Rangers show knack for finding bullpen talent

Ability to spot, develop relievers with value has become staple of club

Rangers show knack for finding bullpen talent

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have identified their bullpen as one possible area of upgrade this summer. Recent history shows the odds are good the Rangers will find one or two relievers who fit their need.

During Jon Daniels' 11-year tenure as general manager, the Rangers have done a remarkable job of finding and developing relievers in a variety of low-cost ways.

Position for position, it may be their best work over the past 11 years.

"A few things go into it," Daniels said. "We are looking at a variety of things: strike-throwers, guys with different looks, ideally a ground-ball guy or somebody with a different swing-and-miss pitch."

Power arms are also a highly valuable commodity.

"Relievers come from different backgrounds," Daniels said. "Some are failed starters or coming back from injuries -- maybe they just have the makeup for it or need a change of scenery. Our scouts look at all of that and come up with a number of different options."

Let's see some examples over 11 years.

Shawn Tolleson and Darren O'Day were waiver claims, Alexi Ogando was a Minor League Rule 5 pick and Mark Lowe was a throw-in from the Cliff Lee trade with the Mariners.

Tolleson's solid relief outing

Tony Barnette spent six years in Japan, Joakim Soria was recovering from Tommy John surgery when the Rangers signed him and Neal Cotts had not pitched in the Major Leagues in three years when he joined the Rangers on a Minor League deal in 2013.

C.J. Wilson, Robbie Ross Jr. and Keone Kela came from the Rangers' system. But Wilson had to overcome Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, Ross was a starter who didn't profile as a reliever and Kela was a 12th-round pick out of Everett (Wash.) Community College. Tanner Scheppers was damaged goods coming out of college and the Rangers drafted him while he was pitching for St. Paul in an independent league.

Neftali Feliz was the closer on their 2010-11 World Series teams, but he was pitching in the Class A Appalachian League when the Rangers insisted the Braves include him in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade.

The ultimate find may be Matt Bush. A year ago, he was still serving time in a Florida prison. Now, having taken significant steps to get his life in order, Bush is the Rangers' eighth-inning setup reliever.

Bush strands bases loaded

"There is no secret formula," Daniels said. "We're not looking for anything other clubs don't value. There are certain things we look at, but there are not a lot of secrets in the industry."

The Rangers scored big at the Trade Deadline last season, when they acquired left-hander Jake Diekman from the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal and right-hander Sam Dyson from the Marlins. They may be the best 1-2 bullpen combination going in the American League right now.

Diekman had struck out 100 batters in 71 innings for the Phillies in 2014, but he had a 5.15 ERA when the Rangers acquired him and had been demoted to the Minors for a short period.

Diekman ends trouble

"You don't get a left-hander very often that has a unique arm slot and throws as easy as he does with that velocity," Daniels said. "We had tried to get him all winter unsuccessfully. He had struggled the first half and was sent down but had made an adjustment."

Dyson had some success with the Marlins but nothing close to what he has done for the Rangers. He was one of several Marlins relievers scouted by the Rangers, including Mike Dunn and Steve Cishek. The deal came down just minutes before the Deadline as the Rangers gave up backup catcher Tomas Telis and Minor League reliever Cody Ege.

"We always liked him," Daniels said. "[Rangers scout] Todd Walther liked him in the Toronto system. We liked him as an amateur, but there were medical concerns. We had scouted the Marlins' bullpen and they had a lot of interesting arms. With Sam, a couple of things stood out as far as the analytics and we did a lot of video work. His sinker jumped out as a real weapon."

Dyson locks down the save

Not all work out that well as the Rangers found out with Tom Wilhelmsen, Kyle McClellan and Warner Madrigal. Some only have short-term success like Roman Mendez, Ross Ohlendorf and Sam Freeman. Others flourish elsewhere, like Jason Grilli, Logan Verrett and Pedro Strop. Eric Gagne, at the end of his career, was a great signing for the Rangers, because they were able to trade him for outfielder David Murphy.

It's a volume business, which is why the Rangers signed Barnette this offseason. At the time, it seemed like one reliever too many, and Barnette would have a hard time making the Opening Day roster. But the Rangers scouted him extensively in Japan, where he was a closer for the Yakult Swallows.

"A number of guys saw Tony and wrote him up as a winning piece," Daniels said. "He had different weapons to get guys out and threw a ton of strikes. For a seven-man bullpen, you need to have 12-15 quality options to make sure you have enough depth over the course of a season."

Barnette gets a big strikeout

Barnette signed a two-year deal with the Rangers, which is rare for them. Daniels steers away from expensive multiyear deals for free-agent relievers. The notable exception was Joe Nathan, who signed a two-year, $14 million contract to be their 2012-13 closer.

"It's just the unpredictable nature of the role, just through attrition, injuries, guys struggling," Daniels said. "When you get a guy going good, you ride it out."

The Rangers would rather rely on their own scouts and coaches to build a bullpen. For the most part, they have been successful.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. 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.