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12/02/08 10:00 AM EST

Rangers to seek arms at Meetings

Team not likely to be big player in free-agent market

ARLINGTON -- If the Rangers are to achieve their stated goal of upgrading their pitching this winter, they'll most likely have to do it through a trade rather than the free-agent market.

That's the direction they seem to be going so far this offseason, given the overall state of the economy and the Rangers' own austerity. Club president Nolan Ryan has made it clear that the Rangers will not have a significant increase in payroll in 2009.

So general manager Jon Daniels has spent more time talking to other teams rather than agents since the season came to an end. That will continue to be the case as the Rangers get ready for the Winter Meetings that begin on Monday at the Bellago in Las Vegas and conclude on Dec. 11.

"I don't know how much we're going to do, but a lot of it depends on what other clubs want to do," Daniels said. "We've had quite a bit of dialogue with other clubs, but we're not close to any one player. I still don't see us being really active in the free-agent market. We're in touch with a lot of people we might be interested in if things change, but we haven't extended any offers at this point."

The Rangers likely will have to move salary to be able to play in the free-agent market. They have picked up infielder Hank Blalock's $6.2 million contract for 2009 but may try to trade him for pitching. That also holds true for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher Gerald Laird. Both could make more than $3 million through arbitration.

The Rangers also continue to look for somebody interested in outfielder Frank Catalanotto, who is signed for $4 million in 2009 but doesn't really fit. There also might be clubs interested in Kevin Millwood ($12 million) and Vicente Padilla ($11.75 million) later this winter, but only after they've fully explored a deep free-agent pitching market.

Until that happens, the Rangers will sit on the sidelines in the free-agent market, and that includes any possible Japanese pitchers who might be looking to come to the United States.

Most of what's going on right now involves the Rangers' catching. They have four catchers that are of interest to other teams: Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez.

Indications are most teams are interested in Saltalamacchia and Teagarden, while the Rangers would rather do something with Laird. That would create financial flexibility in other areas.

The Rangers have had extended conversations with the Red Sox but have been told that Clay Buchholz is not available. The Red Sox have other pitching of interest to the Rangers -- Justin Masterson and Michael Bowden among others -- but so far the two teams have not been able to match up. That's likely because the Red Sox want Saltalamacchia or Teagarden rather than Laird.

There are plenty of other teams looking for catching, including the Astros, Reds, Tigers and Marlins. But so far little progress has been made. The Astros have little in the way of young pitching. The Rangers aren't sold on Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, and the Marlins have made it clear they aren't trading any of their young pitching.

Daniels still think there's a "good chance" the Rangers will make a move involving at least one of their catchers before the winter is over.

"We're OK bringing back all four guys if it comes down to that and the right deal is not out there," Daniels said. "There are clubs that like all four guys. They all bring something different to the club. You don't want to trade good players, but you've got to trade something good to get something back."

The other area of depth is the outfield. Byrd, David Murphy, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton were all regulars at some point last year, while Brandon Boggs and Greg Golson -- recently acquired from the Phillies -- provide depth. Julio Borbon, the top outfield prospect, is close to being Major League ready.

The biggest question is what kind of pitching the Rangers can get back in a trade. The Rangers look for both starting and relief pitching.

Right now, only Millwood and Padilla are guaranteed spots in the rotation, while Matt Harrison, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Feldman, Dustin Nippert and Eric Hurley are the leading candidates for the other three spots.

As far as the bullpen, Frank Francisco is the leading candidate to be the closer, although C.J. Wilson remains in the picture. Joaquin Benoit, Josh Rupe and Warner Madrigal figure to be in the bullpen, but the Rangers would like to add at least one veteran innings-eater to replace Jamey Wright and another left-hander.

The Rangers are still unclear about what they'll do at third base now that Chris Davis is moving back to first base and Blalock appears to be their designated hitter if he's not traded for pitching.

Travis Metcalf has a chance to be a front-line third baseman, but his development has been set back because of injury. The Rangers likely will try to add depth at a cheap price -- whether it's Morgan Ensberg, Mike Lamb or somebody else -- while saving what resources they have for pitching.

"We'll look at some alternatives," Daniels said.

The Rangers don't want to be sidetracked in the wrong areas. Some people go to Las Vegas to listen to Wayne Newton, roll some dice and hit it big on the one-armed bandit. Or look for offense. The Rangers will be in the desert for one reason only.

It's still all about pitching.

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