The Texas Rangers won their first-ever American League pennant in 2010. If they hope to make a return to the Fall Classic and avenge their loss to the San Francisco Giants, they have one offseason priority: re-sign Cliff Lee.
Lee was nothing spectacular in the regular season, but in the playoffs, he showed once again why he is so sought-after. Without him, Texas would have probably lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
Obviously, the Yankees will be after him, and outbidding New York is an immensely difficult task. However, Lee has said that he enjoys playing with the Rangers. They are coming off the back of their most successful season ever and have just landed a huge, 20-year, $3 billion TV rights deal. Having Cliff Lee pitching in Arlington in 2011 might not be as improbable as it first appears.
That said, though, Rangers fans have to prepare themselves for the worst. If their ace leaves, their chances of back-to-back pennants take a huge hit.
They have very few viable options if Cliff Lee decides not to have "TEXAS" emblazoned on his chest next season.
In all honesty, the Rangers do not need to replace Cliff Lee.
For the regular season, at least.
CJ Wilson (pictured) did more to get Texas to the playoffs than Lee did. The Rangers prime objective is to win the AL West. That is something they can accomplish quite comfortably without a top-of-the-rotation guy.
Once you get to the postseason, yes, they will have greater need of an ace, but it is not out of the realms of possibility that they can at least reach the World Series without one on any given night, and all that.
The Rangers could alternatively compromise and do nothing in the offseason, then trade for a starter in July.
Feliz was a great closer in 2010. He saved 40 games, third in the AL. He also posted a sub-3 ERA and a WHIP of just 0.88.
However, he and the Rangers organization view him as a starter in the future. With Lee gone, that future could be next year.
If Feliz is moved to the starting rotation, Texas could go after free agent closer Rafael Soriano, who led the AL in saves with an ERA a full run better than Feliz managed.
Quite simply, Texas will not find a good, affordable pitcher via a trade.
There are rumors that Randy Wolf and Scott Kazmir might be available, but they will be expensive, both in terms of prospects given up and the contracts that will accompany them.
There might be affordable pitchers, but Texas would be just as well sticking with what they have already.
Cincinnati exercised their $11 million option on Arroyo, keeping him in a Reds jersey for a sixth season. It’s unlikely that they would then trade him away, but it’s possible that they would trade him at the deadline.
Arroyo has been very good for the Reds, effectively becoming their ace in 2010. If a second-successive trip to the postseason is off the cards by the All-Star break and Texas have not yet filled the void left by Lee, a deal could make sense for both teams.
Ricky Nolasco is probably the most attractive and most likely pitcher to be traded. He is no Josh Johnson, of course, but he is a solid starter.
His 2010 numbers, 14-9, 4.51, are about par for the course for Nolasco, and the Rangers would have to give up more than they would probably be willing to if they wanted him.
If they are certain they want to find someone to replace Lee, though, and free agency yields no fruit, Nolasco might be the best option.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a surplus of pitching and might listen to offers about Sonnanstine or Niemann.
Both are very good starters, and Texas would probably be happy with either, especially given the scarcity of good starting pitching this offseason.
However, the Rays are not going to be desperate to offload anyone, as much as they want to cut their payroll for 2011. It would take a lot for Texas to entice them into a deal, but if they want it enough, it could be done.
There are a number of decent free agent pitchers available, but there is only one very good one. If Texas gets him, this list is pointless.
This year's free agency class is poor, there is no getting away from that fact. The Rangers will not find anyone close to Cliff Lee in it, but could find something to supplement the rotation they have at present.
It is highly likely that de la Rosa will command too high a price for Colorado to re-sign him. At just 29, he is young for a free agent starter and had the best year of his career in 2010, recording personal bests in ERA and WHIP.
Injuries should not really be a concern, either, even though he spent two months on the DL last year.
He will be expensive for what he is, but he is still one of the best FA pitchers available.
After setting career bests in ERA (3.47) and strikeouts (136), it's no surprise that Garland turned down his option to remain with San Diego for another season. It's a bit more surprising that the Padres did not bring him back, but at $7 million, they might have felt him too dear.
For Texas though, he could be a nice fit. He has always been durable. He has been pitching in PETCO Park, of course, which is one of the worst ballparks for hitters, so his numbers would probably not be as good with another team.
That said, Texas are going to be desperate if they can't keep Cliff Lee and might consider Garland a decent option.
When one talks about players who have rejuvenated their careers recently, Pavano has to be near the top of the list.
In four years with the Yankees, he was the forgotten man, starting an average of just six games a year. Then he moved to Minnesota and he pitched magnificently.
Even with a 17-11, 3.75 ERA, 1.2 WHIP season, in which he led the AL in complete games and shuouts, he is not Cliff Lee. Then again, who is?
"Low risk, high reward" would sum up Westbrook, if it were not for the fact that he will want multiple years. Nobody will give a player with his propensity for injuries a four- or five-year contract, but a two or three years would probably get him.
After a mid-season trade to St. Louis, Westbrook was very good with a 113 ERA+ and represents one of the best options. He is not going to command a huge salary, and could be out to prove that he still has what it takes.
Any team interested in Vasquez will have to work out how much of his struggles last year were down to his being a Yankee.
He pitched poorly in his first stint in New York, and did so again last year.
Other than that, however, he has been good in recent years. He has won 10 games for 11 straight seasons and finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2009. Also, his performance in 2010 will lower his asking price.