Arbitration hearings likely in Rangers' future

Arbitration hearings likely in Rangers' future

Arbitration hearings likely in Rangers' future
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have put off contract negotiations with Josh Hamilton indefinitely, but they are still working to avoid their first arbitration hearing since 2000. Even so, the possibility appears to be increasing that they will have at least one arbitration hearing this month.

The Rangers have yet to reach agreements with shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Mike Napoli and right fielder Nelson Cruz. Andrus' hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Tampa, Fla. Napoli's is scheduled for Feb. 15, to be followed by Cruz's on Feb. 17.

"I'm always optimistic we can avoid a hearing, but I would be surprised if we avoided one with all three," assistant general manager Thad Levine said on Monday.

The Rangers will likely reach a settlement with Andrus before the hearing. Andrus, who is represented by Scott Boras, is asking for $3.6 million; the Rangers are offering $2.65 million.

Napoli has the largest spread -- asking for $11.5 million, with the Rangers offering $8.3 million -- and could be the most likely to end up in a hearing. Napoli is coming off the best year of his career, setting personal bests with a .320 batting average, 30 home runs, 72 runs scored and 75 RBIs.

Cruz, who hit .263 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs in 2011, is asking for $7.5 million, whereas the Rangers are offering $5.5 million.

Contract negotiations with all three are ongoing.

"We're making progress," Levine said. "We're still having conversations, but until we have an actual agreement, we can't classify it as being a done deal."

The Rangers, whose last arbitration hearing was with Lee Stevens in 2000, are still willing to talk after exchanging numbers with players on Jan. 17. Some clubs have made it a policy to end negotiations with arbitration-eligible players once numbers are exchanged.

The Rangers were $3.3 million apart with Hamilton last winter just a few days before his hearing was scheduled, but they reached an agreement on a two-year contract that leaves Hamilton eligible for free agency after this season.

The Rangers had been talking with Hamilton about a long-term contract extension, but those discussions were shut down after his alcohol relapse last week. The next step for Hamilton is to be evaluated this week by doctors for Major League Baseball and the Players Association in New York.

Hamilton had set a deadline for the beginning of Spring Training, but it is unlikely that negotiations will resume by then. Pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 22, but Hamilton was planning to arrive on Feb. 17.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.