Commentary

Wild ride continues for Texas Rangers

Team leaves meetings after a lot of talk but not much action in the signing department

Updated: December 9, 2010, 2:57 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels figured as long as he was staying at Disney World, he might as well go on a few rides. So Daniels' family has arrived for a weekend at the "Happiest Place on Earth."

"It would have been perfect had we made a big signing," Daniels said. "What are we going to do now? I'm going to Disney World."

Daniels joked that it doesn't work that way when the only player signed is a reliever coming off Tommy John surgery that was acquired for cash in the Rule 5 draft.

Whether the Rangers remember Disney World as a happy place may depend on whether the Yankees' seven-year offer ultimately dooms the club's chances of landing Cliff Lee. The free-agent pitcher has a decision to make, and we'll see if the Rangers can put together a package to entice him to come to Texas, despite what appears to be a large, long-term deal on the table from New York.

In the meantime, the Rangers packed up the laptops and dry erase boards in the suite at the Swan and Dolphin Resort and completed the winter meetings with a lot of talk but not much action.

That was certainly different from last year, when the club traded Kevin Millwood, agreed in principle to a deal with Rich Harden and even had a trade in place for Mike Lowell, which later fell through after his physical.

Daniels pointed out that the club is different, financially and competitively, than it was a year ago.

"We talked about a lot of different things, some of which never got off the ground, some of which we'll follow up on," Daniels said. "Would you have liked to close the deal on one or two things to kind of get some momentum into the offseason? Yes, but we're not trying to win the winter meetings. That's not a goal. There are still a lot of good players out there."

So let's look at where the Rangers are in the various areas they hope to address this offseason and take a look in the crystal ball to predict how these things will shake out.

Cliff Lee

He's the biggest free-agent pitcher on the market, and now that the negotiations are really going it's an ever-changing situation. The Rangers are headed back to Arkansas on Thursday for a third face-to-face meeting with Lee, his wife Kristen and agent Darek Braunecker.

Cliff Lee
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesWho will sign Cliff Lee? The answer still is unknown, but the Rangers aren't giving up on the left-hander without a fight.

The meeting comes after news broke Wednesday morning that the Yankees have increased their offer to seven years. The question is whether the Rangers can do enough to lure Lee to Texas.

"We have to be concerned about that because seven years for any contract is really stretching it out," Nolan Ryan said on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" after he was told of the reports of the Yankees' offer on Thursday. "And I don't know how you predict how anyone is performing six or seven years from now."

The Rangers had asked Braunecker to let them know what it would take to put Lee in a Rangers uniform before he left Orlando on Wednesday. That price likely went up overnight when the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, putting even more pressure on the Yankees to win the Lee sweepstakes.

So, the negotiations continue. But now that things have progressed to this point, it's possible a resolution could come this weekend or early next week.

Prediction: Last night, I felt the Rangers were going to get Lee. But knowing the Yankees are at seven years for Lee and that Boston has improved its club, New York seems ready to open the pocketbook. The Rangers have some money and I still think Lee prefers Texas over New York, but can the Rangers get close enough on an offer? At this point, I'm going to say he ends up in New York. But don't count Ryan out.

Starting pitching

While Lee is the biggest name on the market, there are two starters available for the right prospects via trade. The Rangers have shown interest this week in Zack Greinke and Matt Garza.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Rangers have shown interest in the Royals' Zack Greinke (above) and the Rays' Matt Garza, but Texas would have to part with prospects to get a deal done.

Greinke won the Cy Young Award in 2009 and is 27 years old. His numbers dropped off some in 2010, going 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA, but he clearly has the stuff to be on top of a rotation. Greinke's social anxiety disorder issues haven't been a problem in three seasons, and he has two more years remaining on his contract at $13.5 million per season.

The Royals have a high asking price, and at this point the Rangers are content to see what happens with Lee and to not give up too many of their younger players. Could that change if Lee goes to New York?

Texas saw firsthand what kind of pitcher Garza is during the ALDS. In Game 3, Garza held the Rangers to two runs in six innings, and the Rays got some late runs to get the victory. They eventually forced a Game 5 before Lee and the Rangers advanced. Garza also had a no-hitter during his 2010 season, finishing 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA.

It will take parting with some to prospects to get either of these deals done, but it would make the rotation stronger. Garza, 27, has three more years of arbitration left.

Prediction: The Rangers have the prospects to get either of these deals done, and if they don't get Lee I think they'll grab one of these two guys. Of course, the price has to be right, but the Rangers need a frontline starter and this is a way to get it done.

Designated hitter

The Rangers met with Vladimir Guerrero's representatives during the winter meetings, and he remains No. 1 on their list. But they don't want to sign him for more than a one-year deal.

Guerrero is looking for a multi-year contract and is testing the market. If he doesn't find that deal, the Rangers would be in position to sign him. Maybe they could structure something similar to what he got in 2010, which was a one-year deal with a mutual option.

The understanding was that neither side would exercise that option, and the Rangers ended up paying Guerrero $1 million as a buyout (and a way to give him some extra money), but will do it after new ownership was in place.

Manager Ron Washington has made it clear he wants Guerrero to return. Other top bats have gone off the board in that department, including Paul Konerko. But Texas has checked into Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Marcus Thames, among others.

Daniels said the other signings have not forced the Rangers to get more aggressive with Guerrero or any other hitter.

Prediction: Guerrero ends up back in Texas. Both sides want this to happen, and I can't see Guerrero getting a multi-year deal to his liking from another club.

Relief pitching

The Rangers have explored options here, but like many teams are waiting to see what happens with Lee so they know how much money they have to spend. The club could choose to bolster the bullpen and move Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando to the rotation. And if you listen to Daniels, it seems they are leaning in that direction.

"We've talked about the idea of moving Feliz and Ogando and seeing what these guys can do as a starter," Daniels said. "On one hand, it's uncomfortable because you're taking a known commodity out of the bullpen, but on the other hand you look at the price of starting pitching on the free-agent market versus the opportunity to acquire impact relief pitching.

"What's the best use of our talent? What's the best way to allocate our assets? Do I know definitely if Feliz can start and be an impact guy? No. But on some level, even if it's a little uncomfortable, we owe to ourselves to find out. You can get relief pitching."

Prediction: Feliz ends up in the rotation and the Rangers attempt to add someone to help on the back end. But they are also comfortable knowing they have other closer options in Frank Francisco, Mark Lowe and Ogando internally.

The offseason doesn't stop once the winter meetings end, so stay tuned. Things should get more interesting in the coming days and weeks.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.