Last month, when the Texas Rangers signed former Twins closer Joe Nathan, Rangers GM Jon Daniels made a point of saying that his focus would remain on adding bullpen pieces. I had assumed, at the time, that this meant a left hander or two and potentially another right hander to work the middle innings (think Mark Lowe, but better). After all, with Nathan in the fold and Mike Adams and Koji Uehara already in place, the back-end of the bullpen looked pretty well set.
Not so fast, says Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who reported yesterday that the Rangers are actively trying to acquire closer Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics. Not only that, but they were apparently in hot pursuit of newly-signed Royal Jonathan Broxton before his fame shunting trip landed him in Kansas City.
The idea behind pursuing another closer-type is that the Rangers would like to use Adams in either the seventh or eighth innings and have a newcomer fill the other inning. This pushes Uehara into that middle inning role I referenced above. Not only would the Rangers, with or without a stalwart left hander, have one of the most formidable bullpens in the American League, but you’d be hard-pressed to recall a better one (on paper, at least) in recent history.
There are a couple other factors at play here, it would appear. First, Bailey will be difficult to acquire. The A’s are certainly willing to move their right hander, but last month the Reds balked when the asking price was Yonder Alonso, who is considered one of the better major-league-ready prospects in the game. That’s a steep price to pay for any reliever, let alone one that would serve in a seventh inning role for the Rangers.
Of course, there is also the issue of Uehara. When he was acquired by Texas in July last season, he was one of the most sought-after commodities in baseball; every contending team seemed to be in on the then-Oriole. Uehara struggled in Texas, however, and fell prone to giving up untimely home runs. He struggled so much, in fact, that Uehara was left off the Rangers World Series roster.
So far this winter, rumors have a few clubs calling Texas about Koji’s availability, but the Rangers have indicated they’d like to hold on to their $4 million mop-up man. My guess here is that Daniels and company would love to unload that mis-appropriation of funds, but don’t want to leave themselves short on quality right handers. Had they signed Broxton, or should they acquire another set-up man, I’m betting that Uehara would then be moved.
The way the Rangers have conditioned their starters over the past few season, encouraging longer outings and freeing them from the restrictions of pitch counts, they don’t need a tremendous sixth inning guy. Someone like Yoshinori Tateyama will serve that role just fine, thank you, and do so for a fraction of the cost of Uehara. In addition, the Rangers do figure to retain Darren Oliver or land at least one left handed reliever via free agency or trade and that also will take away any need to pay a middle reliever anything close to Uehara’s salary.
In an ideal world, I think Daniels would go to Spring training with Nathan, Adams, and one more late-inning guy. If they cannot find an upgrade, that one more guy will be Uehara. If they can, Uehara will be moved.