Will the Rangers bring back Hamilton, Napoli?

Will the Rangers bring back Hamilton, Napoli?

Will the Rangers bring back Hamilton, Napoli?
ARLINGTON -- The World Series is over and the free agency period has begun. Teams can start signing free agents beginning after 11 p.m. CT on Thursday. The Josh Hamilton watch is now full speed ahead.

So too are the Rangers efforts to rebuild a team that won 93 games in 2012 before being bounced out of the playoffs by the Orioles in the one-game Wild Card playoff. The question is if the Rangers plans for the future will mesh with Hamilton's desires of both staying in Texas and getting a lucrative multi-year contract befitting his considerable talents as the best position player on the market.

The answer won't be known until Hamilton and his agent, Michael Moye, fully explore the free-agent market and see what kind of interest in a 31-year-old outfielder who hit .305 with 142 home runs, 506 RBIs and a .549 slugging percentage during his five All-Star years with the Rangers.

There are teams that could use Hamilton's presence in the lineup. The Rangers are one of them, but there are probably 29 others. That many will certainly not bid. Others will have to weigh Hamilton's considerable talents against his age and history of injuries. His on-going recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is also something that must be considered.

The Rangers have had a five-year first-hand look at all of that. Publicly they profess a desire to keep Hamilton, but declined to use the October "exclusivity" period to try to re-sign him. Instead they prefer to let him test the market and then re-assess at that point.

Losing Hamilton would leave a void in the middle of their lineup, as well as the outfield. Other free agent options include B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, Torii Hunter, Delmon Young, Michael Bourn and Melky Cabrera. The Rangers may pursue one of those players -- Upton could be of particular interest -- or they may use their financial resources in other areas.

Pitching is always a concern. Catching will also be this winter. Mike Napoli is a free agent, and the Rangers are mulling the wisdom of tendering him a $13.3 million qualifying offer. Napoli has said he would like to return to Texas. If he doesn't, the Rangers still have Geovany Soto, but would still be in the market for another catcher.

The Rangers could address their needs either through free agency, trades or with what they already have within the organization. But they will be aggressive no matter what the need.

The Rangers, after three straight trips to the playoffs, are still in a "win now" mode.

Contract issues
The Rangers are not expected to exercise a $9.25 million option on pitcher Scott Feldman, making him a free agent. The Rangers will have eight players from their September roster who are free agents. Next year's list is sizable as well. Infielder Michael Young, outfielders Nelson Cruz and David Murphy, pitcher Colby Lewis and Soto can all be free agents after the 2013 season.

Areas of need
Starting pitching: The Rangers want one more front-line starter to go with Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Zack Greinke is at the top of their list. The best of the rest includes Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda and Ryan Dempster. The Rangers may also reinforce their rotation by moving Alexi Ogando back in from the bullpen.

Catcher: Napoli is a free agent and Soto is in his last year of arbitration eligibility. The Rangers do not have a prospect ready to play at the big league level. The top free agent catchers on the market are A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin and Gerald Laird. Brian McCann would be added to that list if the Braves don't pick up his option.

Outfield: The Rangers are set on the corners with Murphy and Cruz. They need a center fielder if Hamilton doesn't return. Leonys Martin is the leading candidate if the Rangers stay within the system, with Craig Gentry behind him. The Rangers have also considered the possibility of moving Ian Kinsler to the outfield so that Jurickson Profar can play second base. So far that has been nothing more than conjecture.

2013 payroll
The Rangers had a payroll of approximately $120 million in 2012. They should have plenty of financial flexibility this winter, especially if Hamilton and Napoli don't return. The Rangers are also coming off a record-breaking attendance year. Since the current ownership group took over two years ago, the Rangers have had no problems competing financially.

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.