A question, for starters.

I ask this not under the influence of Kool-Aid.

There's no question that priority one (and two and three) is to fix this club's pitching, whether that's done internally or via trade or through free agency.

The defense needs improvement as well, but that's not nearly as imperative.

The main questions as far as the lineup is concerned, really, have more to do with how and where to fit everyone in a limited number of spots than anything else. It's not so much a matter of wondering where we're going to find someone to fill a trouble spot.

Like it is with the pitching staff.

But here's the question.

And again: Not Kool-Aid-induced.

Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla will be back, and both playing for contracts, essentially.

Scott Feldman has made four fewer starts than Millwood or Padilla. Feldman has more quality starts than either of them. He's getting one more chance this afternoon before he's removed from the rotation for the final two weeks, as a concession to his workload.

Matt Harrison has basically been alternating between strong efforts and subpar ones, but when he's been good, he's been really good. Last night's complete-game shutout was the first by a Rangers rookie since R.A. Dickey in 2003, and the stingiest (five hits) since Edwin Correa (three hits) in 22 years. The 22-year-old is 6-1, 3.93 ERA in his last eight starts.

Dustin Nippert, in the last three of his four starts since a mid-August transition to the rotation, has a 2.08 ERA. He's commanding his formidable stuff more often that not. And he's out of options.

Brandon McCarthy, in the first three of his four starts since returning, posted a 2.25 ERA. He's obviously going to get a thousand chances, and his work in the last few weeks has been more encouraging than at any time in 2007.

I'm not saying that we can expect five of those six to make up a contending rotation. Far from it.

My question to you is, if Texas adds a starter to the top of the rotation this winter, which two of those six, at this rate, are you looking to replace?

There are others to consider as well. But Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza and Kason Gabbard and Doug Mathis and Tommy Hunter and A.J. Murray, all of whom made starts for Texas this year, have options remaining and could use more seasoning. Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz lead a wave of young starters that are going to enter the picture soon, but certainly not in April.

Chances are, as long as they're healthy, Feldman and Nippert and McCarthy will be on the big league staff when the 2009 season begins. And is there any way at this point to imagine Harrison starting the season on the farm? Since his call to the big leagues on July 8, the only pitchers with more big league wins than Harrison's eight are Cliff Lee (11), A.J. Burnett (nine), and C.C. Sabathia (nine).

Don't misunderstand me. The reason I devoted entire reports to Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez over the last few weeks is that I'd like to see Texas trade for a starting pitcher that would settle in as this team's number one, if the price is right.

I'm not averse to the philosophy that worked here 10 years ago, when the Rangers relied on a rotation of workhorses without a true number one, and reached October three years out of four. I'd buy into that strategy before throwing something approaching nine figures at a pitcher on the wrong side of 30.

But give me a Matt Cain, let me imagine four behind him a couple years from now that could include the best of Holland and Feliz and Harrison and Hurley and McCarthy and Feldman and Nippert and Mathis and Hunter, with a wave moving into the upper levels of the farm system featuring Michael Main and Blake Beavan and Neil Ramirez and Omar Poveda and Martin Perez and Wilfredo Boscan and Kasey Kiker and Robbie Ross and Thomas Diamond and Fabio Castillo and Tim Murphy and Kyle Ocampo and Wilmer Font and Carlos Pimentel and Kennil Gomez, minus a few who were traded in deals for Cain and whoever else, and then, yeah, you can serve me up a tall, ice-cold pitcher of Kool-Aid.

But as for 2009, I'm not sure who out of Millwood, Padilla, Feldman, Harrison, Nippert, and McCarthy I expect not to have jobs to lose in camp.

Think Atlanta might regret trading Mark Teixeira? Casey Kotchman is hitting .183/.306/.237 for the Braves. Stephen Marek has been OK, not great, for AA Mississippi (3.21 in 10 relief appearances, 11/6 K/BB in 14 innings), and he's 25 years old. Would the Braves have been better off with the first-round pick (or a second if Baltimore ends up signing him) and supplemental first-rounder that they would have gotten by keeping Teixeira for the balance of the season and then losing him to free agency?

Meanwhile, think about how much more we all think of Harrison, Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and Beau Jones today than we did just six months ago. Even if Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn't progressed quite as much, he's certainly a much better bet going forward than Kotchman.

If I could add any position player this off-season, and availability weren't an issue, I think my number one priority would be Mark DeRosa. He could play third base for a year and then settle in as a 450-at-bat player all over the field after that, and add another tremendous leader to the clubhouse.

But there's no chance he's available. DeRosa is second on the Cubs with 83 RBI, has an OPS over .850, and has 20 home runs after going deep 10 times for Chicago in 2007. He's under contract for $5.5 million in 2009, the final season of his three-year, $13 million deal with the Cubs.

Nobody in 53 years has had more than the five home runs Taylor Teagarden has hit in his first nine big league games. Others to hit five in nine: Graig Nettles (1967-68), Sam Horn (1987), Carlos Delgado (1993-94), Mark Quinn (1999), and Shelley Duncan (2007).

Michael Young said yesterday he expects to have at least one surgery on his right hand in the off-season. He'll have an MRI next week on his right ring finger (he suffered a broken bone on his knuckle on July 28) and his right wrist (a cyst that surfaced last year is reportedly no longer responding to cortisone injections).

Joaquin Benoit is still experiencing shoulder soreness. It's unclear whether he'll pitch again this season, but the club hasn't shut him down yet. He'll reportedly see a doctor when the club gets back to Texas next week.

Milton Bradley is back in today's lineup, as Texas has just gotten underway, hoping to wins its sixth out of nine. Scott Feldman takes the hill for the final time in 2008, at least as a starter.

Whether his next start will come in the first week of April would seem to be a lock, but the way a few others have stepped up the last few times through the rotation, I'm having a hard time getting a gut feel on what the starting five might look like when the 2009 season begins -- whether Texas adds a premium starter to the mix or not.

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title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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