Washington excited about moves

By T.R. Sullivan
Updated: January 20, 2010

ARLINGTON — Rangers manager Ron Washington had a wish list going into the offseason. All managers do.

The winter isn’t over yet, but on a Wednesday afternoon, sitting at home and relaxing on a rainy day in New Orleans, Washington seemed as giddy as a kid who just opened all his presents on a Christmas morning and found everything he wanted under the tree.

The Rangers’ offseason is falling just about the way he had hoped, even with the limited amount of money they had to spend.

“[General manager] Jon Daniels and those guys deserve a lot of credit,” Washington said. “They did a great job putting things together, especially with the way things were looking going into the offseason.”

“I wasn’t so sure when the season was over, with the finances the way they were and looking at the guys we were losing. But Jon and them went into the Winter Meetings, buckled down, used the money they had and came out with some quality players.”

Washington was adamant about adding a right-handed bat, and the Rangers signed Vladimir Guerrero. They added starting pitching by signing Rich Harden and Colby Lewis, although they had to give up Kevin Millwood.

But they were able to reinforce the bullpen by adding left-hander Darren Oliver and right-hander Chris Ray. They are also close to adding a utility infielder with Khalil Greene, a transaction that should be completed soon.

The Rangers still have some concerns about their catching because they aren’t sure about Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He is coming off shoulder surgery and working out again, but the Rangers want to make sure they are covered in case he has more problems.

“We’re still going to try and see if there’s anything out there in the catching depth,” Washington said. “If that becomes a necessity before the start of the season, we may go and do something.”

Other than that, the Rangers are just about done for the winter. The biggest intrigue at this point is who will fill out the rotation. The Rangers are keeping an eye on Ben Sheets, but it’s highly unlikely that he will be an option.

Right now, the Rangers are fully prepared to go with what they have.

There is no doubt the rotation starts with Scott Feldman and Harden, and Lewis, who is coming back from Japan, is the third starter. That leaves two spots left with Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland as the leading candidates.

But Washington hasn’t forgotten about Matt Harrison, who was starting to put things together in May before developing a shoulder problem that ultimately required surgery.

“He was pounding the strike zone, working fast and using all his pitches,” Washington said. “We’ll let Spring Training play it’s way out. Certainly I’d like to see Tommy continue to grow and I’d like to see Holland show he learned a lot.

“If I had to pick a dark horse, I’d certainly like it to be Holland because of his stuff. But Brandon McCarthy also showed some improvement down the stretch.”

The Rangers final two starters will likely come from that group, although they will look at Neftali Feliz and C.J. Wilson as well. Both were in the bullpen last year.

Both will be stretched out as starters, but a move into the rotation isn’t likely unless injuries or circumstances dictate otherwise. “They will get a chance to compete for a job, but I certainly like those guys in the bullpen,” Washington said.

If so, the bullpen could be almost set with Frank Francisco as the closer, Feliz, Ray and Darren O’Day from the right side, and Oliver and Wilson from the left. That would leave just a middle reliever, and that could be either McCarthy, Dustin Nippert or Doug Mathis.

If Saltalamacchia is ready to go behind the plate, then the Rangers lineup is set with Guerrero at DH and an infield of Chris Davis at first, Ian Kinsler at second, Elvis Andrus at short and Michael Young at third.

In the outfield, Washington is moving Josh Hamilton to left to make room for Julio Borbon in center and Nelson Cruz in right. David Murphy is the fourth outfielder but hardly forgotten by Washington.

“Right now we’re in January,” Washington said. “Starting last year, Marlon Byrd was supposed to be our fifth outfielder. Murph is going to get a lot of playing time and a lot of at-bats.”

“He may get some time at DH, and in Spring Training, I may get him some time at first. Murph just needs to go out and do what he does, and that’s play. Nobody’s excluding Murph.”

If the Rangers have one need, it may be a right-handed-hitting backup first baseman, and there is a possibility that Greene may be asked to play some first base. Matt Brown is another intriguing possibility.

The Rangers signed Brown to a Minor League contract earlier this winter. He is a utility infielder who spent the last nine seasons in the Angels organization and is just 1-for-24 at the Major League level.

But he can play all four infield positions and has played 123 games at first base over the past two years. He also hit .330 with a .532 slugging percentage against left-handers at Triple-A last year and .339 with a .653 slugging percentage down there in 2008.

“He could be a sleeper guy,” Washington said.

The Rangers know they don’t have a perfect team and they recognize the Angels are still the team to beat. They know the Mariners are better and they know the Athletics have their own good young talent.

Washington knows the fate of his team rests far more on the development of the Rangers’ own young players than what they acquired in the offseason. He is still undaunted.

“It’s time for guys to step up,” Washington said. “Expectations are not going to go down. A lot of it depends on the young guys continuing to improve. If they do that, and if our pitching continues to pound the strike zone and we take our defense to another level, we’ll be fine.

“I know other teams have improved, but I really like what we’ve done.”