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02/08/12 5:25 PM EST
Rangers set to answer on-field questions
Two-time AL champions anticipate start of camp
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Football has the two-minute warning. The Rangers have the two-week warning. As of Wednesday, the Rangers have two weeks left in the offseason before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.
That conceivably means the Rangers could do some last-minute shopping before heading off to the desert. Right-handed starter Roy Oswalt and left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez remain free agents, but there are still no indications that they will be signing with the Rangers.
"This could very well be the team we take into Spring Training," general manager Jon Daniels said after the Rangers signed pitcher Joe Beimel and first baseman Conor Jackson this week.
Oswalt remains a mystery. The Rangers met with him at the end of January, but club officials have indicated it's unlikely they will sign him. Oswalt wants to be a starter and appears to be asking for more money than the Rangers are willing to pay. The Rangers have a full rotation with Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz, and Oswalt isn't interested in going to the bullpen.
The Rangers don't have much room there, either, unless somebody is left-handed. At this point, they are heavy on the right side with Joe Nathan as the closer, Mark Lowe, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara and Mike Adams as the setup relievers and Scott Feldman and Yoshinori Tateyama as the middle relievers.
Gonzalez remains unsigned but so far there hasn't been much movement toward bringing him back to the Rangers. Michael Kirkman, Mitch Stetter and Beimel right now are the leading candidates to land a left-handed relief role.
The free agent creating the big buzz right now is outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, who defected from Cuba. The Rangers have not shown much interest in him and he appears close to signing with the Marlins. The Rangers are committed to giving Craig Gentry a chance to win the center-field job but will also look at Julio Borbon.
Borbon, the Rangers' Opening Day center fielder the past two years, hit .193 in the Dominican Winter League and was 2-for-14 as Escogido ended up winning the Caribbean World Series. Leonys Martin will also be in Spring Training, but the other two will likely have to stumble for him to win an Opening Day job.
Center field will be a position to watch in Spring Training and so is first base. Mitch Moreland is showing significant progress in his recovery from offseason wrist injury, but the Rangers are still bringing Brad Hawpe and Jackson to camp on Minor League contracts in case there is a setback. Minor League third baseman Mike Olt will also get a look at first base.
One other mystery that remains unsolved is who will be the club's utility infielder. Greg Miclat, acquired from the Orioles for catcher Taylor Teagarden, has experience in the Minor Leagues as a shortstop but has yet to play above Double-A. He is a switch-hitter who was 50-for-53 in stolen bases last year.
The Rangers do have two non-roster invites with Major League experience at shortstop. Luis Hernandez has played 80 games there over parts of four seasons in the Majors with the Orioles, Royals and Mets. Alberto Gonzalez has played 124 games there over parts of four seasons with the Mets, Nationals and Padres.
Both are classic wandering utility players who provide some versatility but have never done much offensively at the Major League level. The prime prerequisite to be the utility infielder is the ability to meet manager Ron Washington's high defensive standards at shortstop.
The Rangers will likely sort through what they have now early in Spring Training and look around to see if there is anything better out there. Andres Blanco, who was the team's utility infielder the past two seasons, wasn't acquired until the middle of the 2010 Spring Training.
With two weeks to go to Spring Training, the Rangers also remain on hold in their contract talks with Josh Hamilton on a long-term contract extension that would keep him from becoming a free agent after the upcoming season. The negotiations were suspended after Hamilton experienced a relapse last week in his recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, and it's doubtful they will resume in earnest by the appointed deadline of the beginning of Spring Training.
The Rangers are still dealing with pending arbitration cases involving Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz. They avoided one with Elvis Andrus by agreeing to a three-year, $14.4 million contract with him this week.
The Rangers went into the offseason with the intention of exploring long-term contracts with a number of their own players. So far, they have only reached one with Andrus, but other discussions will likely continue before and through Spring Training. The Rangers have broached the subject with Ian Kinsler, Holland, Lewis, Cruz and possibly others. It will be an ongoing issue right up until Opening Day.
Their Spring Training roster appears set and there aren't many openings on the Opening Day roster but there is still much work to be done.