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Rangers in market for right-handed bat

Rangers seeking righty bat

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are going into baseball's free-agency period hoping to re-sign Marlon Byrd and could come out of it with Jermaine Dye instead.

A right-handed bat is a high priority for the Rangers as free agency opens on Thursday, the day after the end of the World Series. Players can begin filing as early as Thursday, and clubs have an exclusive two-week window to negotiate with their own free agents.

For the Rangers, that gives them two weeks of exclusive negotiations with Byrd, who hit .283 with 20 home runs and a club-leading 89 RBIs while playing what manager Ron Washington said was "Gold Glove" defense in center field. He is also one of the Rangers' team leaders.

But a quick resolution is not expected. Infielder Omar Vizquel could be the only Rangers free agent who re-signs in the exclusive negotiating window that ends Nov. 19.

"Marlon was obviously a big part of our club," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday. "To his credit, he's put himself in a position to see what's out there, and he's going to explore that. We're going to explore our own alternatives, including the guys we already have. In a perfect world, we'd like to have Marlon back. It's just not going to happen in the exclusive window period, if it's going to happen at all."

Byrd, with Josh Hamilton going down with multiple injuries, ended up as the Rangers' center fielder. But that doesn't mean the Rangers will have to go outside the organization for a center fielder.

With Hamilton, Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry, the Rangers have center-field candidates. They seem more focused on a right-handed bat. The Rangers went from scoring 901 runs in 2008 to 784 this season.

"I would say we're looking for a middle-of-the-order bat," Daniels said.

Dye, a 14-year veteran who turns 36 in January, is of interest to the Rangers. He hit .250 with 25 home runs and 81 RBIs last season for the White Sox and also has a reputation for having a strong clubhouse presence. The biggest concern is he hit .179 in the second half, which is why the White Sox are not expected to exercise a $12 million option for 2010.

Other right-handed bats on the free-agent market that could be of interest to the Rangers include Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Troy Glaus and Fernando Tatis. Obviously cost will be a huge factor as Guerrero and Tatis don't figure to get the same kind of contract.

The Rangers will be able to play in the free-agent market to some degree. But they've shown little interest in the past few years in handing out high-dollar, long-term contracts, and that's unlikely to change this offseason.

"We're going to look at the free-agent market and see if there is the right fit," Daniels said. "The core of our team is still going to come from within, but we're going to try and find the right piece, whether it's trade or free agency, to help the club take the next step."

Part of the unknown is the ownership situation. Owner Tom Hicks is discussing a possible sale to three different groups, but that is a slow-moving process that probably won't impact the Rangers' immediate offseason moves.

"We've got a budget to operate within and we've got a plan we're going to execute," Daniels said. "If ownership changes, that's a new variable to consider. But we're not thinking about that."

Byrd and Vizquel are two of seven Rangers who can file for free agency as early as Thursday. The others are pitchers Joaquin Benoit and Eddie Guardado, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, first baseman Hank Blalock and outfielder Andruw Jones.

The Rangers have had substantive discussions with Vizquel's representatives, and there appears to be genuine interest on both sides.

"We're probably farther along with him than anybody," Daniels said.

The Rangers have interest in re-signing Rodriguez but want to see how Jarrod Saltalamacchia is recovering from shoulder surgery. He is currently working out in Florida and throwing from 120 feet. Farm director Scott Servais, a former Major League catcher who is Saltalamacchia's mentor, is going to Florida this week to work with him.

The Rangers have already established that Blalock and Jones are not coming back. Guardado is expected to retire and Benoit is in limbo after missing all of last season because of shoulder surgery.

The Rangers, as usual, will look at pitching in the free-agent market, and Ben Sheets remains a possibility. A former No. 1 starter for the Brewers, Sheets agreed to a two-year deal with the Rangers last January. But the deal was voided when it was discovered that Sheets needed surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon. He did not sign with anybody but spent the entire season doing rehabilitation work. He is expected to pitch in 2010.

"Obviously with our deal last winter, we clearly have interest and, on some level, it's mutual," Daniels said. "We'll stay in touch and do our homework."

The Rangers could focus on adding a veteran starter but have options. They are considering the possibility of moving Neftali Feliz and/or C.J. Wilson to the rotation. If that were to be the case, the Rangers would go much harder after relief pitching.

If Wilson goes to the rotation, the Rangers would need at least one left-hander. The best available free agent is Mike Gonzalez. There are also three former Rangers who could be available: Darren Oliver, Brian Shouse and Ron Mahay. Two of the better right-handed relievers are Rangers discards: Kiko Calero and Brendan Donnelly.

"We have some flexibility," Daniels said.

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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