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A wintry mix of first-base options

For Rangers, first base is a mixed bag

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Abbott and Costello turned it into an immortal comedy routine. The Rangers asked the same question but don't find it to be a laughing matter.

Who's on first?

Lou Costello at least had an answer. The Rangers seem as flummoxed as Bud Abbott when trying to find their own answer.

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The search for a first baseman has been a significant part of their work here at baseball's Winter Meetings, but there have been no ready answers. The Rangers, who still look for outfield help and relief pitching, don't appear to be close to doing anything as these four-day meetings cross the halfway point.

"Groundhog Day," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels sighed Tuesday afternoon in his suite. "Haven't been outside in 36 hours and went through a second round of quesadillas."

There were some developments. They are planning to meet with agent Scott Boras to discuss reliever Eric Gagne and made an offer to reliever LaTroy Hawkins on a one-year deal with an option for a second year. Hawkins is looking for a two-year deal and the Rangers continue to talk with his agent, Larry Reynolds.

The Rangers also are planning to meet with Boras to discuss center fielder Corey Patterson and have asked to see the medical reports on free-agent outfielder Milton Bradley, who was with the San Diego Padres last season. Bradley is coming off knee surgery and it's still unknown if he'll be ready for Opening Day. But the Rangers could see him as a solution to their outfield needs as manager Ron Washington knows him from their days together in Oakland.

The Rangers have already backed off on Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand and Mike Cameron because of the high price and are turning their attention to Patterson, who was with the Orioles last year. They have discussed outfielders Jason Bay and Nate McLouth with the Pirates but backed off there as well because of what is being asked in return. The Pirates were talking about pitcher Eric Hurley and shortstop Elvus Andrus and the Rangers aren't going there.

They've had trade conversations with other teams but Daniels said, "There's nothing we're sitting on at this point."

First base is a burning issue for a team that has had Mark Teixeira, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark and Pete O'Brien manning that position since 1983. None of the alternatives presented to them now comes close to matching that caliber of player.

Right now, Frank Catalanotto is the guy even though he played just 14 games there in 2007. But the Rangers also consider:

• Sean Casey. He is a free agent after hitting .296 but with four home runs and 54 RBIs for the Tigers. He can defend, he can hit for average and he has a plus makeup, but he can't run and he has just 21 home runs with a .403 slugging percentage in 1,379 at-bats over the past three years. He is the only true full-time first baseman on the free-agent market.

Winter Meetings

• Mike Lamb. The Rangers have expressed interest in Lamb even though he seems to be similar to Catalanotto. Lamb played for the Rangers from 2000-03 and is considered better defensively. That would allow Catalanotto to play left field if the Rangers can't upgrade in the outfield. But either with Catalanotto or Lamb, the Rangers would need a right-handed platoon partner. The Boston Red Sox are also interested in Lamb and playing for the defending world champions might be a more desirable option for him.

• Tony Clark. He is a switch-hitter with power and a clubhouse presence. But age and injuries have reduced him to a part-time role. He could split time with Catalanotto, but the problem is he's a better left-handed hitter and wouldn't make an ideal platoon partner.

• Ben Broussard. He's another left-handed hitter who is buried behind Richie Sexson in Seattle. The Mariners would prefer to trade Sexson, but he will make $14 million in 2008. The Rangers have talked to the Mariners about Broussard but did not like the asking price. Broussard could be a free agent at the end of December because there is a possibility the Mariners could non-tender him later this month.

• Jarrod Saltalamacchia. One solution to the Rangers problem would be to use Saltalamacchia at first base and let Gerald Laird be the starting catcher. But the Rangers don't see it that way. Saltalamacchia is going to be a full-time catcher in 2008,although Daniels insisted Laird will get a fair chance in Spring Training to win the job.

"We're going to let those two guys play, let the staff and scouts watch and let it sort itself out," Daniels said.

If Saltalamacchia doesn't win the job, Daniels said he would likely go to Triple-A to keep working on becoming a catcher rather than move him to first base.

"Anytime you have a key player at a premium position, you don't want to move him," Daniels said. "He can have a bigger impact at catcher than at first base. We feel he can catch, throw and handle a pitching staff, it's just a matter of developing him."

• Hank Blalock. Yes, the Rangers have discussed the possibility of Blalock moving to first base but have rejected the idea. The Rangers expect him to be at full strength in Spring Training after missing three months because of shoulder surgery and they want to see the results of all his defensive work with Washington at the end of last season.

"He has more value at third base than first," said Daniels, who has had a number of clubs ask him about Blalock but is not interested in moving him. The Brewers are among the teams that have pondered pursuing him.

"We're not interested in that sort of deal," Daniels said. "Hank is an original Ranger that we drafted and developed. He was very productive at the end of the year, he'll be better defensively and he's a youthful productive offensive bat."

• Chris Davis. A left-handed hitter out of Navarro Junior College, Davis emerged into a big-time power prospect in his first full season in the Minor Leagues. In 129 games between Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco, he hit .297 with 36 home runs and 118 RBIs.

He plays third base right now, but the Rangers are strongly considering moving him to right field because of his powerful arm. He could get a non-roster invitation to Spring Training but probably won't be a serious candidate to make the club.

• Nate Gold. He is right-handed and he hit .292 with 26 home runs and 103 RBIs at Triple-A Oklahoma. He hit .292 with 34 home runs and 103 RBIs at Frisco in 2006. But he is 27 and the Rangers right now just aren't listing Gold as a prospect or a candidate to play first base.

Still, the Rangers aren't exactly bursting with candidates right now.

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

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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }