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Texas Rangers Take Center Stage

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COMMENTARY | With the Dallas Cowboys' season coming to a painful close, and the Dallas Mavericks not giving any sports fans in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex any single bit of hope that things will turn around anytime soon, the Texas Rangers will draw the attention of just about every sports eye in north Texas.

While there's certainly no denying that the sports radio air waves will be flooded talking about the Dallas Cowboys, the Rangers could very well be poised to make some big moves once they take center stage. Pitchers and catchers will report to their spring training home in less than two months, and there are still moves to be made.

General manager Jon Daniels was quoted as saying they are not ruling out a move for another starting pitcher, or maybe another bat.

According to Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston, Rangers president Nolan Ryan confirmed they have offered a contract to free agent Lance Berkman. Ryan still has connections in Houston and seems to be the man leading the charge to bring the former Astro to the Rangers.

With Mike Napoli's deal with the Boston Red Sox currently on life support, some have wondered if the Rangers would entertain the thought of possibly bringing Napoli back for another year, or maybe two, in a Rangers uniform.

If that thought is entertained by the Rangers' front office, the dollar figure will have to come way down from the $39 million the Red Sox had been willing to pay him before a hip problem was found during Napoli's physical.

There has been talk that Boston has kept in touch with Adam LaRoche, another free agent, but there are some who think the team is just using it as leverage to make Napoli think the Red Sox are about to move on.

With A.J. Pierzynski now the man behind the plate for the Rangers, and Geovany Soto and Eli Whiteside battling for the No. 2 spot, there seems little need to bring Napoli back as a catcher. Especially since you weren't going to get more than 80 to 90 games from him anyway.

The catching position seems to be locked up, at least for now, so the Rangers will need to turn their attention to their starting rotation as well as their bullpen.

As it sits now, there are only four starters in the rotation with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando, with the fifth spot in the rotation still to be determined.

There have been rumblings that the Rangers are willing to give another left-hander, Robbie Ross, a shot at it, but that may not be the smartest idea they've ever come up with.

Ross was a specialist out of the bullpen in 2012. Moving him to the rotation leaves this team even more shorthanded out of the bullpen than they already are, especially after both Mike Adams and Koji Uehara moved to other teams and Ogando is a starter again.

If you look for a starter from the remaining list of free agents, you won't find much that will excite anyone. However, if you're looking for someone who can stem the tide until Colby Lewis is ready to return from a surgery that ended his 2012 season, maybe you look at someone like Derek Lowe?

According to FanGraphs, Lowe has a 2.83 ground ball to fly ball ratio. In 2012, with two different teams (Indians, Yankees), he got a ground ball 59.2 percent of the time, something that would work in the Rangers' ballpark. They took a chance on another guy, Brandon Webb, who knew how to get ground balls, but his arm never did get to the point where he would be effective in the big leagues.

What might concern some are his numbers as a starter for the Cleveland Indians this past season. In 21 starts, Lowe was 8-10 with a 5.52 ERA. What makes those numbers even scarier is giving up a .321 batting average against.

However, with that being said, you aren't looking for a guy to lead your rotation, and I'll even argue you'll get a guy who will give you more than Roy Oswalt gave you this past season.

If free agency isn't the way to go, there are a few different avenues you could look at where the trade market is concerned. Keep in mind, these names are in no way being called "available" by their respective teams but they are players who aren't exactly out of the realm of possibility.

The Miami Marlins have already had one firesale, and they've admitted they're willing to listen on other players still on their roster.

As soon as that little tidbit of information came out over the weekend, just about every Rangers fan wanted to know what it would take to pry outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and right-hander Ricky Nolasco out of Miami.

Unlike two other stars in that area, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, these two guys want to take their talent out of South Beach.

While I won't call any type of deal for Stanton and Nolasco "impossible," I will say it's extremely unlikely and for more than one reason.

First, the Texas Rangers have shown an unwillingness to trade two of their top minor league prospects, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar, and it would take a lot more than just those two guys for the Marlins to even be interested.

Second, even though the Marlins have said they are willing to listen to offers for these two players, they would have to be blown away to deal either of them, especially Stanton.

If you want to make a splash, you have to give something to get something. The Rangers won't be able to acquire a guy like Stanton without offering up guys like Profar and Olt as an appetizer.

I mentioned LaRoche earlier, and he's a guy I've brought up before. The one hangup seems to be the fact no one wants to give up a draft pick to sign the guy. Have draft picks really become gold in Major League Baseball? So much so that teams won't sign a guy who makes their team better for no other reason than they don't want to give up picking a player who isn't going to help you for at least three to five years?

Depending on who you talk to, Mitch Moreland is not the guy a lot of fans want as the full-time first baseman. They don't think he's good enough. While I might disagree with their opinion, especially because the left-handed power hitter doesn't get to play every day, I'll even admit bringing in someone like Adam LaRoche absolutely makes you better.

Texas lost a lot of power with Josh Hamilton, who signed with the Los Angeles Angels, and Mike Napoli, who should eventually sign the deal with Boston, moving on.

But offense and power was never the problem for this team through their two World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

While some might argue situational hitting was a problem, and I won't disagree to a certain extent, you won't find anyone who will tell you pitching wasn't a problem in missing out on the team's first ever World Series title in 2011.

Everyone will tell you that this team was one pitch away--twice. One, single, bad pitch on two different occasions allowed another team to celebrate. It gave the St. Louis Cardinals new life, a new life they used to go into Game 7 and put the Rangers down for good.

It never should have come to that.

This division is still up for grabs and is in no way locked up by any team, especially the Angels. Outside of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, who did the same disappearing act in 2012 that he did with the Texas Rangers in the 2011 playoffs, the rest of their rotation really doesn't put fear in any other team.

The Houston Astros look and feel more like a minor league team, and the Seattle Mariners are going to be a thorn in the side of the Rangers just like they were this past season. All in all, though, if the Rangers make the necessary changes to the rotation and strengthen the bullpen, they can get back into the playoffs.

At this point, the Texas Rangers only have three starters who have experience being in the rotation. The fourth, Alexi Ogando, only has one-half of a season as a starter.

We can throw out any name that peaks our interest, and we can talk about who makes this team better. I'm willing to argue that this team has the offense to stay in the divisional race until the trade deadline, a time where it can make even more improvements. But unless the Rangers get another starter and strengthen their bullpen, they won't stay in the race for very long.

Power bats are a big thing in baseball these days, but if you look at a lot of the teams who have won the World Series, even those who weren't expected to win, they did it on the strength of their pitching.

You can score six to seven runs per game, but if you're pitching is giving up eight or more, you won't win very many games.

All eyes are on the Texas Rangers, and it's time for this team to make the necessary changes.

Unless this really is a rebuilding year, which I hard time believing it is, there should be some late movements from the Texas front office before players begin to make the trek west to Arizona.

Todd Kaufmann lives in Arlington, Texas and has covered the Texas Rangers for Sports Page Weekly, a weekly publication in Dallas, Texas, as well as for Through the Fence Baseball where he is the voice of their Texas Rangers podcast.

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