ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is back from his trip to Orlando. Well, maybe not Orlando. "I don't know about the city," Daniels said. "I can tell you about the Waldorf-Astoria. But I never left the hotel, so I can't tell you how the city was." The General Managers Meetings do keep people busy, whether it's talking about expanded playoffs, running into agents in the lobby or talking about trades with other teams up in the private suites.
Daniels is staying busy trying to figure out a way to improve a club that won 90 games, a division title and a trip to the World Series. Not much progress has been made, but free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee hasn't made a decision yet. "There's nothing new there," Daniels said Friday morning. "There's not much to say. We've been in contact and we're going to stay in contact until there is a resolution." Re-signing Lee is a big part of what the Rangers are trying to do this offseason. It just so happens to be a big part of what the Yankees are trying to do as well. Other teams are also involved, although not quite as public as the Yankees. This might not get resolved until the Winter Meetings, which will be held Dec. 5-9 at Disney World outside of Orlando. Daniels may not get out of the hotel then either, but he is also not sitting around waiting for Lee to make a decision. They also know, with the Yankees involved, that it might not turn out in their favor. "If you want to just talk about who probably would be positioned to bid the most money, you'd have to go with the Yankees," club president Nolan Ryan said Thursday at the Owners Meetings. "That's their history. We have no reason to think it's going to be any different." Texas' goals this offseason still are to improve its starting pitching and catching, and find a designated hitter. Vladimir Guerrero is No. 1 on the Rangers' list at that spot, but he said earlier this week that he wants a multiyear contract. That's likely to be a sticking point with the club, and it may have to consider Lance Berkman or some other option on a one-year deal. The Rangers are making inquiries on many free agents, but not as many as people think and they are not operating on a Yankees-like unlimited budget. There are agents out there trying to drum up business for their clients, so when it comes out that the Rangers are interested in Miguel Olivo to be their catcher, that is probably not the case. There is real interest on the Rangers' part in free-agent catcher Victor Martinez, but Daniels does have a budget to work with. It may be much higher than what it has been in the past, but so are future player expenditures, and Texas still has to tread carefully tying up big dollars on long-term contracts. Lefty starter C.J. Wilson can be a free agent after the 2011 season, then center fielder Josh Hamilton after '12, right fielder Nelson Cruz after '13 and shortstop Elvis Andrus after '14. Dollars tied up on bad contracts today can cripple efforts to keep key players in the future, no matter how committed the new ownership group is. The Rangers do want Lee back. But they have made it clear that they expect the Yankees to be the highest bidder. They still hope intangibles favor them, whether it be no state income tax or Lee wanting to pitch close to his home in Arkansas. But they are also investigating alternatives should Lee end up in New York or somewhere else. "Our goal is to put together a club that can win," Daniels said. "There is more than one way to do it. It is not about one certain player, although there are guys who we like and who we think can help us. We're exploring a lot of different things." The Rangers know that Jon Garland, Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez and Jeremy Bonderman may be the best among free-agent starting pitchers, a list that drops off considerably after Lee. They know the Rays may be willing to talk about Matt Garza and/or James Shields and the White Sox could do the same with Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson, or the Pirates with Zach Duke and Paul Malholm. Texas have been in touch with many clubs and many agents, which is why Daniels didn't stray from the Waldorf during his time in Orlando. The Rangers also know that the Royals are at least willing to talk about Zack Greinke. He could be highly desirable if Lee doesn't return and the Rangers have let the Royals know their interest. The best alternative to Lee still could be within the organization, and the possibility exists that the Rangers could move Neftali Feliz to the rotation next season if they find a better chance of adding bullpen this winter rather than a starter. "It's something we've talked about a little bit," Daniels said. "Whether that's in 2011 or sometime in the future remains to be seen. It may not happen at all. I don't know how the free-agent market is going to play out and I don't know how the trade market will play out. "We will consider all options." That's usually the case and remains that way for the Rangers. Daniels and his crew do have a plan -- they always do -- and last year they were able to execute it to the letter all the way through the Winter Meetings and beyond. Sometimes clubs are forced to change the plan, especially when they are competing against the Yankees. The Rangers aren't sitting around waiting for Lee to make a decision, but that is still the biggest unknown that has to be cleared up.
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.