Rangers leave Vegas with work to do
Starting pitching, bullpen help are Texas' top priorities
LAS VEGAS -- The Rangers struck quickly at the Winter Meetings and then slipped quietly into the background.After trading catcher Gerald Laird to the Detroit Tigers for Minor League pitchers Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo on the first day, the Rangers made no other major transactions during their time in Las Vegas.
They talked to many clubs about many different things and made overtures to free-agent pitchers Randy Johnson, Ben Sheets and Eddie Guardado. They picked up Minor League pitcher Beau Vaughan from the Red Sox as a player to be named later in the Wes Littleton deal. They also announced the signing of pitchers Brian Gordon and Joe Torres to Minor League contracts.But there is still much work to be done. "In some areas, we have made progress, but given the slow pace of the free-agent market and the likelihood of us not being big players, we didn't expect to achieve much as far as closing deals," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. Right now, though, the offseason is roughly at the halfway point, and the Rangers have yet to be able to add to their club. Instead, they have traded Laird, sold pitcher Kameron Loe to Japan and had outfielder Milton Bradley, infielder Ramon Vazquez and pitcher Jamey Wright become free agents. "Look, we'd love to fortify the big league club," Daniels said. "But the more you look at it, the best chance to do that is to continue to give opportunities to our own young players. We're not looking to block their path by putting guys in their way. But if there's a chance to improve the ballclub, we'll do it." The Rangers still have the same offseason goals. They would like to add a starting pitcher and a few relievers. They will take a look at depth at third base and possibly look for a right-handed bat. They will stay in contact with the agents for Johnson, Sheets and Guardado, but a resolution is not expected anytime soon on any of those three pitchers. The Rangers are hoping that Johnson might be interested in a one-year deal. Sheets is looking for a two-year deal, and the Rangers would likely have to move salary if they do something with him. That might be tough. Teams have had some interest in pitchers Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, but there was little interest in Las Vegas in infielder Hank Blalock. That may change if teams don't fill their needs in the free-agent market, which continues to drag into the holiday season. But as of now, Millwood and Padilla will again lead the Rangers' rotation with Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, Brandon McCarthy and Dustin Nippert in the first wave of candidates for the final three spots. Clubs are still asking the Rangers about their young players, specifically catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez. The Rangers are open to talking about all three, and that's still their best chance of adding pitching this offseason. The Marlins are looking for a backup catcher and have interest in Ramirez. One Florida Minor League pitcher who might interest the Rangers is left-hander Aaron Thompson. "We got asked a lot about our young players," Daniels said. "Almost regularly. It's encouraging that people look at them the same way we do." Vaughan, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, was 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 17 saves in 46 relief appearances between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket but was not protected by the Red Sox on their 40-man roster and went unclaimed in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. He pitched 58 innings last season, striking out 69 while allowing 48 hits and 24 walks. A third-round pick out of Arizona State in 2003, Vaughan also pitched for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, going 1-2 with one save and a 3.52 ERA in 12 relief appearances with 18 strikeouts and one walk. Vaughan also threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings over his final seven appearances in the AFL, with opponents going 5-for-29 (.172) in that stretch. "He's primarily a fastball/slider reliever," Daniels said. "He's a strike-thrower with a good slider." The Rangers have not committed to bringing him to Major League camp. The Rangers could still get a second player from the Red Sox if Littleton is on Boston's Opening Day roster. Torres went 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in 59 games for Double-A Birmingham in the White Sox organization last year. He allowed 29 hits and 31 walks in 50 1/3 innings while striking out 58. He'll compete with Kason Gabbard and possibly others to come for the second left-handed spot in the bullpen. Gordon went 6-5 with a 3.51 ERA with three different Minor League teams last year before appearing in three games for the Rangers in September. He currently has a 1.79 ERA in the Venezuela Winter League. He will also compete for a spot in the bullpen in Spring Training, but the Rangers are hoping to add more. Deals done: Texas traded Laird to the Tigers for prospects and acquired a Minor Leaguer from the Red Sox as the player to be named later in the Littleton deal. Rule 5 activity: The Rangers were not involved in the Major League phase. They picked up shortstop Guilder Rodriguez and catcher Elio Sarmiento in the Minor League phase for depth at Double-A. Goals accomplished: The Rangers continue to stockpile young Minor League arms. Melo, 17, could be special one day, and Moscoso, 25, could have an impact at the big league level at some point this year. Unfinished business: The quest for starting pitching moves on, as well as the need for a few more arms in the bullpen. The Rangers would like at least one of them to be a left-hander. GM's bottom line: "There's not a start or stop in the offseason. Deals are made 24/7, 365 days out of the year. We didn't look at it as we had to get something accomplished by the time we got on our plane at 2 o'clock on Thursday." -- Daniels
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.