Texas Rangers' Best Non-Tanaka Options Among Free-Agent Starting Pitchers

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Texas Rangers' Best Non-Tanaka Options Among Free-Agent Starting Pitchers
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Ubaldo Jimenez could be a bargain for a starting pitcher on the current free-agent market

Personally, I think the Texas Rangers' pitching staff is set and ready to roll into 2014. With Yu Darvish and Derek Holland leading the way, Matt Harrison returning from lower back surgery and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year candidate Martin Perez continuing to emerge, the Rangers will have one of the league's best staffs for the next few seasons.

Generally, the concern among Rangers fans this offseason has been bolstering the offense. But some other Rangers fans like the idea of taking the San Francisco Giants' approach—the offense can be adequate…as long as the pitching staff is exceptional. And to make the staff exceptional, general manager Jon Daniels needs to bring in a big-name starter.

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The continued development of 22-year-old Martin Perez will be vital for the Rangers

That's a fair point. Signing a free-agent starter, like Masahiro Tanaka or Ervin Santana, would no doubt improve this club. These fans believe signing a front-line level pitcher opens up the possibility of a trade for an outfielder who is perhaps much cheaper than Shin-Soo Choo.

So today, I'm going to address this idea. Since Masahiro Tanaka has not yet been posted, I will exclude him from this conversation. This does not mean that I believe he isn't the Rangers' top option for a starting pitcher—I do think he is the best pitcher out there by far. Here, I'm simply restricting the options to who is absolutely available right now on the market.

Let's take a look. Here are the two guys not named Tanaka that I think the Rangers should zero in on, if they have any real desire to beef up their rotation.

Behind Tanaka, I believe Santana is the best starting pitcher still available on the free-agent market. Some might argue in favor of Ubaldo Jimenez, since he is still on the right side of 30, while Santana just turned 31 three days ago.

These two pitchers have fairly similar numbers, and they share many of the same characteristics.  They have very similar track records healthwise, as well. This would make a potential decision between one of these pitchers extremely difficult for Daniels.

 

Ervin Santana

He just turned 31, and according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, he is reportedly seeking a five-year, $112 million contract.  

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Next to his 2008 campaign with the Angels, Santana's 2013 season was the best of his career

Whoa. That price tag has to come down quite a bit for Daniels to even think twice about signing him. Santana had what was probably his second-best year last season when he posted a 3.24 ERA in 211 innings. He allowed 190 hits, and a total of hits allowed that is less than the number of innings pitched is a mark of a quality pitcher.

Santana's 2013 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was the second lowest of his career at 1.14. His biggest issue was keeping the ball in the park. He allowed 26 home runs in those 211 innings, an average of one per every 8.12 innings.  

Last season as Kansas City's No. 2 pitcher, Santana was the most consistent on the Royals' staff. He made 32 starts and didn't miss a single one. In this sense, he has proven his durability. Over the last four seasons, he has averaged 32 starts per year.  

Additionally, last season Santana rediscovered the mid-90s velocity and lethal slider that made him one of the AL's best starters in 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He was consistently hitting 94 to 95 mph on his fastball, and his slider recaptured that steep downward bite with a sharp outward break 10 feet from the plate. When that slider is working, it is one of the game's best.

So with Santana you are really getting the complete package: a 200-inning guy who will take the mound every five days, eat innings and attack hitters with that one-two fastball-slider combo. He has a fearless mentality with his fastball, and this is the quality that had attracted Matt Garza to the Rangers for years.

Santana is a great AL pitcher who I think has the pure stuff to handle pitching in Arlington. But at the end of the day, his price tag is just far too high. Also, since the Royals extended him a qualifying offer, he has a compensatory pick attached to his signing. I think that limits a lot of teams' interest in him, and ultimately I think he lands back in Kansas City at a drastically reduced price.

 

Ubaldo Jimenez

Assuming that Tanaka isn't ever posted—which is highly unlikely—here's the guy the Rangers should being going hard after if they want to improve their rotation even more.  

First off, he's over a year younger than Santana. When you take a look at his career numbers and those of 2013, he is quite similar to Santana. One major difference between the two: Jimenez is much more of a strikeout pitcher. In just 182.2 innings, he fanned 194 batters. 

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Santana has a high strikeout rate, which could make him a nice fit pitching in Arlington

Because he misses more bats, he allowed 10 fewer home runs than Santana in 2013. He also pitched in a notorious hitter's park in Progressive Field. Santana had the benefit of pitching in Kauffman Stadium, which is considered neutral with a slight slant toward pitchers.

Like Santana, Jimenez also allowed far fewer hits than the number of innings he pitched. Shockingly, his WHIP was still a full 19 points higher than Santana's. He did walk 80 batters in 2013, an average of 2.27 per start. That is pretty solid, especially in the AL, where you have to pitch to a DH rather than another pitcher.

So Jimenez's control was definitely there relative to past years. His pitches have so much movement on them that sometimes a particular pitch just breaks out of the zone.

I haven't seen any estimated figures on how many years and how much money Jimenez is seeking. But I can tell you that it likely isn't $22.4 million per year for five years, as Santana wants. Jimenez is at best a decent No. 2 starter, probably better characterized as a great No. 3.  

Like Santana, a first-round draft pick is attached to Jimenez's signing. I can see him accepting a deal in the range of four to five years for $10-12 million per year. Compared to what Santana wants, that is a pretty nice bargain.

For my money, I'd want Jimenez. He's younger, has shown the same durability as Santana and has also averaged 30 starts in the last three years. Here's the tipping point in his favor: He has sharper swing-and-miss stuff and allows fewer home runs because of it. Pitching in Arlington, that is critical.

I don't think Daniels signs either of these guys. I believe that if the Rangers sign any big-name pitcher, it will indeed be Masahiro Tanaka. Otherwise, I think this rotation is set to carry the Rangers next season. Their priority should continue to be signing another bat or two.

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