Pitching remains Daniels' priority for Rangers

Pitching remains Daniels' priority for Rangers

ARLINGTON -- Free-agent pitcher Colby Lewis is expected to have his surgically repaired left knee examined in Texas this week. If all goes well, the examination could push along negotiations between Lewis and the Rangers toward a 2016 contract.

"We love Colby," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We'd like to have him back in a Rangers uniform. We are waiting until he gets a checkup on his knee and evaluate where we are. We want to make sure he'll be ready to go and there are no setbacks."

With the four-day Winter Meetings set to begin Monday in Nashville, Tenn., Lewis may represent the Rangers' best efforts to fulfill their stated goal of adding starting pitching this winter to go with a rotation that already includes left-handers Cole Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. The Rangers also expect Yu Darvish to return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but not until May or June.

Lewis is one of two Rangers pitchers from last season on the free-agent market. The other is Yovani Gallardo, but the Rangers have not spoken to his agent, former Ranger Bobby Witt, since their $15.8 million qualifying offer was turned down last month.

Gallardo is looking for a multi-year deal, and the Rangers already have Hamels, Darvish, Perez and Holland under long-term contracts. They are not particularly interested in tying themselves down with another lengthy deal and reducing their flexibility.

That's why Lewis may make the most sense and why they don't plan on pursuing the top free-agent pitchers on the market, a group that now includes Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

"You'll probably hear next week that we're involved in those guys, that's just the nature of the business," Daniels said. "But we haven't been involved there."

Lewis, 36, was 17-9 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 33 starts and 204 innings for the Rangers in 2015.

The Rangers' reluctance to get involved on a multi-year contract with a free-agent starting pitcher is why they have been aggressive in the trade market. Shelby Miller of the Braves is among the pitchers who are reportedly available ,although the Rangers are finding that avenue expensive as well.

"We've talked to clubs, but the opportunity to acquire young, controllable guys, the price is understandably high," Daniels said.

The Rangers have other needs going into the Winter Meetings. They are still searching for one or two right-handed bats to balance out their lineup, and Mike Napoli remains a possibility. Another candidate is Steve Pearce, who spent the past three seasons with the Orioles but began his career with the Pirates from 2005-10. Rangers manager Jeff Banister was in the Pirates' organization for 29 years.

The Rangers would also like to add catching depth, but that has already been an active market. Five free-agent catchers have already been signed this winter: Geovany Soto, Alex Avila, A.J. Pierzynski, Brayan Pena and Matt Wieters. Among those still remaining is former Ranger Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but the Rangers may pursue trading for a younger catcher.

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 10 a.m. CT and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. CT.

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