Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 1/9/12

The Texas Rangers took an interesting approach at the 2011 trade deadline. Instead of seeking big-time impact talent in the lineup or rotation, they sought to shore up the bullpen. Jon Daniels worked out deals with the Orioles for Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara, and when it seemed like Heath Bell was headed to Texas, it turned out the Rangers’ bid was awarded the prized Mike Adams. Gonzalez was set to hit the free agent market after the season, while both Uehara and Adams were under control for the 2012 season as well.

The impact of the newly acquired bullpen trio was tougher to measure statistically — which is the case for most relievers, especially over minute samples — but the bullpen was certainly improved. In the end, however, best laid plans didn’t come to fruition and Uehara was left off of the World Series roster. The Rangers even fielded calls pertaining to his availability this offseason. This, despite a fluky high home run rate that spat in the face of his 23 strikeouts and one walk over 22 innings after the trade. Regardless, all available evidence suggests that Uehara remains a relief stud, and over a full season has a better chance to make his impact felt.

And in spite of his “struggles” the Rangers still intended to further shore up the bullpen this offseason, signing Joe Nathan, seriously pursuing Andrew Bailey and considering both Gonzalez and Ryan Madson. Their activity suggests that they want to reduce the risk of bullpen attrition by employing numerous top-notch relievers, especially at the back end. This invites the multi-million dollar question: should they sign Ryan Madson given their circumstances?

After signing Joe Nathan to an incentive-laden deal, the Rangers seemingly set their back-end: Nathan would close, Adams would set up, Uehara pitches before him, and the likes of Mark Lowe and company would handle everything else. However, Nathan represents a significant injury risk having recently recovered from major surgery.

After missing the entire 2010 season, he pitched well last year: 8.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and a 3.25 SIERA. He also averaged close to 93 mph with the fastball, right around his velocity before the injury. He represents the intersection of risk and reward: if healthy, he has the chance to be a cost-effective closer. If not, and he gets hurt and/or his struggles with the long-ball carry over, the Rangers have an ineffective and expensive reliever few teams would seek.

Under this guise, insurance in the form of Madson might make some sense. However, that line of thinking forgets that Mike Adams is one of the very best relievers in baseball, regardless of role, and that Uehara has ridiculous strikeout and walk numbers as well. It treats both Adams and Uehara as if they shouldn’t even vie for the closer’s role if something happens to Nathan. Additionally, it comes off somewhat hypocritical in that Madson doesn’t have oodles of closing experience, yet he would conceivably sign as Nathan’s replacement in the case of an injury. It isn’t clear if Madson, while very good, is better than both of those in-house options.

On the other hand, a bullpen featuring a healthy Nathan, set up by some combination of Adams, Madson and Uehara might end up being the very best bullpen in baseball. The back end would consist of four elite relievers, any of whom could close if an injury arose, and all of whom could shut the game down after entering. This is more important for the Rangers in 2012, having moved Neftali Feliz to the rotation and lost C.J. Wilson to free agency. The rotation should still pitch well, as a collective unit, but a tremendous bullpen featuring that foursome would certainly reduce the burden.

The Rangers may also stay interested in Madson simply because the Angels continue to show interest. The Rangers might not need Madson, per se, but if his benefits include helping to form the super-bullpen described above and not improving the Angels, he makes more sense. I previously wrote that Madson would end up being the loser of the offseason, as someone who was thought to be capable of signing a big-time contract, who will ultimately have to settle for a below-market rate. But if a bidding war of sorts comes to pass between division rivals like the Rangers and Angels, it’s possible he won’t have to settle as drastically as it seemed a few weeks back.

He isn’t a necessity for the Rangers, but if they have the flexibility to bring him in, he’ll improve the team and prevent the improvement of the Angels at the same time.

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