Less than a week after the Texas Rangers fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in game seven of the World Series, the club's offseason has begun.
The Rangers made their first moves earlier this week by exercising the team options on right-handed pitchers Colby Lewis and Yoshinori Tateyama. On Wednesday, the team began clearing room on its 40-man roster in preparation for future additions.
With the Rule 5 Draft fast approaching––it'll be held at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas on December 8––the Rangers will need to protect at least a handful of eligible prospects on the 40-man roster. Leading candidates for protection include top prospects Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, and Roman Mendez. Others––like Matt West, Johan Yan, and Justin Miller––also could be added.
Texas outrighted five players off the 40-man roster on Wednesday––right-handers Omar Beltre, Eric Hurley, and Merkin Valdez and infielders Andres Blanco and Esteban German.
UPDATE (11/4): All five players have declared free agency but are still free to sign with the Rangers at any point. The Rangers also outrighted reliever Mason Tobin off the roster and to the minor leagues, giving the club 31 players on the current 40-man roster.
Beltre, 30, missed practically the entire 2011 season after undergoing a rare surgery in spring training. The Dominican hurler was diagnosed with spinal stenosis––a genetic disorder that results in narrowing of the spine.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound righty made two mid-summer rehab appearances for the rookie-level Arizona Rangers before being shut down in order to continue his rehab and strengthening programs. He featured a heavy 92-96 mph fastball and a plus splitter prior to surgery, but there's no telling what his stuff will look like upon return.
Hurley, 26, returned in 2011 after missing the previous two seasons with rotator cuff surgery and multiple left wrist surgeries. He also missed significant time this year after taking a one-hop smash to the head in late April. The injury caused Hurley to be hospitalized for about a week before he was allowed to travel.
When healthy, Hurley posted a 5.55 ERA in 16 starts at Triple-A Round Rock. In 84.1 innings, he gave up 108 hits, walked 36, and struck out 46. He showed an 88-91 mph fastball––touching 92 and 93 on occasion––to go with a slider and a split-changeup.
In his first year back from injuries, Hurley's velocity wasn't quite the same and his slider was not as sharp. Pitchers coming off shoulder surgery often get stronger in their second season back, so next season should be telling as to whether his sharp fastball-slider combination can ever return.
Valdez, 29, was released from the Dodgers' Triple-A club before being picked up by the Rangers in late July. The former top prospect features a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s splitter with the occasional low-80s slider. While the raw stuff has always been present, he has also always struggled with command.
Valdez yielded four runs in 15.1 innings with Round Rock before earning a September call-up to Arlington. With the Rangers, Valdez pitched sparingly and allowed three runs on seven hits in 4.1 innings.
Blanco, 27, suffered from Michael Young's move to a super-utility role in 2011. Although Blanco was on the Rangers' active roster for much of the season, he appeared in only 36 games and posted a .224/.263/.342 slash line in 76 official at-bats. The Venezuela native is an excellent defender in the middle infield and served as Texas' utility man in '10, when he logged 68 games and 166 at-bats.
German, 33, has repeated the same cycle in each of the past three years––sign a minor league contract with the Rangers, play most of the season in Triple-A, earn a September call-up, get outrighted off the 40-man roster after the season, repeat. Only time will tell if German will re-up with the Rangers once again, but he has appeared on the club's postseason rosters each of the last two years.
The veteran is valuable due to his speed and base running abilities, a combination that has led to 99 steals in 116 attempts during the past two seasons. German's glove holds him back––he's a utility player who can't play shortstop––but he holds his own with the bat, hitting .301/.388/.411 with more walks (72) than strikeouts (58) in 123 Triple-A games this season.
Some of the players outrighted will likely return to the organization by signing a minor league contract, and others will look for a better opportunity elsewhere. Hurley and Beltre, who have been troubled by injuries and spent their entire career with the Rangers, may be the most likely to return as non-roster players in 2012.
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