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Blalock's time with Rangers nearing end

Blalock's time with Rangers nearing end

ANAHEIM -- Hank Blalock has four days left, and then his time with the Rangers will be over. He knows it, but isn't dwelling on it.

He has been in the Rangers organization for 10 years since he was their third-round pick as a high school shortstop out of San Diego in 1999. Only Ivan Rodriguez, who was reacquired last month after a seven-year absence, and Joaquin Benoit, who didn't pitch this year, have been with the organization longer.

But Blalock's time with the Rangers will end when this season ends. The Rangers close the campaign in Seattle this weekend, and then sometime after the World Series, Blalock will file for free agency. The Rangers aren't planning on re-signing him.

"It really hasn't crossed my mind," Blalock said on Thursday before the Rangers' game with the Angels. "My whole life I have never been the sentimental type. I feel my best approach is to move forward by staying in the present.

"I've played in the organization a long time, and the writing is on the wall. Nothing has been said to me, but I know I won't be playing here next year. It is what it is. I'll just move on."

The Rangers have talked about the possibility of re-signing outfielder Marlon Byrd and Rodriguez. There has been no mention of bringing back Blalock. Chris Davis is the Rangers' first baseman, both now and the future. The designated-hitter spot will be filled by outfielders or a right-handed hitter to be named later. Top prospect Justin Smoak will be here soon. Blalock is out of the Rangers' plans.

"I don't see Hank getting playing time," manager Ron Washington said. "Hank is at the point of his career where he needs to find a place where he can play and be productive. It eats Hank up when he's not playing and when he's not producing. I don't think he can sit around and not play. But he gives you everything he's got that's for sure."

Blalock sat out Thursday's game with a slight headache the day after getting hit in the head by Derek Holland while they were both going after a bunt on Wednesday night. He is hitting .235 with 25 home runs and 66 RBIs. He has a .462 slugging percentage in 122 games and 459 at-bats.

Those numbers are still respectable for a team looking for a left-handed power hitter. He also has a .277 on-base percentage and just 25 walks against 107 strikeouts. That's going to be the biggest mark against him in free agency. But he doesn't turn 29 until Nov. 21, and that could work in his favor.

"He's a streaky hitter, but the numbers are still there," hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. "He gets a lot of big hits, and he's had some big games. He always wants to play, and he always wants to be in there, and he's really conscientious about his preparation."

Scouts say Blalock still has value because of his power numbers and he has enhanced his value by being able to play first base. Among the teams that could be looking for a first baseman who is rated adequate-to-average defensively are the Mets, Orioles, Indians and the White Sox. The Mariners could be as well if they don't re-sign Russell Branyan.

"I can't speak for how others view me," Blalock said. "I know I can be an everyday first baseman or DH. We'll see what team needs that. I've never been to free agency before. I just have to go out there, see who wants me to play for them and decide what to do."

There was a time when Blalock was one of the symbols of what the Rangers were trying to do as an organization. He made his Major League debut in 2002 and grew up with Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and others. They were the core of the Rangers' mid-decade youth movement.

At the beginning, he was flying higher than any of them as one of the best young third basemen in the game. He played in his first All-Star Game in '03 and hit the game-winning home run off of Eric Gagne at U.S. Cellular Field. He was an All-Star again in '04 when he hit .276 with a career-high 32 home runs and 110 RBIs.

That was his last All-Star appearance and his numbers slipped. In 2003-04, he combined to hit .287 with 61 home runs and 200 RBIs. In 2005-06 he combined to hit .264 with 41 home runs and 181 RBIs. Then came the injuries. After averaging 154 games per year for four seasons, he played in a total of 123 in 2007-08.

A shoulder injury took away for good his ability to play third base. He has been trying to fit into the Rangers' lineup as a first baseman/DH the past two years, but it has been difficult. He is no longer an automatic for the lineup, although Washington did turn to him in September when the Rangers were in desperate need of offensive help.

"If you asked me when I first came into the big leagues, I would have had higher expectations for myself," Blalock said. "But I had a couple of injuries, and this season didn't go like I wanted. I still feel like I'm an impact player. Every player wants to have a premium season, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way."

Blalock has been around long enough to have played in 909 games, 11th most in club history. He is eighth all-time with 498 runs, 152 home runs and 535 RBIs.

But it's just about over. The player who once inspired his own cheering section -- Hank's Homies -- will have a different home in 2010.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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