Those who thought the Rangers would go through the offseason quietly after losing C.J. Wilson to the Angels were proved wrong early last week, after Texas won the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish by spending $51.7 million on his posting fee. Assuming he does not get hurt or perform terribly during spring training, Darvish will open the season as a member of the Rangers’ rotation. I am not qualified to talk about Darvish’s particular skill set. I have never seen him pitch in person and the last time I saw him on television was during the 2009 WBC. I don’t really remember much about his stuff and would have to rely on the opinions of others to give a full scouting report. The general consensus is that he has ace potential and right now could settle in as a team’s two or three starter. What is intriguing about Darvish potentially joining the Rangers is the amount of pitching depth they would have and the various routes they could take in filling out their staff.
While watching MLB Network the other night, I was surprised to hear the analysts mention that Texas could shift to a six-man rotation next season. Given that Rangers President Nolan Ryan has been outspoken about having his starters throw more innings, the idea seems like a long shot. However, it might not be as crazy as it sounds. A six-man rotation would allow the Rangers to keep their starters fresh, after a season where Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland set career highs in innings pitched. Neftali Feliz will be a starter for the first time and there is a possibility that he will tire at the end of the season due to a more extensive workload. Pitchers in Japan usually pitch once per week rather than every five days. A six-man rotation could help ease Darvish’s transition to the MLB and also ensure that he would be rested down the stretch.
The reality is that Texas will use a five-man rotation. I’m not in love with the six-man idea, but it’s certainly interesting to entertain. So now there is a question of who is going to lose their rotation spot. Feliz seems a pretty solid bet to be a starter given that the Rangers just signed Joe Nathan. Colby Lewis has pitched over 200 innings the past two seasons and is the de facto ace now that Wilson has left for Southern California. Holland will also probably be in the rotation, given his performance in the World Series and that he is rumored to being close to a multiyear deal with the Rangers. The two candidates who are probably on the chopping block are Harrison and Ogando.
Ogando converted to the rotation last season after a successful 2010 in the bullpen. He managed to post a 3.51 ERA in 169 innings despite the fact that he tired at the end of the season. Solid peripherals including a 2.29 BB/9 and .85 HR/9 could bode well for Ogando next year, despite the fact that he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher. Ogando threw his changeup only 4.3% of the time last season according to PITCHf/x, which would indicate that he would profile better as a reliever. While it is possible that the Rangers could send Ogando back to the bullpen, it seems rather illogical after his successful year in the rotation. However, since the league has already seen him as a starter his two-pitch mix will become more predictable and could lead to him getting hit harder. Rangers Manager Ron Washington didn’t hesitate to put Ogando back in the bullpen during the playoffs after he wore down towards the end of the regular season. Therefore, if Ogando struggles out of the gate and continues to show a reluctance to use his changeup, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as a setup man for Nathan.
On the surface, Harrison seems like the logical person to spend 2012 in the bullpen because the Rangers’ two lefty relievers from 2011 are currently free agents. However, Harrison isn’t your typical lefty. Acquired from the Braves in the infamous Mark Teixeira deal, Harrison predominantly throws a two-seamer with sinking action, while his go to off-speed pitch is a changeup. Despite the great action he gets on his two-seamer, Harrison isn’t particularly adept at getting groundballs – 47.5 GB%. Then there is the fact that Harrison had a reverse platoon split last year. Lefties hit .270/.318/.411 off him, while righties hit .245/.309/.358. Career wise there has been virtually no split, as lefties hit .265/.331./.422, with righties hitting .281/.340/.436. That is not what teams look for out of a lefty specialist. Therefore, the Rangers would probably be better off re-signing Darren Oliver, who is a proven entity. However, the issue with Oliver is that he turned 41 in October and is probably a bad month and a half stretch away from being designated for assignment. Mike Gonzalez is another option to be re-signed, but his injury problems and ineffectiveness over the past couple seasons make him somewhat of a liability.
There is also a remote possibility of Darvish being sent to the bullpen, assuming he signs. However, to quote Yankees GM Brian Cashman, if one were to “smoke the objective pipe”, they would realize that the Rangers’ investment in Darvish would make him exempt from relief duty. After the posting fee is paid, Texas will probably spend over $100 million on Darvish. Teams do not spend $100 million on relievers. Therefore, since there is only one reliever on this planet who is worth that kind of money (his name is Mariano Rivera), Darvish would have to perform terribly in Spring Training and piss a lot of people off in order for something like that to happen.
The Rangers are going into Spring Training with an incredibly deep team. They will have seven starting options in camp if you include Scott Feldman and a relief corps that is relatively intact from last season. Not to mention top prospects Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez, who are close to contributing at the big league level. Once they determine who their lefty specialist will be, the Rangers roster will be pretty much set. Since there are so many routes Texas can take to fill out their rotation, it’s hard to make a prediction as to who the starting five will be come opening day. However, these things usually have a way of working themselves out through injuries and or trades. If none of that happens though, the Rangers will enter 2012 with seven solid starting pitchers and the deepest team in the American League West.