Bullpen a target after Rangers fortify rotation
GM Daniels sees left-side depth as area club wants to improve before spring
ARLINGTON -- Having addressed their starting rotation with the addition of Yovani Gallardo, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the next step would be adding more bullpen help before Spring Training.
Daniels said he was particularly concerned about the left side of the bullpen, and left-hander Neal Cotts, who filled that role for the Rangers the past two seasons, remains unsigned.
"We've got some guys that we like on the left side, but we don't have a lot of competition right now," Daniels said, before the club announced the acquisition of right-hander Gonzalez Germen from the Yankees on Tuesday. "There are also some veteran guys, quality pieces still on the market. Bullpen depth is still where we are looking at."
The Rangers could have a strong bullpen if everything falls into place, including leaving a list of health problems in the past. It all starts with closer Neftali Feliz, who is 2 1/2 years removed from Tommy John surgery. Feliz was 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 13 saves in 30 games last season after reclaiming the closer's role.
That part is set. Building the supporting staff is the next step, and that starts with Tanner Scheppers, who was outstanding as a setup reliever in 2013 before coming down with elbow problems that shut him down for most of this past season. Scheppers is healthy again and throwing this offseason, and he should be at full strength for Spring Training. If so, the Rangers expect him to be their eighth-inning setup reliever.
The Rangers have plenty of candidates for right-handed middle relief, beginning with Shawn Tolleson. He was Texas' most reliable reliever from start to finish last season, going 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 64 games. Tolleson missed almost all of 2013 with the Dodgers because of back surgery, so he is another pitcher the Rangers expect to be better next season as he gets further away from his injury.
The same holds true with right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa, a former dominant closer in Japan who signed with the Cubs two years ago only to come down with elbow problems that led to Tommy John surgery on June 11, 2013. He made 15 appearances for the Cubs at the end of last season, but he had a 4.85 ERA and an opponents batting average of .327. Now the Rangers will see what Fujikawa can do with a healthy offseason behind him.
Spring Training will also give the Rangers a chance to look at two inexperienced hard throwers in right-handers Jon Edwards and Roman Mendez. They are right there with Feliz and Scheppers as far as how hard they throw, but they are far from finished products.
Germen, 27, posted a 4.75 ERA in 30 1/3 innings with the Mets last year and has been traded twice this offseason. The Yankees designated the reliever for assignment on Jan. 13, after he was acquired from the Mets for cash considerations on Dec. 19. He made 54 relief appearances for the Mets across the past two seasons.
Spencer Patton and Phil Klein are also inexperienced and don't throw as hard as Mendez or Edwards. But Spencer had a 0.96 ERA in nine appearances for Texas last season after being acquired from Detroit, and Klein had a 2.84 ERA in 17 appearances. They will be in the middle of the competition.
The Rangers have also signed Juan Carlos Oviedo, another Tommy John refugee who missed all of 2012-13. He had 92 saves for the Marlins in 2009-11 while known as Leo Nunez, and he will be in camp on a Minor League contract.
The Rangers will sort through all that and may add others to the mix. Nick Martinez may be one of them. He was a starter last season but did make five appearances as a reliever with a 0.77 ERA. Martinez could end up as the long reliever/swing starter.
The Rangers aren't as stocked on the left side, but they still have Robbie Ross Jr. He was their primary left-handed setup reliever in 2012-13 before his ill-fated attempt to move to the rotation in '14. Texas has already decided Ross will be back in the bullpen, where he is 12-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 138 career appearances.
Right now, the only other two candidates from the left side are Alex Claudio, who pitched in 15 games for the Rangers at the end of last season, and Michael Kirkman, who will be back in camp again on a Minor League invite. Claudio has to show he can be more than a situational lefty. He held left-handers to a .190 average, but right-handers hit .345.
There are still three proven closers on the market in Rafael Soriano, Casey Janssen and Francisco Rodriguez. The Rangers aren't looking quite that high.
The most prominent left-handed relievers still available are Phil Coke, Franklin Morales, Joe Beimel and Cotts. The right-handers include Mike Adams, Matt Albers, Burke Badenhop, Ronald Belisario, Jared Burton, Joba Chamberlain, Jamey Wright, Chris Perez, J.J. Putz, Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Veras.
Pitchers like Farnsworth and Wright seem to be available every winter. But it's that time of the offseason where clubs are rounding up the usual suspects to find enough depth to get them through the summer.