Rangers looking to bulk up the bullpen

Free agent Kintzler could be on club's shopping list

Rangers looking to bulk up the bullpen

ARLINGTON -- As the Rangers approached the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2016, they had multiple discussions with the Twins about reliever Brandon Kintzler. At the time, the Rangers were looking to add depth to their bullpen for a postseason run and Kintzler had just emerged as a potential closer for the Twins.

Now Kintzler is a free agent, having developed into an All-Star closer for the Twins before being traded to the Nationals, and the Rangers are going into the offseason in need of serious bullpen help. A closer could be on their shopping list depending on how the Rangers assess their current group, which includes Matt Bush, Keone Kela, Jake Diekman and Alex Claudio.

"We've got to talk and look at it,' Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "I can't sit here and say we are definitely going to add somebody for the ninth inning rather than get better elsewhere. It's going to be part of the puzzle we put together this winter and what is the opportunity cost to that and what else can we do and what do we prioritize. We are open to it for sure."

Kintzler represents the decision the Rangers are facing. Two years ago, he was an undervalued setup reliever, and the Rangers have done well in finding those pitchers over the past few years. The list includes Diekman, Sam Dyson, Shawn Tolleson, Joakim Soria, Tony Barnette and Neal Cotts.

Now Kintzler is in position to command a significant contract after having saved 29 games this year. This is a good time to be a high-demand free agent reliever. Aroldis Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees last winter and Kenley Jansen agreed to five years and $80 million with the Dodgers.

That's at the top of the market, but Mark Melancon signed a four-year, $62 million contract with the Giants. Andrew Miller and David Robertson earn $11-12 million annually as setup relievers. Darren O'Day is only a setup reliever, but two years ago the Orioles signed him to a four-year, $31 million deal.

The Rangers -- with the exception of Joe Nathan in 2012-13 -- have always steered clear of hefty contracts for relievers, whether it be a closer or setup reliever. They may have to stick to that philosophy this offseason, given their needs in the starting rotation. The Rangers are looking for 2-3 starters to join Cole Hamels and Martin Perez in the rotation, and that will likely take precedent over the bullpen.

The Rangers, who must decide on a $4 million option on Barnette, will likely try to rebuild the bullpen through numbers and depth rather than one high-priced savior.

"You need seven guys who can get outs in winning situations," Daniels said. "At least seven guys. That's how we'll look to build the bullpen. That will be our mindset going in, the idea of guys who can do it with versatility and in a multitude of roles, allowing [manager Jeff Banister] to set up the bullpen as best he sees fit to get through the year.

"That would be ideal ... if you have guys who are more of a one-inning [reliever] at the back end and some multi-inning guys. But everybody has to be able to get outs in winning spots."

The Rangers have some hard-throwing young relievers they like, including Ricardo Rodriguez, Jose Leclerc and Nick Gardewine. But Daniels said the Rangers would prefer to mix in some proven veterans, even if they aren't at the top of the most coveted list.

Daniels admitted that was an issue this past season.

"One of the reasons we got Jason Grilli in mid-season was for his leadership down there," Daniels said. "Listen, Jake Diekman was a very good story this year, his personal triumph from coming back from three surgeries. One of the areas that hurt us…was he was one of the leaders down there and it's hard when you are not performing. We didn't have the Darren Oliver or the Joe Nathan or the Jason Frasor, that 10-year, 15-year veteran. That's something we'll talk about in the mix of our bullpen."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.