Rangers' Free Agent Pitching Targets for 2014

On Tuesday I discussed which free agent position players the Texas Rangers should focus on signing this winter.  I believe that both Brian McCann and Kendrys Morales are realistic options that could provide some much needed pop at a relatively fair bargain.

Today, I'm going to look at some of the pitchers Texas should be pursuing this off season. It's a rather short list, because, assuming Matt Harrison will be ready to go for Opening Day 2014, their rotation is close to set already.  They are really in need of only one quality pitcher this winter.  Here is my short list of hurlers that would be a good fit for the Rangers.

TARGET: Ubaldo Jimenez - Cleveland Indians, SP

He's eligible for a team option next year with the Indians, and you have to think that the club will likely pick up that option after he pitched one of his best seasons in 2013.  On the flip side, he was also in this third year of arbitration eligibility and might be getting impatient with waiting for a big payday.  If that's the case, the Indians could struggle to retain him after they spent $100M on Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher last season.

Let's assume that Jimenez opts out and wants a more lucrative deal.  The Rangers should jump at his availability.  Last season was statistically the second best of his career.  He finished with a 13-9 record and a solid 3.30 ERA in 182.2 innings.  He was one of the American League's leaders in walks with 80, but he also averaged over a strikeout per inning.  This season he allowed the fewest number of home runs (16) than in any other year during his three-year stint in the AL.

I think Jimenez is a nice fit for the Rangers' rotation. He could easily slide in behind Holland for the number three spot, while Matt Harrison regains his comfort on the mound early in the year.  Jimenez possesses a power fastball and sinker that can reach the mid-high 90's, a devastating slider and an improving changeup.  Last season he was much better about keeping the ball down in the zone and this reduced his home runs allowed rate.  With the exception of a few early career elbow concerns related to his funky, yet deceptive delivery, he's relatively injury free.  He's pitched at least 175 innings in six of his nine years in the league.  He's an intimidating presence on the mound, will eat up innings, and is never afraid to attack hitters in any situation.

Of the three candidates on this list, Jiminez should be the Rangers' favorite to go after.   To do so, they may have to outbid Cleveland.  It's important to note that Jiminez is not an ace - he is very good number two pitcher and should be paid as such.  At 29, I believe an offer of somewhere between 4-5yr/$36-$44M is totally fair and possible for Jon Daniels and the Texas front office.

UNLIKELY TARGET: Matt Garza - Texas Rangers, SP

Garza is expected to be the most expensive pitcher on the free agent market this winter. That's why the Rangers will likely not resign him.  In July I was a big proponent of resigning him at the end of this year, but he simply under performed in his transition back to American League hitters.  Following his acquisition from the Chicago Cubs in late July, he started 13 games for the Rangers.  In those 13 starts, he was 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA.  He surrendered over a hit per inning (89 hits in 84.1 innings) and carried an alarmingly high home run rate, allowing 12 in those 84.1 innings.  He just wasn't quite the fit with the Rangers' rotation that Jon Daniels imagined him to be.  The club loved his aggressiveness and competitive fire, but the overall numbers were disappointing.  He really only made three quality starts in a little over two months with Texas.

Garza does appear to be past the elbow issues that shied teams like the Rangers away from trading for him in years past.  But he's always just been a decent number two, solid number three pitcher and his numbers have never blown anyone away.  He seems to be better suited to succeed in the National League.  I expect he'll command a deal close to 5-7yr/$65M-$80M, which is far too much for what he'll give you in return, especially the Rangers or any other AL team.  I'll pass.

TARGET: Ervin Santana - Kansas City Royals, SP

At 30 years old, Santana's 2013 season with the Royals was truly a renaissance for his career.  He finished 9-10 but record is undoubtedly the most meaningless stat of all for a pitcher.  Instead, take a look at his impressive season line and peripherals: 3.24 ERA in 211 innings pitched; a 3.16 strikeout to walk ratio.  200+ innings with a sub 3.40 ERA is quite an achievement for any pitcher, and Santana has done that in two of his last three years. He's a horse, having reached 200+ innings in five of his nine professional years.

This year, a large part of his success is owed to the return of life to his fastball.  He consistently hit 93-95 mph with his heater, which set up his lethal low-80's slider (which is one of the top five sliders in the game).  He has never walked more than 73 batters in any one year, despite the exceptional level of break on his pitches.  He's consistent and methodical.  He attacks hitters in the same way consistently, and this helps to simplify his game and approach.  Innings are a given and trips to the DL are uncommon.

He should be the Rangers' second option if they can't haul in Jimenez.  They don't need both - just one.  Santana should command at least the amount that Jimenez does, as they are very similar pitchers with similar numbers over their careers.

If Texas can snag one of these pitchers, here is what their 2014 rotation looks like:

Yu Darvish

Derek Holland

Ubaldo Jimenez/Ervin Santana

Matt Harrison (the number four until he gets back into 18-game winning form)

Martin Perez

That would easily be the best rotation in the AL West and definitely top two or three in the AL as a whole.  The key, as always, is keeping all of those arms healthy.

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