseason, we'll also take a look at some positions on the club and assess whether general manager Jon Daniels and his staff should upgrade them at next week's Winter Meetings.

Today's position: Starting pitching

For the first time in a long time in Texas, starting pitching is not the club's top priority. In fact, if you consider the team went into the Hot Stove season needing a catcher, power-hitting first baseman, left fielder and closer (though that's something that will likely come internally), starting pitching is way down on the list.

But there's a difference between being down on the list or not on the list at all. Daniels and the front office know all too well that pitching is always on the list.

Texas rolls into the 2014 season with a starting rotation set to go, barring injuries. And that last part is the biggest reason why starting pitching is still on the list. Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are penciled in as of this moment. But the Rangers have to assume an injury will pop up. They just don't know which pitcher will experience it and when it might happen.

Last offseason, Harrison signed a long-term deal and ended up making two starts before troubles began. He had surgery to repair back troubles and also a procedure to relieve a thoracic outlet syndrome issue in his non-throwing shoulder. He should be fully ready by the start of the season and he has talked about how he's hungry to get back out there. But losing Harrison, an 18-game winner, for effectively the entire 2013 season was proof that pitching rarely goes according to plan. Colby Lewis was supposed to be back in June and never pitched in the big leagues last year. Injuries forced young starters to join the rotation sooner than expected.

So don't be surprised if the Rangers look to shore up some depth. They could attempt to grab the biggest starting pitching prize -- David Price -- via trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. But that deal would likely have to start with Jurickson Profar, and at this point the Rangers have him manning second base in place of Ian Kinsler, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder. But there are others. What about Jeff Samardzija? He's got two more years of club control and while he's coming off a season where he didn't meet expectations, he's got the ability to do something. Perhaps his value would be such that a deal could be made. At this point, the Cubs, according to reports, still haven't given up on signing him to an extension. We'll see.

Masashiro Tanaka is still playing the waiting game to see how the posting system shakes out. According to the New York Post, MLB is proposing a cap of $20 million on bids. If that's the case, what if the Rangers jumped in at that price (as would other teams)? It hasn't been decided what happens if several teams each bid that amount, but it's possible that Tanaka would get to choose the team with which he would negotiate. The fact that Darvish is in Texas and that the Rangers are contenders couldn't hurt. It just makes me wonder. Stay tuned. He may still command more than the Rangers will want to pay.

Texas could look at some short-term options on the free-agent market, though it depends on whether they can find nice value. They've already signed Lewis to a minor league deal and hope that he can come back and provide some depth at some point in 2014. They aren't afraid to take some risks on injured pitchers, though Josh Johnson is already off the board. Trades are always a possibility, and as we saw with the Nationals last night in acquiring Doug Fister, even a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy can become available. Some of you have asked about Ervin Santana. Yes, he's available. And he's a middle-of-the-rotation guy. But at his price point and with his inconsistent history, he's likely too much of a risk, if you ask me?

For it to make sense for the Rangers to grab some starting pitching, they either sign some value arms that can provide depth at spring training and in the minors to guard against injuries to the rotation or they swing for the fences (yeah, if you're going to use a cliche, use one that's at least in the same sport) and go after a huge name.

We'll keep one eye on the starting pitching market next week. Price is intriguing in that he would make that entire rotation even deeper, allowing the club to have Ogando as the sixth guy, waiting when needed. And can you imagine Price and Darvish starting the first two games of a playoff series? Again, it would take a major deal to get Price, but the Rangers have the assets to do it. You never know.