Panic! Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland seriously injured his left knee in a fall at home earlier this month, likely costing him half the season and depriving the Rangers of their No. 2 starter behind Yu Darvish. There’s no way around the obvious: This is bad, potentially very bad, for a Texas team that has to contend with the A’s, Angels and aggressive Mariners in the American League West.
Holland broke out in a big way in 2013, giving Texas 213 innings of 3.42 ERA ball that was closely backed up by the advanced metrics FIP (3.44) and xFIP (3.68). After several years of showing nearly as much inconsistency as talent, Holland managed to cut down his home run problem significantly in 2013, relying heavily on his slider and sinker to keep the ball in the yard while continuing to miss bats.
Now, Holland is expected to be out until around midseason, and if that’s all it is, Texas will take it — the Rangers got burned in a similar situation last year when Matt Harrison was expected to return near midseason after April back surgery, yet after continued setbacks, he never did reappear.
But in the meantime, Texas has a hole to fill and a pennant race in which to compete. There are a few directions they could go, but they are set up in such a way that they don’t need to go add another pitcher.
Option No. 1: Go big
The Rangers already had been one of the teams rumored to be interested in both Tampa Bay ace David Price and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and calls for either or both certainly won’t quiet now that Holland is injured. But after adding two big contracts in Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder this winter, it’s difficult to see Texas coming up with the cash to outbid the desperate Yankees and opulent Dodgers for Tanaka, even if the righty did want to come to Texas.
The Rangers have the prospects to land Price, yet if GM Jon Daniels was unwilling to meet Tampa Bay’s demands before, it’s probably not realistic to think he’ll suddenly be willing to make a franchise-altering trade simply as a reaction to a few missed months of Holland.
Instead, Texas may look to the second-level trio of pitchers all waiting on Tanaka to sign, thoughMatt Garza was less than stellar in his time in Texas last year and Ervin Santana‘s fly ball tendencies seem like a dangerous fit for Arlington. Ubaldo Jimenez? Perhaps, but it really does depend on how much is left in the Texas budget.
Option No. 2: Go reasonable
With all the attention given to Tanaka and the trio behind him, it often gets overlooked that there are some intriguing (and less expensive) options in the stalled pitching market. Certainly there’s no one in this group as good as Holland, but that shouldn’t be the expectation. At a lower cost, Texas could replace a portion of Holland’s performance while also providing themselves with rotation depth (or a swingman) upon his return.
One of those names is Jerome Williams, whom the Rangers have reportedly already been in discussions with, but he’s essentially replacement level; better options might be fellow southpawsnChris Capuano and Paul Maholm. The underrated Capuano has consistently put up solid K/BB rates, actually beating former Dodgers teammate Zack Greinke (3.38 to 3.22) in that department last year. And while Maholm faded down the stretch for Atlanta, he’s got a career ground ball rate north of 50 percent and years of performance in the 2-WAR range. At a fraction of the cost of a Jimenez or Santana, these lefties could help fill the gap.
Option No. 3: Keep it internal
Every win counts in a tight race, but if the Rangers choose to look on the bright side, they can do it in this way: Holland’s loss is a tough one, yet perhaps not as fatal as it seems. The various wins above replacement systems differ on how good Holland was last year, but the midpoint was about 4 WAR. If we assume he misses half the year and comes back strong — hardly a given, of course — then Texas has lost approximately two wins. You can look at that as giving back some of the gain added by the arrival of Choo, and that hurts.
But it’s important to remember that the “r” part of that WAR equation is “replacement,” and Texas is in the enviable situation of not needing to give Holland’s starts to the freely available Triple-A type that the term infers. Instead, they have a quintet of useful young pitchers, along with the formerly useful Colby Lewis as he attempts to return from a missed season, to fill out the two spots behind Darvish, Harrison and Martin Perez[see table].
There’s some real talent there, one of whom was likely to fill out the last spot in the rotation anyway. While it’s not ideal, Texas could get by with a second one as well until Holland returns. Of course, that not only thins out the available depth if another starter gets injured, it could create a ripple effect down the staff — Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers pitched exclusively in relief in 2013, so a move to the rotation would weaken a Texas bullpen that already saw Joe Nathandepart for Detroit. However, both are preparing to arrive at camp to compete as starting pitchers, as the Rangers weigh their options.
The verdict: Like any team, if Texas has the ability to get Tanaka, then that’s obviously the best choice, though that was always the case and won’t change simply because of Holland’s knee. Considering the limits of a budget that already has added Choo and Fielder, Texas’ best option is to sign one of the lower-priced free agents to take Holland’s spot, and let their internal options fill the other rotation opening. And if they don’t think Maholm or Capuano is a big enough upgrade, standing pat isn’t the worst idea in the world.
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