According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, the Texas Rangers are closing in on a [one-year] contract with free agent left-hander Darren Oliver that could be hammered out sometime early this week. Surprising? Kinda. Wholly unexpected? Not really.
Oliver had already captured the Rangers' interest to such a degree that they had been identified as one of his most aggressive suitors as early as December 8th, and yet it didn't really appear that there would be strong motivation on the organization's part to further drain its limited pool of resources by acquiring a "luxury piece" (that is to say, a player who doesn't really address an urgent need). That assumption obviously didn't hit the mark, and it now seems that Texas will be locking in Oliver with something north of $3 million, which is at least preferable to the $12 million that he netted from Texas in 2000-2001 in exchange for 260 innings of replacement-level pitching.
[Monday, 2:00 P.M. CST Update: Crasnick is now reporting that said one-year contract would guarantee Oliver $3.5 million in 2010 and include a vesting option for 2011 that could expand the deal into a two-year, $6.25 million commitment. Should that vesting option ultimately kick in, Oliver will be right around his 41st birthday by the end of the 2011 season.]
There are three possible ways in which this impending signing could affect his lefty-throwing counterparts in C.J. Wilson, Clay Rapada and Ben Snyder: (a) Oliver and Wilson could land in the Opening Day bullpen, with Rapada or Snyder possibly getting a shot but more likely being dismissed, (b) Oliver could supplant Wilson as the Rangers' premier left-handed reliever, with one of Rapada/Synder sticking and C.J. breaking into the starting rotation, or (c) Wilson being dangled as trade bait, which could conceivably be used to address that pressing need for another adequate bat. The safe money is probably on 'B' or 'C.'
With regard to the signing itself, it's reasonable enough in a vaccum, but the Rangers don't operate in a vaccum, and much of the apprehension arising from this signing seems to be a product of the money involved, paired with the reality that Texas probably didn't have all that much to spend before the signing and now has even less to spend afterwards. If it's not part of a master plan, it's going to look a bit more odd, but given Jon Daniels' recently demonstrated propensity for making creative, multi-step moves, perhaps it's premature to isolate this signing and slap a label on it without knowing whether there's another shoe that's about to drop.
And what of Oliver? Well, he pretty much is what he is at this point -- a veteran left-hander who has been pretty good (but not great) since being repositioned as a reliever in 2006, equipped with a high-80s fastball and a high-70s "slurve" which appears to give opposing batters some fair-sized problems. It's not likely that he's going to spontaneously fall apart in 2010, but at the same time, one would be prudent in tempering their Oliver-specific expectations a bit, for there are a few key statistical indicators (strikeout rate, home run-to-fly ball ratio, exceptional performance within the pitcher-friendly confines of Angel Stadium) that suggest he's not a great bet to replicate his superb 2009 relief campaign in Texas.