Rangers seeking three areas of need

Improvements sought during Winter Meetings

ARLINGTON -- By the time the Rangers assemble in Nashville, Tenn., for baseball's Winter Meetings on Monday, their offseason will be two months old.

In that time, nothing has changed. The Rangers' winter goals are still the same.

• They are looking for an upgrade in center field.

• They want to add a veteran relief pitcher who can work late in the game.

• They want an impact bat for the middle of the lineup, somebody who can play one of the corner-outfield spots or first base.

The Rangers are not looking at quick fixes but still want to put a contending team on the field in 2008. It's a tricky proposition.

"There's a high price for mediocrity on the free-agent market and a high price for young talent on the trade market," GM Jon Daniels said. "We're going to continue to give opportunities to as many of our young guys as possible and find long-term fits in positions we don't have young players. There may be some areas we can upgrade short term, but figuring out the right cadence is critical."

The last part is most revealing. The Rangers are willing to spend money, but they don't want to commit long term to a mediocre free agent that could eventually block some of their younger players or could tie up money in the future that could be used on a much better free agent when they feel they are closer to winning.

Free-agent center fielder Andruw Jones is a perfect example. The Rangers realize he would be an immediate upgrade in center field but also know that his game dropped in 2007. A long-term contract would be fraught with risk.

The Rangers thought that Torii Hunter would be a perfect fit, but he turned down a five-year, $75 million offer to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim instead. The Rangers considered Hunter a player who could help immediately and in the future. There are not many other free agents who, in their eyes, fit that description.

Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome is one. The Rangers have serious interest, but it's too early to determine where that is headed. There is a possibility he could stay in Japan.

Aaron Rowand, another free-agent center fielder, is a possibility, but the Rangers do not appear willing to go the same distance with him as they did with Hunter. Short-term options could be preferable, which is why the Rangers may be more willing to do a two-year deal with Mike Cameron, even though he is facing a 25-game suspension at the start of the next season because he tested positive for a banned stimulant.

If the Rangers can't find a center fielder, they could turn their attention to finding an impact bat to fit in one of the corner-outfield spots or first base. Right now, Frank Catalanotto and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are their best options at first base, and Marlon Byrd and David Murphy are the leading candidates to play center.

Adam Dunn could be of interest to the Rangers if the Reds decide to move him. But the Rangers prefer younger possibilities, which is why they have interest in outfield prospects Fernando Martinez and Carlos Gomez of the Mets or Carlos Gonzalez of the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers may be willing to move outfielder Matt Kemp but want a big bat in return. The Rangers have also talked to the Red Sox about Coco Crisp and the Reds about Josh Hamilton.

Winter Meetings

This may be one of the few times the Rangers go into the Winter Meetings when starting pitching is not No. 1 on their wish list. Right now the Rangers' rotation consists of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, Kason Gabbard and Edinson Volquez, with Luis Mendoza, Kameron Loe, Josh Rupe and Armando Galarraga waiting if one or more should falter.

By expressing interest in lefty Kenny Rogers, the Rangers have shown they are willing to consider someone who could be a one-year upgrade. They might even explore the possibility of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings or another starting pitcher if they could be had on a one-year, make-good deal.

A number of clubs could go that route rather than going three or four years or more on Carlos Silva, Livan Hernandez or Kyle Lohse.

"It's something we'll look at," Daniels said. "We're talking about a guy coming off an injury, but the risk/reward scenario might be better than paying for the high price of mediocrity. It might hit bigger than a guy who is considered 'a sure thing.' But there is a real risk that the guy may have a setback and you get nothing for your investment."

The Rangers seem more intent on doing something with a bullpen that right now includes right-handers Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit and Frank Francisco and left-handers C.J. Wilson and John Rheinecker. Others remaining in the picture include Wes Littleton, Scott Feldman, Bill White and Loe, but the Rangers still want to upgrade with a veteran reliever.

They have interest in Eric Gagne coming back as their closer, but they may stick with Otsuka or Wilson as their ninth-inning guy and concentrate on finding a setup reliever. There is depth on the free-agent market in that area, including David Riske, Octavio Dotel, LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Herges, Ron Mahay, Rudy Seanez and Doug Brocail.

"One way or another, we need to add depth to our bullpen," Daniels said.

The Winter Meetings are for finding out what is possible and what is not.

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