Jon Daniels spent a week in Disney World surveying the trade landscape and one word comes to mind. Challenging. The Rangers general manager has shown over the past two years that he's not afraid to make a trade, but he sees what his counterparts are trying to do and much of it is in line with his own philosophy.
"We put our chips on the table at the July trade deadline when we traded Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne," Daniels said Friday after returning from the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla. "We pretty clearly defined the direction we are going. You see more clubs winning with young players and they are holding on to their prospects. We have a core group of young players that we like and we want to add on to that with players that can grow with our team." That's why Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could be as attractive to the Rangers as a free agent center fielder like Torii Hunter or Aaron Rowand. The Diamondbacks have some outfield depth and Gonzalez could be one of the few young players moved this winter. Sure, the Rangers would like established Major League talent. But the players being shopped -- Aubrey Huff, Nomar Garciaparra, Mark Kotsay and Reed Johnson among many others -- are out there for a red-flagged reason and the buyer has to beware. The Red Sox are trying to move center fielder Coco Crisp and the Rangers are among the teams interested. But the Red Sox, dealing from a position of strength, aren't in any hurry and can afford to wait while they see how they address other needs. The Rangers do want a center fielder, and not one with a history of injuries like Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli. Marlon Byrd and David Murphy are the obvious benchmarks. If the Rangers can't do better, then they will look at upgrading the corner outfield and see what happens. The Rangers position of strength is catching and that's why clubs are calling Daniels. Gerald Laird is one possibility, but the Rangers are wary until they are convinced that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is their catcher of the future. That has not yet been determined and the Rangers still see a scenario of Saltalamacchia and Laird sharing time next year. "We've been hit on our catching situation as much as anything, but there's nobody that we're looking to move," Daniels said. The Rangers will pursue Hunter and Rowand. Beginning next week, clubs can start actively negotiating with free agents, but Daniels is not sure how fast the Rangers will move. He knows that both Hunter and Rowand will be extremely expensive and that's why they will continue to look at trades. Nathan Haynes-- strong defensively, but still unknown offensively -- might be a better answer if the Rangers can cut a deal with the Angels. "We're going to continue to pursue multiple avenues," Daniels said. "We don't want to put all our eggs in the free agent basket. It's too unpredictable." Any possibility out there Daniels will at least explore -- except Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds -- and he is quite aware that the Florida Marlins are open for business with third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis on the market. "We're going to find out what the asking price is," Daniels said. "But I don't know if it makes as much sense to us as it does for somebody else." Willis might be one of the few starting pitchers that a team is willing to trade. Otherwise, Daniels, said there is almost no quality starting pitching available, either by trade or free agency. From a pitching standpoint, the Rangers are focused on trying to add a veteran reliever to their bullpen. Akinori Otsuka, after missing the final three months of the season with elbow trouble, is throwing again in Arizona. The Rangers will wait to see how that progresses but right now, Daniels said, "he is one of our seven" in next year's bullpen. That won't stop the Rangers from looking at other relievers, either by trade or free agency. The free agent market has some tantalizing names on the list including Kerry Wood, Gagne, Matt Herges, Scott Linebrink, Luis Vizcaino, J.C. Romero, Doug Brocail and others. The Rangers don't see Francisco Cordero returning to Texas and haven't specifically decided whether the reliever they want is a closer or a setup guy, or even if he has to be left-handed or right-handed. They just want guys who can pitch late into the game. "One of the reasons why our bullpen was a strength this year was not only because of guys like C.J. [Wilson] and Joaquin [Benoit] and Frank Francisco but you had Aki, Gagne and Ron Mahay, three veteran guys who could pitch late in the game. In order for our bullpen to be back as a strength, we need Aki to come back and add one or two guys as well." The process is only starting and Daniels spent more time in Florida crossing names off his list of guys who are not available. Sunday is Veterans Day and the Rangers won't show up in the desert for Spring Training until Valentine's Day. Daniels still has three months to go and much more talking to do.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.