Editor's Note: We'll spend the next two weeks taking a look at 10 questions that face the Texas Rangers this offseason as they prepare for the 2013 campaign. We call it our "Texas Ten."
Today's question: Which bullpen pieces return and how does it shape up for 2013?
Overall, the Rangers have eight free agents. Four of them are in the bullpen. In recent years, we've seen the Rangers front office fill holes in the bullpen. They feel like that's an area where they can find some good value and put folks in their correct roles. That's not to say they won't spend money. They went out and, rather than wait to see how the market shaped up for relievers, jumped in and signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal to be the closer. The club's scouts liked how Nathan finished the 2011 season, and by getting a deal done early the Rangers could tell Neftali Feliz to focus on stretching out as a starter.
But this year, some key pieces can test the free agent market. Koji Uehara, who returned to Texas in 2012 thanks to a vesting option, is now a free agent. It was a big up-and-down year for Uehara. The Rangers tried to trade him in the offseason and he vetoed the deal. He came to spring training focused, but the splitter wasn't moving well in the desert. He started the season well, but then ran into some trouble in early June. He went on the DL with a right lat muscle strain and then had a setback that kept him on the DL until Aug. 26.
When Uehara returned, he pitched like the guy that the Rangers sent Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to Baltimore for at the trade deadline in 2011. That splitter was very effective for Uehara, who kept right-handed and left-handed hitters down. He retired 25 straight batters at one point, the longest string of consecutive batters retired by a Rangers pitcher since Jeff Zimmerman retired 25 in a row in May 1999. Uehara went nine straight appearances without allowing a baserunner. That was 7 2/3 innings and he had 15 strikeouts in that span. So Uehara has to be near the top of the club's wish list. He's a guy that can pitch late and get key left-handed hitters out.
Mike Adams wasn't available the final 10 days of the season after having tightness in his trapezius and symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Adams will undergo surgery and should be ready to go by spring training. But he's also made it clear that he wants to test the market. He enjoyed his team in Texas but said this may be the only chance he has to try to get a solid, multi-year deal and he wants to do the best he can for his family. I don't ever blame players for that sentiment, so we'll see what Adams can get. Coming off the surgery and a slow finish to the year, it will be interesting to see what the market is for Adams.
Roy Oswalt and Scott Feldman, both starters at one point in 2012, finished the season in the bullpen. The club won't be spending money on an option for Feldman that is worth $9.25 million (he has a $600,000 buyout), but that doesn't mean they can't re-sign him. Oswalt came to Texas with the hopes of being a stalwart in the rotation once injuries caught up to the club. But he wasn't successful enough to last in that role. Still, he pushed through some soreness and gave the club some innings down the stretch. The team did not end up getting the full return on its investment.
Look for the Rangers front office to canvas the free agent market and see what's available on trades to bolster the pen. They've got a closer. Left-hander Robbie Ross slowed at the end of the year but overall had a solid rookie season. If Alexi Ogando doesn't start, he's back in the pen and can be a late-inning option. Michael Kirkman got a chance to pitch some down the stretch and could be a factor in spring training, as could Tanner Scheppers.
To me, keeping Uehara is the first priority. He really showed what he could do (and it helped that he got the time down to figure some things out). He's comfortable in Texas and became a huge part of the team after going through spring training and starting as a Ranger from the beginning. As for the rest of the bullpen, Jon Daniels and company will get together and figure out how to fill those holes.