Commentary

Rangers shop for a good bullpen deal

Updated: December 8, 2009, 8:47 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels knows he doesn't have the money to make any big waves at baseball's winter meetings. But creating a few ripples could still help the club in 2010. And that doesn't cost nearly as much.

On Monday, the Rangers settled into the winter meetings -- amid snowy conditions outside -- and began setting up and participating in meetings with agents and teams. They made a minor trade, acquiring 28-year-old left-handed reliever Clay Rapada from the Detroit Tigers for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Rapada, who has pitched less than 30 major league innings, will compete for a situational lefty spot in the bullpen.

Bolstering that relieving corps is a priority for the club this offseason as it looks to find low-cost options that can give the pitching staff more flexibility. The Rangers told C.J. Wilson and Neftali Feliz that they wanted them to arrive at spring training ready to compete as starters. That only applies if the club can find suitable replacements.

"For us to talk about taking one or two winning pieces out of the bullpen, we're going to have to feel like the bullpen is still a strength," Daniels said. "I don't see us moving them into the rotation unless we're confident we can lock down games late."

As for additional bullpen help, the Rangers are searching the bargain bin via trades or free agency. The club is on a tight budget, but that doesn't mean Texas won't consider arbitration-eligible pitchers who could earn $5 million or less. What's more probable, though, is finding a suitable trade partner for a non-arbitration pitcher who won't cost much or talking to free agents who want incentive-laden deals.

Under Daniels, the Rangers have a history of taking chances on players who have dealt with injuries. And a few times, that has worked out well. The best example is Eric Gagne, a solid bullpen piece who ended up netting the Rangers some talent, including outfielder David Murphy and minor leaguer Engel Beltre. Current reclamation projects on the market include Matt Lindstrom, J.J. Putz and Brett Myers, three guys the Rangers have inquired about this offseason.

Lindstrom, who started 2009 as Florida's closer, missed five weeks with a sprained right elbow and wasn't the closer when he returned from the disabled list.

He gave up eight earned runs in his final eight innings of the season and ended up with a 5.89 ERA. But he's a hard thrower -- mid-to-high 90s -- and is in the first year of arbitration, so he'd be under club control for three years. His salary in 2010 could be about $1.5 million. It might take a midlevel prospect or two to get him.

Putz, a reliable Mariners closer for three seasons before joining the Mets in a setup role last season, missed the final four months of 2009 after surgery to remove bone spurs and fragments from his right elbow. Myers missed three months last season because of a hip surgery. The Rangers would be interested in him as a reliever.

Rangers manager Ron Washington said Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman are the only two starters with confirmed spots in the rotation. The road to the remaining three open jobs will be a competition between a handful of candidates, including (among others) Feliz, Wilson, Brandon McCarthy, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Dustin Nippert and Doug Mathis.

Borbon to start in center and lead off?

If the Rangers don't re-sign Marlon Byrd, a possibility that looks remote at this time, Julio Borbon would be the club's starting center fielder and leadoff hitter next season. That's what Washington said in his annual winter meetings news conference.

Borbon has been working with outfield coach Gary Pettis in winter ball this offseason, and the reports are he's improving on his defensive skills in center, a position he didn't play often in 2009. And although Borbon was 2-for-16 against lefties last season, Washington said he will get a chance to prove he can hit them this season.

"He has the athletic ability to run the ball down, and whatever he gets to, he will catch," Washington said. "It's like anything else; you have to go through it to understand exactly what it takes. It's making decisions out there, the right decisions, throwing to the right base, knowing when to go all out and not to go all out, when to go for a single and when to go all out and catch a baseball. I think those are things that he'll gather as he goes along."

By putting Borbon in center, the Rangers could shift Josh Hamilton to left and take some of the wear and tear off his body. Nelson Cruz would continue to start in right, with David Murphy as a "swing man," as Washington called him. Murphy could play the corner spots when needed and DH to make sure his consistent bat was in the lineup.

Washington talks batting order

Washington doesn't have to fill out any lineup cards for another few months. But he said Ian Kinsler would bat second and Michael Young third in front of Hamilton in the cleanup spot.

"I think Kinsler performs better when he's in the mix hitting at the top of the lineup in the first inning," Washington said. "When he has to wait to hit, I think it takes a lot away from him."

Rangers don't expect Byrd, Pudge to accept arbitration

Byrd and Pudge Rodriguez have until 11 p.m. Dallas time Monday to decide whether they will accept arbitration. The Rangers expect both players to decline. If they do, Texas would receive a supplemental first-round pick for each of them because both are Type B free agents. Declining arbitration does not keep the Rangers from negotiating with them.

Richard Durrett covers the Texas Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at richard.durrett@espn3.com.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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