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Rangers have trade chips in pitchers

Rangers have trade chips in pitchers

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers may be in the unusual position of being able to trade starting pitching this offseason.

The Rangers normally go into a winter looking for pitching, but the depth they have accumulated over the past three years could give general manager Jon Daniels some flexibility and something to talk about as he headed to the GM Meetings in Chicago on Monday.

It comes down to whether the Rangers want to acquire help through free agency or trade. Free agency means not having to give up players, but it also means taking on payroll. That might be difficult in the Rangers' uncertain economic situation.

A trade may be the more viable route, and the Rangers strongest area of depth is starting pitching. Texas could be willing to talk about trading somebody like Brandon McCarthy with the many teams that are searching for starting pitching.

The Rangers know that Kevin Millwood (13-10, 3.67 ERA) and Scott Feldman (17-8, 4.08) are their top two starters. They are committed to Tommy Hunter (9-6, 4.10) and Derek Holland (8-13, 6.12) in the middle of the rotation.

McCarthy (7-4, 4.62) ended the season as the fifth starter, but the Rangers are talking about moving Neftali Feliz into the rotation. They also know that they have Matt Harrison and Eric Hurley coming back from shoulder surgery. They know that Dustin Nippert was 3-3 with a 4.65 ERA in 10 starts, and Guillermo Moscoso was 5-4 with a 2.31 ERA at Triple-A Oklahoma. They have talked about moving C.J. Wilson into the rotation as well.

McCarthy's history of injuries will make teams think twice. He has made just 22 starts over the past two seasons. Other teams would much rather talk to the Rangers about Hunter and Holland. But many clubs are looking for pitching, and this will not be a great free-agent market for starters.

The Mets and the Cardinals need a back-of-the-rotation guy -- a description that fits McCarthy -- and the Twins and Indians are both looking for affordable starting pitching. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he will be aggressive in seeking pitching and could take a chance on a guy coming back from an injury.

The Orioles and Pirates both want at least one veteran starter. The Angels may have to replace John Lackey. The Astros want a No. 3 starter. The D-backs need at least one and possibly two starters, and the Padres are looking as well. The Dodgers rotation is being hit hard with Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland all going out on the free-agent market.

Daniels made it clear he likes the Rangers' depth and believes that it was a huge factor in their success this season. But if the Rangers want to upgrade for 2010 through trade, it'll likely be by giving up either a starting pitcher or an outfielder.

The Rangers had catching available last offseason and traded Gerald Laird to the Tigers. They aren't in the same position this winter. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is coming off shoulder surgery and Taylor Teagarden hit .217 in 60 games and 198 at-bats.

The Rangers infield is set with Chris Davis at first, Ian Kinsler at second, Elvis Andrus at short and Michael Young at third. They just need to cover themselves with a utility infielder. Esteban German is still on the roster, and the Rangers have made progress toward re-signing Omar Vizquel.

The Rangers would have depth in the outfield if they had re-signed Marlon Byrd, but now he's on the free-agent market. That leaves the Rangers with David Murphy in left, Josh Hamilton in center, Nelson Cruz in right and Julio Borbon as the designated hitter. Borbon and Murphy could also switch.

The Rangers could still re-sign Byrd, but that's not going to happen quickly. Craig Gentry is their first line of depth with Greg Golson and Brandon Boggs still in Triple-A.

The Rangers would rather add a bat instead of subtracting one, and free-agent outfielder Jermaine Dye could be of significant interest to them. Marcus Thames, recently let go by the Tigers, and Fernando Tatis also fit the description of what the Rangers are looking for in a right-handed bat.

The Rangers could find much interest in one of their outfielders if they were inclined to go that way. There seems to be a high demand for corner outfielders this winter, and not everybody will be able to pursue Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.

The Cardinals, Blue Jays, Braves, Mets and Reds are all looking for a left fielder who can hit, and the Nationals are looking for a right fielder. The Pirates will take a 25-to-30 home run guy at either corner spot. The pitching-rich Giants are just looking for offense at almost any position. The Yankees could need another big bat, but are likely to land either Holliday or Bay.

There are outfielders on the trading block, but many of them have lucrative contracts that clubs are trying to dump. Those would include Vernon Wells, Gary Matthews Jr., Magglio Ordonez, Jose Guillen, Carlos Lee and Milton Bradley.

Some of those guys would intrigue the Rangers if not for the sizable contracts. The Rangers would certainly be interested in Wells, except for the unavoidable fact that he's due a staggering $98.5 million over the next four years. The Cubs are eager to dump Bradley, who had his best season with the Rangers but is due $20 million over the next two years.

Clubs are always willing to eat some money to make a trade happen, but the general rule is the more money that's eaten, the more prospects are asked for in return. The Rangers, given their economic situation, are not looking to take on a big contract.

But they do have some starting pitching depth, whether it's McCarthy or Moscoso at the Major League level or Double-A arms like Omar Poveda, Kasey Kiker and Blake Beavan. That appears to be the Rangers' position of strength when they start talking trades this winter with other teams. It comes down to how much depth they are willing to sacrifice to make themselves better in 2010.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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