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ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have picked up Colby Lewis' option, and he will be back in their 2012 rotation. Closer Neftali Feliz could join him, potentially filling the spot created if C.J. Wilson signs elsewhere after becoming a free agent this week.
General manager Jon Daniels confirmed on Monday that the Rangers will discuss the possibility of moving Feliz into the rotation next season. Daniels said the club will make a final decision before Spring Training, and it wants to talk to Feliz about it before doing anything. Much also depends on what the Rangers might be able to do during the offseason.
But there appears to be a real strong possibility that Feliz will finally make the transition to starting pitcher in 2012.
"It's on the table," Daniels said in a season-ending news conference on Monday. "We talked about it at our end-of-the-season staff meeting on Saturday. It will come down to what's best for him and what's best for our club. He's one of the most talented pitchers in the game. It comes down to how we want to deploy him.
"He's probably more valuable to us achieving his potential at the front end of the rotation than the back end of the rotation. We'll talk about it."
Daniels, in assessing the Rangers' offseason needs, made it clear that pitching will once again be the club's No. 1 priority.
"And always will be," Daniels said.
The Rangers still have interest in Wilson and that process has just begun. Beyond that, they are somewhat tepid on the remaining list of free-agent starting pitchers. The Rangers know that Yu Darvish could try to jump to the United States this winter, but they also know that will be a costly investment and possibly interfere with their ability to keep together the core group of players that helped them go to two straight World Series.
"We've got to do everything we can to develop our own starting pitching," Daniels said. "Usually when [a starting pitcher] gets to the point where he can be a free agent, there is usually a reason why he's reached that point. We have to develop our own."
The Rangers have done that with Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison. Lewis is back, Scott Feldman will get consideration as a starter after winning 17 games in 2009, and Eric Hurley, Neil Ramirez, Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross lead the next wave of talented young Minor League arms who could arrive in Arlington in the next year or two.
But moving Feliz into the rotation could be both the best and the most cost-effective way of upgrading the rotation if the Rangers are not able to re-sign Wilson.
"There are still a lot of dominoes that have to fall," Daniels said. "The general feeling is he's capable of doing it. We know he can be a lockdown guy at the back end of the bullpen. We'll just have to wait and see."
The two biggest free agents on the market are first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The Rangers are not expected to get involved with either of them, although much can change over the course of an offseason when other plans go astray. The Rangers always reserve the right to change directions through the winter.
But Daniels said another high priority this offseason is identifying core players who need to be locked up to long-term contracts and begin addressing their situations. That could become a heavy financial burden over the next three years and beyond.
Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, Mark Lowe and Lewis can be free agents after the 2012 season. Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy and Michael Young will be eligible after 2013. Then comes Elvis Andrus and Harrison after 2014.
The Rangers already know their payroll will likely soar past the $100 million mark this offseason, and they seem leery of committing excessive money to free agents now that would prevent them from keeping their own players over the next few years.
"That's one of our biggest priorities this offseason as far as player personnel," Daniels said. "We want to make sure we're able to retain our core. We want to identify the guys who got us here, want to be here long term, that are still in their prime and will be able to maintain that level.
"Any free-agent spending will have to be looked at through that prism. We're not going to do anything that keeps us from doing that."
Daniels said that manager Ron Washington is a part of that core. Washington has one year left on his contract, and Daniels said the Rangers will address that at some point this offseason.
"There's no question about his job security," Daniels said. "As far as the timing on when we will handle that, we haven't set a timetable. But that's a conversation we will have."
Pujols and/or Fielder would certainly require a significant investment in financial resources that could be used elsewhere. If the Rangers do move Feliz to the rotation, they may have to make a major expenditure toward a closer, but there are several prominent ones who are free agents.
Daniels acknowledged that the market for closers is more attractive than starters, a list that includes Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Francisco Cordero and Jonathan Broxton among others. The caveat is the Rangers have been philosophically opposed to spending big dollars on relief pitchers in the past. Adams would be the leading in-house candidate, and he wants to be a closer.
The Rangers are still committed to Mitch Moreland at first base. Daniels acknowledged for the first time on Monday that Moreland was playing with tendinitis in his right wrist for much of the second half of the season. Moreland hit .272 with a .449 slugging percentage before the All-Star break and .241 with a .367 slugging percentage after the break.
"There are still some things that he's got to get better at, but I don't think the second half is an indication of what he is capable of," Daniels said.
One area of interest in the lineup could be center field. Daniels said the Rangers would like to keep Hamilton in left field again next year. That leaves Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry as the leading candidates in center field, with Leonys Martin still needing more development time.
Coco Crisp is the best of the free-agent center fielders unless the Rangers are willing to take a flyer on somebody like Grady Sizemore. He is 29 and was once considered one of the best young players in the game until he suffered a three-year run of injuries.
There are dozens of players lurking out there in the free-agent market that could interest the Rangers to some degree, from outfielder Carlos Beltran to pitcher Roy Oswalt. Like those ex-Rangers? Pitchers Kevin Millwood and Frank Francisco are both available. As always, much depends on the asking price and what other moves are available at any given moment.
The Rangers have much to consider over the next three months. But their goal hasn't changed.
"I'm proud of our entire organization and all that we have accomplished and how far we have come," Daniels said. "There is much to be proud of. Make no mistake, we're not happy with how it ended, but we're not going to let that take away from what we have accomplished and how far we have come.
"The only way to erase the bitter taste is to get back there and win it all. That's where our heads are right now more than ever."