Meetings can be Rangers' wonderland
Winter gatherings have been eventful for AL champs, who always look to improve
The Texas Rangers' front office doesn't have to travel far to attend what is traditionally the busiest event of the offseason: Major League Baseball's winter meetings.
This year it takes place at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, about a half-hour drive from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. General manager Jon Daniels and his staff will set up a suite to conduct business for four days with the hopes of improving the two-time defending American League champions.
Daniels and his staff enter these meetings a little differently than last year at Disney World. Then, the Cliff Lee saga hung over the meetings. Lee's representatives were meeting with several teams, the Rangers made one last attempt to sign him right after the meetings ended, and shortly thereafter they watched him head to Philadelphia.
One thing to expect: The Rangers will be rumored to be involved in plenty of possibilities. That's how they've operated the past few years. If there's a chance to make the club better, the Rangers will explore it -- no matter how remote it may appear.
Texas didn't wait for the meetings to start making moves. They signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal worth $14 million with a club option for $9 million in 2014 or a $500,000 buyout. By signing the 37-year-old closer, the Rangers were able to move Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation.
The Rangers also traded catcher Taylor Teagarden for Class A RHP Randy Henry and a player to be named later from the Orioles. Teagarden was out of options, so the Rangers get something back for him and Baltimore gets a backup catcher.
So let's take a look at some areas the Rangers would like to address:
Bullpen: It remains a priority for the club despite Nathan's signing. He missed part of 2011 because he was still rehabilitating from elbow surgery, so stacking the bullpen with other arms capable of pitching in the late innings and even closing is still on the Rangers' wish list. They could be obtained through either free agency or trades.
Daniels was quick to point out that he likes his current bullpen.
"But I don't know a team that has too much pitching," Daniels said.
To get even more specific, the Rangers still want some left-handed relief help. The club remains interested in Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez, who had his knee cleaned up this offseason and pitched well as a situational lefty down the stretch in 2011 for Texas.
There are other free agents on the market who could be signed at a reasonable price, including George Sherill and J.C. Romero.
"It's a big part of the club," Daniels said of the bullpen. "I think given our situation, we're going to have some young starting pitchers and we know our offense is capable of putting runs on the board. We want to support those starters as best we can.
"We've improved the defense the past few years. We want to protect leads that we get. That was part of the emphasis with Joe [Nathan], with the deadline last year. We started 2011 with a bullpen that wasn't all that effective and we're going to take a different tact this year."
Starting pitching: The Rangers are prepared to go to spring training with a rotation consisting of Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Feliz. And they'd have Scott Feldman stretched out and ready to go if needed. But they'd prefer to add an upper-echelon starter to the mix.
Any discussion in that area starts with C.J. Wilson. The Rangers have not given up on signing Wilson. Daniels has kept in contact with Bob Garber, Wilson's agent, and expects to speak to him in Dallas.
"C.J. knows we'd like to have him back," Daniels said. "If it works out, both sides have interest in making it happen. But that's the nature of free agency: There are other factors, notably other teams that have interest in him."
Both sides want to see what the market brings. But Wilson has won 31 games the past two seasons in pitching more than 200 innings in each. That makes him one of the biggest starting pitching names on the free-agent market.
If Wilson signs elsewhere, the club could look at other free-agent possibilities (maybe Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt, depending on health concerns) or trades. The Cubs could be shopping Matt Garza and other starters could be on the market (maybe one of Tampa Bay's young starters or former Ranger John Danks?) if the Rangers are willing to pay the price in terms of prospects.
Center field: The Rangers have said repeatedly that they'd like Josh Hamilton to stay in left field. If that's the case, who plays center when 2012 begins? Julio Borbon started his second straight season at center but couldn't hold the job. Is the club prepared to give him another chance? Is newly signed Leonys Martin ready for the job yet? Craig Gentry was steady for the team, but is he looked upon as a starter? Don't be surprised if the Rangers check around on outfielders that can play center field (and maybe bat right-handed too).
Daniels said more likely than not the position would be filled internally. That could mean Hamilton in center when David Murphy is in the lineup or the names we've mentioned above. The club also has not closed the door on bringing back Endy Chavez.
"I wouldn't rule out bringing in additional people, but it's not a big priority," Daniels said. "We like the group we've got."
First base: The wrist surgery to Mitch Moreland doesn't mean the Rangers all of a sudden feel like first base is a chief priority. But they know that's one position they could upgrade this winter if the right deal is there. Moreland remains the starter heading into 2012 at this point. There are two big names out there: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. But both will command big bucks.
And with so many players in need of long-term deals soon as part of the Rangers' core, it's difficult to imagine Texas jumping in to sign one of those two players. But this is the Rangers and they're a creative group, so it's worth noting that first base is a need and Texas could explore various avenues to try to fill it.
Some questions the Rangers could answer at the winter meetings or later this offseason.
Which Rangers players might we hear about in trade rumors?
Prospects: This is still a club with depth on the farm, though they've used some of it the past two years to pick up key pieces (see Cliff Lee, Mike Adams, Gonzalez, etc.). The organization doesn't want to gut its minor leagues to grab just anyone, either. They'll be careful in terms of who they are willing to include. But a reminder: Prospects are there to either end up playing for you and contributing at the big league level or becoming a trade piece that allows you to get a player that contributes at the big league level.
Borbon: He still has some value and the team may decide they have other alternatives at center field, making him expendable.
Yorvit Torrealba: The catcher has one more year on his deal at $3.25 million. But when he signed his two-year deal prior to the 2011 season, he was the starter. Napoli has emerged as the starter, which makes Torrealba a bit pricey as a backup.
"I think even with Nap's emergence, I don't see him catching 140 games," Daniels said. "He'll play some first base, DH and we'll want to rest him. I think our setup worked well last year. We had both guys fresh throughout. That's the goal."
Moreland: He's expected to be the starting first baseman in 2012, but if a good deal is out there, he could become a key piece. He's got good upside, but the club isn't quite sure how to evaluate him from 2011 because of the wrist injury. So they won't part with him unless it dramatically improves the club.
Koji Uehara: Teams are always looking to obtain players for a bargain price, and after Uehara struggled following the trade in July, they may think he fits that bill. It's for that reason the Rangers would be reluctant to deal him. He had a solid track record until the second half of 2011. Unless someone offers something of fair value, don't expect Texas to deal him.
Will we hear about Michael Young trade rumors again?
It's always possible, in that Young still has two years at $16 million a season on his contract. But Young's value for the Rangers went up in 2011, thanks to his ability to play multiple infield positions and his ability to continue to hit the ball. He showed that making the transition to designated hitter did not impact his ability to get in a groove and produce at the plate. With Moreland rehabbing the wrist, Young could end up playing more first base when Napoli catches. He's expensive but still has value.
Will the Rangers make a big splash?
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They've had a history of it when the winter meetings are in Dallas. The historic 10-year, $252 million deal for Alex Rodriguez was announced in Dallas at the 2000 winter meetings. And that came after they signed a handful of players that week, dominating the headlines.
Daniels' first winter meetings were at the Anatole in 2005. He reconfigured parts of the team, including trading Alfonso Soriano.
We'll see if they do something involving a big player this year. C.J. Wilson's agent would like to get something done at the winter meetings. If you ask me, that would be a big splash if he re-signs with Texas.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.