Rangers confident in bullpen's returning parts

Bush, Jeffress to set up closer Dyson as Texas keeps relief crew intact

Rangers confident in bullpen's returning parts

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have kept their hands off the bullpen this winter.

The Rangers see it as an area of strength, although that appeared to be the situation going into the offseason last year and then they signed free-agent right-hander Tony Barnette and traded for Tom Wilhelmsen.

This winter, there have been no major transactions involving the bullpen, other than a dizzying array of waiver claims that have left some players bouncing from one club to another. Right-hander Brady Dragmire cleared waivers on Friday and has been signed to Triple-A Round Rock with an invitation to big league camp.

The Rangers on Friday also signed left-hander Wesley Wright, 31, to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He pitched at Triple-A last year but has a career 4.16 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 372 big league games from 2008-15 with five organizations.

But for the most part, the bullpen has not been an area of focus for the Rangers.

"I feel confident in the bullpen, I do think it will be a strength for us," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Not having Jake Diekman will be a huge challenge for us, to find structure in the bullpen that will allow us to get the outs we need to."

Diekman, the Rangers' No. 1 setup reliever, is expected to miss at least the first half of the season after undergoing surgery to have his colon removed on Thursday. Replacing him is just one of many intriguing issues and situations surrounding the Rangers' bullpen at this point.

Closer: Banister said Sam Dyson will be the closer. That's no surprise; he was excellent for the Rangers in 2016, with 38 saves in 43 attempts, a 2.43 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. The Rangers do have Jeremy Jeffress, who was the Brewers' closer before being acquired on Aug. 1, and Matt Bush, who had a tremendous rookie season and could be the future closer.

Right now, though, Dyson is the closer, with Jeffress and Bush providing a formidable right-handed setup combination.

Bush to stay in Rangers' bullpen

Keone Kela: The hard-throwing right-hander was outstanding as a rookie in 2015, but elbow surgery forced him to miss three months last year. The Rangers expect him to be at full strength this spring, which should make their right-handed setup relief even more formidable.

Tanner Scheppers: He is another power arm for the back of the bullpen. Scheppers, who nearly earned an All-Star selection as a setup reliever in 2013, has dealt with three years of injuries, but the Rangers have stuck with him, and he showed flashes of 2013 in a limited engagement last September. The Rangers eagerly await to see if their patience will be richly rewarded.

Alex Claudio: The Rangers are professing great faith in Claudio, who did a remarkable job last season as a middle/long reliever. The left-hander was 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 39 games by taking advantage of his funky, sidearm delivery. Claudio, with a fastball that averages 85 mph, is an anomaly in an organization that prizes velocity above all else.

Claudio strikes out Decker

Left-handed heat: Andrew Faulkner and Dario Alvarez are lefty relievers who fit the Rangers' desired profile. Both have fastballs that average 92 mph and have shown flashes in the past of potentially being a dominating left-handed setup reliever, similar to Diekman.

These are two guys worth watching in Spring Training. Faulkner was impressive last spring and was on the Opening Day roster before being sent down two weeks later.

Jose Leclerc: Another hard-throwing right-hander, Leclerc struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings last season combined at Double-A and Triple-A. He also walked 5.2 per nine, and control is the biggest thing holding him back. In 15 innings with the Rangers, he struck out 15 and issued 11 unintentional walks.

His fastball did average 94.5 mph. The Rangers love that part.

Leclerc fans four in debut

Alvarez II: R.J. Alvarez is another right-hander with a big arm. The Rangers claimed him off waivers last September from the Cubs, and he will be in camp on a Minor League invite. He also has a 94-mph fastball and has averaged 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings in five Minor League seasons but with erratic control.

Alvarez was set back last year because of bone chips in his right elbow. Watch out for waiver-claim guys -- the Rangers are good at finding talent there, as they showed three years ago with Shawn Tolleson.

Free agents: There are plenty still available, including left-handers Jerry Blevins, Javier Lopez, Travis Wood and Boone Logan. All four have the potential to impact a bullpen, especially a team that could use left-handed relief.

By the way, former All-Star closers Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan are still unsigned.

They aren't headed for Texas, but the Rangers probably aren't done signing relief candidates to non-roster contracts.

Barnette: No issues here. The Rangers signed him to a two-year deal last winter after six years in Japan and, at the time, he appeared to be a long shot to make the Opening Day roster.

Instead he turned into an invaluable utility reliever with a 2.09 ERA that was the lowest on the staff with a minimum of 20 innings. He will play a vital part in this bullpen, although no specific role is needed. He was terrific everywhere last season.

Barnette's four strikeouts

Barnette proved any bullpen transaction has a chance to make an unexpected impact.

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.