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11/30/07 7:06 PM ET
Rangers ready to give Salty reins
Club feels prospect prepared to take over as full-time catcher
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are ready for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be a full-time catcher. The Rangers, despite a number of trade talks with the Mets, still have Gerald Laird, but general manager Jon Daniels said on Friday that Saltalamacchia is going to concentrate on catching. He split time between catcher and first base after being acquired from the Atlanta Braves on July 31, but that's no longer going to be the arrangement. "Everybody agrees it's in his best interests to catch full-time," Daniels said. "His value is greatest as a catcher so that's where he's going to be." That leaves Frank Catalanotto as the Rangers first baseman although Daniels said the Rangers will still look to upgrade at that position. The Rangers have some interest in free agents Tony Clark and Sean Casey, which would allow Catalanotto to go back to playing multiple positions. The Rangers have had a number of teams inquire about Laird and they had a number of discussions with the New York Mets. But those seem to have come to an end when the Mets traded outfielder Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals on Friday for outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider. Daniels reiterated on Friday that he is not motivated to trade Laird, who split time at catcher with Saltalamacchia over the last two months of the season. Laird is considered the better defensive catcher right now, while Saltalamacchia has the higher offensive upside. "We started the offseason saying Gerald and Jarrod would be there in Spring Training and unless something unforeseen happens, we don't want to trade away Gerald," Daniels said. "He's a better player than people give him credit for. He made a lot of strides last year. He still has room to grow and I think there's more there offensively, but he's a good defensive catcher." Daniels, as the offseason progresses toward the Winter Meetings, continues to have a number of trade discussions with other clubs, as well as continuing to pursue the free agent market. One thing that he has come to realize is that it may be difficult to achieve the No. 1 goal of acquiring a center fielder unless they can get Mike Cameron on a two-year deal. Daniels has found that the price is way too high, either what free agents Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones are looking for in money or what other clubs want by way of trade. The Rangers talked to the Boston Red Sox, but weren't willing to trade C.J. Wilson or a package that would have included pitching prospects Eric Hurley and Luis Mendoza. The Rangers best hope of upgrading their outfield is Japanese free agent Kosuke Fukudome and they have serious interest there. But Daniels said Fukudome hasn't made a decision whether he will stay in Japan or come to the United States. The Rangers are trying to upgrade their presence in Japan and are in the process of hiring Jim Colborn as the director of Pacific Rim scouting. Colborn held that title with the Seattle Mariners from 1997-2000 and helped them make one of the first big players in the Japanese talent market. "We talked about expanding our presence in the international market," Daniels said. "We've done that so far in the Dominican Republic and other areas of the Caribbean. Now we're taking another step in the Pacific Rim." The question remains if that will help get Fukudome or if the Rangers will have to look elsewhere for outfield help. But that is still their No. 1 priority, even if it may not be in center field. "I would expand that to the outfield in general," Daniels said. The other area that the Rangers are continuing to look at is relief pitching. The Rangers have left-hander Wilson and right-handers Joaquin Benoit and Frank Francisco, and Akinori Otsuka has been throwing pain-free for a month in Arizona. The Rangers have other candidates -- including Kameron Loe, Wes Littleton, Bill White, Scott Feldman and John Rheinecker -- but Daniels is still determined to add at least one veteran arm to the bullpen. Outfield, first base and relief pitching will all be areas the Rangers address when the Winter Meetings begin on Monday in Nashville, Tenn. The Rangers have spent the last two months exploring all ways to improve the team, including some of the big names on the trade block including Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera. But Daniels does not see the Rangers being big players in that arena. "We've looked at a lot of different things and checked in on every impact player that might be available," Daniels said. "But I think our young players in our system are a year away from maturing and being household names. We're not looking to move them, period. But we don't want to make a trade without maximizing value. That's something we could do, but I'm not sure it makes sense to trade three or four young guys for a short-term fix." The Rangers, both in free agent and trade discussions, are looking for a veteran impact player who can be with them for some time, or young players who fit into the direction they're headed. But those kind of players are expensive, either in terms of dollars or players asked in return. The Rangers have not ruled out adding starting pitching. Jason Jennings is among the free agents they have inquired about and there are others who are coming off injury and/or subpar seasons. But in those cases would likely be only on a one-year deal. The Rangers did express interest in Kenny Rogers, but Daniels never did talk to him directly and he ended up re-signing with the Tigers. Right now, Daniels is not optimistic about a major upgrade in any area and he is not interested in signing a free agent that would cost them a Draft pick as compensation. The Rangers do have one unfinished piece of business before going to Nashville. The Rangers have decided they will not offer arbitration to their four free agents: Sammy Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jamey Wright. The deadline for doing so is Saturday. The Rangers have interest in re-signing Wright as a reliever. Daniels has spoken briefly to agent Adam Katz about Sosa, but the chances of him returning to Texas appear dim at the moment. The same goes for Wilkerson and Hairston.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.