Will spring training push deals along?

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine admits that there's something about spring training that helps with getting long-term deals done.

"It's that third dimension that can put it over the top," Levine said Wednesday. "The club is around the player and is reminded of why they starting negotiating a long-term deal in the first place and the player is around the club and is reminded of why he likes it at a certain place. Things have a tendency to cross the finish line at spring training."

Will that happen this February or March? We'll have to see. There are some candidates for long-term deals. C.J. Wilson becomes a free agent after the 2011 season. Josh Hamilton's final arbitration season is 2012, making him a free agent in two short years. Nelson Cruz comes up after that along with other core players like Elvis Andrus. All of them are possibilities for long-term deals at various points.

"We've talked about keeping that core together and we have a group of players we want to see here for a long time," Levine said. "But if that doesn't happen this spring, that doesn't mean it won't happen."

Ian Kinsler is one latest example. He signed a five-year agreement prior to the 2008 season. But the club had tried to lock him up before 2007 and failed. That didn't stop both sides from talking and coming to an agreement. The same could happen to Andrus or Cruz or Hamilton or others.

As for arbitration, at some point this week hearing dates will be set for the three remaining arbitration-eligible players who still haven't signed: Hamilton, Frank Francisco and Darren O'Day. Setting a date doesn't mean much. The sides have until the hearing (and even right up until a three-person panel rules) to get a deal done. That seems likely in all three cases here as the club and player aren't too far apart (even a little more than $3 million between the club's offer and Hamilton's offer can be bridged). BTW, the Rangers haven't been to a hearing since 2000 (Lee Stevens). And Levine has been to one hearing in his career (while he was in Colorado, Levine was in the room as Dennys Reyes won his arbitration hearing in 2002).

Getting an agreement on a one-year arbitration deal doesn't stop both sides from pursuing a long-term deal, either. Scott Feldman agreed to a 2010 contract and then got an extension that took the place of that deal before the season began. So don't read anything into any of that. Stay tuned. We'll see if the Rangers can lock up any of these young guys long term.