Matt Harrison made his final rehab start for Round Rock last night. He went 6 innings, gave up 4 walks and 7 hits, struck out 6, and allowed 3 runs while throwing 103 pitches. From the standpoint of durability, it appears Harrison is ready -- his pitches thrown by game are: 78, 86, 98, 105, 104 and 103. From the standpoint of stuff and command, Harrison probably isn't quite ready -- he's throwing in the mid- to upper-80s, and has walked 15 of the 157 batters he has faced on his rehab assignment, although his performance has tended to improve as the game goes on.
If the Rangers had the ability to keep Harrison in the minors longer, I think they likely would. But Harrison's 30 days has ended, and the Rangers are going to have to activate him shortly. All indications are that he's going in the rotation. Oh, and the Rangers are going to have to open up a 40 man roster spot when they activate him, since he's currently on the 60 day d.l.
So how are they going to make this work?
Remarkably for a team that has four-fifths of its preferred rotation on the 60 day d.l. right now, the Rangers' starting pitching has been a strength so far in 2015. The Rangers are currently rolling with a rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Wandy Rodriguez, Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez. Here's how they are performing:
|Chi Chi Gonzalez||2.59||4.72|
There's not an obvious candidate to be pulled from the rotation at this point. Gallardo is obviously safe, and the Rangers aren't going to bump Colby from the rotation. But there are pluses and minuses for the others.
With Wandy, he's a free agent at the end of the season, and he's probably not going to continue this level of success. The Rangers are a .500 team that has a shot this year, but should be looking more to the future, and Wandy isn't part of that future. You could theoretically designate Wandy for assignment, which opens up a 25 and 40 man roster spot for Harrison, and see if someone will give you cash or a fringe prospect for him via trade. Of course, the downside of that is that you lose some of your rotation depth. The Rangers could put Wandy on the d.l., as he has a back issue that has apparently been lingering, but that wouldn't clear a 40 man spot.
With Chi Chi, he's the bottom man on the totem pole in terms of experience, he has the worst FIP, and he has three options remaining. The Rangers could pat him on the back, tell him good job, and send him back to AAA until they need another starter. Of course, he also has the best ERA among the current rotation members (we can discuss whether that should matter, but it probably does matter in terms of making a decision, not least because of perceptions), and he is the member of this group whose future is probably most important to the Rangers' success.
With Martinez, he's got 97 innings already, and his FIP indicates regression is coming. The Rangers could send him down to give him a break, or put him in the bullpen, which is in dire need of help. The downside of putting him in the bullpen, of course, is that it diminishes your rotation depth, since you can't have him pitch in one and two inning bursts, then suddenly ask him to go back out and throw 100 pitches if you need a starter again. Also, he's been one of the steadiest members of the rotation all year, and from a fairness standpoint (and again, we can debate over whether "fair" matters, or should matter), one can question whether his work should earn him a demotion.
Assuming whoever Harrison replaces in the rotation stays on the 40 man roster, the Rangers still have the problem of opening up a 40 man roster spot for Harrison. There are a few possibilities, but no obvious, slam-dunk candidate to be dropped. The possible casualties:
Michael Choice -- He flopped in the majors last year, and has struggled in AAA this year. On the surface, he's the obvious person to let go from the 40 man roster. On the flip side, though, he's a former first round pick with plus power who has an option remaining after this season, and who has shown improvement since opening up his stance a few weeks ago. The Rangers may want to have more time to evaluate him before cutting him loose.
Jorge Alfaro -- Alfaro is on the disabled list at AA right now, and the Rangers could conceivably call him up and stash him on the 60 day d.l. The downside of that is that Alfaro accrues service time, which could be the difference between him hitting the free agent market a year earlier.
Ross Detwiler -- Detwiler has lost his rotation spot and been moved to the pen, where he has allowed opposing hitters to put up a .385/.433/.654 line and has allowed 6 runs in 6 IP. Detwiler has allowed at least one run in four of his seven appearances in relief. The Rangers could decide they are done with him, particularly given he's a free agent after the season.
Sam Freeman -- I mention Freeman because I mentioned Detwiler, and the Rangers could decide to waive Freeman instead of Detwiler. I think he's safe, though, because he's pitched much better of late, and is controllable beyond this season, unlike Detwiler.
Anthony Bass -- Bass has done solid work in this year's Ross Wolf/Scott Baker long man/sacrificial lamb in a blowout role, but he's also someone you'd think has a good chance of clearing waivers, and probably isn't going to be part of the long-term future of the club. Texas could waive him, hope he clears and try to get him to accept an outright assignment.
Kyle Blanks -- The Rangers could move Blanks to the 60 day disabled list if they aren't confident his Achilles will allow him to get back on the field and stay on the field for a significant length of time. Unlikely, but mentioning it as a possibility.
Jon Edwards -- Edwards has been great in the minors, but hasn't been able to consistently throw strikes in the minors. He has options beyond this year, throws hard, and is a recent convert to pitching, so there's probably hope that his command improves, but Texas could decide to DFA him to clear a spot.
Roman Mendez -- Mendez is out of options after this season, and hasn't been healthy enough or productive enough to claim a permanent spot in the bullpen. Texas may feel like they can't keep him around in the hope that he'll figure things out.
From a timing standpoint, the Harrison decision is interesting, because the Rangers have an off-day on Monday, an off-day on Thursday, and then the four day All Star Break. Neftali Feliz is also going to have to return from his rehab assignment early next week, and Martin Perez will likely be activated after the Break (and will need a 40 man roster spot). The Rangers have the ability to get creative in managing pitchers by, for example, optioning Chi Chi and/or Martinez so that they can get some regular work over the break while their innings are managed, or shortening their bullpen by optioning pitchers right before the Break.
At this point, my guess would be that either Chi Chi or Martinez is optioned early next week and Detwiler is DFA'ed, with Harrison and Feliz coming up to replace them. That gives the Rangers an opportunity to get a closer look at Harrison and Feliz before having to make additional decisions to clear out 40 man roster spots for Martin Perez in the next couple of weeks, and Derek Holland about a month from now.