FORT WORTH -- A year ago this week, the Rangers were putting the finishing touches on their bid for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, just as the winter meetings in Dallas were closing.
What a difference a year makes.
Even after all the activity in the past week regarding potential targets for the Rangers, there was still the idea that Josh Hamilton was available and willing to return to Texas. Now that possibility is gone, too.
Christmas is 12 days away and it's unclear whether Santa has any presents left to put under the Rangers' tree. Starter Zack Greinke chose the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Rangers this past weekend, opting for California, a more pitcher-friendly park and the Dodgers' seemingly endless cash flow. Starter James Shields, who also would have helped the Rangers' rotation, was acquired by the Kansas City Royals when they included one of the top prospects in baseball (Wil Myers) to get the deal done. Further, the Diamondbacks probably won't trade outfielder Justin Upton -- who appeared to be the Rangers' Plan B in case Hamilton left, or even a co-Plan A if they signed Hamilton -- because the D-backs have traded for Didi Gregorius, the young shortstop they wanted (making an Upton trade less necessary since the D-backs' roster is now essentially set).
And on Thursday, Hamilton decided to take a five-year, $125 million offer that Texas general manager Jon Daniels admitted was more guaranteed money than the Rangers had offered at the winter meetings last week. Daniels was disappointed the club didn't at least have a chance to offer any kind of counterproposal, but he also conceded that he knows there were no guarantees that would happen. He also mentioned that Hamilton said last week that "it might be time to move on," so it's unclear whether matching the offer would have mattered.
The bottom line is that the tempo of the offseason has picked up considerably in the past week and the Rangers haven't been able to keep up. At least not yet. As Daniels has said, the club can make competitive offers, but sometimes those aren't enough. Greinke wanted to go to the Dodgers. The Royals were willing to part with a top prospect. The Rangers' equivalent would probably have had to start with Jurickson Profar, a price the Rangers weren't going to pay (and who can blame them?).
Hamilton had expressed a desire not only to go where he could get the most guaranteed money, but also to start new in a place other than Texas. Combine that with the loss of Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara, and the Rangers will have an altered roster in 2013.
This offseason has a different feel for Texas. That's what comes with high expectations. Two years ago they signed Adrian Beltre to a long-term deal, securing the third-base position for the future. Last year, it was Darvish. This year? We'll see if Daniels & Co. have some tricks left. It's worth nothing that both the Beltre and Darvish deals were signed in January. And this front office has pulled off some extraordinary deals before.
But it's also unclear what's available. Perhaps the Rangers turn to the rotation and go harder after the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez. If Mets starter R.A. Dickey can't get his extension, maybe it makes sense for Texas to bring the NL Cy Young Award winner home via a trade. Maybe the Rangers make another run at Arizona with a prospect package to get Upton, even though it seems unlikely the D-backs will trade him. Teams seem hesitant to part with top-flight pitching, and most of the big bats on the market have signed.
The biggest was Hamilton, and he heads to a division rival too. Sure, Hamilton's finish to the 2012 season was awful. It mirrored the entire team. He missed five games of a big road trip because of eye-focus problems, and then he dropped a routine fly ball in center field on the final day of the season and went 0-for-4 in the AL wild-card game. He got booed.
But after Texas missed out on some of the key free agents and trade possibilities this offseason, it was getting easier and easier to forgive Hamilton's finish and remember the four-homer game in Baltimore or the 43 homers and 128 RBIs he produced this season.
Daniels admitted he is frustrated with how the offseason has gone so far, but said there are many ways to improve the club. They have young players ready to try to step up -- Profar, Leonys Martin, Mike Olt, Martin Perez and Justin Grimm, among others -- and they may get their chance now.
Daniels said he won't be pressured into doing something via trades or signings just to do something. If it helps the club in the short term and long term, he'll look at it. So far, many of the details haven't fallen into place.
"There's a number of talented players that have been with us the last few years that are big parts of the club and won't be here," Daniels said. "It's going to be a challenge. If there are opportunities to improve, we'll do them. We'll try not to overreact."
Daniels & Co. still have time to do something this offseason. It will take creativity, something they know a thing or two about. But Christmas is approaching, and right now, they don't have any exciting gifts to unwrap.