ARLINGTON -- At some point, it would seem safe to assume, the Rangers will come together with free-agent slugger Vladimir Guerrero on a one-year contract for 2011. The interest is mutual, and both sides are running out of options. Texas needs a designated hitter, and Guerrero, who has 436 career home runs, needs a place to play so he can ultimately achieve his goal of hitting No. 500. It would also be safe to assume that at some point the Rangers will add at least one starting pitcher. It may not be the Royals' Zack Greinke or the Rays' Matt Garza or one of the few front-line starters left on the free-agent market, but Texas will almost assuredly do something to address its starting pitching depth.
The Rangers are simply staying true to their word in that they are not rushing into anything as an overreaction to losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies. The Rangers always move deliberately and do so again even though there is a perception that they have huge wads of cash to spend. "We're looking to add depth and improve the club in a few spots, not necessarily any one headliner-type addition," general manager Jon Daniels said Friday morning. "We don't love some of the guys out there, so we're not going to go nuts chasing after them." There are few -- if any -- free agents out there left to show unconditional love as the Rangers did with Lee. Rafael Soriano had 45 saves for the Rays this past season, but the Rangers do not like committing big money on long-term contracts for relievers. Texas knows Adrian Beltre is unsigned, but it already has a third baseman (Michael Young) and doesn't like the money that the well-traveled Beltre would command. Starting pitching remains high on the Rangers' priority list, and what is left is not exactly a bountiful holiday feast. They have expressed some interest in Carl Pavano, who turns 35 in January, and who won 31 games over the past two seasons, but just nine total from 2005-08 while with the Yankees. Still, Pavano is a reminder of what might be waiting out there in the free-agent market for some enterprising team looking to find a hidden gem. Pavano won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004 and became a free agent, signing a four-year, $39.5 million contract with the Yankees. He was so bad and hurt so often with New York, the only thing he could muster when he became a free agent after the '08 season was a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Now, he is one of the best free-agent starting pitchers left on the market. So who might be the next Pavano in this year's free-agent market? A few candidates: Jeremy Bonderman: He was once the prize of the Tigers' farm system, but the big righty is another classic case of a young pitcher being rushed to the big leagues at the age of 20 with just 156 2/3 innings pitched in the Minor Leagues. He won 14 games in 2005 and again in '06. He is still just 28, but is 11-15 with a 5.31 ERA over the past three seasons while struggling to return from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder. He was second in the American League with 202 strikeouts in '06. Jeff Suppan: He won 44 games for the Cardinals in 2004-06, so the Brewers gave him a four-year, $52 million contract. During those four seasons, Suppan was 32-42 with a 4.95 ERA, including 3-8 with a 5.06 ERA this past season. He turns 36 on Jan. 2. Brandon Webb: He's everybody's favorite comeback king because he was the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2008 while winning 22 games. He has pitched just once since then because of a devastating shoulder injury. He could come back strong, but people thought Mark Mulder and Mark Prior would, too. Shoulder injuries are far more difficult to overcome than the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Brad Penny: He's another perennial favorite comeback candidate who won 16 games for the Dodgers in both 2006 and '07. Penny, 32, is 20-22 with a 5.01 ERA in the past three years while dealing with shoulder and back problems. Freddy Garcia: At age 35, he is actually trending upward. He was 12-8 with a 4.64 ERA in 28 starts and 157 innings pitched last season after going 5-10 with a 5.02 ERA in 23 combined starts for three different teams in 2007-09. He had shoulder surgery in '07, and it took him 2 1/2 years to get back to being a regular contributor to a rotation. Jeff Francis: He's another shoulder burnout. He won 17 games for the Rockies in 2007, but is 8-16 with a 5.01 ERA over the past three years while missing all of '09 because of shoulder surgery. John Maine: He won 15 games for the Mets in 2007, but is 18-17 with a 4.55 ERA in 49 starts over the past three years while dealing with a series of shoulder issues. Chris Young: The former Ranger was an All-Star with the Padres in 2007. But since the All-Star break in '07, he has made just 49 starts in 3 1/2 years while going 14-17 with a 4.30 ERA. Shoulder problems limited him to just four starts last season. Those are the projects. Much of the rest of the free-agent class falls in the category of perennially mediocre. There are 28 free-agent pitchers left who have won at least 15 games in their careers. Of those 28, 18 of them have career losing records -- guys like Brian Bannister (37-50), Dave Bush (56-68), Chris Capuano (46-52), Brian Moehler (84-107) and Ian Snell (38-53). Webb, Penny, Pavano, Garcia, Francis, Maine and Young all have winning records. So, too, does Kevin Millwood, but he was 4-16 with the Orioles last season. Jamie Moyer, 48, has a winning record, but is also undergoing Tommy John surgery. He's still planning to come back in 2012. Andy Pettitte has a winning record, but will likely retire or go back to the Yankees. By the way, remember Ben Sheets? He was 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA in 119 1/3 innings for the Athletics last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is out for 2011. He is not an option for the Rangers. There aren't many attractive ones left in the starting-pitching market.
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.