During the reign of Nolan Ryan as team president and then principal owner of the Texas Rangers, a dynamic shift in organizational philosophy has occurred. The Rangers, long-recognized as an offensive powerhouse, have begun to place as much focus on the depth of their pitching staff as they have on the strength of their lineup.
The mindset of Ryan, a revered Hall of Fame pitcher, has permeated the entire organization, and recently the Rangers have produced numerous impact pitchers that have made their mark upon the Major League stage.
In regards to starting pitchers, the Rangers' entire 2011 rotation was comprised of hurlers reared in the franchise's minor league system, an impressive feat that helps to highlight the team's recent success in the development of quality pitching.
C.J. Wilson, last year's staff ace, and the longest-tenured Ranger among the starting staff, is currently a free agent and, following a stellar year, is attracting significant attention from suitors across the league.
While Wilson, as well as the Rangers, have both expressed an interest in continuing their working relationship, once a player reaches the open market, prices can escalate beyond the level of a team's desire to retain a player.
Even if Wilson were to sign elsewhere, the Rangers's rotation has at least four returning members, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando. Barring any trades of course, the continuity is encouraging.
There is also the possibility that the Rangers follow through on their plan to convert Neftali Feliz back into a starting pitcher after two full seasons as the team's closer. If he still projects as a top-flight starter in the eyes of the organization, he would offer more value in the rotation, rather than the bullpen.
Though the rotation boasts some promising arms, all capable of quality performances in 2012, the Rangers have been exploring their options, hoping to secure a veteran presence atop their starting staff.
Let's take a look at some of the top starting pitching options that the Rangers are rumored to be considering this offseason.
As one of the premier starting pitchers available on the free agent market, C.J. Wilson is drawing significant attention from various suitors around baseball.
The Rangers hope that "what he likes about Texas" will be enough for them to re-sign the left-handed hurler without engaging in a protracted bidding war that could see his price inflated beyond reasonable levels.
Though he has performed well at or near the top of the Texas rotation in his two seasons since converting into a starting pitcher, Wilson's postseason performances in the past two years have caused some to question his validity a staff ace.
Wilson won 16 games for the Rangers over the course of 223.1 innings pitched, both the highest totals of his career. He struck out 206 hitters while compiling a 1.187 WHIP and a 2.94 ERA, both improvements over his 2010 marks. After leading the AL in walks in 2010, he reduced his total significantly, and his three walks per nine innings was a drastic reduction from his 4.1 per nine last year.
Following a sharper season in 2011, which reflected an across the board improvement over his previous career standards, Wilson struggled in the postseason when called upon to lead the Rangers' rotation.
In six appearances, five of them starts, Wilson went 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA. In 28 innings, he allowed 29 hits and 19 walks, as well as 6 home runs.
Despite his two consecutive strong regular seasons, many began to doubt Wilson's credibility as a rotation leader. Perhaps a strong No. 2 starter on a contender, but his postseason struggles detracted from his qualification as an ace in many minds.
However, at almost 31 years old, Wilson may be maturing into a pitcher that has finally learned the finer points of his profession, rather than relying merely on stuff to succeed.
Even with some of the doubts circulating around him, Wilson will receive significant attention, especially in light of the shallow nature of this offseason's pitching market.
Texas wants him back, but the Yankees have inquired about his services, rumors have named the Angels as a possibility, as well as the Nationals. The Marlins and Blue Jays are among that group as well. Considering the loss of John Lackey to Tommy John surgery, and the uncertainty over the health of Clay Buchholz, some expect the Red Sox to be interested as well.
Whichever way free agency takes him, C.J. is likely set to cash in considerably.
For his part, he has stated that he'd like to stay in Texas, as he was quoted in an interview with Scoreboard Daily as saying,
"Yeah, there’s a great chance because I like it here and I’ve won here. I’ve proved that I can be a good pitcher here. There have been a lot of people over the years that have said it’s impossible to pitch here in Texas and look what we did here on the rotation – we went out and won a bunch of games and threw a bunch of innings and did stuff that no other organization can say…not even the mighty Red Sox or Yankees. They didn’t do what we did. It’s now all about figuring out how all of the guys on the team – not just me – there’s Elvis, Nelson, Josh, Ian – a lot of guys have contractual things that are coming up. I think one thing the Rangers want me to know is what they’re planning on doing with all of these other guys in the long term. So that gives me confidence that we’re going to keep winning."
While it sounds like he'd like to return to the only organization he's ever known, it remains to be seen how intense the bidding war will be, and if the Rangers are willing to commit the dollars and years that it may take to secure his services.
If C.J. Wilson's odyssey into free agency takes him elsewhere, the Rangers will likely crave a veteran hurler to add some leadership to a largely inexperienced rotation.
It's widely expected that Roy Oswalt, a long-time member of the Houston Astros, and resident of Mississippi, could potentially fit atop the Texas rotation if offered an opportunity to once again pitch closer to home after a year-and-a-half in Philadelphia.
According to MLBtraderumors.com, "the Rangers have expressed preliminary interest in Oswalt" among others.
The 34-year-old right-hander, veteran of 11 Major League seasons, dealt with back problems last year, which limited him to only 23 starts for the Phillies. He was solid, if unspectacular when healthy, as he went 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA, striking out 93 in 139 innings, while posting a higher than usual WHIP of 1.338. While his command was superb (2.1 walks per nine innings), he allowed 153 hits, which accounted for the inflation in baserunners.
He is reportedly free of his back issues and hopes to seek a multi-year deal according to his agent, Bob Garber.
Oswalt, 159-93 in his career with a 3.21 ERA and 1.119 WHIP, is a career National Leaguer, but many believe his stellar command (career 2.1 BB/9 Inn) and ability to keep the ball in the park (0.8 HR/9 Inn) could help him easily transition to the American League.
One of the starters drawing the most attention is the ever-reliable Mark Buehrle.
Never an ace, nor a pitcher that strikes fear into the hearts of his opposition, Buehrle has built an impressive resume on the strength of his consistency and remarkable durability.
In 11 seasons since becoming a full-time starter in 2001, the 32-year-old lefty has never failed to pitch at least 200 innings. Try to find another starting pitcher in MLB with that type of track record.
Over his career, Buehrle is 161-119 with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Never a strikeout pitcher (4.8 K/9Inn), and prone to giving up hits (9.5 H/9 Inn), Buehrle has found success with great command (2.0 BB/9 Inn) and a above average ability to keep the ball on the ground.
Despite his lack of dominant stuff, Buehrle has tossed two career no-hitters, one of them a 2009 perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Last season, he went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA, tossed 205.1 innings and owned a 1.295 WHIP.
Considering his amazing run of consistent durability, the Rangers could likely face stiff competition in a chase for Buehrle, as it is rumored that up to 10 teams are interested in the veteran.
If C.J.Wilson were to depart, adding a lefty of Buehrle's character and experience could potentially bring a vital leadership quality to the Texas rotation. Texas values left-handed pitching with a ballpark that is renowned for its propensity for allowing home runs to right-center field.
Though Buehrle is a career member of the White Sox, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, he reportedly has told the team that he will not give them a hometown discount to stay in the Windy City.
Perhaps the pitcher with the most potential upside, Edwin Jackson has long tantalized with his talents, but has only recently begun achieving results that have matched expectations of him.
At 28, Jackson is entering the years when many pitchers begin to figure things out and learn to pitch, rather than throw.
He has, however, battled inconsistency throughout his career, which may deter some potential suitors, so too could the looming presence of his agent, Scott Boras.
Boras, knowing that Jackson is the youngest pitcher available of all the primary free agent targets, is expected to seek a long-term deal for his client.
With his history of inconsistency that Jackson has displayed, some teams may be reluctant to commit to him over a significant amount of years.
However, with a dearth of starting pitching in the current market, it's likely that Jackson and Boras will find someone to accede to their demands.
Amazingly, in nine MLB seasons, Jackson has been with six different clubs and will likely join his seventh this offseason.
Last year, split between the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, Jackson went 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 199.2 innings pitched. He struck out 148 while only walking 62, but was too hittable, allowing 10.1 hits per nine innings. His WHIP of 1.437 was inflated due to the high hit rate.
Teams will have to gamble that Jackson has matured and learned a thing or two on his journey around one-fifth of the clubs in MLB.
He has been solidly consistent over the last three seasons, averaging 208 innings over that stretch with a 3.96 ERA and an adjusted ERA+ of 108.
As long as teams recognize his history and pay him like a No. 3 starter, he could become a solid contributor to a club's starting rotation.
Texas has reportedly shown preliminary interest in Jackson, but as of yet, there are no concrete rumors linking the two parties.
At this moment, Iranian-Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish, is not a free agent. However, it was earlier rumored (falsely) that he has asked the Nippon-Ham Fighters to post him, which would then allow him to work out a contract with whichever MLB team wins the bidding war for his services.
There has been little discussion of him in recent days, as it is being reported that he is still undecided on a move to the states at this time.
Back in late October, Joel Sherman of the NY Post speculated that the Rangers were among the few favorites to potentially land the Japanese ace.
If Darvish does decide upon a move to MLB, the talented 25-year-old hurler will garner plenty of attention.
His already-sterling reputation was further bolstered by another brilliant season in Japan, in which he went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA, while striking out 276 batters in 232 innings. It was the fourth time in the last five seasons that Darvish surpassed 200 innings pitched.
While Darvish's talent is universally praised, the posting process will be sure to scare off some teams. In order to gain sole negotiating rights with him, teams first must win the blind auction, in which astronomical prices are predicted by some
Late last week, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman reported that some executives around baseball are now doubting whether Darvish will actually be posted this offseason.
Though not a free agent, one-time Rangers' first-round draft pick, John Danks is believed to be a starting pitcher that interests the ballclub.
The ninth-overall choice in the 2003 first-year player draft never made his big league debut for Texas, and was instead traded to the Chicago White Sox during the offseason receding the 2007 campaign.
Danks carved out a solid career in Chicago, going 54-56 with a 4.03 ERA, while averaging 195 innings pitched in his four full seasons. However, the White Sox currently find themselves in cost-cutting mode and have been rumored to be listening to offers for Danks, as well as Gavin Floyd.
He would provide a steady, reliable lefty to mitigate the loss of Wilson, but with only one year left on his contract, Danks may only be a short-term rental, something which is always a concern for interested clubs. Danks was born in Austin, however, and could potentially be interested in staying with the Rangers beyond the 2012 season.