Rangers won't go too high on Zito

Not so fast: Texas won't go too high on Zito

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rangers held their first face-to-face meeting at the Winter Meetings with agent Scott Boras about Barry Zito on Tuesday night.

One side doesn't want to talk about $100 million. The other side probably wants to talk about that and much more. The negotiations are only now starting to get interesting and intense.

General manager Jon Daniels declined to get into a step-by-step description of the negotiations, but sources said the Rangers are not going anywhere near the six-year, $102 million deal that Zito is supposed to get from them or somebody else. The word around the Winter Meetings is that owner Tom Hicks is overly eager to sign Zito, but Daniels indicated the club intends to be prudent.

"We're going to go to a certain point where our comfort level is and not go beyond that," Daniels said Tuesday at the Winter Meetings.

Boras, however, made it clear that Zito's next deal will reflect the value of a player who not only has a .618 winning percentage, but who also has never been on the disabled list and has made at least 34 starts and pitched at least 213 innings in each of the last six seasons.

"It's going to be a long-term contract, and I've given clubs an indication of where I think it will end up," Boras said. "Given his near-historical durability, he's going to get a contract that reflects that."

The New York Mets appear to be the Rangers' prime competition for him, although as many as eight teams have expressed interest in Zito at some point during the offseason.

"There are a couple of clubs that have been very aggressive," Boras said.

Zito became interested in the Rangers after former A's third-base coach Ron Washington was named manager last month, and his visit to Dallas last week to meet with Hicks and other club officials added to that interest.

"It was a great first meeting," Boras said. "Things went well. They did a good job. [Non-Rangers] players who play in the American League West only come in to Arlington, and they don't go into Dallas.

"But Tom Hicks has a recruiting style that's one of the best among owners, and he shows the player a part of cosmopolitan Dallas that you don't think exists in Texas."

Talks with Boras have only begun. The Rangers, having re-signed pitcher Vicente Padilla, spent most of Tuesday focusing on acquiring a center fielder and have taken an interest in Dodgers outfielder Jason Repko. The Dodgers are looking for relief pitching and Major League officials said there could be a good match between the two teams.

Repko, who will turn 26 at the end of the month, is considered a superior defensive outfielder with a plus arm who hasn't hit well enough to earn a full-time spot. He batted .254 with a .345 on-base percentage in 69 games and 130 at-bats for the Dodgers last year while missing almost three months with a high ankle sprain.

Repko fits Washington's desire to have an outstanding defensive player in center. He could fit as far as splitting playing time with a veteran player, either free agents Kenny Lofton or Jay Payton, or even Brad Wilkerson. The Rangers have told Wilkerson to be prepared for the possibility of playing center field next year.

"I'm intrigued by the possibility of a combination of a veteran and a young guy, a guy who has done it before and a young guy who hasn't been given an opportunity," Daniels said. "It gives us flexibility and different combinations."

Repko appears to be a more desirable option than many of the other center fielders out there. The Rangers asked the Mariners about Jeremy Reed but don't want to give up pitcher John Danks. They asked about Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli but didn't want to talk about Mark Teixeira.

They met with the Milwaukee Brewers but don't have enough interest for a match on Brady Clark. They have nothing going on with the Phillies regarding Aaron Rowand, and have shown little interest in Brian Anderson (White Sox), Corey Patterson (Orioles) or Joey Gathright (Royals).

They have continued to talk to agents about both Lofton and Payton.

"We've had a lot of conversations about center field," Daniels said. "We've probably focused more on the trade situation than free agents. Most of the free-agent center fielders have signed but we're still talking to a couple of free agents."

The Rangers have also had trade conversations with other teams about starting pitching, including the Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates.

But Texas has not resumed discussions with the Chicago White Sox. The talks reached an impasse last month when the Rangers declined to trade Danks and reliever Nick Masset for starter Jon Garland, and they have not tried to renew the talks.

Zito is the Rangers' main free-agent target. They had interest in Ted Lilly, but understand it's likely that he could be off the market before Zito makes a decision.

"We have had a few conversations, but now, with what they've done with Padilla, I'm not sure if we're going to be talking to them later or not," said Lilly's agent, Larry O'Brien.

Daniels has also talked to agents Randy and Alan Hendricks about Andy Pettitte, who is expected to decide on or before Dec. 22 if he is going to pitch again next year.

Pettitte, 34, was 14-13 with a 4.20 ERA in 36 games, including 35 starts, with the Astros last year, and has talked about retiring. But the Hendricks brothers are trying to talk him into continuing to pitch, and Randy Hendricks said he's leaning that way.

Hendricks admitted that the Astros and the New York Yankees are the likely landing spots if Pettitte does pitch, but said the Rangers are a possibility.

"The reason I don't rule them out," said Hendricks, "is what happens if the Yankees sign somebody else and the Astros make a trade [for a pitcher]?"

The Rangers have also expressed interest in left-hander Mark Mulder, Zito's former teammate in Oakland, who is coming off shoulder surgery and will probably miss the first half of the season.

The Rangers could also acquire Tim Hudson and form a reunion of the Athletics' Big Three. The Braves are interested in trading Hudson, but the Rangers see too many red flags to get involved there.

They would be more than happy to settle for one former Oakland ace -- Zito -- as long as it doesn't cost $100 million.

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