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Rangers need to upgrade their pitching in a big way

11/6/2008 - MLB Texas Rangers

It doesn't take a scholar to figure out the Rangers' biggest problem in 2008 -- pitching, of the woeful variety, as it has been in most recent years in Arlington. But team president Nolan Ryan, who knows something about the craft, is hell-bent on correcting the problem. If he can do so, Ryan might add Hall of Fame executive to his resume.

The Rangers, as usual, crushed the ball in 2008, paced by breakout star Josh Hamilton. They led the majors with a .283 average and 901 runs scored -- 46 more than the No. 2 team, the Cubs. Straighten out the pitching, and the Rangers will go from 79-83 to contention.

Primary needs

Here are the gory details: The Rangers' 5.37 team ERA ranked 30th among 30 major league teams. Their starters were tied for last with Baltimore at 5.51, and their relievers were last at 5.15. So their primary, secondary and tertiary need is pitching.

The Rangers have hopes for help from youngsters Matt Harrison, who went 9-3 in 15 starts (albeit with a 5.49 ERA) and Scott Feldman (6-8 with a 5.29 ERA in 25 starts). But look for GM Jon Daniels to be heating up the phone lines trying to trade for pitching, because owner Tom Hicks is not in a spending mood.

Milton Bradley

Bradley

Free agents

OF Milton Bradley, RHP Jason Jennings, RHP Jamey Wright, INF Ramon Vazquez.

The biggest decision is how hard to go after Bradley, who had a sensational offensive year. Bradley led the American League with a .999 OPS, but missed more than 30 games.

The Rangers also have a club option on first baseman Hank Blalock for $6.2 million that they're likely to pick up after Blalock hit .337 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in September.

Trade bait

The Rangers have an excess of catchers -- Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden -- and will no doubt use one of them in an attempt to land pitching help.

Blalock, if his option is picked up, could be traded in the right deal, as could Frank Catalanotto and Marlon Byrd.

Taylor Teagarden

Teagarden

Farm aid

Teagarden, who hit .319 with six homers in just 16 games, is an impressive young catcher who might make Laird and/or Saltalamacchia expendable.

The Rangers are also very high on two players acquired from Atlanta in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade -- shortstop Elvis Andrus, and pitcher Neftali Feliz -- as well as lefty Derek Holland and center fielder Julio Borbon.

Outlook

Rangers' fans were rightfully enamored of Hamilton, who hit .304 with 34 homers and 130 RBIs (slumping to 11 homers and 35 RBIs after the All-Star break and his Home Run Derby extravaganza).

But considering the Rangers' desperate need for pitching, they had to have been a little wistful watching Edinson Volquez, who was traded for Hamilton, become an ace in Cincinnati. Not to mention watching ex-Ranger John Danks go 12-9 for the White Sox. The Rangers need to cultivate some pitching -- and keep it for themselves -- to reverse a stretch of eight losing seasons in the past nine years.

Larry Stone is the national baseball writer for The Seattle Times. Click here to visit the Times' Web site.