SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have not decided if they will go with seven or eight relievers to start the season, but it could be the biggest decision they make before they leave Spring Training.
An eight-man bullpen means the Rangers would likely carry only one extra outfielder -- either Willie Calhoun, Hunter Pence or Carlos Tocci. It would also mean just one extra infielder, either Matt Davidson or Patrick Wisdom on the corner, or someone like Logan Forsythe who can play up the middle.
“I don’t know… it’s one less position player and it changes the way you look at the roster,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “It’s tough. You have one less position player, it’s a little bit more of a Rubik’s Cube. That’s something we are going to discuss at length over the next two or three weeks. It’s a tough decision.”
The compelling reason to keep eight relievers is it protects the Rangers on a pitching staff that will include three starters -- Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller -- who are returning from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Their durability is an unknown. If the Rangers are getting no more than 5-6 innings a night from the starting pitcher, that could tax the bullpen.
“I don’t want to say we have to protect those guys, but we’ve got to be responsible,” Woodward said. “They are coming off injury. Whether they want me to protect them or not, the organization has to keep that in mind. If it means we keep eight, we keep eight, and we’ll have to figure out the roster at that point. I can’t tell you one way or another right now.”
One factor is how many relievers will be able to pitch multiple innings in an outing. Jesse Chavez qualifies. He went at least two innings in 23 of his 62 outings last year for the Rangers and Cubs. Zach McAllister -- during his three prime seasons with the Indians -- pitched at least two innings in 20 of 164 appearances in 2015-17.
Those four and closer Jose Leclerc figure to make up the bulk of the Rangers’ bullpen, and they will likely keep at least one left-hander for the sixth spot. The seventh spot could be a true long reliever.
Jason Hammel is the prime candidate for that role. He has been a starter for most of his career, but is in camp competing for a spot in the bullpen and pitched two scoreless innings against the Athletics on Tuesday. If he can hold down a job as a long man, it could alleviate the need for an eighth reliever.
“We need at least a couple that can go multiple innings,” Woodward said. “That’s important and I think we have a couple that are ready.”
An eighth reliever could also allow the Rangers to stash right-hander Jordan Romano, the Rule 5 Draft pick from the Blue Jays who has never pitched in the big leagues. He was a starter in the Minor Leagues, so he could also be a long-relief candidate.
But it comes back to sacrificing a valuable fourth player off the bench for the extra reliever, and that’s the decision the Rangers are facing at the end of Spring Training.