Rangers targeting starting pitching in free agency

Veteran catcher, left fielder may also be on club's shopping list

Rangers targeting starting pitching in free agency

Hot Stove Tracker

ARLINGTON -- Starting pitching is at the top of the Rangers' shopping list in the offseason.

That's where the club will begin in trying to rebuild from losing 95 games last season. The Rangers will also look at their bullpen and starting lineup. But they believe they have the pieces to put together a good bullpen and their best hope of improving the lineup is by getting outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and first baseman Prince Fielder healthy among others.

So the offseason begins with starting pitching. The Rangers will have a rotation that leads with Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. They are also hoping to re-sign Colby Lewis. But they would like at least one veteran starter to go into the middle and compete with Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch.

Choo's solo shot

Free agents/options
The Rangers have told outfielder Alex Rios that they will not pick up his option. He is a free agent along with pitchers Scott Baker and Neal Cotts. Lewis is the top priority in that group. If Baker returns, it would likely be on a Minor League contract. The Rangers, like other clubs, could use left-handed relief and Cotts remains a possibility.

Needs
Beyond starting pitching, the Rangers would like a veteran catcher to go with Robinson Chirinos. They could also use another hitter, especially if they decided to non-tender Mitch Moreland. With Choo moving to right field, the club will look at adding a left fielder, especially someone who would be an upgrade defensively.

The Rangers have five internal left field candidates including Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, Jim Adduci, Michael Choice and Daniel Robertson. But they have all seen just limited action at the Major League level and are still largely unproven.

Chirinos' two-run homer

Potential targets
The Rangers are talking to other clubs about starting pitching. The Padres could be willing to talk about Andrew Cashner or Ian Kennedy, although the Rangers like Tyson Ross. The Mets could have extra pitching with Dillon Gee or Jon Niese.

If the Rangers dive into the free-agent market, it probably won't be for one of the big three starting pitchers available: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. The next tier is a group that includes Ervin Santana, Jason Hammel, Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda, Jake Peavy, Justin Masterson, Ryan Vogelsong, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez.

The list of catchers available by free agency is thin. Some of the better names have already been through Arlington including A.J. Pierzynski, Geovany Soto and Gerald Laird.

Nelson Cruz is also a free agent and the Rangers would love to get his big bat back in their lineup. But he could be too expensive, especially if the Rangers are intent on harboring their resources to upgrade their starting pitching.

Trade assets
The Rangers have a deep farm system led by some outstanding offensive talent -- Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro -- and a core group of young pitchers who were at Double-A last year: Luke Jackson, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, Jake Thompson and Andrew Faulkner. The Rangers are not eager to deal from the top, but they could be willing to talk about infielder Luis Sardinas.

Moreland and pitcher Alexi Ogando are interesting names. Both are coming off injuries and both are candidates to be non-tendered. The Rangers may try to see if there is any interest from other clubs.

Texas could also include either Tepesch, Martinez or Robbie Ross in a trade if it involves a significant starting pitcher coming back in return.

Bottom line
It all begins with starting pitching, but the Rangers will look at every possible way to improve their team.

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.