We've been creeping up on now-or-never territory for what feels like a longer time than is actually the case, and now it's virtually upon us. At some point in the next 60 hours, the other shoe is going to drop on this still-revolving Yu Darvish merry-go-round, and we're either going to have the largest investment in any pitcher in franchise history to show for it, or nothing at all -- well, except for a substantial pile of unused capital that the Rangers could then mobilize in signing Roy Oswalt, and/or Edwin Jackson, and/or Prince Fielder. But that latter scenario isn't the resolution most of us are looking for, and it seems improbable that a deal won't get hammered out, so let's not spend too many of our precious minutes pondering any variation of "what if the Rangers don't sign Darvish?"
What we can begin -- or continue, at least -- to spend our time thinking about, though, is the Darvish ripple effect. To that end, we've heard a couple of different things about the Rangers' soon-to-be-fortified starting rotation over the last 24 hours: Evan Grant passed along word from Ron Washington that Colby Lewis was being tabbed as the Opening Day starter, and that the club was remaining committed to Neftali Feliz as a starting pitcher. Jeff Wilson went into deeper detail in writing about how Feliz has been engaged in an aggressive conditioning program and has solicited the advice of one Pedro Martinez as he attempts to gain a stranglehold on an Opening Day rotation spot.
That all makes me happy. I'm happy that Feliz is being proactive in preparing for and embracing his expected new assignment, and I'm happy that he's overtly acknowledging the main deficiencies in his skill set that might well torpedo his performance as a starter if left unaddressed. I'm also happy that he's getting first-hand advice on perfecting his change-up from a guy who threw just about the closest thing to a perfect change-up that any of us ever saw, though that reality alone doesn't automatically render Pedro an effective instructor or a great leader of men.
An example that springs to mind is Ted Williams, who was among the very best hitters that ever lived, but was also described as famously stubborn when the time came for him to try and impart some of his vast hitting knowledge to the Senators/Rangers of 1969-72, as he simply could not understand why his players were incapable of doing just what he used to do -- and what he told them to do -- at the plate. Others were more blunt in responding to his advice.
In fairness, though, Ted didn't exactly have much to work with back in the day. But that's not the point I'm going for here. The point is that Feliz's rotation spot seems even more locked in now than it did when the Joe Nathan signing went down two months ago, and that barring a disastrous spring, he's going to be one of the big five arms that Texas will go to war with from the outset of the season.
So, Lewis isn't going anywhere. Feliz doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Darvish is likely going to be signed. You're left with Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando vying for two rotation spots, and while I do still think Ogando is the logical choice to be reassigned to the bullpen, I also wonder how the lack of any left-handers in the bullpen right now affects the Rangers' thinking.
It seems almost inconceivable on the surface that Texas would take one of their two successful age-26-or-young lefty workhorses -- both of whom threw 185-plus innings last year -- and demote them into a Darren Oliver-esque role in the bullpen, because you would think the front office would much rather satiate the dugout's desires for a true southpaw in the bullpen by throwing some leftover capital at Mike Gonzalez or swinging a trade or, hell, just throwing Michael Kirkman in there ... but, then again, there are those who believe the Rangers would be committing a huge folly in demoting Ogando, so there you go. I have trouble seeing the argument for Harrison in the bullpen and Ogando in the rotation supplying more value over the course of a full season than the opposite arrangement, though.
And assuming that things end up playing out in an Ogando-to-the-bullpen kind of way, you'd get an Opening Day pitching staff that looked something like this:
Starters: Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison
Relievers: Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Yoshinori Tateyama, Mysterious Lefty Reliever X, Joe Nathan
That's good. Damn good. You get your sixth and seventh starters -- Ogando and Feldman, respectively --built right into the framework of the pitching staff, and at least three relievers -- Ogando, Adams, and Nathan -- that you can feel pretty good about utilizing in any high-leverage situations that may arise, with Uehara also being a nice candidate to return to his previously dominant late-inning form. You have a rotation full of guys with reasonably high floors and across-the-board potential for performance somewhere between above-average and elite. I don't know that it's going to be better than last year's pitching staff, but it should still manage to find a spot firmly within the top 10 in the game.
Assuming, of course, that this Yu Darvish thing finishes playing out the way that we all think it's going to play out.