As I mentioned last week, although the Texas Rangers had a very successful 2009 season, they still have a shopping list that needs to be addressed this winter in order to build upon their success and hopefully take the next step towards making the postseason.
Today I want to cover item No. 1 on their randomly ordered list, which happens to be a veteran starting pitcher.
While the Rangers received some incredible pitching from all over the map in 2009, it is consistency that they need to preach in order to take over the West next season.
In order to do this, the Rangers need to add a little more veteran leadership to their staff. While Kevin Millwood did another nice job as the veteran ace of the staff (13-10, 3.67 ERA, 123 SO in 198.2 IP), the rest of their rotation relied heavily on youngsters who are still learning how to pitch in the big leagues.
Pitchers like Scott Feldman (26 years old, 17-8, 4.08 ERA in 189.2 IP), Tommy Hunter (22 years old, 9-6, 4.10 ERA in 112 IP), Brandon McCarthy (25 years old, 7-4, 4.62 ERA in 97.1 IP), Matt Harrison (23 years old, 4-5, 6.11 ERA in 63.1 IP), and their potential future ace Derek Holland (22 years old, 8-13, 6.12 ERA in 138.1 IP), who had a lot of ups and downs in his rookie year, all chipped in to fill out a rotation that really needs stability in order to flourish.
But what options do the Rangers have? If they had piles of money to throw around, they could go after the Lees, Webbs, and Lackeys of the world. But since this isn’t fantasyland, or even New York, these players really aren’t options. Unfortunate as this may be, there are plenty of cheaper options that might fit in very nicely.
The problem the Rangers are going to face is the climbing price tags that starting pitching continues to bring in. Sure, the economy caused a strange offseason last winter, but the fact of the matter is good starting pitching will still come at a price. That’s why it is crucial the Rangers make the right decision. They can’t afford to make a mistake.
Here is where this gets difficult. The best affordable veteran starting pitchers all come with a sort of a disclaimer on them. For better or worse, they all seem to have something attached to them.
Here are some of those options (pending they don’t re-sign with their current clubs), as well as some pros and cons that come along with the price tag.
Current Club: Seattle Mariners / 2009 Salary: $7.75 million
Pros: When Bedard is on the mound, he gets hitters out. With a 2.82 ERA (154 ERA+) and 9.8 SO/9 rate for the Mariners in 2009, he showed he still has what it takes to be dominant on the mound.
Cons: The problem is Bedard doesn’t stay on the mound. He has managed only 15 starts each of the past two seasons due to constant injuries. What may be even worse is the fact that his heart has been questioned at times because of not pitching deep into games and failing to give off an “ace” vibe like he has been expected to.
Final Decision: I would steer clear of this Type B free agent, as I don’t think the injury risk is worth it and his fanbases tend to hate him.
Current Club: San Francisco Giants / 2009 Salary: $5 million
Pros: Penny showed what a dominant pitcher he can be down the stretch for the Giants, going 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA.
Cons: Penny showed a miserable side to himself as a member of the Red Sox earlier in the year after pitching horribly, going 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA and asking for his release after a forthcoming demotion to the bullpen.
Final Decision: At only $5M per year, the second Brad Penny is much closer to the Brad Penny we have seen throughout his career. However, could the American League version of Penny rear its ugly head again if he were to rejoin the AL? I think this may be worth the risk.
Current Club: None / 2009 Salary: None
Pros: When he’s been healthy, he’s been a true ace in every sense of the word. He's a strong righty who will most likely come at a cheap price after having another setback and missing the entire 2009 season.
Cons: Sheets has unfortunately had trouble staying healthy in recent years. While he did start 31 games in 2008, he pitched 22, 17, and 24 the three years prior to that. So which Ben Sheets will 2010 see?
Final Decision: If the price is right and a clean bill of health is presented, Sheets might be a good option for the Rangers. I was a strong advocate for the Rangers to bring Sheets on board last winter, so it’s no real surprise I want the same now.
Current Club: Chicago Cubs / 2009 Salary: $7 million
Pros: Harden potentially has the best stuff of the players listed. When he’s healthy (funny I’ve had to say this about most of these guys), he’s dominant and just the type of pitcher the Rangers need.
Cons: Again, health concerns are big with Harden, as he always seems to have an ailment that is keeping him from the rotation.
Final Decision: His price will likely be on the higher end of this crew along with Bedard, but I would personally rather have Harden over Bedard if push comes to shove.
This is pretty much the extent of good (affordable) veteran pitchers that will be hitting free agency this winter, which makes the pressure to sign one of them that much greater for the Rangers. They need to make sure they add one and take a good, long, hard look to make sure they choose wisely.
I personally would steer clear of Bedard and focus on the health of Sheets or the availability of Penny as their best and cheapest options. The addition of one of these arms can really help solidify the Rangers rotation.
Remember, the Rangers need to conserve the minimal budget they have available that Nolan Ryan is allowing the team to play with. They can’t go blowing their entire budget on this first item on my shopping list.
In the next couple of days we will focus on the second item on their list, which actually may be even more difficult to find than another pitcher.
One down, two to go.