ORLANDO, Fla. -- A year ago, conventional wisdom had the Texas Rangers as bit players at baseball's winter meetings. After all, the team was dealing with a tight budget as owner Tom Hicks was in the middle of trying to decide which ownership group to exclusively negotiate with to finalize the sale of the club.
But Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his staff got creative. They traded Kevin Millwood to the Orioles to free up financial space and eventually landed Vladimir Guerrero, Rich Harden and Darren Oliver.
"I was very pleased with the fact that we knew we had to be creative and they went in there with that mindset and did it," club president Nolan Ryan said about his baseball operations staff. "They could have gone in there and taken the approach that they had no chance to make a deal with the circumstances. That wasn't their attitude. It set the course for our season in 2010."
A year later, the Rangers' outlook among the major league baseball world and even within the local fan base has changed. This is a team fresh off its first appearance in the World Series. Daniels made key trades during the season, using prospects as currency while the team was in bankruptcy court. Now, the club has new ownership hoping to make 2010 the start of a wave of success.
So Daniels doesn't arrive in sunny Florida trying to pinch pennies. He doesn't have a blank check, but he does have some flexibility to make some offers and try to bolster his club. And he still has one of the top farm systems in all of baseball, something that will probably make his suite near Disney World a popular one for teams trying to make trades.
Here's a look at some of the Rangers' needs:
Starting pitching: What team doesn't need a starter? Obviously, the Rangers want Cliff Lee, the most coveted free agent pitcher on the market. His agent, Darek Braunecker, says a handful of teams have shown interest, but it seems this will come down to the Rangers and Yankees.
Rangers representatives have visited with Lee in his home state of Arkansas twice the past few weeks in an effort to make clear their interest. Ryan and general managing partner Chuck Greenberg have said the club intends to make a serious attempt to retain the 32-year-old starter's services. But that likely depends on what the Yankees do and how close the Rangers' offer may be to that one. Stay tuned.
"You are always looking for pitching," Ryan said. "It could be looking for a bullpen guy or a starting pitcher. Last year, we started the season with five starters, and only two were in the rotation when we were in the pennant race."
Finding a starter doesn't mean just looking at free agents. The biggest fish in the trade pond right now is probably Zack Greinke. The 27-year-old has two more years left on his contract at $13.5 million, and the Royals know to get maximum value they must start seeing what offers are out there. Greinke won the Cy Young Award in 2009 and was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA in 2010 with a struggling offense behind him.
The Rangers have plenty of prospects that could entice the Royals, and the winter meetings is where a lot of those discussions can heat up.
"I think the caliber of pitcher he is, there's certainly going to be a lot of interest in him if Kansas City is taking the position of what kind of opportunities they may have in moving him and strengthening their ballclub," Ryan said. "He would be a nice addition to anybody's rotation."
There are other possibilities, including some with a track record but injury issues. The Rangers don't mind taking chances on some of those guys. We know one thing about Daniels and his staff: They'll check into everything they can to see if something makes sense.
If they don't like the external starting options, the club could decide to see if Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando or Michael Kirkman (and others) can earn a spot in the rotation. At this point, Feliz is penciled in as the closer, but we'll see if anything changes as the offseason progresses.
Designated hitter: The Rangers need a big bat in the middle of the lineup, a spot that Guerrero filled in 2010. Guerrero, following a season in which he stayed healthy and collected plenty of RBIs, is hoping for a multiyear deal. The Rangers prefer to find a veteran hitter and not commit beyond one season. It's still possible they could end up re-signing Guerrero, but they may check into other options. Adam Dunn (White Sox) and Lance Berkman (Cardinals are off the market after finding new teams. But Paul Konerko and a few others are still available.
"We talked about, like with Vlad, if we want a traditional DH or whether we wanted to get somebody that is a little more versatile defensively, maybe allow some of our other guys some time off their feet," Daniels said. "[It would] allow [manager Ron Washington] the flexibility with the roster to move some guys through that position, but Vlad is certainly high on the list. We continue to talk with him and his agent."
This is more likely a spot that will get settled after the winter meetings, depending on how the market breaks on other guys. The Rangers may wait and see what kind of deal they can get with Guerrero or someone else later this offseason.
Catcher: The Rangers took care of one of their biggest needs by signing Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year deal to be the starting catcher. Texas still needs a backup. Daniels said Friday he expects Matt Treanor to return, which would give the club an experienced player to spell Torrealba, something that is even more important in the Texas heat.
Relief pitching: Daniels always looks to stockpile pitching, so if some relievers are available for the right price, he'll be interested. Injuries pop up every season, and the club would like to have some depth at Triple-A Round Rock as insurance.