Rangers offseason shopping list part one: starting pitching

The Rangers will likely turn to RHP Colby Lewis to return to the 2017 rotation. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
The Rangers will likely turn to RHP Colby Lewis to return to the 2017 rotation. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports /

With their early departure from the MLB Postseason, the Texas Rangers are now getting ready for 2017. Here’s a look at their free agent starting pitcher options.

Now that the initial playoff sting is over, it’s time for the Texas Rangers to start putting the puzzle back together. It won’t be the same puzzle that was formed for this season, but there are clear opportunities for improvement. They start on the mound, and they begin with the starters.

What started well ended horribly

Once Yu Darvish returned from his Tommy John surgery in May, the Texas rotation looked pretty solid. Cole Hamels was on pace for a Cy Young Award, Colby Lewis was the workhorse that he usually is, Martin Perez was sporting a 3.12 earned run average, and Derek Holland even seemed to have things figured out. Through April and May, the Rangers starting pitchers had combined for a 3.38 earned run average.

Once June hit, Darvish suffered a neck injury, Lewis went down with a strained lat muscle, Perez forgot how to pitch on the road, Holland reminded everyone why they’d lost faith in him in the first place, and Hamels followed it all up with an incredibly bad September. If it wasn’t for a really good bullpen and an offense that never ever quit, this article would probably have published on October 3rd.

What the Rangers have now

Hamels has a guaranteed contract through 2018 with a team option for 2019. Darvish has one more season before free agency. That guarantees them for 2017. With Darvish “dancing for his supper” for all intents and purposes, he’s due for another strong season.

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Hamels has plenty of time to work on his late-season “yips.” It’s a bit early to panic, but watch him cautiously. Some extra time to work with catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the offseason and spring will do him some good.

While both starters suffered pretty horrible losses in games one and two of the American League Division Series, they’re not the big concern. It’s those remaining three roster spots that are concerning.

Holland has one more year left on his contract, but there’s a good chance he gets moved to the bullpen. A.J. Griffin is signed through 2018. Like the Rangers rotation as a whole, he started strong and ended roughly. The bullpen looks like a real possibility for him as well. Perez has one more guaranteed year with team options the remaining three years. He’s not leaving, and he’s likely going to have a good shot at the rotation again.

That’s why shoring up at least two good starters for the back of the rotation should be priority one this offseason for Texas.

What the Rangers have to choose from

There is a really slim pitching market this year in free agency, but here is a quick glance at some of the early candidates.

Texas Rangers RHP Colby Lewis: Chances of signing — 90%

For starters (no pun intended, I think), Lewis is a free agent. The Rangers will likely sign him to his final contract of his career and allow him to finish in Arlington. That may very well take care of a starting rotation spot, leaving at least one more up for grabs. Again, that assumes Perez gets the other one.

He’s a proven commodity for Texas and his entire career in the U.S. has taken place with them. Seeing him take the field in any other uniform would be as painful as it was watching Dallas Cowboys hall of famer Emmitt Smith play two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. It just wouldn’t be right. He’ll be a Ranger for life.

Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Ivan Nova: Chances of signing — 40%

Ivan Nova had a pretty solid season for the Pirates, after being traded there from the New York Yankees. He’ll be just 30 years old on opening day, which means he has plenty of life left in his arm. That arm did well after going to Pittsburgh, and will command a sizable payday to go along with it. He’s a good pitcher to grab on the open market, but the lack of selection available will make him a coveted commodity to every team looking for pitching.

Philadelphia Phillies RHP Jeremy Hellickson: Chances of signing — 10%

Jeremy Hellickson is another guy that would be wonderful to have somewhere in the middle to end of the rotation. However, he’s likely not going to sign here. Rumor has it, he’s strongly considering the qualifying offer that the Phillies will give him this offseason.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim LHP C.J. Wilson: Chances of signing — 2%

Angels LHP C.J. Wilson will be on the market. But the Texas faithful weren’t exactly sad to see him go when he took off for Anaheim of Los Angeles, or whatever that city likes to call itself. We’d likely see former Rangers skipper Ron Washington return as manager before we see Wilson come back. So, everyone can rest easy on that one. It won’t happen.

Next: Rangers: Who stays and who goes

Regardless of what does happen though, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has stated that starting pitching is a priority this offseason. If Darvish and Hamels return to their potential and Perez starts winning road games, then the offseason pickups could be icing on the cake for the starting staff.