ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' catching situation remains the biggest mystery surrounding the club this winter and it could be their most dire situation as the Winter Meetings approach. There is a possibility that both Mike Napoli and Geovany Soto are out the door even before the Rangers get to Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday. Napoli is a free agent and the Rangers are interested in re-signing him. They were meeting with Napoli and his agent, Brian Grieper, this week in Arlington but he is also being pursued heavily by the Red Sox, Mariners and possibly others. Napoli is reportedly looking for a four-year contract while the Rangers are inclined to offer only a two-year deal at this point. That could change given the high demand for catching but right now it seems there is a good possibility that Napoli could be signing with another team in the immediate future.
"Nothing's changed ... we're still talking," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. The Rangers are also engaged in discussions with agent Paul Kinzer, who represents Soto. The Rangers would like to get something preemptive done before Friday. That's the date the Rangers have to tender contracts to all their arbitration-eligible players. Those who are not tendered contracts become free agents. The Rangers are not interested in going to arbitration with Soto, who made $4.3 million in 2012 while hitting .198 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games. He hit .196 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games for the Rangers after being acquired from the Cubs on July 30 for pitcher Jacob Brigham. If the Rangers can't sign Soto before Friday's 11 p.m. CT deadline, then they will likely non-tender him and make him a free agent. If that happens, the Rangers will be left with two inexperienced catchers on the 40-man roster in Luis Martinez and Konrad Schmidt. Martinez has played in 32 Major League games, including 10 with the Rangers this past season. Schmidt, who was acquired off waivers from the D-backs at the beginning of November, has played in just eight Major League games. It would also leave the Rangers looking at a thin free-agent market led by A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin and Rod Barajas. Those are the only three free-agent catchers who caught more games in 2012 than Soto, who was behind the plate for 96 games total. David Ross caught 54 games for the Braves, including 47 as a starter, and has not caught over 57 games in a season since 2007. But Ross, 35, was still able to get a two-year, $6.2 million contract from the Red Sox. The Braves replaced him by giving Gerald Laird a two-year, $3 million contract. The Rangers are still trying to sort out what will happen with Napoli and Soto but have expressed interest in Pierzynski and possibly Martin. But there are at least a dozen teams out there looking for catching, either a No. 1 guy or a capable backup. "It's a thin market, yeah," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told MLB.Com's Tom Singer. "It's an incredibly taxing position and good catchers are really hard to come by -- especially the dual threats." The Rangers are exploring trade possibilities. The Blue Jays have three experienced catchers in J.P. Arencibia, John Buck and Bobby Wilson with top prospect Travis d'Arnaud close to being ready. But Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthropolous told MLB.Com's Gregor Chisholm that he's not motivated to move anybody right now with d'Arnaud coming off knee surgery. The Red Sox could have extra catching as well. They have three catchers with Ross joining Ryan Lavarnway and former Ranger Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They will have four if they can land Napoli but he'll likely be used at first base if he goes to Boston. The Rangers' top catching prospect is Jorge Alfaro, 19, who played at Class A Hickory in the South Atlantic League last season. He is currently hitting .314 with two home runs and 10 RBIs for Ponce in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Jose Felix, 24, is considered a good defensive prospect who is still trying to improve his offense. He played in 82 games at Double-A Frisco and hit .260 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs. In 292 at-bats, he had just five walks and 25 strikeouts. He is hitting .367 after 16 games in the Mexican Winter League. Felix was the Rangers' Minor League Defender of the Year in 2010 when he threw out 51.9 percent of attempted basestealers. He threw out 32 percent last year at Frisco. He shared duties at Frisco with Zach Zaneski, who hit .282 with four home runs and 32 RBIs in 61 games. Zaneski, 26, was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Rhode Island who was selected to the Texas League All-Star Game last season. He threw out 29 percent of attempted basestealers. Kellin Degland, 20, was the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of high school in British Columbia but has spent the past two seasons at Class A Hickory. He played in 92 games there in 2012 while hitting .234 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. Defensively, he caught 36 percent of attempted basestealers. The Rangers have made a concerted effort over the past five years to develop catching within their system. It has been a slow process. Now they have an immediate need and they face hard decisions as they explore all possibilities.
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.