Rangers exploring many options this offseason
Pitching Texas' top priority, but club could look at Pujols, Fielder
ARLINGTON -- One year ago the Rangers were completely focused on re-signing pitcher Cliff Lee, and shuttles were running at regular intervals up to Little Rock, Ark. Michael Young was still the Rangers third baseman, and Adrian Beltre was hardly a blip on their radar screen.The lesson is, things change quickly, and that must be remembered as the Rangers plunge aggressively into the offseason. Re-signing C.J. Wilson is still in play on the Rangers' offseason agenda, and no decision has been made if they will move closer Neftali Feliz into the rotation. But Major League officials indicated on Tuesday that all of that hasn't kept the Rangers from aggressively exploring multiple options and expressing at least preliminary interest in both starters and closers who are on the free-agent market. Sources acknowledge they are peeking at other things, and that might even include a nudge in the direction of free-agent first basemen Albert Pujols and/or Prince Fielder, although pitching is still their highest priority.
The Rangers, besides doing their free agency homework, also know that trade talks have already begun. Two starting pitchers have already been moved, as the Braves traded Derek Lowe to the Indians and the Giants sent Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals. The Braves have also been willing to discuss right-hander Jair Jurrjens, and little in the way of rumor or gossip escapes the Rangers.This may be the time of free agency and the time for agents to fervently spread the word about the extreme interest in their clients. But remember that the Rangers' second and third options last winter as far as starting pitching -- once Lee had gone to Philadelphia -- were attempts at trading for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza. Certainly the Rangers want to let the right people know that they have at least some interest in pitchers Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt, who represent the best of the rest behind Wilson in the free-agent market. Rangers officials acknowledge being intrigued by Oswalt, who lives in Mississippi, pitched in Houston and would like to stay close to home. But he has a recent history of back trouble that may be more disconcerting than Wilson's perceived troubles in the postseason. It may turn out the Rangers don't like any of the starting pitching options out there -- free agent, trade or otherwise -- and may fill the hole in their rotation by bringing in Feliz from the bullpen. That remains a prime topic of conversation on Ballpark Way. That move may be more attractive this winter considering what is available on the free-agent market as far as closers. That list begins with Jonathan Papelbon, but he is just one of eight right-handed relievers who are listed as Type A free agents. Heath Bell, who seemed headed to the Rangers at the July 31 Trade Deadline, is also on the list, along with Francisco Cordero, Ryan Madson (who's nearing a deal with the Phillies), Matt Capps, Octavio Dotel, Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez. Joe Nathan and Brad Lidge are not on that list after enduring two years of injuries. But both finished strong last year and it is worth remembering that the Rangers' policy in the past has been to avoid making multi-year commitments for substantial money toward relievers. Instead, a one-year deal might be more palatable to the Rangers' sensibilities. If nothing else, the Rangers could choose to go with setup reliever Michael Adams as their closer and reinforce the bullpen behind him. Or maybe they stay with Feliz as their closer, although the pull to make him a starter was only fought off in the final hours last spring and may prove irresistible this time around. At this embryonic stage of the offseason, with Veterans Day still two days away, Thanksgiving two weeks away and the NFL team down the street just halfway through its schedule, the Rangers aren't committed toward any specific direction. What might be important right now is to remain flexible so they can go in any direction depending on what transpires in the offseason. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement is imminent and could impact many things. Beyond that, the next big event for baseball is the combined owners/general managers meetings next week in Milwaukee, and that should provide ample time and place to finish laying the groundwork for future offseason dealings. The Winter Meetings are scheduled for Dec. 5-8, and this year they will be right down the Turnpike in Dallas. Last year's meetings were in Orlando, Fla., and it wasn't until that point in early December that the Rangers got a real indication of what it would take to sign Lee. It was also at Disney World that the Rangers started veering away from Lee and pointed themselves toward Beltre, something that was unforeseen a month earlier. That should be a reminder that Pujols and Fielder might not totally be out of the Rangers' plans until they officially sign somewhere else. If Young can be uprooted, so can Mitch Moreland. So can Feliz. The Rangers have a plan -- they always have a plan, and pitching is always integral in that plan -- but they also have contingency plans in case Plan A, B or C goes awry. Adaptation is crucial in the fluid events of the offseason. At this point in the offseason, there are two forces at work. The Rangers are expressing "preliminary interest" in as many players as possible to keep their options open, and agents are trying to manufacture as much "serious interest" in their clients as possible. The second mission for any diligent agent is to get the word out that his client has no issues playing in New York. That is fundamental in November. The Rangers' fundamental approach right now is to keep all avenues open, because they know how things change during the offseason. This process is only getting started.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.