Yu Darvish is the Texas Rangers' ace, and there is no debating that. That's the kind of weight you pull when you finish second in the AL Cy Young balloting behind a 20-game winner.
Martin Perez will probably pitch the second game of the season, but was slated as the No. 3 starter behind Matt Harrison, who will start the season on the disabled list (soft mattress).
Other than those two, the Rangers' starting rotation is full of question marks, and full of candidates — worthy or not. Below, we'll look at all the guys competing for spots in the Rangers' rotation, and we won't include Harrison or Holland, who will be in the rotation whenever it is that they're ready.
Colby Lewis. Alexi Ogando. Tommy Hanson. Joe Saunders. Nick Tepesch. Robbie Ross. Tanner Scheppers.
Assuming Harrison is back early in the season, that leaves two open spots. Assuming Holland is back at midseason, that will leave one open spot, but Holland's return is a ways away, obviously.
You'd think Lewis is a lock, but his stride change due to his finally-healthy hip has affected his control and consistency. He'll figure it out, but when it a question mark. Will he be ready at the start of the season to fill out a rotation spot? Not sure.
Hanson is a high-upside guy that has struggled the past two seasons with injuries and personal issues with the death of his brother in the middle of the season last year. He's got talent and could end up being a huge addition, but that's yet to be seen.
Saunders had an awful year last year in Seattle, and has stunk in Arlington over his career. But he's an innings eater and could end up being a nice signing on a minor-league deal.
Ross and Scheppers belong in the bullpen. Even though both are being stretched out as starters, the chances of either moving are very slim. And quite frankly, they just shouldn't be moved.
That leaves Nick Tepesch and Alexi Ogando. It's become quite clear since 2010 that Ogando is an elite level reliever and a very good starter when he has the gas in his tank. But that's the issue. He hits the wall in every game around the sixth inning and then hits the wall in the season around August. He's just not cut out to be a starter. He doesn't have the durability, and his addition to the bullpen would be huge.
Tepesch had a great April last year on his first swim through the bigs before tailing off with each ensuing month and eventually dealing with injury. He's young, big and has great potential once he figures things out at the big-league level.
Here's how the rotation should shake out come March 31: Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Nick Tepesch, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hanson/Joe Saunders.
Here's how it most likely will: Darvish, Perez, Ogando, Tepesch, Lewis
Assuming Harrison is good to go soon, he slides in behind Darvish and pushes everyone back. And at that point, you'd hope the Rangers put Ogando in the bullpen for good.
Just imagine this bullpen: Neal Cotts, Jason Frasor, Robbie Ross, Ogando, Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz.
That's a great group and would likely carry on last year's torch of the bullpen being one of the team's greatest strengths even with the departure of Joe Nathan.
If Hanson and Saunders can somehow both pitch well this spring and earn spots, that would allow the Rangers to put Ogando in the bullpen from the get-go, and that's the best possible scenario for the Rangers' pitching staff. But with those guys' track records, it'd be a near-miracle for that to happen.