Aiming to shore up rotation, Rangers open talks with Lewis

GM Daniels emphasizes club will keep 'resources free' for starting pitching

Aiming to shore up rotation, Rangers open talks with Lewis

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers, having set starting pitching as their top priority for the offseason, have made an opening offer to free-agent pitcher Colby Lewis.

The Rangers are awaiting feedback from agent Alan Nero, who has also been busy representing free-agent manager Joe Maddon. With the World Series over, the Rangers have five days to negotiate with and sign their own free agents. The Rangers have four free agents of their own in Lewis, pitchers Scott Baker and Neal Cotts, and outfielder Alex Rios.

The Rangers have kept the lines of communication open with all but prefer to get something done with Lewis because of their need for starting pitching.

"We're not pushing the bullpen as a priority," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Ultimately we may add to the 'pen, but we want to keep our resources free for the rotation."

The Rangers will likely pursue starting pitching through trade first before testing the free-agent market. The Rangers have a deep farm system, but they are stretched thin in their payroll budget, which makes it unlikely they will pursue the big name free-agent starting pitchers like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields.

"We'll be more trade-focused early on and let the market develop," Daniels said. "From my early conversations, there are some teams we match up well with."

The Padres have starting pitching available and there is an obvious connection between the two teams. The Padres just hired A.J. Preller as their general manager and Don Welke as a special assistant. Both were long-time close assistants to Daniels.

One possibility is former TCU pitcher Andrew Cashner, as the Padres could be willing to move starting pitching for infield offensive help. Cashner was 5-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 starts for the Padres last season. He missed significant time because of elbow and shoulder soreness, but he was 3-1 with a 2.87 ERA in his last seven starts. He has two years before free agency.

The Padres could also be willing to move Ian Kennedy but he can be a free agent after next season. The Rangers have interest in right-hander Tyson Ross but he is probably somebody the Padres want to keep. The Padres are looking to upgrade their offense and could be interested in Luis Sardinas.

The Phillies could be looking to move pitcher Cole Hamels for a significant package of prospects. But he is due at least $96 million over the next four years, so that could eliminate the Rangers as a potential suitor.

The Reds have four starting pitchers who can be free agents after next season: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon. They are looking for offensive help in the outfield. The Mets are also looking for offensive help and have Dillon Gee and Jon Niese as possible trade candidates.

Normally, starting pitching is tough to acquire by trade. But with the steep drop in offense around baseball, clubs are more willing to discuss starting pitching than in the past.

Lewis was 10-14 with a 5.18 ERA in 29 starts for the Rangers last season after missing 18 months because of flexor tendon and hip replacement surgeries. If the Rangers can get something done with Lewis, he would likely be their fourth or fifth starter.

The Rangers have Yu Darvish and Derek Holland at the front end of their rotation, with Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch in the middle. Lisalverto Bonilla, who was 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts and two relief appearances in September, would be another candidate, but the Rangers are looking for another veteran proven starter for the rotation.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.