The game plan for the Rangers heading into the Winter Meetings was straightforward: add a big time starting pitcher -- preferably Zack Greinke, although James Shields, R.A. Dickey and David Price were also talked about -- and add a big bat, either Josh Hamilton or Justin Upton.
A week later, the Rangers have accomplished neither goal, and Greinke and Shields -- their top two pitching targets -- are now off the board. David Price likely isn't going anywhere, especially with Shields gone, and reports are that Dickey is more likely to stay with the Mets than get dealt.
That has Rangers fans wondering, where is the starting pitching going to come from now? Four spots in the rotation are set, with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando in place, but there's a gaping hole out there still, one the Rangers were hoping to fill with a legit #1 or #2 starter. Do the Rangers go out and give Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez five years at $13-15 million per year? Do they bite the bullet and give up Mike Olt and Martin Perez to get Dickey? Do they hope that Kyle Lohse isn't a Dave Duncan mirage, and pay him?
Those are all options, I guess, but I think there's a reasonable case to be made for the Rangers to stand pat, unless someone falls in their laps for cheap.
First, there's Colby Lewis. Colbyashi is supposedly due back sometime in late-May or early-June. If that's the case -- big if, I know -- but if the Ranger front office is confident Colby Lewis will be ready to re-join the rotation at that point, then you're talking about getting a legit #2/#3 starter two months into the season.
That means that what you're talking about is filling the #5 spot in the rotation for two months with either Martin Perez, Justin Grimm, an NRI, or a dark-horse minor leaguer like Cody Buckel. You're talking about ten starts from one of your depth guys before Lewis is ready.
And if Lewis isn't ready by then? Or if someone else breaks down or flames out during that time? Then you look to the trade market. The Cubs are likely going to look to flip Matt Garza as soon as he shows he's healthy, and that's someone the Rangers have liked for a long time. If the Blue Jays don't stay in the race -- and I don't think its a given they're a legit playoff team -- Josh Johnson will be on the market. Ricky Nolasco will be on the market. Edinson Volquez will likely be available. Scott Feldman signed a one year deal with the Cubs, and if he pitches well, they're going to be shopping him at the deadline. Hell, if the Royals tank, James Shields will probably be on the market as well.
There will be pitchers available for trade this summer, if the Rangers need to fill a hole. The Rangers were able to pick up Ryan Dempster for next to nothing this past year, and the Rangers have the prospects and the financial wherewithal to make a deal in June or July if they need a starting pitcher.
And let's remember, the Rangers' front four looks pretty solid right now. Landing a Greinke or a Shields or a Price would have meant that the Rangers would have had one of the top two or three rotations in baseball. But the rotation, as it stands, is still pretty good. And if you think the Rangers can't win with Perez or Grimm getting significant starts, look at recent history.
The 2010 team won 90 games and ran away with the A.L. West, with 18 starts from Rich Harden, 22 starts from Scott Feldman, 2 starts from Dustin Nippert, and 2 starts from Omar Beltre.
The 2011 team was a miracle of good health, winning 96 games, but they did get 3 starts from Dave Bush.
The 2012 team won 93 games with Feldman getting 21 starts, Roy Oswalt getting 9 starts, Perez getting 6 starts, and Grimm getting 2 starts.
Billy Beane once famously said that you spend the first two months of the season are for evaluating your team, and the next two months of the season are for taking action to improve your team. I think, given the lay of the free agent landscape right now and the internal options available, it wouldn't be unreasonable for the Rangers to stand pat and see how things develop, with an eye towards making a move, if necessary, this summer, rather than overspend for a Sanchez or a Jackson or one of the other available starting pitchers right now.