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ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are determined to put right-hander Alexi Ogando back into the rotation in 2013. Ogando would rejoin a rotation that includes right-hander Yu Darvish and left-handers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.
That would leave one spot to be filled, and the Rangers are seriously considering going after free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke. Much will depend on the asking price, but if the Rangers can land Greinke, it would give them one of the most powerful rotations in the game.
It would also allow the Rangers to compensate for the loss of outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is also a free agent. Texas has not given up on the possibility of re-signing Hamilton, but it knows it probably won't do so if he gets a huge offer from another team.
In preparation for the departure of Hamilton, the Rangers are studying the idea of reinforcing the rotation with Ogando and Greinke, then addressing the critical needs of bullpen and catcher. They will likely be dealing with a payroll of around $120 million, which is approximately what they spent in 2012.
Ogando was a starter for the Rangers in 2011, going 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA in 169 innings and making the All-Star team. Texas moved him to the bullpen this past season because it had an excess of starting pitching.
The Rangers no longer have that excess. Instead, Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis will start the season on the disabled list while they both recover from surgery. Lewis underwent surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon and probably won't begin throwing off a mound until the end of Spring Training.
Feliz underwent Tommy John surgery at the beginning of August and is expected to be sidelined for 12 months. If he does return in 2013, it will likely be as a reliever.
Roy Oswalt, Ryan Dempster and Scott Feldman filled in for Feliz and Lewis during the second half of this past season. But all are free agents and are not expected to return.
Left-hander Martin Perez, who was 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA in six starts and six relief appearances, could be a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Harrison, Darvish, Holland and Ogando. But the Rangers will explore the possibility of adding another veteran starter and let Perez get more experience by pitching out of the bullpen.
Greinke, who turned 29 last week, is clearly the best of the pitchers on the free-agent market. He made 34 starts for the Brewers and the Angels in 2012, going 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings.
With so many teams looking for starting pitching, the Rangers will have serious competition for Greinke. The Angels certainly want him back, especially after trading pitcher Ervin Santana to the Royals on Wednesday. Greinke, who has averaged 14 wins over the past five years while averaging over 200 innings and 200 strikeouts per season, could command a five-year deal in excess of $100 million.
After Greinke, the next best free-agent starters come from a group that includes Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Blanton and Dempster. But if the Rangers can't land Greinke, they could focus their efforts and resources toward the bullpen and their catching situation.
The 'pen will be especially important, with the Rangers' intention of moving Ogando back into the rotation. The relief corps has already taken a hit with Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe becoming free agents after the season.
The Rangers still have Joe Nathan as their closer, supported by a talented but inexperienced group that includes left-handers Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman and right-handers Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font and Justin Grimm. Perez could also fit in here if he doesn't make the rotation.
But the Rangers will likely supplement what they have with at least a couple of veteran setup relievers. It remains uncertain.
Three years ago, the Rangers outrighted Jason Grilli off their 40-man roster and made him a free agent. He missed the entire 2010 season with a knee injury. But the 35-year-old right-hander had a 2.91 ERA in 64 games for the Pirates this past season and struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings. Now he is being considered as one of the more attractive free-agent relievers on the market this winter.
Catching is an obvious need, and the next decision comes Friday when the Rangers must decide if they are going to tender a qualifying offer to free agent Mike Napoli. The offer must be worth approximately $13.3 million, and Texas is ambivalent about going that high. Napoli made $9.4 million in 2012 while hitting .227 with 24 home runs and 56 RBIs in 108 games while dealing with a strained left quad muscle.
Napoli played in 71 games at catcher in 2012. He has caught more than 75 games in a season just twice over his seven-year career. The Rangers still have interest in re-signing him, but know they must have a second front-line catcher to go with him. They still have Geovany Soto on the roster. He hit .198 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games for the Rangers and Cubs. He also made $4.3 million and is arbitration-eligible.
The Rangers have no other options within the organization. They must find catching, and they know they must pay steeply for it, either through top dollar on the free-agent market or by handing over significant talent in a trade. The Rangers will look at both, and the Blue Jays have extra catching they could be interested in trading.
Players are free to sign with new teams beginning Saturday. Trade discussions will also likely heat up next week when general managers hold their annual meetings in Palm Springs, Calif. The Winter Meetings are Dec. 3-6 in Nashville, Tenn.
But the Rangers' offseason strategy is starting to take shape, and it appears that serious attention will be paid to the rotation.