Sports

Exploring Texas Rangers' Options as Wheelin' and Dealin' Begins at Hilton Anatole

Likely bracing for the departure of free-agent hurler C.J. Wilson, the Texas Rangers have already inked former Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract and announced Neftali Feliz's move to the starting rotation. But the efforts of general manager Jon Daniels and his staff to improve upon a club that's still reeling from losing the World Series for a second-straight season are far from wrapped up, as the Rangers are expected to be among the most active teams at this year's winter meetings.

Aside from the Nathan-Feliz combined maneuver and dealing former prized catching prospect Taylor Teagarden, Texas has spent the offseason holding its collective breath as top management like pitching coach Mike Maddux, assistant GM Thad Levine, senior director of player personnel A.J. Preller and director of player development Scott Servais have been courted by other clubs for promotions. At this point, it appears as though Servais will be the only loss, as he bolted to the rival Los Angeles Angels to be the assistant under new GM Jerry Dipoto, but that's not the only good news.

Not only were the Rangers able to retain Maddux, Levine and Preller, who are among the best at what they do, they replaced Servais with former Houston Astros GM Tim Purpura and snagged future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Greg Maddux (Mike's younger brother) from the Chicago Cubs to serve as special assistant to the GM. So, instead of scrambling to replace their pitching coach and assistant GM, Texas actually boosted an already stellar management team.

As the winter meetings kick off this morning at the Hilton Anatole, Daniels has said he aims to stay focused on adding more pitching, which is always a sound philosophy. The Rangers remain interested in re-signing Wilson and have been linked to several free agents and trade targets, not to mention 25-year-old Japanese ace Yu Darvish, who's neither.

Much like Daisuke Matsuzaka five years ago, Darvish must be posted by his Japanese team -- the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters -- with the winning bidder given exclusive negotiating rights to sign him to a long-term contract. However, Darvish's situation is, well, complicated. His father claims Darvish might not be posted until mid- to late January and recently estimated the odds of it happening at all this offseason at 50-50.

Even though the Rangers have been described as the front-runner to land Darvish by executives speaking to ESPN's Buster Olney, it seems unlikely that they'll gamble so much dough (likely somewhere north of $100 million) on someone who hasn't thrown an inning in MLB when they are apparently unwilling to do the same to keep Wilson. Plus, Matsuzaka and most other Japanese imports (with the notable exception of Ichiro Suzuki) have been busts.

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Last offseason, the Rangers had the luxury of staying relatively quiet at the winter meetings, saving their big moves (signing Adrian Beltre and trading for Mike Napoli) for January, but they're unlikely to follow a similar path this year. Perhaps the most intriguing player that Texas has reportedly shown interest in is Oakland A's closer Andrew Bailey, and he's a strong candidate to be off the board sometime this week.

If that's the case, Texas should be aggressive early. Although the Rangers bullpen is already shaping up nicely, Bailey's a rare commodity: a 27-year-old dominant bullpen arm with three years of affordable club control remaining via arbitration. In his three big-league seasons, Bailey has posted a sparkling 2.07 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while saving 75 games, winning the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year award and earning two trips to the All-Star Game.

There's a bit of concern about his injury history, since the right-hander missed 52 games last year recovering from a strained forearm and sat out a total of 44 games in 2010 with strained rib muscles and minor elbow surgery. However, reports claim he's completely healthy, and his previous injuries aren't expected to result in future trips to the disabled list.

Acquiring Bailey won't be cheap, but imagine the ability to put Bailey, Mike Adams and Nathan on the bump to close out games. It would be the best bullpen threesome in the game, although the New York Yankees come close with Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and 42-year-old Mariano Rivera.

But Daniels shouldn't stop at Bailey while discussing a potential deal with GM Billy Beane, who's looking to completely overhaul his club by trading for top prospects. Beane has also made it known that young starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez could be had as well.

Cahill turns just 24 in March and is just one season removed from winning 18 games with a 2.97 ERA. The right-hander's also under contract for four more years and $30 million, and he could be successful in Texas with his sinkerball. Unfortunately, Cahill doesn't miss a lot of bats (career 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings) and regressed last year back to his 2009 form, posting a losing record, an ERA above 4.00 and a WHIP above 1.40.

At this point in his career, Cahill's a solid fourth starter on a championship club, so it makes little sense for the Rangers to pursue him and push someone like Matt Harrison out of the rotation.

Gonzalez is a completely different story.

Once known only as the prized pitching prospect that was involved in three separate blockbuster deals for Jim Thome, Nick Swisher and Freddy Garcia, Gonzalez has emerged as a definite No. 3 starter with No. 2 upside. In fact, the best comparable player to Gonzalez's last two seasons is ... wait for it ... none other than C.J. Wilson. The numbers speak for themselves.

Gonzalez: 65 starts, 31-21 record, 3.17 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 402 2/3 IP, 368 K, 183 BB

Wilson: 67 starts, 31-15 record, 3.14 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 427 1/3 IP, 376 K, 167 BB

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten