Bullpen questions early focus for Rangers

After reported deal with Oh fell through, relief options remain priority

February 18th, 2018

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The collapse of a potential deal with free-agent reliever is a reminder that the construction of the Rangers' bullpen remains a work in progress.

That project could need extra work if the Rangers are determined to cannibalize the bullpen by using Matt Bush and/or Mike Minor in their rotation. Both would have been strong candidates to close.

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Manager Jeff Banister has professed his satisfaction with the talent level among his relievers in camp, especially with the return of left-hander Jake Diekman.

"I feel confident we are going to have a group of guys that will compete very well," Banister said.

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But the lack of a proven closer is still the one question mark.

"The goal is to leave here with an idea that somebody is the guy," Banister said.

Oh would have likely been the leading candidate to be the Rangers' closer. Now that job is wide-open, even though handled it well at the end of last season.

The Rangers never confirmed their interest in Oh, but general manager Jon Daniels admitted the club may not be done adding players.

"If we do so, I would expect it to be on the pitching side," Daniels said.

The top free-agent reliever is Greg Holland, who made a triumphant return from Tommy John surgery and saved 41 games for the Rockies last season. The biggest caveat besides the substantial asking price is that Holland had a 6.38 ERA after the All-Star break, as opposed to 1.62 in the first half. Those who watched him said it would be understandable that Holland would wear down late in the season in his first year back from surgery. They don't foresee that being an issue going forward.

The Rangers could also reinforce their starting pitching through free agency, which would lessen the need of putting Bush and Minor in the rotation. There is still some appeal within the Rangers camp of doing that anyway, with the idea of Bush and Minor combining with Diekman, Claudio, , Tony Barnette, Chris Martin and others.

That has the potential to be a lockdown bullpen. Given the Rangers' financial austerity in pursuit of starting pitching, their best chance of competing for postseason would be combining a lockdown bullpen with an explosive offense.

"I think we are in better shape than we were at any point last season," Banister said. "Putting Jake Diekman back in the mix with the group of guys we have makes a huge difference."

Banister is stressing the need for a complete bullpen. The Rangers were crushed in the sixth and seventh innings last year by a combined score of 218-154.

The Rangers have added depth to the competition by bringing in veterans , Steve Delabar, , and in camp on Minor League contracts.

Also intriguing are the young power arms coming up through the system. -- who is still trying to establish himself -- leads that group along with and . They all pitched in the big leagues last year, and just behind them are right-handers and , and left-hander . They all throw mid-to-upper-90s with swing and miss stuff.

"Every year you've got tryouts and got to make the squad," Barnette said. "There are guys in camp trying to win a job. We all want to be a part of it. This is baseball, we're trying to win games. They are going to put the best team out there. Whoever is the best, they are going to go with and try to win a championship."