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March 4, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Patching Pitching Staffs

by Daniel Rathman

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Late last week, we learned from ESPN’s Buster Olney that the Indians and Yankees were, for various reasons, staying on the sidelines of the Kyle Lohse market. The right-hander got better news over the weekend, though: With agent Scott Boras’ asking price reportedly growing more negotiable, a once-reluctant suitor might soon have an organizational change of heart.

Rangers keeping tabs on Lohse; price dropping?
According to Jeff Wilson, who covers the Rangers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, some members of the team’s front office are inclined to add Lohse to a rotation that currently has more questions than answers. Can Matt Harrison continue to defy the FIP overlords and make good on his five-year, $55 million extension? Perhaps, but can Alexi Ogando make a smooth transition back to the rotation and withstand a potentially career-high innings workload? Maybe, but who will hold down the back end of the starting five, now that Martin Perez is expected to join Colby Lewis on the disabled list to begin the regular season?

You get the picture. And, in an American League West race that figures to be tight, with the Angels considered by PECOTA to be the pre-season favorites, those doubts could make all the difference. That’s where Lohse comes in, and the decision for general manager Jon Daniels and his staff hinges on balancing 2013 needs with the draw of funneling more talent into a high-upside/high-risk farm system.

The news that Perez had suffered a fractured forearm when he was struck by a line drive on Sunday surfaced after Wilson’s report, but general manager Jon Daniels’ comments in its wake suggested that his plan remains unchanged. Daniels told reporters “We’ll look around at external options, but I expect to go internally at this point,” adding that with Lewis and Perez both currently on track to return in early May, the search for help need not be frantic. Still, the likelihood of Lohse landing in Arlington almost certainly increased over the last 24 hours.

Wilson heard from a source that Lohse’s price tag is now low enough, in terms of both years and annual dollars, that multiple teams are reconsidering their aversion to signing the 34-year-old. The Rangers are one of those teams, and with money no longer believed to be a serious obstacle, the more salient issue surrounds the 24th overall pick in the amateur draft. As Wilson pointed out, Texas received the 31st overall selection when Josh Hamilton, also a compensated free agent, bolted for Anaheim, so inking Lohse would not entirely bounce the Rangers from the first-round party. But even with legitimate concerns surrounding the Opening Day rotation, the majority of the front office, at least as of Sunday morning, preferred to cling to pick 24.

To some extent, the logic of those higher-ups is understandable. The Rangers, as shown in the prospect list linked above, have leaned heavily on international splurges, like Jorge Alfaro and Jairo Beras, and prep-school athletes with star-level potential but volatile outcomes, like Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson. That strategy can pay significant dividends, but quantity and financial flexibility are important elements of it. From that standpoint, losing the first-round spot would cost Daniels and his scouting staff not only the opportunity to add one more lottery ticket, but also a chunk of the bonus pool from which they could draw to shoot high in later rounds.

On the other hand, the Rangers have enough talent to compete for a pennant in 2013, and even with a regression from his 2012 performance, Lohse would represent a significant upgrade over manager Ron Washington’s internal choices. Left-hander Robbie Ross performed well as a rookie reliever last year, but he has not started a game since 2011 at the Double-A level. Right-hander Randy Wells, who joined the Rangers on a minor-league deal in December, walked 24 batters in 28 2/3 innings with the Cubs last year, had a 7.89 ERA in Triple-A, and has not enjoyed much success in the majors since 2010. And speaking of 2010, that’s also the last time Nate Robertson, a fellow non-roster invitee, appeared in a big-league game.

If all goes as planned with Lewis and Perez, then the Rangers may only need to endure one month without a proven fifth starter. Daniels must now decide whether he’d rather take his chances on the health of his other pitchers and two detour-less recoveries or hedge his bets with Lohse and sort out a potential glut in early May. And if, as Wilson wrote, the market for Lohse is beginning to pick up, then the time for a final decision is rapidly approaching.

Yankees scouted old friend Chien-Ming Wang in World Baseball Classic
The Yankees, like the Rangers, are coping with an injury to one of their projected starters—namely, Phil Hughes, who is dealing with a bulging disc in his upper back. General manager Brian Cashman told reporters, including New York Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand, that the right-hander is questionable for Opening Day, but Olney’s report from last week indicated that the Yankees will not enter the race for Lohse.

Cashman, according to New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, is instead eyeing Wang, who spent the 2012 season in the Nationals organization and is currently pitching for Taiwan in the World Baseball Classic. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman added that five other teams (identities unknown) are courting the sinkerballer, who tossed six shutout innings against Australia in his first WBC start. Wang turns 32 on March 31, hovered around the replacement-level line over 94 2/3 innings in 2011-2012, and added a strained hip to his laundry list of injuries last year, but he still is able to roll ground balls, and that skill is likely to ensure employment until it completely erodes.

We should gain a better idea of the other teams involved in the coming days.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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