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What to expect from Rangers at Winter Meetings

Pitching will be main priority; Texas should be active in Rule 5 Draft
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' full-court press for pitching will continue unabated in Las Vegas during the Winter Meetings, which run through Thursday.

Pitching is the Rangers' top priority this offseason and they have taken one step by signing versatile right-hander Jesse Chavez to a two-year contract. Chavez is a veteran pitcher who has shown the ability to start or relieve as needed.

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' full-court press for pitching will continue unabated in Las Vegas during the Winter Meetings, which run through Thursday.

Pitching is the Rangers' top priority this offseason and they have taken one step by signing versatile right-hander Jesse Chavez to a two-year contract. Chavez is a veteran pitcher who has shown the ability to start or relieve as needed.

The Rangers have also signed veteran catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year deal based on his reputation for defense, pitch-calling and working with pitchers. The Rangers will almost assuredly need more catching depth before the offseason is over.

Hot Stove Tracker

But pitching is still No. 1 on the list. The Rangers are seeking at least 3-4 starters, plus depth, and they need to rebuild a depleted bullpen. Jose Leclerc will be a huge part of their bullpen, but the Rangers have yet to commit on keeping him as the closer or using him in other parts of the game.

The Rangers lost 95 games this past season and pitching was the biggest issue. Their staff ERA of 4.92 was the third highest in the American League, while the rotation ERA of 5.37 was the second highest.

Mike Minor led the Rangers with 12 wins, 28 starts and 157 innings pitched. No other pitcher on the current 40-man roster made more than eight starts. Alex Claudio's 85 innings were the second most by a Rangers pitcher on the 40-man roster.

Club needs
The Rangers have some young pitching in the Minor Leagues, but it still needs more development time. The Rangers aren't going to play at the high end of the free-agent market, but they need reliable starters who can at least give them innings and keep the young pitchers from being pushed too quickly. The Rangers aren't averse to taking chances on pitchers coming back from injury and they expect Edinson Volquez and Drew Smyly to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery by the spring. But they need some dependable, healthy starters mixed in with that group.

Whom might they trade?
Get ready for more Shin-Soo Choo rumors. The Rangers have some depth in the outfield with a group that includes Choo, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields, Willie Calhoun and Carlos Tocci. Mazara and Gallo would likely net the most in a return. Choo's contract is down to two years left at $42 million, so it may be possible to draw some interest from other teams.

Video: TEX@OAK: Choo smacks a homer on the 1st pitch of game

Minor and Leclerc would certainly generate considerable interest, but trading them could be construed as a sign the Rangers expect this to be a drawn-out rebuilding program.

Prospects to know
The Rangers' top two prospects are center fielders Leody Taveras and Julio Pablo Martinez. Add in Bubba Thompson, their No. 1 Draft pick from 2017, Scott Heineman and Class A outfielder Miguel Aparicio, and the Rangers are deep in center field in the Minor Leagues. That could provide some trade depth.

Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez combined for 13 starts as rookies last season. Up next in the pitching chain are left-hander Taylor Hearn and right-hander Jonathan Hernandez. Both would be coveted by other organizations.

• Rangers' Top 30 prospects

Rule 5 Draft
The Rangers are at 38 players on the Major League roster, so as of now they are in position to be active in the Rule 5 Draft. This could be a good spot for the Rangers to take a shot at an overlooked pitcher who could add to their depth.

Payroll summary
The Rangers had an Opening Day payroll of $133 million this past season, but that is already down at least $60 million with the departures of Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, Matt Moore, Martin Perez, Doug Fister, Robinson Chirinos and Jake Diekman. The Rangers have plenty of financial flexibility this winter.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers