Rangers remain in play for Wilson
Starting pitching, bullpen expected to be focus at Winter Meetings
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are going into the Winter Meetings still maintaining interest in re-signing free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson.Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said he has remained in contact with Wilson's agent, Bob Garber, and spoke with him again on Friday. The two sides are expected to meet during the Winter Meetings that start Monday in Dallas. Wilson and Garber have met in person with the Angels in Southern California and the Marlins in Florida over the past month. The Nationals are also interested, as well as the Yankees, Red Sox and other teams still to be determined. "I would expect we will meet with Bob," Daniels said. "We have been in regular contact with Bob. We haven't been a part of the Magical Mystery Tour, but C.J. knows we want him back and both sides have interest in making it happen. I can't predict which way it will go." The Rangers signed closer Joe Nathan just before Thanksgiving with the idea of moving reliever Neftali Feliz into the rotation. He would join Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando with Scott Feldman in reserve. That would make it seem there is no room for Wilson, but Daniels said the Rangers aren't worried about having too much pitching. If Wilson does re-sign with the Rangers, Daniels said the club would "take a step back" and examine all of its options.
"We could hold everybody until Spring Training and protect ourselves, we could move one guy into the bullpen or we could sit back and see if the phone rings," Daniels said.More than half of the 30 Major League clubs are looking for starting pitching to some degree going into the Winter Meetings. There are also clubs who are willing to trade starting pitching and that could dominate the four-day affair in Dallas. The White Sox could be willing to talk about John Danks, Gavin Floyd or Jake Peavy, the Athletics are willing to listen on All-Star left-hander Gio Gonzalez and the Braves are willing to discuss All-Star right-hander Jair Jurrjens. The Astros have two expensive starters in Wandy Rodriguez ($10.5 million) and Brett Myers ($12 million) that they are probably willing to move. The free-agent market remains thin behind Wilson, left-hander Mark Buehrle and right-handers Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson. There is some talent coming out of Japan but nobody yet knows if Yu Darvish will try to pitch in the Major Leagues next year. There is no word yet on if he will be posted but if he is, that could change the whole dynamic of the starting pitching market. The Rangers would be interested in adding a starting pitcher, but only if it is a clear upgrade over what they have, and that gets murky beyond Wilson. "It would have to be somebody that fits ahead of the run-of-the-mill guy," Daniels said. "If we can really improve the upper level of our rotation, we'll look at those options." Daniels said the Rangers still want to improve their bullpen. They signed Nathan to be their closer but could still add a power right-handed arm and need to add some left-handed relief. Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez, who just underwent surgery on his left knee this offseason, are free agents and the Rangers are interested in re-signing both. "Both are still possibilities," Daniels said. "I don't think it's rocket science, the bullpen is a big part of the club. Given our situation, we have some young starting pitchers. We know our offense is capable of putting runs on the board and we want to support our young pitchers as well as we can and protect the leads we get. "When we started 2011, our bullpen was a little inconsistent, so we want to take a different tack this time. Sitting here today, our bullpen is still pretty good. We already addressed the bullpen at last summer's Trade Deadline and what we did with Joe. But we're still open to looking in that area." There could be relievers to be acquired by trade if the Athletics are really willing to talk about All-Star closer Andrew Bailey or the Giants are willing to move left-handed setup man Jeremy Affeldt. Both could be of interest to the Rangers. Pitching will likely hold most of the Rangers' attention at the Winter Meetings, especially if they adhere to their stated intention of not getting involved in free-agent first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Daniels also said the Rangers aren't going into the Winter Meetings looking for a front-line center fielder even though there was some flirtation with Grady Sizemore last month. The Rangers right now are still committed to Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and possibly Leonys Martin in center, with Josh Hamilton also playing there on occasions when David Murphy is in the lineup. "More likely than not we'll fill that internally," Daniels said. "I wouldn't rule out bringing in additional people, but it's not a priority. I can't think of a year where we've had three outfielders go post to post. That's the nature of it, you need multiple guys. Whether we have a strict platoon [in center] or a timeshare, we're going to try and stay flexible and have multiple guys out there." The other interesting position is catcher. Yorvit Torrealba was the Opening Day catcher last year. That was before Mike Napoli came on strong and, after sharing time for most of the season, became the No. 1 catcher down the stretch and into the playoffs. That would suggest Torrealba might be expendable, but Daniels isn't looking at it that way. "It's pretty similar to where we were last year," Daniels said. "Even with Mike emerging, I still don't see him catching 140 games. He'll DH, play first base and we'll rest him. That setup worked well last year." The Rangers took away from their catching depth when they traded Taylor Teagarden to the Orioles on Thursday. But they added one on Friday when they signed catcher Dusty Brown to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Brown played in 25 games at the Major League level over the past three seasons with the Red Sox and the Pirates. He has a .163 batting average. He played in 54 games at Triple-A Indianapolis this past season and batted .285 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 172 at-bats. The Rangers also signed two infielders to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training: Luis Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte. Hernandez has played in 120 games at the Major League level in 2007-10 with the Orioles, Royals and Mets with a career .245 batting average. Solarte, a switch-hitter, has never played in the Majors but had a strong offensive at Double-A New Britain in the Twins organization, hitting .329 with 36 doubles, seven home runs and 49 RBIs in 121 games. Both will compete for a utility spot in big league camp. Hernandez has far more experience at shortstop, while Solarte can play multiple positions in both the infield and the outfield. The Rangers will go into the Winter Meetings looking for a veteran utility infielder who can play shortstop. But pitching remains the No. 1 focus, and Wilson is still in play.
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.