Big money an even bigger concern

Rangers claim players' prices are far from right

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers thought that a $27 million bid for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka would be good enough to win his negotiating rights.

Instead, it turns out they weren't even close. The Boston Red Sox won that battle by bidding $51.1 million, but it also turns out that the Rangers were far behind even the New York Mets. They reportedly turned in a bid of $38 million.

The Matsuzaka sweepstakes was the first inkling of what kind of offseason it will be for coveted free agents, and Rangers owner Tom Hicks has taken notice with some alarm.

"This offseason has all the makings of a stupid market," Hicks said. "I'm personally concerned about it."

Starting pitching, which is the Rangers' No. 1 priority, appears to be growing quite expensive and Matsuzaka is only the first indication.

"This market isn't as deep for starting pitching as we've seen," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said at the General Managers Meetings in Naples, Fla.

"There's a few big names available, and we all know who they are, but beyond that there's not a lot. When you have as many people looking for pitching and apparently with the money to spend the cost goes up."

The Rangers have reason to be concerned about it because they have eight free agents of their own on the market and the chances of re-signing them seem to be dwindling as the offseason progresses.

The Rangers have already had one slip away as Mark DeRosa agreed to a three-year, $13 million contract with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

The Rangers wanted to re-sign DeRosa but the Cubs were able to promise him a job as an everyday second baseman. The Rangers are already committed to Ian Kinsler at second base and did not have an open spot ready for DeRosa if he did return. DeRosa made it clear that he wanted an everyday job and second base had the most appeal to him.

"I definitely wanted to play second," DeRosa said. "Chicago gave me a call and a chance to play second. This is it. I told my agent this is where I wanted to go."

The Rangers also want to re-sign center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. and new manager Ron Washington was supposed to meet with him this week in California. But Matthews is in big demand as a center fielder/leadoff hitter and word is he could end up playing for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels have made it clear that they were eager to make a splash this offseason.

"We're aiming high and we're going to aim higher and aim for an impact bat in the lineup," general manager Bill Stoneman said.

With DeRosa gone and Matthews just about out the door, the Rangers will likely have to completely redo their outfield.

Club officials have made it clear they have all but ruled out re-signing outfielder Carlos Lee. He's looking for a five-year deal at Carlos Delgado money (three years left at $46.5 million) with a chance to play the outfield, but the Rangers see him as a 31-year-old designated hitter whose numbers may not hold up through the length of a long contract.

Luis Gonzalez and David Dellucci are just two of the many names the Rangers have considered for their designated hitter spot.

Jason Botts is another possibility but the Rangers are planning on going with Nelson Cruz in right field and club officials have concerns about breaking in two unproven bats in one year. That's why Freddy Guzman does not appear to be an option in center field.

Starting pitching remains the Rangers' No. 1 priority, but they have already been taking aback this offseason by the demands of Vicente Padilla and the interest in Adam Eaton.

"Everybody's looking for starting pitching, what else is new?" Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said.

Eaton's agent, Jim Lindell, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that at least eight teams have contacted him with serious interest but the Rangers are still high on his list. Padilla's agent, Paul Kinzer, told the New York Times that there are as many as 10 teams looking at his client even though he is looking for something between $9-12 million per season.

"You've got mediocre pitchers out there looking for three or four years and nine, 10, 11, 12 million dollars," a longtime scout said. "That's unbelievable. I don't know when it's going to stop. Nobody wants to give young pitchers time to develop."

But the Rangers will have to take some kind of financial leap of faith to upgrade their starting pitching and are planning to make a serious run at Barry Zito. Ted Lilly, Jeff Suppan, Miguel Batista, Gil Meche and Randy Wolf are other possibilities.

The Rangers would like to add two proven veteran starting pitchers to a rotation that is expected to include Kevin Millwood, Robinson Tejeda and one other pitcher from within the organization.

The price is what has everybody concerned.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.