No team combines success with secrecy quite as well as the Texas Rangers. It was just a year ago, remember, that Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels publicly played it cool on the Yu Darvish front, and the assumption around the industry was that the Blue Jays had likely outbid everybody for the negotiating rights to the Japanese right-hander. As it turned out, the Rangers had stealthily submitted a record-breaking $51.7 million bid, their poker face intact every step of the way. So when it comes to the Rangers, it's probably best not to trust the tea leaves or the sound bites. It's better to let the process play out and see how Daniels and Co. go about picking up the pieces after the brutal betrayal that was the final week of the 2012 season.
"Lotta ways we can go," Daniels told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan last week, and the availability of multiple paths is what makes the Rangers' offseason so intriguing. The Rangers were, on measure, the best and most talented team in baseball for the bulk of 2012 (much like the '11 Red Sox). But not when it mattered most (also like the '11 Red Sox). And so their winter activity could range anywhere from touch-up tweaks to major reconstruction. And because this is a rich club, in terms of resources of both the payroll and personnel variety, that activity could take on any number of avenues. In terms of expending those resources, we do know there was at least mild interest in a certain former Angels outfielder. But the Rangers never got the opportunity to woo Torii Hunter to Texas last week, because the Tigers gave Hunter 26 million reasons to make Detroit the only stop on his free-agent tour. Hunter didn't make nearly as much sense for the Rangers as he did for the Tigers, anyway. With Josh Hamilton's return still a possibility, with B.J. Upton and Nick Swisher still on the market, with relief pitching and catching and possibly Zack Greinke the more pressing priorities, it didn't make sense for the Rangers to commit too much too soon to the 37-year-old Hunter. Nor does it make sense, as Ryan has said, for Texas to wait around too long for Hamilton. The Rangers have refuted a report that three years is as far as they will go to for Hamilton, but it would be hard to blame them if they adhere to a similar stance. While the Rangers have to be careful not to let the emotion of the 2012 season's final month overshadow an evaluation of what Hamilton brings to the middle of an order, they also must be equally careful not to make too extreme a commitment to a 31-year-old who has historically struggled to stay on the field. Hamilton is a huge talking point, obviously. But in the course of bringing two AL pennants to Arlington, the Rangers' brain trust has prioritized pitching in its pursuits, and it would be wise to let that remain the course of action this winter. The starting pitching department is another area where the Rangers have several options available to them. Certainly, they can stay the course with what they have. Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando make for a strong backbone, and the Rangers could have Colby Lewis and/or Neftali Feliz back in the mix by year's end. But for the Rangers to reach their full potential, their need now is the same as it was at last summer's Trade Deadline. They need a difference-maker in the No. 1 spot of the rotation. In the summer, attempts to fill that need fell flat, as the Rangers weren't able to reel in Greinke. Ryan Dempster was added quite literally at the last minute and went on to post a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts. When it comes to filling that need this winter, Greinke is a command connoisseur who still makes sense, in that he'd boost the Rangers' rotation and deplete that of a division foe. But much of Greinke's value in this free-agent market is attributable to the market itself. It is fairly barren, which is why the odds are on Greinke claiming the largest contract ever given to a right-hander. That price tag, which should easily eclipse $20 million per season, is going to be awfully high for a guy whose ballpark-adjusted ERA over the past three years rates only slightly above the league average. And if that's the best the free-agent market has to offer in the ace department, the Rangers have to talk trade. We've heard rumblings about David Price, the newly named AL Cy Young Award winner, being dangled by the Rays. For now, those are nothing more than rumblings. But if he is made available, the Rangers ought to be the first club to pounce. At 27, with a dominant and healthy left arm that has only begun to reach its ceiling, Price is one of the few assets in baseball that would be worth forking over a previously untouchable prospect like Jurickson Profar (or, for that matter, an All-Star shortstop like Elvis Andrus). The Rays know they can't afford Price beyond his final arbitration year in 2015, and, frankly, affording him even now is difficult, particularly with the need for offense so glaring in the Tampa Bay lineup. For the Rangers, the costs associated with Price aren't nearly as prohibitive, and their position player talent is ample enough to work out a deal. So that's one of the many avenues the Rangers have the ability to explore. They have an enviable amount of flexibility in that they can keep Profar and shift a willing Ian Kinsler to the outfield, if need be. But if they can turn their depth assets into a front-line starter and use their cash resources to land an outfield bat, that seems to me to be a chance worth taking. We'll see which route the Rangers take in the coming weeks. And odds are we won't know which specific route that is until the Rangers themselves are well on their way down the road.