It isn't even February and the Texas Rangers' pitching staff is already dealing with injuries. And this one is a big one. No. 2 starter Derek Holland is out, likely until midseason, after falling on some stairs at his home. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair torn cartilage and will have limited activity for the next six weeks.
One thing you can count on with Holland: He'll do everything and more that's asked of him at rehab. But even knowing that, the club is going with the midseason timeline.
Naturally, the question has to be asked: Do you replace Holland with Robbie Ross or Nick Tepesch or another internal candidate? Or, after trading for Prince Fielder and paying big bucks to get Shin-Soo Choo, do you go all-in and acquire the best pitcher left on the free-agent market in Masahiro Tanaka?
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels indicated signing a big name wasn't likely. But he never completely closes doors.
“I expect we will add some [starting pitching], but I expect it will be more in the depth category than really replacing somebody at the front end of the rotation,” Daniels said Friday afternoon.
Notice the word "expect."
The club has had internal conversations on Tanaka, as it would with any free agent. Daniels mentioned at Choo's news conference that the Rangers would do their due diligence on everybody. And co-chairman of the board Bob Simpson said it would be "a tough thing" to sign Tanaka.
But that was before a key cog in the rotation went down for at least half of a season in which this club has a bunch invested. And if you question how important Holland is, glance again at his numbers from last season. He made 33 starts and never missed his turn in the rotation. No other Rangers starter can say that. He had a career-best 3.42 ERA. He was consistent and put a rough 2012 in his rearview mirror. Now, his 2014 campaign probably won't even get going until the All-Star votes have been tabulated.
Tanaka would not be a back-end rotation guy or simply a "depth starter." He was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) last season in Japan. He's a strikeout machine and is only 25 years old. Most scouts don't see Tanaka as a Yu Darvish (read more about that in this Baseball America report). But they do see a pitcher capable of helping a rotation now and into the future.
And Tanaka is familiar with the Rangers because of the publicity that Darvish receives in Japan. It certainly doesn't hurt the Rangers' cause with Tanaka that Darvish has become a success here. According to our ESPN New York buddy Andrew Marchand, Tanaka is in the United States and already meeting with teams.
Only the winning team has to pay the $20 million posting bid, so negotiating with Tanaka only makes sense. You can bet the Rangers will listen and see where things are. But we're also talking about a hefty investment here. Some are saying at least $100 million.
Is it time for the Rangers to make a third major financial commitment this offseason and go all-in on Tanaka? They could secure their entire rotation for the next few seasons and beyond. It might limit what they could do in terms of high-priced free agents for the next offseason, but they'd have the major pieces of the team in place. And they'd have a legitimate starter to replace Holland in the rotation.
Ownership has already made some major commitments. Increasing the budget even more might not be possible. But with the club's new TV contract taking effect in 2015, do the Rangers consider making a move on Tanaka and seeing what happens?
The other option: Let the competition play out in the spring, go into the season with an internal candidate in the rotation and then make a trade-deadline deal if Holland isn't fully ready. But a lot of baseball will have been played by then.
If I'm Casey Close, Tanaka's agent, I've already called Daniels. It never hurts to talk. Will ownership open the checkbook one more time? I've got to think the Rangers at least think about it. Stay tuned.