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Starters' health bigger than any free-agent signing

Darvish remains Texas staff's biggest question mark

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are looking for one more starting pitcher this offseason, and it's safe to say they have touched base with just about every team that might have a starter for trade.

They are also aware of the available starters on the free-agent market, although they are not expected to engage in the top of the class. That would mean David Price and Zack Greinke at least, but they are just two of 20 free-agent starters this winter who pitched at least 150 innings in 2015.

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However, the strength of the Rangers' starting pitching in 2016 will rely more on the health of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and possibly Colby Lewis than most anybody they will acquire this offseason.

Darvish is still the biggest question mark. He missed all of last season with Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and is not expected to be ready for Opening Day.

"I think we're looking at May," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We kind of circled May on the calendar. That's the best estimate we can give. It could be a little before or a little bit after."

Darvish underwent surgery March 17, and his throwing program has gone as expected. He is in Japan, but is expected back in Arlington after the New Year.

Video: Banister discusses Darvish's target return date

"As far as his rehab, he's had no setbacks to this point," manager Jeff Banister said. "Yu has looked very good, he looks strong, the body looks extremely healthy. This is a special guy. It's not to say that other guys are not. They are. But we want to make sure that this guy is as healthy as he can be, go through the complete process, because we want this guy around for as long as we can have him." 

Perez made a strong return from Tommy John surgery this season. He was activated July 17 and was 3-6 with a 4.46 ERA in 14 starts. He was 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts, and now the Rangers are counting on the prevailing wisdom that a pitcher doesn't reach full strength until his second year back from Tommy John.

"We're looking forward to seeing Martin after a normal offseason," Daniels said. "Looked like he was taking off at the beginning of 2014 before he got hurt. If he makes every start this year, I think we're going to look up at the end of the season and be talking about one of the better young starters out there."

Holland has missed most of the past two seasons because of knee and shoulder issues, making just 15 starts and one relief appearance. He is a combined 6-3 with a 3.57 ERA over the past two seasons. The Rangers aren't concerned about any long-term repercussions from his injuries. Like Perez, they just need a full season from him.

Video: [email protected]: Holland gets inning-ending DP to escape jam

"I know that I have to pitch better and stay healthy," Holland said. "I also know what it takes, and I will continue to strive every day to get there."

Texas got a full season from Lewis, who was 17-9 with a 4.66 ERA in 33 starts and 204 2/3 innings. He accomplished that despite pitching with a torn meniscus in his left knee over the second half. He underwent surgery after the season.

Lewis is a free agent and is due back in Arlington after Thanksgiving for a checkup on the knee. The Rangers will likely wait for the results of the exam before re-engaging contract talks. Lewis was a free agent last season and didn't re-sign with Texas until Dec. 16.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Texas Rangers, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis