ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are going to be serious players for free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke, but they also have to address their bullpen and catching situation. The Rangers are still open about Josh Hamilton coming back, but also know they need to reinforce their outfield offense to some degree if he signs elsewhere. That's why the Rangers have expressed interest in free agent outfielders Torii Hunter, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher and Cody Ross. Swisher has particular appeal because he is a switch-hitter who can play first base as well as the outfield, or be used at designated hitter. The Rangers also looked at David Ortiz before he re-signed with the Red Sox, which reinforces their desire for a left-handed hitter for the middle of the lineup, no matter how limited he might be on the defensive side. So many needs, so many players and only so much to money to spend. There are also only so many Minor League prospects the Rangers are willing to trade, and Jurickson Profar is not on that list. So while the Rangers have "expressed interest" -- which is a widely overused term during the offseason -- in many players, most of it beyond Greinke is just tentative and may end up not being financially realistic.
The biggest challenge the Rangers could have this winter is trying to prioritize their needs and in what areas they want to allocate significant portions of their available resources. The Rangers are not operating with an unlimited budget even though they made a significant run at South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin. Instead, according to preliminary projections, they will likely spend around the same as this past season, somewhere between $120-130 million. "Lord knows we're obviously trying to improve the ballclub," club president Nolan Ryan said last week. "Whether or not we're successful, only time will let us know." Ryan's caution is grounded in the fact that there are a lot of teams out there looking at the same lists the Rangers are working off. The Rangers think Hunter could help their outfield at one of the corner spots while Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin share center field. But the Yankees and the Tigers are among the teams also thinking along the same lines in the pursuit of Hunter. Upton is the only true center fielder the Rangers are really interested in, mainly because of his power. Michael Bourn is another proven center fielder who is a free agent, but the Rangers seem to prefer power over speed in any outfielder available. That is why Swisher appeals to them as a guy who can deliver 25-30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs. Swisher is not expected to get the same kind of money that Hamilton could command, possibly $20 million-plus over 5-7 years. But if Swisher does get $15-18 million annually, that would put a strain on the Rangers' budget if they want to be serious about Greinke. "Lotta ways we can go -- not just with the Josh situation," said general manager Jon Daniels, who had multiple meetings with agents and other teams at the GM Meetings last week in California. "We have a couple of areas, catching and bullpen, that need short-term to be addressed. A lot of it is what's presented to us." Catching remains a priority. The Rangers have interest in re-signing Mike Napoli and they have shown at least preliminary interest in at least two other free-agent catchers: A.J. Pierzynski and Russell Martin. Napoli is being pursued by the Red Sox as well as the Yankees, who are looking for a catcher after Martin's departure. The Rangers have talked with the Blue Jays about their extra catching. The Blue Jays don't want to part with top prospect Travis D'Arnaud, but are willing to talk about J.P. Arencibia and Jeff Mathis. Arencibia has some offensive power and scouts say his defense has improved considerably over the past two years. Mathis is mainly a defensive catcher who could help the Rangers in the field, but has never hit 10 home runs or driven in more than 42 RBIs in a single season. The Red Sox might be willing to talk about dealing Jarrod Saltalamacchia after signing David Ross to a two-year contract. But the Rangers would likely have mixed feelings about re-acquiring Saltalamacchia after trading him to the Red Sox at the July 31, 2010 deadline. If the Rangers are interested in bringing back former players, don't forget that Rod Barajas, Gerald Laird, Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor are all free agents again. The Rangers have considered all of this and more, and they have concerns about a bullpen that needs to be rebuilt. The Rangers are moving Alexi Ogando to the rotation, while Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe are all free agents. That leaves left-handers Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman and right-handers Tanner Scheppers and Wilmer Font behind All-Star closer Joe Nathan. The Rangers would like to add experienced help. But if reports are accurate that the Giants are willing to re-sign left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year, $18 million contract, then that gives the Rangers an idea of what premium relievers will be going for this winter. For teams in a "win-now" mode, it is not going to be a cheap winter.
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.